a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Sunday, April 27, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE giving

celebrate every Saturday with Ruth Ayres
This week was FULL.  Although my schedule was packed to the point of exhaustion, I didn’t end the week feeling drained.  Instead, I ended the week feeling filled up with the goodness that comes with giving.

Wednesday was World Book Night.  To celebrate, our school held a free spaghetti dinner, which we offered to our entire school community: current families, past families, future families, and community members.  Mark was the chef.  Teachers volunteered to dish out the food.  Our student leadership team volunteered to take orders and serve food, restaurant-style, so I helped them as “the front of the house manager.”  Former students volunteered as host and hostess.  A local pizza place, Fat Ricky’s Old World Pizza, donated salad.  Staff members contributed to pay for the pasta and sauce.  A local ice cream shop, Andy’s Frozen Custard, donated individual custard servings for dessert.  We had at least seven staff members who were official World Book Night givers (Mark and myself included).  In addition to those official World Book Night books, we were able to put hundreds of gently used and new books (donations had been collected over the course of the past year) into the hands of our community members.  Giving is good.

Thursday was Poem in Your Pocket Day.  A single student out 22 Voices Strong showed up to class with her poem in her pocket.  Thursday morning I was tired.  I was crabby.  In fact, I was so crabby that I said to myself (out loud) three times before the day began, “I will NOT be mean to kids today.”  When I found out only a single student had come to class prepared, I decided instead of lecturing, I would listen.  So, I asked the rest of the class to write on an index card an honest explanation (not excuse) why they did not have a poem.  I knew that because I had asked for it, I had to be ready for the responses, which fell into two categories: I forgot and I don’t care.  I tried my best to address both responses.  I addressed the I don’t cares by sharing my own poem.  By modeling what a poem in a person’s pocket might mean—how powerful it could be.  I addressed the I forgots by providing books of poetry and time and guidance and instructions on how to find a poem that matters.  And every one of those Voices Strong stepped up.  Some students found so many poems they didn’t want to have to choose only one.  When they found poems, they wanted to share.  Every poem was powerful.  Giving is good.

Friday night was a fundraiser dance sponsored by the school in which I began my teaching career and my current school.  Mark donated use of his equipment and his time to DJ for free.  I spent the night as the photo booth operator.  Giving is good.

Saturday afternoon Rick (of Fat Ricky’s Old World Pizza) needed help working a concession stand at our community’s new Athletic Center during a high school basketball tournament.  In return for his support of our World Book Night event, Mark and I were happy to jump in and help out.  Giving is good.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

#TeacherPoets WEEK THREE

Chris Lehman is hosting Teacher Poets, a free online poetry workshop to connect, inspire, and rejuvenate teacher poets.   
This week's prompt was to begin by writing a specific description of an object; then allow that description to become a poem.  During the live streaming last week I started writing about an onion.  I fell in love with that onion.  I think poetry begets love.  

Chris had also given this very wise advice to his fellow Teacher Poets: try to avoid mystery in your poetry.  These words have been knocking around in my poet's ear.  I believe this is where the work lies in revising this week's poem.  So, inspired by Terje's bravery, I am posting my unrevised work here for your compliments, questions, and considerations (three components to address when workshopping a poem).


skin called white
holds shades of yellow, gold, lavender, flesh

lines of longitude reach from end to end
no latitudes to cross

flakes of torn skin hold on
refusing to let go

there’s a lot to learn
from an onion

careful study of its exterior
reveals little of its core

a world of latitudes
untouched by longitudes

layer after layer
of protective walls

pull back each blanket of white
to reveal a brighter interior

the deeper I travel
the further each breath reaches

digging deep
causes my eyes to beg for pools of water
to ease the vulnerable sting
of exposure.

#TeacherPoets WEEK TWO

Chris Lehman is hosting Teacher Poets, a free online poetry workshop to connect, inspire, and rejuvenate teacher poets.   
Last week's prompt was to convey a big idea through a small moment.  I wrote a poem.  It was terrible.  More importantly, I didn't love it.  So, in turn, I didn't post it.  Then, during last week's live streaming, something magical happened.  I think it may have been the power of poetry at work.  I am certain it was the power of a writing group to restore, to nudge, to inspire.  So, as soon as the Teacher Poet chat ended, I began writing.  This is my new poem for week two.  Better late than never.

In the Middle of the Produce Department

I hold a plastic produce bag in my left hand
and reach for a tomato with my right.
The grocery list tucked loosely inside my purse
urges me to pile tomatoes into a bag
and move on to gather the rest of my dinner.

But my fingers know better.
They wrap around the tomato
pull it gently from its cluster,
carry it away from the bag
close enough for me to breath
the earthy green scent of raw vine.

In the middle of the produce department
my heart has gone
and traveled back
to the narrow path
that runs alongside Grandma’s house

Tomato plants grow
tall enough to look me in the eye
a delicate tangle of leafy stems
vining amongst wire support frames.

I am surrounded
by plant
and earth
and brick
and green
and concrete
and love.

In the middle of the produce department
my heart returns
a tomato falls into a plastic bag
a list gets checked off.

I move on through the store,
smiling behind a shopping cart that holds
and love.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE books

I CELEBRATE this book because my husband bought it as a treat for me, and it is good for my teacher soul.

I CELEBRATE this book because it opened the door for one of my students to share something deeply personal and brave with her fellow Voices Strong.

I CELEBRATE this book because it arrived on my porch from a Christmas gift card pre-order this week and will be perfect for backyard reading.

I CELEBRATE this book because it is the first book I ever read about teaching poetry—when I was in college.  It is the foundation of so much of the work I do with writers.

I CELEBRATE this book because it turned a non-reader into a reader.

I CELEBRATE this book because it feels like it was written purely for my own entertainment. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

in which I CELEBRATE the restorative power of spring break

celebrate every Saturday with Ruth Ayres
spring break means time to read books, time to write about books, time to shop for books, time to purchase tickets for upcoming author events at Anderson’s Bookshop

spring break means time to catch up with close friends (even those who live not so close by), time to listen to news about job changes, time to hear stories about kids, time to share adventures of my own

spring break means time to watch instructional videos for my painting e-course with Kelly Rae Roberts, time to create mantras, time to play with paint

spring break means time to explore a new Ali Edwards class Hello Story at Big Picture Classes, time to chat live with Ali herself, time to brainstorm enough new projects to last me beyond the summer

spring break means time to clean out the closet AND the sock drawer, time to sort the winter from the spring, time to get excited about new outfits, time to get motivated about mindful eating

spring break means time to participate in professional development opportunities like Chris Lehman’s poetry workshop (#TeacherPoets), a Twitter chat with Georgia Heard (#LitLead), a Twitter chat with Penny Kittle (#HeinemannPD), a Twitter chat with Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne about an article by Richard Allington (#bproots)

spring break means time to reconnect with me, time to recognize who I am, time to think about who I want to become

Friday, April 11, 2014

#TeacherPoets WEEK ONE

Chris Lehman is hosting Teacher Poets, a free online poetry workshop to connect, inspire, and rejuvenate teacher poets.  This week's prompt was simply: Why poetry?  Below is my response. 

Head over to Chris Lehman's blog for more information on how to get involved!

Why Poetry?

Dr. Stovall once said

(he may have been quoting someone even wiser,
but in those days,
in the eyes of a young college girl,
Dr. Stovall embodied the combined wisdom of all literary giants, ever)

novels are like searchlights
into the human soul

short stories are like flashlights
into the human soul

and poetry
well, poetry is like a laser beam
straight into the core
of the human soul.

Nancie Atwell once said

(she was definitely not quoting someone even wiser,
because these days,
in the eyes of this seasoned teacher woman,
Nancie Atwell is educational wisdom incarnate)

everything worth teaching
about literature (and reading, and love, and life)
can be taught through poetry.

Why poetry?

Because wise words
change lives.