Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

Earth Day – April 22, 2020 (entry written in paper journal @ 7:00 am)

“Victory Gardens showcase patriotism in its truest sense, with each of us taking personal responsibility for doing our individual part to create a healthy, fair and affordable food system.”
-Rose Hayden-Smith

Morning coffee in a quiet house. Just the occasional snore or grumble of a sleeping dog and the gentle rushhhhh of the aquarium.

Sleepy Apollo

Zzzzzzzzzzzz

I fight the temptation of going back to sleep after my husband leaves for work. It’s easy to fall into lazy patterns and waste the day. I am sure those who are “sheltering in place” share my struggle. Life is really thrown off balance without the regular routine of physically going to work. However, this is a reality that teachers face every year summer break arrives.

While I have gotten out of the habit, I used to always start my mornings with journal writing. The benefit of writing in the morning is it clears one’s mind, helps set the tone for the day, and charts progress from day-to-day. It feels great to begin the journaling journey again.

I’ve been spotting posts about Victory Gardens more frequently. Victory Gardens were encouraged during WWII as a way to help Americans supplement food rations and give families more fruit and vegetables in their diet. The practice of planting a Victory Garden was also used to increase morale.

I can understand the importance of wanting to feel “in control” when so many aspects of life feel just the opposite right now. Planting a garden gives one a tangible goal to focus on and gives hope for the future.

My family tries to grow as much of our own food as possible. That is one of the cornerstones of the lifestyle that my husband and I are trying to embrace. We can and freeze the majority of the vegetables that we eat throughout the year and we raise our own pigs and meat birds (chickens). We also have hens that keep us entertained and provide us with eggs all year long. These sweet girls and our two Roosters, Romeo and Odysseus, are friends not food. We lost Shakespeare, our alpha male rooster last week to old age. He lived a great life on our homestead and we will miss his soulful strut immensely.

We will miss you, Shakespeare!

While I have never been a morning person, our homestead has created a morning person out of me. Why would I want to miss views like this?!

While my husband and I share a connection on wanting be as sustainable as possible when it comes to our food production, the yearning to garden goes back to my early years. My grandfather, the late Thomas Puskala, had an epic garden in Iron River, Michigan and many of my childhood memories stem from his hours of labor. From his careful sifting of soil to remove rocks and his long standing feud with dandelions. Not to mention the non-traditional breakfast feasts he would prepare for my Aunt Christina which consisted of cucumbers and vinegar (Yes, for breakfast! 🙂 )

Grandpa Puskala in his garden. Thank you to my cousin Alicia for this photo.

To this day, the first crunchy cucumber out of the garden is heralded in my heart as a celebration of Grandpa.

I planted seeds in our house on 3/27 (tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, cabbage, squash, and kitchen herbs – basil, dill and cilantro (My step-son’s bearded dragon Harper LOVES cilantro). I also planted flowers: zinnia, marigolds, and cosmos).

We planted peas, beans, and greens (lettuce, kale, spinach) in our hoop house on 3/29.

We have a tiny house but we take advantage of every available window to start our seeds inside.

I spend all winter dreaming about garden tomatoes fresh off the vine. My husband isn’t a “fresh” tomato fan and even loves the chocolate cherry tomatoes we grow.


In April my husband and step-son collected sweet water and boiled down maple syrup from the trees on our property.

The syrup that John and Lukas bottle is like liquid gold.

My husband’s homemade waffles with fresh maple syrup and bacon that we raised ourselves.

The weather is still cold and lousy – in fact, we received over two feet of snow on April 12-13. Though it’s receding again and our duck pond is nearly open. The robins are dining with our ducks and chickens on fallen apples in our orchard and I get goosebumps when I hear the cranes in the distance – all sure signs that spring is finally here.

My ducks Dante and Lucky. You can see my husband’s maple syrup line in the background.

Romeo, one of our roosters.

Today my goals are simple. I will check in on my students and encourage them to write with me. Many are sharing their Pandemic Journals already. Their entries make me sad and smile at the same time. Most prominent in their posts is the face that they miss their friends – but they all sound hopeful.

So today, on Earth Day, I am going to embrace positivity. I am going to head outside and will finish one inside goal (I am cleaning off our upstairs landing to clear out “Office Space” for myself.

I still need to find a book to read and I will create a path for joy and growth in my life.

Yet, for the next half hour – another cup of coffee steeped in silence. Before the roosters wake up.

Here are a couple videos of our snow storm and one of my husband’s projects. We are almost ready for the roof trusses on our home addition. How exciting!

Please don’t be offended by the irony of him cutting down a tree (this video wasn’t recorded on earth day 😂). I promise we will replace this tree with several new ones!

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember

“I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing.”
-Mary Oliver

I never imagined that our hoop house would be my new classroom. However, we’re living through some interesting times. I thought our food plot would be a unique place to record a video for my students to show them what my life is like outside of the classroom.

My husband said this is definitely my “Teacher Look” or “Teacher Lady” as he affectionately calls me.

I guess that yesterday’s distance learning translated to Bog boots since it is mud season in Michigan (plus, we have chickens – enough said). 🤣 Yet, it was a photo worthy moment because I even applied makeup and ran a brush through my hair.

The world is our classroom after all!

We have been out of school since March 13 due to the Covid-19 virus. It has been surreal to say the least. This week I started an on-line Pandemic Journal with my students. I wanted to model to them what their journals may look like so I am stepping outside my comfort zone and am creating videos in hopes I can make a connection with them.

This was my video today (I will type the journal entry below):

April 21, 2020

A reflection from my Facebook social media post on Thursday, April 16th at 3:51 pm

“The painful things seemed like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” ~ Anita Diamant

The above was the last prompt I gave my students before the world seemed to slowly turn upside down.

I’ve kept this quote in my collective memory and I have thought of my students often, but I had to remove myself emotionally from the reality of what was happening so it didn’t hit so hard. I was trying to hold things together like those knots on that beautiful necklace. I kept distant from my feelings and denied myself the opportunity to mourn. Guarded. We all mourn differently.

Today I took the drive and the awkward steps into my classroom. It was quiet but it still felt like home. It comforted the rawness around my heart.

My mailbox offerings left a lump in my throat and were the catalyst for warm tears. Finally the tears. Packages for my students – Outrageous Request Letters granted. We must wait until the “Shelter in Place” order is lifted.

I gathered my remaining plants. The geraniums I winter each year in my classroom. I grabbed several on our last day – not sure what the coming days would hold. When I returned today I didn’t expect any signs of life, but green still resided in a few of the pots. With some TLC a couple of them will recover.

I will take these packages and the green leaves as a sign of hope. A promise that better days are coming.

The anxious knots in my stomach are not in vain. They too are signs of life. Signs of compassion and a softness that makes a teacher a force to be reckoned with.

My colleagues and I are entering a new phase of our career – a part not fully developed or chartered. We are making maps. We are defining our new roles.

My empty journal is a ready for words. My students and I will guide each other.

We will write our stories –
so we,
and others,
can remember.

My weary classroom plants.

Outrageous Requests granted. I will have to post about this assignment – it’s my favorite!

Signs of life. The plant on the right is loving the TLC.

We still have a lot of snow on the ground!

Our hoop house is one of my favorite places to getaway and focus on growth!

Here is yesterday’s video:

Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy

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.

via Old Fashioned Sweet Pickled Beets — Produce with Amy

YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI — Produce with Amy

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.

via YEAR ROUND SUMMER SIMPLICITY – LATE NIGHT ZESTY BROCCOLI — Produce with Amy

Hunger Moon

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.

The Hunger Moon turned the snowy landscape of my backyard into something magical.

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. 💚

My snowshoe trail circles our pasture.

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.

I loved the shadows cast on the snow from the bare branches.

What could be more poetic than the name: Hunger Moon?

Pure poetry.

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.

My snowshoeing Selfie

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.:

HUNGER MOON

The last full moon of February stalks the fields; barbed wire casts a shadow.

Rising slowly, a beam moved toward the west
stealthily changing position
until now, in the small hours, across the snow
it advances on my pillow
to wake me, not rudely like the sun
but with the cocked gun of silence.
I am alone in a vast room
where a vain woman once slept.
The moon, in pale buckskins, crouches
on guard beside her bed.
Slowly the light wanes, the snow will melt
and all the fences thrum in the spring breeze
but not until that sleeper, trapped
in my body, turns and turns.
Hunger Moon as well as other poems by Cooper can be found HERE.

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. ❤

LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE — Produce with Amy

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.

via LOW CARB CHICKEN & MUSHROOM SOUP WITH CAULIFLOWER RICE — Produce with Amy

SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP  — Produce with Amy

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.

via SOUL WARMING HOT & SOUR MUSHROOM SOUP  — Produce with Amy

Home Is a Verb

 

BRANCHES LIKE NERVE ENDINGS

How do I quiet my breath
to match the stars –
and make my papery eye-lids
feel like rain?
The birches are dressed in starch
and my neighbor’s awkward
garden raises weeds and
a tangle of berries.

The sky whispered lies yesterday
screamed a false blue
aqua like a Scandinavian soup
bowl, rimmed in yellow.
The birds, feathered messengers
of fear
shivered.

I write pages in my head,
my pen never touching down.

Last night I read somewhere,
“Read a thousand books
and your writing will flow like
a river.”
My heart feels like a lake,
Bottomless, metallic, and
hungry.

Sometimes I hear voices in feathers.
Crows write words in the sky,
like graceful quills
that embroider the dome with
loopy cursive.
Elegant reminders of
my own clumsiness.
Etch
verbs that I cannot decipher
without beating wings.
They scream a dialect
I cannot remember.
I fumble for the searing syllables.

It is no use.
I
cannot
caw.

Once I kissed a boy until
I realized his mind was empty
I could never love him
He did not know enough
words.
He could not describe how blue
the sky was and his insides did not
ache for the vibrant shade
of green the sky turns
after it rains.

I felt alone,
even when he clutched my hand.

Feverishly, I composed line-after-
line in my journal.
I was convinced I would rather
be alone.

My heart does not trust
Forests
where no trees grow.

~Amy
September 27, 2012

Another snowshoeing jaunt that left me mesmerized with our own backyard. Is there anything ever as beautiful as the land you toil over and dream into being?

I guess our phone upgrade was well worth the extra monthly charge. These photos were captured at dark – charged by only a segment of moon. Technology is amazing!

I often ask my students to write a letter to their “younger self.” I write that letter in my head every day.

Be patient.

You will find your forest and your home.

All the words are there.

Trust that he knows them by heart.

Home is a verb –
A garden
A place where your soul rests and awakens
invents a new language.
A place of potential and possibility.
💚

If you need proof, open your eyes.

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Lessons Learned Outside The Classroom

“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?

Lukas tolerates all the photos that I take. This one he proudly posed.

Lukas tolerates all the photos that I take. This one he proudly posed.

Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad — Produce with Amy

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 […]

via Not Your Grandmother’s Egg Salad — Produce with Amy