Archive for July, 2011

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
Albert Einstein

The hand of an inspired young artist

 The brush strokes of the professional are textured, nuanced, and sage.
Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year

I hear this advice, “Give yourself permission to fail,” but I don’t listen. I don’t really think of myself as a perfectionist, but when I fail, I beat myself up about it, especially when it involves the feelings of a child.
You guessed it, I made a mistake, and I am writing here to admit it and try to come to grips with it myself.
This week I directed the 4th annual Camp Genesis Art Camp at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. The Art Camp was the genius of my husband, Jeff. One night at dinner I said, “I want to do a fundraiser for Solomon House, but I want to do something that uses my talents.”
Jeff said two words, “Art Camp.” Thus the idea was born, and all I had to do was put it together. And today, after 4 years, we have a successful camp each summer serving 30 kids and profiting close to $4000 for Solomon House. I am proud of this accomplishment and grateful to all the wonderful people who have helped to make this idea a reality and such a positive experience.
Unfortunately, whenever you do something new and risky, mistakes will happen. My mother-in-law likes to quote former Governor Mike Foster that in any endeavor, 15% will go wrong.
For the last three art camps, we have held an auction on the Sunday following. I encourage the students all week to donate artwork to the auction. This can be very tough for some kids because they love their work. They want to show it to Mom and Dad and Grandma and don’t want to part with it. I understand this and give them the option with much praise for their generosity if they do give an item. Sometimes, they give us the work they don’t like because they are kids. This year two of them gave us this sort of work, incomplete and kinda unattractive, but, Goddoggit, that was no excuse for what I allowed to happen. I let the helpers re-do their work. Big mistake. It even goes against my philosophy of teaching. I guess that’s why it hurt so much when one of the art teachers told me how upset the student was that his work had been altered.
This feeling of having disappointed a child and having undermined their own sense of giving and accomplishment tears me up. I know I’ll never do it again. I know that everyone makes mistakes, and I am forgiven. And maybe even opening up my vulnerability in this public forum will help me deal with the pit of guilt in my gut.
I had the privilege last Friday to meet the National Teacher of the Year from 2010. She is gorgeous, inside and out. I wrote down many of her quotes, but one quote that I need to take to my heart today is, “Humility is at the center of great teaching.” Reflecting on your practice and knowing that you are not perfect leads to a passionate and wonderful teacher. That is the rainbow I will look for today.

A beautiful flower arrangement I received at the Educator Excellence Symposium banquet

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Magic of Writing


Writing marathon: a secret garden

Magical Writing

This week I taught a writing camp with my friend and colleague, Stephanie Judice.  We had 16 students ranging in age from 9 to 17.  It was a wonderful week of writing.  I’ve been teaching writing camps for about 10 years, and each time I am amazed at how writing together creates magic.

There were many magical moments this week.  On Wednesday, we had our traditional writing marathon in downtown New Iberia.  This is always a highlight of the week, walking downtown with our journals in hand.  We met the kids in Bouligny Plaza.  Before we got started, I noticed two girls sitting on a bench with their journals open.  They were writing and talking about writing: “What word rhymes with light?”  No prompting, no instructions, just the practice of writing together. Magic

On Friday, our last day, I led a haiku competition.  I usually shy away from competition, but I thought that by the last day, these kids know each other.  It should be a safe environment to compete.  I was right.  Each child waved his/her hands in the air anxious to share and join the competition.  We voted, then upped the ante.  Now you have to write a couplet to go with the winning haiku.  We were engaging in an ancient practice of renga, making a poem from multiple haikus.  I felt joy watching the students write and beg to share.  The exercise did not produce a great poem, far from it.  “The earthly cow is not chow”  But it created an atmosphere of celebration, celebrating the art of writing.  Magic.

The last day ends traditionally with Author’s Chair, the final read-aloud for parents and guests.  This is the time when the light shines.  The students read with pride a piece of writing from the week.  It’s like graduation.  I feel pride in how much they have grown in just one week. 

At the end of our marathon writing, having written in Bouligny Plaza, along the bayou boardwalk, at the Shadows, in Books Along the Teche, in Victor’s cafeteria, in Epiphany Church, and finally stopping at A&E Gallery, I gathered the group together to create a collaborative poem.  Sometimes, not always, a miraculous poem emerges.  Each student contributed a line from their marathon writing as I called their names.  I didn’t choose the order; it was completely random, but again, magic happened and a beautiful poem emerged.  (see below)

A philosophy of the National Writing Project that I have embraced is the teacher of writing should be a writer herself.  I write alongside the students.  I show all my bumps along the way.  I model frustration and joy.  I am anxious to share alongside them.  We are writers together, falling in love with the words and each other.  Magic


Summer on a Cloud
(a Collaborative poem by Write your Way Writers)

Light is very bright,
undying beauty,
beautiful immortal memories,
thoughts in a bottle.
The lights are pretty and gold.
The sun is shining bright,
flows in blowing winds.
Humbled by this magnificent sight,
It should be kept in peace,
dancing, loving, looking, talking
-The first star-
The windy night is so bright.
Stained glass windows represent
the beauty of God.
Bluebirds sing a delightful song,
the stillness of this secret garden
beckons silently.


Writing side by side


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Here I am outside a clothing shop on Myconos, one of the more touristy islands.

People are People

Since I’ve been home from Greece and a few times by email while on my trip, friends have expressed concern over the “riots”.  We certainly gained a clearer understanding of media hype.  We were only in Athens twice, once to port and tour the Acropolis and the other for our last night before boarding the plane home.  On the second trip, our tour guide drove us past the square near Parliament where the demonstrations were being held.  It resembled a festival ground in Louisiana with its handmade signs and tents.  When we passed, it was midday and everyone around was going about their normal everyday activities.  We passed a TV reporter standing in front of a burned kiosk.  Our guide told us about malicious plants, possibly police, who were inciting more fear and violence than the protestors.  Usually, these demonstrations consist of chanting and obscene gestures.  We did not witness any unrest.  Actually, quite the opposite. 

We did learn a few obscene Greek gestures: the hand raised as in a wide high five is equivalent to the middle finger in our society, and the pointer finger beckoning someone to “come see” is a rude gesture in Greece. 

On the islands, I especially enjoyed visiting with shop keepers.  (Yes, I did my share of shopping!) Most of them were very friendly and grateful for our presence.  They loved to tell stories.  From Thomas, I learned about the mythology of Athena.  Her symbol of the blue eye is very popular.  It symbolizes her wisdom, also symbolized by the owl, and her instruction to keep your eyes open.  In Turkey, the blue eye was called the evil eye, and it is usually hung near the entrance of the home (or in the front of the bus) to keep evil out. 

From Louise, I learned about the Greek key.  This design is on purses and scarves.  It is also seen on ancient ruins.  The open design symbolizes a handshake that says “my home is your home.”

When we would purchase things from a shop, often the owner would add in lagniappe, a little gift.  Our guide, Katia, explained that they were all very desperate and grateful for your patronage.  Greece’s economy is in trouble, but the people still practice kindness and gentleness. 

One of the perks of an Overseas Adventure Travel trip is the home visit.  We had two of them, one on the island of Naxos, and the other in the mountains of Meteora.  Both visits included ouzo toasts and ethnic food.  On Naxos, the soil is good for potatoes, so we had delicious smothered potatoes.  In Meteora, the couple spoke English and shared stories of their family’s survival in WWII and the present crisis. 

People are people, wherever you are.  People care for each other and share their stories in order to make a connection, even in Greece.

Waiting my turn to taste pistachios, grown and sold on Aegina, our last island visit.

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