Word Play

Laughing Elbows

Last week, I was reminded of all the ways kids play with language.  They are not bound by grammar or convention.  They use their imaginations to express what they see and feel.  I read a recent post by fellow SOS blogger, Ramona. She wrote about her recent trip to the Oregon Coast with her grandsons.  At the end of the trip, she told her grandson Jack, “You make my heart happy!” Jack replied, “Grandma, you make my elbows laugh!”  This memory made me smile, and I was reminded of how wonderfully bright children see the world.  I guess that is why I have been a teacher for so many years.  I love to witness the wonder that little children experience every day.  I don’t want to let go of that. I am holding on tightly.

A Little Orange

At the beginning of my teaching journey, I worked at a nursery school.  I taught a mixed class in the afternoon of three to five-year-old children. It was a play-based cooperative school, which meant parents served as assistant teachers in some classes.  My afternoon class was wonderful because of the students’ mixed ages.  The younger children learned from the older ones, and sometimes the older ones learned from the younger ones.  One day, one of the girls, Anna, was sad and missed her mother. I put my arm around her and consoled her.  Fat teardrops ran down her face.  Just then, an older boy, Henry, came up and asked me why Anna was crying. I said, “She’s okay, Henry, she’s just feeling a little blue right now.” Immediately, Henry went over to Anna and patted her shoulder. He said, “Don’t worry Anna, I’m feeling a little orange myself.” I laughed.  “What does it mean to be a little orange?” I asked Henry. “It’s a little angry and a little sad mixed together he said matter-of-factly. I pulled Henry close and hugged him too.  I just loved how, without thinking, without knowing the conventional idioms, Henry was able to communicate and create his color code of feelings. He didn’t need permission, he just created on the spot.

Dark Muddy Chocolate Brown

When I taught 2nd grade, we would study a new artist every month.  We would read about each artist and then try out an art project in that same style or with the same materials. During one of these classroom studio sessions, I set out a still life with colorful flowers and a deer skull since we were exploring the art of Georgia O’Keefe.  I set out pots of paint and paper, encouraging students to create what they saw.  One of my students, Matthew, who had limited experience with mixing paint, became engrossed in the activity. He dipped and blotted moving from one pot to the next, eventually announcing that he had discovered a new color. “Look everybody!” he shouted excitedly, “I made Dark Muddy Chocolate Brown!  He was so excited by his discovery that he gave each of his classmates a sample of his new color, and they in turn added his color to their palettes. That day, Matthew began to see himself in a new light, as someone who could create art out of simple materials.  He was the inventor of Dark Muddy Chocolate Brown!  That free exploration and the process of reading, writing, and making art, allowed the children to think of themselves as creators of both art and language.

Looks Like Mashed Potatoes

This past Monday, I got to spend recess time with our Junior PreK.  Every time I walk out into the playground, three-year-old (now four-year-old) faces run up to greet me with shouts of: “Look at me! Let’s play catch! Tag! You’re it. Come on, RUN!”  One of the boys, Ian, ran up to me and said, “It’s sunny.”  Ian is an English language learner.  His vocabulary has grown tremendously this year.  He is now ready to take more risks, reaching out to teachers and peers to express what he is thinking.  I wanted to extend our conversation, so I said, “Yes, it’s warm today and look at those big white clouds.”  Ian looked up and said, “Clouds.”  I replied, “That one looks like a turtle.  And that one looks like a pirate ship.”  I exclaimed.  Ian kept looking quietly.  Emma heard our conversation and looked up at the sky intently. “I see a big doggy and a fish over there,” she said, pointing.  Emma and I kept looking and listing all we saw in the clouds: a castle, a banana, a tree, a giraffe, even an elephant!  Ian looked up watching the clouds.  Then Brittany came over and looked at Emma and me.  She looked up at the sky, “Don’t be silly,” she said, “They all look like mashed potatoes,” and walked away.  I laughed.  There has to be one practical one among the dreamers, I suppose.  The children played for the rest of recess, running, skipping, digging, and sliding. As we were about to go back inside, Ian tugged at me and pointed at the sky, “Dragon,” he said with a smile. I smiled and looked up into the sky, “Yes, a dragon,” I said. There stood another dreamer, who skipped happily inside.

As the school year wraps up, I have been thinking about how important imagination is for learning.  I think about how we don’t so much need to carve out time for play, but just need to step aside and trust the children.  They know what they are doing.  They can take simple items – a stick, a rock, a box – and create a whole kingdom. They can take simple words and create a language that is expressive, creative, and unique.  They can build messages that surprise and inspire.

Five Books to Uplift Your Imagination

  • Chimpanzees for Tea by Jo Empson
  • It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles G. Shaw
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett
  • Max’s Castle (and Max’s Words) by Kate Banks
  • Mirror, Mirror by Marilyn Singer
  • The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Magic & Imagination in a Box

When I was a little girl, my older sister and I would spend hours sorting and playing with my mother’s large tin button box. The buttons were as different as snowflakes.  My sister and I spent hours looking for pairs or triplets. Sometimes we were successful, but mostly we intrigued by the uniqueness of each button – almost the same but just a shade different.  I can still see them in my mind: the round ivory button imbedded with light yellow daisies; the large round pale pink button embossed with small rectangles; the heavy gold ones etched with anchors and ropes; the tiny pastel buttons like delicate seashells. We would line them up, stack them, create mosaics, trade them, and then tenderly scoop them up and put them away for another day.  Tender. That’s a good word for how I feel about those times spent imagining and playing with my sister.  We played like this well into our teenage years.  When we actually used the buttons for sewing projects, I think we both did so reluctantly.  It was like saying good-bye to an old friend.  These small ordinary objects were precious to us.  They signified a magical time, a respite from the real world.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I encountered Gertrude Stein’s poem, “Tender Buttons.”  It is a long abstract, experimental poem that unwinds and wanders in and out of common objects, but there is a certain glittering magic within. Here’s a bit of it.

Tender Buttons

… A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

GLAZED GLITTER.

Nickel, what is nickel, it is originally rid of a cover.

The change in that is that red weakens an hour. The change has come. There is no search. But there is, there is that hope and that interpretation and sometime, surely any is unwelcome, sometime there is breath and there will be a sinecure and charming very charming is that clean and cleansing. Certainly glittering is handsome and convincing…

And then as a young woman working in New York City, I came across a brick storefront one day on the Upper East Side called Tender Buttons.  I spent many a Saturday afternoon gazing at the boxes full of buttons.  I began my own collection of buttons, not to actually use, but merely to sit with and marvel. Diane Epstein, the owner of the shop had once described the buttons as “Each one is like a tiny evocative event.”  And that is precisely how I saw my childhood buttons.  The deep, sea green ones, the tarnished silver ones, the ones in the shape of shiny horns – all told a story – all held a secret. Unfortunately, Tender Buttons closed its doors permanently in 2019.  All the more grateful I am that I have kept a small collection of those buttons.

Thinking about my mother’s button box made me realize how important small common objects are for children: bottle caps, erasers, doodads – all manner of ephemera. They collect a myriad of these things in their desks at school.  I have confiscated thousands of tiny pencils, paper clips, and beads in my time as an elementary school teacher.  These treasure troves are important to children.  They are connectors to the imaginary.  They are a passport from the real world to an imaginary one.  They are indeed important.  In fact, they are essential. This is more and more evident in the time of COVID, as my students are going to school in-person behind masks and plexiglass, having to remain in their seats most of the day.  The urge to play is palpable.  They must sit, but they can still create with their hands. And to my delight they do! They fold paper, link paper clips, use great lengths of tape to transform their school world.  

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues showed me the great gallery of objects her 4th grade students had created.  I decided the 4th graders each needed a box of objects with which to create.  I talked to the girls about my idea and they enthusiastically gave me ideas of what objects to include in the boxes.  One student dubbed the boxes fidgetneering boxes.  I loved that name and promptly drove to my local dollar store to buy the boxes and label them with the students’ names.  Then I filled the boxes with all kinds of childhood treasures from The Wonder Lab, our school’s maker space: straws, yarn, popsicle sticks, paper tubes, Styrofoam balls, bags of buttons, bags of beads, pipe cleaners, etc. This week, I distributed the boxes to the girls.  It was so gratifying to see them uncover the boxes and sort through the objects.  Their excitement was electric.  It was a rainy day, a great day to play and ponder.  Off they went for fifteen minutes to design and build.  Watching them reinforced my strong belief that children (both young and old) need the opportunity to wonder and imagine on a regular basis.  I told the girls that when the boxes get near empty, I would replenish their stores.  Their reaction was like I was giving them gold.  One student exclaimed, “This is marvelous junk.  Look what I made!”  Yes, just look. Marvelous common junk made magical!

THE WORLD IN A BUTTON

The world in a button,

Spherical and hard,

Sometimes shiny,

Sometimes tarnished with age,

Holes and embellishments,

Disappointments and surprises,

Ocean blue and earthy red,

Buttons in my hands

Slipping through my fingers

Making imaginary music,

Listen.

When All Else Fails – Finger Paint!

Whenever I’m stuck in my writing, whenever I feel like I’m not sure what to write about, I look on my bookshelf, choose a title, and start reading.  Then in the quiet, after a little while, a miraculous thing happens – I begin to get ideas.  I begin writing in my head.  Sometimes there are so many ideas that I don’t know which one to focus on first. 

This happened to me last week, while I was reading Jordan Shapiro’s book, A New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World. He is such a fast thinker – going from one idea to the next, making connections at lightning speed – Greek philosophy, gaming, systems theory, divorce – they all go together in one wonderful coherent whole.  How does he do that?  He uses metaphors and makes images in readers’ minds so they remember concepts.  He brilliantly persuades us that there is nothing to fear about our children’s obsession with technology. In fact, it is a crucial tool that will continue to evolve. Throughout the book, he makes a case for viewing digital devices as beneficial rather than toxic.  He quotes Heraclitus of Ephesus who asserted that “Life is flux,” or the only thing humans can count on is that everything changes. And so for those of us who are confounded by the new technology our children are pursuing, think about that during Socrates’ time, he considered the written word as cutting-edge technology.  Socrates believed that words on the page were going to ruin peoples’ memories. We all have nostalgia for our childhoods, we all want to return home, and pursue simple pleasures.  The thing is that our children are creating their own simple pleasures and much of it revolves around technology. And that is okay – that is what makes the world go round – that is change – that is life.

In his chapter, “The New Language Arts,” Shapiro connects prehistoric cave painting, the invention of finger paint, Aristotle’s concept of the soul, and Steve Job’s realization that everything will be within reach of our fingertips. I loved this section of the book, because as an ELA Curriculum Coordinator, it made me think about teacher reading and writing in a new way.  What exactly can technology add to learning to read and write?  How is the process of writing enhanced?  What can students do with technology that engages their imagination and creativity.   I especially enjoyed reading about Ruth Faison Shaw, who invented finger paint.  Yes, a woman invented finger paint! When I did a bit more research about Shaw, I found out that we had something in common! We both worked at the Dalton School in New York City.  Ruth was there in the 1930’s, and I worked there in the 1990’s and early 2000’s – about sixty years apart.  I wish I had known about her work then, I would have scoured the archives and found out more about her.  From my small amount of recent research, I found out that before she taught at Dalton, Ruth set up a school in Rome in the 1920’s, and that’s when she got the idea for her finger paint by watching a child smear iodine on a wall.  Ruth believed that “Creative work must come from the imagination and personal experience. Your imagination, which directs your hands, will lead you to produce something individual and representative of you.” She came back to the states, taught at Dalton, and wrote a book in 1934 called Finger Painting: A Perfect Medium for Self-Expression.  (I immediately scooped up a copy and was lucky that I found one in good condition.  I am eagerly waiting for its arrival!) Shaw’s ideas on the creative process inform education for the future.  As Shapiro states, parents and teachers should view educating children with a Both/And Mindset. In the 20th century children smeared paint as a means of self-expression, and now in the 21st century – children, with a swipe of a fingertip against a screen, can also express themselves in productive and meaningful ways.

Several years ago, I wrote an article about fostering curiosity and imagination. I described how I went through the process of integrating visual arts, music, movement, and drama into curriculum for early childhood and elementary students. I truly believe that creative expression, in all forms, nurtures growing minds and helps children develop a sense of self that allows them to become independent learners and critical thinkers.  Today, I would include all the ways technology has become another tool children can access from their creative toolbox.  Instead of having a fixed mindset about the limitations of technology as a means of self-expression, let’s open it up. Let’s ask ourselves: How can coding lead to poetry? How can Scratch help tell a story?  How can Procreate make our learning visible?

This summer, I decided to give myself sometime in the Painting Playground.  I have created space in my week where I can experiment with paper, pencils and paint. The emphasis is on play not product. This week, I painted with my fingers to return to the process of creating on the page. Then I added some designs with black markers.  They are not perfect works of art, rather they are representations of playing on the page.  I was so focused while doing this work, I dove in and was in the flow for a good hour and half: I made “mistakes,” ripped up paper, spilled water, got my fingertips dirty. It was the most self-fulfilling activity I did all week.  I cannot wait to return!

If you are interested in finding out more about finger painting, try this book by Iris Scott – Finger Painting Weekend Workshop: A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Brush-Free.

Remember

I have been writing this blog every week since April 11th.  That is three months and that is a record for me. I love to write, but I have always written in fits and starts.  I have hundreds of beautiful notebooks with 3, 5, or 20 pages written in them, but I have rarely filled a notebook up page by page.  I have files of stories written, but they sit for years collecting dust, get dusted off, and only to collect dust again.  So how and why did I change?  I changed because one person showed me she cared.  One person invited me to join her in writing.  That’s all it took.  One person.  Again, thank you Ruth Ayres for changing my writing life.

I now have begun taking an online writing course – the famous Writing Down the Bones with Natalie Goldberg.  In the first lesson, Natalie explained how to center yourself  with meditation before you write.  This could be done walking, sitting, or laying down. Then Natalie said something that both surprised and comforted me. She said that we will all go out of this life laying down and we will go out meditating or writing.  I just loved this image because like most everyone in the planet I’m afraid of dying – but if I could go out writing – yes that’s is the way I will choose to go.  I will be writing in my head till my last breath and I will be at peace.

These last few weeks, I have been remembering Catherine and Henry – those days, weeks, and months of taking care of him after Catherine’s death.  I had stored them all up for the last 36 years, keeping them safe for Henry so he would someday know of that time.  I wrote 33 pages in 5 days.  I just kept writing and more old memories came. I wish  I could remember more about Catherine, but what I remember the most was her kindness.  She always wanted to know what I was thinking, so ready to guide and comfort.  She never made me feel like my ideas were simple or ridiculous.  Catherine always encouraged me.

Remembering is painful and sweet – both are necessary to grow.  I think I was put here to remember and record – to witness life and to take it all in for myself and for others. The pain my father caused – those memories are part of my fabric.  I used to want to unravel those threads, but I came to know that the pain was part of the design.

And as I reflect on remembering, I am drawn to what I’ve forgotten.  I’ve forgotten what my mother’s faces looked like.  I need to look at photographs to really remember.  She died only six years ago but still my memory of her is fading. Why can’t I remember her exact looks?  All the images, all the expressions melt into one collage: my mother at 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 91.  My mother at 91 was all soft folds and brown spots, curled over not taller than me anymore.  I think I remember my mother best at 50.  I was 16 then.  That is the mother I remember because that is the mother who took me shopping for fancy earrings when I was heartbroken about some boy whose name I’ve long forgotten.

Every once in a while lately, I can look in the mirror and get a glimpse of her. That used to horrify me, but now it makes me feel reassured.  I know where I came from.  Vivian is still with me, inside me. I remember.

My Mother’s Things

My mother’s things 

Sit upstairs in the little brick Cape

With the gray shutters

Somewhere in New Jersey.

Her things,

The things she left behind:

Old worn white bras,

Soft and comfortable – 

Pastel flannel nightgowns trimmed in lace,

The black and red snowflake sweater

I gave her one Christmas,

Lots of small boxes with cheap jewelry –

Little plastic treasures –

Shiny bits of memories.

 

My mother’s things

Folded and packed away:

Her address book scrawled with

Her eloquent handwriting,

A book of prayers,

A class photo – 1983 –

Her second grade class,

Mom in the middle – the doting teacher –

A moment of pure happiness.

My mother’s things taken away,

Taken by family, taken by strangers.

My mother’s things – 

All her self taken –

Gone, gone, gone.

 

One or two things –

My mother’s things

I squirrel away:

Her laugh, her smile,

The way she’d touch my arm,

The memories of her love

Kept safely, so carefully,

So gently, kept with me.

Her self remains with me

Until I’m gone.

 

 

 

Simple Joy

Music, Poetry, Dance, Art, Nature, Food, Friends, Travel – all of these things have given me joy.  When Nature, Friends, and Travel were curtailed by COVID-19,  I turned to music, poetry, dance and art to keep me joyful in these past bleary months.  And so spring came, flowers blossomed, the sky returned to its blissful blue,  and there was hope of healing.  Now, amidst the present rioting in Minneapolis and the call for even greater racial divide, we all need to choose joy.  To put our minds and hearts together and take notice of the beauty around us, the beauty in each other.

We could choose to give up and give in, but then we are allowing others to take away our creative power.  Each of us was put on Earth for a purpose.  There is a plan for each of our lives, and if we give in to doubt, disappointment, and despair, then we won’t fulfill our purpose, our reason for being on this planet.  We aren’t here to just take and take, and strive.  We are here to give, share, and experience the incredible joy life holds.

While I’m writing this post, I’m listening to the Ode to Joy  (flashmob version). It is a song that throughout my life has inspired me and made me feel empowered to choose my own positive path.  It has helped me through sickness and depression.  Music gives me the strength to go on.

For the last few years,  I have enjoyed the work of  the group, for KING and COUNTRY.  Their song, Joy, always brings me out of my self and into the world.  It reminds me that happiness is a choice.  All I have to do is look around – search for beauty, look out for wonder,  reflect on the bounty all around me.

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Ode No. 9: Simple Joy

Lavender tea in my favorite chipped cup,

News of my nephew beginning to crawl,

Watching my husband practice fencing,

The squirrel on a branch outside my window,

Bunching up his tail and chattering –

Simple things bring joy.

 

Dancing in my socks with abandon,

The radio blaring an upbeat tune,

Curling up with a good book,

Hanging onto the beauty –

Holding onto the magic of words –

Simple things bring joy.

 

My old, heavy mixing bowl,

Whisking eggs, sugar and flour.

The smell of vanilla.

A brief walk in the woods,

Among the lichen-wet trees,

Breathe in the rain-fresh air –

Simple things bring joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ascent: Sharing Our Stories

This week’s Sharing Our Stories prompt from Ruth Ayres was “spreading your wings wider.”  I thought about her words for a little while.  Lately, I’ve been spreading my wings a little wider each day even though we remain in quarantine.  It’s funny how being physically inside has made me become more open and wandering within my mind and heart.

I usually like keeping my writing to myself. I am very protective of it.  Too protective.  I know where that comes from so I try to encourage myself to take risks and reach out.  Today, I invited three friends to join SOS.  They are talented writers and need a helpful nudge, like Ruth nudged me on my 64th birthday.  I wouldn’t normally reach out to people – even friends.  But this online writing group is teaching me to read others’ words and connect.  I’m learning that my thinking is stretched and strengthened by others.  I know that intellectually, but now I’m coming to know it emotionally.

When I come to think about stretching my wings, taking chances, being wild – I think of all the abundance I have in my life and how that abundance has been revealing itself to me  these past months.  I have a 94-year-old father who lives by himself in a high risk COVID area – he remains healthy and safe.  This is good news because my relationship with him continue to heal and grow in beneficial ways. I have a mother-in-law who is very needy and lives far from me.  She has no other relatives nearby.  I am her lifeline and though sometimes, it is stressful, I think about all the lovely talks we’ve had about books (she was a research librarian and has a home library of 4,000 books).  Over the years, she has reminded me just how important books/knowledge is to personal development.

Thought it’s been a tumultuous year so far, I recognize all the things in my life that I am grateful for: my husband – who always encourages me to stretch my thinking, my family (sister, cousins, aunts, and nieces) who are there for support, my friends – and especially my friend, Molly, who is one of the most creative, positive, and courageous people I know, and the children I’ve taught for the past 42 years, who have come back to share their grown-up lives with me.  I am ever so grateful and blessed.

I use my poetry as snapshots.  They help me remember moments in my life.  This poem below fits so beautifully with how I’m feeling right now and how Ruth helped me spread my wings.

 

Ascent

This morning, if I hadn’t decided 

To hike around Lake Minnewaska,

If I didn’t choose the yellow trail

Up the mountain, past Gertrude’s Nose,

If I didn’t stop along the ridge

To watch the hawks circle above the pines,

If I hadn’t bent to tie my boot on the rocky path,

I would not have seen that single moth 

With wings folded upright, carefully clasped

Almost the color of birch bark or sunlit limestone

She would not have startled me 

With her out-spread, periwinkle wings –

I would not have witnessed 

Her ascent into the April air.

 

Getting Wild in the Wonder Lab

 

I don’t think I have a very wild life, but I do have a wild mind.  A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be allowed to create a hands-on maker space in my school called the Wonder Lab.  It is a place where elementary students come to work on independent projects and make stuff out of recycled materials.  It has been my dream to be able to create this space.

Now that we are remote learning, the Wonder Lab lies dormant, but my mind is still wildly imagining.  I’ve created lots of Wonder Lab ideas for remote learning these past 3 months.  This weekend, I tried my hand at building a cereal box vehicle from an idea I got from this Ultra Creative – General Mills video.

Step 1: Okay, so what if you don’t have a cereal box?  Use what you have!

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I used 4 small boxes:

1 cracker box

2 tea boxes (1 tea box is inside the cracker box).

1 oatmeal box (cut in half and slid together so it is the same width of the cracker box).

I stacked the boxes on top of each other and taped them together with clear tape.  I made a basic truck shape.

Step 2: Building my Monster Truck

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I needed axels for the wheels.  I didn’t have any wooden dowels, so I used 2 unsharpened pencils.  I punched holes with a sharp pencil. I made sure they were in the place I wanted them to be before I punched through to the other side.

Step 3: WHEELS!

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I needed wheels!  And it’s a good thing that my husband likes to eat a lot of oatmeal.  I had an empty container of oat and grits.  I took the tops off and had 2 wheels.

But wait!  Don’t truck have 4 wheels.  I cut the bottoms off both containers and made another 2 wheels. 2+2=4 wheels!

Step 4: Two Types of WHEELS

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The narrow wheels would be the front wheels and the wider wheels would be the back wheels.  Then I punched a hole with my pencil in the center of each wheel.

Step 5: Try, Try Again!

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I slipped on my wheels and tried them out.  My back wheels were too wide.  The truck did not run smoothly. The back wheels kept getting stuck on the truck body.  So I took the back wheels off and trimmed them.  There are the trimmings under the scissor.  I had to trim a couple of times until it was just right!

Step 6: Wheel Caps

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Here you see that I took the wheels off again to make sure they fit just right.  I added caps to the end of the pencil, so the wheels did not fall off.  I had lots of little water bottle caps.  I poked a hole into the caps with a pen and then pushed a pencil through the hole until it was just right.

Step 7: Designing the Cab

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The tea box on top is the cab of the truck.  I drew a diagonal line across the front of the tea box and then I cut it off.  I made a hood from the cut piece and added aluminum foil headlights and cut a small rectangle from a plastic baggie for the windshield.

I LOVE MY TRUCK!

 Step 8: Ready to Roll!

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WHAT I LEARNED:

Making vehicles out of boxes is fun!

I had to try again and again to get it to work.

Making wheels is harder that I thought.

Next time, I will create all the body first BEFORE I make the wheels.

I want to make another one!  I must start saving more boxes!

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Invitations to Wonder…

Last week, Ruth Ayers invited her online writing group (SOS: Sharing Our Stories) to write about 7 small things.  Instead, I chose to write about anger.  Anger is not a small thing.  Anger is a big thing, an explosive thing.  It starts small and then grows.

As I read some members’ blog posts this week, I was reminded about the importance of simple joys.  All week, I  kept turning lists of small things over and over in my mind.  I have always been attracted to the small seemingly insignificant things: stop to notice the dandelion blooming between the cracks in concrete.  I’m a photographer, and so as I make my way through a mountain pass or a city street, my eye is always on the small things that most people would miss.  Those small things aren’t always aesthetic or beautiful, they were just common, ordinary things.  In their ordinariness lies their unique importance.

Poet, Valerie Worth, wrote a book for children called All Small.  I’ve used her poems to teach children to notice the wonders of small things.  Small IS beautiful.  The world consists of countless small things and those small things are what what makes the world an incredible place of wonderment.

As I made those lists in my mind of small things, as I reflected on a selection of small items, I thought about the work of Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet who was a master of haiku – the 3 line poem of 5-7-5 syllables.

                                                  The old pond.                                                                                                                                           A frog leaps in.                                                                                                                                        Sound of the water.

                                                   **************

                                              Their own fire                                                                                                                                          Are on the trees,                                                                                             the fireflies Around the house with flowers.

 

I decided to try my hand at some haiku for this last week of April, focusing on the small all around me.  I offer these seven small things to you now.

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Apple blossoms pink                                                        Branches tap on my window                                        A burst of bright spring

 

 

 

 

 

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Here pinecones scatter                                   

Among the gray-green bracken                     

Thorny and silent

 

 

 

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Petals on petals

Circular meditation

Center holds beauty

 

 

 

 

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Salt, sand, surf meets shore

Shells in pink light perfect                                         

Curves – one to another

                                                                                                             

 

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Perfect sculpted fur                                            Squirrel’s not camera shy                                   Swishes his puffed tail

 

 

 

 

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Egret stands alone

Graceful curved neck – peaceful

Alert – swish of fish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Something Beautiful

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I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately.  This spring and summer I was tasked with finding an assisted living facility for my mother-in-law.  It has proved to be an arduous journey fraught with near-hysteria, even with expert advice from A Place for Mom, which I cannot recommend more highly!

But I digress.  I want to stick with beauty. Concentrating on beauty has helped me get through some really difficult moments.  Beauty has been the balm to heal some really ugly images.  Beauty is God’s grace.  Beauty in this mortal world should not be taken lightly, it should be revered.

My mother, Vivian, died almost six years ago now, at the age of 91.  She was a teacher, artist, and clothing designer.  She had a great sense of style and aesthetic.  She imparted those gifts to me, however, I cannot sew on a zipper to save my life!  I did not inherit her sewing skills, that’s for sure, but I can admire them. And I can make curtains, quilts, and pillows – anything with a simple straight line.

My friend, Melissa, loves fashion too.  Her blog, Turing Fashion Inside Out, details all her fashion adventures. She has a great sense of the aesthetic, and I love how she thinks about how she puts her wardrobe together.  Honestly,  I never thought about the creativity that goes into dressing oneself before I began talking with Melissa.  Now, I revel in being aware of patterns and color, texture and form.

In between investigating assisted living places, rescuing my ninety-three-year old father from a rehab hospital where he was recovering from hip surgery, witnessing the gauntlet of gray figures in wheelchairs, I’ve been pursuing beauty in anyplace I can think of:  stopping by the grocery store’s floral section a little longer, noticing the perfect rise of a white moon, and the cloud-pink sunset over the mountains.  I remind myself that beauty is one of the things that keeps me alive. Without beauty there would be no hope, no hint of heaven.

Something Beautiful                                                                                                                            by Joanne L. Emery

I’ve been thinking of patterns lately,

A little geometry of flowers and delight:

The red dress my mother made me

When I was six,

The one with the yellow chicks

And the smooth, round buttons.

 

In the fabric store last month,

I caught a glimpse of a pattern:

A yellow dress with bright red buttons

And big patch pockets

On a skinny six-year-old

With lopsided braids,

Nodding her head to my question:

Did your mother make that for you?

 

Yesterday, in the discount store,

Walking the rows of clothing,

Not looking for style,

But searching for pattern

Something familiar,

Something that would catch

My mother’s eye:

Aqua flowers –

The shape of which is a cross between

Artichokes and lotus blossoms –

Floating on a cream background

In soft chiffon,

Over my head it goes

Flowing

Making me feel like

Something beautiful.

 

Poet Found: Ross Gay

Back in February, I bought a slim volume of poetry because I loved the cover – a bright floral abstract and the title, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay.  I flipped to the first page – a poem about figs.  Figs – my Grandpa Charlie’s favorite and my favorite too.  I often splurge and buy a basket of them when they are in season, slice them in half and enjoy them twice as long, not sharing a single one of them with anyone!  All to myself – those figs are my treasure.  So yes, I knew I would love this book.  But of course, in my true inconsistent fashion, I forgot about the book before I read all of it, and it became wedged between my countless notebooks on my my bookshelf.

Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Last week, as I was ready to go off on vacation, I was looking for a sweet summer read. I pulled out the book, returned to the figs and was mesmerized. I read on and on trying to uncover the rhythm, welcoming the repetition, wondering how this young, gay, Black professor from Youngstown, Ohio composed words in lines I wished were my own. I invite you to dip into the nectar of his words.

Gay takes mundane things: buttoning his shirt, sleeping in his clothes, drinking water from his hands and creates a cadence you can’t help but read aloud and wonder: “How does he do that?” Something about the arrangement of his words and the sounds he created encouraged me to read his words aloud.  There is something so powerful – not just in the images, but in the sounds in composed. I read the book cover to cover, and over and over, trying to get his genius to repeat in my brain. Rereading his words opened the floodgates of sorrow and beauty, and I began to write poetry again. For this, I am grateful.

Room 109                                                                                                                                                by Joanne L. Emery

The hotel used to be a sturdy and elegant bank,

On a street corner in Old Montreal:

A historic landmark, a fortress now for art:

Warhol, Indiana, Hirst, Magritte, Miro –

And there in the gilded frame

Against the pale yellow wall,

Monet’s garden peaks out:

Corner of Garden at Montgeron

Peaceful greens and blues,

Speckled pinks and dappled yellows –

Century-old paint

Brushed into being

To soothe me as I sit

In the yellow chair by the window

Anticipating sunlight.