Recently this image appeared in our town’s Facebook group, along with an open invitation for anyone in town to stop by and gather up some dahlias.
I have to admit, I’ve never considered growing dahlias and don’t know much about them. Classified as tender perennials, they have to be dug up each winter and replanted in the fall. I know myself well enough to avoid that situation! No, thanks! But…free dahlias? Sure!
I took note of the address, jumped in my car and headed out. As I neared, I slowed down, looking carefully for the address. Would I be able to find it?
I needn’t have worried. The wagon of blossoms was like a beacon at the end of the driveway. I pulled over and got out. The blooms were even more glorious in person. I may have audibly oohed and aahed a bit.
I turned to see a woman emerging from behind the house, clippers in hand.
“These are gorgeous,” I said, wandering over. “It’s so kind of you to share them with everyone!”
“Well,” she said, “I just love dahlias. I keep buying them and I don’t want them to go to waste. If I didn’t give them away, I’d have to compost them. I’d hate to do that!”
“Don’t you have to store them inside in the winter?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “We have a ridiculously large bathroom that stays pretty cool, so I put them in there.” She looked around at the beds bursting with dahlia blossoms. “I’m not sure if they’re going all fit this year,” she admitted and laughed, “but I just can’t resist them!”
We chatted about gardens, dahlias, managing tender perennials, etc. As we spoke, several more cars pulled over to the side of the road. People were laughing and peering into the wagon, comparing and selecting blossoms. Word was clearly out.
I moved back toward the wagon to choose my flowers and the woman accompanied me. As I gazed at all the choices, I was wowed by the variety and the subtle gradients of color.
“These are stunning!” I said.
She nodded, smiling, and as I selected blossoms, she added a few choices of her own with some commentary.
“Oh, you have to have this one!”
“Take this one, too. It’s one of my favorites! It’s just like a watercolor, isn’t it!?”
Finally, I had a lovely bouquet gathered. After thanking her again, I headed home to organize my flowers.
A short while later, I was definitely rethinking dahlias. Some relationships are clearly worth a little extra effort!
When life is feeling a bit overwhelming, it’s surprising how often a limerick can come to the rescue. It’s an easy access poem, with no claim to deeper meaning and a delight in being trivial. How refreshing is that?! It also can incorporate some stunningly adept and amusing word play. And let’s not forget the occasional bawdy humor.
Here’s one of my favorite limericks by Ogden Nash:
A wonderful bird is the pelican, His bill will hold more than his belican, He can take in his beak Enough food for a week But I’m damned if I see how the helican!
Another fabulous limerick, author unknown:
There was a young lady of Ryde Who ate some green apples and died; The apples fermented Inside the lamented And made cider inside her inside.
I mean, really, how fabulous is that?
Many people can pull a limerick out of their memory. Maybe this is due to the distinct rhythm and rhyme scheme, or perhaps due to their often naughty nature. On a recent visit, my dad regaled us with this limerick, author unknown:
There was a young lady from Thrace Whose corsets grew too tight to lace. Her mother said, “Nelly, There’s more in your belly Than ever went in through your face!
So, I suppose it’s not surprising that I turned to limericks when approaching our group’s most recent challenge. This month Mary Lee Hahn selected the challenge. She suggested that we “Explain a poetry term (simile, metaphor, allegory, allusion, etc) in a poem that makes use of that term. OR tell how to write a poetry form (ode, elegy, sonnet, limerick, etc) in that form.”
Here are my efforts:
If your poems tend toward nude or to crude Here’s a form with the right attitude It’s short, though not sweet with distinct metric feet and in five lines, amusingly rude.
My dreams have been odd and memorable in these first few weeks of school. In one I was trying to save dozens of struggling bat-like, kitten-like creatures covered in burrs which were strangling them. Then the creatures morphed into full orange kittens with little black striped feet, the cutest little “socks” — until I realized someone had drawn them on with Sharpie markers.
In another one I was diving into turbulent water for my pairs of shoes that were sitting neatly on the ground beneath the tide that had unexpectedly risen. A woman reached out to rescue me, but once she had me on her boat, she injected me with something. Somehow I knew that she was kidnapping me to be her embroidery slave. (Yes, embroidery slave. No, I don’t know how to embroider! lol) When I awoke, I punched her, so she injected me again. When I woke the next time, I complained, “That’s not fair! I should be able to hit you once for drugging and kidnapping me before you drug me again!”
Finally, in my most recent dream, I was exclaiming to the doctor, “How can I be pregnant!? And with twins!? I’m 54 years old!”, but inside, in my dream, I was also thinking, Oh, this explains everything. No wonder I’m so dang tired. It all makes sense now.
In other words, restful sleep is doubly precious these days.
Saturday morning after the first week back at school (with apologies to Robert Frost)
A single crow in a maple tree sang the morning awake for me.
Clarion clear, first thing I heard. I grumbled, rolled over and flipped it the bird.
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Denise Krebs at her blog, Dare to Care. She’s sharing a wonderful In One Word poem inspired by April Halprin Wayland. Check it out and perhaps you’ll learn a new word just like I did!
No, not that language. My teaching language. I’ve come to realize that language is a powerful teaching tool, and I’ve been working for years on improving how I use this tool in my class. For example, I’ve worked hard to make specific rather than general comments about student work– comments that focus on the skill used rather than on my personal approval . So, instead of saying, “I really love your character”, I might say “Wow! Describing all those small actions really brought your character to life!” I’ve also made concerted, though much less successful efforts, to consistently reduce the rate of my speech.
After attending a four day workshop before school started, I’ve been thinking about language again. Specifically, I’ve been trying to use reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language à la Responsive Classroom. Please note, I’m going to sum up as best as I can, but my words reflect my understanding of these terms and that is still evolving.
Reinforcing language is just what it says. When they see positive things happening, teachers use reinforcing language to help students recognize and build on their successes. So, with an upbeat, encouraging tone, they give specific feedback. Instead of a vague “Great job!”, it’s “Everyone got in line quietly and calmly so we can get out to recess on time.” The idea is to focus on the positives, draw attention to them, and build off those successes.
Reminding language helps students as they get slightly off track or when the teacher anticipates they might. It’s direct, brief and calm. It prompts students to remember for themselves what the expected behavior is and to alter their behavior accordingly. So, instead of a long interjection from me about what they should be doing, I try to make a statement or ask a question and put the onus on them. “Remind me what you should be doing right now.” or “What is our rule about classroom materials?”
Finally, redirecting language is when student behavior has gone farther afield, and they need to hear briefly, specifically and calmly what they need to do. For example, instead of “We’re wasting time. We need to get started.” It’s more like, “Stop. Put your folders on your desk and sit down. Then we’ll start.” This type of language also comes into play when students need some external support with their behavior so they can be safe and move back into more productive behavior.
I find it fascinating to think about how I use language and the impact it has on my classroom and students. Right now, I may be overthinking it a bit, and I’m sure I sound a bit stilted sometimes, but it’s early days. The goal is to use reinforcing language the most, and overall, I feel pretty successful with that. Giving specific feedback has become more natural over time. It definitely helps that our ongoing Reading and Writing PD with Teachers College has had a similar focus. My own goal recently has been keeping reminders brief and to the point. If you read my blog regularly, you probably know: Brevity is not my forté.
Last week, I was thinking about all of this at recess. In between navigating critical ball shortages, four-square fiascos, and friendship squabbles, I was reflecting on how my language work was going.
I need to look back at my workshop notes. I’m doing okay with reinforcing language, and am being specific (most of the time), but what about the reminding language when kids aren’t following expectations? Or is that redirecting language? When does one become the next? Maybe I should look at some of the examples again…
My internal thoughts continued as we lined up to head back to our classroom. As we started moving, I noticed Y and Z tossing a football around in line. This was something we’d clearly discussed earlier in the week.
“Y and Z,” I said, “Remember we don’t throw a ball in line because it’s not safe. Please hold onto it.”
Turning back, I grimaced. Ugh. I was calm and matter of fact. Brief? Not really. I’m also pretty sure I was supposed to prompt them to think of what they needed to do in line to stay safe, not tell them.
Changing my language is tough! I turned back and kept walking. I’ll do better next time.
A blur of movement caught my eye.
Wait? What was that?
Sure enough, once again, Y and Z were veering in and out of line, tossing the football back and forth, over the heads of a few of their classmates.
I turned around again, thoughts about effective teaching language fresh in my mind. My voice erupted, deep and resonant. Actually, it emerged a bit differently than I had expected. Huh? A little louder (a little?), firm and definitely a bit …well, maybe more than a bit…gruffer. Maybe even rumbly. Actually, it sort of sounded a bit as if a demon had entered my body and taken over.
“Y and Z. HOLD THE BALL!”
They froze. Their eyes widened. They grabbed the ball, held it tight, and scuttled back into line.
Brief? Yes. Direct? Yes. Calm tone? Not so much.
I turned around, facing away from them, and had to laugh.
Yikes! Where had that voice come from?Well, I guess the pendulum swung too far the other way that time. I’ll keep working on it.
For now, at least, the ball was firmly in hand, and we made our way back to the classroom with no further incident– of either the football or demon-possession variety. I’ll count that as a win and in the meantime, I’ll keep working on my language.
This month Margaret posed a doozy of a challenge to our group, or as my grandfather would have said, “It was a real lulu!” Margaret suggested that this month we write ghazals (pronounced “guzzles”). Apparently, she’d been having a hankering to write one and thought she’d invite us all to come along for the ride. And what a ride it was! It definitely pushed me right out of my comfort zone–always a good, if not comfortable, thing!
I’d written what I called a quasi-ghazal once a year or so ago, and all I remembered was that the form was darned challenging. This time I was determined to get closer to fully adhering to it. I found a post on Tweetspeak that offered some guidance. It outlined step by step how to write a ghazal (click the link if you want more details) and also shared a mentor ghazal by Patricia Smith.
Gotta love us brown girls, munching on fat, swinging blue hips, decked out in shells and splashes, Lawdie, bringing them woo hips.
As the jukebox teases, watch my sistas throat the heartbreak, inhaling bassline, cracking backbone and singing thru hips.
Like something boneless, we glide silent, seeping ‘tween floorboards, wrapping around the hims, and ooh wee, clinging like glue hips.
(click the Tweetspeak link above to read the rest of this poem)
After reading this, I was more than a bit daunted. I couldn’t make up my mind what I even wanted to write about. I started and stopped. Started and stopped. I just couldn’t find my way. In the end, let’s just say it wasn’t a pretty process, but I persevered. I still don’t think I’ve hit 100% of the requirements, but I’m getting closer. Once it finally started to come together, it was kind of fun. Borderline brutal, but kind of fun, and definitely satisfying.
I confess, I enjoy a glass of wine at night. Lips to glass. Upright to supine at night.
I prefer Cabernet to Merlot, seeking body in spirits that linger with moon’s shine at night.
Come, join me, drink to dreams deferred and days gone by. Liquid anodyne at night.
Half-remembered words circle while I sleep — a haunting or a visit more divine at night.
When shadows lengthen, intoxicated by starlight, will you turn into my arms and be mine at night?
Our house is filled with books. Despite giving away probably thousands of them over the years, we still have thousands left. We’ve accumulated them from all sorts of places: bookstores, yard sales, library sales, gifts, giveaways. You name it, if there’s a book involved, count us in! We’ve even converted our living room into a sort of library. You know, if you can’t beat them…
So, as a result of this, we often find books we didn’t know that we had. A few weeks ago I was looking for something to read. Why I do this when I have a two foot tall TBR pile on my nightstand is one of the mysteries of the universe. At any rate, I reached into the bookshelf and pulled out a slim volume I didn’t recall seeing before. It was titled “O To Be A Dragon” by Marianne Moore. Where had this come from? Had I picked it up somewhere and never read it?
I opened the front page and saw an inscription:
Well, that was unexpected!
Margaret Beeghly was my mother. Known as Midge, she was 17 when Marianne Moore wrote this. I have no idea who gave my mother this book–who took the time to have it inscribed for her. What did the inscription “her dragon” mean anyway? Why was it written to “Margaret” and not to “Midge”? My mother died 40 years ago, but somewhere along the way I had picked up this book and carried it with me. How had I moved it from place to place, house to house without ever noticing it before?
The most amazing thing to me is that this is not an isolated event. I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. Just this past weekend a cousin e-mailed, saying she’d unearthed some old newsletters that my mother had written along with some of her cousins in 1955. My mom, who would have been 13 at the time, apparently authored a column called “Mumble Jumble.” My cousin wanted to confirm my address so she could send copies along to me, and I’m still eagerly waiting for them to arrive.
Last winter, out of the blue, a friend of my mother’s sent me a bundle of letters she’d been saving, along with some pictures of my mother. Most of the letters had been written by my mother shortly before she died, and others were written by my grandmother to this friend shortly after my mother died. It’s the oddest thing to unexpectedly get new windows into someone’s life through the years. To read words that she’d written decades ago. It’s both unsettling and comforting.
Turning back to the book, I opened it to a random page and read this poem:
I May, I Might, I Must
If you will tell me why the fen appears impassable, I then will tell you why I think that I can get across it if I try.
At the time, with the start of yet another unsettled school year dominating my mind, I read this poem as a pretty relevant message with a can-do attitude.That’s how I finished the draft of this post that I wrote on Sunday. But I wasn’t happy with the ending.
This morning I woke up and realized that the heart of what I wanted to write about wasn’t so much the book as it was about the reappearance of so many things relating to my mother over the years, and especially recently. I revised to add the additional information about the newsletter and the letters. That felt better.
Then, as I reread this post and the poem, before publishing, I had a sudden startling thought. This time as I read the poem, my mother was at the forefront of my mind, and it was her voice I heard as I read it. My interpretation shifted dramatically. Maybe there’s a pattern in all of this. It feels a bit far-out, but perhaps the re-emergence of these items through the years isn’t so random after all. Perhaps it’s my mom’s way of crossing what “appears impassable”, of reaching out across “the fen”.
True or not, I find a great deal of comfort in that thought.
In the midst of classroom unpacking chaos, between bouts of frantic worry and frenzied optimism, a page from a book appeared on my classroom floor. I picked it up. Hmmmm. Where had that come from? After reading through it, I was pretty sure it had come from a copy of “The Phantom Tollbooth” (which, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve never read though it’s now in my towering TBR pile.) I did know enough to recognize the character names: the Humbug and Milo. Knowing I didn’t have a copy of that book in my classroom, I figured that at some past point, I’d probably rescued a few pages from a discarded copy and intended it for some blackout poetry. I tucked the stray page in my bag.
Days later, at home, that page tumbled out of my bag with a mess of other papers. Always willing to indulge in a bit of procrastination, I decided to try a blackout poem. Once I found the poem, I transformed it into a Zentangle–a first for me. The resulting poem surprised me a bit. I will say that regardless of how this poem sounds, I really am looking forward to being with my new class. My worries are based in a wider world.
Graceful sky Sunlight leafslid dropped luminous clear and close
Ahead and soon serious difficulties continual crashing wild dashing
Last Tuesday, I stopped by our school to see how things were going with revamping the modular classrooms for this fall. Last spring we’d been asked to check the space and create a list of items that needed to be repaired, added, removed, etc. It was a fairly extensive list, ranging from minor items to must-haves to wishful thinking. We left for the summer knowing materials (cubbies with storage, book shelves, etc.) had been ordered and should be installed over the summer.
Unfortunately,I found out Tuesday, the long and short of it is that no one really remembered the list (you know–summer break, retiring secretary, travel, oh and that pandemic thing). So, no one had followed up on this spring’s order. ..until this past Monday when they called the furniture company to be told, “Oh. Um. That order. Hold on a sec…….um… Yeah. That order. So. Um. That order is um…Oh, yeah! It’s shipping on Wednesday.”
After getting that news, I walked out to see the classroom to check things out. As noted, there are no cubbies. There is no classroom shelving of any kind, and no in-class storage. There is a closet though with plenty of shelves, and there are student desks. The path to the building has been paved and there’s a newly paved learning area outside the backdoor. All bright spots in a panicky sea of “OMG, how am I going to be ready for school on time!?”
I left, hoping for the best, and returned on Friday with a very simple plan. I headed out to my new classroom knowing that I wouldn’t be able to do too much.
I’ll just get my head in the space and get my desk organized. That will be a good start!
As I expected, nothing had changed in the intervening days. Chairs were stacked. Desks were double stacked in the corner. There was a left-over computer monitor on one table and some large mysterious objects that clearly were waiting to be mounted…somewhere.
Ok. Focus. You knew you couldn’t do much. Remember, your goal is just to get your desk organized. Just that one thing. So…Deep breath. Desk.
I looked around.
Where’s my desk?
I looked around again.
Ok. There has to be a desk here somewhere.
I slowly turned, scanning the room.
OMG! Where’s my desk?Where’s my desk? Where’s my desk?
I looked up, down, all over. To be honest, there weren’t many places to look, but I kept trying. Finally, I had to face facts.
There is no desk here.
I took a deep breath and then another. Then I went in search of our fabulous custodian, Nicole. I knew they’d been down one person all summer and were working all out to get the school ready. I tried to keep that in mind. Then I begged a little. Or maybe a lot.
“If you get a chance…”
“As soon as possible…”
“You’d be saving my life…”
Nicole assured me she’d do her best, and I walked back into my classroom, thinking hard.
Ok. So, you can’t organize your desk. But, hey! Look! There’s a file cabinet. You can get your files organized.
So, I pushed aside a big box labeled something along the lines of “Last box. Mish Mash. You’re going to regret this next fall!” and opened up a few smaller boxes labeled “Files.” I placed file by file into the top drawer, slowly regaining my equilibrium.
See. It’s all good. This has to happen, too. You’ll get a desk in the next day or so. (read this in the sing-song tone of a parent talking down a child who is on the brink of losing her s!%t!)
Then, I reached to open the bottom drawer. I pulled. Nothing happened. I pulled again. It didn’t budge.
I looked closer.
Running out of the bottom drawer of the file cabinet were two thick electrical cords. They were wedged in the closed drawer and try though I might, I couldn’t get the drawer open.
What was in there, anyway!?
I pushed. I pulled. I maybe swore a little.
None of that worked.
Clearly I wasn’t going to be able to use this file cabinet.
So, I e-mailed Nicole.
After sending the e-mail, I took another deep breath. I looked around the room. I opened a few boxes and moved them closer to possible future destinations.
Should I just leave and come back next week? Is there any point in being here? Maybe I could get the new schedule printed out…”
Rattle. Rattle. Rattle.
My head popped up.
The door slowly opened.
Nicole, haloed by backlight, entered the room pushing a large dolly… clunkclunkclunk.
And there, strapped down on the dolly, like an answer to a prayer, was an upended teacher desk!
(I may have hummed the “Hallelujah Chorus!” under my breath.)
“Oh, my Gosh! A desk! You are the best! Thank you, Nicole! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
I rushed over to help and together we manhandled the desk into the spot I desired. Nicole strapped up the dolly and got ready to leave.
“OMG, Nicole!” I gushed! “Thank you so much! You know what this is like?” The words spilled out of me in a rush. “It’s like when you’re moving to a new house and there are boxes everywhere and everything is in turmoil, but you get your bed put together and made and you know that no matter what, you’re going to be able to go to bed that night. So, everything will be ok. And that’s just how I feel right now. Just like that! ” I ran my hands along the top of the desk, practically dancing around it. “Oh!Thank you soooooo much!”
Nicole laughed and maybe stepped cautiously just a little bit farther away. But I didn’t notice for sure. Because I was already sitting down, pulling boxes closer, and getting ready to get my desk in order.
Everything is going to be all right. Just get your desk organized. Just that one thing.
Just this morning I wrote in my notebook that I wanted to play more when I was writing poetry. I realized that I miss writing whimsical verse–poems that are light-hearted, silly and fun. I thought about revisiting some Ogden Nash or maybe some Shel Silverstein to look for some mentor texts. Then, reality intruded, and I had to stop writing and head to school to try to move into my new classroom.
As I unpacked boxes and flipped through files, I unearthed a copy of a poem I dimly remembered writing for my students when I was teaching either first or second grade. I can’t remember why I wrote it, much less why it was copied onto a transparency sheet. (Remember those!?) Parts of the poem had worn away during its long sojourn in the forgotten folder, but I decided to quickly revise it and share today. It was fun to work on something a bit lighter!
The Shoe-Stealing Glizard is a rare beast to see. He creeps about stealthily, trying to be as quiet as shadows shifting around, searching for grub without making a sound.
His name tells the story. It gives him away. He’s hunting for shoes. All the night! All the day! He’s not very choosy about what he eats. He adores cowboy boots and even old cleats!
He takes red shoes and green ones and big ones and small. The size doesn’t matter, not one bit at all. He just loves the taste, the crunch and the munch. He can eat ten at once, and that’s just for lunch!
If your sneakers are stinky and dripping with gunk, why to him, that’s a treat, a delicious Ker-plunk! He’ll dip them in milk and then with a slurp he’ll gobble them up, finish up with a burp.
So when you can’t find your shoe or its mate, keep your eyes open, but it might be too late. It could be the case, I’m sorry to say, that the Shoe-Stealing Glizard has wandered your way!
Molly Hogan, draft
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Carol at her blog, The Apples in My Orchard. She’s sharing a lesson about “I am” poems with all sorts of links to poets and poems.
As always, my garden has been a great source of joy and comfort to me this summer. I highly recommend spending the last days of summer lingering in your garden, or any garden, and looking closely.
Close Reading in the Garden
In the midst of garden glory one zinnia blazes gold limned by garden green Its single stalk, leaf-laden, supports the showcase blossom Spiraling taffeta whorl draws the eye inward to dawning curled petals a whimsy of bright suns circling the heart of it all hidden treasure for the attentive
This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Christie at Wondering and Wandering. She’s sharing a beautiful community poem about what poetry is, created by lines contributed by her poetry workshop participants and the Poetry Friday community. I, sadly, didn’t manage to get my ducks in a row in time to participate, but was wowed by the final product. Be sure to check it out!