Poetry Friday: At the Beginning of Winter by Tom Hennen

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jane at Raincity Librarian


bedlam farm winter

Photograph  by Jon Katz


Winter is definitely on its way.  Every morning this week, my feet have crunched across frost encrusted leaves as I’ve made my way to my car.  Among my list of chores this weekend is dragging out my warmest sweaters, socks, and those heavy winter boots.  Only the middle school boys in my school seem impervious to the seasonal change – they are still in their basketball shorts and t-shirts.   Driving to school this morning with the heat blasting all the way and the seat warmer turned up as high as I could manage, I had to shake my head in amazement at the sight of all these legs exposed to a bitterly cold wind.   Middle school boys are impervious to many things, the need for quiet and cleanliness, for instance, and, apparently, winter, too.
At the Beginning of Winter by Tom Hennen 

In the shallows of the river
After one o’clock in the afternoon
Ice still
An eighth of an inch thick.
Night never disappears completely
But moves among the shadows
On the bank
Like a glimpse of fur.
Flies and spiderwebs
Appear alone in the flat air.
The naked aspens stand like children
Waiting to be baptized
And the goldenrod too is stripped down
To its bare stalk
In the cold
Even my thoughts
Have lost their foliage.


Slice of Life Tuesday: Finding gifts in unexpected places

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

Flying back from visiting my parents in London, I experienced all that has become common in air travel today: long lines, long waits, and a tiny space in which to spend long travel hours.  Feeling rather sorry for myself, I spent the first few hours of my flight grading papers.  Then,  while shuffling between the “done” pile and the “to do” one, I dropped my pen.  No amount of searching around and under my seat yielded anything more than dirty tissues and candy wrappers.  I stepped over my sleeping seat mate to try to retrieve my backpack (also known as my traveling office) from the overhead compartment, but even that proved fruitless: it was wedged behind bigger bags and beyond my just above five foot reach.

Disgruntled and cranky, I decided to watch a movie…and that’s when my whole evening was transformed.  Among the few good choices available was this:

Screen Shot 2017-11-14 at 6.36.32 PM

Hundreds of thousands of Turkish cats roam the metropolis of Istanbul freely. For thousands of years they’ve wandered in and out of people’s lives, becoming an essential part of the communities that make the city so rich. Claiming no owners, the cats of Istanbul live between two worlds, neither wild nor tame — and they bring joy and purpose to those people they choose to adopt. In Istanbul, cats are the mirrors to the people, allowing them to reflect on their lives in ways nothing else could.

How to resist? Within moments, I was transported to Istanbul, and cats, cats, cats, everywhere.  Gentle and shy cats, brazen and aggressive cats, and cats of varying sizes and hues.  As different as the cats were, the response of the citizens of Istanbul were universally accepting, delighted, amused, even loving.  About halfway through, I came upon these lines, and just had to take the following still shots  :






This in-flight, made from a movie  poem has stayed with me ever since.  You can find gifts in the most unexpected places, when you least expect it.

It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Forever is a long, long time


Caela Carter’s Forever, Or A Long, Long Time is one of those books which stay with you long after you’ve  turned the last page and returned it to the library – the characters are memorable, the story is captivating, and the writing just achingly beautiful.

Image result for forever or a long long time

Flora and her brother Julian have spent their young lives moving from one dysfunctional foster home to the next.   A forever home finally becomes theirs, but Flora is convinced that this good fortune will not be theirs for long:

I have to be a good girl. I have to try to pass fourth grade. I have to make Person happy.

Person is my mom now.  My very own human mother.  I call her my mom when I’m talking to her or anyone else, but in my head I call her my person because there have been too too many mommies and they have faces that  blend together in my brain until they’re one ugly face that doesn’t make sense and some of them were nice but others weren’t very nice and they’re all gone now anyway and Person says she’s here forever.

She’s not. Nothing is forever…

The world is often a confusing place for Flora, and her words often get jumbled up and stuck when she tries to explain what she feels and thinks.  She wants to believe that Person and home are forever, but when she learns that Person is going to have a baby, all her fears and uncertainties return.  Will there be room enough in Person’s heart to still love Flora?  After all:

It’s so hard to believe in Forever when it only counts for some people and not all of them.

Caela Carter writes movingly about the damage the foster system does to children, and the endless hope children have that a forever family somehow still exists for them.  I loved  Forever, Or A Long, Long Time so much, and know that my students will, too.

#Celebratelu: Of gardens and classrooms

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.


For her Poetry Friday post, Ruth – our poetry friend from Haiti, wrote beautifully about the connection between the crafts of teaching and gardening:

I find teaching like gardening because you can do everything “right,” all the planting and watering and fertilizing, and still there is a large part of the process that’s just a complete mystery.  It takes place out of sight, and it’s out of your control.  In addition, of course, there are all the other factors – the “weather” of your students’ lives, like their home situation, their relationships with other kids in the class, their hormones, whether or not they had breakfast this morning.

Ruth’s musings led her to compose a lovely poem, and led me down the rabbit hole of thinking about how wise and accurate her comparison had been.  Yes, I’ve been thinking ever since, our classrooms are like garden plots, ones we tend to with care from September through June and then ponder over ever after: what went well, what did not, what are the lessons learned, and what do I feel I am ready to experiment with in the year to come.

As I sit before a tabletop covered with my students’ reading and writing lives which need to be commented upon and assessed, I have flashes of memories from our first marking period: the anticipation of setting up our classroom, the excitement of the first day, and the fits and starts with which my kids progressed from nervous sixth graders to ones who have settled in.

Following Ruth’s gardening metaphor, the first quarter of the year feels very much like the very beginning of Spring, when the detritus of winter must be cleared away, the weeds of the Fall cleaned off, and the soil tilled and enriched so that growth might (fingers crossed) occur.  Going into the second marking period feels like the end of Spring: each plant has its own spot in which to grow and thrive, and has begun to grow.  The garden now looks a bit uneven still, for each plant grows at its own rate, but it is taking shape, and that gives the gardener hope.

Reaching for each reading journal or piece of writing by my students has begun to feel familiar – when I read my students’ work I can hear their voices, I can remember the goals we have set, and I can appreciate the ways in which they have grown.   The gardener has come  to know her garden.

As we look ahead and plan for the second marking period, I celebrate the way in which each of my students has claimed their very own place in the learning arc of the year.  They’ve settled in, they are beginning to grow…and I celebrate that.



Poetry Friday: What’s Found by Sheila Packa  

Chelsea Physic gafdens Poetry Friday is hosted by Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup

When you’ve visited the same place over many, many years, and in many, many guises (child, college student, young married, mother of one-two-then three, and now as a “woman of a certain age”), you tend not to see as much as you once saw.  Everything looks familiar, and reassuringly so.  True, certain shops may change, and shiny new restaurants take the place of old haunts, but my neck of London has always been Chelsea, where my parents live, and winding roads and squares of Chelsea remain somehow endearingly changeless.

Yesterday, I found myself at the Chelsea Physic Garden, London’s oldest botanic garden, on a grey, dull, Fall afternoon.  For much of my walk there, I simply followed my feet which seemed to know, by instinct, how to travel.  The moment I stepped beyond the arched and vine encircled entrance, however, the garden beyond looked somehow changed.  Perhaps it was because I had never seen it in November’s light, perhaps it was because two beautiful new planters had made their appearance by the ticket booth, perhaps because I was in London to visit my aging and now frail parents…whatever the reason, I saw the garden anew.

What’s Found by Sheila Packa


in the tangle of trees
in twigs
from branches
and trunks and roots
in the ephemeral
tenderness of green
leaves that last a season
in the trembling and wind
the blue of sky and lake
in clouds resounding
from a place of emptiness
a chamber that answers
in vibration, string and wind
a trembling, brimming and falling
in the place opposite of grief
the place opposite of dark
in the body of lost
in water and air
a star whose light
has ended but travels
toward us
rising and falling
in a cascade of notes
which is not endless
but aching and sweet
like iridescent feathers
of wings that rise and fall
in the circle of migration
in each flight
music that we breathe

Pausing here and there in the garden, between  exhausted summer blooms and still thriving evergreens, I think I found what I was looking for…

in the place opposite of grief
the place opposite of dark

…and it was most welcome.


#Celebratelu: Celebrating sixth graders and memoir

Celebrate with Ruth Ayres Writes …. because we need to celebrate moments in our lives every chance we get.

Memoir Pic

I have a confession to make, ever since I first read Katherine Bomer’s brilliant how-to-teach-memoir book Writing a Life , I’ve borrowed her line about why to teach memoir when I introduce the genre to my sixth graders: “…people also write so that they can know what they think and feel about their lives, and that is what I want to teach you how to do in these next few weeks.”  Because, my kids are at that stage when they are beginning to think and feel deeply, they want insight into their world and into themselves, and they absolutely sit up a little straighter at the thought of being able to write about these ideas in a way that honors their memories and the people they see themselves becoming.

We came to the end of our unit on writing memoir on Friday with a writing celebration – four weeks of discovering what memoir sounds like and feels like, and what sifting through memories to find ways to make them sing through our writing can gift us: lovely memoir gems.

My kids wrote about friends lost and found, about their grandparents and what they learned in small moments found in their company on ordinary days, and lessons learned at practice, on the playground, and in the school cafeteria.

I love this unit. I love hearing my students practice the habit and language of reflection, I love the realizations they make along the way about who they are and where they are from and who they want to be.  Reaching for Katherine Bomer’s inimitable words again:

The reasons to read and write memoir are as enormous as the world, as ancient as history, as crucial as human life. And they are also as seemingly small as to give one person, reading one story, the hope to keep living.

I think about this experience as I remember our Friday celebration.  Over the last four weeks, we learned to read and write memoir and I celebrate that.

Poetry Friday:November Fifth, Riverside Drive by Katha Pollitt

Poetry Friday is hosted by Linda @ TeacherDance


My Facebook memories page popped up this morning with a photograph I had taken with my daughter Elizabeth five years ago on a Fall evening at Riverside Drive.  It had been  a Teacher’s College  day of learning for me, and we met at Riverside Park after Elizabeth was done with her own graduate classes at Columbia.  That photograph brought back many memories, most of which really centered around what it is like to be at Riverside Park late on a Fall afternoon, when what is left of the sun perfectly illuminates what is left of the leaves.

Fall in New York City is magical.

November Fifth, Riverside Drive by Katha Pollitt

The sky a shock, the ginkgoes yellow fever,
I wear the day out walking. November, and still
light stuns the big bay windows on West End
Avenue, the park brims over with light like a bowl
and on the river
a sailboat quivers like a white leaf in the wind.

How like an eighteenth-century painting, this
year ‘s decorous decline: the sun
still warms the aging marble porticos
and scrolled pavilions past which an old man,
black-coated apparition of Voltaire,
flaps on his constitutional. “Clear air,
clear mind” -as if he could outpace
darkness scything home like a flock of crows.