BEYOND THE WINDOW by Abigail McCabe (A Student’s Pandemic Journal)

The 2019-2020 school year marks my 19th year in the classroom as a secondary English teacher. I suppose this year due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus, like teachers across the country, I can now add Distance Learning Teacher to my resume. Though, I would prefer the title Distance Learning Encourager. I have always felt that the word ENCOURAGER aptly describes my role as an educator. I encourage my students to read, write, and to record their impression of the world. I try to instill in them the belief that our stories and our voices matter. Our writing is our way of making our thinking tangible – it is truly our fingerprint. Our writing is a time capsule that can chart our personal, academic, and professional growth as human beings.

Our district recently unveiled our Continuous Learning Plan and our teachers, like others across the country, have been engaging students in lessons via online platforms such as Google Classroom, Zoom, DoJo, and Google Meet.

While I have been a blogger for years, I admittedly struggle with technology. Since I live in a rural location – I too had issues at first with “Equal Access” when it came to internet connectivity. However, thanks to a data boost to my Verizon jetpack, I believe I have the issues ironed out.

I am thankful for a strong network of administrators and  colleagues for the guidance and support as we navigate these challenging times. I have to give a huge shout-out to my best friend and fellow English teacher Heather Hollands for helping me come up with ideas to help keep ourselves and our students connected and engaged for the remainder of the school year. She helped me develop a plan to have students create a Pandemic Journal and a plan/log for daily reading. (Heather credits Kelly Gallagher http://www.kellygallagher.org/).

I have used this blogging platform to help model a “Pandemic Journal” to my students over the past couple of days. It gives me a way to publish my writing and hopefully connect with other educators and writers. This blog was part of my the professional development goal that I set for myself last year. When I created Glitter and Dog Hair I had no idea that I would be using it in this capacity. It is exciting that I can use it to help publish not only my writing, but the writing that my students create as well.

Here are my posts from the past couple of days. I am proud to say that I even traveled out of my comfort zone and made a couple of videos to let them know I am thinking of them:

Pandemic Journal #1: We Write to Remember
Pandemic Journal #2 – Earth Day

My instructions to my students for their Pandemic Journal were the following:

Dear Students,
We are living through a history making moment—right now! Today, tomorrow, and the days that follow will be captured in history books. Some day, you will share stories with your children and grandchildren about living through the challenges we are facing in 2020. Because these days are historical, it is critical that we not let these events pass without capturing how they affect you, your family, your school, and your community.

How we are documenting our days – on paper, on canvas, on social media, on video – will one day become a primary resource for others to reflect on. As I often say in class, “Our writing is a time capsule.”

Since you will be “schooling” from home, I will describe here the activities to be done outside of our classroom. Here are your daily writing and reading plans: 

Daily writing (via a paper notebook of some sort) 

You will be asked to write at least a page a day in your writer’s notebook, capturing your thoughts, questions, comments, and concerns about the events that are unfolding. I want you to capture this history—your history—any way you’d like. Try to spend a minimum of an hour per week writing, hopefully more! Below are some suggestions for your daily writing, but you do not need to follow them. Feel free to generate your own thinking.

Some possibilities for daily writing:
●  Capture how this virus has disrupted your school year —including sporting events, concerts,   assemblies, dances.
●  Discuss how your daily life has been disrupted or enhanced (more time with family, family dinners etc.)
●  Share the effect it has had on your friends and family.
●  Write reviews of movies, television shows, podcasts, video games, etc., that you are turning to for entertainment during this time of social isolation. ●  Respond to any idea about the crisis you find interesting. You can respond to an article, a
broadcast, a Tedtalk, a tweet, a photograph, a podcast, a film, an Instagram (or another online) post, a TikTok video, a political cartoon or meme, a song, a conversation—anything that spurs some thinking.

As the days unfold, you will be able to find new aspects that encourage reflection. This story changes every day. Be creative: Write across genres: poetry, dialogue (just capture a conversation between people), description: zoom in on a moment you experience; discuss songs that capture these events for you; find and respond to charts and graphs worth thinking about. Or perhaps you’d like to make a scrapbook. Another idea is to write and mail a letter to a grandparent or other person who is lonely or missing you. 

Flex your voice and take risks. Be honest. Try to create writing that you will be interested in re-reading years from now. Chronicle your thinking as we navigate these uncertain days/weeks. Do not forget to record the date on every piece you write.

*Thank you again to Heather Hollands for the inspiration.

Yesterday my students started submitting their Pandemic Journal entries. One of my 8th grade students, Abigail McCabe, took my breath away with her journal response. Abigail had already impressed me with her sophisticated writing, but her writing still caught me off guard and brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Abigail for this gift. You made me remember once again why I am so fortunate to be an English teacher.  You’re a talented writer and visual artist and I knew that I had to share your response with others.

We are going through challenging times and yet, at a young age, Abigail understands the importance of stepping outside our human realm to allow nature to help heal and show us the way. Abigail’s writing reminded me of one of my favorite Louise Gluck quotes.

“It’s a mistake
to think of them
as birds, they are so often
messengers.”
~Louise Gluck

With Abigail’s permission I am sharing her entry with you. Here are her powerful words:

Beyond the Window

During the quarantine, the birds have been reliable, always coming and going, unphased by the panic of the outside world. Nestled in the everlasting pine-bows, their safe haven.

I stare distantly outside my window. The pine trees sway in the gentle breeze as the birds flutter absentmindedly around the newly filled feeder. They come and go in a timely manner. Chickadees arrive early after the sun’s early rays skim the treetops, leaping and fluttering from branch to branch. They begin their distinct and sweet call at eight, then leave at one.

Chickadees have always reminded me of my Grandma, whom has now passed. Perhaps it’s their soft coos that echo beyond the birch trees or the carefree and curious glint behind their dark eyes.

Petite Goldenfinches stick in groups of five, landing in synchronization on the snow-coated deck outside the large, smudged window. They descend down from the higher branches at three but never stay for more than an hour and a half.

When the isolation leaves me feeling hollow, like a roughly tumbled rock with a single omar– I open up the door, slinking out into the dappled sunlight, and sit quietly. I listen for the soft murmur of the wind, the slow rippling of the lakeside, the rhythmic dripping of the ice– so delicately clinging to the eve of the house. Most of all, the stories the birds tell– not with their sorrowful melodies as the snow begins to fall, but the air sifting between their feathers like sand as they skip like a rough pebble through the air. I, hardly breathing, lost in the chorus of selective silence, patiently wait. I squint against the sun, of which now is skimming the surface of the icy wasteland that meets the decaying pine-needle and mossy quilt at the abrupt shoreline. Out over the ice-glazed lake, small shoals are still visible under the surface of semi-transparent desolation. I turn my head, the ice rippling as a lone duck pulls itself out from the ice-infested waters.

I breathe deeply, the air crisp and bitter from the cold, but the sun warm and radiant- maintaining the balance– of which is like an orbit– both hot and cold interdependent on the other, there is no judgment of hot without the cold,  as of, no life without death. A cycle. Plagues in themselves are a cycle, masquerading behind face masks, a timely balance of panic and composure.

Photo Courtesy of Abigail McCabe

Please feel free to comment on and share this post.

Thank you to Abigail for generously allowing me to share your writing.

To all reading this post ~  please stay safe, healthy, and seek ways to discover joy in your life. ❤

Writing Prompt: The Kitchen Table

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

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.
–Joy Harjo

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

No dining experience is complete without flowers. These wildflowers foraged from our backyard are on-top of my Great Grandmother’s handmade lace doilies. Like our writing, it’s the details that matter. 

Homemade Pizza Night several years ago.

When my step daughter was younger, she always made place cards for family members.

Candles with roses and blooms from my garden.

My Fiestaware dishes haven’t been used enough recently.

Virtual Scavenger Hunt Poem: Word Bank Poetry Prompt

“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.”
-Steve Jobs

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

  1. umbrella
  2. lark
  3. cake
  4. mutiny
  5. moss
  6. phosphorescence
  7. carbon
  8. migrant
  9. hiss
  10. salt
  11. constitution
  12. torque
  13. prairie
  14. messenger
  15. ashes
  16. parlor
  17. propagation
  18. stem
  19. brocade
  20. forge
  21. pearl
  22. Hamlet
  23. lentil
  24. fennel
  25. calibrate
  26. cobalt
  27. grim
  28. velvet
  29. coniferous
  30. reel
  31. ore
  32. slug
  33. Circe
  34. current
  35. rural
  36. flora
  37. dogma
  38. Caesar
  39. pillar
  40. font
  41. amber
  42. turnip
  43. luxury
  44. dragonfly
  45. clutch
  46. plunder
  47. lotus
  48. squall
  49. ember
  50. ringlet
  51. Tiresias
  52. blanch
  53. cauldron
  54. grain
  55. Strait of Gibraltar
  56. pigeon
  57. reed
  58. imperialist
  59. calcium
  60. Michelangelo
  61. artifact
  62. lyric
  63. cargo
  64. landscape
  65. braid
  66. Ovid
  67. steel
  68. cashew
  69. gold
  70. lure
  71. root
  72. lake
  73. Venus
  74. Picasso
  75. April
  76. kingdom
  77. cuticle
  78. branch
  79. filter
  80. plastic
  81. vibrate
  82. crescendo
  83. valley
  84. tremulous
  85. charcoal
  86. frieze
  87. sculpture
  88. dash
  89. fracture
  90. teal

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. ❤

 

Writer’s Block? Mine the Richness In Your Own Backyard

“Anyone can take an adventure even if it’s only in your own backyard. Let your imagination be your adventure and see where it takes you.” 
-Carmela Dutra

Waldo Homestead

I often tell my high school writing students that when I was their age, I was not well traveled. My dad was an Iron Worker, and due to the seasonal nature of construction, he either seemed to be working around the clock logging massive amounts of overtime or he would experience periods of being laid off.  Looking back, since my father is the most financially responsible person I know, we probably could have gone on elaborate family vacations. Yet, my dad is not one to be around hoards of people. He loves the quiet and peaceful beauty of home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Instead of Disney (though I did visit my aunt and uncle in California at the age of 10 where they took me to Disneyland) our getaways were often spent on the Way Dam backwaters. Since my childhood  was spent growing up in the wilds of Upper Michigan’s Crystal Falls, I hauled in lunker Walleye on the Paint River, I  learned how to identify the different varieties of pine trees by their cluster of needles, I got goosebumps whenever I heard the lonesome trill of the whippoorwill, I picked blueberries along the driveway on my way back from checking the mail, and I spent many July nights under a peppering of crystal stars and a crackling campfire.

As a grown woman I realize now how lucky I was for my rural upbringing. Yet, as a teenager reading Hemingway, Charles Dickins, Jane Austen, and William Shakespeare — I often felt isolated and thought that I had to travel extensively to experience life and have important things to write about. How could I write about Paris if I had never strolled along the Champs-Elysees? How could I draw in a reader’s interest with stories about having the first day of white tail deer season off of school, swimming across Fortune Lake, or the winter we received close to three-hundred inches of snow?

Thankfully, as a writing teacher, I know better. While my students may see ice fishing on Big Shag Lake as common place and too dull to write about, I always explain that to people living in snowless climates the thought of drilling a hole in the ice and waiting in freezing weather for a fish to bite would be an exotic, thrilling, and unusual activity. I remind my students that while we may see the things we grew up doing and the places we were raised as boring or bland (because we are so close to them) it is what we know best and it is our job as writers to bring out the richness of these experiences. It is for these reasons that Place Conscious Writing has a strong command in my classroom practice and curriculum.

In adulthood I have been fortunate to travel quite extensively. I have walked the cobblestoned streets of Jerusalem, watched one of my students read her poetry at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and panned for gold on an active claim in the quirky settlement of Chicken, Alaska. Yet, to be honest, most of my creative impulses are still inspired from my own backyard.

This winter I have felt of rush of expressiveness channeling through my snowshoe adventures around our homestead. Last night was no exception. The Super Snow Moon was so brilliant  that I did not need my headlamp to snowshoe. It was bitter cold but worth every moment of beauty. I snapped photos as late as 9:00 pm (no flash – just the bright moonlight and my iPhone).

While I wish I could figure out how to use my fancy camera at night, a phone is much less cumbersome for snowshoeing. Besides, I think I enjoy the grainy roughness of these photos. It turns our pasture into a landscape that is moonlike itself.

Snowshoe Trail Bathed in Moon Glow

Shadowland

Moonshine

As writers, our work begins when we tap into what we know best. We are experts in our own memories and the smells, flavors, sounds, and textures of the places that we frequent. If you are looking for something to write about — mine your heart and work outward. Compile a list of places in your journal. Draw maps, list flora and fauna, name the trees and rivers, and even document the sky.

Let your readers smell the bruised  purple lilacs on the bushes that you played in as a child and show them the day you begged your mom if you could wash your hair in a rainstorm. Detail the way the iron rich soil ran red and how the sky ached a glowing green moments after the drops dissipated.

Describe an India ink dark sky, yet, at the same time so luminous with stars that it made you shiver and feel so small. That on humid summer nights you would spread out a homemade patchwork quilt on the lawn and lie inert for a couple of  hours to watch the constellations spread across the lush dome. A sky so magical that it became the fabric that you stitched your dreams.

Being a writer means being able to look in the face of every day experiences and record it in your unique way. When we chart the varied paths we have traveled, we deny the presence of Writer’s Block. It becomes an illusion.

Now tell me, what are you going to write about? Leave me a list, a poem, a description, or the snippet of a scenerio from your own backyard. Reach into your depository of memory and share. Let others find the universal in your musings. Comment here, on my Facebook page, or on Instagram. I will be waiting to hear from you!

Don’t forget to check out my sister blog where I share healthy recipes and lifestyle tips: Produce with Amy

 

Hoophouse Slumber – Where Gardens Dream

The Other Side of the Garden

Branching Out

Neon Glow of Sauna

Back to the Beginning

Examine the World Like a Writer: Ten Days of Prompts

“You have this ability to find beauty in weird places.”
Kamila Shamsie

Sunflowers past prime are beautiful too!

As a writing teacher, I often tell my students that when we see ourselves as writers, we experience the world through a different lens. Our perspective of the world changes because we become more in tune to human nuances, landscapes, and even the way the world tastes and sounds. We become passionate about recording the world and this can have powerful potential. Writers have the capacity to become agents of change as we create content that we may share with others.

For the next ten days mine the world you inhabit and find beauty in a variety of settings. Include a photo(s) and a written narrative or poem of the following:

1. Nature

2. An animal/living creature or pet

3. Inside your living space

4. Food or beverage

5. Architecture (inside or outside a building)

6. Junk mail or product packaging

7. Something shiny (or made of glass or metal)

8. Technology

9. Passage from a book, poem, essay, or song

10. You

Roasted Butternut Squash = Perfect Poetry

Nurturing My Own Creativity

Somewhere along the way of creating a simple and beautiful life — I have lost my way as a writer. The purpose of this blog is to remind myself that I have to nurture my own creativity. I will be sharing personal stories, fiction, poetry, photographs, and writing prompts in hopes to connect with myself and others who are looking for ways to harness and capture their creative impulses. Thank you for joining me!

Sunflower and Bee in my backyard.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” 

Mary Oliver