Stirring the Senses – Part 2

Last week, I planned a winter sensory poetry lesson for out 2nd graders.  I decided to start with a slideshow of winter photographs and then brainstorm words that they might use in their poems. My goal was to quickly set them off to write so they’d have plenty of time to compose their poems and share them.

This week, I executed my plan.  As I presented the slideshow, the girls looked intently at the photographs, which were a mix of nature scenes and people and animals in the snow. After watching silently, they shared their ideas as I wrote them down.  We were collecting sensory words from what we had seen in the photos.  The words would act as a jumping off point to create images for their poems.

Before they began to write, they asked some questions.  One girl asked if she could use rhymes and I nodded my head.  She sparked an idea in my head because I don’t normally compose rhyming poems.  Since I always write when the children write, I decided to challenge myself and write a rhyming sensory poem. I think it is an important part of the writing process for children to see adults writing alongside children.  I made sure the girls were all actively thinking and writing, and then I sat down with my own ideas. One student came over to see what I was writing, but I quickly redirected her to her own writing and told her that I would share at the end of class.

As the children wrote, I circled the room looking at their poetry and making observations that I thought would nudge their writing further.

  • That’s an interesting idea! You’re making an acrostic.
  • Wow! You are using such strong verbs.
  • Oh, you are including lots of sound words.
  • Like each child, like each snowflake, each poem was different, exquisite in its creation.  They took their experiences of snow and thought about how it looked, smelled, sounded, tasted, and felt. They thought hard, they experimented with words, and they formed meaning to share with others.  This time to play is necessary and important for writers. It connected what they have been reading, to what they have experienced, to what they have learned about composing a poem.

Christmas Zen: Shed Some Holiday Cheer

During the weeks before Christmas, I enjoyed frequenting local garden shops to take in the smell of pine and look at all the holiday decorations.  This year, one neighborhood garden shop had several sheds set up covering their extensive grounds. Each shed held different types of decorations: wreaths, floral arrangements, ornaments, and bells.  I walked inside each one and breathed deeply.  Every particle in my body relaxed in those small cozy spaces.  I felt safe and calm surrounded by nature and seasonal beauty.

I often have thought if I lived in a house and had a backyard, I would love to have my own shed – a she shed.  It would be constructed of unvarnished wood that would weather into a soft gray.  I would paint the interior bright white and have a large set of windows on one wall. It would have French doors to let in as much light as possible.  I would have some simple shabby chic furniture: a table with mismatched chairs and an enormous overstuffed arm chair to sink into while I write and dream.  I would have a cozy rug in blue and green and bookcases to display pottery, books and trinkets I’ve collected over the years.  It would be a shed of my own where I could create and set free my imagination.

As I stepped into each of the garden sheds, I was filled with delight.  The wreath shed smelled like pine, juniper, and cinnamon.  I inhaled the scent and felt so happy.  I didn’t want to leave, but I pressed on to a small shed with floral centerpieces in rustic tins and brass bells.  Another shed contained a display of jingle bells on leather straps along one whole wall.  I stood in the middle of the shed, closed my eyes, and stretched out my arms.  I took in all I could from this special Christmas magic.  I was desperately in need of some holiday cheer.

I spent the better part of an hour wandering from shed to shed looking at my reflection in the glass ornaments, picking up small treasures to decorate my tree, and brushing my hand against prickly pine boughs.  I came in search of the wonder of the season, and I found it here in these rustic sheds filled with joy and light.  The last shed I came to was closed.  I could not enter.  At the threshold was a concrete stature of a frog sitting in the lotus position. Above his head hung a small slate with the words: “Santa is coming.”  I smiled.  All was well with the world.  Santa is indeed coming, and small things still hold great joy.

She Shed Inspiration

She Sheds:A Room of Your Own

She Sheds Style: Make Your Space Your Own

Building a DIY She Shed on a Budget

Persimmons in Winter

Persimmons are a new fruit to me.  I began eating them only two years ago.  They were not widely available in grocery stores.  They are seasonal and show up in the produce aisle for a few short weeks in winter.  They are rare and expensive.  I treat myself anyway much like I treat myself to my childhood favorites – figs and pomegranates.

I have had to learn how to know when they are at their peak ripeness.  I’ve tasted a few before their prime, which left a fuzzy taste on. My tongue.  But their color – their color gives me hope for spring and brightens my mood.

Persimmons first came from Asia.  There are many varieties and colors ranging from yellow to chocolate brown.  The variety I enjoy is Hachiya, which is flame-orange and heart-shaped. Persimmons are now grown all over the world: Asia, Spain, Israel, Azerbaijan, Australia and in Florida and California in the United States.

Every year, I look forward to the winter, to the change of season.  But when the leaves fall, and the trees are bare, and cold sets in,  I begin to feel a distinct loneliness.  Nature had gone to sleep but I’m still wandering in the wilderness.  I just doesn’t seem right to me.  I take precautions for the winter gloom not to settle into my spirit.  Candles, twinkling lights, trips to the garden store to see greenery and bright berries – all these help to lift my mood.  But the persimmon is uniquely responsible for bringing springtime back to me.  I smell, taste, and swallow, and something inside me brightens and grows.

Persimmons in Winter

The winter sky
Holds no color.
Cloudless and icy gray,
It is a blank canvas
For the bare branches
That crisscross and rise up
In the frozen air
Stitching the sky
With sharp lines and angles,
A sketch of the woodlands
In black and white.
There is no sound,
No smell, no color -
The air is empty.
The trees stand in solitude,
Perfect peaceful desolation.

In my black woolen coat
Hat, scarf, and mittens,
I walk the wide expanse of the meadow
Where all traces of green
Have leeched back
Into the soil till spring.
Cold stones and ice clods
Crunch under my feet.
Most animals have gone to hibernate,
Birds dip through the air
In quick silence,
A lone crow calls out
With his broken voice.
This winter loneliness
Seeps into my exposed skin
And settles there.

I walk back home
To find some respite from the cold,
To embrace some color.
A small bowl of persimmons
Sits on my kitchen table.
Their flame-like hue
Draws me close and warms me.
I touch their waxy skins
And immediately feel their warmth.
They are ripe and ready,
I choose one to enjoy.
Peel and cut in thick rounds.
In the center of each
Is an eight-petaled flower.
For this brief moment,
I return to spring.

Inspiration and Handiwork

Over the years, bloggers have blessed me with new ideas, book suggestions, encouragement, beautiful artwork and photographs, and myriad moments of inspiration.  I have learned so much from strangers, and I am so grateful for their knowledge and generosity.

My latest spark of inspiration comes from Adam Zucker who blogs at Artfully Learning. Last week, Adam wrote about Black Mountain College in North Carolina and its founders, teachers, and alumni.  He wrote about the life and art of Ruth Asawa. I had never heard of her, but I had read and studied the work of her teacher, Josef Albers.  As I looked at the work of Ruth Asawa, I had a tingling “Aha” moment. I had such a strong visceral reaction to her sculptures. They were curved and intricate biomorphic shapes. Her organic wire sculptures reminded me of some macramé sculpture I created in graduate school as part of my Master’s thesis in Creative Arts Education forty-three years ago. I carried those sculptures around for years and gave a few away to friends.  I had forgotten about them until I saw Ruth’s sculptures.  I said aloud to myself, “Oh! I wish I had known about Ruth Asawa forty-three years ago.  Her work would have greatly influenced my art and pushed me forward.”  I never thought of weaving with wire and stayed with more common materials such as paper, fabric, yarn, jute, and hemp.

I made twelve sculptures with accompanying poems. Two sculptures I remember very well.  My work was centered around the women who influenced my life.  The first sculpture was a rectangular wall hanging in a natural jute tied onto wooden branches on the top and bottom.  The knots were predominantly Josephine knots in honor of my maternal grandmother, Josephine, who I never met.  She died at the age of forty-six from a cerebral hemorrhage.  Family members always told me that I looked like her.  I never believed them until I came across a photo of her at the age of sixteen.  My heart skipped a beat when I looked at her eyes and smile. Yes, indeed, I look a lot like my grandmother.  I wanted to create a sculpture that would reflect my connection to her.

Another sculpture was a replica of a head of long chestnut hair.  My childhood friend, Roxanne, had the most gorgeous long, straight, thick hair. My hair was short, fine, dark brown, and curly.  I coveted Roxanne’s hair.  I craved long thick tresses that I could toss, braid, and put in in an elegant bun.  I found a wire-framed oval, and I tied long strands of wool year in multi-shades of brown.  Then I created different kinds of intricate braids down the length of the sculpture.  To add interest, I woven in some gold engraved barrel beads.  This is the hair I would have wanted.  This is the hair of my amazing dear friend.  After the exhibition,  I packed Roxanne’s hair in a box and sent it to her in Boston with a note expressing how much her friendship meant to me.

As years went by,  I turned to watercolor and collage for artistic expression.  And my time was spent more and more teaching children.  In my teaching, I always shared the connection of art to literature, and exposed my young students to various artists, genres, and materials.  I knew it was important for children to explore the world of art and use their imaginations to create their own work. This free expression is crucial for building identity, self-esteem, and for nurturing creative minds.

With a little research, I found a picture book A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino.  She recounts Ruth’s childhood on a California farm, her interest in nature, and her studies in art.  She was influenced by choreographer, Merce Cunningham, the visionary designer, Buckminster Fuller, and the abstract artist, Josef Albers.  As Ruth developed as an artist, a trip to Mexico introduced her to write weaving.  When she returned home to San Francisco, she began to tach art and create beautiful nature-inspired wire sculptures.

I cannot wait to try my hand at wire sculptures.  After all, I have been waiting for forty-three years!  Maybe I can combine wire and fiber.  I am looking forward to playing and creating with this new-found idea. 

Josephine Knots in Copper Wire

Forest Bathing: Autumn Plunge

The last time I was in Vermont, it was summer – July to be exact. Everything was green in the green mountains, and I was in need of some physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. I had read about the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. I immediately loved the image that came to mind – walking down woodland paths or up steep mountain paths and soaking in all that nature has to offer. My summer Forest Bathing post can be viewed here.

As is our tradition, my husband and I travel up to Vermont in October to witness the leaves changing color in all variations of radiant yellow, orange, russet, red, crimson, and purple. This year was a spectacular display. Whenever we went there was vibrant color – a real-life watercolor – colors blended into each other and the sky was a clear, cloudless blue. I could not wait to get into the woods, to surround myself with color, with the natural signs of the changing seasons. As I walked, I took photos and wrote poetry in my head. This is what my Autumn plunge created.

Reading in Wildness

I took this photo while on vacation in Maine.  I was walking by a favorite lily pond and happened upon this mother-daughter reading team lounging in a nearby meadow. The mother was reading with much gusto, taking on the voices of each character.  I don’t know what book it was that she was reading, but her young daughter was totally entranced by the story.  “Surely,” I thought to myself, “this child will grow up to be a fearless, wild reader.”  They brought a smile to my face and joy to my old teacher heart.

As a child, reading was difficult for me. I painstakingly sounded out each letter and then tried my hardest to blend the sounds into a word. Sometimes it worked, but sometimes it didn’t, and the whole process left me exhausted. However, I loved stories.  I listened to epic poems that my father would recite and fantasy classics that my mother would read to me.  I found stories to be mesmerizing.  It took me a long time to say that I loved reading. Reading was slow work, and I was a fast kid. I did not like to sit still.  I wanted the words to come fast and furious, but my mind kept me at a slow and steady pace.  I was labeled a “slow reader.”  I wasn’t dyslexic, just slow.  One of the reasons for this, I think as I look back, is that I was in love with words, so I would dawdle over passages and wonder how the author constructed such a scene.  If the author left some things to the readers’ imagination, then I would float off creating whole other scenarios in my head.  Slowly, I would land back to the book and continue where I had left off.  This certainly was not efficient, purposeful reading, but it did afford me the ability to read like a writer.  I was not a spectator as I read, I was a participant.  I took in all the words to use them again in a different way in a story of my own. Eventually, I learned to savor the slow and to know that the kind of reading I was doing was helping me become a better writer.

Recently, I found Hudson Talbott’s A Walk in Words.  Talbott was also a slow reader and in this book he explains his reading journey.  It is through drawing that Talbott came to love reading and writing.  He found that his love of drawing lead him into stories, and he began to think of reading as “word painting.” As he grew, Talbott’s curiosity won, and he was able to read at his own pace. At the end of the book, he created a Slow Reader Hall of Fame including: William Shakespeare, Joan of Arc, Babe Ruth, Sojourner Truth, Alexander Graham Bell, to name a few. Thankfully, Talbott became a picture book writer. He said that he mined books for words to use in his stories and that the ability to lose himself in books helped to spark his imagination.

When I think of it, many of the book I adored as a child were based in the wild. The book that taught me that I loved reading was the classic, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry and after that was Jean Craighead George’s masterpiece, My Side of the Mountain.  Those books helped me see past myself and to envision the kind of reader who takes chances and doesn’t give up. I slowly picked my way through the words and in the process found lifelong friends and exciting adventures.

Reading in Wildness Suggestions:

Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits by Donalyn Miller

Picture Books:

A Walk in Forest by Maria Dek

Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner

Slow Down: 50 Mindful Moments in Nature by Rachel Williams

The Hike by Alison Farrell

Tiny, Perfect Things by M.H. Clark

Wild by Emily Hughes

Chapter Books:

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha lai

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Wanderer by Sharon Creech

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

Forest Bathing

I have taken some time off to be in Vermont.  It is a place my husband and I  have gone for the last thirty years. I need this time to relax, heal, and ease my pain.  I am so grateful for this place.  As soon as I see the Green Mountains in the distance, I breathe deeply and feel something release inside of me.  This may be due to the wide expanse of greenery, the clouds sitting gently on the mountain tops, or the roadside laced with an assortment of wildflowers.  There are acres and acres of distance between neighbors and people still put their wash up on clotheslines.  This is a slow and peaceful place.  My eyes tell my body that I am safe; I can rest now.

I have been reading about a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku, or Forest Bathing. The idea is the connect with nature by walking in the woods.  By bringing all your senses to that place and being mindful, your body begins to heal itself and you feel restored.  I am practicing forest bathing every day while in Vermont.  My body is beginning to ache a little less and my mind is certainly in a better place.  I so needed this respite, and I am grateful that there is such a beautiful place nestled in the mountains.

Flowery Thoughts

These past three weeks, I have had to put my life on pause a bit to deal with pulled muscles in my lower back.  Needless to say, I am trying to develop a better relationship with pain.  My first reaction is panic, which only tightens the muscles more.  So, I breathe deeply, think of beautiful places, and try to compose poetry out of the pain.

I have needed to talk short, slow walks throughout the day to keep the muscles happy.  The more I walked, the better I felt.  Of course, I had to recognize my own limitations and not walk too long, otherwise I would be back in the pain place, and panic would set in once again.

Nature is always good medicine, and I seek to be among trees and flowers as much as I can. Nature makes me more mindful of the short time we have to enjoy this miraculous earth.  It makes me grateful to be among the flowers.  It makes me feel like I am part of something much bigger than myself.

I have what I call the “Emily Dickinson Syndrome.”  I have a habit of writing lines, stanzas, or whole poems on scraps of paper, napkins, old journal pages, or whatever is at hand. Then I forget about them and find them at a later date, often surprised by my own thinking.  I found a stanza today in a 2018 calendar in the June 25th space.  It was like my previous self was sending me a message she did not want me to forget.

The pale ,yellow tulips

On your bedside table

Bow their buttery heads,

Delicate and fragile,

Their blooms fleeting.

My thoughts turn to flowers.  They help me recover and create a more positive approach to pain.  Poetry allows me to recall times when flowers have given me momentary joy.  This settling of spirit is welcome and necessary.