Mary Oliver

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


I began this post with just Oliver’s poem because there is no way to introduce it. It is, perhaps, the most lovely thought-provoking poem. I don’t pray. Much. But I think. A lot. Usually outside. My son calls it listening to the wind. Perhaps that is what I do. I find myself stopped in mid-something watching the spider make his way across the log and over the stones. His delicate legs quickly carrying his compact body. Searching out the safest route. Turning quickly to avoid a trap. Where does it go? To a home? To other spiders? What does it think?  Does it know what I don’t? I don’t have the answers to the big questions but I believe that comfort, peace, and knowledge are there if we stop and wonder.




Remembering Ramona

My daughter turns 8 this summer. She is my youngest and my only daughter so her upcoming birthday has me thinking in ways that her older brothers did not. It is not only that she is taller, or more wordy, or more sassy than ever before (she has always been sassy).  But what strikes me as so strange is that I remember being her age. I remember being an 8-year old little girl with strawberry blond hair and skinny legs skinned at the knees. I remember sparkle nail polish and climbing trees  in my stylish new purple shorts. I remember being caught between kid and girl.

I also remember Beverly Cleary. Between the ages of 7 and 10 I read (or was read to) every Beverly Cleary book available. My favorite? The Ramona series. Ramona the Brave, Ramona the Pest, Ramona Quimby  Age 8, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona and her Father.  The list goes on and on. Then on to all the many many upper elementary daily life heroes in Ms. Cleary’s joyful stories. So, I introduced my daughter to Ramona. The first paragraph swept me right back to my childhood. You know how certain smells can bring you back to a specific moment in time? The first page of Ramona the Brave took me right back to Denton, Texas. A little girl in a rainbow room listening to a story about another little girl who was just my age. Snuggling next to my mother as she read “Ramona Quimby, brave and fearless, was half running, half skipping to keep up with her big sister Beatrice on their way home from the park.”

Now I am the one reading those words. My daughter’s response? Pleeeeaaase, just one more page mommy.  So here we go. Another generation falls in love with that loud, sweet, frustrating, funny, and totally understandable little girl from Oregon.


Inward Loneliness

skitched-20140321-090309I just ran across this great article. What an amazing teacher. What a wonderful way to help combat the feelings of isolation before they turn into something destructive. I specifically agree with the belief that the source of outward violence is inward loneliness. After Columbine, after Sandy Hook (only a few miles away from where I live), and after countless acts of violence among children and adolescents, I truly belief that the root cause is loneliness.

This teacher has created a way to be in the “know” about her students. Not just their grades or reading levels, but their inner feelings and the clicks that they may not even be conscious of.  And she did all this without having to ask them. I can see this working so well in an elementary classroom.

But how would this work in a middle or high school class? How do we, as secondary teachers, pinpoint the inner loneliness in our teenage students? How do we work within our classrooms to combat those feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and feelings of being lost  to a group of humans who by definition are all dealing with those feelings to some extent? How do we as teachers stop the violence before it even begins?

I will keep thinking. Every day. It’s important.

The Shape of a Story with Kurt Vonnegut

I love stories. Just love them.  I also love Kurt Vonnegut. So what better way to teach kids how to analyze a story than with Vonnegut’s dry sense of humor and his laid-back brilliance.

We all know about the pyramid structure of a story. You know, the exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and, my favorite word, the denouement. It has a name; Freytag’s Pyramid. It’s good for analyzing plot structure and it’s easy to understand. However, not every story fits into this neat little pyramid. When you take into account individual characters the pyramid starts to crumble.

Vonnegut has given us another way to analyze the shape of a story. The use of both of these techniques blend perfectly into a classroom. Students get it. The story comes to life and we begin to see how the structure of a story, the pyramid, is different for different characters. Now we can analyze the structure in collaboration with the characters and point of view.

I ran across a blog by writer and teacher David Lomax. So, I can’t take the credit for connecting these dots. But it works. It’s cool.

Take a look at the video where Vonnegut describes his way of thinking about a story. It’s only a few minutes and well worth it. There’s a reason he’s an icon.

The Homework Hour (or hours…)

It may seem obvious but having a consistent place to study will help immensely.  Creating a study area will help with concentration, organization, and completion of assignments. All of the class note-taking, listening, and writing down of assignments won’t help if the act of studying takes place in an unproductive environment.

The way we learn plays into the best type of study area we need (more on that in the post about Learning Styles). But here are a few basics:

Eat before you study: Yes, even eating is a distraction. But in order to feel re-charged you have to feed your body. Don’t try to eat and study. You won’t do either very well. Every reach for the chip takes away attention from that math problem. Plus, the salsa dripped all over your 3-page essay won’t sit well with your English teacher (believe me, gross).  Make sure you eat brain food. Carbs may be great before that big game but they have the tendency to put your mind to sleep. Stay away from that piece of cake as well. It may work wonders right now but in about 1/2 hour you will crash. So, have some protein, fruit, or a salad (wow, I do sound like a mom…).

Find a work surface: No, sitting on the floor in front of the coffee table is not a good option. A table or a desk is best. But you knew that. Is this table or desk in the middle of a busy kitchen or in front of the television that is turned on to some every exciting and must see show? No? Perfect. The table or desk should be in a quiet area without much family traffic (no little siblings running past every 3 minutes). Ok, now clear off that work surface of everything except what you are working on RIGHT NOW.

Get rid of all tech distractions: TURN THAT CELL OFF! There is no text that cannot wait until your homework is done (like that double negative). If you don’t need it to do research or print out the assignment that you left at school (more on scatterbrained moments later) than put it away. If you like to listen to music as you work and it helps to focus you than by all means turn it on.  For some people music helps them to focus. However, it is most always non-vocal music. So get your jazz and classical pieces ready to go. But keep it low. Any music at a high volume is a distraction.

Do the hard stuff first: Your brain is still fresh and energized. Get the hard stuff done early when you are most able to focus. That serves two purposes; you get the hard stuff out of the way which makes you work faster and it leaves the easy stuff to the end which makes you feel good when you are done. It’s true – try it.

Take a break: Try to finish each assignment before you break. Doing half of the history assignment and then leaving will make finishing it much harder. Make a goal to complete one assignment before you take any breaks. When you do break, make it short – 10 minutes at the most. And by all means DO NOT PICK UP THAT CELL. Don’t turn on the TV either. HUGE time suck.



One of my favorites. Henry David Thoreau….

My life has been the poem I would have writ

My life has been the poem I would have writ

But I could not both live and utter it.

Begs the question of whether one should try to dictate or “write” their life or does this act destroy the possibility of truly living that life? Do we “go with the flow” or do we try to create our destiny? Does one necessarily preclude the other?