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.

Awestruck

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.”

Oh.

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.

Ahhh…Winter

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.

Cobbling Together a Post

I promised myself I’d try to blog twice a week again. After a long time not posting, getting back in the rhythm of Slice of Life and Poetry Friday felt like a stretch, but a positive one. And, last week I did it!

But that was last week.

This morning I knew it was Tuesday, and I told myself I’d think of something to write for Slice of Life during the day. I told myself that even though I knew full well that writing after school is NOT my jam. But still, I work with adorable second graders. How could I not find a story idea?

Still, I came home from work utterly uninspired. I didn’t want to write about the unfortunate-photo-on-the-iPad incident. Or how the first time two students sing you “The Twelve Days of Christmas” it’s endearing. The first time. Or about the amount of energy I expend trying to avoid sending students to the nurse. I didn’t really want to write anything.

Still, I thought about all the times I’ve read posts that other people started with the words, “I wasn’t going to write tonight…”. With them (and my promise to myself) in mind, I decided I should at least try. Maybe I could describe the fire in the wood stove, my sleeping cat, my on-going text conversation with my daughter, the Christmas tree lights glittering in the other room, the hum of Christmas carols playing from the radio in the kitchen… See, there’s a lot you could write, I told myself. So I opened a new page in my blog.

Has anyone else noticed this weird new thing that WordPress is doing? Ok, it could be that it isn’t new, but I have only recently noticed it. That happens to me sometimes. Anyway, when you start a new document, they now have a prompt or question. Once you start typing it disappears. Tonight it said: “What are 5 things you’re good at?” It struck me, in the midst of my struggle to find something to write about, that this new thing (that felt somewhat invasive the first time I noticed it) might actually be helpful.

Off the top of my head, without second guessing, I quickly typed my answers:

5 things I’m good at.

  1. Baking
  2. Taking pictures
  3. Procrastinating
  4. Avoiding uncomfortable truths
  5. Changing the conversation

Hmmm…interesting. I wonder what WordPress will ask me next time? This could be the start of a beautiful relationship… or at least a Tuesday safety net! What are 5 things you’re good at?

The potential of gathering charges

Driving to school, I feel the stress accumulating. It’s like there are free-floating electrons of anxiety in the atmosphere, and I’m greedily scooping them all up. A big stress hoover.

As I drive along, thinking of electrons, a memory tugs at me: childhood shock wars. I haven’t thought of this in years, but suddenly I remember it all so clearly. How, once upon a time, my brother and sisters and I would put on our thickest socks and scoot our feet across the rug in large swooping steps, skating across the carpet. How we’d dodge and chase each other, not lifting our feet, still scooting, hoping to pick up more and more and more charge. Finally we’d stretch out, connect, and a bolt of shock would release from one to the other.

Zap!

“Ouch!” we’d yell. Or, “That was a good one!”

And then we’d laugh and laugh, and start scooting again.

I’ve been lingering in childhood memories lately and bracing for the next shock, whatever it might be. Missing my dad. Missing my friend. Grieving my newly lost stepmother. Mourning my relationship with my brother who’s chosen to remove me from his life. Trying to come to terms with this odd place and time called middle age.

On this particular November morning, as I reminisce, the day is brightening around me. Sunrise is imminent. I notice the dark grey clouds gathering above the horizon. I try to remember what I once learned about clouds. Aren’t there electrons hanging out there, too? I’m pretty sure there are electrons in the clouds, and that when enough of them accumulate, they stream downward. Then protons surge upward, and …

Boom! Zap! Lightning! Thunder! Power unleashed.

As I watch, that potential is gathering on the horizon. It could mean a devastating storm is brewing, or even a minor one, but for right now, the clouds merely seem intent on enhancing the sunrise, sending fractured rays of lights to shimmer through layers of pink, gold, and blue. Without them, the sunset would not be nearly as spectacular. That’s something to remember.

Autumn Exuberance

I’ve been out and about a lot lately, enjoying the spectacular fall foliage. Autumn really doesn’t know how to tone things down, does she? She’s the queen of gaud and exuberance and exults in every moment of it. I’m a delighted spectator. These days, no matter how late I’m running, I keep taking the long way home. Somehow the wheel turns and I’m heading along yet another detour, prolonging my immersion in the glorious parade of color. From country lane to marsh to river to harvested field, there’s a constant sense of anticipation, of wondering what technicolor marvels might be just around the next corner. Flames of crimson and gold leap about in the landscape, blazing into brilliant blue skies, reflecting off the water, and lighting up overcast days. It’s a non-stop autumnal extravaganza and I’m thankful for every moment of it.

Release Day

(I’ve been sharing our butterfly adventures from week to week. You can see earlier installments here and here. You should know that we named all of our caterpillars and the favorite was named Bob Weezer.)

The day had finally arrived! Three of our four monarch caterpillars had transformed into butterflies and although we weren’t able to witness their emergence, we were still enchanted by their presence in the classroom. After giving them a day to strengthen up, and after a lot of oohing and aahing over their beauty, and a lot of calling out with excitement whenever they flapped their wings or decided to fly from one side of the enclosure to the other, I we decided it was time to send them on their way. There was some last minute concern expressed that the late-to-pupate Bob Weezer, who still remained tucked into his tidy chrysalis, would be lonely without the others. After some debate, we all agreed that the other butterflies needed all the time they could get to begin their migration. Bob Weezer was going to have to tough it out.

I gathered up the butterfly tent and my students got in line. As we walked outside, I heard a student whisper under her breath, “I’m going to miss those little bundles of love.” We wandered over to one of the school’s flower gardens, chattering the whole way. Then, lo and behold! What did we see there?

The kids cheered! This monarch was already happily gathering nectar in the garden. We all interpreted this as a positive sign.

I set down the butterfly tent in a nearby grassy spot.

“Shhhhh!” whispered all the kids as they huddled around.

“Ready?” I asked.

“Ready!” they whispered back.

I unzipped the tent and immediately one butterfly flew out and soared into the blue skies. The kids jumped up and waved frantically. Within moments it was out of sight, but their cries lingered.

“Goodbye! Goodbye!” they called.

“Adios!”

Mere moments later the second butterfly had joined its comrade, escaping the confines of the tent and flying briskly away to the cheers of our class.

We turned back to the tent. The final butterfly wasn’t as eager to leave. We watched and waited.

And waited.

“Come on! Come on!” the kids coaxed.

Some of them grew tired after a few minutes waiting and wandered off to examine the gardens, but quite a few still gathered around. They whispered to the butterfly.

“Come on, little guy. It’s okay!”

“You can do it!”

“It’s okay to be scared, but you’ll be okay. Just try.”

My heart melted just a bit. They were so earnest and concerned.

Finally, with their encouragement, the third butterfly stepped closer and closer to the opening and then leapt into flight with a dazzling flutter of wings. It soared up up up! The kids cheered again and jumped and hooted and hollered, waving furiously the whole time. After a moment or two of wild celebration, I zipped up the tent, rounded them up, and we headed back inside.

We walked back into the classroom with our tent, which seemed sadly depleted now.

One lone pupa hung from the top.

“Well,” said a student, “At least we still have Bob Weezer.”

Transformation

In the past, most of my students have known all about the monarch life cycle. They got excited when they see the J form, knowing it wouldn’t be long til there was a dangling chrysalis in its place. This year, like every year, the kids have been utterly entranced watching the caterpillars roam around in their butterfly tent. I’ve already written about some of our caterpillar adventures (here), but what’s really struck me is that my students seem much more unaware of the process of metamorphosis than in the past. Instead of confident comments and shared knowledge, there have been a slew of questions: What’s it doing? Why’s it doing that?

With this in mind, the other day I read to them all about the caterpillar lifecycle. We spent a long time examining a series of pictures of the final skin shed, when the dark striped skin splits down the back of the caterpillar and the green skin below emerges.

We wondered at the idea that this final skin would actually harden into the pupa. Minds blown! We had a grand time talking about the process and about having green skin in general. Finally, I glanced up at the clock. Oops.

“Ok, everyone, we’ve got to get going. It’s time to head to Specials.”

The kids got up off the carpet and moved toward the doorway. L, who was ahead of us all, suddenly cried out, “Hey, it’s doing it right now!”

We all briefly froze in our tracks, then raced across the room to converge around the butterfly tent. Sixteen pairs of eyes focused on the caterpillar dangling from the top. Sixteen mouths dropped open. Sixteen people started talking simultaneously.

What had been a striped monarch caterpillar before we began our read aloud was now undergoing a transformation. Green skin was visible over about half of it. The kids burst into excited chatter, hopping up and down and pointing.

“Look at that!”

“Wait! What’s it doing?”

“It’s pupating!”

“Ew!”

We watched as the caterpillar squirmed and wiggled and more and more green skin emerged.

“Look how much it’s moving!”

After the shed skin was finally gathered at one end, the caterpillar continued to wriggle dramatically until…

Plop!

The discarded skin dropped to the floor of the tent.

“Ah!” shrieked K, stepping back. “Did its head just fall off!?!”

We reassured K. and kept our eyes glued on the caterpillar. What was it going to do next? Finally, its intense wiggling ceased and it slowly stopped moving altogether.

The caterpillar may have been still, but the energy in the room remained electric. Kids chattered, their voices and comments tumbling over each other.

At this point it was definitely past time to head to Specials. The kids got into line, wriggling with excitement, transformed by this experience. Eyes wide. Faces aglow. More than once I heard one of them whisper again, with a big grin on their face, “That was amazing!”

It truly was.