Archive for April, 2013

Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday

I have an incredible mother-in-law who loves to travel. The more exotic, the better. This spring she traveled to Burma (now known as Myanmar). When she returned, she visited my classes to take them on a virtual field trip through Burma.

My mother-in-law’s grandmother name is Minga, so I told the children they could call her Minga. (Some of them called her Miss Minga to be respectful.) Minga came dressed in costume. She wore a traditional Burmese skirt which was merely a piece of woven colorful cloth wrapped around her waist and tied on. She didn’t wear shoes. In Burma, the people take off their shoes anytime they enter a building. The kids thought this was so cool that they tried to take their shoes off, too. Minga carried a bright red parasol and wore a pasty sunscreen substance on her face as the Burmese women wear.

When she came in the classroom, she bowed and said, “Minga la ba.” This means hello, goodbye, good afternoon, everything in the way of greeting. We thought this was so funny that Minga’s grandmother name is a greeting in Burma.

Minga told the children about the many differences in the culture across the globe. She also talked about how they were similar. She had a photograph of children playing a game like the game Qwirkle that we had only recently been playing in our classroom.

She shared the cake-like substance that they put on their faces as well as some sweets. She showed the students the process for making the sweet candy, from climbing the tree to get the fruit, to grinding using a mortar and pestle.

The students were full of wonder and questions. They enjoyed being able to try to carry a basket on their heads. They realized that we have a great many luxuries, even our bathrooms and electricity. It was invaluable for my students to be able to experience this foreign culture first hand.

A picture gallery

Boys go to monk school in the summer and must beg for their food.

Boys go to monk school in the summer and must beg for their food.

Girls shave their heads to attend a nun school.

Girls shave their heads to attend a nun school.

Women carry foods and other things on their heads.

Women carry foods and other things on their heads.

A pagoda, a Buddhist holy temple, at sunset.

A pagoda, a Buddhist holy temple, at sunset.

Read Full Post »


One of the greatest things about teaching gifted kids is that I am amazed everyday. This week we started a new service project inspired by the original 26 Acts of Kindness in response to the Sandy Hook massacre. The 26 Acts was revived following the Boston marathon bombing recognizing the 26 miles of the marathon. We made a poster to hang in the hallway near the cafeteria and students are making announcements daily to encourage others to do an act of kindness and add a note to the poster.

When one of my students, a 6th grader, came in to the classroom on Wednesday morning, she asked, “What letter are we doing today, Mrs. Simon?” I hadn’t made a plan because I was not officially having class. (I had to test some recommended students.) So I said, “K is for Kyrielle. Google it.” She did, and she began to work with the form.
“What topic should I use?”
“What about 26 acts of kindness?”
That was the extent of my instruction. I tested the students while she worked quietly. When I finished and the students left, she said she was stuck. I still left her alone. My two fifth graders came in. Again, I was not “officially” having class, so the three of them worked together on the kyrielle. They decided to use an aaaa rhyme scheme. They opened rhyme zone on the internet. It was fun to just sit back and watch this happen. The kyrielle has an octo-syllabic pattern, so they were counting out beats and adding and taking away words to make each line 8 syllables.
My three students were so pleased with their results, as was I, that they decided to read it aloud on the morning announcements. The whole office staff was touched and amazed. I think I should get out of their way more often.

26 Acts of Kindness

There’s something kind that we must do
To pay respects, so let’s be true
It won’t be for me or for you
So help the dreams they can’t pursue

Please, show your kindness, here’s your cue
Be the person God asked you to
We can stop them from feeling blue
So help the dreams they can’t pursue

Their families are torn in two
Come, everyone, and get a clue
Those men would wish they could undo
So help the dreams they can’t pursue

What is our country going through
To me, it feels like déjà vu
You all know who I’m talking to
So help the dreams they can’t pursue

by Kaylie, Brooklyn, and Kendall

If you want to leave these students a comment, their poem is posted here on our kidblog site. For more about the ABCs of poetry, go to my guest post on Caroline by Line.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids

Read Full Post »

Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday

In celebration of National Poetry Month, I am teaching my students a different poetry form each day. Because of all the interruptions, (testing week, field trips, etc.) we are only on the letter I. Today we wrote I am From poems. The I am From form originated with a poem by George Ella Lyon entitled, “Where I’m From.” Alan Wolf writes about the form in his book, Immersed in Verse. We begin by analyzing Lyon’s poem which uses some wonderful literary elements, specificity, imagery, alliteration, metaphor. Then the students make their own lists of sites, sounds, and tastes from their own lives. The challenge comes when you want to make the poem go beyond the personal to the universal. I have tried this form several times, and I’m never totally happy with the results. For last year’s attempt and some student samples, click here.

My students are continuing to post on their Slice of Life kidblog
, so click the link to read some of their poems. Be sure to leave a comment.

I am from Sunday drives to Morton,
kisses from Grandmother, Aunt Laurie, and Sister,
picking pecans, and the musty smell
of homemade quilts and old tobacco.

I am from Beechcrest Drive,
running behind the sno-cone truck,
catching fireflies, and roller-skating
on the driveway, cartwheels in the grass.

I’m from climbing Paw Paw’s pink mimosa tree,
listening to loud opera,
From jumping on the trampoline
singing “Shimmy, Shimmy, my playmate,
Come out and play with me!”

I’m from loyal companions Loopy then Lucky,
from Bless-this-food-to-our-use
at every supper, surrounded by yellow-flowered
curtains in a bay window.

I am from the solid soil of Mississippi,
deep roots of oak and pine,
legacy of patience and drawl.

c) Margaret Simon

Easter photo with me, the oldest sitting, my brother and my younger sister.

Easter photo with me, the oldest sitting, my brother and my younger sister.

There are so many great poetry month happenings in the blogoshere. Today, I am the guest blogger at Caroline Starr Rose’s blog site, Caroline by Line. Please stop in and leave a comment. Check out the progress of the progressive poem by clicking on the date in the right side bar. I am following Greg Pincus at GottaBook. He posts a poem each day. Heidi Mordhorst is building a poem at My Juicy Little Universe, 30 days, 30 words. She chooses a different word from the comments each day to add to the poem. An interesting process. Happy Poetry Month!

Read Full Post »

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Irene Latham at Live your Poem.

Poetry Friday is hosted this week by Irene Latham at Live your Poem.

My sister-in-law sent me a Ted Talk video of Shawn Achor, “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance.” I watched the whole thing. He is a good speaker, engaging and funny, so I recommend you watch it, too. I was wondering, though, if he would ever get to an answer. Sometimes people can easily identify a problem, but lack any real advice for a resolution. However, Shawn Achor had an answer. And an easy one at that. Make these 5 small changes to create more happiness in your life.

1) 3 Gratitudes
2) Journaling
3) Exercise
4) Meditation
5) Random Acts of Kindness

So today, I exercised (walked my dog) and thought about 3 gratitudes. Since it is National Poetry Month and I am trying to write a poem every day, I turned my gratitudes into gratiku, haiku about gratitude. I want to thank Diane Mayr at Random Noodling for introducing the superstickies site to me. The third gratiku became a tanka and wouldn’t fit on a stickie, so I used the app Overgram.



green tanka-3

Read Full Post »

Do No Harm

This is the bumper sticker on my car. When is the world going to get the message?

I didn’t think I would post today because Monday was a long day with school, an after school appointment, then a funeral. But I am feeling that I must respond. The funeral I attended was a joyous celebration of a life. As the bagpipes played when we exited the chapel, I hugged a student I taught 30 years ago, now a beautiful woman with two precious children. Her father suffered a long time with Parkinson’s. He is healed now, and we embraced to share the warmth of his legacy, his love. Why would anyone do harm on a day like today? Or on any day, for that matter? I just don’t get it.

I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, Kindness. I’ve decided this poem will be in my pocket on Poem in your Pocket Day on April 18th.

I have collected words from Naomi, from Anne Lammott, and from a conversation at the funeral. This collection is my message to the terrorists, the ones who do harm, live in fear and create fear. Let us practice kindness. Let us answer with kindness. It is the only answer that makes any sense.

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
you must cry real tears,
taste them as they fall,
let them baptize you, wash you clean.

We are all cracked and broken.
That is how the light gets in,
the light shining in the darkness.
In the dark room, we hold God’s hand.
Here we are helped,
drawn up out of the depths
to know love.

And when we know this love,
we can live in love
and practice kindness.
It is only kindness that makes sense anymore.
Do no harm.

Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday

Read Full Post »

Join Poetry Friday with Diane at Random Noodling

Join Poetry Friday with Diane at Random Noodling

G is for ghazal. I am no expert in poetry. I have a degree in elementary education and a masters for teaching gifted. I have only studied poetry on my own through workshops, reading, and internet research. My list of publications in poetry is short. But I do enjoy trying out new forms. One of the ways I try out writing new poems is by consulting with an expert.

My chosen expert for ghazal is J.K. McDowell. Jim published a book of poems that were all written in the ghazal form. I met Jim at a poetry reading last year and again at a wordlab a few months ago. We are now Facebook friends.

To write this ghazal, I read Jim’s book, Night, Mystery, & Light, published by Hiraeth Press. I used his style of 3 lines that together form a unit that could stand alone as a poem. I collected some of his lines and words. When I later researched on the internet, the definition confused me.

From Poets.org “The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning. – See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5781#sthash.zcpOLhm5.dpuf”

Jim McDowell's book

Jim McDowell’s book

I asked Jim about the couplet and rhyming that I didn’t see in his style. This was his response: “The tradition form is two lines of 18. This can be rough in English, so Bly does three lines of 12. Six stanzas is also a Bly innovation, but common. Hafiz has some pretty long ones, he is the Master of the ghazal but not the Ladinsky translations, they are more free form. My limited understanding is to not rhyme but repeat a special word. Also the last stanza can refer to or address the poet. In a higher form the poem even begins and ends with the same word. I still think the most important is that each stanza be a stand alone poem, the leaping and multiple threads and flow the most powerful.”

Now both of these definitions sound rather scholarly and may be too much for you, and for that matter, for your students. But I gave it a good ole college try. I kept to the Bly tradition of 3 lines, six stanzas. Each stanza could stand alone, and each ends with the same word. I also refer to myself in the final stanza. Let me know what you think. I have to say I had fun with this exercise.

…writing bad poetry

A glass of white wine, maybe red, or some pale ale
smears my day’s end like a phantasm of words
echoed in sounds of prayerful poetry.

Charlie barks at a passing squirrel, pulls hard.
Loosen the leash, make release for his chase.
Mary Oliver, meanwhile, would write poetry.

I want to believe more deeply in pure joy,
sip coffee and look into your eyes for truth.
This delicate awareness becomes my poetry.

Mark time with a toast to events of the each day,
Symphony Day, Iris Blooming Day, Waltzing Day.
Give notice to the day that finds poetry.

I know this hunger that no food or drink subsides.
Will the sunset reveal a sepulcher of secrets?
Do these rambling scribblings mimic poetry?

Historians liken Margaret to a queen who waves
from high upon the royal steed. Did any
Margaret you know turn blue writing bad poetry?

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved


Read Full Post »

progressive poem

Today is my turn to take on the Progressive Poem. The idea of this fun way to celebrate National Poetry Month comes from Irene Latham of Live Your Poem. I have to thank Linda Baie at Teacher Dance for inviting me to this poetry playground and for adding the last line. You can follow along using the link list on the sidebar. It all began with Amy Ludwig VanDerwater at The Poem Farm. I love her site. She is sharing sketches with poetic thoughts this month.

I have been watching this poem develop into a beautiful dance with words. Thinking with trepidation about where my line may fit, where it will lead. If it is even worthy. All that stuff. But when it came time to write, my feet started jitterbuggin’ and my fingers tapping, so here goes.

When you listen to your footsteps
the words become music and
the rhythm that you’re rapping gets your fingers tapping, too.
Your pen starts dancing across the page
a private pirouette, a solitary samba until
smiling, you’re beguiling as your love comes shining through.

Pause a moment in your dreaming, hear the whispers
of the words, one dancer to another, saying
Listen, that’s our cue! Mind your meter. Find your rhyme.
Ignore the trepidation while you jitterbug and jive.
Arm in arm, toe to toe, words begin to wiggle and flow

Now on to you, Linda Kulp!


Read Full Post »

Image from Creative Commons

Image from Creative Commons

F is for Found Poetry. I love doing found poetry. It’s just a matter of finding the right words and putting them together with line breaks. Word play, play with words. In the Daily Iberian, a huge photograph caught my eye: A swarm of bees happening down on Main Street right in front of my church, The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. Do you know about bee swarms? For the full article, click here.

Robin shares a found poem using song lyrics on her blog, Teaching Tomorrow’s Leaders.

Swarms of bees
buzz in city streets,
prime time for roving.

Scouts looking,
a ball of bee-bodies
flock to the queen.

Killing is a detriment
To the dwindling population,
not to mention, a sticky situation.

In a suit of helmet and veil,
cool pine smoke flushes,
will calm and numb pheromones.

More bees are moving
to the concrete city,
Don’t eradicate,

Read Full Post »


Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday

Have you ever met anyone who was homeless? Have you ever stopped to look at them? Give them money? or food? I have seen the homeless on trips to big cities and found myself trying to avoid their gaze, feeling a little twinge in my stomach, and guiltily walking on by. In my small town, homelessness is not a common occurrence.

On Thursday last week, I decided to stop in at Subway to pick up a sandwich between schools. A young woman in blue jeans and a jacket looked at me with pleading eyes. I paused. Something about her spoke to me. In a gentle voice, she asked if I could get her some food. Silly me, I started spouting off about our food pantry, Solomon House, and how she could get groceries on Tuesday. Then she said, “That’s a long way and I don’t have a car. I’m staying in a tent.”

I immediately invited her in to get whatever sandwich she wanted. She got a foot long meatball sandwich. I asked her to meet me back at my car. There I made a call to the Executive Director of Solomon House for some advice. She gave me the number of a nonprofit that may be able to help. We have a shelter for men, but the only place for women is for abuse victims. I looked at the woman whose arm was in a sling and asked, “Were you abused?”

“Well,” she replied, “He broke my nose a few years ago.”

I pointed to her arm. “No, I have bursitis.”

No luck there. Finding out more about her story, she told me the man left her here with nothing. She was living in a tent near some woods because no one would bother her there. I wanted to do more. I wanted to take her with me, but I had to get to school. I left her with the phone numbers and took her cell number. I told her I would call later to see how she was doing.

After school that day and again on Friday, I called her number. “We’re sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has not set up a voice mailbox.” Obviously, her phone had died and she couldn’t recharge it. What more could I do?

Somehow, I didn’t think the story would end there, but after 3 days, I didn’t expect to hear from her.

Sunday morning I was in the church choir loft practicing for the service when my phone went off. No name popped up, and I didn’t recognize the number, so I shut the sound off and went back to practicing. Then it occurred to me it was her number. I was compelled to call her back. When I did, she answered and explained that she had just been able to charge her phone at Burger King.

“I called the number you gave me and a lady is going to bring me to Faith House tomorrow, but I haven’t eaten in 2 days. I was wondering if you could bring me some canned foods or something.”

I told her I would come after church. I planned to stop at Solomon House to get her some food. It wasn’t until I was back in the choir loft, after a few opening prayers, and a text that said all the doors to the food were locked that I realized what a hypocrite I was being. Here I was praising God when He had just called me on the phone to say He was hungry. So I left. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.

When I got to Burger King, I didn’t see her anywhere. I went inside and asked one of the workers if they had seen her. “Oh, you mean Lorraine? She came in. She didn’t buy anything. She picked up a cup. She’s a regular.”

I stepped outside and called Lorraine. (not her real name) She was happy to see me. Her eyes shone. Her face was bright and pink. She had on a short-sleeved top and no sling. I told her she looked great! She was embarrassed to get in my car. She said her shoes stunk. Never mind that!

I took her to Super One and bought bananas, oranges, fruit juice, ham, and bread. I asked if there was anything else she wanted. She said, “A box of cakes. They’re only a dollar.”

“Sweet tooth, huh?” Sure, I bought them for her. And some warm chicken wings from the warmer near the check out lines. The total was $17. When was the last time I only spent $17 at the grocery store?

I brought her back to the convenience store/ Burger King area to a picnic table in the back. Before I left her, I gave her a $20 bill and asked her to call me when she got settled at Faith House, a women’s shelter in the nearby city.

More of her story came out on our drive to and from the grocery store. She is 34. Her mother died of a brain aneurysm a few years ago. Her father abandoned her. Her stepfather died shortly after being released from jail. She had been with the no-good alcoholic for 6 years. She said she was feeling relief not being with him anymore, even if she had to live in a tent for a week and a half.

Lorraine had been dealt a bad hand. She was alone. She was not drunk or on drugs. She seemed to be reasonably intelligent with a high school diploma and thoughts of going to college. She was a gentle, kind person. Not my warped, prejudicial idea of a homeless person.

It made me think about my homes, my family, the richness in my life. And here was Lorraine shining next to me humbly depending on the kindness of total strangers. I could feel hope rising in her. She seemed to feel she was going to turn a new page in her life, a better one. When I left Lorraine, the sky was clear and warm and sunny. Hopeful, indeed.

I called my husband to tell him why I had left church. He expressed concern and asked, “What would it cost to put her up in a hotel for the night? What is your gut telling you.”
My gut was telling me to do whatever I could.

Later that day, I once again picked up Lorraine. I took her to a local cheap hotel and paid for the room and the key deposit. This time with her was easy. Gone were the butterflies and sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Now I knew I was doing the right thing. When I left her this time, we embraced. She giggled and said, “I don’t think I’ll ever go camping again.” I pray she never has to.

I don’t know why Lorraine was put in my path. But I know I am richer for it. I have been blessed. Funny, isn’t it: When we reach out to bless others, it is ourselves whom we truly bless.

Read Full Post »

Happy Birthday, William Wordsworth!

The triolet form works well when stealing lines from other poets because that perfect line repeats 3 times. I feel privileged to combine my own words with William Wordsworth. The light of this evening invited poetry. Shadows and light created quiet calm and a sacred time.

A line taken from It is a Beauteous Evening, Calm and Free

Evening Light Triolet

A beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet –
When light makes shadows of the trees;
A beauteous evening, calm and free.
Reflections long to sit with thee
and mellow our day with silence.
A beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet.

Setting sun elongates shadows and illuminates the grandmother oak.

Setting sun elongates shadows and illuminates the grandmother oak.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »