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Archive for the ‘Slice of Life’ Category

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

As a teacher-poet, I am most fulfilled when I have inspired a young person to write a poem. My colleague and friend Beth was recently entertaining her two granddaughters, Annie and Eliza. Their mother, Beth’s daughter, would be coming home soon with their new baby sister. Beth read to them a poem from Bayou Song, I am a Beckoning Brown Bayou. Beth is a wonderful teacher, and possibly she talked to them about poetic elements, but I also know these girls have been read to as long as they have been alive, six years for Annie, and four years for Eliza. Lyrical language is a part of who they are!

Beth sent me a text with each of the girls’ poems. She gave permission for me to publish them. I sent an email response to the girls naming the things I noticed in their poems. Beth said they read my email over and over. Every writer, even ones as young as four and six, love to get feedback.

I am a flower dress
I decorate a pretty pony tailed girl
I twirl and spin around
I move when she does
I wiggle like a snake


I am a flower dress
I am pretty pink and purple
I have sparkles shining like a colorful rainbow
I am beautiful like rose sapphire

by Eliza, age 4

I am a dinging doorbell
I am squeezed in my belly button
I am rung by a little girl with brown hair and a checkered dress
I giggle when people press me to be funny


I am a dinging doorbell
I am shy when visitors come
I am happy when I am answered
I ring when I am pressed.
I get excited whenever I am used
I am a dinging doorbell

Annie, age 6

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

Neil Gaiman
Art wall selfie

I believe that art is for everyone. Even a 2 year old. I heard that the Acadiana Center for the Arts had free exhibits, so I packed up Leo (after a stop at CVS to get him a mask), and we made our first visit ever to an art museum. The first of many to come.

Leo, like many 2-year-olds, is learning about his world and naming things. He recently started saying, “What’s that?” In art, “that” can be open for interpretation, so I’d say, “What do you see?” He saw birds, crabs, and even dinosaurs. One large abstract painting made him say, “Scary!” I asked him what he saw that was scary. He named things in the painting that I didn’t see. Imagination beginning!

In one gallery, there was a table with an outline of a diamond shape, colored pencils, and scissors. We colored together and added our masterpiece to the art wall.

In another display there was a painted piano. He loved sitting on the stool and playing the “key horse.” I learned later that he was trying to say keyboard. I told him it was a piano, so he repeated, “pinano!”

I have joined Michelle Haseltine’s #100DaysofNotebooking. On our art date, Leo and I made a notebook page using washi tape, flair pens, colored paper, and poem seeds. Our poem captured Leo’s curiosity and wonder.

One
Twinkling Star
Looking

Making art in my notebook, Leo style.

Inspiration: Not everyone has the advantage of spending time with such an enthusiastic observer, but consider taking some time to go to an art museum or play in your notebook. You’ll be happy you did!

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This week Ruth invites us to write about rituals. As I sit at my computer on Boxing Day, I realize that rituals change. And change they must. In fact, I’ve had to understand that a ritual for me may or may not be one for my family. Accepting the change is my mantra for this holiday season.

Speaking of the lack of church-going in my pandemic life, I said to my daughter, “I’ll be spiritual again in 2021.”

She responded, “Oh, you are still spiritual. It’s just the ritual that you’ve taken a break from.”

She’s right, of course. But I feel the ritual of church, especially singing carols with the choir on Christmas Eve, fed my spiritual life, and without that food, I’m going through the motions of Christmas. My advent candles sit on my kitchen table having never been lit. I wonder at the long term effects of this ritual loss.

I totally forgot about Christmas dinner. Who forgets Christmas dinner? I realized after a text from my sister-in-law that we would have a visit, masked and on the porch with open doors, but no meal. Yikes! We ran to a nearby place that has frozen foods and stocked up 10 minutes before they closed on Christmas Eve. Emergency averted. That meal was the easiest Christmas dinner ever. Maybe a new tradition was born?

As I reflect on Christmas, 2020, I have so many things to be grateful for, beginning with a negative Covid test, so I was comfortable being around my grandchildren. The joys of children at any time of the year, but especially at Christmas, cannot be overrated. Leo, 2 years, was amazed by every “pwesent”, and Thomas, 15 months, wanted to taste every goodie. “Pease!” with the sign for More caved me every time. And even though I cannot physically hold baby Stella, I can watch her from across the room melt onto my daughter’s shoulder. So many blessings. New rituals. Always hope!

Cousins Leo, 2 years, Stella, 3 weeks, and Thomas, 15 months

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I’ve always enjoyed good photography. The summer of my 15th birthday, my family took a cross country trip from Mississippi to Wyoming. And when we got to Denver, we looked in the phone book (no Google) for a reputable camera store. I remember being amazed that we found one. I got my very first “good” camera, an Olympus OM 10 SLR. That school year I started taking pictures for the yearbook and eventually became the yearbook editor for my senior year.

Once I moved on to college, then marriage, then babies, I left that part of me behind. Like the poet I once was, she hibernated for a long time. The poet emerged around 1995, but the photographer is still in hibernation. I got a “good” camera for Christmas 2015 before a big trip to Africa the summer of 2016: Sony 6000.

I took gorgeous pictures in Africa that summer, but everything else paled in comparison, so I put the camera away for the next big trip. I thought of taking it out in the spring to learn more about using it. It was on my list of possible pandemic projects. For whatever reason, and I think these things cannot truly be explained, I’ve finally taken the camera out again.

Da, da, tada! I present to you a gallery of amateur photographs. I admit I have a beautiful setting to photograph, so why not? Maybe I’ll keep it out this time.

Great Blue Heron on Bayou Teche, Margaret Simon, November 2020
Fall on Bayou Teche, Margaret Simon 2020
Red flower morning, Margaret Simon 2020

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If there is not a hurricane threatening the coast of Louisiana, October is the best month of the year. I love October. The air goes from a balmy, humid, highs-in-the-90’s to crisp, windy, highs-in-the-70’s. This year, three days after Hurricane Zelda, Halloween Day was one of those perfect weather days.

At my daughter’s house, Leo lay sleeping, their dog was “at camp”, and all the doors were wide open. Grant, my son-in-law, had built a fire in the fire pit. He was drawing Halloween characters in chalk on the sidewalk while a gumbo simmered on the stove.

I’m not sure if it’s being a certain age or the whole weirdness of 2020, but I have been more in tune to finding Joy, and I just felt in my soul this was going to be a Joy-filled day.

I had the privilege of waking Leo from his nap. When I walked in, he was curled around a plush bunny with his heavy diaper sticking up, a pose we call child’s pose in yoga for a reason. I tickled his back, and he slowly woke with an expression of happy anticipation on his sleep-lined face. He knew this was a special day.

Leo’s excitement for this day was increasing by the minute. He was awed by everything, the chalk drawn characters, the costumes, the fake spider hangings, blow-up pumpkins and witches and ghosts. Neighbors dropped by, and he marveled at their children, two little boys one 3 years old and the other 19 months, just his size. (Leo is 22 months) He doesn’t quite play with others as much as they play around each other. But he quickly learned their names and was calling after them when they left.

To prepare for Halloween, I borrowed a butterfly costume from a friend and bought Leo a caterpillar costume from Target. It fit well, and he loved it! His favorite thing to do was run in and out of my flowing butterfly wings. He says “flutterfly” and “paterpillar.”

My greatest joy was walking hand in hand down the street while Leo talked nonstop, “Light! Pumpkin! People! Man! Excited!” Every word he knew in a stream of exclamation.

These are frightening times we are living in, but in the eyes of a toddler holding hands with his grandmother, life is full of Joy and Wonder.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

My One Little Word for 2020 is Embrace. Little did I know in January how much I would need this word, especially when one of the no-nos in this Covid world is hugging. One thing I did know at the beginning of the year was that we would be having a wedding in our backyard in October.

Nephews enjoying bubbles! Photo by LeeAnn B Stephan

That wedding plan went on a roller-coaster ride and landed with 14 seats at the table (+3 toddler nephews). My wise daughter decided in July, when cases spiked again in our state, to cut her guest list to only immediate family. That included her parents, his parents, her sisters and their husbands, and his brother and wife. The officiant was her grandmother, a retired district court judge.

There is still a great deal of planning and stress that come along with a small wedding. There was food to be ordered, rentals to be delivered, a bar to stock, etc. Not to mention we invested in rebuilding the deck. The good news is we get to keep the deck.

Martha and Paul with three nephews
Leo, 22 months, Thomas, 13 months, and Charlie, 2 years 4 months.

The weather could not have been more perfect. After enduring a hurricane the weekend before, the sky was blue and clear. The temperature was in the 70’s. The bayou glistened with fall colors.

As perfect as the weather was, so were the bride and groom, holding hands, exchanging heartfelt original vows, and creating a new family.

They asked me to read an original poem. It appeared here on my blog. I choked my way through it. We all cried, laughed, danced, and sang the night away…into the wee hours…because we didn’t want it to end.

Year 2020 has taught me to embrace my family. This weekend extended my family to a wider embrace. I am filled with gratitude and grace.

Dancing on the new deck. Photograph by LeeAnn Stephan

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I know school looks different for most teachers this year. For me, I spend my whole day in one building. For the last 12 years, I’ve been an itinerate teacher, traveling to 3 schools each day. Now I travel through a screen to different students. I’m providing virtual gifted services for students who’ve chosen the virtual option. I’m learning very quickly what kinds of writing activities work well and which ones do not in this virtual setting.

Last week I presented a question for quick writing. Yesterday I used a different approach. I presented a poem and asked students to take a line and write from that line. It seemed to go well; however, the kids were not throwing their hands up (or turning their mikes on) to read what they wrote. This is the part I can’t quite figure out. Do they just need more time or is this how it’s going to be?

I still believe in writing alongside my students, so I wrote a poem with them. The poem we were reading together came from Teach this Poem from Poets.org, Cento Between the Ending and the End. The lines I took frame the poem. Before sharing my poem, I explained that when we write together in quick writes, we often write about whatever is on our mind at that moment. My youngest daughter is getting married in our backyard in 3 weeks. As plans begin to finalize, I am getting excited about the family (immediate family only) that with gather with us.

Unopened Gift

Everyone we love
is gathered
around the bride and groom.
Side by side,
their eyes glow.

We understand
this kind of love,
tender and new,
like a gift
waiting to be discovered.

We hold their hearts
in our hands,
bless them
with all that we have.
Send them to the blue sky
brimming
with golden light.

Margaret Simon
Photo by Secret Garden from Pexels

With my 6th grader, Daniel, we wrote back and forth (in a shared document), adding lines to create a Cento* poem. When the first stanza turned out to rhyme, it was a challenge to keep it going. We were both pleased with the results.

I soar to the sun
Look down at the sea
Bloom how you must, wild
Until we are free.

I wish I could share
All that’s in my heart.
It’s like the world
That keeps us apart.

Everyone we love
Gathered at the lakeside
Marble-glow the fire
A new one inside

I wish I could live
The body whole bright-
Of the day beautiful,
Honeyed light.

Cento from I Wish I Knew by Nina Simone and Cento Between the Ending and the End by Cameron Awkward-Rich

*From the Latin word for “patchwork,” the cento (or collage poem) is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from poems by other poets.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

I recently read Anna Quindlen’s Nanaville. I could have written it. Replace her son with my daughter and give Arthur the name Leo, and we are the same! Her grandson Arthur is learning Mandarin and English while Leo is learning Spanish (from his babysitter) and English. Quindlen’s book has inspired me to capture “Small Moments” about my grandchildren.

Leo calls milk “che-che” which is Leo for Spanish leche. He calls water for drinking agua while wawer means bath or swimming pool. Sometimes we assume a word is one he learned in Spanish because we don’t know what he is saying.

Leo is becoming himself and asserting his own language. He has decided to call me “Gon.” This, I guess comes from “grandma”, but it’s not very cute. He says it as a command like “no” or “mine.” We have been trying to get him to call me Ma mère because his grandfather wants to be Grandpère. Grandpère has become the sweetest soft sound of “Pee-père.” Leo has made the connection now, so following his command “Gon!” comes sweet eyes and “Ma mère.”

In addition to language, I am fascinated by how Leo plays. On Saturday a friend stopped by and brought me two quilts she had made for the boys. Leo chose the one with fish and gators on it. We laid it out on the kitchen floor, and I opened a drawer full of paper products: plates, napkins, and cupcake holders. He went back and forth from the quilt to the drawer to create a picnic. Here is a picture of him with a paper plate of goldfish, a favorite snack. “Shish.”

The thing about language is that it it the ultimate transactional process. If you watch children acquire language, you can see them not only speaking but arranging the known world. We ask them questions we know they know the answers to–What color is the ball? Where do frogs live?–so that they can practice the arrangement. It’s also pretty thrilling to be part of the process, and for a grandparent it’s tantamount to learning a new dialect.

Anna Quindlen, Nanaville

We ask Leo questions all day long. And he labels things. He also makes connections. He will point to the bayou and say “wawer” and follow it with “boat!” Then he waves because that is what we do. Watch for boats and wave to them. He sees a man wearing khaki pants and a hat cutting the grass and says “Pee-père.”

One of my favorite connections he’s made is the portal we use to call my parents. He says, “Pop!” He’s getting to know my parents in a different way using technology, but they are a part of his life and his vocabulary.

At 11 months, Thomas, Leo’s cousin (my second daughter’s son) is experimenting with his body, crawling at lightning speed and climbing stairs equally as fast. I could have sworn last week when I kept Thomas overnight, he echoed, “Night night.” I recall that his mother spoke early.

As a grandmother, I have the luxury of time with and time without my grandsons. I can pay attention to these milestones. Make note of them. Marvel at them. I am an observer. On the sidelines to the great miracle that is language and love.

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Temperatures are high in these parts, and the virus doesn’t care. I haven’t seen my parents in person since Christmas. My mother sent me a Portal that works like Facetime through Facebook Messenger. The screen props up on the counter in the kitchen. Every time Leo (20 months) comes over, he points to it and says “Pop!” That’s my dad. That’s how he knows them, through the Portal.

My father has not been big on social media, but in the last month, he’s posting almost daily reports, “Reports from an independent retirement home.” They have been on lockdown for two weeks and were finally released on Saturday (Covid tests negative) to go downstairs for meals again. Here is one of my dad’s posts.

What does one look forward to when you are in quarantine? It’s different I imagine for everyone. As days go by, the options diminish. It gets down to such things as the next nap, the next meal, the next unexpected package, even the mail. Then there’s TV, which ends up being a search for the never found good program. My solace is a good book, which often ends up being the next nap. And so the circle goes on and on. The challenge becomes the acknowledgment that where you are is where you are and you’d better adjust to it. Part of the adjustment is to occasionally posting my thoughts. I hope you don’t mind.

John Gibson

Dad doesn’t know it, but I’m collecting his posts. I started doing this thinking I’d make a found poem, but now I like the way they speak themselves, full of his unique voice.

Andy Schoenborn posted the #OpenWrite prompt on Monday’s Ethical ELA. (Click the link to see the full prompt and read some amazing poetic responses.) Here is my poem draft:

My dog, Charlie

Weather Report

The dog lies at my feet
on the cold floor because
Heat is unbearable at 91
in dog years, the age of Mac
in human years, when the virus
took him.

Heat doesn’t care
if you are young or old
or if you have people
who love you. I see my parents
through a screen.
Their weather changes daily
with temperature checks, sticks up the nose.
(It was reported that my dad yelled from the pain.)
Funny
if we didn’t care so much
about isolation, the comfort
of a friend to eat ice cream with.

Hurricanes come in late summer
when we’ve let our guard down,
when masks fall to our chins,
when we just want to hug
because another person, human,
grandmother, friend has died.

The weather channel
broadcasts
24 hours
a map covered in red.

Margaret Simon, draft

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Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for creating an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write and share.

Early in the first days of the pandemic, people were posting about cleaning out closets. At the time, my attention was on my students, my family, and the gorgeous spring we were having. I did Zoom meetings and made videos outside. I was fulfilled. Not at all bored. And couldn’t imagine why I should clean out anything.

But here we are 5 months in, and the weather has turned to mush: wet, hot, and humid. Going outside you risk all sorts of maladies, mosquito bites, dehydration, etc. So now I have turned to the closets.

I am not sure why we humans hold on to so much stuff. I’ve been looking at everything from photos to Christmas ornaments to baby stuff. The cleaning is cleansing. I’m also creating a room just for the grandkids. With show tunes in the background, this process has been rewarding and fun.

Speaking with my writing group last night, we are all making our way through with a variety of diversions. Heidi is making playful poems using magazine cut-outs. Check out her post here.

Molly started a new hashtag on Twitter. #poeticdiversion I posted this photo and poem that captures the beauty of resurrection fern after the rain. I never get enough of this miracle.

All day rain
Brightens green
Resurrection

What are your diversions? How are you coping? Consider joining in with poetry. #moreplay #magazineticpoetry #makesomething #poeticdiversion

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