Archive for August, 2013

Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

Join the Chalk-a-bration over at Teaching Young Writers

My students welcomed Friday by chalking up some poetry. The principal stopped by and said, “How fun!” Then she asked if we would do it again for grandparents’ day.  A great way to welcome the long weekend. Sorry my pictures aren’t clearer.  Any advice on taking pictures of chalk art?


A colorful rainbow,
pretty spiral like it’s spinning,
sugar filled gummie land,
a wonderful site to see.
by Tyler



Hip, hip hooray! Today is Friday. Happy in my heart the weekend's about to start. Margaret Simon

Hip, hip hooray!
Today is Friday.
Happy in my heart
the weekend’s about to start.
Margaret Simon



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Background & Ball by Song_sing
Background & Ball, a photo by Song_sing on Flickr.

Kaleidoscope Dreams

Look into your beachball crystal ball.
Hold the top with Mr. Pointer
and spin!

Colors swirl, fractals curl.
Spirals to a world
–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

I got an invitation to play on a website called TinEye Labs from my cyber-friend Linda Baie. This is a fun site to play on. You can select up to 5 colors and get a collage of 35 photos. For my poem above, I selected 3 colors and then chose this photo to write about.

I tried this in my classroom. The bad news: Our school network blocked the site. The good news: I have an iPhone. Bad news: Only one student can use it at a time. Good news: The activity was exciting and inspired fun writing. Since I only teach small groups of students, I was able to meet with each student separately and allow them to play. I sent the photos by email to my school account and printed them. The students glued the picture into their journals and wrote.

One student chose a psychedelic multicolored head to write about. Another student made the comment, “That is what a snake sees, not your face, but the colors of your temperature.” I’m not sure how true his statement is; Gifted kids often tell me things I don’t already know, while they also say completely untrue things with confidence. Anyway, that statement inspired this hilarious poem from Matthew. The photo is here.

Snake eyes…literally!

This is what a snake sees,isn’t it strange?

This is what he sees when he’s in your range.

This is all the heat that is in your body,

Kinda makes everyone a real big hottie!

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tara at A Teaching Life.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tara at A Teaching Life.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

I have been writing this blog for two and a half years. I usually write Slice of Life stories, poems, or about activities I do with my students. I have tried to keep from making any kind of political statement. But when I heard last week about the bravery of Antoinette Tuff, I decided I had to speak up.

When the tragedy of Sandy Hook happened last December, it touched everyone around the country. Teachers were especially effected as we heard of the sacrifices our colleagues made for their students. We had to ask ourselves what we would do in a similar situation. And in this day of unlimited access to guns along with limited access to mental health care, our fear is a realistic one.

Our school system responded with a new mandate that our classroom doors had to be kept locked. While I understand the reasons, I am not comfortable with the atmosphere it creates. When I walk down the halls and pass all the locked doors, I feel alone, not safe. I miss seeing my colleagues and hearing the voices of active classrooms. Most of all, this response spreads fear, not love, to our students.

When we started inservice training days before this school year, we reviewed the crisis plan. While last year we were told students had to stand against the wall during lockdown, this year they are to lie flat on the floor. While last year we were admonished for leaving any crack in the blinds, now we were told to leave a space so the authorities can look in. In all honesty, nobody really knows what will save us.

Nobody, that is, but Antoinette Tuff. She responded with love, not fear.

He said that no one loved him, and I told him that I loved him and that it was going to be OK. –Antoinette Tuff

I have been writing this summer about Ed Bacon’s 8 Habits of Love. Antoinette Tuff probably has never heard of this book, but she knew that the perpetrator needed to feel loved. And her act of love saved countless lives, as well as the life of the gunman.

We don’t need more guns, more guards at our schools, or training of teachers to carry guns (heaven-forbid). We need more Antoinettes. A woman who reacted with love, not fear or hatred. She spoke bravely and made a personal connection. I pray that we have no more school shootings, but instead of locking my door and barricading it with desks, I hope I can put on my best Antoinette and face adversity with love.

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Swan Song, Creative Commons

Swan Song, Creative Commons

I grew up with music in my home. My mother is a pianist. I’m sure she played Claude Debussy’s Clare de Lune. When I went to Google yesterday, I was pleased to find out it was Debussy’s 151st birthday. The link took me to a YouTube video of nature pictures with the harp playing Clare de Lune. It was one of those, let’s-write-to-this inspiration moments. I had planned to pass out pictures from a nature calendar. This was better, music and beautiful nature pictures. I wrote with my students, so I’ll post my poem here. Student work will come later as they do some polishing and make the plunge into posting on a blog.

Hills and mountains
reflect in still water;
Sun bursts through clouds;
A rainbow circles the sky;
And I travel there
with you.

I ask, Do you love me?

How high? you say.

Higher than the mountains?

Higher than the clouds.

Higher than the moon?

Higher than the stars at night.

Higher, higher, still.

Blue Moon before sunrise. Photo by Margaret Simon

Blue Moon before sunrise. Photo by Margaret Simon

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Betsy at I Think in Poems.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Betsy at I Think in Poems.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

As the school year begins and gains speed, the Habit of Community makes me think of the school community and our classroom communities. Ed Bacon’s book 8 Habits of Love ends with this habit. All seven habits (Generosity, Stillness, Truth, Candor, Play, Forgiveness, and Compassion) lead to this final one. He begins the last chapter with the epigraph from John Donne, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”

Class group hug

Class group hug

The Habit of Community lets us know that we are not, in fact, alone. Each of the other Habits of Love ultimately leads to this most critical, life-affirming habit. –Ed Bacon

Life-affirming, that is the reason, the meaning, of community. We are all in this together. Community is designed to help us through the darkness and to celebrate the light. Tragedies put our communities to the test. In most cases, the Habit of Community saves its loved ones from fear and leads them to healing.

I pray that my classroom community will not be tested by tragedy, but everyday there are failures to be reassured and successes to be celebrated. We have a responsibility to encourage a sense of community so that our students feel safe to be who they are. They learn empathy and generosity by our modeling.

True Community encourages everyone to clarify their own values without having to agree with the group. There are few experiences that bring more energy to the soul than belonging to a durable Community without the pressure of having to agree. –Ed Bacon

One thing that stands out to me about the Habit of Community is that we have to open up ourselves to vulnerability in order for others to connect to us. Recently, a friend’s son had his first child. The baby was born early and had some difficulties. He posted daily on Facebook about the progress of his son and his wife’s recovery. I found myself looking for his updates every day, and I know that the support of all of us reading them helped him get through this difficult time. They are all home now and becoming the family they were meant to be. Somehow, though, I feel blessed from having shared in this journey.

We now have so many more ways to connect with our wider community. If we can use the social media to spread the Habits of Love rather than fear, to encourage the life-light in each person, to be there for each other, we can spread the energy of peace and health to the world. We can inspire change. We can be a community.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the community of Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Tuesdays. We are all teachers together on a journey to provide the best for our students. We are a supportive, encouraging, and loving community, and I am proud to be a part.

In what ways will you build community in your classroom? A community of belonging, a community of trust, a community of learning?

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Three caterpillars fascinating to observe-- Future swallowtails.

Three caterpillars
fascinating to observe–
Future swallowtails.

A few days ago, a friend posted a picture on Facebook of these amazing creatures devouring his parsley plants. I asked if I could have a few for my classroom. I picked them up yesterday and was a big hit in the hallway walking in. I will be teaching math to a small group of second and third graders,so we will measure and graph their growth and then watch and wait. This is as exciting to me as it is to them. I’ll keep you posted. Maybe we’ll write caterpillar and butterfly poems, too.

Have you ever been stuck or needed something to accelerate you on the road to a poem? This happens to me quite often. One activity I like to try is to steal a line. Sometimes I borrow lines from poets I like, but this time I was in a bookstore. So I grabbed a favorite book, Little Women, and found this, “It seems so long to wait, so hard to do. I want to fly away at once, as those swallows fly, and go in at that splendid gate. I want to be with them in flight.”

I want to hold air as close as a summer blanket,
cottonball soft puffs of a cloud,
for a moment,
to touch its warm belly
and fly.
Who will come with me?
Let’s form a V,
honk like geese,
announce our arrival.
It seems so long to wait
to go in at that splendid gate.
–Margaret Simon

clear blue balloon
Speaking of flying, you can read about a once-in-a-lifetime hot-air balloon ride here.

Flying Angel over Duperier Street Bridge, an original painting by Margaret Simon

Flying Angel over Duperier Street Bridge,
an original painting by Margaret Simon

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Steps and Staircases.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Steps and Staircases.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Duperier Bridge Sunset

Duperier Bridge Sunset

To be rich in admiration and free from envy, to rejoice greatly in the good of others, to love with such generosity of heart that your love is still a dear possession in absence or unkindness – these are the gifts which money cannot buy.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Essayist, Poet, Novelist

The 7th Habit of Love in Ed Bacon’s 8 Habits of Love is Compassion. Compassion is not just about kindness, or generosity, or even pity. Compassion is deeper, stronger. Compassion leads us to empathy, then to action.

The Habit of Compassion is, at its core, about acting on the knowledge that everyone is a God carrier…It distinguishes between charitable empathy in which we seek to wipe out others’ pain or discomfort,and incites us to action in which we honor their future by helping them, help and honor themselves. The Habit of Compassion reminds us that none of us is as evil as our worst act; no evil deed or deeds can erase the goodness and love at the core.

The belief in the God carrier, that everyone is essentially good leads to tolerance and love. We can spread this love through our actions, our words, and our being. I had the opportunity to show compassion in April of this year when I helped a homeless woman. You can read the story here. I never found out what happened to her, but I must believe that my small act of compassion encouraged her. In addition to practicing kindness, we must believe that kindness changes people.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem Kindness moves me. “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Before you can be compassionate, you must know the compassion of others. I have felt the compassion of others at my worst moments. One I remember was a few years ago when I had what I later figured out was a panic attack in the lounge at school. I had never had one before and haven’t since. I don’t remember what brought it on except I was feeling nauseated and fearful. A colleague looked at me and said,”Are you OK?” And I lost it. I started crying uncontrollably. I ended up on the sofa with a wet cloth on my head. One teacher stayed with me and comforted me until I felt better. This expression of compassion made me feel like I was not alone and not a complete fool. Her presence was enough.

Ed Bacon speaks a lot about having compassion for those who have done some wrong or evil. When the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook happened last year, one of my students was quick to remind us all that the killer was a person, too, and he died. I was moved by her compassion for him. Often the evil someone does comes from a place of deep anger or emotional distress. And who are we to judge? Compassion does not excuse the evil or make it less horrible. However, when we react to aggression with aggression, what we get is more aggression. The vicious cycle. Compassion frees us of this cycle and helps us to move forward in love.

In what ways can you encourage compassion in your classroom this year? Bullying is an issue that has come to the forefront in education. I plan to read aloud two books that show kindness over bullying, Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Kate Messner’s Sea Monster and the Bossy Fish. If I teach compassion, show compassion, and live compassion, my students will know love and practice the habits of love, too.

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A few days ago, I celebrated my 31st wedding anniversary. Why does this seem so hard to believe? I heard you all gasp! On this day, Amy from The Poem Farm posted a link to Famous, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, on Facebook. Naomi (I feel we will be friends one day and will be on a first name basis) is a favorite of mine. My husband, however, has never heard of her. This is not surprising because he doesn’t really read poetry, so he is not familiar with any famous poets. But he likes to talk about being famous. It is one of those “familial phrases.”

Let me explain. We live in a small town, so it is not that uncommon for one of us to be in the paper every once in a while. That doesn’t mean we’re famous, but when you see your name in print or see your picture in the newspaper, you feel famous. The phrase around our house is “you are famous” if any part of you is mentioned in the Daily Iberian.

When I read Naomi’s poem, I was compelled to send it to my husband. Maybe because it was our anniversary. Maybe I was flirting. But he actually read it and sent a message back to me. He wrote, “You are famous to me.”

Now I hope you are sighing “Aw!”

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

(See the entire poem here.)

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Renee at No Water River.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Renee at No Water River.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

balloon ride 2013

On Saturday, I went on a ride of a lifetime. Several months ago, I was out walking Charlie and saw a hot-air balloon flying over our neighborhood. I shot some pictures with my phone and sent them to the local newspaper. They printed one with my name in a caption. The owner of the balloon saw the picture. He knew my husband, so he gave Jeff his card and said, “This is good for one balloon ride for you and your wife.”

In ballooning, everything depends on the weather and the direction and speed of the wind. Ted called me Friday morning and said he had plans to ride on Saturday morning. He promised to call and wake us up if he was going. At 5:30 AM, our phone rang loud and jarring. “Meet me at 6:15.”

Everything I knew about hot-air balloons came from The Wizard of Oz. I’ve only seen a few in my life and from far away. Ted involved us in the whole process, not just to teach us, but he needed the extra hands. I was surprised at how much work goes into launching and landing a balloon. Ted was meticulous about every step, and he had done it many times, so I was not at all afraid. His “crew” were two women. They were excited to try out the new cart for the balloon. In the 20 years they have been working together, they always bagged the balloon and lifted it into the trailer. Ted, being a mechanical engineer, made a cart using a janitor cart. He added thicker wheels and a rolling pen to the handle to help guide the balloon out of and into the cart. He even thought to attach the handles high, so you wouldn’t have to lean down to pull it.

The genius balloon cart

The genius balloon cart

Once the balloon was out strewn across the field, Ted set up a fan to get the balloon inflated. Jeff and I held either side and watched as the huge stained glass nylon got bigger and bigger. Eventually, the balloon was inflated enough to be heated. This was the only part that scared me, the fire. He shot huge flames into the balloon. Each shot of fuel made me jump.

The lift off of a hot-air balloon is incredibly smooth and quiet. Before we knew it, we were floating in the air. Ted told us we were just a piece of the wind. I felt I was standing on the air, like Lois Lane when she first flies with Superman. Soft, quiet, peaceful. And the views! We could see so far. But it was difficult to understand where we were. Ted pointed out landmarks to us. He said, “Trees are our friends. Power-lines are not.” I understood the power-line problem. I later asked him why trees are our friends. He explained that the tops of trees can help to slow him down. They are not hard like the trunk. The branches are soft and bend easily.

The flight was over before I knew it. Finding a place to land was tricky. We had to find an empty lot with no power lines. We ended up landing in the side yard next to a house in a neighborhood. People were coming out of their houses to watch us. Imagine if you woke up one Saturday morning to look outside and see a hot-air balloon in your backyard. Some neighbors brought us water. Taking down was harder. It was hotter, and we were standing in thick wet grass with gnats. Once we had packed everything back up into the trailer, Ted invited us to breakfast at a local cafeteria. Sweet potato pancakes topped off my most perfect morning.

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Poetry Friday is here today!  Post links in the comments!

Poetry Friday is here today! Post links in the comments!

This summer I have been participating in Tabatha Yeats’ Poem Swap. In writing a poem a week, I have been discovering threads in my writing. I love nature, not to be confused with a love of gardening. But I often look to nature for my poetry wisdom. I recently sent a group of poems to a contest. I titled the group “Among the Oaks.” When I walk in my neighborhood, I look to nature for inspiration, everything from the water of the bayou to the birds in the trees, and, of course, the trees themselves. When Tabatha sent me my 4th name, I was thinking, “OK, this time I will write something for that person.” But the poem turned out to be another nature poem. I give up. This is where my pen wants to move, so I will follow it.

A poet friend once told me, “Write a poem every week and by the end of the year, you have 52 poems. A whole manuscript!” I have not put together a whole manuscript of poems. I’m frankly scared to think about it. Perhaps I can follow this nature thread to a whole book? Then I fear the inspiration will end. Hah, you thought you knew what you were doing. Nope, not yet.

I have gotten so much inspiration and encouragement from this Poetry Friday community. We seem to have unwritten rules of respect and appreciation. Since many of you will stop in today to link up, I just wanted to thank you. Thanks for reading, commenting, encouraging, and being a lover of poetry.

Neighborhood Oaks photo collage by Margaret Simon

Neighborhood Oaks photo collage by Margaret Simon

I took these pictures in my neighborhood. It had rained the night before, so the resurrection fern was full and green. The moss was particularly shiny and wiggling in the wind. The title came first, which is seldom the case. It came from a statement my father made about a heron on his dock, “She is queen of all she surveys.” I loved the line and thought how it would apply to the live oak. The poem did not come as easily, and I am still not completely satisfied. It started off much more prose-like. I cut words, moved stanzas around. All this work ended up taking me to the same place a few other poems have this summer, to the idea of the mother, the mother in nature that loves us unconditionally and protects us always.

(I want to thank Tabatha for her suggestion for this poem’s ending. I have made these changes. See what I mean about a supportive and helpful community?)

What threads do you see in your poetry? How do you follow or resist these threads?

She is Queen of all She Surveys

Mother oak stands
for generations,
her long arms
clothed in fern,
open and green.

Here the mockingbird
defends her nest, squawking
at the passing squirrel.
Hanging moss wiggles grey fingers,
tickling the wind.

I want to live here
in her branches
among the birds
nestled in fern,
swaying, free,
still holding on to my mother
with tight fists.

–Margaret Simon, all rights reserved

Father Goose is here with light verse poems from the new online Light Quarterly today from his perch in the treehouse at the FATHER GOOSE Blog

Matt has a poem about George.

Myra at Gathering Books continues with her Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age bimonthly theme with Frida Kahlo’s letter to Marty McConnell.

Mary Lee Hahn has a poem about habits at A Year of Reading.

At Random Noodling, Diane Mayr has an illustrated poem that she wrote to send to a Summer Poem Swap partner. Kurious Kitty is looking at snakes today with a poem by Margaret Atwood. KK’s Kwotes has a quote by Frances Clarke Sayers.

Laura Shovan has a tree poem today, too. Hers is told from the point of view of a fifth grader with learning differences. Author Amok

Tara was inspired by an exhibition of Georgia O’Keefe’s leaves at A Teaching Life.

Tabatha Yeats at The Opposite of Indifference is writing about sirens and their irresistible songs.

Liz Steinglass is writing about nature, too, observing herself observing the natural world.

Carol at Carol’s Corner is sharing Bob Raczka’s seasons series and even giving away a book!

Robin Hood Black has an August poem by Albert Garcia.

Today at The Poem Farm, Amy has a small how-to poem and a visit from Margy Grosswendt. She tells about her recent travels to Bosnia where she volunteered in an orphanage and shared creative movement exercises with the children there.

Mandy joins in at Enjoy and Embrace Learning with a Hello original poem.

Steven Withrow has an original poem at Crackles of Speech, Chain Rhyme for Goldilocks.

Violet Nesdoly has a review of a friend’s chapbook, Humble Fare.

Anastasia posted a small poem about a large number of steps.

MM Socks has royalty on the mind with an original poem “Playing King.”

A short poem by Richard Brautigan entitled April 7, 1969 is on the menu at the Florian Cafe.

Semicolon Sherry has some thoughts on the Korean poems called Sijo, and on Linda Sue Park’s book called Tap Dancing on the Roof.

Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe has a reentry poem about the joy of 5-year-olds and a little dip-your-toes-in original.

Keri at Keri Recommends is sharing a poem gift from noodle-icious Diane Mayr for the Summer Poem Swap.

Joy Acey is waving to us from the top of a wavy poem at Poetry for Kids Joy.

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