Tuesday, January 15, 2019

night time

A part of me longs to be inside my home when the sun sets and night comes on. A part of me likes the idea of being tucked in, settled down. I like being in the light with the darkness beyond the windows.

But sometimes, I am still at work when night falls. And when I look from my window, I can see the city beyond the practice field and school buildings.

I love the way the lights of the city glitter. I love that being in my office also feels a little like I'm tucked in and the world is "out there." I love looking into the night knowing that I am in the light.

But sometimes I am in a car at night, driving by homes where the people who live there are tucked in and I am the one on the outside, in the night. I am behind the car lights that glitter and flash in windows as we pass. I like the idea of seeing the windows of light, seeing families at a table, talking, or on couches, watching tv. I like to think of them tucked in and glad to be inside during the night. I like to imagine their lives. I always imagine them safe and happy, safe from the dark. Settled.

If I had my wish, I'd be inside, tucked in for the night, eating dinner and reading or watching tv, and imagining that the cars driving by were envying my being the one in the light, out of the night, and settled.

Monday, January 7, 2019

writing in the real world

Gabe's letter to Santa, complaining about his mom

We spent Christmas with our son and his family in Arizona. As part of that visit, I was able to see my grandchildren use writing for meaningful purposes in their lives--and I couldn't have been happier! On Christmas Eve, Tatum (5) wrote a note to Santa's elves. She wanted to make sure they wouldn't eat the gingerbread houses she and Gabe had made. Her note says: Dear elves: Please do not eat our gingerbread houses. I don't want you to eat it so you should not eat it. Love, Tatum. (spelling corrected).
Gabe's was written around the same time, to Santa. I had heard the exchange when he was asking his mom about why Tatum got to stay up as late as he did (he's 10). In exasperation (and humor), she said something like "I must like her more than you." A little while later, the letter pictured above appeared on the counter: Dear Santa, Today my mom told me that she likes Tatum more than me. I really don't think that's fair. I do all kinds of stuff for her. I babysit, do chores, make breakfast, make dinner. I also make my sisters happy. Please write back telling my mom not to have favorites. The good boy, Gabe.
Now, I know that Gabe is secure in his mother's affections, so I can see the humor in the situation. I also think that it's telling that both of these children see writing as a way to make things happen in the world. How cool is that???
As a writing teacher, I had to notice the different argumentative moves made by the two: Tatum was pretty much saying don't do it because I don't want you to do it--assuming that her desires carry weight with the elves, I suppose. Gabe, however, used evidence. He listed all the things he does to be a good, productive member of the family--to have value--and ended with a call to action: a letter back from Santa reprimanding his mother.
I know I love these two kids, so I find everything they do cute. But I also look at this experience from the perspective of someone who writes and who teaches writing and writing teachers. I love that these two see power in writing. And that they turn to writing to accomplish their own purposes. To me, that is the goal of my teaching--to help writers feel that power and that desire. I am not their teachers, but I am a proud grandmother who is glad someone who believes as I do is teaching my grandchildren!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Learning to write

I love my grandchildren's writing, especially when they are first learning to write. These are recent pages my daughter sent from our five-year-old grand-daughter, Shannon. She's in kindergarten.
I love the sentiment. I love the images accompanying the text. I even love the misspellings as they are evidence of learning.

I wonder, though, as teachers, when we stop being charmed by evidences of learning, when we stop seeing errors as the writer taking risks and start seeing the errors, instead, as wrong. As mistakes. As bad writing. Could I correct Shannon's spelling? Of course. But why would I? I don't mind that she spells my name with an o at the end instead of an a. I know her. I know that she's thinking of one of the sounds an o can make. (She's kind of a stickler for letters making the sounds she knows and doesn't like it at all when letters make different sounds in some words.)

Loving the notes and letters my grandchildren send me reminds me that we are all learners. Do I sometimes have to hold students to a standard? Yes. But not every time they write. And sometimes, even in polished writing, I should probably look at some of what my students do as risks they have taken, as their attempt to address something I may not understand, as evidence of learning in process. I should think of them as people. If I do that, I take a more human perspective. And, in the end, I might take more risks in my own writing, maybe giving myself the same freedom to take risks and try something that I might not be really good at. I hope so, anyway.

Monday, January 8, 2018

circle of life

Last week four people we knew passed away, relatives and friends. Some of the loss was expected and a blessing for lives in suffering; others were surprises. We were able to attend two funerals and still have one to go to.

During the same week, we also attended a sealing of a young woman we came to know and love after we were assigned to be her home teachers last year. Two days later we (with my parents) were able to seal 56 relatives to our family, extending the connections further.

And then, to top off the week, we had a new addition to our family: a new grand-daughter. What a delight and a blessing. Even though we haven't seen her in person yet, we love her already. Family members texted in the hours before her birth, all joyously awaiting her arrival, reminding me that a baby binds us together in happy ways.

And after a week like this--with all its ups and downs, with its joys and sorrows--I am reminded that this is the stuff of living. Through it all, our family holds. We have the things that matter most: a knowledge of life after this one and the connection of family that extends beyond the doors of death. Blessed!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Flaws and Beauty

Over Thanksgiving we met two of our children (and their families) who live in the southern part of the US and spent the holiday with them on the Gulf Coast, in a town called Navarre. The beach was beautiful--white sand as far as we could see. And, because it was "winter," the beach was pretty much our own. Our condos looked out on the ocean, which was sparkling and clear. From the pier, we could see all the way to the sandy bottom of the water, so we could observe small sharks, stingrays, and the large turtles that flocked the area (probably because of the turtle rescue facility there).

I read a little about the area. It seems that the town was the site for the filming of the second Jaws film. Eerie to think about when we were in the water! But the town--and the beach--had been partially destroyed several times since then by hurricanes. When the hurricanes come, the beach is often erased by the wind and waves. Afterward, new sand is dredged up from under the water and blown onto the beach again. That can explain why it is so white and clean, I suppose. And filled with shells.

In my office, I have a bowl of shells I have collected from beaches I have visited around the world. I can't remember which shell is from which beach anymore, but I put them in a clear bowl to remind me of the beaches I have visited. Favorite memories. On this trip, my grandchildren had collected grocery bags full of shells and laid them out to examine on the deck of the condo. As I looked at them, admiring their beauty, I realized that none of the shells was perfect. Each had a flaw of some sort. I imagined the flaws were the result of some ocean hazard--waves beating them against the sand, currents carrying them against rocks, even sea creatures using and then discarding them. Each mark that made the shell imperfect was the result of a struggle, but each mark, now, on the shore, drying in the sun, made the shells beautiful. Unique. Strong. They had survived intact. As I studied them, I realized that in each case, the beauty of each shell existed in the aspects that might be considered flaws. Just like us: it isn't perfection that makes us special. It is the way we carry our struggles and move on. Smoothing over the broken edges and becoming something else. Something better.

Thursday, October 20, 2016


The word "serendipity," I learned, was coined in 1754 in a letter from one author to another, explaining the happy chance of learning something he had wondered about in a book he was reading. When I look up the word online, I find lots of boundaries for it--it can't be looked for, as it is partly related to chance; it isn't planned, but it can occur in the process of a planned event; it is always happy (there is another word for unhappy things that happen randomly; and it isn't just a synonym for chance as there's the happy element to it, too. I guess I would say that being in the right place at the right time to experience something that might not have occurred at another time or place--and that the experience is happy--is a good way to summarize what I read.

This morning I was walking from my car to my office and just happened to spy a hot air balloon flying low over the south end of campus, just above the trees. It had the morning sun shining on it, making it almost sparkle. I grabbed my phone to snap a photo before it was gone.
It looked like it was just sitting there, balancing on the trees. I just had to smile. Big.  

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were running an errand as the sun was setting. I commented on the beauty of the reflected rays of the snow on the mountain tops. I said, "Pull over. Let me take a picture!" He did and I did. I took three, trying to get some trees in the shot to frame the mountain better than in this first shot. But even in the moments spread from the first photo to the third, the sun had changed; the colors were not as spectacular. The moment was gone, almost as fast as I could say how beautiful it was. 

These are truly serendipitous moments, captured because I was in a time and place at just the right moment to see the beauty. I think of all the moments like this in my life--fleeting, happy, beautiful. Sometimes I try to take a mental picture, but they fade. These moments add something to the beauty of my life. In my church, we have a phrase, "tender mercies," to describe the little ways God blesses us that we might not notice if we aren't paying attention. I think these serendipitous moments are tender mercies. Like a genuine smile or a hug from a friend when you're feeling down, they are small in the big picture but oh so meaningful in terms of our spirit. I need to pay attention. I know there are more of them in my life than I remember. And how rich would my life be if I could record and remember them all! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Fences and Sky

Fences and sky
Boundaries and freedom
Fences stretching to horizon,
Boundaries on what I can do,
Where I can go.

Built tough.
By hands meant to tame
Meant to separate
Yours and mine.
Meant to show
What is. 

Beyond the fence is sky.
Open, free, ever-changing.
God’s gift of potentials. 

Fences against sky.
Both frame and free.
Fences leading to sky.
Together: beauty.