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.

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.

Small Wonder

September is more than half-way over.  I am beginning to settle in to my school routine: getting up early, working long days organizing student support, and coming home exhausted only to organize some more.  It sounds tedious and parts of my job are very routinized, but then there is the wonder that sneaks in every day.  The wonder from young children engaging with their world.  That I would not trade to witness for all the money the in world – honestly.  Wonder is what sustains me, what pushes me through, what is on the other side of the routines and everyday drudgery. 

I realized that I have been either going to school or teaching in a school for sixty-two years, more than half a century, most of my life!  That is indeed a long time, and I know when the time comes for me to stop doing school, it will be a hard transition.  I absolutely love school.  I love getting up in the morning, picking out a school outfit, getting to school and seeing friends,  going through my way and learning, going home to think about all that has happened in the day, and then doing it all over again until summertime greets me at the end of the school year.

Every day there is a new surprise. Every day, something I didn’t expect happens.  This is sometimes positive and sometimes negative, and whichever it is – it is always a learning experience.  My days are electric, and that’s how I like them.  This is not to say my day are frenetic and haphazard.  No, the electricity comes from learning alongside children.  I get to see the world again through that childlike lens of wonder and discovery.  It fills me with joy, and I am reminded how exciting learning something can be.

One of the best ways I know to spend my time is visiting the JPK classroom, which is home to our three-year-old students.  I started my career teaching three-year-old children, so when I enter their classroom, it is like going back in time, and I feel young again. Three-year-olds are the friendliest people I know.  They engage you from the minute they meet you and want to be your friend.  They like to share information and will tell you without any hesitation what they are doing and how it is going in their world. Even if sometimes they are shy, they are still willing to come up and quietly share what they are thinking.  They thrive on connection.

I came to help out on the first day of school.  As parents were separating from their children, I noticed one little dark-haired girl, Avery, was having trouble letting her mom go.  I sat next to her at the playdough table and engaged her in a conversation long enough for her mom to say good-bye and leave.  We continued to play with our pink playdough balls, and I asked Avery if she’d like me to make a snowman. Her face lit up with an exuberant nod.  She requested that I make snowman after snowman in various sizes. She giggled and clapped all the way through.  I encouraged her to make a snowman, but she just shook her head and said, “You do it.” We played and chatted at the table until it was time for the children to clean-up and for me to get on with the rest of my day.

The following week, I came into the JPK room to find Avery once again sitting with pink playdough.  I sat alongside her and said hello.  She gave me a big smile and commanded me to make a snowman.  I started to make one ball and stopped and said, “You know you can do this.” She shook her head.  “Yes, you can,” and I said, “I can show you.”  Avery looked up at me, and I showed her how to move her hands to make a ball. She took some playdough and tried to form a ball.  She moved her hands back and forth.  When she opened her palms, she looked down and frowned.  “It’s a snake,” she said.  I smiled and explained, “When you move your hand back and forth it turns into a snake.  When you move your hands around in a circle like this it becomes a ball.”  I made a snake and then a ball. Then I helped Avery to move her hands in a circle. I told her to put the playdough on the table and move one hand on top in a circle.  She followed my instructions and slowly removed her hand uncovering a perfect little pink ball. Her face lit up like she had just witnessed magic.  Her face was a glow of delight that spread to me and to all the other children at the table.  I wished I had taken a photo of her.  Her expression was pure joy and happiness.  I tucked that image away with me and will keep it with me to use at times when I need a boost.

A few days later, I returned to Avery’s classroom.  When I walked in the door, she looked over her shoulder and beckoned me to come see what she was doing. When I saw, my heart over-filled with complete joy.  Avery’s playdough mat had a long line of pink balls lined up one after another and stacked one on top of another like a great pink snowball wall.  I laughed and said, “Oh, you have been busy!  You know how to make snowballs now!  You don’t need me.”  Avery smiled at me, patted the chair next to her. “Sit down,” she said, “Come play.”  Who could argue with that?

I know this seems like such a small thing: a child playing with playdough, learning to make shapes.  Some people might say, “This is the way you spend your day?  You get paid for this?” And I will proudly declare, “Yes – I spend my day in joy and wonder.  I spend my day cultivating play and creativity because it is through these little joy-filled interactions that people learn and grow and invent new ways for our world to be a better place. And so to all of you I say, “Sit down. Come play.”

Avery playing practicing her new skill: PlayDough balls!

A Wall of Wonder

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.