Thursday, March 04, 2021

Spiritual Journey Thursday: March Spirit Wind

John 3:8 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."


"Maybe a preacher on the radio told you once you could be born again if you just repeated a prayer after him. How I wish this were so. But the Scripture where a man named Nicodemus comes under cloak of night for a secret rendezvous with Jesus, and the prophet speaks to him about being born again, is also the place where Jesus talks about that Spirit, the one who broods over the sea, bringing life and beauty out of chaos. The Spirit is like the wind, he says; you don't know where it comes from - and you don't know where it is going. And the people who say yes to this undomesticated Spirit, the people who say yes to the wind - yes to the sea - will be like this Spirit, not knowing where they came from, or where they are going. They are people who learn to trust the wind instead of fighting it, people who learn to navigate the chaos rather than eliminate it. They will be people born of Spirit, people born of the violence of the storm and the wildness of the wind. And because the Spirit who enters them is the Spirit of life itself, they will live forever. " Jonathan Martin, in How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is on the Way and Love is Already Here.



Margaret Simon has today's roundup.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: March Loss

Even though I live in the tropics and the seasons don't change dramatically here, there are subtle indications that March is here. The sun is rising a few minutes earlier. The temperature is starting to go up from our wintry lows in the upper 60s. Soon it will be hot again, and not just pleasantly warm and breezy.

But yesterday I read an announcement on one of my birding groups on Facebook. "Warblers have started to head north." It was written as a thrilling heads up to those people who live up north. Spring is coming! It's exciting to see the birds come back!

But to me, it will be a sad loss. I'll miss our little warbler friends. Sure, we still have plenty of local birds, and they are all wonderful, but I got used to the extra chirping and flashes of color from the visitors. I'll look forward to their return.


Check out what everyone else is posting today. 

Female American Redstart, Source

Friday, February 26, 2021

Poetry Friday: Fact Nestlings

Last week, when I hosted Poetry Friday, many of you helped me create a list poem called "Facts are Poems." (You can see my explanation, and read the poem, here.)  

This week, I printed out the poem and spent some time collecting words from it. This was a fun process, and I liked the way the words started to seem like ingredients for a recipe once I had them in various lists that were unrelated to their original context (all the verbs, all the adjectives, all the words starting with one particular letter, etc.). 



Then I made some nestlings. If you haven't read Irene Latham's book This Poem is a Nest yet, you really should. This idea of nestlings comes from that book, where Irene wrote a long poem about a nest and then found new poems, or nestlings, in it.  (I reviewed the book and tried my first nestlings here.)



Poems power peaceful planet





Pandemic Blues

miserably lonely permanently


find shelter


In Love


Skin buzzing

Surface shimmer

Life List








Carolina Wrens

Memo from Extra-Terrestrial General to the Troops

Colonize the planet,

the solar system,

gently, silently.

I have a birthday this week, and I am celebrating a pretty long life that's left me with a lot of source material to write about. Doing these nestlings reminded me of that fact as I sifted through the source material of the words of my nest poem and compared it in my mind to sifting through the years of ideas I've been granted. 

When I turned 50, I started a writing project I called my QWP (Quinquagenarian Writing Project). Starting in July of the previous year, I set myself a goal of writing 50 pieces before my birthday. Since then, I start a new folder each year and work on seeing how many pieces I can amass before the next year's birthday. When I look back over last year's collection, from my birthday before the pandemic had hit us here on this island right up until this week, I feel happy. I'm not proud of every moment of the past year, every way I reacted to difficult times, but I am proud that I created. There are a lot of short pieces in the mix; there are many poems I wrote for other people; there are some whiny emotional writings; there's an inordinate amount about birds. I made stuff. In spite of everything, that stuff piled up. 

Now it's time to open a new folder and write some more. Happy birthday to me! 

Karen Edmisten has the roundup today. She's asking what new products were introduced the year we were born. For me it's the lava lamp! She's sharing a poem where Billy Collins reflects on the fact that he's as old as Cheerios. It looks as though there's a lot of bounty there already, so head on over! 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: The Walk Not Taken

During Lent this year, I am using the Rethink Church prompts to do a daily photo practice, and with each photo I also post some thoughts. Yesterday’s prompt was “Walk,” and when I started writing it, I went on and on and couldn’t stop. I ended up deleting most of what I had written, but the process got me thinking about so many walks in my life, so many walking partners, so many conversations during walks. And one of the most memorable was a walk I didn’t take.

In college, a boy asked me to go for a walk with him. I said yes, but then there was an ice storm. I grew up in the tropics, so I’d never seen an ice storm before. I didn’t even know such a thing was a possibility in the weather roster. I’d seen hail many times, one year even on Christmas Day, leading inevitably to everyone calling it a white Christmas. But the idea of the whole landscape being encased in ice was new to me.

Instead of going on the walk, then, we went to a bookstore. The ice must not have been covering everything, because we got in a car and drove there, and it wasn’t a treacherous drive, at least not that I recall. This non-walk bookstore trip took place thirty-four years ago this month, so I couldn’t be absolutely sure.

I still remember elements of the conversation we had that day, that boy and I. He told me about how chocolate was made, for example, and the conching process. We talked about the countries where we had grown up, 7000 miles apart. I think he told me about his grandmother. We talked about books we’d read. We were taking a class together, and I’m sure we talked about that.

It was a conversation we started that day and have continued until this day. Because, yes, Reader, I married him, two and a half years and many ups and downs after that first date.

We have walked hundreds of miles together since that day, many of them in beautiful places. But that non-walk first date started it all. 


Read other SOL posts here at Two Writing Teachers. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Poetry Friday: Facts are Poems, plus Poetry Friday Roundup is Here!

Welcome to Poetry Friday! 


I recently finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass, by botanist and poetic writer Robin Wall Kimmerer. It is an amazing and beautiful book and will be providing me inspiration for years to come. (I gushed more about the book here, and shared more quotes, too.) 


Here is a quote from the book:


“Someone once said that sometimes a fact alone is a poem. … The very facts of the world are a poem. Light is turned to sugar. Salamanders find their way to ancestral ponds following magnetic lines radiating from the earth. The saliva of grazing buffalo causes the grass to grow taller. Tobacco seeds germinate when they smell smoke. Microbes in industrial waste can destroy mercury. Aren’t these stories we should all know?”


If you are willing, when you leave your post in a comment for me to round up the old-fashioned way (or even if you're not leaving a post but just passing by), leave a FACT that in your opinion is also a POEM. Write your FACT in the form of a line of a poem. When I do the rounding up, I'll also put all the lines together to create a group poem I'm going to call "Facts are Poems." The lines that make up the first stanza were given to me by William Carlos Williams (though, admittedly, he doesn't know he gave them to me) and Robin Wall Kimmerer (ditto). The last line comes from Robin Wall Kimmerer, too.


I signed up for today because it was in Carnival week, and I was thinking I'd have the day off. Um, should have checked the calendar. This year we only got Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday off, so I'll be at work on Friday. No problem! I'll just round up when I can. Don't worry if your comment doesn't appear instantly; I've enabled Comment Moderation, and I'll post your comment as soon as I possibly can. Roundup will follow as breaks come in my day.


The Links


The poetry extravaganza starts every week for me on Thursday with Margaret's feature "This Photo Wants to Be a Poem." Today's photo is appropriately icy for the wintry weather in the United States right now.   

Jan Godown Annino is all about connections this week, connections among artists, connections between visual art and poetry. She shares her lovely poem "Fish Fandangle," from the book Fresh Fish, and talks wordpools. She also invites us to a reading!


I can relate so much to the story and poem that Bridget is sharing. It's a tale of laundry and Smidgey the dog and seeking comfort and security.  


Alan J. Wright has been researching the grim lives of child laborers in Victorian England. He shares a poem about piecers, who had to fix machines immediately so that the production could continue. The ten-year-old in his poem lives that life.


Michelle Kogan is definitely a polymath, and today she is reflecting on that in a poem that's both words and images. What a treat to see her creative brain at work!


At Alphabet Soup, Jama is sharing two poems by Pat Schneider, plus videos, plus information about Pat's life and work. Jama's post is full of treasures, as her posts always are.


Kay McGriff has a seasonal how-to poem for us today, "How to Be a Snowman."  One of her words of advice, "Shiver," is what I do every time I read anything about the weather up north of me right now! 

A creepy photo got Janice Scully started on her poem "The Strange Beauty of the Oscomycetous Fungus." (I checked that a few times to make sure I spelled it right.) Talk about facts being a poem! Here's an example!  

Linda Mitchell is celebrating the landing of Perseverance on Mars. "Today's poem is Perseverance." Indeed it is!  

Molly Hogan is in the depth of winter, but looking forward to spring in her lovely sonnet. 

The February Poetry Project at Laura Shovan's blog continues with a new batch of amazing prompts on this year's subject of Bodies.  

Little Willow is embracing winter with "Cat" by Marilyn Singer. That's one way to keep warm!


Jone Rush MacCulloch has been writing on Laura's prompts on Bodies, and she shares several of her poems with us today. Each is unique, and each is illustrated!


Some second graders in Vermont were inspired to write riddle-ku poems after reading Laura Salas' book Lion of the SkyLaura shares some of their poems with us, and a link to the rest, along with the illustrations done by another class. Laura says, "Second graders, you now know the scary feeling of turning over your words to an artist and hoping they capture what was in your heart."


Carol Varsalona has also been writing to Laura Shovan's Body prompts, plus dealing with the winter storm, the news, and getting the vaccine. She shares some of the results of all of this turmoil with us in her post "The Creative Mind is Restless."


Tabatha Yeatts  shares a couple of intriguing poems that I'm going to go back and read more closely later. One is called "Saint Rosalie," and the other, "Against Endings." Wonderful finds, as always, Tabatha!


Tim Gels  knows that "Self-Sufficiency is a Myth" and has just discovered more evidence for that fact by observing the situation in Texas.


Wendy Taleo tells us ways that "Writers are Like Seaweed." Mmmm, nori! Sounds yummy!


Linda Baie is celebrating Random Act of Kindness week with a poem about giving by Albert Rios. "Giving has many faces," he tells us.


Sally Murphy, on the other side of the world, is experiencing different weather from many of our contributors today. She writes about a beach adventure, and even shares video. I only had time to watch a little of it, but I'll be back later to see the rest! I'm jealous, Sally!   


Mary Lee has been swamped lately, too swamped to write. But that's changing. She's writing something every day now, and she shares a golden shovel about important moments with her students.  

Irene  wrote about a Van Gogh poem, and February, her favorite month. So many people are down on February, but Irene, like me, has a birthday this month, so she appreciates February fully. (By the way, did you know that Irene's book The Cat Man of Aleppo got a Caldecott Honor this year?) 

Heidi has paired Robert Frost and Ralph Fletcher today. She's shared a Frost poem I haven't read before - that's always happening to me. He wrote so many poems. This one is great for teachers. And the Fletcher one is great for kids. 

Christie has some winter photography and haiku. Lovely!


Syvia Vardell makes the best lists. Today's is called "Celebrate Black Poetry for Young People 2021." 

Rose Cappelli loves winter storms, and she's written two haiku about them: one before, and one after. I'm enjoying all these observations of snow!

Matt Forrest Essenwine has a video on found poetry and an update on what's going on in his life. He's been writing a lot, but also homeschooling!


MSheehan shares "Undiscovered," inspired by facts about the planet Mars.  

Carol Labuzzetta has a poem about her favorite plant, a prickly pear.  

Ramona is all about the berries today, those "berries strutting their stuff." I love it that she looked for the poem hiding in her photos. 


Susan Bruck is another person sharing a poem about snow. Hers brings out lessons from the snow on "clinging, letting go, and belonging."


The Group Poem


Facts are Poems

by the Poetry Friday Poets


It is difficult to get the news from poems,

yet men die miserably every year for lack of what is found there.

Facts are poems.


The human brain generates 12 -25 watts of electricity, 

enough to power a light bulb.


If I could, like a giant guitarfish, 

make my eyeballs disappear 

inside my own head, 

my eyebrows would be lonely. 

Corals are animals
but are sessile
meaning they are permanently attached
to the sea floor
or each other.


Dogs continue to amaze with their abilities, 

now being trained to identify the Covid-Virus.



A small dandelion flower channels three giant celestial beauties: 

our sun in yellow bloom, 

our moon in white puff fluff 

and the shooting stars, when dandelion's tipsy wispy seeds disperse.


Mother trees colonize their kin 

with bigger mycorrhizal networks. 

Trees talk—and listen—to each other 

through their root systems.


The red-eyed tree frog 

sleeps peacefully during the day 

stuck to a leaf bottom. 

But watch out! 

He'll reveal bulging red eyes, 

huge orange feet, 

and bright blue and yellow flanks 

if disturbed. 

Antiseptic and strong, 

spiderwebs were used 

by ancient Greeks and Romans as bandages


Your skin is an organ in its own right, 

21 unsquare feet of feeling. 


The temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same 

is -40 degrees.


Snow forms when crystals in clouds 

stick together 

to become snowflakes.


Snow falls at 1 to 6 feet per second
at least in the case of snowflakes
with broad structures,
which act as a parachutes


If you could find an ocean big enough, 

the planet of Saturn would float. 

Landing on the Red Planet,

Mars, brings you to 

the home of the tallest volcano 

in our entire Solar System, 

Olympus Mons.


A year on Mars is almost twice 

as long 

as a year on Earth


Salt is the one rock

we eat.


After two weeks, caterpillar finishes metamorphosis
and emerges as a fully formed,
adult monarch butterfly. 


Colorful striped caterpillars become iconic symbols 

once they take flight with wings.


If you grow milkweed, 

before long you'll furnish a small forest of milkweed 

for monarchs and other pollinators…


Polar bears ask permission for things 

(such as sharing food) 

by gently touching noses. 


The ringed tails of red pandas 

function as wraparound blankets 

in their chilly mountain homes 

of Nepal, Myanmar, and Central China.


Honduran tent bats nibble and gnaw
along a large leaf's midrib,
which collapses around them
as a shelter from jungle rain and teeth.

Male hummingbirds perform 

dazzling courtship dives 

that combine high speed, 

buzzing tail feathers 

and a flash of color.


hummingbirds reverse

flee sticky situations

ahead or behind.


To take flight, 

American coots 

run across the surface of water 

and furiously flap their wings 

before they lift off.  

Fringe on the leading edge 

of their primary flight feathers 

is why owls can fly silently.


The collective noun for starlings is a murmuration,
for swans, a lamentation,
and then we have
a confusion of warblers, and
a shimmer of hummingbirds. 


Butcher birds need no daylight 

as their call rings out pre-dawn. 

Carolina Wrens defend their territories 

with constant singing.


Aren't these stories we should all know?





Thanks for participating, Poetry Friday friends! You make my life so much richer!

Come back next week, when Karen Edmisten will have the roundup.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Charging

On Sunday, yet another charger bit the dust. This time, it broke in half. The magnetized part was still stuck into the computer, and it took a while to get it out. I finally did, though. And thankfully I had one remaining working charger.


I don't like to have just one charger. I like backups. I like security. But although another charger has been on order for a while, it hasn't come yet. I live in fear that this charger will quit too.


This time was better than the last charger death, when the thing burst into flames. There it was, still attached to my computer, burning. I grabbed it and threw it on the floor and stomped on it, and there wasn't any damage to the computer. But my heartrate didn't slow back down to normal for a good twenty minutes.


I spend so much time and energy trying to keep my devices charged. Electricity is sporadic where I live, so I keep things plugged in whenever I can. When the charger doesn't work right, I wiggle and rig and hold it up in the air and somehow keep the juice flowing. But all this depends on having a charger that's all in one piece and not burned up.


Electronics aren't the only things that need to stay charged. Life takes a lot out of you, and you have to find ways to keep up your energy levels, your spirits, your light. You have to sleep and eat right. You have to relax with something that makes you happy. You have to do something creative every once in a while. Sometimes it feels like a luxury, but you have to stay charged. Do you have working chargers that haven't broken or combusted? What are they? How do you keep them plugged in? 


Check out other posts on Slice of Life Tuesday at Two Writing Teachers. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Reading Update

Book #11 of 2021 was The Illuminator's Gift, by Alina Sayre, the first in a series of four books called The Voyages of the Legend.  It's the story of Ellie, an orphan who has lived with, and been abandoned by, several families. She joins the crew of the Legend, a flying ship, and learns that she has a gift as an Illuminator. I really enjoyed this book and will read the rest of the series.

Book #12 was Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, by Karen Swallow Prior, a memoir in books. Prior links events in her life to books she loves. I was left wishing I could take one of this professor's classes.


Book #13 was Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This was a beautiful combination of botany and poetry, with a bit of indigenous linguistics, cosmology, and parenting thrown in.  I was reading a library edition, so I took four pages of notes before it disappeared from my Kindle, but I really need to buy my own copy. Although I didn't expect it, the book cast light on my word for the year, Flourishing. It is full of pictures of how North America once flourished, when its caretakers had a different view of flourishing than the current occupants of most of the continent. "All flourishing is mutual," Kimmerer writes. My favorite part of the book was her imagined meeting of Nanabozho, the first man in the Potowatomi origin story, and Linneaus. Nanabozho, like Adam in the Bible, is tasked with naming all the species. "I like to think of the two of them walking together. Linneaus the Swedish botanist and zoologist, in his laden jacket and woolen trousers, with felt hat cocked back on his forehead and a vascular under his arm, and Nanabozho naked but for his breechcloth and a single feather, with a buckskin bag under his arm. They stroll along discussing the names for things." I looked into Kimmerer's other book, called Gathering Moss, which I want to read as soon as possible, and found some negative reviews explaining that there's too much philosophy and poetry in this book purported to be a guide to mosses. Then I knew I really must read it as soon as possible. Braiding Sweetgrass was one of those books that refocused the way I see the world. I won't forget it, and I will be rereading it.

Book #14 was American Street, by Ibi Zoboi. This brilliantly written novel is the story of Fabiola Toussaint, a Haitian girl who moves to the United States with her mother. In the airport in Miami, her mother is detained, and Fabiola goes on by herself to join her family in Detroit. There she meets a world that is as tough, in its own way, as the world she left behind in Port-au-Prince. In addition to the people she gets to know, she notices the presence of the spirits she serves in her vodou practice. While I think this book is aimed at an older audience than my eighth grade student who was reading it (that's where I learned about it), in its own way it is a work of art. Trigger warnings for substance abuse, gang violence, really strong language, and, well, spirits. 

Book #15 was Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  This is an award-winning book which tells the story of the Yellow Fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Since it's aimed at young readers, the horrible details of the suffering are muted a bit, but the book is thoroughly researched, and I found it highly readable and affecting. There's an appendix full of information about the historical period. Can't get enough of reading about disease during a pandemic? I know! Me too

Book #16 was Sing Down the Moon, by Scott O'Dell, the story of the Long Walk, when the Navajo people were forced to leave their land in 1865. This book came out in 1970, and a very minimal amount of research taught me that many Native American critics now find it unworthy of being taught to children. Here's a podcast I listened to that goes into some of the issues. One teacher quoted tells how she reads it to her students, who are Navajo (now called Diné), because it makes them laugh so hard. They just can't believe someone could write so inaccurately about their culture. (Presumably this then leads to discussion about their culture and what would be a better way to portray it.) The book is in the curriculum I've been given this year, and I will be teaching it, but I'll also be bringing up things like #ownvoices. 

Book #17 was Van Gogh's Bedrooms, by Gloria Groom et al. This was the catalogue of an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016. My daughter went to it, and, knowing I would have loved it, bought me the book. I had looked at the paintings many times, but now I have read all the fascinating essays. This exhibition brought all three versions of Van Gogh's bedroom painting to one place. The three are known as Amsterdam, Chicago, and Paris, after their regular homes. I learned a lot about the way the paintings were done as well as Van Gogh's life and influences. Did you know that what we see now when we look at old paintings is quite a bit different from the way they originally appeared? I didn't realize that the walls and doors in this painting were originally purple. And did you know that Van Gogh collected birds' nests? And that he lived in 37 homes in his 37 years? And that he longed for Home?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Poetry Friday: The Great Conversation

The poems I shared the last two weeks had in common that they included the word flourish, and my OLW for this year is flourishing. I've been thinking a lot about what it means to flourish in this world in 2021 for an individual who happens to be me. 

One of the ways I flourish is by being in conversation with people, and another is by creating, and I had a fun experience recently when I felt as though I was doing both. I often write poems about photos people send me, but this time, I had posted photos, and a friend used them for paintings. (I had this happen once before, and it is such a good feeling.)

Feeling I was participating in The Great Conversation, I wrote a poem about it.

Rain-Soaked Hibiscus

I took a photo
of the rain-soaked hibiscus
right near Cyvadier Plage
because it seemed to me
too beautiful to believe.

imagined drinking sorrel
as she looked at my photo,
and while imagination
doesn’t pack quite the punch
in the vitamin C department
as the actual drink,
it couldn’t hurt.

in a cold, damp Kentucky January
the rain-soaked hibiscus
from my photo
and said it helped her feel warm
and cheered
a gloomy day.

I wrote this poem
about Mattie’s painting
and Patricia’s fictitious drink
as I sheltered in place
on a riot day in Port-au-Prince,
when the southern coast
felt far away
and the generous rain
dripping from the flower
as imaginary as the
sugared red sorrel
in sweating glasses
on a round table
where we’ve all gathered
to pass the peaceful afternoon
with the mourning doves
in mask-free conversation.



Painting by Mattie Greathouse, shared with permission


Molly Hogan has the roundup this week, and guess who has it next week?! Yes, I do! Be sure to come see us next week too!

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Twenty-Five Miles

On Saturday I rode 25 miles on the exercise bike. 

The challenge isn't the endurance; my legs can do it. I'm not fast, but I don't quit. The challenge is the boredom. If I were riding on the Haitian streets, I would never get bored. Terrified, yes. In fear for my life, sure. But never bored. 

So I watched Netflix and pretended I was somewhere else. 

After a while, though, the metaphor of putting all my energy into pedaling and going mile after mile after mile and yet never changing my location starts to irk me. It's a little too perfect for this school year, when I work and work, and still feel as though I'm right where I started. 

I'm getting stronger, though, right? The weights I'm lifting while on the bike are helping my old-lady arms, right? And my students and I are getting stronger as we work against all the obstacles, right? COVID-19 and crime in the streets and protests and political upheaval and internet problems and having class discussions when we're all wearing masks and so on? 

Let's just say yes. It's all worth it! Keep on pedaling! 

Friday, February 05, 2021

Poetry Friday: Gooseberries and Art

On Monday, in response to a blogger's invitation to tell what is saving our lives right now, I wrote about people who are still making an effort at friendship, in spite of everything.  Later that same day, though, I wished I had added poetry. Poetry is saving my life. Because in between all the tedium of that day of online teaching, I found the time both to read some and to write some, and the day felt brighter as a result.


Here's the middle stanza of a poem about gooseberry fool, a dessert discussed in detail in this article. Basically it's made of fruit and whipped cream, and the word fool just means a trifle, a little something, a sweet treat at the end of a meal. 


Gooseberry Fool

by Amy Clampitt


Altogether, gooseberry virtues
take some getting
used to, as does trepang,
tripe à la mode de Caen,
or having turned thirteen.
The acerbity of all things green
and adolescent lingers in
it—the arrogant, shrinking,
prickling-in-every-direction thorn-
iness that loves no company except its,
or anyhow that’s what it gets:
bristling up through gooseberry ghetto sprawl
are braced thistles’ silvery, militantly symmetrical
defense machineries. Likewise inseparably en-
tangled in the disarray of an
uncultivated childhood, where gooseberry bushes (since
rooted out) once flourished, is
the squandered volupté of lemon-
yellow-petaled roses’ luscious flimflam—
an inkling of the mingling into one experience
of suave and sharp, whose supremely im-
probable and far-fetched culinary
embodiment is a gooseberry fool.
You can read the first and third stanzas (well, and the second too) here
There's so much to love about this poem, such as the sheer abundance of the words and descriptions, matching as they do the abundance of the gooseberry bushes. I think my favorite part, though, is how she compares gooseberries to turning thirteen. This helped me feel less annoyed with my students, whom I was attempting to teach online that day due to riots and such (and come to think of it, perhaps the riots explain, at least in part, my lack of patience). There's nothing like a compassionate, spot-on description to give you some perspective.

I am in a group reading through the book The Artist's Way. In this book, Julia Cameron prescribes an "Artist Date" each week. You're supposed to come up with some activity that will nourish the artist in you. Normally that involves leaving your house and going somewhere by yourself. But these days, Artist Dates can be virtual. I went on one on Monday, and then wrote about it. 
 Artist Date

I went to the
Art Institute of Chicago
on my lunch break,
even though Chicago is
1842 miles away.

I looked at a painting by El Greco
showing the Virgin Mary
rising into Heaven
surrounded by angels
and watched from the ground
by men in long robes.
She seemed to be standing
on the crescent moon.
I learned how Mary Cassatt
suggested the purchase of the painting
and how conservators cleaned yellowed varnish
off of the Virgin’s magnificent blue robe.

I looked at an ancient Greek statue
already broken before it came to Chicago
and how computer modeling
enabled the face of handsome Antinous
to look as it did
when it was first sculpted.

I looked at a Spanish jug
from the Renaissance,
a fine example of lusterware
imported to Italy by a rich man
to pour drinks at his table.
I learned how the blue and yellow jug
was made of clay,
and fired in a kiln,
and then glazed with tin.

I ate my lunch
as I gazed on these wonders
and drank my ginger tea,
which surely nobody would have let me do
if I’d really been in the
Art Institute of Chicago.

But oh,
I would rather have been there in person even so,
with my feet tired
from traipsing through the galleries,
my daughter at my side,
the real objects in front of me,
no online teaching to get back to after my leftover pizza,
and as long as we’re imagining impossibilities,
no pandemic
at all.



Thursday, February 04, 2021

Spiritual Journey Thursday: Take Heart


These are difficult days. If your life is like mine, you have to encourage yourself often, or be encouraged by someone else, or encourage someone else. 

(I'm not talking about severe depression. If you've got that, you need to see a doctor, not just try to work yourself into happy feelings. Maybe you need counseling, or a prescription, or both. In my case, as I've written about before, I had a vitamin deficiency, not so difficult to fix.)

Here are some things that help me take heart. Nothing here is revolutionary, but maybe something will spark an idea in someone else!

1. Pray.


2. Scripture. "Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." 2 Timothy 1:7. "But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.'" Matthew 14:27. Lots more. 

3. Reflect on times in the past when God has helped you.

4. Have a snack. Have a cup of tea. Take a nap. Exercise. Maybe you're physically depleted and a physical response is the answer.

5. Talk to a friend. Zoom is good for this if necessary!

6.  Read something encouraging. In addition to scripture, there are many great choices. I have folder on my desktop marked "Mantras" into which I put encouraging quotes I come across. Here's one, from Thomas Merton: "You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope. In such an event, courage is the authentic form taken by love." 

7. Read a children's book, especially one that you loved when you were younger or that you read to your children. Some of my favorites: anything from the Narnia series, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, any of the Poppleton books. 

Take heart! You can read the other SJT posts for more ideas! Here's Fran's roundup!

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Reading Update

Recently I got an ad on Facebook that asked: "Want to read books but don't have the attention span?" Well, actually, algorithm, you got that partly right. I do want to read books, but I actually do read them. Turns out, I have the attention span! So far this year, I've finished ten books.

Book #4 of 2021 was Bellwether, by Connie Willis. I had had this one on my Kindle for a long time, since my daughter had recommended it while she was still in high school. For whatever reason, I hadn't read it yet. It's very entertaining and fun. In these posts, you can see my views on other books I've read by Connie Willis. 


Book #5 was Holes, by Louis Sachar. I had read it before, long ago, apparently before I started blogging. I'm now reading it with my sixth graders. It's such a fun, intriguing read.


Book #6 was Monet, by Vanessa Potts. The book contains 120 of Monet's paintings from all stages of his career, with commentary on the subject matter and the technique. My daughter gave me this, and I enjoyed it immensely.


Book #7 was The Red Lotus, by Chris Bohjalian. I found this very absorbing. A woman goes with her fairly new boyfriend on a bike tour in Vietnam. While they are there, he disappears. Now she has to figure out what has happened to him, and it's much deeper and more involved than she could have imagined. I don't know how to give the kind of trigger warning that might be necessary without giving away the story, so all I'll say is that the protagonist is an ER doctor, so there are medical descriptions and themes. 


Book #8 was Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus, by Rachel Pieh Jones. Rachel's last book, Stronger Than Death, was terrific, and that link is to my enthusiastic review. It's a biography of Annalena Tonelli, an Italian humanitarian who fought TB in the Horn of Africa and was killed right after Rachel herself moved to Africa. Here's the first line of that book: "On October 5, 2003, in a country that didn't exist, Annalena Tonelli performed routine checks on tuberculosis patients."


In my review of Stronger than Death, I commented that I loved how Rachel brought in her own story into Annalena's. That personal connection was, for me, a highlight of the book. So I was really happy to read this new one, where Rachel explores her personal experiences in Somalia and Djibouti even more. The book is organized around the five pillars of Islam, Shahadah (Confession of Faith), Salat (Prayer), Zakat (Almsgiving), Ramadan (Fasting), and Hajj (Pilgrimage). Basing her descriptions on extensive reading but also on many years of experience living surrounded by Muslims, she explains how these practices affect people's lives, and how she has learned from them in ways that have deepened her own Christian faith. 

What I love most about this book is Rachel's refusal to accept easy answers. She and her family have been through many difficulties in their time in Africa, but they have also made Djibouti home, after being suddenly evacuated from Somalia. Rachel's love for her adopted homeland and its people shines through, but she doesn't gloss over how challenging life is there, either. And she rejects clichés at every turn. 

Here are some tastes:

"Before leaving the United States, ten months earlier, I had flippantly remarked that the safest place for a Christian was in the center of God's will, how it was better to move across the planet to a potentially hostile location than to spend three days in the belly of a whale. . . . Later I would understand God's will as an inherently unsafe place to be. It hadn't been safe for Jesus; it led him straight to torture and death. God never promised safety, no matter how I craved it."

"I tried to have a garden in Somaliland, which is how I did just about everything there - a whole lot of effort and tears, and two beans and a miniature cucumber to show for it. On my knees in that sad little garden, my fingers caked with the earth of a place I was trying to transform into hoe, was where I figured out what a disaster life in the Horn of Africa was going to be and where I realized what a massive mistake I had made. . . . I wanted it to display metaphors of faith and spiritual life - and I didn't mean metaphors of failure, weeds, and fruitlessness. I wanted beauty and miracles, nourishment and one seed dying to produce a harvest. I wanted to bite into a fresh green bean and delight in what I had nurtured into being. I wanted it to come through my own fingertips, out of this thorny, rock-strewn soil, and I wanted success the first time I tried. Instead, my garden was an utter failure."

"I used to take Jesus' words, 'You will always have the poor with you,' as something vague. Somewhere, out in the wide world, there will always be poor people. Once I knew poor, hungry, homeless people, and struggled to know how to respond, I saw the words as a threat. You will always have the burden of figuring out how to deal with the poor, and you will always fail in your response. Then, I grasped his words as a call. ...My Somali friends, had they read Jesus' statement, may have seen it as a promise. There would always be opportunity to give, there would never be the risk of living with unabashed greed."

If these passages find you reaching for a highlighter, you will love this book. I recommend it if you want to know more about Islam, but also if you are interested in life as an expat in general, particularly in countries with few resources. I recommend it if you are interested in thinking more about Christianity, and about how people can have relationships with others who believe very differently from themselves. It's deep, heartbreaking, and beautifully written. It's based in profound relationships with friends Rachel clearly loves, relationships she doesn't try to pretend aren't sometimes awkward and difficult.

This book comes out in April, but you can already preorder it on Amazon here.

Book #9 was Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika Moulite and Martiza Moulite. Alaine Beauparlant is a Haitian-American living in Florida and attending a Catholic school.  She gets into trouble at school after a presentation goes wrong, and gets sent to Haiti to do volunteer work and redeem herself. She was born in Haiti but hasn't lived there. Figuring out how to adjust to Haiti would be challenging enough, but she is also faced with many other obstacles: her high-powered TV journalist mother is acting very strangely, there's apparently some sort of family curse, and she kind of likes one of the other interns in the office of the Minister of Tourism (the Minister happens to be Alaine's aunt). There's a lot going on in this book - sometimes it feels like too much - but overall I enjoyed Alaine's voice and her adventures. This book is going on my shelf in my classroom, where my students are always looking for YA books about Haiti. 

Book #10 was Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life, by Lauren F. Winner. I thought I had read this before, but I don't think I ever have. I liked it, though I prefer some of Winner's more recent books, especially Wearing God. I checked this book out because I'm in a group studying The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, and in the latest chapter she recommended "Reading Deprivation." I was telling my daughter about it, and expressing my view that I would never be able to do it, and certainly not for a whole week, and she told me that Lauren Winner had given up reading for Lent once. I wanted to read about her experience, and ended up finishing the whole book. I still am not convinced to give up reading, but her arguments, and Cameron's, make some sense. Here's to reading about giving up reading, as opposed to actually giving up reading!

Slice of Life Tuesday: Mystery Gift

I taught from home yesterday, and again today. We've been having everyone on campus for a while now, masked and distanced, but now our long-term political crisis here in Haiti is coming to a head, and we're back at home while demonstrations and strikes happen. 

In the middle of my staring at my screen and grading and reading student emails and refreshing the LMS, a box arrived. Christmas in February! My daughter in the US had sent her box to us at the cheapest possible rate, and then there were all those slowdowns there due to the vaccine rollout, and then pileups (I'm assuming) at our mail service in Florida, and then holdups in Haitian Customs. So it took a while for the presents to get here, but I don't mind that - it's actually quite nice to spread out the festivities. One year we had Christmas presents arrive in April (long story).  

The box was already open when I got it, I thought probably by my husband. My daughter had sent us each a book, perfectly chosen as usual, and there was a Christmas card enclosed explaining which one went to which of us and why. But then there was also a book in the box that wasn't mentioned in her card. I asked her about it via text, and she didn't know what I was talking about. I sent her a photo of it, and she still didn't know. I asked my husband if he'd put the book in the box, and he hadn't. 

Then I opened up the book and found a handwritten note. Addressed to "Babe," it explained that this book was the latest in the series, and then expressed a wish that books would help distract from the current situation. It was signed with a short signature that I couldn't read. 

The book looks interesting and I'll definitely read it (it's Fatal Pursuit, by Martin Walker), but I feel terrible that the intended recipient isn't getting it. I know what a boost it is to get a well-chosen book in the mail, especially with a handwritten note enclosed. But I don't have any way of tracing the person. I'm imagining the Customs officials had a couple of boxes open at the same time, and put this book in our box by mistake. There's no name on anything (that I can read). I thought of taking a photo of the book and part of the note and posting it on Facebook, so I did that, but so far there's been no response. 


Also, it makes me wonder how many perfect books sent to me have gone astray and are being read, or, worse, not read, in someone else's home. 



Monday, February 01, 2021

What's Saving My Life Right Now

What's saving our lives right now, asks Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs. Darcy? It's a good question, and one I've answered a couple of times in the past.


"Maybe what you need is a breakthrough day," reads a subject heading in my email inbox this morning. Doubtless, but what I've got instead here in Haiti is a strike day, a political protest day, a day to "teach from home," which sometimes seems to mean nothing but sit around waiting for students to do the work I assigned and send it to me. We've been in-person for a while now, except for a week and a bit recently due to COVID cases, so going back to online is depressing. 

What's saving my life? Well, as usual, it's people. People finding ways to connect in spite of all of it. People emailing or texting, people sending a photo, people calling. Even, sometimes, using the mail; as I was writing this, a box arrived with Christmas presents from my daughter - books to read! Then I texted her to say thanks, and then she called me and I saw her much-loved face on my phone screen. ("Mom," she said bracingly, "everyone's stuck at home right now, you're not special!") These reminders, small and large, that the outside world still exists and contains people who think of me, cheer me considerably on this decidedly non-breakthrough day. 

People are saving my life right now.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Poetry Friday: Shepherd's Purse

Shepherd's Purse

by Paul Perry

In the field - 

shepherd's purse;


to be seen even in the dark.


Think on it - after the gravel paths, 

after the roads - uneven and achingly long,

across the cold promise the border makes

to a sloping field, to a ditch.




More than that I remember the flat-seed pouch:


weed some call it, as if to flourish and seed

in the poorest soil is to be just that.

They are everywhere now - 

it seems to me,

populating my field of vision

like a generative disease, an affliction.


a man walks into a field.

A field with shepherd's purse.


You can read the whole poem here.


Shepherd's Purse. (Source:


In the parts I left out above, something traumatic happens in the middle of the peaceful field full of shepherd's purse.  Paul Perry is from Ireland, but traumatic things happen everywhere, in the middle of peaceful fields and peaceful streets and peaceful lives. I loved the way the poet here puts the emphasis on the traumatic thing and on the peaceful surroundings, both. Both are real. Forever after, seeing the shepherd's purse will bring back the traumatic thing, but that doesn't make the shepherd's purse any less beautiful. (Notice how he dismisses the word "weed.") 


I love the way poetry has room for both: the beauty and the pain. 

You should definitely click through and read the whole thing. It's short. Here's the link again.


Jan has today's roundup. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: Vaccines

Everybody is talking about vaccines these days. And particularly one vaccine. Are you going to take it? Aren't you? Are you worried about being a guinea pig? After all, we don't really know if it will work, do we?


As a child, I was fully vaccinated. Actually I was what you might call fully vaccinated plus. In addition to the regular vaccines everyone got, like Polio (remember the sugar cube?), I also had Yellow Fever and Cholera. That's because I traveled quite a lot as a result of my parents' overseas jobs. 

When my children were small, I knew many people who weren't vaccinating, or were doing a delayed schedule. But we lived in Haiti, a place where childhood diseases can be killers, and my children were fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated plus. You know, Hepatitis A, in addition to the standard Hepatitis B. 

The one I turned down for my children was the BCG, an inoculation against Tuberculosis. That's because I had that one, and then as an adult in the US, had issues when my skin test for TB reacted and the medical types freaked out. Then at the beginning of the pandemic, there was speculation that the BCG might actually be protective against COVID. At that point I really regretted saying no to it for my kids. 

I have many fears, but this vaccine isn't one of them. I will get it the moment the opportunity presents itself, which may not be very soon, since I live in a place where it takes a while to get the latest thing. I'm already rolling up my sleeve.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Poetry Friday: My Whole Soul Is In It

Since I started this blog in 2006, I have posted about two inaugural poems: those recited at both of President Obama's inaugurations. Here, in 2009, I wrote about Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day" and here I reflected more on Elizabeth Alexander and wrote my own poem that was sort of connected to the inauguration. And then here I shared Richard Blanco's "One Today." I didn't post about the 2016 inauguration because there wasn't any poetry performed there. In fact, the only presidents who have ever included poetry in their inaugurations have been Democrats: JFK, Clinton twice, Obama twice, and now Biden. Why don't Republicans do this? I don't know. Here's an article from about all the inaugural poems in history.


I'm positive that I won't be the only one to write about Amanda Gorman's poem today. It was, simply put, amazing. In a day of much to appreciate, Gorman stood out. First of all, she was decades younger than anyone else who spoke at the inauguration itself. Secondly, she wore an arresting yellow coat and red headband. And thirdly, her poem gave me goosebumps, even after I had heard it probably eight times.


I decided I must share this poem with my students, and I did that on Thursday. My students don't live in the United States but most of them have been there; some were born there. All are affected by what happens there. Of course, people around the world are affected by US events, but perhaps Haiti is more influenced than some places, for reasons that have to do with history and culture and that I won't go into right now.  

I passed out a transcript of Gorman's presentation (which I found here) and asked the students to underline or highlight lines that they particularly appreciated. ("Or," I added because I didn't start teaching middle school yesterday, "maybe you will hate some lines, and if so, underline those.") It was so fun to watch some students highlight almost the whole poem (for love, not hate) as they listened. My very favorite moment was hearing an eighth grader say, as the video was just beginning, "Wait, she's Black?" YES my dear, she is Black! There is so much power in kids seeing people who look like them up in front of everyone being wonderful. After we watched the video, we shared the lines we had liked, and nobody at all said anything about disliking any of it. 

But Amanda Gorman wasn't the only person who used poetic words. I loved hearing Joe Biden talk about his heart: "Hear us out as we move forward. Take a measure of me and my heart." But it was even better to hear him talk about his soul. My favorite line from his speech was when he talked about Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and saying that if his name went down in history at all, it would be for that document. Lincoln added, "My whole soul is in it." And, said Biden, "My whole soul is in it today, on this January day. My whole soul is in this, bringing American together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face -- anger, resentment and hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness."

Friends, I know he has his work cut out for him. I know the words spoken on Inauguration Day are often poetic, but that the work is full-on prose. But oh, wasn't it wonderful to hear the words, anyway?


Because I can't resist, here are a couple more links. Here's Anderson Cooper interviewing Amanda Gorman (and telling her she's awesome). Here's a transcript of President Biden's speech.  


And here are a few of my favorite lines from Gorman's poem:


And yet the dawn is ours

before we knew it


a nation that isn't broken

but simply unfinished


We are striving...

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man.

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us


That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried


Scripture tells us to envision

that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree

And no one shall make them afraid


It's because being American is more than a pride we inherit,

it's the past we step into

and how we repair it


So while once we asked,

how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert

How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?


we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one


The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it

Laura Shovan has today's roundup.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: White-necked Crow

During my free period on Friday, I was trying to get in a little birding. I was over by the elementary building with my binoculars when one of the elementary teachers walked by and narrowed her eyes at me. "Were you here yesterday?" she asked. "Because there was this huge black bird out here in the tree, squawking, the whole afternoon, and it was so loud!"

Something about her manner suggested that she blamed me, as the resident bird-lover, for inviting the White-necked Crow to perform. Because that is what was in that tree, though she didn't seem impressed when I told her. And I don't blame her, because they are very noisy. 

Source: Merlin app

The White-necked Crow, which I saw for the first time a few weeks ago in that very spot, is the Caribbean's largest corvid. You can see photos of it, and listen to how it sounds, here. It has very distinctive red eyes, and it's really big, 17-18 inches long. 

Yesterday morning I went out before school and saw two White-necked Crows in the same tree, cackling away as the day began. I smiled as I looked at them, and I thought about how those distinctive bird sounds will be part of the kids' memories of these days, whether they are fully aware of them or not. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Reading Update

I've only read three books in the first two weeks of 2021, but one of them was over 900 pages. Here are the first three books of 2021:


Book #1 of the year was A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer. This is the second book in the Cursebreaker series, a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I read the first book at the end of last year, and you can see what I thought of it in this post. The third one in the series is coming out next week!


Book #2 was Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell. This is the story of William Shakespeare's marriage and the death of his son Hamnet from the plague, but Shakespeare himself is never named in the story. We meet his wife, Agnes (she's usually called Anne in the information you'll find about Shakespeare's life). Hamnet's death isn't a spoiler because we know it will happen from the beginning. Another interesting fact is that the names Hamnet and Hamlet are basically the same, just two different versions of the same name. This is brilliantly written and has the advantage of being about an epidemic/pandemic.  (You may or may not consider that an advantage.) I really loved this book and highly recommend it.


Book #3 was the 900+ page one, Troubled Blood, by Robert Galbraith, who is really J.K. Rowling. What I love about these Cormoran Strike books is the character development of the ongoing characters, and that is here in spades. I could do without the excess of gore, but this is so meticulously worked out, much more so than most whodunits. You're not asked to take giant leaps of logic, but you see how the detectives find each tiny piece of information that ends up as a solution. In addition, the agency has other cases all the time, and those aren't neglected in the narrative either. This is the fifth in the series. I read books one and two in 2018the third in 2019, and the fourth later in 2019.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Poetry Friday: Earthquake Poems

Tuesday was the eleventh anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. I teach middle schoolers, so this year's students have no memory of what happened. But I remember. 

I'm in a group right now working through the book The Artist's Way. The first chapter is about feeling safe to create. It's so interesting to me that the time when I felt safest to create was also the time when I felt in the most physical danger. It was after the earthquake that I began regularly to share my personal writing, and especially my poems, online. It felt like something I could do to bring Haiti to people's minds when there was so little I could do on the ground. All the fears I'd had before seemed to evaporate. 

Today I'm going to share some of my earthquake poems, as I've done for the past few anniversaries. All the way at the end, you'll find the new poem I wrote this year. 

In April 2010, I posted Earthquake Vocabulary.

In May I posted Morning, about missing my husband while I was in the US and he was still in Haiti doing relief work.

In November I was back in Haiti, still struggling with the emotional aftermath, and I wrote Wave. Later that month I wrote Ordinary, about how much I appreciated the normal day to day aspects of my life after being away from home for so long.

In January 2013, for the third anniversary, I shared This Quilt.

In December 2013, I posted Sounds from this House. This is an example of a poem that I didn't expect to be about the quake at all when I started writing it.

In January 2014, I shared my poem about being evacuated from Haiti after the earthquake, called How to Pack an Evacuation Bag.

In March 2015 I posted Tears.  This one wasn't explicitly about the earthquake, but that's certainly one of the things I do still cry about, even now.

In 2017, I wrote Memento Mori and How Long Healing Takes in Port-au-Prince.

In 2019, I wrote The Last Normal Day.


Last year, in 2020, I posted Tenth Anniversary, about a man I read about in a Miami Herald article.


This year's poem is called "Eleventh Anniversary." Here it is:


Eleventh Anniversary

That night we slept on the ground on the soccer field
It was cold and we were afraid
The ground kept shaking - more than 30 times that night
We heard screaming and crying
We held our children and told them stories
A woman died that night on the soccer field
Her injuries too severe to recover from
That night

Tonight I will sleep in my bed
I will be warm and fear will be easier to dismiss
The ground will not shake (we hope and pray)
Our children will be in their own beds; in their adult minds will be their own stories
I will think of the woman who died on the soccer field that night
And the voices crying, wailing
Again and again
In Kreyol,
“The Lord gave, the Lord took away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Tonight I will remember



Margaret Simon has today's roundup.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Slice of Life Tuesday: January 12th

Eleven years ago today, on Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, I went home after a long day at school. Before I left my classroom, I wrote on the board, "January 13th, 2010."

As I entered through the gates of my yard, at 4:53 PM, the earth shook. I held on to my daughter, saying again and again, "It's OK. It's OK." 

It wasn't OK. Our city was devastated by the earthquake. But we were OK. Our whole family was unhurt. As the days passed, and we learned the extent of the damage, and the number of people who died (we'll never know how many; I wrote about that here), and we heard the stories of what others had gone through, our grief grew and grew. 

Today, eleven years later, I reflect once again that January 12th will never be just another day. It will always require quiet, mourning, feeling the pain again. 

The next time I walked into my classroom to get it ready to teach again, it was six months later. The date I had written, January 13th, was still on the board. (I wrote about this back then, here.) In between, I left the country with my children. In between, I struggled with what had happened. In between, I recognized that the lives of so many had been changed forever. So many had suffered infinitely more than I had. So many had lost everything. 

This is a slice of life, of my life, and of the life of Haiti. For us who were there, and for many who weren't, it's a slice we will never, ever forget.

(You can read in my archives the posts I wrote in January 2010 and in the months after, if you want to know more about how my family experienced those days.)

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Poetry Friday: Flourishing Where You Are

 My OLW for the year is FLOURISHING. I posted more about that here.


Part of flourishing is being adapted to your environment. One of the things I have been loving about my environment lately has been the birds that live here. Many times recently I have thought of the words, referring to a bird, "He sings each song twice over, / lest you should think he never could recapture / that first fine careless rapture." It's such a perfect description of birdsong and how joyful and abandoned it seems to be. 

I recently went and looked up the poem, and I'd kind of forgotten that the title is "Home Thoughts, From Abroad." Robert Browning wrote it from Italy, in a homesick mood. It's a time when he doesn't feel like he's really flourishing where he is. 

It's easy, when you feel homesick, to romanticize the place you miss. It looks better, brighter, more welcoming, from a distance. In your mind you know that things aren't perfect there, but you'd like to be there anyway. 

I have to say that the US is making it easier lately to live a long way away. Between COVID and the political situation and ... well, Wednesday ... I am quite OK staying where I am. But there are always places and people to miss. Here's the homesick Browning.

Home Thoughts, from Abroad

by Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England,

Now that April's there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England -- now!

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops -- at the bent spray's edge -- 

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children's dower

--Far brighter than this gaudy melon flower!


 Song Thrush, from

In high school I read a parody of this poem called "Home Truths from Abroad," ending with the couplet "For English spring sets men and women frowning / Despite the rhapsodies of Robert Browning." In other words, springtime in England isn't quite as idyllic as he says. It rains a lot, and it's still very cold. One time I went in the ocean at Weymouth in April, and I thought I would lose my toes, it was so cold! 

Flourishing involves being where you are. Sure, you'll feel homesick sometimes; even if you've never lived anywhere else, you may long for new places. But you have to appreciate the birds and flowers -- the circumstances in general -- where you live. And I do, especially in the winter, when it's breezy and beautiful here, with lows in the upper sixties. That makes it easy to flourish.

Sylvia Vardell has today's roundup here.

Spiritual Journey Thursday: OLW

In 2020, my OLW was HOPE. I reflected on how it went here. To summarize, in spite of everything, this was a great word for the year.


This year, I've chosen the word FLOURISHING. 


In some versions of the Bible, Psalm 92:14 uses the word "flourishing." Here's the NKJV rendition. Referring to the righteous, the text says, "They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing."
Other versions replace "flourishing" with "healthy and green," "full of sap and green," even "succulent." (Hmm, maybe I should choose the word "succulent." It just sounds a little too ... fruity.)
The fruit connection, plus the etymology of the word itself that suggests flowers, makes me think biologically. I've been studying birds a lot in the past couple of years, and each species has a different set of requirements for it to be able to flourish. Its habitat must be right, and that means planted with the right trees, with the right climactic conditions, with the right food to eat. What causes one species to flourish would kill another.
What causes me to flourish, other than God's goodness? Well, it all comes from God's goodness, but I'm also responsible to arrange things in ways that make me flourish. There are going to be times and seasons that are less than optimal. I like to think of myself as a hardy plant that can survive some adversity, kind of like bougainvillea, that does better in drought than it does when the rains are good. (I played some with that idea in my poem "Self-Portrait as Bougainvillea.") I can't expect conditions to be constantly ideal. But I can make sure that I get enough sleep, that I eat right, that I exercise, that I read plenty of books and spend time with people I love and who love me back. I can make sure I am doing activities that make me feel creative. I can drink tea with friends, even if we have to be distanced from each other. (Zoom teatimes are a thing, and I have a long table too, for local friends - we sit at opposite ends of it.) I don't have to put myself continually in situations that I know are not going to be conducive to my flourishing. 
I don't want to make it sound as though flourishing means self-indulgence, or as though I will wither up and die if my wishes are crossed. Not at all. But I do a hard job, and I live in a place that can be challenging, and 2020 was only the latest in a series of difficult years. I do need to make sure that what I can control, I do. I am sometimes too invested in my self-concept of being low maintenance, so I put up with things from others that I shouldn't, or I fail to prioritize taking care of myself.
I am newly physically healthy, having just been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency in the summer, and being physically healthy has resulted in being emotionally far brighter than I was. That's one thing that made my thoughts go in the direction of this word. 

But the main thing I have to do in order to flourish, even if the environment isn't ideal and the world news continues to be full of terrible things (which it will), is to remain in the Vine. Jesus used many agricultural metaphors, and one of them is the Vine. In John 15:5 He says, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Like hope last year, flourishing isn't all, or mostly, about me.
I'm looking forward to exploring this word this year. 



Here are the lyrics to Sandra McCracken's song "Flourishing":


Teach me, oh God to follow your decrees
Give me understanding, your word, I wanna keep
Direct me in the path, of your commands
For there I find delight, my will is in your hands
Turn my heart away from worthless things
Preserve my life, according to your ways
Take away disgrace
You hold me in my place--flourishing
Fulfill your promise to the ones you love
Within your ways we walk, for your laws are good
Temptation loses pow'r, my soul's revived
In righteousness, oh God, preserve my life
Turn my heart away from worthless things
Preserve my life, according to your ways
Take away disgrace
You hold me in my place--flourishing


This post is linked to the SJT roundup here at Carol Varsalona's blog.