Sunday, April 29, 2007

Poems for Poetry Month

Since April is National Poetry Month, and April is almost gone, and I haven't posted any poetry yet, I thought I had better do so. I've been too busy to write any poetry lately, so I thought I would share some poems I've written over the years. Here, then, with no apologies or excuses, are a few of my efforts...

This one I wrote for Donald Murray at the conclusion of a Summer Studies in composition class I took with him at the University of New Hampshire. Murray is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, so it was a bit daunting to work with him.

I didn't come
to be published
(although that would be nice).
I just came
to learn
(and I
am doing that).

I also wanted
to be praised
to be proud
to be patted on the back.

Instead . . .
I am learning a craft
--new to me--
and therefore
slow to me

Be patient.
Let me come as I am and absorb as I can
the mystery
the magic
the mastery.

Whenever I assign creative writing projects to my students, I try to write with them, as I feel it's important that they see their teacher write. These are haiku written outside with freshmen:

There's a hint of co-
lor in today's April breeze:
Green. Or is it earth?

Plant the seed. Tamp it
down with fingers strong and lean.
Tender it a life.

O wind a blowin' --
Bring the bright song: so haunting,
So true, and rooted.

Poets on the grass,
in the trees, on the steps. What
kind of class is this?!!!

And finally, this won third prize in a poetry writing contest many years ago. I got $75 for it and used it to go see Les Miserables (one of three times I've seen it)!

Exact Change Only

They ask for the world.
but I only have a star to give:
radiant and bright,
light years away.
Not enough, they say, and too far.

They ask again to give them the world.
So I say take North America:
democratic and liberated.
Not enough, they say, and too bold.

They come asking yet one more time.
I offer a dollar--it's all I have, now.
but they want exact change only.

If they ask again, Lord,
I'll need your help:
loving, merciful,
And--do you have change for a dollar?

Break me, Lord.
take what I am
And make in me the change.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Beechwood

Thursday afternoon, we took a break and went into town (we are actually meeting in a conference room on Goat Island, just off the coast of Newport) to tour the famous Beechwood, summer cottage home to the Astors. The tour was a real treat in itself, never mind the fact the we were walking around inside one of the most famous homes of the last century. Lady Astor invented the Social Register concept you know (no, I didn't until Thursday).

The hook to this tour is that it's a theatrical performance. The guides are all college graduates who live in the house during their employment. Depending on the day, they play the part of servants, family members, or other historical characters connected to the house. The day we were there, the guides were servants and we were there supposedly to apply for a summer job in the "cottage."

This meant that they could only tell us information and answer questions specific to they year they were "living" in, which was 1891. It was great fun, and quite fascinating. By the end, I decided that I would prefer to be her Lady's personal maid because she would get to travel wherever Lady Astor went, including any of her four other homes (Paris, London, upstate NY, and NY City).

As you might imagine, the home is beautiful. And a servant's life under Lady Astor's watch wasn't all that bad. She treated them very generously, according to these character actors, who had obviously researched the people they were portraying quite thoroughly. They could earn as much as $150 a month and got a free pint of ale every Sunday to drink immediately or spread throughout the week, as they wished.

If they finished their assigned work quickly, they didn't have to do anything else for the day. It was not up to them to help in areas not assigned to them. Doing so would make the other obsolete. So if you finished early, you could sit and relax or read or whatever else you long as it was out of sight of the family.

Photos: The ball room (with a view of the ocean, just past the piano)

Ceiling corner of the ball room

The upstairs "maid" who took us through the "cottage" standing in the entry hall just in front of an enormous portrait of Lady Astor (who is not wearing much jewelry because it was before 6 and that would have been a social fiasco)

Lady Astor's bedroom (in purple because she believed that the color scheme of one's bedroom indicated one's social status and since she was "Queen of Society," all her bedrooms in all her homes were the color of royalty!)

Mr. Astor's bedroom with "Michael," a young man who used to be a servant in the house but who now works for someone in town (I forget). He's quite tall, by the way: 6"6"! The other guide had to go settle a domestic dispute of her own with a "handsome young man with flowers" in his hand =)

Friday, April 27, 2007

AUCOEAC in Newport

I've been in Newport, Rhode Island the past two days for principals and administrators meetings (AUCOEAC stands for Atlantic Union Conference Office of Education Administrative Council. My sister calls this the alphabet committee!). These twice yearly meetings bring together some two dozen colleagues from New England, New York, and Bermuda. In the fall, we meet at the Union headquarters in South Lancaster. In the spring, we travel to various locations within the Union. Last year, we were in New York City. This year, we are in Newport.

I've only been to Newport once before, many years ago. I don't really remember a lot about it, although my mother says we walked along the Cliff Walk to see some of the famous mansions. I vaguely remember that, but not enough to recognize anything now.

Yesterday afternoon, we toured The Beechwood, summer "cottage" of the Astors. It was fantastic. I've taken dozens of pictures, but have to be off to another meetings, so will have to post them later, perhaps tonight when I get back, or tomorrow morning before we meet again.

My hotel room has a view of the harbor. In fact, I'm staying in the Newport Harbor Hotel =)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Long hours, bright spots

It's been a busy two days so far this week. You might know. After a pleasant, peaceful, leisurely week off, the first days back would have to be packed. Yesterday afternoon, my superintendent surprised me by arriving 5 hours early for our board meeting! We spent a couple of hours doing personnel business (I have at least one teacher to find for next year) before he went off to amuse himself for a couple of hours. I had finance committee at 5 and board at 7. Fortunately, I have a supportive group of people to work with and it's not really the chore it could be. Still, it was stressful to essentially be under the gun for several hours straight. I got home exhausted after having been at school for 14 hours!

Today, I was out straight again, with faculty meeting at 3:15 and church board meeting at 7. That meeting lasted longer than school board last night. Again, both meetings went well. It's just tiring to be "on" for 14+ hours straight, without any breaks. Not that I'm complaining. There are plenty of enjoyable and sweet moments in my day. Take this morning, for example. As principal, I like to visit each classroom at least once a day, not to check up on the teachers so much as to let them know I am interested in what they are doing, and that I am there to support them. I also want the students to know I care about them and their education.

So, I started with the PreK/K classroom. I arrived just as they were finishing up their worship. How precious to hear their prayers! They were thankful for so much. An almost endless list. Put a completely different spin on my outlook on the day! I moved on to the other classrooms. One, I found outside praying around the flag pole. And the junior high and high school students were in the midst of a prayer meeting. What a powerful reminder of who is really in charge of our school. What better way for the students and staff to start the day than under the watch care of their Saviour!

Meanwhile, outdoors, something beautiful was happening. While yesterday the buds were all but bursting open, today, they all had burst forth. Magnolia, forsythia, azalea, even dandelions, all painting bright spots within my line of vision everywhere I turned. And the birds! Singing competitions going on in every tree.

I love this time of year!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bear With Me

I have a fairly significant collection of bears. It started years ago when a student of mine gave me a bear for some occasion or other. It was just a regular bear, but it started my interest in these cuddly creatures.

That first bear was a bare bear. But most of the bears I've purchased/received since are dressed in various fashions. Some came from specific places. Others from special people. Still others for particular events. All bring smiles to my face whenever I see them.

In picture #1, the bear on the right is from Rockport, MA. I got her last summer when I was there for a writing workshop. The other two came from local stores.

In picture #2, the "Tea" bear came from a dear friend who also collects bears (as well as Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls). She's also a librarian and is responsible for introducing me to a number of favorite books and authors. The right hand bear was a present for my 50th birthday. Sigh.

Photo #3 shows some of my Patriotic bears. The one one the left in the cowboy hat, oddly enough comes from airport in Dallas I believe.

Photo #4 shows the adorable "Raining Cats and Dogs" bear that I got at Pickety Place, a restaurant my sisters and I took our mother to for her 75th birthday. Next is my Good Luck bear holding a 4-leaf clover, and the bear I got in Jacksonville, FL when I was there one summer for curriculum committee.

Photo #5 shows another bear from my librarian friend, an adorable Barnes & Noble bear from my niece, a brave bear lady who survived Katrina (she has a tag to that effect) in a shop in New Orleans.

Maine Attraction

I spent the weekend in Maine with my parents. It's one of my favorite escapes, and even though I'd just had a week off from school, it was still a relief and a blessing to spend a few days with them. Friday night was good for relaxation and conversation.

Yesterday, we stayed around the house (we were going to go to the ocean, but my dad wasn't feeling his best), reading, talking, soaking up the sun, watching the birds, enjoying the flowers.

My mom has an amazing green thumb. Some of her house plants are more than 30 years old! I love plants, but two things prohibit long life at my place: my cats, who like to knock things over and onto the ground, and my busy schedule which lends itself to neglect on my part. I've done pretty well at my office at school, though, keeping 4 African violets alive for almost two years now.

The gold finch were out in full force over the weekend. It was especially lovely yesterday, with temperatures reaching 80 for the first time since the fall. I sat outside for awhile just watching the fly around, eat from the feeders, and play tag with each other in the trees. The air was filled with their chatter and that of dozens of other birds. Mixed in with the birds was the melodious wind chime there in the back yard. It was magical!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Silly Cats and Quilts

So I was trying to change my sheets and put a new quilt on my bed this morning. Of course nothing would do but Teddy and May had to help me. They insisted on depositing themselves in the middle of the bed, right where I was trying to work.

They're not used to having me home days in a row (it's Spring Break, at long last), so they seem to feel the need to keep me in their sights at all times. Wherever I go, they are sure to find me. From one room to the next, they follow me. It seems to be fine if they leave me, but I'm not allowed to leave them. Not as long as I'm in the building at least.

The bedspread, by the way, is something I've been wanting and searching for for years. For the longest time I wanted a blue and white bedroom. Finally, three summers ago, my sisters re-papered the walls with the pretty flower print, but I couldn't find a quilt I wanted, so I made do with others. Monday, I found it in a store I've searched countless times. And it was only $39! To say I was happy would be an understatement...

A Spring View

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.

From A Spring View
~Tu Fu (c. 750)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I haven't been able to move far from the TV these past two days, ever since I first heard the news of the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday morning. Times like these fascinate me, but depress me even more. In this age of nearly instant information most of the time, the VT students were vulnerable in spite of it. I am sickened for each and all of those killed, horrified and saddened for their families.

Turns out one of the professors in the English department was a dear friend of the English teacher at our school. She called him this morning and heard his story. He was in his office when the shootings started and got an email informing him and other professors that there was a "gunman on the loose." He was instructed to stay inside and away from the windows. He did, however look out of his window occasionally. While he did not lose anyone close to him (as far as he knew this morning), his wife (also a professor in the English department) did. One of her favorite students, someone her husband described as "the one she probably looked forward to seeing in class the most," was shot and killed.

I keep thinking about what I would do if this happened at our school. I keep thinking about losing so many students at one time. I keep thinking about the surprise and shock of it all. And yet there had to be signs. This couldn't have been a surprise to those who knew the shooter. I find myself going through my mind at what I know about the kids and the people I work with. And my mind just reels...and I find no good answers. That young man...what anger...what hurt. We do not know the depth of it, nor will we ever I suspect.

What I do know, above all else, though, is that I'm grateful for the privilege of working at a Christian school where we start each day, each class with prayer. We put our lives and those of our families in God's hands each morning. That's the most and the best we can do...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blogland Musings

I spent much of yesterday reading blogs. It was a fascinating experience, going from blog to blog and randomly picking out blogs to read from their blogrolls. Before I knew it, much of my day had gotten away from me, but I wouldn't call it a wasted day. I learned a lot, was inspired a lot, found a lot of places I want to go back to visit regularly.

Every night after I've eaten supper, I settle in for my evening ritual of catching up with old friends in blogland. Until recently, all but two have actually been old friends--people I really do know. But yesterday I found people I wanted to get to know better, who will, with time, become old friends as well.

My friend Morning Ramble nominated me for a Thinking Blogger Award last week. I was really touched at what she said. We go back to high school days but, until blogging came along, only stayed in touch at Christmas time. Now, we visit with each other several times a week. I feel as if I know her better than when I saw her every day all those years ago. Same with my classmate Sunny, also nominated. Part of the rules of the Thinking Blogger Award are that you have to nominate other Thinkers. These two would be on my list if they weren't already awarded. So I will have to do more research before I put my list of five out there.

One thing for sure, though, my readership spiked after Thursday =) This was a kind of private blog until then. But now, I see readers from all over the world have found their way to May's Day primarily via Morning Ramble. It's humbling to think that there are people out there who are reading my thoughts. Even more so to know that some have come back, several times now. I wish there was a way to know who they are so I can visit them via blogland if not face to face.

Pictures: African Violets in my bathroom window. Cactus that a student gave me about 8 years ago. It's a little beat up because my cats keep finding ways to dump it from wherever I put it (as recently as last night!). It blooms 2-3 times a year.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Alma mater plays into memory making

It was alumni weekend at my college alma mater this weekend. 125 years! My class of 1977 was one of the honored classes (30...). My first boss (head of the library) was celebrating his 70th! That's a lot of years at one place!

I only attended church and the play on Saturday night (King Lear), but I enjoyed everything about the festivities. So many people to reconnect with! So many layers of age to peer through to find the young people we once were...

The two alumni of the year were people I have connections with. The oldest, class of 1951, was a very good friend of my fathers from high school on. While they were citing all his achievements, I was remembering the stories of pranks and other good times I'd heard from my dad.

The other honoree was a member of my own class and had been the RA on our hall the year my sister and I lived in the dorm. Her litany of achievements was lengthy and impressive. She's accomplished many things in the 30 years since she graduated. Made me start thinking about what I've done with my own life in those same 30 years. The list wouldn't be as long, and the achievements wouldn't be as startling (there were a lot of "first women," "first African American," and "first African American woman" accolades in it), but it seems to me that the public-ness of what one does shouldn't be the only criteria for determining the worth of one's accomplishments. Seems as if the depth and breadth of one's influence should matter, too.

Not that I'm clamoring to be an Alumna of the Year. That's not my point. But I do wish that once in awhile they would honor someone for doing their job well, no matter how quietly and obscurely they are doing it.

Speaking of public accomplishments, the play of the evening was King Lear and it was directed by one of my students of some 24 years ago. He not only directed and produced the play, but starred as Lear, doing a fantastic job. Playing the role of Edgar was another student, also doing an outstanding job. I'd even go so far as to say "amazing." Both these young men were avid readers and thoughtful students when I first knew them. It was a privilege to teach them and nurture their interest in literature, composition, and drama. I am delighted to say that I gave each of them the opportunity and encouragement to begin the journey that took each of them to their PhDs in literature.

The director is a professor of English and married to a very fine cellist and professor of music, both at my alma mater (and his). The actor is a writer and actor married to the morning anchor of one of the Boston TV stations. They have each made their own way since I taught them, of course, but I am not a little proud of the part I had in shaping their interests and abilities when they were much younger...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Music to my Ears

One of my favorite things in the world is listening to good music. I’ve been doing it since I was born, thanks to my parents who also love good music and made certain that my sisters and I had ample opportunity to not only hear it but play it. All three of us took lessons on at least two instruments (I learned three), played in our school bands, sang in our school choirs, and played in orchestras into our adult lives. We have traveled the world thanks to memberships in music groups. Our lives have been enriched beyond our young imagining through music.

I was a junior in academy when my family moved to the Boston area. Over the years since that move, some 36 years ago now, I’ve been to Symphony Hall scores of times...with family, on dates, and with friends. It’s been a treat every time, but my favorite times have been when I brought my students with me. What a joy to introduce young people to world-class music played by world-class musicians in one of the world’s finest concert halls. Wednesday, I had that privilege yet again, along with five colleagues. We took grades 7-12 to hear a concert especially for students. We took the subway in, without incident, and had about 1/2 hour to wander the mall across the street near the Christian Science complex before going in for the concert.

Members of the orchestra had chosen pieces that had inspired them as young people to become musicians. As a result, it was a particularly kids-friendly concert. I had played all but one of the pieces in my own band/orchestra experiences, so it was an especially good listening experience for me. I was pleased, though, with the whole experience. Our kids were extremely well behaved. They were quiet during the concert, cooperative on our trip to and from school, and happy to have been introduced to the BSO (it was a first for most of them).

I actually play classical music in my classroom frequently while students are writing and taking tests, so they are used to hearing it in the background. Seeing it performed live was new and exciting, though. Quite a few went out of their way to thank me for taking them. That was music to my ears, too.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Random thoughts about The Bible

"It's got everything you want in a book: sex, violence, mystery, intrigue...." I was watching CBS Sunday Morning (a weekly ritual most Sundays for me) yesterday. One of the features was a piece about the Bible. Several items caught my attention, including the opening line here. I actually heard someone say almost that exact same thing a number of years ago in an airport waiting room. They looked to be a college student and they were talking on their cell phone (yes, I was eaves dropping) about "this great book I'm reading." They proceeded to describe all the amazing short stories it was filled with: tales of intrigue, murder, mayhem, sex, and assorted deviant behavior. I was at first amused, then a little appalled. But you know, strictly speaking, that's true. I wonder, though, if all those stories had any kind of impact on this young man. Never having tried it, I don't know how you can read the Bible through and not get the real point of all the stories.

More tidbits: The 1966 Good News for Modern Man was the first major update of the KJV (I have one of these in my office).

Nowadays, publishers are looking for new markets, non-traditional customers... They are marketing the Bible for all kinds of readers. There's the Biblezine (scripture in a magazine format for teenage girls), the Bride's Bible, the Waterproof Bible (what, so you can read it under water?!), The Bible Experience (an audio Bible recorded by actors and musicians), and many others.

Denzel Washington, one of the actors reading passages for The Bible Experience said this: "The Bible is the best-seller year after year. Inside of each of us we have something tugging at us...the God within us...we all search...this is the answer people are looking for, they just don't know it. Listen to it...give it a shot."

My own collection of Bibles includes a paperback Reach Out Bible, Philips' New Testament, KJV red letter edition, Harper's Study Bible, zippered KJV, small zippered KJV with hymnal (grandmother's that I take on trips), the Life Study Bible (NKJV), The Clear Word, The Message Bible, blue French Bible, red Spanish Bible (grandfather's), The Narrated Bible (in Chronological order), small KJV (SLA seniors) and a leather bound Living Bible that my dog once tried to eat.

My father has an even bigger collection of Bibles, all of which he uses at various times. It's interesting to compare versions to get the best possible understanding of what you're studying.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

April Fool's Day

Well, this obviously isn't April 1st, but nature certainly did fool us today by pouring down snow on us. It started spitting out the white stuff around 3. By the time I left school just before 5, the damp, dark branches were outlined in contrast by the thick, heavy snow.

The just-bloomed flowers were all but suffocated. The crocuses were completely buried and the daffodils were bowed almost to the ground with the weight of white. It was beautiful all the same.

Spring storms like this bring out the analogies. Some of our staff comes from warmer climes (like Hawaii and Jamaica), so they heard all kinds of stories of other April (or later) storms from veteran New Englanders. I recalled the year I graduated from college when a similar storm brought down the lilacs and froze the tulips just days before the big weekend. The grounds crew had to plant all new flowers around the auditorium to cover for the poor frozen tulips.

Another year, some 10 years ago, a colleague and I had tickets to opening day at Fenway Park. We were very excited to be going...we'd even taken the day off from school (a rare thing for me), and were all ready to go when a huge snowstorm descended on us and snowed the game out! I couldn't believe it. They postponed it to the next day, but we were leaving on a choir tour to Russia that day, so I had to give the tickets to my parents. They enjoyed the game while I watched the opening innings in the airport while waiting to board our plane for Moscow.

So it goes in New England. I wouldn't trade it for anywhere else, though.