An Unexpected Moment of Joy

It all began with a misunderstanding. Or perhaps mistranslation is more apt.

What she said was, “You can’t dance in the cafeteria. You can dance at recess.”

What they heard, in the mysterious, marvelous alchemy of first and second grade brains, was “Dance off at recess tomorrow!”

But it didn’t end there, because the teacher, a truly wonderful creature, decided to go for it. She later mentioned the impending dance-off to a colleague, a seventh grade teacher, who announced, “I’m in!” and who then raised the stakes by adding, “And I’m doing the worm!” This, of course, guaranteed a seventh grade audience.

The next morning the aforementioned wonderful teacher stationed herself in the hallway, and as the first and second graders filed past, she proclaimed: “Remember! Dance off at recess!”

Of course, I knew none of this as we headed out to recess on Friday. I’d heard a few murmurs about dancing from students as they entered the classroom, but figured they had their own plans for recess. And they did. They just weren’t what I imagined.

When the seventh graders all filed out the door to the playground ahead of my class, I wondered about it. This was not their recess time. I shrugged it off as tired teachers in May + sunny Friday = extra recess. But they didn’t disperse in the typical seventh-grade fashion. Instead, they moved en masse to line up at the edge of the soccer field. Most of the first and second graders headed that way as well.

I tried to see over the wall of seventh grade backs.

What was going on?

I walked to the edge of the field, keeping half an eye on the kids who were on the playground. After all, I was supposed to be on recess duty.

“What’s up?” I asked another teacher.

As she turned to fill me in, music filled the air and we both turned back to the field to look. The kids, and quite a few teachers, had suddenly launched into dance moves all over the soccer field. Arms and legs were flying. Everyone was smiling. I saw some unexpected faces and realized that the resource room teachers had come out to join in the fun, bringing their students along. Teachers and students from across the school laughed and danced together. Cheering erupted as the seventh grade teacher demonstrated her surprising aptitude for “The Worm”. Not to be outdone, several younger students joined in, bucking and squirming across the tender May grass.

Some kids were marvels of coordinated movement and rhythm, and others were whirling dervishes of chaos. I watched several students, whom I knew carried heavy burdens, embrace the magic of the moment, dancing as if they didn’t have a care in the world, their faces radiant. It was all quite wonderful.

For the next twenty minutes, I semi-fulfilled my recess duty responsibilities, while watching kids and teachers, dance, dance, dance. The music, impeccably planned, stopped just when it was time to blow the whistle. As we all headed toward the building, comments floated in the air.

“Did you see my moves?”

“We should do that every day!”

“That was SO.MUCH. FUN!”

It really was fun, but it was so much more than that as well.

I may have pieced together some of the timeline and events inaccurately, and I can’t begin to tell you what music was playing, but I can tell you, I’ll never forget that moment. For twenty minutes, the sun was shining, and there was laughter and music. And within me swelled a sort of fierce joy and a burning determination to nurture and protect these shining little humans and all the good things that happen at school.

It was joyful, uplifting and, quite simply, amazing.

The Gift of a Morning at the Marsh

If you get up now, you could make it to the marsh for sunrise.

I woke around 4 am on Saturday morning, wrapped in my nest of warm blankets. The thought, once it entered my mind, would not be dislodged.

If you get up now, you could make it to the marsh for sunrise.

I had had no intention of making the 5:19 sunrise (a 45 minute drive away) and instead had planned to set out after sunrise to look for warblers. Still, my mind had other ideas and was somewhat insistent.

If you get up now, you can easily make it. You’re already awake. Just do it! You can go to the marsh and then go to the park to look for warblers. You know you won’t regret it! It’ll be beautiful!

It didn’t take too much persuasion. The lure of spending mornings outside with my camera is a strong one for me. So, I shrugged off my blankets and thoughts of writing and a lazy start to the weekend, and happily gave in. I rolled out of bed, quickly brewed my coffee and got my things together. Within 15 minutes I was out the door and on my way to the marsh.

While I love being at the marsh, the early drive down there always offers its own appeal. As the day unfolded around me, it struck me, as it often does, as a gift unwrapping. Bit by bit, it revealed itself. Ribbons of color and cloud unfurled in the sky.The light gradually intensified along the horizon, silvering the tops of rivers. Silhouettes of trees became more distinct as shadows receded. As I drove through the sleeping town of Portland, a shooting star flashed briefly overhead. It felt like another gift and a message: I was in the right place at the right time.

As I got out of my car at the marsh, I marveled at the warmth. The sun still hadn’t risen and the temperatures were hovering around 60˚F! (Last weekend it had been in the 30s and my fingers had been aching with cold!) After a week of sunshine and warmth, everything was lush and full. The air was filled with bird song, the tide was high, and the skies were criss crossed with silhouettes of birds flying solo or in groups. Every salt panne and pond was filled with bird life or mesmerizing reflections of cloud and sky. Every where I looked there was something moving, singing, growing, breathing. The morning was suffused with beauty, and I was lucky enough to be out there in the midst of it, thankful for the gift of it all.

Bright Spots

It never fails to surprise me how hard it is to write a Slice of Life post once a week after meeting the March daily writing challenge of 31 slices in a row. I can certainly come up with excuses (much easier than slice topics!), but the bottom line is that it’s May 9, and after 31 days of March writing, I haven’t written a slice since. Yikes.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about bright spots and how important it is to notice and focus on them. Every day has such moments if your “antennae” are tuned to that channel. Early one morning last week I stepped outside to head to work and spied clusters of water droplets on the newly emerged leaves of my lady’s mantles. I stopped to look closer.

I was stunned by the perfection of the small orbs, like glowing jewels along the edges of the unfolding leaf. That image stayed with me throughout the day. Just a small moment, but a powerful reminder.

It strikes me that writing slices about those bright spots is a great practice to take up. Pretty similar to gratitude I suppose, and perhaps a way to ease back into the pool of weekly writing.

One of the biggest bright spots in the past year has been my daughter and her partner moving into the area after years in Philadelphia. Last week I found myself unexpectedly out of school early and near their apartment. I knew Milo would be home studying for finals. I had been carrying something around in my car for them, so I called to ask if I could drop it off.

“Sure,” they said. “Do you want to go for a walk? It’s so pretty out!”

After torrential downpours and howling winds, the day had turned into a beauty. A welcome change from the recent flow of grey, dreary still-chilly days. No one else knew where I was. No one needed me to be anywhere else. What a luxury!

So, we walked with their dog, Cal, along the river, exclaiming over the torrents of water. We chatted about this and that. Stopped to talk to other pedestrians. Chaperoned a few dog encounters. Nothing remarkable, really. Just sharing time and space on a beautiful day.

But oh, what a gift! A bright spot indeed!

A Trick of the Light

The morning sun spills in through aged glass to pebble the wall, highlighting the dust that’s gathered on the side table. It lingers on the lopsided ceramic dish, crafted long ago by little fingers.

Yesterday’s gift, today’s time capsule.

The light flows over an old roll of film rescued from some forgotten corner, placed there on the table where temporary spun into long-lasting. It, too, no doubt, wears a fine mantle of dust. What memories rustle within?

The light quivers, casting an aquatic feel over the scene. Submerging items. In light. In dust. In time.

Today perhaps I’ll wipe off the table, put a few candies in the empty dish. Perhaps I’ll even research where I can send film for developing.

Or maybe I’ll just let the memories lie still, and sit and watch the light play across the wall, flickering like an old movie reel.

Just a Small Moment

I could easily have missed it.

I happened to glance over amidst the hubbub of snow gear removal after recess. M, a whirling dervish of a second grader, was kneeling before D, who sat in a chair. It may have been the circle of stillness around them that caught my eye. To be clear, M isn’t well-known for consistently making well-considered choices, so I definitely wanted to take a closer look.

What was going on? I wondered.

I walked across the room, watching as M’s hand reached out. He grasped the rear collar of D’s shoe and pulled it back. D simultaneously pushed to slip his foot into the shoe. D had arrived at school that day delighted with his new pair of adaptive shoes. The most recent new pair had been difficult to get on with a too-tight fit. These had laces and a velcro strap rather than zippers, and appeared much easier to manage. Apparently, M had decided to give him a hand.

It struck me that I had never really seen M and D interact much before. They certainly got along, but didn’t partner up much and certainly didn’t “hang out.” But there they were.

As I watched, M sat down on the floor, picked up D’s shoelaces, and got to work. I moved over to check in with D. about something else. We talked for a minute or two. As our conversation ended, M still sat on the floor, working intently.

Suddenly he shrugged and dropped the laces, abandoning the job. He looked up.

“I can’t really tie shoes,” he admitted to D, “that’s why I don’t have the tying kind of shoe.”

“That’s ok, “D said. “It’s nice that you tried. Thanks!”

M got up and whirled away.

It was such a small moment, but it’s lingered with me.

And to think, I could easily have missed it.

My OLW for 2023

I’ve been toying around with choosing One Little Word (OLW) for a while now. As best as my speedy, somewhat superficial Google search could find, this practice was started by Ali Edwards as a creative project. She wrote, “In 2006 I began a tradition of choosing one word for myself each January—a word to focus on, to live with, to investigate, to write about, to craft with, and to reflect upon as I go about my daily life.” This is a practice that’s always intrigued me, but I’ve only joined in twice before. This year, however, without any conscious intention, I found myself contemplating potential word candidates early in December. Apparently, I was once again drawn to the idea of having a word as a sort of guide, or touchstone, to come back to again and again throughout the year.

Over the past weeks, I’ve considered a few words. At first I thought, “Hmmm….How about “Choose” for a OLW? That could be a good word.” And it could be. But then I remembered that “Choose” had been my word in 2016. Oops. I’m not sure exactly what that says about me, but my first thought was…stagnation.

Back to the drawing board.

I thought of “Grow” next. I liked the gardening connection and the idea of metaphorically tending the soil, pulling out weeds, nourishing new growth. I’d like to grow and push myself into new areas of challenge this year. Still, it felt a bit too passive and didn’t fully resonate. On multiple layers I also didn’t love the definition’s big emphasis on simply getting larger.

“Begin?” I considered that for a while. I liked the push toward starting something, toward moving forward. It felt simple but potentially powerful. Still, it didn’t feel quite right.

Then, another word came to me: “Cultivate.” It’s akin to grow, but implies more deliberate, active choice.

I repeated the word out loud several times. I liked that it was a verb. I even liked the way it felt in my mouth when I said it. I looked it up. (Sometimes a word has meanings that you haven’t considered, and I wanted to cover my bases.) With cultivate, there’s the obvious definition of preparing for and growing crops, but there’s a lot of interesting nuance, too. Merriam-Webster includes these definitions: “to foster the growth of”, “to improve by labor, care, or study : refine”, and to “further or encourage.” The Cambridge Dictionary includes “to try to develop and improve something” and to create a new condition by directed effort”.

I can think of so many things I want to cultivate within myself and within my immediate environment–relationships, curiosity, creativity, gratitude, a growth mindset, and on and on and on. It feels like a good fit. It combines aspects of choice, grow and begin in one dynamic and purposeful word.

So, there it is. I’m in. I’m tilling the soil and planting the fertilizer. My OLW for 2023: Cultivate.


It was cold. Really cold. Like single digit cold. Still, I was itchy to get out and photograph a sunrise. I was overdue for a weekend photo foray. Friday’s snow still clung to the trees, and it was sure to be a beautiful morning, even if the sunrise was muted. I bundled up and set out, heading south to a beach I rarely visit.

I arrived at the beach about 15 minutes before sunrise. A few rocks rose above the surf, drawing my eye. I watched the waves lift and swell around them. The interwoven patterns left on the sand by the receding tide picked up the early light, glowing. Small depressions of frozen salt water crackled with geometric shapes and crunched beneath my boots. The clouds clung low to the horizon, like a steel grey mountain range. Walking the shore, watching the colors shift in the sky, I felt myself relax into the rhythm of the morning.

As the day slowly lightened, I noticed wisps of sea smoke forming above the water. Even though my toes were going numb, I started grinning. Sea smoke is one of the most amazing gifts of winter. It forms when very cold air flows over relatively warmer seawater. Less dense than typical fog, it disperses easily with the slightest breeze. Today was calm enough and certainly cold enough. I prepared for the show. Sure enough, as the sun crept above the banks of clouds, I could see more and more sea smoke tendrilling above the water.

Then, as day broke, the air and waves gradually transformed to molten gold.

I stood, transfixed, for moment after moment after moment. Thankful. Reverent.

Experiences like this move me deeply. They ripple through me and lift me. I both lose and find myself, saturated in wonder.

After a long while, reality intruded. The deep growing ache in my fingers and toes sent me heading reluctantly back in the direction of the car. Even though I was hurting, I still struggled to pull myself away from the ever changing scene.

“Just one more picture,” I thought, again and again.

Eventually, I made it back to my car. The pain in my feet had become insistent at this point. I turned up the heat, blasting my boots with warmth, then drove along slowly, still lost in the glory of the morning.

Before too long, driving past a local land trust, I noticed the gleam and glow of snow and the silhouette of a favorite tree. Making a snap decision, I pulled into a convenient driveway, turned around, and headed back to the small parking lot.

“Molly, you are crazy,” I thought, as my toes throbbed in rebuke. “You’re going to permanently damage your feet.”

“It’s okay,” I reassured myself. “I’ll just take a photo or two.”

Parking quickly, I stepped out of the warm car into the freezing cold morning once again.

Walking through the snow, trying to get better lighting for my photo, I glanced down at the glimmering weeds and stopped in my tracks. What!? My mouth dropped. I crouched low to the ground, forgetting my aching toes for the moment. All along the snow, miniature forests of frost rose.

“Hoar frost!” I whispered.

It was as if I’d discovered a treasure chest of sparkling jewels. The moist air, combined with the bitter cold, had created an amazing winter wonderland. Everywhere I looked was enchantment. I moved giddily from branch to weed to berry, wondering at the intricate beauty all around me. Bedazzled and bewitched and beyond grateful. Again, I felt that lift. That buoyancy of spirit.

When I finally got back in the car, I was soaked through and my feet throbbed mercilessly. Still, I remained slightly stunned and totally awestruck. I kept thinking I might have missed all of this. I could have stayed home. I could have driven by. But I didn’t, and there was magic to be found.

Such mornings are the closest I come to euphoria.

More Than Just a Phone Call

I don’t know what I was thinking.

Maybe I was just in all out productive mode after the first day back at school after break. Last week I’d told my sisters I’d make the call and had even written it at the top of my vacation “To Do” list. Still, I’d totally forgotten, or, at any rate, I hadn’t done it when I actually had the time to do so.

So, when I got home today before 5 pm (yay!), I zipped in the door, dropped my bags and announced to my husband, “Sorry! I’ve got to make a phone call. I need to call Standing Rock and figure things out.”

Then I grabbed my computer and phone and rushed off to the living room. I was actually going to get something done…on a school night!

I guess I was just thinking of it as something to cross off a list. Not thinking about what I was actually doing. Not really thinking at all, just in go-mode.

I googled the number and clicked the green phone icon. A pleasant voice answered after a few rings. “Hello, Standing Rock Cemetery.”


I swallowed hard and took a deep breath.

“Um, I’m calling for some information.” I cleared my throat. “I need to know about arranging an interment.”

I spent the next ten minutes or so gathering information about timing, dates, availability. I learned about burial transit permits and learned the word “cremains.”

Next, I had to call the engraver. I took another deep breath, wiped away a few tears, and called. I explained that I was calling to check up on the status of an engraving for a cremation niche and to update it. The man at the engraver’s was clearly taken aback. “I’m just so surprised,” he said. “She was just here with her friend this fall. I remember her vividly as we had quite a lively conversation.”

You see, my father died on Thanksgiving Day in 2022. My stepmother arranged the niche for both of them this past September. She wasn’t ready to part with my dad’s ashes yet, but was adamant that she wanted to have everything organized and dealt with before she died. She was clear that she didn’t want us to have to deal with it all. And then suddenly, quite unexpectedly, in mid-October, she died.

So, I don’t know why I thought I would just be crossing something off a list tonight. Why it would be no big deal to make these phone calls.

After I got the information, I typed up an e-mail to share it with my sisters. And then I gave in and just cried.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

It’s done now, but I’m pretty sure I’m not even going to cross it off the list.


I’m enjoying the pace of not-too-much-to-do or at least of time-enough-to-do-it-in during this week off of school. After leisurely running errands this afternoon, I drove the back way home, enjoying the scenery. As I passed over the bridge in town, I noticed the tell-tale silhouette of an eagle in a tree by the river. Behind it the sky was moody and dramatic. What a great image! I glanced at the seat beside me. Trash tags, library books, freshly ground coffee, the mail. No camera.

I drove the mile home, debating. Should I grab my camera and return? Would the eagle still be there if I did? Parking in the driveway, I hurried inside and grabbed my camera bag, stopping briefly to throw the coffee and mail on the counter. Why not try!? I’d never know if it was still there if I stayed at home.

In a few minutes I arrived back at the river and pulled into the nearby parking lot. Yes! The eagle was still there.

But wait! Wasn’t that another one?

And….yes! Further back, wasn’t that another one as well?

Whoa! There were three juvenile bald eagles in close proximity. What a treat! And to think I almost didn’t come back!

All too soon, the eagles flew off, swooping down low over the waters and then heading down river. Still, I lingered.

How could I have forgotten how much I enjoy the drama of the winter landscape? The grey/white/blue palette of the sky. The intermittent thaw and freeze of the river. The occasional eagle…or two…or three! The dipping and diving mergansers. The ebb and flow of winter life on the river. I soaked it all in, warm in spite of the cold temperatures.

It was the perfect way to round out the day, and a timely reminder that spending time outside should be a high priority over the next few days. I’m looking forward to every minute of it.

Book Conversation

After reading the last page, I closed the book, “Houndsley and Catina,” and eased back in my chair.

My students and I sat quietly with the ending for a moment or two. Then I asked, “So, what did Catina and/or Houndsley learn? Do you think there was a lesson in this book?”

A hubbub of conversation erupted as kids started sharing their ideas.

“Friendship!” a couple of voices called out.

“Yeah, you don’t have to win a competition, you need to have friends,” someone said. Many students nodded in agreement. There was an enthusiastic chatter of like-minded comments.

One student sat quietly with his hand up, clearly waiting to contribute to the conversation. I called on him. “Well,” he said, slowly, “I actually learned a lesson from this book. I’ve been trying to get world records for a couple of years now. But from this book, I realized that you don’t have to have a world record or be famous to be cool.”

“How do you feel about that?” I asked him.

He hesitated, then responded, “I’m not sure.”

“Well, I also learned from this book,” C. announced with a grin. “I’ve always wanted to be famous, too, and…”he paused dramatically “…I’m still going for my goals!” he ended with a flourish. Then he added in a quieter aside, ” I also learned that friendship matters.”

“Friendship matters most!” V. chimed in.

“Yeah,” M. shook her head enthusiastically.

As we rounded up our discussion, mostly along the lines of the importance of friendship, C. raised her voice to share her idea, “I think what matters most isn’t what others think of you, but what you think about you.”

It was a pretty nice book discussion to round out the day in our second grade classroom.