Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Wishing You 
the Peace, Hope, and Love 
of Christmas!

Wishing You 
Success, Prosperity, and Happiness
the New Year!

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on Christmases you have experienced in the past. 
Think about how you will spend today, tomorrow, and the next few days. 
What is important to you? Who is important to you?

Write about the meaning of this special time of year.  
You may choose to reflect instead on another winter holiday.   See related post, Winter Lights.

Write a poem or holiday greeting which illuminates the peace, hope and love of Christmas.
You may want to create a greeting card or add images to your poem to present to someone dear to you as a gift.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


This is the season of darkness.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the first official day of winter--the shortest day, the darkest day -- and the longest and darkest night of the year.

Today as I was out driving to the mall, indeed,  it was the darkest day I remember in a long time.
The black clouds hung low  in the sky,  moving rapidly, overshadowing any tiny glimmer of light trying to peek through.
The dark clouds and the heavy rain made me long for light.

The dark has engulfed us, literally, as we wait for light to return.

Winter Solstice celebrates the return of the sun, the return of light.
Beginning tomorrow night,  each night will be a bit shorter, less dark.
There will be a bit more light.

This is the season of light.

No matter who you are and how you worship, no matter what your beliefs about God, the world, and our place in it--- this is the season of lights.

Many cultures and religions celebrate the coming light,  the return of light, and light overcoming darkness.

Lighting fires, candles, and more recently, artificial lights, are associated with seasonal  celebrations.

Our neighborhoods are a delight to drive through during this season.  We are thrilled by the lights that create designs in the dark.

Winter Lights: A Season in Poems & Quilts by Anna Grossnickle Hines is one of my favorite books to share during this time. With rich poems and divinely beautiful quilts, Hines celebrates many  festivals of lights, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Chinese New Year and more.

I was delighted to see a new book this year that also celebrates the winter holidays around the world. Lights of Winter: Winter Celebrations around the World features a multitude of light festivals accompanied by colorful illustrations. Although the illustrations are wonderful, both the amount of information and the accuracy of some facts, have received mixed reviews. For example, one reviewer on Amazon noted that in the book Kwanzaa colors are represented as deriving from the African Flag--there is no one African flag. This book may represent an opportunity to practice critical literacy.

 The return of light is not just anticipated by humans.  The animal world  and all of nature live through this natural cycle of dark and light, cold and warm. The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer reminds us of how the loss, and subsequent return, of light affects not only us, but the animal world, as well.

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards offers tales to be shared on Winter Solstice- or anytime you choose.  Whether the light or sun has been stolen, surrendered or gifted, each tale celebrates its return. Enjoy these tales by candle light.  The back matter includes games and celebrations appropriate for this special  day and season.

 The Writer's Almanac also recognized Winter Solstice today by including information about the day and its origin and also a poem, Christmas Light by May Sarton.

This is the season of darkness.
This is the season of light.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What does darkness represent to you? 
What does light represent to you?

How do nature and this season of winter relate to your thoughts and feelings about both darkness and light?

Write an essay about darkness and light.  
Write a poem celebrating the return of light.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


If you are a parent, or grandparent, or an auntie or uncle... this is the season of endless rounds of holiday programs, seasonal school musical performances, and hand-written plays with kids wearing home-made costumes fashioned out of sheets or bathrobes or whatever could be found to transform a ten-year-old into a king or shepherd,  or a seven-year old into a teenage mother chosen by God, or a nine-year old into the startled father, or that six-year-old into an angel..

Ambitious productions might even use live-stock....or a live baby.

As a kid, I played the piano and the cello, so my parents suffered through a number of these musical event evenings.

I went to church and Sunday school, and so they suffered through several more programs with a cast of church children.

And I took dance lessons until I was four.
There was only  one performance that I remember with my dance school--The Nutcracker.
I remember because ... I ruined it.

What I recall is wearing a sparkling turquoise leotard. ( I still love the exact color of that leotard.)
I recall the many practices in the studio on a series of Saturdays.
I was the leader of a  line of other four-year-old girls.
They were supposed to follow me---whatever I did, they were supposed to do.

There was a simple toe out, step, more toes out something-or-other---simple choreography.

I also remember a rehearsal on the big stage on which we would perform the next night.

When the big night arrived, we lined up in the wings and as the music- duh duh-duh-duh duh duh duh,duh duh --The March by Tchaikovsky --began  and so did our line.

I lead the line of girls.
I had done this many times by now.
We had done this many times by now.

But this time something was very different.  In the middle of the stage sat a huge dragon.  Laughing and sneering at us. With a huge ugly mouth.  With bright colors that seemed ready to attack.

I  turned..... and ran.
So did the other girls.
They were supposed to do whatever I did.

In the wings I cried hysterically.
In the wings the line of little girls also cried hysterically.
There were supposed to do whatever I did.

The dance director urged my mother, commanded my mother to send me back out on stage.

My mother (my hero) refused!

This obviously ended my childhood dance career-- I did not take up dance again until I was grown.

One question has  rested quietly in the back of my mind about the entire event:
How did my little bit of dance routine fit into the entire performance?

This past Saturday I was able to put this memorable humiliation and ruination into context and perspective.

As I sat with my sister  in the second row of the loge at the Ohio Theater waiting for The Nutcracker to begin, I told her the above story  and also told her I wasn' t sure how this all fit in to the entire ballet.

Suddenly in the second act, the music started--duh, duh-duh-dud, duh duh duh--The March.
Entering the stage was a line of young children (Pages, they were labeled in the program)
Wow! So I had been a page!
I leaned over to my sister in delighted surprise. This is the same part!
But... where does the dragon come in?
Two seconds later--- enter a  huge colorful dragon.

My monumental stage failure had occurred during the celebration in the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, as all the inhabitants had jubilantly danced and welcomed Clara and her prince.
My memory now fits in a convenient pocket -- in a legitimate position within the ballet.

The Nutcracker signifies the holiday season in our city.  We have a production  yearly.
For some families, attending is a tradition.
The theater was full of little boys and girls dressed in Sunday best, ballet-best, ready to enter into this magical world brought to life by Herr Drosselmeyer.

You can bring  some of that magic into your own home with the  classic version, Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Susan Jeffers includes a text appropriate for younger children and positions ballet front and center in her beautifully illustrated version of The Nutcracker.

Do you want to remember?
Do you want to again watch the magic and visit the land of the Sugar Plum Fairies?

Two classic videos will transport you to that land.


In the meantime  pay careful attention to any nutcrackers that you may encounter this holiday season.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

What holiday event or experience brings back memories for you? 
What holiday fairy tale evokes strong feelings and connections for you?  

These memories may be positive or negative.  They may be complete and accurate---or partial and unclear.

Write about your memory, attempting to put it in context of your adult life.
How did the event or experience affect you then? How does it affect you now?

You may write a personal. narrative, essay or poem to capture your memory and relate feelings.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


When I was still teaching in public schools, I used to live for snow days.

I prayed for them.
I did snow dances.
I planned for them, taking home on the afternoon before the predicted snow everything I thought I would need to work at home the next day.

I would awake early on that next morning-- watching the never ending list of  school closings scroll across the screen.  Was my district there? COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOLS IS CLOSED TODAY. There it was!

Oh the many possibilities of a snow day...

Or sometimes the snow would start when we were still at school.  A student would look out the window and exclaim It's snowing!

At that moment there was absolutely nothing to do except invite everyone to go to the window for few minutes to see this wonder.

And no matter how many times we have seen snow, the first snow of the season was always special--had to be noticed, acknowledged and celebrated.

One such  first-snowfall-day, I read one of my favorite books about winter and snow, Oh Snow by Monica Mayper.

In this delightful snow poem, a little boy goes out into fresh-fallen snow to enjoy the winter white blanket of pristine flakes.

When we finished reading, we listed all the activities in which the little boy engaged and wrote snow poems based on our list. Here are two written that day.

The little boy
played in the snow,
rolling down the hill,
making snow angels,
stomping his feet
where no other boys
had walked
and watched
more snow fall.

The snow fell
covering the field
... and spring
sparkling white
making not a sound
hushing the world.

The first snow fall, the  return from a snow day, the piles of snow that keep you inside beg for stories.
Below are several classic and newer favorites that are perfect for sharing... or remembering...on such days.

by Ezra Jack Keats
by Lester Laminack

by Komako Sakai
by Cynthia Rylant

Staring at enough snow may make you or your students want to  know more.  There are lots of excellent  information books, both classic and new that can expand our  knowledge about snow.

by Jaqueline  Briggs Martin
by W. A. Bentley

by Kate Messner


by Mark Cassino 
As we adults groan about the inconvenience, the traffic, the slow commutes, the shoveling.

We may want to close our eyes just for a minute... and then open to enjoy the beautiful surprise of falling snow and newly flocked trees.

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Stand at your window and watch the snow fall. Or take a walk in freshly fallen snow.

Use your senses.  What do you notice?  What do you hear?  What are people and animals doing?

Write one long sentence and one short sentence about the snow.

Can you use these two sentences to begin a snow poem?

Monday, December 9, 2013


What do you remember?

And.... what do the things around you remember?

Does that book remember what it used to be?
Does the rain remember past experiences?
Does your chess board remember the fun you had together yesterday?

Such are the wonderings and musings in Once Upon a Memory by Nina Laden and illustrated by Renata Liwska.

On her blog, Laden tells the story of how her book began with a walk, a feather and a thought:
I was walking on our neighborhood beach on Lummi Island in the San Juan islands in Washington state. It was June 15th in 2009. I spied a beautiful feather on the beach and picked it up. I had been saving feathers for years and had a vase where I kept them- a bouquet of feathers instead of flowers. I held that feather- it had belonged to a bald eagle, and I thought about the native American legend that eagle feathers are to be left where they are found so that they can return to the heavens, and the thought crossed my mind, “does a feather remember it once was a bird?” Does that feather “fly” back to heaven like the bird it once was?

To read the complete blog post click here.

Like Nina, the notion of things around me remembering their past experiences or their origins intrigues me.

I am looking at objects in my home differently.  I am looking at items around me in the world with curiosity?
What do they remember and know?

Does my black Moleskine journal remember that it was once  blank and crisp and new?

Does my couch remember that it was once a Natuzzi cow in grazing on a hillside in Italy?

Does the lavender bush in my front yard remember the open field  in which it once stood blowing in the breeze with its sisters?

Do my many bracelets remember the stores and the countries in which they resided first? Do they remember floating as liquid in a silver factory, and later being refined in the fire?

Memory is a slippery character.

We remember an event or experience, a smell or a feeling,  a flash, an inkling--but what we remember may not be what actually happened.

We may have the facts mixed up.  At the time we may have seen slant or heard half.  We may have forgotten the "real" over time. We may have recreated what we would have liked to have happened.

If we tell our recreated story often enough-- it becomes our memory, whether it is accurate enough.

So then I wonder--if things remember, when they remember--- do they remember as fallibly as we do?

Do the buttons in my drawer remember  to which jackets they used to be attached?
Do they remember the tortoise shell from which they were carved?

In The Memory String by Eve Bunting, buttons on  Laura's heirloom memory string remind her of  important moments with her deceased mother's family. She fingers her buttons like a rosary and loudly tells each event to her cat . With the help of her stepmother and a lost button, however, she realizes that she will always remember the past ---but that she can also add  new buttons--and memories- to her string.

Do the buttons remember?

One of the tragic things that happens as we get older is our "string" of memories gets full-- we begin to lose important images and narratives. Sometimes we forget the most recent.  Sometimes the memories farthest back disappear.

Which object, which sound, which smell will bring back our lost memories?

In Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge , a classic picture book by Mem Fox,  Wilfred lives near a retirement home and befriends many of the residents.  Upon  overhearing that Miss Nancy has "lost her memory",  he sets out to help her find it, even though he is not so sure what a memory is.

As he gathers more information from family and neighbors, he thoughtfully collects objects  for Miss Nancy that he hopes  are "memory"-- objects of his own memories that fit his gathered definitions. As he presents his gifts one-by- one, Miss Nancy does remember  a bit of her own missing memories.

What object remembers for us?

Jeanne Mare Beaumont stands in her kitchen surrounded by things that hold her memories and tell her life. She muses on the power these things hold in When I Am in the Kitchen.
...In my kitchen I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit the silverware of my husband's grandparents...
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen, where I open the vintage metal recipe box, robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover the card for Waffles, writ in my father's handreaching out from the grave to guide me
Read  Beaumont's complete poem here.

Nicole Cooley, further ponders this question in her poem  Compendium of Lost Objects.

Not the butterfly wind, the semiprecious stones,
           the shard of the mirror,  
not the cabinet of curiosities built with secret drawers
          to reveal and conceal its contents,
but the batture, the rope swing, the rusted barge
          sunk at the water’s edge...

Not any of this but a cot at the Superdome sunk in a dumpster
 and lace valances from a Lakeview kitchen where water           
rose six feet high inside... 

Read Nina Cooley's complete poem here.

What objects hold our life and our memories?
Which things remember our lives?

To read a previous related post  Collecting  Memories and Moments click here.

Today's Deeper Writing Possiblities

Consider objects in your house or in a particular room in your home. 
What memories do these objects bring to mind?  What past experiences and events are connected to and implied by these objects in your life?

What might these objects remember of their own existence? 

Write a poem composed of a series of questions reflecting on the memories held in objects.
Write an essay exploring the nature of memories brought forth by specific things.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela-Madiba

July 18, 1918- December 5, 2014

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela. 

Mandela wrapped strength in humility, endurance in peace, and spoke loudly for justice in a quiet voice.

He displayed a  resilient character, created an unmatched legacy,  and leaves much work for us to continue in cleansing the world inequality and  injustice.

Rest in Peace, Nelson Mandela.

As we consider the important  lessons of Nelson Mandela's life and legacy, I offer several numbers-- numbering his life.


The year Mandela was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government in the Rivonia Trial and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Lesson:  Do what is right because it is right. Do what is right despite personal consequences and repercussions.


The number of years he served in prison until his release in 1990.
Lesson:  Good endures.  Truth reigns.

The number of years Mandela was President of the of African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997
Lesson: Choose who you will follow. Choose wisely.

Mandela was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. As South Africa's first black president, he led a divided country to racial reform.  He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate former acts of human rights abuses.
Lesson:  Truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation are the path to healing strife.


Until 2008, both Mandela and his political party, The African National Congress  were considered terrorists and  were included in the official defense department publication Terrorist Group Profiles.
Lesson: Ask in all things "Am I on the right side? " 

The number of organizations founded by Mandela to carry out his life's work:  The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
Lesson:  The healing work is not yet done in South Africa or  in the world.  Ask: What should I be doing?

Watch Nelson Mandela's Statement at his retirement and charity launch.

For those wanting to read more about Nelson Mandela, I recommend his autobiography,Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela and  Nelson Mandela, Kadir Nelson's beautiful biography in verse and pictures.


Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Reflect on the life of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

What events or experiences or quotes most impress you? impact you?

Write a  letter to express your reflections.

The letter could be to Nelson Mandela in appreciation for his life and work.
It could be to your own child-- or the children of our nation-- describing the future you desire for them.

Or you may want to write a letter to a local person you know who embodies the same characteristics as Nelson Mandela.