Tuesday, April 16, 2019

In My Tracks by Andrea

The surprises of spring 
stopping me in my tracks
overwhelming my senses 

Dazzling smells of spring
sweet and soft,
hanging in the air
right in front of me
surrounding me

Hearing the whisper of the fluttering wings 
a black and yellow butterfly-
a tiger swallowtail,
gliding across my path

Running alongside me
bumping over little falls, the creek
murmuring messages, passing over ancient rocks

All of it 
making me wonder 
how many other things am I missing
chasing things I cannot see
running past the majestic in front of me

Slowing my feet 
Widening my eyes-
Inhaling deeply, again and again,
Willing the words to come 
Fearing if not named 
It will be lost


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Myth of Scarcity

Fossil fuels are considered a non-renewable natural resource.  They will some day run out.  My overconsumption does impact other's ability to access those resources. Same is true of gold, silver and titanium.  But there are two very precious resources for human survival that are not scarce.  In fact, the more we use them, the richer they grow and there is more of them to go around: Love and knowledge.

I have been teaching for 14 years now and I am pretty sure that if one of my students masters the content of my science class, it does not diminish what is left for the others to learn.  Any field of knowledge is enriched as more and more people access it, use it and then are able to contribute to it by their insights and experiences. Our current grading system creates the myth that knowledge is scarce and if you have it, then I can't have some or all of it. So children compete for grades instead of for knowledge and understanding and define themselves by these arbitrary measures of their achievement instead of by their contributions to society.
Photo Credit: Paulette Rodriguez

We don't have to be stingy with love either. We will definitely not run out if we use more and more of it.  I am particularly concerned about withholding love and compassion from children, out of fear that they will be "spoiled". When I was starting out as a mother, I read somewhere that you only spoil children when you do something for them that they can do for themselves. A child that is anxious, scared or confused does not have the skills to deal with these unknown emotions.  Showing love and compassion will not spoil him.  A child that does not know how to speak and act respectfully, does not learn that from an angry and indignant adult. "The path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion," says the Báb, the nineteenth century Iranian Prophet. Seeking to understand, is not letting the child "get away" with anything. Showing empathy does not mean we don't hold the child accountable for his actions and require him to make amends. Children are spoiled when they are allowed to get away with not taking responsibility for their actions, for abdicating their self-control, for thinking that they are the center of the universe. As parents, we can contribute to the spoiling when we make excuses for our children in the name of advocating for them. 

Children who have known love, will grow into adults that show love.  And the cycle continues. The only way we will ever run out of love is if we stop loving. Hoarding love, spoils love. 


Monday, March 25, 2019

No Caged Bird Here

A cage of my own doing
Unintentional but consistent
Locking the door behind me
After climbing into the enclosure day in and day out
Holding on to the key so tight
The key to let myself be free
I do it to myself
Believing all the negative thrown my way
Nails securing the cage door shut
Too short
Too old
Too fat
Too much of all that is bad
And not enough pieces of things that are good
But not enough for who?  
For them?
Who says?
Stop believing the lies
Stop being your own warden
You hold the key
The key to be free
To embrace the You and to be fine with the Me
Step out of the cage of your own self-doubt
Throw away the key
Swallow it if you have to

Then exhale and release.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Probletunities by Carolyn

The school district I used to work for had a special word for difficulties: probletunities. This was intended to give the idea that problems were opportunities for growth or improvement.

To me, the term probletunities seems so very glib, so shmaltzy, as if we should be glad of the barriers or struggles or failures we encounter in our jobs or our relationships or just in our daily lives; that they should be celebrated as chances to grow and improve. "Yippee!" we might say, "I burnt the roast for tonight's dinner and our guests will be here in twenty minutes. Now I have a chance to improve myself by solving this problem!" Or "Hooray! I hit the accelerator instead of the brake and ran into this brick wall. I'm so glad I now have the opportunity to grow as I have the car towed and struggle to find the money for repairs. I know this will ultimately make me a better person." Not likely for most of us.

I dislike the term probletunities, but I do applaud the sentiment. Although it seems counter-intuitive, it is true that we learn more from mistakes or struggles than from successes.

As a parent, grandparent, and educator, I have observed this to be true, yet it is still difficult to allow those we care about to go through difficulties. Not only do we not want to engage in struggles or experience failures ourselves, but we don't want our loved ones to, either.  One of the characteristics almost all parents have in common is that they want the best for their children. We want them to have happy, healthy lives, so we do our best to smooth out the rough spots for them. By not allowing them to experience the common struggles in life and working toward solutions, we may be setting them up to be less responsible, less diligent, less appreciative.

Most of the teachers I have known (and that is a lot!) are, by nature, "helpers". They have a deep desire to nurture and help people, particularly children. Unfortunately, this can lead to being too helpful. It is very common for students to complain about a task being too hard. Our first instinct is to swoop in and help. Rather, we should allow a little reasonable struggle, providing just enough support. This builds persistence, confidence, willingness to try new things. If we are never given the opportunity to try things that are just a little harder than what we have already mastered, how will we ever grow and learn? Everything we ever accomplish as human beings comes about because we have tried something just a little bit harder than what we did before or we have experienced some sort of problem that has forced us to come up with a better way of doing things.

I have seen an increase in what I label "learned helplessness" in children, both in classrooms and with their parents. While I don't think we should go out of our way to make things difficult for children, I do think it is easy to overdo the rescuing we are inclined to do. In my previous life as an assistant principal, I dealt with many parents who were determined not to allow their children to undergo any type of negative consequences for misbehavior. I often told them that it was better to allow children to experience (and survive) small punishments for small infractions when they were young (and, hopefully, learn the concept of cause and effect from it) than to experience those same lessons when they were older, their mistakes were larger, and the punishments more severe.

So, while I don't really like the term probletunities, I do embrace the idea that we learn best by experiencing and overcoming trials and by stretching ourselves to reach just a little bit farther than we were able to yesterday.

Monday, March 11, 2019

An Intersection of Honor... by Andrea

“Life really does begin at forty. Up until then, you’re just doing research.”
- Carl Jung

     I read a blog post written by a woman who was feeling discouraged because at the age of forty-plus she felt as though she was just beginning her journey toward the life she had imagined herself living in her twenties and thirties.  She saw herself as a late-starter.  Commenters were offering their own stories of "feeling behind" in life.  I remembered reading a magazine article a few years ago about many well-known men and women who had their big breaks well into their adulthood, many in midlife and beyond.  The writer of the post was a black woman writing for black women. The commenters, too, were mostly women of color.  As I thought about some of my friends and acquaintances who have expressed similar sentiments, I wondered if this is a thing among black womem. So I decided to compile my own (wo)manifest of inspiring examples of women blooming at just the right time.

     In honor of Black History and Women’s History months, here are ten well-known, well-respected African-American women who prove the quote above to be true. Though we can and should look to these women for encouragement and fuel for the pursuit of our own victory stories, we must also look to the women in our everyday lives who can inspire us to use our gifts, talents and passions.
Maya Angelou, at age 41 years old, published her seminal memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.Who can say that Maya Angelou is best known for any one genre of writing. After Caged Bird,she went on to write seven more volumes of her life story, volumes of poetry, screenplays, plays, essays, cookbooks, children’s book, speeches and so much more. Before her prolific writing career, Ms. Angelou had been a streetcar driver, singer, dancer, Civil Rights activist, spoken-word artist, and teacher among other careers that shaped her life, her storytelling and her writing. She was an all-around Renaissance woman, if that’s a thing. 

Toni Morrison, age 39, published her first novel The Bluest Eye, yet it was not until she was 46 years oldthat she published her third novel and first well-known work of fiction,​ Song of Solomon.Ms. Morrison went on to be named a winner of the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved,probably her best known book. She has authored books for children, the text of an opera known as the libretto, essays and other works of nonfiction. She is a teacher, editor and outspoken advocate for feminine, racial and social justice especially in regard to literary freedoms to tell one's stories.

Amy Sherald, in 2016, at the age of 43, was the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition grand prize. ​ ​Before this she was a working artist yet virtually unknown. She now has works on display at the National Museum of Women in Arts. Being named as the painter for the official portrait of Michelle Obama further propelled this talented artist who seeks to “paint the paintings I want to see in museums” into the public eye. Her painting of the first African-American FLOTUS hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and has garnered over a million visitors in person, and millions more through the internet- a record number of attendees for the museum. I would say, Ms. Sherald has arrived. I cannot wait to see where she will go next!

Viola Daviswas set up for success with training at Juilliard and a career on stage and in a few little known screen productions. It was not until her co-starring role in the movie Doubt with Meryl Streep, at 43 years old, that Viola’s career took off. The critically-acclaimed, award winning, South Carolina-born actress (you knew I had to get that in there) was the first African-American actress to win a Tony, an Emmy and an Oscar. She stars in the television drama, How to Get Away with Murder, and is an activist for the honor, respect and rights of all women.

Sharon Jones, soul singer and the Queen of Funk, did not have her big break- after having given up on the possibilities of having a career in music- until 1996, at the tender age of 40 years old. She is sometimes referred to as the female James Brown because of her soulful sound and amazing stage presence and dance moves. The longtime South Carolina resident died in 2016 at the age of 60. I am so grateful she lived out her dream of being a professional entertainer for almost 20 years and that we have soul-filling music and a Netflix documentary through which to get to know and to remember her.

Maxine Waters, though she has been an agent of change probably from the day she was born, was first elected to Congress at the age of 56. She has given rise to a generation of fans who she is motivating to reclaim their time and make the most of every minute. Even folks who may not agree with her politically have to admit her passion and dedication at 75+ years old are timeless and worthy of imitation, for young, old and everybody in between.

Shirley Chisholmbecame the United States first African American congresswoman in 1968 at forty-four years old. Chisholm is quoted as saying during her political campaigns for Congress and for the 1972 Democratic Convention nomination for the presidency that she received “more discrimination as a woman than for being black. Men will be men.” She staffed her political offices with all women, half of them being black. She qould be proud of the represntation of women on the House and Senate floors today. She was a pacesetter and a pioneer in every sense of the words.

Ernestine Shepherd, octogenarian American bodybuilder and personal trainer, did not begin her age-defying health and physical pursuits until she was 56 years old ​with the onset of illness and untimely death of her sister. Mrs. Shepherd made her sister a promise that she'd get in shape. She went a little farther than that. In 2010, at 75, she was named the oldest female competitive bodybuilder by the Guinness Book of World Records. She runs 10 miles every day and teaches fitness classes for the elderly. She proves it might not be too late for me in the fitness department!  

Cicely Tysonwas cast in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter in 1968, at age 44 years old. Six years later, she became the first African American actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a television movie, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. At age 93, she is still enjoying appearances on red carpets and continues to inspire us toward aging with grace and style.

Dr. Carla Haydenwas 64 years oldwhen she was nominated by President Obama and sworn in as the first woman and first African American and the 14th Librarian of Congress in September 2016.

Apparently, age ain't really nothing but number. As my grandmother used to say, you're only as old as you feel. It looks to me these women might be feeling like they are at the start of something new. 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018 Reading List - Gifts of Empathy

by: Susan 
I started the school year with my fourth graders reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  It is a story about learning differences and the impact of a caring and seeing adult. My choice was initially  driven by a desire to motivate my students that were not learning traditionally or that held negative mindset about their own school experience. One day I asked one of my students, who has not yet experienced a day in his school life when learning did not come easy to him, if he had ever felt like Ally the protagonist.  He thought for a moment and said no. But now he does.  

Books are magic that way. They not only let you walk in someone else's shoes, they allow you to get in someone else's head and live their lives along with them. And we all need to learn more about each other.  

Here are some titles from my 2018 reading list that can help build empathy, not just in kids but in all of us, especially those of us who are teachers or parents:

1.  Ghost by Jason Reynolds - A story about a boy who literally runs from everything, having had to escape with his mother when his abusive father tries to kill them.  Although a novel written for upper elementary and middle school readers, I am recommending it more to the adults that work with kids that may be going through similar life circumstances, to understand them and see the world through their eyes.

2.  Refugee by Alan Gratz - Another book written for a younger audience but eye opening for anyone who wonders why people leave their homes under harrowing and unwelcome conditions.  This is the story of three refugee families, from three different parts of the world and living during three different time periods. Written simply but realistically it is a timely book for all of us.

3.  Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini is not a novel but a small poetic picture book answering the same question: How can a parent risk the life of his children in order to find peace and safety?

4.  Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver - "A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child.“ Isn't that the truth?  You'd agree if you were a mother. Do you want to know what's it like to parent adult children? Do you wonder what it feels like to live during times of world upheavals, when new ideas are challenging the old? Do you want to travel in time, back and forth between the present and the past and wonder about how far we have come and how we continue to struggle with the same human weaknesses?  Barbara Kingsolver never fails to take me on a long and rewarding journey. 

5.  Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras - another book with multiple narrators and hence multiple perspectives that can expand your mind, your soul and your heart.  The upstairs/downstairs dynamics of class, the dichotomy of right and left wing politics, and the hard to define boundaries of family loyalty - all themes in this book, given to me as a gift.  

and a bonus:  Good Dog, Stay by Anna Quindlan - I read this very short book by one of my favorite authors in the time it took me to get from home to my summer class on the commuter train.  And I am not embarrassed to admit that I cried in public over a book about a family saying good bye to their beloved dog. I have never owned a dog.  But Quindlan made me want to get one. Of course, it is more about the lessons one learns about being a better human when owning and caring for an animal that touch the heart.

I met my goal of 52 books in 52 weeks.  Most of them were books meant for children but great wisdom and adult lessons are hidden in a lot of children's books.  Two of my favorites were Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig and One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of  the Gambia by Miranda Paul .  Both based on truth, the first is a story of basic human goodness and the second one of empowerment and how one community became protagonists of their own transformation.  

Happy reading in 2019!

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year, New Books: Reading List 2019

New Year, New Books
Reading List for 2019

I am constantly adding books I would like to read to my Pinterest board, or to my Notes app on my phone.  Coming up with books I would like to read for this 2019 was not difficult. The hard part was narrowing down my selection to twelve.  I figure I can comfortably get through a book a month (hoping for more since I have a back up list ready to go if I do complete my twelve) with all the other “have to do’s” that come up.  

Here is my reading list for the new year in no particular order.  

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella ---Sophie Kinsella is one of my favorite authors.  Her writing is witty and funny! I’ve read all of her books, and I am excited to add another one to my reading arsenal.

“Fixie Farr saves an investment manager’s laptop from being destroyed, meaning he owes her a favor. She cashes in to get her friend a job—all while Fixie and investment hottie Sebastian’s relationship begins to evolve.” (Amazon)

 Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

“After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution.” (Amazon)

Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella-- Here she is again on my list.  I saw it and had to add.
“A story about a married couple who is told they will have 68 more years together, after being married for 10 years, and they panic wondering how they will keep their marriage fresh so they concoct a plan Operation Surprise Me to keep things from becoming boring.” (Amazon)

The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin--This will probably be my first book of the year.  A friend of mine gave it to me as a gift, and I am looking forward to diving in.

Irena Pannis was thirteen when she first found the beginning place. Now, seven years later, she has grown to know and love the gentle inhabitants of Tembreabrezi, or Mountaintown, and she sees Hugh as a trespasser.
But then a monstrous shadow threatens to destroy Mountaintown, and Hugh and Irena join forces to seek it out. Along the way, they begin to fall in love. Are they on their way to a new beginning...or a fateful end?” (Amazon)
Save The Date by Morgan Matson--This looks like a fun drama-filled family novel when the main character’s family is all coming together under the same roof for her older sister’s wedding and everything seems to be going wrong.
Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait—for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster—all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.  The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster.” (Amazon)
6.  Small Great things: Jodi Picoult---A good friend of mine has read every Jodi Picoult book and has said nothing but great things about them. I have read one or two, but would like to make my way down that author list as well.
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?” (Amazon)

Girl wash your face Rachel Hollis-- I have this book.  I’ve had this book for a while.  I have read chapter one. It’s not that I don’t like the content or the writing.  The first chapter was great and very relatable. At the end of the day, when I lay down to read, I tend to grab a fiction story where I can escape the stressors of the day behind me.  I don’t typically pick up “self-help” books. I do, however, think this book is more than that. It’s more of a conversation with a friend. One I intend to finish this year.
“As the founder of the lifestyle website TheChicSite.com and CEO of her own media company, Rachel Hollis developed an immense online community by sharing tips for better living while fearlessly revealing the messiness of her own life. Now, in this challenging and inspiring new book, Rachel exposes the twenty lies and misconceptions that too often hold us back from living joyfully and productively, lies we’ve told ourselves so often we don’t even hear them anymore.” (Amazon)
Letters to my daughter by Maya Angelou---  Maya Angelou.  Need I say more.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “Maya Angelou shares her path to living well and with meaning in this absorbing book of personal essays.  Here in short spellbinding essays are glimpses of the tumultuous life that led Angelou to an exalted place in American letters and taught her lessons in compassion and fortitude: how she was brought up by her indomitable grandmother in segregated Arkansas, taken in at thirteen by her more worldly and less religious mother, and grew to be an awkward, six-foot-tall teenager whose first experience of loveless sex paradoxically left her with her greatest gift, a son.”
Watching You by Lisa Jewell-- I was a fan of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train.  I read this one had the same page turning, mind blowing capabilities.
“Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.  One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.” (Amazon)
The Lost Girls by Heather Young---Lots of twists and turns, with the past colliding with the future.
“A stunning debut novel that examines the price of loyalty, the burden of regret, the meaning of salvation, and the sacrifices we make for those we love, told in the voices of two unforgettable women linked by a decades-old family mystery at a picturesque lake house.  In 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys the family—her father commits suicide, and her mother and two older sisters spend the rest of their lives at the lake house, keeping a decades-long vigil for the lost child.   Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before her death, she writes the story of that devastating summer in a notebook that she leaves, along with the house, to the only person who might care: her grandniece, Justine.” (Amazon)
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin -- Lately I have been really into psychological thrillers.  It could possibly be all the Lifetime movies I tend to watch, so this one was right up that alley.
“If you like darker, more intense novels, then you’ll love this psychological thriller. Mara Dyer can’t remember anything that happened the night of the accident that killed her best friends. Even after starting a new school and befriending the sexy, confident Noah Shaw, Mara’s sinister experiences, nightmares, and dark hallucinations continue to unfold in a breath of chilling twists. It’s an enticing read that’s sure to have you up all night.” (Amazon)
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater--This one sounded like a tender story, even if it is about a wolf boy.  I’m a sucker for fighting for the one you love.
“For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without.  Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again. Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.” (Goodreads)

Happy Reading!!! ~Esmeralda