On the eve of Valentine’s Day I wanted to offer you up a romantic recipe. Last year I made a luscious beet soup that my husband John did not find delicious. However, his reaction was memorable and I still laugh thinking about it. Needless to say, I will not be making him soup this year. I am still deciding on an entree, but I know that I will definitely make a leafy green salad with pickled beets, feta cheese, raspberries, walnuts, and a homemade lemon dill dressing.
Once we started growing our own broccoli, it would be hard to go back to store bought. The flavor of fresh out of the garden, or even garden fresh out of the freezer, is dramatically different. We use broccoli in pressure cooked meals, in green salads, as a simple side dressed with real butter and a splash of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt, or even as a late night snack (our favorite especially in the summer). Truth be told, I am known to sneak out to the hoophouse in my nightclothes to cut fresh broccoli, a few beans, and peas (if they are still growing) and whip up a batch with the seasoning mix I am sharing with you today.
I am haunted by words. I am hungry for metaphors. I am constantly searching for ways to express the thoughts that linger in my head. I have a thirst to find meaning. I am always looking for new ways to express my voice.
As a high school English teacher I make a living out of my passion for language. I encourage my students to make connections with with the written and spoken word in various genres.
There are certain works that have haunted me throughout my life. In elementary school I was obsessed with the Trixie Belden Mystery Series. In middle school I loved anything by Madeleine L’Engle. I was especially enraptured by L’Engle’s Austin Family Series . In high school I had an affinity for Australia so I loved the The Thorn Birds and was smitten by Gone with the Wind.
As an adult Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried stands at attention in my life, as well as a myriad of poems. In fact, so many poems sift through my head that I sometimes think that my surroundings seem to mirror those evocative words. Or maybe it is because poetry forces us to slow down and pay attention. I notice things that would normally pass right by.
The month of February seems especially poignant to me. Perhaps it is because it feels like the longest month of winter (while it only stretches out for a mere 29 days). However, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan the month of February often delivers below zero temperatures, and while the days feel like they are getting longer, in my heart I know we still have a long way to travel before the spring thaw.
As a teacher, I admit that I savor my weekends as a time to reflect and recharge. While I love to sleep in later than our normal 5:30 alarm, that did not happen Saturday morning because my stepson had hockey. We did not get home until close to 6 pm and as we drove back from the rink, I marveled at the moon in all of it glory cresting the sky. The next day it would be a full February moon. Snow Moon. Otherwise, known as a Hunger Moon.
It was cold on Saturday, but I couldn’t let a beautiful moon go to waste. What a spectacular sight to witness from snowshoes as the Hunger Moon filled the night with majesty.
I’m so thankful for the peace and tranquility of home. 💚
As I look back at the photos that I snapped on the weekend, I cannot help reflecting on how fortunate I was to witness it. A moon so bright that it washed everything it touched with a magical light. Luminous. Spellbinding.
It felt like an ancient ritual as I watched the moon. A moment in time stolen from my Scandinavian ancestors. A rite borrowed from my Finnish roots. Ages ago a woman my age manifested her dreams and wishes by only the light of moon. A mysterious orb of silver to quiet her anxiety and make the snow feel silent and beautiful.
What could be more poetic than the name: Hunger Moon?
I have been pondering what a wonderful writing prompt it would be for a group of high school students.
Or for any writer.
Maybe if we tell the Hunger Moon in February what we desire, our wishes come true.
It makes us feel a little restless.
It keeps us awake.
It brings an awareness of things deep within our soul.
It watches over us with a profound awareness.
It reminds us that the longer days we crave are soon to come. It gives us a taste of ethereal light that mimics sunshine. A soft glow of wonder.
It reminds me of a poem I once read by the poet Jane Cooper. As I approach my 49th birthday Cooper’s poem resonates deeply within my heart.:
The last full moon of February stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.
If you have any photos or poems about the moon, please share them, or a link, with me.
May your February be full of adventure, creativity, and plenty of inspiration. Stay warm and well, my teaching and writing friends. ❤
If you have been paying attention, some of the most popular buzz-words right now are wellness, self-care, and low-carb. Though, I admit, as I age I realize how important paying attention to all three are. While I have not jumped 100% on the “carbs are evil” bandwagon. One of my intentions for 2020 was to be mindful of creating a meal plan for myself that was lower in carbs.
Speaking of cozy, what is better for a cold winter day than a bowl of piping hot soup? Though, I am a soup girl (regardless of the weather) this recipe is one of my favorite winter warm ups. It is healthy, full of vegetables, and can be tweaked to fit your personal tastes.
“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.” ~ Stacia Tauscher
I need to write about this moment.
Writing helps us savor and even stop time. How fortunate we are to have language at our fingertips and tongues to help us remember.
Friends, you know what I mean when I say December is busy. John and I laughed a bit too maniacally when we looked at our shared Google calendar. Hockey practices and tournaments, school board functions, school concerts, holiday to-do lists, family court, appointments galore, K9 training, union duties, and endless daily work commitments (reports, logs, phone calls… ). Not to mention lesson planning, bottomless emails to answer, grading, building a house, snow removal, trying to cook and shop for healthy meals, and taking care of our fur and feather babies. However, we realize our obligations are important and we feel fortunate that our lives are so full.
It’s 10:30 as I type this and my dear husband is still removing snow in our driveway and on our property. Lukas and I left school/work today and made sure we had a hot meal for John when he got home from a 10 hour shift. We had a solid 15 minutes of family time before he left for school board duty. Of course he came home to accomplish more work.
I’ll be brutally honest, the last thing I felt like doing tonight was going shopping. However, Lukas wanted a tie for his Christmas concert at school. How could I say no to this sweet face? So his Aimster took him shopping! ☺️
He got the idea to wear a tie from hockey. Lukas noticed a few young men walk into the rink with dress clothes on. It made quite the impression on him.
Our astute, whimsical, and sensitive little guy is growing up. I try to be aware and make daily time for his questions and observations about the world. Each morning I contemplate what it would be like to be a Jurassic Park Ranger 😂, discuss things we hear on the radio, and help Luke interpret all of his bizarre, silly, and important dreams.
When he walks into my classroom at the end of the school day I try to be mindful of this precious boy I am entrusted with and place prime value on his needs. I try to remember to pause, look up, and step away from my computer. Even though my mind is still multi-tasking, I try to put my students, and my frazzled nerves, on the back burner and listen to the events that made up his day. Sometimes this means handing him a tissue to wipe tears, digging into the bottom of my purse to find change so he can go across the hall and buy a truffle from our French students, gently but firmly reminding him of the expectations that we have for him, and always it consists of telling him how proud we are of his contribution to his education and the world. Even when I am busy and overstimulated from a long day of encouraging teenagers to reach their potential — I have to put this young man FIRST.
Tonight Luke picked out this bow tie and shirt. He was a bit stubborn. I choose a beautiful chambray blue shirt that he wanted no part of. He wanted either white or black. However, he compromised with red. He admired himself in the mirror and without reluctance, and not the trace of an eye roll, posed for these photos. He agreed that this shade of scarlet was perfect for Christmas.
Thank you, Lukas for teaching me patience and for reminding me of what is important. Life is busy and full of things we must accomplish. Yet, let us not forget about the things that our hearts need to be happy. No, I’m not talking about material possessions. The experiences. The time together. The sacred moments.
Tonight I bought my dear step son his first bow tie. It may not mean much to many people – an article of clothing – an adornment. Though, to him it meant everything. A rite of passage. A symbol of growth and maturity. I think his sudden burst of confidence says it all.
This is a moment I will never forget.
Writing and remembering helps us savor and stop time. I love you, Lukas. ❤️
*Note – I posted this piece of writing on Facebook on December 10, 2019 and received a positive response from my tribe. I’ve been thinking about the spirit what I wrote it in over the past few days. As teachers I think that sometimes we make the mistake to put our own needs, and the needs of our family, at the bottom of our to-do list.
We must remember our own children and spouses and make time for them. There are times when my step son is excited to share his day with me, or he’s upset about a challenge he faced, and sometimes I am overwhelmed and overstimulated from teaching 150+ teenagers. This piece is writing contains an important message. We must remember to stop and make time for those we love (and for ourselves). In turn, being mindful of our own needs will allow us to be better teachers.
I would love to hear from you and your experiences. What things do you do to renew your spirit and keep yourself grounded when your schedule gets busy and you feel overwhelmed. How do you make time for yourself and your family?
I am not sure exactly how it happens. It may come in the form of a manual, a hardcover book – or in modern times – the password to a secret website. However, I am fairly certain that when one becomes a grandma, somehow you receive underground information on the art of sandwich making. In […]
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
As a writing teacher, I often use food as a prompt to help my students capture their stories. Food is universal and we have an intimate connection to the food that surrounds us.
Not only am I a food blogger, but I think that food helps a writer tap into their senses. Food is smell, taste, sounds, and texture. Food is comfort, culture, community, family, and a way to celebrate and nurture others. It even has historical connections and socio-economic implications.
While there are many emotional associations with food – the places where we congregate to eat also hold the power of stories. Joy Harjo’s poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, is a powerful companion piece and testament to the importance of the kitchen table.
This is the prompt that I gave my creative writing students this fall (right around Thanksgiving):
The Kitchen Table
Our kitchen tables are a sacred space. A hub where we can gather with loved ones and celebrate in our abundance. In our home, the kitchen table is a verb and not a noun. In our house the kitchen table is a place where our children learn responsibility, and manners; they learn and grow by engaging in conversation, helping prepare meals, setting the table, and helping clean up after. It is also the place where homework is mulled over, canvases are covered with paint, Legos are stacked, manicures are glossed, and dinosaurs are sketched. It is a place where our cell phones and tablets are put away and we give each other our undivided attention. Our table is where we pass the seasons, celebrate in the harvest of our summer garden, and hold family meetings.
Growing up my family embraced visitors at our kitchen table with bottomless cups of strong coffee, homemade baked goods, and as a child it is where I learned to value of the power of stories. At times I was excused, if the conversation was not fit for small ears, but the majority of the time I was a welcome participant in a glorious mix of laughter and a legacy of tales from the past.
The kitchen table is where we mourned the loss of my grandparents, welcomed the hearty appetites of friends who helped my father raise the trusses on our new home, and where my mom fed my teenage friends after the Homecoming dance. It was the where we sustained life.
The center of our families, our homes, and our most treasured conversations occur at the kitchen table. We discuss the vibrant color of sautéed asparagus, the deep laugh of a deceased grandfather; or sit quietly, alone, worrying about our children at 3:00 am.
Write a poem, or narrative, about the metaphorical significance of a kitchen table (or another household object or piece of furniture) using Joy Harjo’s poem, Perhaps the World Ends Here, as inspiration.
Since many of my students have shared that due to busy schedules (sports practice, extra curricular activities, parents working shift work, or family members simply preparing their own food separately and taking to their rooms or other living areas to eat) that they rarely eat together at the kitchen table (though that in itself would make a powerful piece of writing). However, I tell the students they could also write about another piece of furniture or household object: a grandfather clock, a piano, a Mason jar, or a rocking chair.
If you found inspiration from this prompt for yourself or your students, please let me know!
Don’t forget to check out my sister blog for healthy food recipes and lifestyle tips; http://www.producewithamy.com
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”
As a high school writing teacher, I am constantly looking for new ways to help my students find inspiration. While my creative writing students come to class prepared to create, sometimes encouraging my 9th grade English students to tap into their creativity is a challenge. This is especially true when I ask them to write poetry.
To help free up writer’s block and self-doubt, I tell my students that for their first draft I will not assign a letter grade for a poem but will give credit or no credit. If they turn it in, they get a certain number of points and if they do not turn in a poem they get a zero. The only stipulation is that the poem must be approximately twenty lines long. Over the years I have found that this method helps immensely because my reluctant writers do not feel the pressure of completing the “perfect poem”. To my delight, by the end of our poetry unit, many of my students who did not see themselves as writers (or poets) become confident in their ability to experiment with language and record the world with a new genre.
In addition to taking away the pressure of letter grades until they turn in a revised poetry portfolio, I have fashioned a wide array of writing prompts to keep in my teacher toolbox. These prompts serve as a springboard to help generate creative and critical thinking. Many students dislike being assigned a specific subject to write about so I like to keep my poetry assignments wide open and full of potential. I tell my teenage writers that they have poetic license to alter the prompt in any way that they deem fit.
The following assignment is one that I have been employing for at least ten years and it is one that my students have found a lot of writing success. The concept is simple – I supply a word bank and the students use a computer as a tool to help draft a poem. I tell them to choose at least ten words from the provided word bank that they find intriguing (they can change their mind later).
Students who prefer to compose their poems on paper can simply use the computer to look up the words and use a notebook or journal to transcribe their verse.
I then instruct them to use their favorite search engine to look up the chosen words. They may decide to browse a number of sites and add in more search terms to narrow the results (for example: the word pearl may render up the term: cultured pearl. They may then enter cultured pearl into a search engine to conduct some research).
I recommend that they also search images on the computer. This method words well for students who tend to be more visual learners.
The goal is to write a line or two of poetry from each word. As they continue to work their way down the list of words the poem may assemble naturally or they may have to rearrange the lines after. I usually give them two days to work on the poem in class. The first day I encourage them to focus on coming up with a line or two inspired from each word and on the second day to try to string together their lines.
The connections that they make between the words, research, and their experiences is compelling. It is exciting to have the students share their poems with each other and discover that while they were all given the same list of words, they each have their own unique piece of writing.
When I make my word banks I simply use words that I think sound poetic and have promise. An alternative would be to pluck words from a body of work that you are using in class (think Shakespeare, Greek mythology, a novel you are reading) and let the students research and create poetry at the same time. After all, don’t you agree that some of the most productive lessons are ones where we trick our students into learning? I love to hear the phrase, “I really had fun today!” as students trickle out into the hallway when the bell rings.
Since many of my creative writing students take my course multiple times throughout their high school career, I have four different versions of the word bank that I rotate between. Today I will share one of the word banks with you. I will post a printable version below.
Virtual Scavenger Hunt Poem: Word Bank Poetry Prompt
- Strait of Gibraltar
Printable version —> Virtual Scavenger Hunt via glitteranddoghair
I hope that this post helps inspire your students – or your own writing. I would love to hear back how this activity worked and if you made any modifications.
Thank you for stopping by and helping me create and appreciate a sometimes messy, but always beautiful life. ❤
“Don’t scorn your life just because it’s not dramatic, or it’s impoverished, or it looks dull, or it’s workaday. Don’t scorn it. It is where poetry is taking place if you’ve got the sensitivity to see it, if your eyes are open.”
–Philip Levine, describing what he learned from William Carlos Williams
Mrs. Sherby was my art teacher in both elementary and secondary school and I will never forget the lessons she taught at the Forest Park Schools. I still dream about her classroom – the way the clay smelled, the wide-narrow drawers where we stored our work-in-progress, and the baby food jars where we mixed custom colors of acrylic paint and dipped our paintbrushes.
Mrs. Sherby taught us about the Impressionism Movement and I was moved by Monet. I vividly remember learning about his haystack series and the way he patiently painted during different times of the day to observe and transcribe natural light. What an impact it made on me to realize that a single landscape scene could take on different appearances based on the time of the day and the quality of light. It is a lesson that has never left me.
My boyfriend Matt, freshman year in college at Marquette University, took me to see a Monet exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute and it was a transformative experience. Looking back I realize how painfully naïve I was from my rural upbringing. I gapped, wide-eyed and astonished at how large the canvases were. The layer-upon-layer of paint were exactly as Mrs. Sherby had described them in one of her slide show presentations. I was moved so deeply that I wanted to touch the canvas in front of me. Without thinking, my hand stretched out to one of the paintings to feel the texture of Monet’s brush strokes and I was chided by one of the docents. Though nothing could interrupt the experience for me. I was transfixed. It may seem dramatic, but my world was forever changed. I had come face-to-face with a masterpiece and I felt the spirit of Monet with every step that I took. As a teacher, I hope that something discussed in one of my classes sticks with a student so permanently that they add it to their bucket list.
As a writer, and a teacher of writing, I believe that we must experience the world with the sensibility that other artist’s do. For our craft we also study light as attentively as Monet did. Writing is an image rich process and it also must engage all of our senses.
My students are used to hearing me lecture that as writer’s we notice things that other people do not. We listen to conversations with our ears finely tuned to accents and word choice and experience color and sound in a way that approaches their essence. We constantly ask ourselves, how would we describe the way a high school hallway swaggers with students after the bell rings? Or more accurately, how would I show my reader?
I often have my teenage writers take abstract terms such freedom, love, and happiness and describe them in terms of our senses to make them concrete. What does freedom smell like? What does happiness taste like? What color is love? The true test for a writer is turning the abstract into something concrete so the reader has a sensory experience.
In my last post, Writer’s Block? Mine the Richness In Your Own Backyard, I shared how I have spent my winter snowshoeing around our homestead. Ironically, while I am a native of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I have never been fond of winter. That was until I started snowshoeing. While my primary goal is exercise and stress relief, I cannot help feeling that I am “Filling the Well” to borrow a phrase from Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way.
When I strap my snowshoes on to burn hundreds of calories, I am also tuning in, memorizing, and categorizing colors, sounds, shapes, fragrances, and textures. It’s true, I even snowshoe with the sensibility of a writer. While I am trudging through the snow I am keeping a deft eye on the landscape, and even though I usually stick to the same path, every day the scenery is different. The snow is never the same shade of white and even the snowbanks are malleable and are shaped by the elements. One day they are choppy from plowing and the next day the peaks are smoothed by the wind like a piece of Lake Superior beach glass tossed by the waves. One day the snow is a flawless, glistening sheet and the next day the surface of the snow wears sparkling grooves and flowing ripples.
As a writer I have what I call my, “Monet Moments”. When I want to experience the world with a new lens. Mid-February I was watching the blues set in at night (on many levels). I wanted to snowshoe at dusk to experience the optical effects of light up close and personal and not just from the mudroom window. I have a trail carved around our pasture and approximately three and a half times around is a mile.
One night when I set out, the sky was blushing a sheer rose with a hint of lavender. Within minutes every snow covered surface was cast with an ethereal blue tint. It was the same trail that I frequented daily. However, on most nights I snowshoe after dinner and since it gets dark early I wear my headlamp. On this particular evening, I wanted to live with intention and experience a moment in tune with nature. While the purple and blue quickly faded, I could not help marveling in what a beautiful world we live in.
The blues of February set in dark and deep. Winter’s heart. Blue veined shadows throb across snowbanks. An ancient voice glistens like gaudy sapphire jewels to stare me down. A deep and sacred silence. Bare branches shiver with faceted sparks hinting at spring’s promise. Ushers of hope. Indelible moment. Winter’s bruised paradox.
When my students roll their eyes when I assign a new piece of writing, it is my job to try to convince them that they will rewarded for their efforts and that what they gain goes far beyond a grade that I assign. I acknowledge that I understand writing is work – it takes patience and diligence. Not everyone in my classroom will publish poems or novels and aspire to become a teacher, professor, professional writer or a blogger. Yet, viewing the world – as a writer – trains us to experience the world differently. It forces us to pay attention. Once our senses are opened as a writer – they can never be closed again and that makes us more astute, sensitive, and engaged human beings. Becoming a writer means looking at the ordinary and everyday things in our life through a magnifying glass. As human beings we are immersed in communication and writing helps make our thoughts tangible. This act of creation becomes as individual as our fingerprint.
I think in the age of digital technology, where much of our lives are dominated by screen time, that engagement is more important than every before. We are so focused on instant gratification that we have forgotten to step back and appreciate. To watch and wait. We neglect to see the nuances that the world offers up. I am thankful that I saw myself as a writer at a young age because it has helped me to find my balance and focus on the positive even during challenges and struggles. It has helped me become a seeker of beauty and wisdom and has taught me to look for patterns and see that everything in the world is connected.
My writing challenge to you over the next few days is to participate in a commonplace activity with the sensibility of a writer and artist. Whether you are baking bread or taking your dog for a walk – open up your senses. Leave your cell phone behind so you can have an uninterrupted experience or use it as a writing tool to capture images (sometimes taking a photo gives us an excuse to stop and focus). When you are out in public eavesdrop and listen to conversations. Listen to an individual’s diction and the melody of laughter. Watch the sun cast shadows and the play of branches on a snowbank, building, or sidewalk. Wake up early on the weekend and watch the sun rise blister the sky with color. Pay attention to how nimbly the horizon washes into new hues as it dissolves into pale morning light. Take a walk at dusk or at twilight. Fill your creative well and make discoveries about both humble and pretentious spaces and things. When you are a writer your practice is portable and your writer’s sensibility goes wherever you go.
Who knows, like me, you may make the revelation (after forty-seven years) that there is beauty where you least expected it — such as in the mid-winter blues of February. The writer in me is thankful for the experiences that I had as a teenager that shaped me. Such as art teachers like Mrs. Sherby and the paintings of Monet.
I would love to hear from you as you bear witness to your creative spark. What has inspired you recently? What fuels your inner artist? What is a lesson that you have learned about writing? Please share your insight and wisdom.
Do not forget to check out my sister blog where I share healthy lifestyle tips and recipes: Produce with Amy