It is time to sit down and write. Concentrate. Get your thoughts together. They scattered like leaves in a wind storm. Sit down. Think. It is time to write. You can do it, and you will. Now, sit down. I sit and stare. I play with the keys of my laptop. I pretend to write. I try to think of something. I make lists of all the things I need to do – I must do. Nothing is coming. Nothing makes sense. I seek some of my photographs. Maybe they will help me find the words. Finally, I take a breath. I surrender my mind to the images, and images form in my mind.
It is time for winter break: teachers are exhausted, children are restless, and COVID is on the rise. Everyone is weary except the young children. They are bright with anticipation for whatever holiday they celebrate – Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas. Their sweet voices sing songs of cheer, helping to lift my spirits as I search for something to give me holiday spirit. I sat down with a table of Kindergarteners this week and asked, “What are you writing?” They all looked up at me perplexed, and one of them looked down at her paper and answered, “We are writing art!” I chuckled, “Oh, you are drawing! That’s a good thing to do!” I am ever-amazed at the new way in which children view the world. I have sought to keep that fresh, creative mindset as I age. Sometimes it is easy to do especially since I am surrounded by young, inquisitive minds, but sometimes I get “imagination block,” and I feel lost and without purpose. When I feel this way, I know I have to discover new paths to return to my creative source.
A colleague of mine has a ten-year-old daughter who loves Santa Claus and continues to believe. This has worried some adults who think it’s time for the girl to leave behind childish things. I, on the other hand, love Cassie’s tenacity to believe in the face of doubters both young and old. She will not give up her belief in Santa. I think this is because he represents generosity, hope, and magical thinking. Why would anyone want to give up that? Those are qualities that will bolster us as we make our way on this long journey. There is no need to toss Santa out, instead let’s celebrate him!
To get myself in the spirit of the season, I went to a neighborhood nursery where they sell trees, wreaths, and holiday gifts. They had an outdoor market with a treat wagon selling hot cocoa, mulled cider, and various kinds of cookies. Immediately my mood brightened with the smell of apples, pine, and juniper. I ventured into the gift shop and took my time looking at the ornaments, pottery, candles, and candle holders. I selected a gift for myself, a small tin candle holder in the shape of a tree. A smile appeared on my face, and I knew this was the right place to be. I lingered a little longer watching young children come into the shop to choose their favorite ornament for their tree. You could tell from their parents’ faces that this was an important moment, that they were building a Christmas tradition, that they were kindling their child’s imagination. I watched as a two-year-old selected a glass popcorn ornament for her tree. She clapped as her father picked it up and gave it to the saleslady, her golden curls shaking with glee. My heart was warm now, and I was ready to venture outside where everyone was awaiting the arrival of Santa. I stopped to get a cup of mulled cider before leaving. I breathed in deeply its cranberry, orange, and apple essence. I walked about the lines of trees and wreaths. I wasn’t in the market to buy; I just took a leisurely stroll soaking in holiday spirit.
On the way back home, I passed a street I have passed many times since living in this small town for nineteen years. It looks like every other street in town, except at Christmastime. The street is named St. Nickolas Way, and at this time of year, the street sign is donned with a Santa hat. Every time I pass by, I smile. This time, I decided to stop and take a photo to remind me of holiday hope and Christmas imagination. I headed home, with a warm heart and a mind full of cheer.
Books Celebrating Santa
A Cooke for Santa by Stephanie Shaw
Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera
Dasher: How a Brave Little Doe Changed Christmas Forever by Matt Taveras
Dear Santa by Rod Campbell
Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs
Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood
How to Catch Santa by Jean Reagan
How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky
Hurry Santa! by Julie Sykes
Little Red Sleigh by Erin Guendelsberger
Little Santa by Jon Agee
Love, Santa by Martha Brockenbrough
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore (Illustrated by Holly Hobbie)
Santa Calls by William Joyce
Santa Claus and the Three Bears by Maria Modugno
Santa Duck by David Milgrim
Santa in the City by Tiffany D. Jackson
Santa Mouse by Michael Brown
Santa’s Stuck by Rhonda Golwer Greene
Santa’s Underwear by Marty Fingley
The Animals’ Santa by Jan Brett
The Big Secret: The Whole and Honest Truth About Santa Claus by D.W. Boom
The Real Santa by Nancy Redd
The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold by Maureen Fergus
September and October have buzzed by at a hectic pace. One week’s “To Do” list is accomplished only to be replace with the next week’s list. I feel like I will never get off this seemingly never-ending cycle. I keep arranging and rearranging my schedule trying to find bits of time to breathe. The bits are not enough, and I feel stress and anxiety creeping in. I know that I have to make myself slow down and concentrate on what makes me healthy and whole. I need to go back to poetry and photography. I need to return to natural beauty.
This summer, my husband and I planned an October trip to New Hampshire, and I’m glad we did. We thought that because of COVID we might not be able to follow through on our plans, but we found ourselves in dire need of nature and restoration. We headed out of New Jersey, up through New York state, into the Green Mountains of Vermont, and into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The nine-hour trip slowly melted all my tension away. As we drove, I watched the lush autumn scenery and forgot about all the things that need to be done; that tugged at me for attention.
I started thinking about how to capture what I saw with my camera and how to put words to the beauty I was witnessing. I focused on color and played with ways to express the fall foliage in a new way.
This week, I entered a 4th grade classroom to see students at their desks silently moving their lips and quietly tapping their fingers. I heard a hum, “5-7-5… 5,7,5…” and then tapping, clapping, and snapping. I knew immediately what they were busy creating. They were constructing haiku.
In the last two weeks, the teacher introduced haiku as an accessible way for students to get to know each other. She asked them to write haiku which described who were without giving a physical description. First, she had laid the groundwork reminding them of the haiku form and reviewing background information, sharing examples of haiku from the Japanese poets, Basho, Shiki, and Issa. As I listened, I learned something I had not know before. In Matsuyama, Japan and its surrounding prefecture, they have built special mailboxes expressly for the purpose of sharing haiku. They are beautiful works of art in and of themselves, and as I saw the pictures of the mailboxes placed all around the city, I had an idea. I asked the teacher if I could construct a haiku mailbox for the 4th grade. She thought it was a wonderful idea and reported that her students have been happily depositing their work into the mailbox. I am looking forward to the time when we share our poems.
The school year began in a rush and is continuing at a frenetic pace. I have been trying to pause throughout my day and catch a breath. I’m finding that this is not enough. I am making it my intention to pull away on the weekends and devote time to poetry, photography and art. Photography helps me get into the flow of the moment. When I am walking in the woods, gardens, or parks, I direct my attention to what I see. It is like going on a treasure hunt, and my camera records my beautiful or surprising sights. When I am looking through my camera lens, I am not thinking of anything else. I am only concentrating on the object. I let it tell me how it wants to be captured and remembered. I experiment with angles and exposures until I feel I have expressed the object’s mood and essence. Immediately, a sense of calm permeates my spirit. I have entered a fall flow. After I have collected several photographs, I sit quietly and let the words come to me. They come tapping into my mind – “5-7-5,… 5,7,5…” The rhythm relaxes me. I can continue to flow.
Every year except for the last COVID year, my husband and I spend a week each summer photographing Acadia National Park and the Down East Maine Coast. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The confluence of ocean and mountain is just breathtaking – climbing mountains with views of islands and sailboats dotting the water – bringing me such peace.
No matter what current state of tumult the world is in, Maine brings a clear sense of purpose and serenity. It is a solid reminder of how important the natural world is for one’s sense of well-being.
Little Long Pond
Clear Mountain pond
Floating lily pad
Opening to yellow centers
And sparkling sunlight
Mountains stand ont he horizon
Perfect summer day
The gulls hover
Over Seal Harbor
Surveying the boats,
Looking down into the water.
A blue heron steps gracefully
Among the seaweed covered rocks
His agile neck curves and darts
Piercing the water’s surface,
Ready for a fish dinner.
The seagulls circle and squawk
In the evening air
Salty and cool
Sweet sunset fishing.
Old yellow lobster pots
line the edge of the harbor,
Topped with piles of ropes
and brightly colored buoys.
No lobster is trapped inside
Now - just dented soda cans,
Blue rubber work gloves,
And bricks crusted with barnacles.
The lobster boats float
Ready to glide along the ocean
As lobstermen to set
and recover their traps
Pulling heavy ropes hand-over-hand
Seawater rushing and gushing out
Bearing shining treasure:
This week, I cannot write about education, travel, or art. This week I have to address world events. The disaster that is Afghanistan has weighed heavily on my mind and heart. When disturbed and rattled, I usually turn to poetry to make sense of my feelings. I thought and thought about how I could express the immense sadness I feel about our great country, our amazing America. Not our perfect America, but our promising, hopeful America.
Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too!” reverberated in my head this week. Written in 1867, Whitman’s poem celebrated America’s work ethic. Then in 1926, Hughes’ demanded that Blacks be recognized as an essential part of America. With COVID, racial unrest, discrimination, limited rights and freedoms, rising inflation, the Afghan crisis – America is not singing now. Never, in my lifetime have I felt so frightened and so worried that our country is slipping away. But my strong belief is that America is worth saving, and we must find a way to heal and regain our strength and standing.
I Hear America Weeping
I hear America weeping,
No longer brave,
No longer beautiful,
No longer united.
Land of industrious immigrants,
Once strong and diligent,
Now at odds with each other:
Vaccinated, not vaccinated;
Black brown, red, yellow, white.
Great cities burning,
Flooded by drugs and violence,
Open to looting, and shootings.
America, I hang my head
Sorrowful and ashamed,
Who will heal America?
I hear America weeping,
No longer noble,
No longer resolute,
No longer the shining city
Upon the hill,
Beacon of hope.
Once the world leader,
Once the honorable democracy,
Now disgraced and embarrassed,
Open to terror, disorder, and chaos,
We have lost the world’s trust,
Abandoned our citizens and our allies.
We no longer stand for freedom.
America, I’m weeping,
The eyes of all people
Are truly upon us.
We are coming upon the last days of summer. For me, there is something bittersweet about that. I find myself holding on to the warm golden promise of summer. I don’t want it to end. No matter, how much I enjoy the fall, summer is a time that signals renewal and hope. There is so much I wanted to accomplish, so much joy I wanted to breathe in and make last. I don’t want that feeling to end. I need to find a way to sustain summer’s promise. I find it in the fields of wildflowers that I’ve encountered. I remember a poem I wrote many years ago. I keep reflecting on the power of that wild beauty. Something colorful and unexpected, something to surprise and comfort the faithful.
I come upon a field of wildflowers -
Poppies, cornflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace -
I walk across the field
Almost on tiptoe so as not to
Disturb a single petal.
I capture with my camera
Oranges and yellows,
The surprise of blue, the blush of pink.
As I travel the meadow.
I find a bunch of wild daisies -
“He loves me, he loves me not,”
I say to myself and shrug.
I wonder where that game began.
Each daisy petal holds a fortune,
Which way will it end?
I take hold of its bright face,
Count each white petal,
Lucky 13 – I take a chance.
He loves me, he loves me not -
He loves me, he loves me not -
Until the last petal is plucked:
He loves me!
I look down at the sad yellow center,
The white petals, like torn paper
Fall from my hand.
I came across a wonderful graphic book for young readers by Ricardo Liniers Siri called Wildflowers. It is an imaginative journey through island jungle by three heroic sisters. Liniers based the story on his three daughters’ creative play. It is a pure celebration of how creativity and sisterhood can save the day! Liniers notes that Tom Petty’s song, “Wildflowers,” served as an inspiration. I had not heard of Petty’s song before, so I took a listen and began to weep. What simple beauty!
You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free
You belong somewhere you feel free
What a powerful message for young readers! Historically, I have not been a huge fan of graphic books/novels, but that it not to say that I have not found pure genius in some of them. Graphic books for young readers seem to be a perfect way to motivate and engage children. The combination of picture and text support fluency and comprehension. I know our young K-3 readers gravitate to graphic books, as do our older elementary readers. The vivid descriptions that I enjoy as I read are encoded in a different way in graphic books. Here, the pictures serve as description and the readers must use their growing inferring skills. The rich visuals beckon children to question, wonder, and explore. Thank you, Liniers and Toon Books, for making me a fan!
Something about water that is so pure and calming whether it’s in the form of river, pond, lake, waterfall, or ocean. The flow of water fills me with possibility. Water is smooth and easy. It can carry itself anywhere. It is versatile and resilient. And water is strong. It can sweep you away and wear great rocks smooth. Water is a force to be reckoned with. I try, in my daily life, to emulate the qualities of water. I want to adopt its beauty, tenacity and strength. I want to achieve its clarity and purpose.
Being close to water always puts me at ease and allows me to center myself. Whatever trouble I face or obstacles I encounter has always been set right with time spent by the water. August calls me to come to the water, and so I obey. Salt water and sand – just what I need to slow down, reflect, and write. I take my camera along to record the images that stand out to me.
Brave children stand
At the edge of the sea,
While watchful waves
Tug at their tender feet.
Come in, come in
The wind whispers,
But the children run,
Scattering shells across the sand.
Their laughter lifts in to the air,
Bounces on the shimmering sea,
The roar of the waves
Closer the children creep,
Tan limbs in pools of white foam,
Ready, watching for
That next wave.
Scooping up sea glass,
Small shells, smooth stones,
The children splash,
Dancing with the sea.
As giant clouds climb
Over the slate-blue horizon
Like dangerous pirates
Waiting to snatch their treasure.
Come away, come away
To a distant shore,
While the sun sinks in the western sky
Washing everything with gold.
Book Lists: Seven by the Sea
Come Away from the Water, Shirley by John Burningham
Flotsam by David Wiesner
Hello Ocean by Pamm Munoz
Home for Hermit Crab by Eric Carl
Mister Sea Horse by Eric Carl
Stella, Star of the Sea by Mary-Louise Gay
Wave by Suzy Lee
Middle Grade Novels:
A Swirl of Ocean by Melissa Sarno
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk
Fish Girl by David Weisner and Donna Jo Napoli
They Eyes of the Amaryllis by Natalie Babbitt
The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
The Wanderer by Sharon Creech
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm
Books for Adults:
Gift of Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg
Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw
The Lobster Chronicles: Life on a Very Small Island by Linda Greenlaw
The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure by Jacques-Yves Coustea
The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
Turtle Summer: A Journal for My Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe
I believe there are places on this beautiful planet that are meant to heal, that are God-given. They bring wonder and awe. They summon peace and calm. I am fortunate throughout my life to have experienced many of these places. The natural world has always given me solace.
During COVID, it was near-impossible to travel far from home. Last spring, I found myself driving out into the countryside near my home, taking in the rolling hills, passing herds of grazing cows, horses, goats, sheep, llamas, and the occasional donkey. The animals had no idea of the death and stress that the human population was facing. They just left the warm comfort of their barns and sauntered out onto the sunny fields to feast. How I longed to have their innocence. Watching them and being in the greening world helped me to focus on what is important in my life.
Finally, this summer we can travel again. As we planned our first trip, my mood shifted, and I noticed my husband’s mood also became more hopeful. It was evident that both of our spirits needed to roam. Our first journey took us to Stowe, Vermont. Something about the Green Mountains makes me all at once calm and joyful. The rolling valleys dotted with farms and the graceful sloping mountains in the distance give me space for my soul to soar.
When we visit Vermont, we go to Stowe for much needed rest and relaxation. This trip, I vowed not to turn on my laptop and to only check my phone twice a day. I wanted to be completely present to the river, mountains, trails, and blue sky above me. Even better, I wanted to take in the afternoon mountain rain without distraction. I wanted it all to soak in and restore my body and mind.
Stowe is the perfect place for photography and poetry, so I indulged. I noticed and wondered, and made myself available to the nature all around me. These happy surroundings made it easy to create. I placed no judgement on myself. I just looked around me and recorded what I saw and how I felt. These excursions helped me to regroup and refuel. I am ever grateful.
The golden meadow
Laced with wildflowers,
The stand of pine trees
Gently sloping along
The quiet ridge,
The mountains rise
One after the other
A play of light and shadow,
Silver clouds drift
Dusting the mountaintops,
Dark Daubs of clouds
Paint the early evening sky
Above the green mountains,
Which rise like enormous waves.
Silent and still in the distance,
A sliver of moon appears
Through the mist,
A sideways smile
Brightening the dark
Step into the garden,
A flute plays lilting
Through the air,
My feet find the gravel path,
I begin to wind around
The plants and flowers:
Day lilies, raspberry thickets,
Feeling the pebbles
Under my feet,
Breathing in the flowers’
Listening as the chickadees
Compete with the flute music.
My shoulders relax,
I close my eyes.
Feel my way round and
round the circle to its center.
I do not fall,
I am held,
Small and quiet
In the calm.
This summer, I am setting my intentions on listening: listening to my body, to my friends, and to the awesome nature around me. I am being mindful of my surroundings. I am paying close attention to what is important. All around me over this past year was noise: people talking, talking, talking and me worrying, worrying, worrying. So I decided to turn everything off – no television, no radio, no endless chatter. I am becoming more discerning of what I listen to. I want beautiful noise: great books, beautiful music, uplifting messages. To do this, first I had to get very, very quiet.
I had to pay attention to life with little sound. I had to cue into my other senses and learn to become present to vibrant colors, fragrant smells, and soft textures on my skin. I found myself being grateful for these simple wonders. I began to slow down, listen to my body, become kinder to myself. I paused and learned to nourish myself with, not only good food and exercise, but with positive media. So much of the media is intended to distract and cause anxiety. I turned away from the constant barrage of news and information. I decided I should be the curator of what I wanted to listen to and take in.
In the last six weeks of using this approach, I have found calm and contentment. I don’t need the noise to keep me company. I can just look up or out or down and be present to my surroundings. I can better tune into what my husband and friends are saying. The more I listen with attentiveness, the more calm I have become. It feels good be present to others. I don’t need to talk. I don’t need to do anything. I just need to listen. Listening is enough.
As I think about returning to teaching in the fall, I think about how I will talk to children about the importance of listening. I’ve been thinking about ways to teach them to center themselves, ignore distractions, and concentrate on the thing or person right in front of them. I continue to reflect on the best ways to do this, and so this will be my summer project for school this year: tuning out the unimportant and tuning in to what is essential, to what nourishes, to what gives us positive outcomes and peace.
Recently, I went to a nearby organic market and found a colorful mural on their cafe wall. It is a perfect example of placing importance of what’s necessary for meaningful communication. I am reflecting on how I will share this with my students as a way to help them develop more thoughtful speaking and deeper listening.
Books about Listening For Adults
Emotional Intelligence: Mindful Listening by The Harvard Business School
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen
Just Listen by Mark Goulston
Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred by Mark Nepo
The Art of Listening in a Healing Way by James E. Miller
The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh
The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships by Michael P. Nichols and Martha B. Straus
The Zen of Listening by Rebecca Z. Shafir
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters by Kate Murphy
Picture Books about Listening for Children
Listen, Listen by Phillis Gershator
“I Have a Problem,” said the Bear by Heinz Janisch and Silke Leffler
The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall