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Only in New Orleans

You never know what you are going to see in New Orleans. It is always an adventure to walk along in the French Quarter. My daughter Katherine lives there and works in the Central Business District “CBD” in a high rise on Poydras. She works hard at Zhender Communications, but I like to say (because I believe it) that she is having the time of her life. I asked her if she ever gets tired of living in New Orleans. Even though I knew the answer, she exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? There is always something to see and do here. It’s great!”

Yesterday, I was on a mission to deliver some droopy wigs to Fifi Mahony’s for some refurbishing. There you go, Fifi’s is a perfect example. There is never a dull moment in the prime wig shop on Royal Street. The girl sporting a red and white stocking cap, a few piercings, and blue and pink hair recognized me. I have been a patron for 4 years now. I am a Berry Queen, and I purchase my wig every year from Fifi’s partly because they are the best wig stylists around and partly because it’s such an interesting place in the heart of a wonderful city.

After the wig delivery, we walked to the Napoleon House on Chartres. We have been coming here since LSU college days when we’d pull an all nighter in The Quarter. The old establishment has a most unique atmosphere with concrete walls with peeling paint and pictures of Napoleon, male waiters dressed in black pants and white shirts, classical music blaring, and a beautiful courtyard. The food is always good, as well as the cocktails. Pim’s Cup is my favorite.

After a rather leisurely lunch (the service was slow), we were walking back to our car. One thing about The Quarter is you can never get a parking place near where you need to be. It is always best to grab one where you can and walk it. When we arrived in Jackson Square, we happened upon the second line of a wedding coming out of St. John’s. What a treat! Happy Jazz musicians danced and played the Mardi Gras Mambo, and the bride and groom joyfully followed. Only in New Orleans!

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Walk your Way

Slice of Life Challenge Day 3
Words are your paintbrush, and your life is that canvas.
–Don Miguel Ruiz

I can walk. I can take a walk down my street with my dog anytime I want. I take this ability for granted. I have forgotten what a gift it is to walk.

Until today. I have a new student in my gifted class. She is a precious ten-year-old. At her young age, she already has determination and a clear goal for her future. She wants to work with disabled people, or rather with “differently-abled.” A few weeks ago, she asked if she could make a PowerPoint with her free time. I said sure, and just left her on her own. About 30 minutes later, she showed me her PowerPoint. It was about treating differently-abled people as you would anyone else. They have the same feelings as you and me. How impressive!

Brooklyn could have resented her life. She could so easily complain about having a mother who is disabled, who struggles to walk. Instead, she has an unbelievable gentleness about her. She is caring and helpful. Her only intolerance is for intolerance. Her only enemy is the unkind bully.

Yesterday, Brooklyn and her mother joined me at Walmart. We were shopping for an Easter basket raffle prize, a service project for the school to raise money for Solomon House, an outreach mission and food bank. Trisha was looking for a handicapped spot and told me a story about how she was cursed out in the parking lot once for taking a handicapped spot. From the waist up, she looks normal. However, when she gets out of her car to walk, one can see that her legs don’t work like yours and mine. They work, but differently. I’m sure she endures much staring and misunderstanding.

I am not just thinking about taking things for granted, but I am also pondering this mother and child. How their lives are actually enriched and stronger because they know a deeper truth. They know that what is on the outside has little to do with what is on the inside. They know that love is what endures and what matters, and they spread it everywhere as they stumble along together.

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Read Me a Story

Read Me a Story

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

I miss that special time right before bed when I would curl up with my girls and read a picture book. Today students everywhere celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday with remembrances of all his wonderful contributions to bedtime stories. My oldest daughter Maggie’s favorite was I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, and, believe me, after reading it night after night, we could read it with our eyes shut.

So I was brought back to those days when one of my second grade students walked into class with the book There’s a Nightmare in My Closet. (Another bedtime favorite of the Simon girls.) She read it aloud to the class and laughed at the silly monster hiding in the closet. Then she passed it on to my two first graders to read again and again. They each took an AR test and became tickled with the wrong answer, “The boy said the nightmare stunk and needed a bath.”

Oh, the joys of sharing good writing. Thank you, Mercer Mayer and Dr. Seuss, for making us laugh out loud, again and again.

Link to my students’ SLice of Life #2

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Simile Spinning


Today in class we talked about ordinary things becoming extraordinary through poetic language. We were spinning metaphors and similes. Here are some:
Tree as green as lime jello.
Dot as tiny as an ant.
Serious writers focused on the ordinary, looking closer, finding magical words:
Rubber duck floats like fat lemons in my bathtub.
My pen is writing secrets, hush-hush, listen.
When writing time ends, we all sigh. Pleasantly pleased with our simile spinning.

Day One Slice of Life by my students

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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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God Has a Plan

God has a plan for you

Twice this week someone has told me that God has a plan for me.  When I responded, “So what’s this plan?” I was met with a mischievous grin as if they knew something I don’t know.  Not fair.  If God really has a plan for me, shouldn’t He be talking to me about it?  What’s the plan?  Am I playing along or resisting? 

I’m not so sure there is this big master planning going on in the Kingdom of God.  I find it easier to believe that if I keep an open mind and open heart, I am available for God’s work in the world.

This school year I was assigned a young kindergartner to watch over in the cafeteria during breakfast.  Then I would walk him to his classroom daily.  This little boy was African American with the big dark eyes and a round face.  When he smiled, his whole face lit up.  He won my heart easily.  I’m not sure what he thought of this unusual partnership, but I looked forward to being with him and letting him hold my pinky finger as we walked to class.

The reason I was assigned this little boy was he was a trouble maker.  One of his many behavior problems was that he would wander the halls and not go to his assigned classroom.  I heard other talk about his behavior.  His mouth was apparently filthy.  He was violent.  He was stubborn.  His home life was poor. 

Only on one occasion did I have a struggle with him.  That morning he arrived angry and showed this by tearing up a box of Kleenex from the bus and throwing it on the ground.  I tried to talk to him and reason with him, but he fought with me.  I held him tightly and let him kick and wiggle.  Eventually, his teacher came for him.  I wish I could’ve understood his behavior and helped in some constructive way, but I felt helpless.

Is God really using us even when we feel helpless?  Does God have a master plan for everyone, even the weak, lonely, and uncared for?  I’m not sure if I helped my charge, but I hope he carried away a sense of love and hope.  In the midst of my frustration, I wrote the following poem.   

BD*

I take you home in my school bag
                to unravel the reasons
                                you are who you are?
               

Who can I blame?
                your mother,
                                society, God?

Who is there to hold you when you cry?
                To wash your knee when you fall?
                                To feed you cereal in the morning?

Your brother finds some stale chips in a bag,
                serves them in a fractured bowl,
                                                and says eat,

My body is given to you
                so that you may live
                                in a world that cannot save you,

A world so wrapped up in itself
                no one sees you
                                for who you could be.

No one sees Jesus here.

 

*BD is a term used to mean “behavior disorder.”

 

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Spring Happens

Spring surprised me this year.  Don’t know why.  Guess I’ve been too busy.  All of a sudden a few weeks ago, my yard burst  into blossoms.  This weekend I am finally having a moment to look out the window, something I should do more often.  The colors of green are like a green rainbow, colors I could not recreate on a paint palate.  As spring was happening, I wrote two rather quick poems.  They were quick like the spring to me.  The first is a prose stream of consciousness, the second I stole lines and form from one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.  I hope you enjoy my musings over spring.

Spring Happens

It is here; spring happens, ready or not, car washes on every corner, growing crowds at the baseball fields, everyone walks their dogs in the park, go for a ride with the top down, hear the birds chirp-chitter-chatter, smell the flowers blooming; azaleas, bridal wreath, wisteria, sweet olive, and I didn’t have to plant a thing or weed or trim, they just came like bursts of fireworks on the Fourth of July, lighting up my world, surprising me when I raise the blinds.  Spring happens, no preparation, no wait-a-minute, here it is…wake up!

 

Burst into Spring

                **After Billy Collins, Today

If ever there was a spring day so perfect,
so stirred up by a cool crisp wind

that you wanted to breathe more often
to taste the wisteria blossoms,

and throw open all the doors,
lift them clear off the hinges,

a day so bright the pink azaleas
pop open like a birthday balloon bouquet,

seemed so delightful that you felt like
running naked among them,

released from all inhibitions taking flight
outstretched arms playing airplane,

so you could fly on steady wings
balanced for lift and drinking nectar,

yes, you can imagine it,
today is just that kind of day.

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Growing up a southern girl in Jackson, Ms in the 60’s and 70’s was not anything special or unusual.  At least that’s what I thought.  I thought it was more exciting to be an LSU tiger and to live on the bayou among cypress trees and alligators.  I have willingly embraced the culture of south Louisiana. 

But this weekend I have taken a tourist’s trip back to my hometown.  I joined my Berry Queens on their annual trip to the Sweet Potato Queen’s Weekend.  Wow! What fun!  Like Mardi Gras on State Street.  I actually witnessed a New Orleans style second line and port-a-potties dressed up like queens.  The area known as Fondren has become an artist community of boutiques and restaurants preserving the old 60s style store fronts from my childhood.  There’s a row that is now known as The Help Row because it will be seen in the movie “The Help” due out this fall.  (If you haven’t read the book yet, read it.)

I was on a quest for a coffee, still nursing a slight hangover from the first night’s partying.  I walked into a coffee house named the Steaming Beans located in an old house with a front porch and wood floors.  When I walked in, I attracted stares from a man at the counter.  OK, I was wearing my Berry Queen t-shirt, a short jean skirt with a strawberry belt, and snake skin “Goodwill” cowboy boots, but compared to the night before when I wore a lipstick red wig, I thought I looked fairly normal.  This guy looked at me like “Where did you come from?” 

I thought, “Who are you to stare at me?” This man had on black leather, cropped, pointy-toe boots with big brass buckles, a large black leather “man purse” with chains, and his hair was pulled up in a bun with highlights of pink and purple.  But he was obviously a regular customer and I was a stranger.

Later Saturday evening, the Berry Queens attended the first annual Zippity Do Dah parade in Fondren.  My high school alma mater led the parade.  I shouted, “Go Murrah Mustangs!” and later hugged one of the dance team girls congratulating their performance.  Not only did I enjoy a weekend of dress-up with Berry girlfriends, I also enjoyed seeing my town through new eyes.  I became a stranger in my own hometown.

The Help

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