Thursday, February 28, 2008


Fairies lacking restraint
in a freefall to earth.
Twinkling satellites
from a fissure in heaven;
the antithesis of their
arrival point on the planet.
A bohemian coterie,
a flotilla of fun,
sometimes slower than gravity allows
or circling in a 3/4 waltz.
They are the only pure white we know,
washing the world clean
perfectly silent in the journey.

She can't live without the snow
making music in her head,
a celestial painting.
Looking out the window
is a hobby now.
Nothing as beautiful
can be humanly created.
In a quiet afterthought
a tuft will be released from a branch
carried by the cold across her path
when heaven touches earth.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Despite the title of this post - I will celebrate the day. Another snow day - another Winter Wonderland outside to revel in all day. Another day at my laptop - the place I feel so comfortable at these days.
Yesterday was a difficult day. I had to work until 9PM for conferences and did not see one parent. Sad. The roads were horrible coming home. You would think when your car is only a few years old, has good tires and sand bags in the back that it would stop when you pressed on the brakes - but I always feel like I'm the only one sliding into intersections and pumping the pedal and saying nasty words to my little Rav. It was harrowing.
But the worst part of the day was that, for unknown reasons, I could barely walk yesterday. My left hip was in so much pain that I had to hobble slowly through the halls. Embarrassing. If I'd just sprained my ankle, say - I could just say - I sprained my ankle. But when everyone asked what happened - uh- I don't know!!! The two cortisone injections rejected their role and betrayed me. It's too long of a story to tell. Back to the doctor today.
Somehow I am slowly realizing how this experience is changing me, and I have hope that I am learning something. I was reading some essays by the famous French writer Simone Weil. She wrote :
Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attentuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain. . . and nothing else has the power to chain down our thoughts.
Affliction is something specific and impossible to compare with anything else, just as nothing can convey the idea of sound to the deaf and dumb. And, as for those who have themselves been mutilated by affliction, they are in no state to help anyone at all and are almost incapable of even wishing to do so. Thus, compassion for the afflicted in an impossiblity.
THAT'S what bothers me the most. The way pain causes you to be self-absorbed and unable to be of use to anyone. Yesterday when one of my students showed up at my door during my lunch crying and kicking the wall because someone took his lunch - I had to practically crawl up the stairs and down the long hallway to investigate the problem. I wasn't as interested in solving his pain as my own. I hate that.
Weil continues: Affliction causes God to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man, more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell.
I think she is describing depression here and I would agree. Depression to me felt like God had abandoned me. However, I am recognizing how pain can easily lead to depression.
Affliction hardens and discourages because, like a red-hot iron, it stamps the soul to its very depths with the contempt, the disgust, and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement which crime logically should produce but actually does not.
The people you love and live with get to suffer too. As much as I try not to whine and cry, my husband has commented on my tendancy to be in bad moods these past few months. I want to say "Duh!" But then again, it seems unfair that he should have to suffer along with me. Being a man, he wants to fix it, but even the four doctors I've been to can't seem to do that - yet.
I wrote this before I read Weil, but we seem to concur:
physical, bodily pain
grinds your spirit
scarifies your soul
harasses your plans
hounds your brain
vexes your senses.
give me morphine
give me oxycontin
give me knowledge
walking, moving
spread out my limbs
give me my life again.
give me doctor
without a damned perscription
an expert on a real body
look at me, move my parts
discover my affliction
take my insurance.
make me understand
what it's for
the reason I have this human
fallible, fragile body
what can I learn
from pain?

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Rat

This is a poem about a (financially) poor single mother - me.
It brings it all back.

The animal creeping through the darkened
dining room was bigger than a mouse.

I was sitting in the dim light of a single lamp one room away
children's voices floated from the drafty upstairs bedrooms,

cold air wafted through open crevices and thresholds
as news of the Gulf War babbled from the TV screen.

It came from beneath the window seat, a hole
in the rotten floorboards by the radiator

through the pitiful damaged latticework
that was meant to hide the rust and peeling paint.

As my head turned toward the unexpected motion
my heart said mouse, but my mind knew.

Stealthily it slithered to the remnant bird seeds
under the cage on the floor of the adjacent room.

The next night
up through the hole by the cellar laundry tub drain

a trap, a loud snap
the children and I went down to look.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

COEXIST V - Ideas on Faith

No matter what life throws my way I always see it through the eyes of my faith. I want to understand the bigger picture, the reason. I'm always asking God WHY, WHY, WHY? Then I wonder if asking WHY is the antithesis of faith. I am addicted to WHY, but like an alcoholic I must accept what I cannot understand or change. I do believe that I am not supposed to know everything. If I did, I guess I would be God! Albert Einstein said, The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.

I get carried away with the meaning of everything that happens instead of just accepting that life is sometimes frustrating and random. It would be arrogant to suggest that I could figure it all out. The tragedies of the world, the unnecesary suffering, the innocent children I see everyday already scarred by the life they've been given - there is no explanation except that God gave the world and His children free will. And we've screwed it up royally.

This is an excerpt from a Time Magazine article entitled: My Problem with Christianism by Andrew Sullivan. It begins with: Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? (Yes, I most definitely am.)

And there are those who simply believe that, by defintion, God is unknowable to our limited, fallible human minds and soul. If God is ultimately unknowable, then how can we be so certain of what God's real position is on say, the fate of Terri Schiavo? Or the morality of contraception? Or the role of women? Or the love of a gay couple? Also, faith, for many of us is interwoven with doubt, a doubt that can strengthen faith and give it perspective and shadow. That doubt means having great humility in the face of God and an enormous reluctance to impose one's beliefs, through civil law, on anyone else.

BINGO! I leave all the judging and decisions in God's capable hands. I've turned into a sort of "I'm OK, You're OK" person and if you're not, it's not up to me to decide that. To me, that is the meaning of COEXIST.

Sullivan goes on to say : As a Christian, I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.


Faith is not knowing it all, not understanding it all, not judging those whose shoes we have not walked in. Let go and let God.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Three Crosses

Three crosses
like three Valentines on the hill
flourishing on a green stage

fifty miles farther
into the Virginias, three crosses
like three birds on a branch
gazing down, singing

thirty miles towards Ohio, three crosses
like three grace notes
in the symphony of sheltering trees

a small white wooden cross
plastic flowers, a name and a date
steps from the highway
buckle up

a palm frond cross
hangs from the mirror
my hand floats to my throat, a silver cross
saving me from myself

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad

Tomorrow is my dad's 85th birthday. My dad is the kind of dad that makes all those birthday card verses true. I can't imagine having a more loving, kind and great man for a dad. My dad was the kind of dad that got in the kiddie pool with us and let us pour water on his head. He took us on vacations all over the country and, even after spending many hours in the car with three kids, he'd go miles out of his way to find a motel with a pool and a diving board. All my friends loved my dad. He makes everyone laugh. He finds humor in almost everything. We'd play practical jokes on him all the time because we knew he' d laugh and never get mad. (Like when we wrapped 68 golf tees individually for his birthday - hey, we were kids.) I could write the longest blog post in history about what a wonderful man he is and has always been, but you get the picture.
The school building I work in is one that my father went to as a child. The first day I walked into the building 14 years ago I saw an old photo on the wall of the office. I pointed and said - that's my dad! It was a photo of him sitting in the front row of his class. The secretary at the time said - oh, that's nice - and who are you? Anyway, the photo is still there. Dad is in the right front seat. Roxboro Elementary School is now 88 years old. Sometimes I'm walking down the halls of Roxboro and I try to imagine him walking the same halls all those years ago.

Happy Birthday, Dad. You're always with me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

My Book Shelf

Okay, sorry about the weird poem yesterday. I just love words and I collect them on a regular basis. I have notepads and notebooks full of words. The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is something you can get emailed to you daily. Mostly they are words that are unusable because no one knows what they mean, so I wrote a poem with them, just to make them worthwhile. To be honest, I can't remember what half of them mean now.
I love words and books. Check out my Shelfari book shelf on this blog. I'm going to try to keep it fresh. I've put on some old favorites and some books I've recently read. If you have any good books to recommend please let me know. If you put the cursor on the book you can get my very brief but insightful little review. Happy reading!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Merriam Webster's Word-of-the-Day Poem

I will not use a weasel word or truckle to common phrases.
It is untenable to think of the miasma
of grandiloquence in the English language.
A plenitude of fungible, sometimes jerkwater words.

Do you find me erudite? Supercilious? Or just soporific?
Please do not besmirch me,
but be lenitive with my poem of folderol.
I hope this does not rankle you or cause williwaw.
I am only displaying a protean deliquesce.

You scaramouch you! Do not jape at me
or extirpate my nomenclature!
I am only attempting to be apodictic, can't you see that?
Alas, I am a gadfly, a bodacious, syncategorematic kith,
an infranglible, toady poet who enjoys a languer of language.

Do not view this as an opprobrium, but a benison.
I have only salubrious intentions and do not mean to rankle
or appear intranspicious. I am, after all, sagacious.

Friday, February 15, 2008

This and That

Yesterday there was a very strange and unfamiliar light in the sky around Cleveland. It was eerie (not Erie). It seemed like something we remembered from long ago. At some point on the way to work I remembered - it was the sun. God gave us a Valentine. It showed up again this afternoon. Wow! Maybe we can still believe in spring.
Regarding my pain and whining - I went to a rhematologist. She gave me a long and deep injection of cortisone in each hip. I have had the shots once before so this is a last ditch effort - but I feel very hopeful. The last two days I have been hobbling around like the Tim Conway character on Carol Burnett - going oh so slow from the injection stiffness and soreness. But I'm so happy because it is a different kind of pain. I have a feeling some praying has been going on out there. Thank you.
Okay, be forewarned - a little rant is coming:
I despise the way actors and musicians are constantly awarding themselves for something they already get fame and money from. The myriad of award shows is laughable. That being said - sometimes I watch them for the fashion show and if it's the Grammy's I'm hoping to actually see a talented musician chosen to perform. This year's Grammy show did have two highlights for me. One was Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue - one of my favorite pieces of music ever - total class. The other was when Vince Gill accepted his award. A few awards ahead of him Kanye West got a Grammy. He got up and said something to the effect of - I deserve this because I'm the greatest artist there is. He went on and on in the same vein - and then when the music began to play he said it would be in bad taste for THEM to interrupt him. It was truly revolting.
So then Ringo Starr gives Vince Gill his Grammy. Vince says "Wow - I just got an award from a Beatle!" Then he smiled sweetly - looked out in the audience to Kanye and said, "Kanye , has that happened to you yet?" It was a great moment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Words from The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck:

Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss. The ultimate goal of life remains the spiritual growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can only be climbed alone. Significant journeys cannot be accomplished without the nurture provided by a successful marriage or a successful society. Marriage and society exist for the basic purpose of nurturing such individual journeys.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but not eat from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let
each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute
are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

Khalil Gibran

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Beautiful Moment, A Beautiful Family

I have an amazing and loving extended family - a whole slew of first and second cousins, most were originally from Pennsylvania and now spread out all over many states. Our parents were siblings and all of that generation is gone except for my mom and dad and my Uncle Dick. This weekend we all went to PA to celebrate his 90th birthday. Uncle Dick has Alzheimer's and is in a lovely assisted living center.
On this particular day he sat quietly at a card table and did not seem to notice the din of voices around him until someone would enter his viewing range. Then he would smile and say he was glad to see you. My cousin says "he knows we belong to him ."
My Uncle Dick has always been one of the happiest, most positive people I've ever known. He raised six children and entertained us all with music - from the piano, to the trumpet, to enthusiastic singing. One of our favorite memories as children was spending New Year's Eve at our cousin's house and hearing Uncle Dick play Auld Lang Syne on the trumpet on the front porch at midnight. The neighbors would all come out to hear it.
The party was lively and noisy as all of us cousins, our families, and some of Dick's friends enjoyed conversing around him. At certain moments during the afternoon I would watch my cousins lovingly care for his needs and attend to him with such dignity and grace.
In the midst of loud conversations and laughter two voices broke through. A man was kneeling next to my uncle with his arm around him. They were singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in perfect two-part harmony. Everyone stopped in silence until the long (many versed) song was through. My cousin told me that's the only song he remembers all the way through. It was a beautiful moment.
Later I thought about the man kneeling next to my uncle and the sensitivity and respect he had displayed by reaching into my uncle's memory in the best possible way. It was an act of love I hope never to forget.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Oh, the glorious phone call came last night. Earlier in the day I'd said to my husband, "We should really have a snow day tomorrow. "

He laughed in his I'm trying not to show how jealous I am that I didn't become a teacher laugh.

I said,"No really, I'm only thinking of the children - it's too cold!" More laughter - yeah right.

Early evening last night he shoved the phone at me frowning - "It's the superintendent." As I hung up the phone I did my happy dance.

There's very little snow here, but a whole lotta cold. Below zero wind chill. Too cold for the children. Really.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Whining and Pain

Today I am wondering why God made our bodies so complicated and fragile. I am not at church right now because I have a mysterious eye problem. My eyes are swollen and red and itchy for the third day. I look even older and more haggard than usual. I went to a family event yesterday and saw cousins I see only once a year. I wanted to say to everyone - I usually don't have these ginormous bags under my eyes ! But I didn't say anything.
I'm in a lot of leg-hip pain this week (and have been for the past year) My doctor had given me cortisone shots and they didn't work. He said - there's no room for pride in medicine, and I'm just going to tell you I don't know what's wrong. He's sending me to a rhematologist. I thanked him for his honesty. It was refreshing not have another useless perscription thrown at me. I will keep this doctor.
A few years ago I had back pain that continued to worsen. I was given a number of drugs and I tried rest and home remedies with no relief. I finally went to a physical therapist. He sat me on a table, had me stretch my legs out in front of me and asked me to look at them. One was shorter than the other! He leaned me back, put his arms around my body and yanked. Presto! He'd put my dislocated pelvis back where it belonged. Most of the pain was gone immediately. The doctor I had been seeking help from at the time had never even touched me or looked at me - just given me perscriptions that never would have put my pelvis back in place. Why? How hard could that have been? I struggled unnecessarily for months.
I haven't been able to do my yoga or put in my 1-2 miles of walking a day for almost 4 months and I feel like I'm in the wrong body. I'm somewhat depressed and completely lacking energy, and yet I know I have so much to be thankful for. I know that others are in much more pain and suffering than I am. It's a spiritual struggle every day between being thankful because I can carry on, I can walk (it just hurts) and having a pity party for myself because I can't do everythingI want to do right now.
I'm supposed to believe in miracles and that God can do anything, but I know He won't zap me with healing for my myriad of ailments (there are a few more). That's not the way He works. I live in the real world and in a human, fallible, vulnerable body. He'll help me get through the day, maybe guide me to the right physicians, teach me tolerance and compassion for those that suffer more than me. Maybe I'll learn to stop feeling sorry for myself or something else good will come of it. I don't know. Maybe somewhere in the blogosphere someone will read this and know the answer and we'll become life-long friends. Thanks for reading.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Oh, to be in Kindergarten

The other day I got to be the visiting author in the kindergarten class at the school where I work. It was definitely the highlight of my day. I am used to the jaded attitudes of evil and hormonal fifth graders. Their teacher, my friend Lynne, instructed them only to ask questions and not make comments (or tell long 6 year-old stories).They had obviously been well-trained in this - but you could just see their little mouths poised to tell you what was on their minds. I showed them my book Flying Over Midnight, and they really liked the pretty cover. I told them that my Mom painted it and they had lots of questions about that. One little boy asked what she used to paint it and I told him it was watercolors. He said very knowingly, "I thought it was watercolors."
I got reprimanded by another when I didn't use his name to call on him "I told you my name is Loki!" (Sorr-ry!)
Then the question I was afraid of - what is your book about? We-e-e-l-l-l - it's a grown-up book about a woman who is a mom and she plays the piano. Luckily that threw them off track and all of a sudden I heard from everyone who played the piano or knew someone who played the piano. Whew!
Then I got questions like - how did you make the words? How did I make the words? You mean how did I think of them? I used my imagination. No, how did you make them? You mean did I type them on a computer? No! I thought you would use a pen! Oh.
After we discussed using our imaginations and how writers have to practice, practice, practice, and how even grown-ups make mistakes and have to fix them - their teacher asked me if I could talk about editing. (In kindergarten???) Yes, because the kindergarteners are learning how to EDIT their work! Then I got to see some of their writing and I promised to come back and make comments on any future work they wanted to show me.
At the end of our session Lynne asked me to tell them my dog-got-sprayed-by-a-skunk-story from earlier in the week. And even though they weren't allowed to tell me stories - right at the end a little boy scooted up to me and whispered all in one breath I had a dog and he ate some paint off the chair and we took him to the doctor and he died and then he went to dog heaven.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Some Days . . .

Here's more good stuff from Anne Lamott - to some of my friends out there in the blogosphere who are struggling with life today -

I don't know why God won't just spritz away our hardships and frustration. I don't know why the most we can hope for on some days is to end up a little less crazy than before, less down on ourselves. I don't know why we have to become so vulnerable before we can connect with God and even sometimes with ourselves. . . . .I guess we're not supposed to understand some things. Bono, of U2, who is a Christian, says that his favorite song is "Amazing Grace" and his second favorite song is "Help Me Make It Through the Night" - and most of the time I have to let it go at that.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Why am I posting on my blog at 1:00 in the afternoon? I went to work today but I had to come back home at lunchtime because I smelled so bad! Let me explain - I did take a shower and put on deoderant and everything - but just as I was about to leave for work I let my little dog Stella in the house from potty-time and she'd been sprayed by a skunk! Her first time. I shoved her back outside, but too late - the house was fogged with the fragrance of Pepe Le Peuw. I tried washing her out on the deck - in the middle of a thunderstorm (one of the few things I'm afraid of). It seemed like she only got it in the nose, so I lathered her up with vinegar and water,(tomato juice seemed too messy for my rush) stripped off my clothes and started the wash, got dressed again and got to work only 30 minutes late. I thought I'd really pulled it off until I realized that I stunk! My hair and my hands in particular. I tried to make the best of it, but my friend Kim said she could smell it just walking past my room. My students kept putting their sweatshirts over their noses all morning - so I decided to end the torture. In hopes of a miracle cure I perused the Internet and read that your nose experiences "olfactory fatigue" and you cannot smell it yourself after a little while. (I could smell it but it was a lot worse than I thought.) Maybe that's why you can't smell your own bad breath. The vinegar helped my skin, but I think Stella's in for a few more baths.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Rantings of a Public School Teacher

Sometimes being an educator is like being on a ferris wheel - you take off all buckled in - you think it's going to be fun - you keep going around in circles - and you end up where you started. Culture, society and families keep changing with every circumference of the circle you travel, but some traits of children remain the same. They need structure, discipline, caring adults, role models, high expectations, encouragement, love etc.

Then again, some things have changed about children. School-age kids in 2008 (most,not all)have grown up being constantly entertained and are used to immediate gratification. They have participated in sports where everyone is a winner. They have been rewarded for doing homework and learning.

How does this translate in school? : Children who want to be entertained all day, be rewarded for doing their work and who don't have the tools necessary to deal with disappointment.

Then there are video games. Excessive violence in games + domestic violence = children who learn to react violently to everything.

Some five year-olds now come to school without knowing colors, shapes, letters or numbers, and yet the bar has been raised on kindergarten. The state says children should be able to read and do basic math before first grade!

So who teaches these kids how to take turns, how to wait in line without pushing and cutting, how to follow directions and complete work without a reward? Who teaches them manners and basic information? Who teaches them that fighting is not an option and that in real life sometimes you lose the game? TEACHERS.

If you are reading this then I am certain you are a parent who instills all those values and disciplines in your children. But be aware that your child's teacher has to spend a great amount of time teaching all that, plus refereeing and motivating children who haven't had the benefit of your kind of parenting. Whew! I'm exhausted!

Saturday, February 2, 2008


I already posted today but I want to add something. Last night we had a wonderful family birthday party for my son and me. Our birthdays are two days apart (so poor Ryan has had to share every one of his birthdays with his mom) My daughter sent packages from New York for us. Her gifts were so thoughtful. For Ryan - a blanket with a Welsh dragon symbol (the Welsh flag?) Ryan identifies with being Welsh on his dad's side and races Dragon sailboats. Kate sent me a lilac candle - it's my favorite fragrance - a beautifully bound notebook -for my writing obviously - a lovely artistic glass plate (for the artist in me). Also, the white tights I've been searching for! We were able to share the evening with her through a web cam. Such an amazing invention! My parents were in total amazement that we were talking to and seeing Kate! But that was because of another incredibly thoughtful gift from my sister, Janie. At Christmas she had my name and when I opened the gift there were two web cams - one for me and one for Kate.
My brother and sister-in-law gave me a book by Amy Grant because they know I am big fan. My mom and dad gave me a tea pot and warmer. I am a tea addict and it is already sitting on a table next to me as I write today. Ryan and his girlfriend gave me a gift card to a spa (who can't use a massage?)My husband gave me a fantastic, romantic dinner out this week and a great carrying case for my lap top (which was my Christmas present and I LOVE it.)We always say it's the thought that counts - and it is. I could buy myself any of these things, but I wouldn't. All of these gifts were thoughtful and given with great love and I am so blessed that all of these people are in my life. Thanks, family.

Misty Watercolor Memories

What are the images held deeply and eternally in your mind? Which are true memories and which are memories from photographs? Sometimes I fear that much of what I remember comes from the split second someone held a small machine up - its eye to their eye - and let the shutter open on that moment in time. What about the rest of time when no one did that? What remains?
Which memories are real and true and which are changed with time? Or does it matter? My father is 85 years old and he tells stories of his youth with such clarity, his face filled with the emotion of that moment. He's feeling the impact again - 50, 60, 70 years later.
Memories are attached to emotions. How did it feel to wake up on Christmas morning as a child? (How did it feel when your mother said - it's 5 am - go back to bed!) How did it feel as the front tire of your first two-wheel bike hit a bump and you lost control, or to kiss the person you would marry for the first time, or to see a beloved grandparent in a casket? How did it feel to unwrap the blanket on your newborn child and try to comprehend that you had any part in creating a miracle?
We remember these moments because we remember how they felt, good or bad. It's, of course, all relative, good and bad. You can't have one without the other. I don't live in the past or dwell on regrets (much) but sometimes I allow myself to recall emotionally devastating moments in my life, and I recognize how far I've come and what I learned from those experiences.
The only thing I fear is not remembering my children's childhood and youth. It went so fast. Sometimes they recall things that I don't and we can share that. When they were small I didn't have much money, and film and developing were not always in the budget. A video camera was out of the question. But when I start wishing things had been different - I remember - I have THEM. My amazing son and daughter. That's what matters now. I still have them and we're still making memories.