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 loden 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.