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Archive for July, 2016

Find more celebration posts at Ruth's blog.

Find more celebration posts at Ruth’s blog.

Kristina bulletin board

Kristina is a master with a stapler.

This week I prepared my two classrooms at two schools for back-to-school next week.  I was blessed to have helpers.  In one classroom, one of my students appeared.  Her mother was in a teacher workshop, so she was hanging out at the school helping out where she could.  At the end of the year, I have to pack up the books so that the floors can be cleaned, so Lani re-shelved the books.  I told her she could choose her own sorting method, so she put together books by the same author.  I’m sure the order will change once kids start pulling them out to read, but it’s nice to start the year with some kind of order.

At another school, my friend Kristina came to help.  She handled the stapler for the bulletin board and shelved my mountain of books.  She decided to order books by genre, and she even made signs for the shelves.

Kristina makes signs for the book shelves.

Kristina makes signs for the book shelves.

I celebrate my little helpers and that feeling of anticipation that comes with a new school year.

Poetry gift from Carol Varsalona.

Poetry gift from Carol Varsalona.

I celebrate the summer poetry swap.  I got this gift from Carol Varsalona.  Carol has a unique talent of pairing photos with poems and creating timeless images.  Her poem is a riddle poem about a fan.  I can use a fan when temperatures climb to 90+ daily, but this one is too pretty to use.  She also sent a necklace of handmade beads from paper.  Carol wrote, “The women in Masese, Uganda wove the beads from paper that is hung to dry. With the proceeds we built an elementary school where 550+ children are educated, fed two meals a day, and have clean water. The mothers of Masese are proud jewelry makers who now can make a living to raise their children.” I will proudly wear the beads.  Thanks, Carol.

happy rock
I celebrate Iberia Parish Rocks!  My husband found this rock on his doorstep on Friday.  He texted it to me.  That evening we saw an article in the paper about a Facebook group painting happy rocks to leave around town.  What a great project for just spreading a bit of joy!

 

My summer is quickly coming to an end, but what a summer it has been.  I am so grateful for my amazing trips to Tanzania, Africa and Old Bedlam Farm.  I am also grateful for lazy days spent with my constant companion, Charlie.  I wish I could take him with me to school.

Charlie

Charlie

 

 

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Poetry Friday round-up  is here today.  Leave your link .

Poetry Friday round-up is here today. Leave your link .

 

 

Hollyhocks don’t grow here in South Louisiana.  On a recent visit to upstate New York, I was attracted to their stately stalks with large blossoms.  We encountered a few at the local garden supplier in Hebron, NY.
purple hollyhocks

 

Later, Tara let me know that she went back and bought some for her garden.  

Hollyhocks at Old Bedlam Farm.

Hollyhocks at Old Bedlam Farm.

And then I encountered an image in Better Homes and Gardens. I didn’t order this magazine, but it seems to keep showing up in the mailbox.  I love the images of wild gardens that I could never grow.

 

 wild hollyhocks

While in New york, we visited Owl Pen books. I found a treasure, a collection of Emily Dickinson’s nature poems. I used the form of one of these poems and wrote my own version. This poem and the book are headed to my next poetry swap friend.

The Garden
After Emily Dickinson

I’ll tell you how the Hollyhocks rose–
A Blossom at a time–
The Petals glistened like Rubies–
The Bees and Hummers buzzed–
The Trees unfurled their branches–
The Bulbul–beloved–
Then I said softly to myself–
“That must have been the Dew!”
But how he wept–I saw not–
There seemed a dampness sincere
That little ants did clamor here
And led me to the waiting pew,
Woven easily among Lilies–
Morning Glories in blue–
And then I saw– You.

Poets and Readers: Use the Link Button below.

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

 

It’s summer now. The sun sets more reluctantly than at any other time of the year, and as it slowly drops behind the canopy of live oaks and crepe myrtles, my remaining twelve hens drift nearer and nearer to the coop, pecking and scratching along in a lazy, singular unity.

I feel so strongly about these hens. As oblivious as they are to love and anything else that is neither food nor peril, they seem to carry with knowing authority the solutions to all mysteries, as our solutions are somehow in rosary beads, old pots, and June bugs. If they miss Passion, they don’t show it. Somewhere between earthworms and hawks, they carry on, finding the best spots for dust baths and squabbling over the grapes I feed them from my hand, until they inevitably make it home as the sun sets.

And rather than leave an empty space where Passion once perched on the roost, they will scoot closer to each other and fill it in, knowing that the world goes on and knowing — announcing, maybe, as Mary Oliver would say — their place in the family of things.

–Lisa Meaux, 1956-2016, excerpt from “The Birds: Passion” from Entropymag.org

 

 

Lisa Meaux

My friend, Lisa Meaux, loved chickens.  The above excerpt is from a short story she wrote about a friend and a chicken who both had ovarian cancer.  The story is just like Lisa, a mix of the ironic and the tender.

I first met Lisa when I was working on my masters in gifted education.  She was the lead teacher in a summer program in which I interned.  As the years went by, Lisa found her way to the writing project, and our relationship grew around teaching and writing.  Two years ago, she retired and married the love of her life.  Little did any of us know that her life would end so soon.

On Saturday, I attended a beautiful gathering to celebrate her life at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. The stage was set with a portrait of Lisa holding one of her chickens.  Two teacher-writers from her writing group read from a variety of pieces that told the story of Lisa.  Her writing life centered around her love of her home, her animals, and her family. A fitting tribute to her through her own words.

Back in 2009, Lisa, Nettie, and I attended the New Orleans writing marathon.  The marathon focus was fiction.  I felt like such a novice at fiction writing, but the genre was comfortable to Lisa.  I remember she wrote a story about a woman who leaves a piece of her clothing at various places in New Orleans and eventually walks into Lake Pontchartrain completely nude.  It was a brilliantly crafted story.

At that retreat, Lisa gave me a gift of a bracelet of blue beads and thus the name for Blessen’s chicken, Blue.  If it hadn’t been for Lisa, there would not have been a chicken in my story, or, for that matter, a story at all.  She met with me to discuss my book and planted the seed that would become the theme for the book, “Death happens in threes.”

There is an empty space where Lisa lived.  Her friends feel it.  Her husband feels it.  Her students feel it.  Unlike her roosting chickens, I am not quite sure how to fill the space that belonged to her.  I still struggle to know where I belong in the family of things.  But I know this for sure: The world goes on, and I am a better person for having known and loved Lisa Meaux.

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View from the porch at Old Bedlam Farm

celebratesquare-image

My summer is quickly coming to an end.  School starts in a few short weeks.  It’s time for me to focus, get into the classroom, and make plans for the year.

But first, I want to celebrate the summer life, that laid-back time when the day is completely empty.  When you can take time to explore a used bookstore in the woods of upstate New York.

When you can take time to peruse an antique store down the road in Salem.  Don’t forget to open the tiny drawers to find the smallest treasures, like a mustard seed pendant.

Leaning on my friends Julianne Harmatz and Kimberley Moran.

 

When you can take a lawn chair up the hill, find the shade of a tree, and write in the quiet of the morning.

Tara writes on the hillside. Sophie explores nearby.

When you can “Live like Heaven is on Earth.”

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Poetry Friday round-up is at Books 4 Learning

Poetry Friday round-up is at Books 4 Learning

wagon wheel

I dedicate this post, a prose fairy tale poem in three parts, to my writing friends Tara Smith, Kimberley Moran, and Julianne Harmatz.  We spent the week together in upstate New York laughing, eating, drinking, touring, shopping, and oh yes…writing.  These verses were inspired by Petal People notecards by Martha Starke. 

I. Julianne

Once there was a girl from Los Angeles
with a head of curly hair.
She walked the hills of New York state
gathering wild flowers–

verbena, hosta, bleeding heart,
Johnny-jump-ups, bridal wreath–

placing them all in a clear glass jar.

The flowers captured sunshine,
the wild air of summer.

She looked at the flowers in the center of the breakfast table,
and smiled a sneaky smile.
She found the key to happiness–
Gather wildflowers in a glass jar.
You will have sunshine every day.

II. Kimberley

There once was a girl from Maine
who walked the hills of New York state,
looking for something, though she knew not what.

She picked up a wreath of wild flowers
arranged in the shape of a heart.

This heart of hydrangea petals
surrounded by Queen Anne’s lace
touched her very own broken heart.

She hung the wreath on her own front door
to show the world and herself
that this was enough.

III. Tara

Once a girl from New Jersey
walked all the way to New York
searching for wisdom,
(perhaps words on a bumper sticker),
a message for the secret of life.

On a bedlam farm,
dirty from long disuse,
she met a man selling seeds.

He told her to plant this tiny seed,
(so small she could hardly see),
water it every day, speak in a soft voice.
The seed will grow into the finest of flowers
more beautiful than hollyhocks.

One day when the sun rose
& the fog lifted,
she saw the flower,
finer than anything imagined,
and she said, “It is good!”

Margaret Simon, all rights reserved,
with incredible respect and love
for the gift of time that is born at a farm in New York

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

 

 

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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for the Slice of Life Challenge.

I don’t know how I have come to be so blessed.  If you’ve been keeping up with my blog or Facebook posts, you know I spent two weeks in Tanzania, Africa, a gift from my amazing mother-in-law.  And today, I am in upstate New York at Tara Smith’s farm.  Like Tanzania, the nights and mornings are cool, and that alone is reason to leave South Louisiana in the mid-summer.  Unlike Tanzania, this place is lush and hilly and green.

On the farm, I can breathe slowly.  I feel an energy for just being present.  Tara is a perfect hostess.  She ran down the hill from her writing spot five minutes ago because I asked for a lap blanket.  Our dinner was fresh and delicious beginning with Caprese salad and ending with sliced watermelon.  This morning, blueberry pancakes, my favorite.

I was trying to remember how I got here.  Not in a geographical sense, but when did I meet and become so attached to these friends?  I am here with Tara, Julianne, and Kimberley.  (They are each writing a post today about our time together.) The fact is I can trace each friend back to this very space, my blog.  We met through a commitment to writing and sharing our lives with each other.  Connections happen here that I do not plan or predict or that I even realize are happening until a day like today.

 

Julianne traveled from L.A. and I traveled from LA. to be together on a hill in Washington County, NY.

This is Tara’s house on the farm.  It is as lovely and charming on the inside as you can see from the outside.  I am back in time to a place of stillness and grace.

This is Sophie.  Every farm needs a dog like Sophie, keeping watch and providing comfort.

 

 

The four of us are taking a break from talking to write our separate slices.  Sharing our slices of life is what brought us all here to be present with each other, to make space for writing, and to enjoy the abundance of life.  I am so grateful for Tara’s generosity, for this community of writers, and for this amazing gift of nature.  I can believe the world is good.  I can feel hope.  I can be me.

Morning walk in the woods.

gentle moon

rising over the hills

abiding grace

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celebratesquare-image

I have been home for a week from a most amazing trip to Tanzania, Africa and still processing the experience through blog posts.  You can read them all:

Tanzania Travel Journal #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

Today I am celebrating our school visit.  The Grand Circle Foundation sponsors a number of schools in Tanzania.  The one we visited is Endoro Primary School in Karatu.

The head teacher, “Mother Mary”, took us into her small office to tell us about the school and answer any questions. Most of her students come to school from the Iraqw tribe. They do not know the national language, Kiswahili. All subjects in primary school are taught in the national language, and English is one class. Later, in secondary school, all subjects are taught in English. These students not only have to master many subjects, they must do so in many languages.

They begin school at 7 AM with cleaning and eating a breakfast of porridge. The classrooms were very basic with a chalkboard at one end and 10 desks in 3 rows with 2-3 students at each desk. The desks consisted of a wooden bench and a short wooden table top. Their supplies include pencils, assignment books, and textbooks. There are no computers at this school.

While we were there, the regional director passed by, Sandra.  It was amazing to hear her speak of the foundation and their mission to improve education.  The Tanzanian government has made all public schools free.  But that means there is no longer a $10 tuition fee per year.  Costs for supplies, books, uniforms, food, etc. are not covered.  Grand Circle Foundation recently built more classrooms and installed toilets at Endoro School.

Sandra assured us 100% of the donations go directly to the schools. She told us the cost of textbooks is about $3-$6 each. What a bargain to us in the US!

Endoro Primary School, Karatu, Tanzania

Endoro Primary School, Karatu, Tanzania

School motto

I was charmed by the students that I met.  One girl told me her name is Martha, my third daughter’s name, so we made an immediate connection.  I hope to establish pen pals for my students.

Visiting with school girls

Visiting with school girls

My birthday is August 11th. For my birthday, I am asking my friends to donate to the Grand Circle Foundation specifically for Endoro school.  You can donate by emailing me for a donation form, signing on to the Grand Circle Foundation Website, or sending a payment to me through Pay Pal and I will donate. Just think what $10 can do for these kids!

Here is a video of the students singing a welcome song and my small group singing their National Anthem. (Sorry, it’s quite loud, so turn down your volume.)

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