I am happy to report that my work with my granddaughter, Alice, has been a success! Last week, she read a first-grade benchmark book with 97% accuracy. She reads with expression, especially when her 3-year old sister shares her chair and listens. My favorite day was her rendition of The Teeny Tiny Woman (If you’ve forgotten, you can refresh your memory here.) with the Teeny Tiny imperative, “Take it!”
A year ago, I had packed up my classroom and sadly left an empty school, retiring without getting to say goodbye. I wondered how I was going to navigate retirement. My Alice Project helped so much to fill the void for me. At least 4 mornings each week this school year we have met on Zoom, practiced letters and sounds, studied how words work, and learned to read, write, and spell. It’s been a great year, at least in this way!
We’ve been hearing of the return of our 17-year cicadas for weeks. Doug Kammerer, NBC meteorologist, has been giving updates daily for the last few weeks. Today was to be the day where we would really begin to see them.
My son, Tim, was 7 when he first fell in love with the odd, clumsy, red-eyed cicada. He collected their exoskeletons which are left as they molt and played with them. I don’t remember the details of that play, but it was such that he was excited when they came again when he was 24. Now he has a 7-year old himself, and the cycle begins again. A new generation of boy, and a new generation of bug.
Whether you are freaked out by cicadas or not, there is something comforting in knowing that nature continues to do its job, and yes, the cicadas arrived right on time.
On May 5, 2021, Tim posted the first pictures of emerging cicadas. His caption read, “I’ve been waiting for you.” He meant it in the most gentle way, finding nothing sinister in this unique creature.
I may have more to say later this summer when the incessant sounds of cicadas preparing to mate and lay new eggs become intense. But until then, I’m willing to let them be.
In my sister’s house there are definite things that are done upstairs, and definite things that are done downstairs. When our kids were growing up, my kids knew that when visiting their cousins TV watching and play of all sorts were done downstairs. Upstairs was for sharing a meal, conversation, or listening to music. Our kids are now grown and “upstairs, downstairs” activities recently took on a new meaning.
My sister and I have been able to spend more time together now that we are both retired. We often meet for an afternoon of conversation and knitting. We have taken some online classes, followed @Knit1chgo (a cool knitting store in Chicago), and tried new patterns. Recently, we have taken on the challenge of knitting with multiple colors, known as colorwork. This involves reading charts, counting stitches, and working with several balls of yarn at once. There are many opportunities for mistakes.
“This is really fun,” said Evelyn. “I wish I had learned to do this earlier in my life.”
“Yes, but earlier, we probably didn’t have much concentration power left over after working all day. Knitting was a mindless way for us to relax and unwind from the day,” I replied.
“I can’t watch TV and do this colorwork,” said Evelyn. “So this is my upstairs knitting. I need to get an easier project for downstairs.”
“Haha! Upstairs knitting and downstairs knitting.”
We now have a new way to characterize our needlework projects. Can it be done downstairs?
I have read this term before, but it wasn’t until last night that I got to learn more about it. It was our last class with Georgia Heard in this series of classes. She taught us that Ars Poetica is a term for a poem that is a meditation on the art of poetry, the poet’s beliefs about poetry, where poems are found, or what poetry could be in an individual’s life. This form of poetry dates back to Horace in 65 B.C.E. and has been part of poetic literature ever since. We read Ars Poetica by Pablo Neruda, Lucille Clifton, Jose Olivares, and Georgia Heard.
I am a beginner on this road; a novice at poetic forms and techniques; an emerging reader and writer of poems. I’m enjoying being a learner and am trying new things in my writing. This community has contributed to my having courage to do this.
Georgia gave us an exercise which I will share. Perhaps your students would take these questions and create something truly wonderful.
What kind of animal is your inner poet?
Who does your inner poet speak to?
What does your inner poet say?
In our group, these were the animals chosen: lion, spider, wolf, owl, haw, doe, deer, sparrow, striped bumblebee, and hummingbird. It was remarkable that there was so much variety. We did it as a quick write in the moment. Here is what I wrote last night. It is a DRAFT, at best, but I share it to give you an idea of something you might try.
My inner poet is a great blue heron standing still in hidden wetlands.
It speaks to the tides flowing in and out. It speaks to quiet souls who weep.
It says, Be patient. Wait for the miracle. Watch and wait.
Today was pretty much an ordinary Monday with dishes to do, sheets to change, library books to return, and a quick run to Target. I was on the lookout for a slice. Nothing felt right.
Even though the cherry blossoms have burst open; even though daffodils are shouting their joy to a blue, blue sky; even though it felt wonderful to be back inside the library and to walk out with a stack of books; the stories wouldn’t come.
But then, ding! ding!
The miracle of technology allowed me to share in this big event. A huge event for this just-turned-six Kindergartener. I love her enthusiasm and irrepressible joy in life. She’s a special one.
I know this has been a different year for you. You have not been in the classroom with your friends. You are naturally shy; you didn’t really get to finish first grade strong last year when the pandemic began. Maybe you have forgotten that your small moments are important.
I’m proud of you for working hard at your reading. You are getting in to some really great stories now. I know that you like the stories with strong characters who can solve problems.
Guess what? YOU are a strong character who can solve problems, figure out stuff, and notice new things. I’m really looking forward to our time to have fun working on our writing together. Already, you came up with four really good ideas for stories you can write. I can’t wait to read them.
Today was the first day of my writing time with J. He’s in 2nd grade and has been homeschooled this year. I’m grateful his parents are trusting me to help him with his writing development. After all, writing IS my favorite thing to teach.
Over the last few years, I have been happy that my son is experiencing success as a husband, father, accountant manager, and baseball coach. He is in those very busy years. I admit sometimes I have wondered if I know how to be the mother or grandmother he needs me to be. Sometimes it even feels that I’m not needed.
People always said that a successful parent works themselves out of a job. The kids grow and establish themselves as adults. I get that. It’s probably true. I’m happy my kids are high-functioning adults, but there is sometimes a loneliness I feel that is hard to describe.
Today, I took my son to have surgery he needed. On the way, he was very quiet. I knew he was nervous, and I struggled to find words to comfort him. I found myself missing MY parents. I wanted to ask them how to do this phase of life, (parenting adults) but they are both gone. I kept my thoughts to myself and tried to be calm and reassuring.
On the way home, he was still coming out of the effects of anesthesia. It lowered his guard just enough. He was actually pretty hilarious–singing, and asking funny questions. He sang a high note. “That’s a C-flat.” Haha. Then, a low note. Then he sang some of Bach’s “Air for G-String.” So amazing how fast his brain was circling.
He asked me several times, “Did they get it? Did you see it? I didn’t die, right?”
But then he said, “Thanks for taking me, Mom. You’re a great mom. I’m a lucky boy.”
As a music student, I was introduced to the concept of musical forms such as the sonata, fugue, or symphony. My teacher felt that a study of form across disciplines plus a study of how to listen would provide a deep education for anyone who pursued that path. I became a better listener of music when I knew more about form.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and I am back in the study of form. This time poetic form. My task this week was to write a poem in a form created by Marilyn Singer called a Reverso. You can read about the form and her poetry here. I have struggled to write such a poem, but I did learn a practice technique that helped me.
First, draft your thoughts.
Next, write words, phrases, or sentences on strips of paper (1 line of poetry per strip).
Then, play with the strips. Change the sequence or tear it in half to make two lines. Discard unnecessary language. Add necessary language or revised language.
Finally, decide on the order that becomes the poem you want to write.
My poem-draft is too rough to share here, but below is a picture of my workspace. This practice technique took away some of the frustration and fear associated with writing a reverso. Maybe it will help you or your students with their poetry!
The light turned red. I slowed to a stop and looked to my left. A few black crows rose up from the parking lot to the telephone wires above the bank. One crow had something in its mouth. It proudly perched with its find of the hour. Another crow stopped by to see what it had. That crow held on to its treasure. He wasn’t going to share.
“What is that?” I thought.
I couldn’t believe it, but there it was. A black crow, puffed up with the 2021 emblem. A mask.