"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe


Journal Entry: Of Violets and Happiness

An African Violet is beginning to flower

African violets have been on my mind for a few weeks now.

While I love flowers and plants and do my best to keep something blooming (or at least alive) around me, I have never had a desire to buy an African violet, at least not consciously. But, like other things that recur in my journal and in my thoughts, this particular flower keeps calling me. It keeps ending up on those endless post-it notes that I thought I was done with, too.

My daughter, ever the encourager, told me early on, “Go get you one!”

I tried. No store I visited had them in stock.

When I mentioned my search to Meagan, my coworker, she said knowingly, “You just need more happiness.”

That may be true. I am on a mission at work this year to surround myself with extensions of my creative life: photographs, quotations, pieces of art, ephemera that says “good news” in the midst of too much gray.

I love my students, but I see the road we are traveling, and it is going to be a long one. We need something around us to keep us going. Small bursts of purple blooming might be a good idea.

I also need something to tend to, something that relies on me to make sure I stay connected to life, not papers. Humans, not more emails. Sometimes it is just good to water a plant.

African violets need a little lamp light–I remember that from my Aunt Frances. She is remembered most by family members for her beautiful roses, but I remember the violets, too. She had several of them under a grow light in her bedroom on Walnut Street.

She tended to them, talked to them, told them they needed to bloom more.

She was full of chatter and always had a better way of doing something. She had a home remedy for every ailment. She laughed a lot and always had a joke to tell. She read voraciously.  I loved going to her house.

She had all those rose bushes in the front yard, and a pair of snippers in her mailbox on the porch. She was a seamstress, so people came and went throughout the day. Every single person could count on getting a rose on their way home. She even gave them to the mailman when he had time to wait. She stopped her work to see about people. To snip roses. To make people happy.

Her shop was a little room on the front of her house that might have been a porch at some point. It was strangely made, with a narrow entry and a high countertop on the right that was always stacked with fabrics, threads, patterns, notes to herself.

Farther down the room, there was a wall covered with notes and names and phone numbers. It was cryptic. I used to stand and read some of the words and wonder how in the world she could keep everything straight. The phone rang incessantly, and sometimes she didn’t hear it over the hum of her sewing machine.

She had material and supplies for sewing everywhere. Everywhere. It was a mess, really. I am surprised that people even did business with her because when you walked in, it was overwhelming with all the clutter. But, people came. They came even when her eyes got bad and she didn’t sew as beautifully any more. They came because she gave them something more than a straight hem or a shortened sleeve.

I had to smile when I finally found an African violet yesterday. It is not the most perfect specimen in the world: it has one tiny pinkish bloom and the watering it has had looks like it may have been an afterthought. But I can see the possibilities. I have to. I want to. There’s a lamp  waiting on my desk at school.

So this, this searching for an African violet reconnects me with a memory that I had forgotten for a long time. The memory of a busy lady taking time for pretty flowers and laughter and friendships…and more, I’m sure of it.


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Saturday’s Snapshot: A Drop at a Time


There has been a light, steady rain for most of the day, but we don’t have enough for a puddle. The earth is taking in every drop. The cedar held out this one for inspection, reminding me to be thankful. I am.

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Friday’s Five

Really look forward to this time each week—time to realize there are so many good things every day…

1. …was at a training today and saw a friend I haven’t seen in a while. I admired a necklace she was wearing…it was a series of metal circles on a simple chain. She took it off then and there and gave it to me. She said a blessing would come to her for giving it away, and that she had too much stuff anyway…

2. …Starbucks and a bible verse from my teammate…nice start to the week…

3. …recent ordering of my children’s college class rings…makes me happy to know they will have this tangible reminder of work well done…

4. …picking up pecans with my husband…they’re falling early this year…

5. …talking poetry with a group of teachers this week…oh, if more of us did this…the magic and power of words…

Happily aware of the blessings of each day…looking forward to many more.

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A Ways to Go

Well, a conversation with an intern teacher today reminded me of myself during my first year of teaching: tired, frustrated, scared, and truthfully…clueless.

I think back to those days and wonder how someone so seemingly well prepared could be so out of touch. I had three wonderful student teaching supervisors, 18 weeks of student teaching in kindergarten, first grade, and special education, and plenty of observation hours. Still, when I accepted that second grade teaching job, I was lost. Totally lost.

I remember a veteran teacher laughing at me because I had given a math pretest on the first day of school. I didn’t know any better. A pretest was mentioned. It seemed like the right thing to do…

I remember bringing boxes of work home, piles of papers…and just spreading them out on the floor of my living room on Beech Street. I was 21. Young, single, and wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.

I bought coloring books to keep my students busy. Yes, I did. I know.

I wandered the long hallways of that school at night after all of the other teachers went home. I was too afraid to ask for help. I thought I was supposed to know what to do.  I was looking for clues.

Then the best thing happened. I got the flu. It was a bad case, and I was out for over a week. I remember not even bothering to measure the cough syrup…I just took a swig and settled back into the depths of the couch, thankful for the reprieve of life and responsibility.

When I did return, some teachers told me they thought I had quit. I had not formed any friendships on that campus yet, and no one knew that I never quit. Oh, I was back all right. And, I owe all the thanks to the substitute teacher.

She left the plans she made while I was gone. I read them and started piecing the days together, realizing those stacks of coloring books on the shelf had to go. I started filling up the hours with lots of engaging activities and stories and art. Real art.

I found my way and I made it. So will this intern. She just needs to keep showing up. Day by day, she’ll find her way. Teachers always do.



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Teaching Tip: Keep a Journal


Journal (Photo credit: curtfleenor)

Teachers are tired. Surely. Teaching can absolutely drain every ounce of energy out of you mentally and physically. You leave the building and before you know it, you are right back at work starting all over again. Where does the time go?

Keeping a journal will remind you. You might think you do not have the time or energy, but I encourage you to give it a try. So much happens in the course of a day. Teaching is filled with ups and downs, small and big victories. There are days you think you will never forget, but the details fade with time because you are so busy taking on new challenges and celebrating new successes.

My son is student teaching this semester and before he left for college, I suggested that he keep a journal this year. I think he had already planned to because he is an excellent writer. I wish I had kept a record of my student teaching days. I do have some files, a few pieces of student work, enough that I could piece together part of a year. Still, a journal of the year would have been so much better.

The college students on my campus are keeping a journal of sorts without even realizing it. They write weekly reflections outlining their strengths and weaknesses, their goals, etc.

I am responding to these entries and then asking that they be returned. At the end of the year, I know these teacher interns will be glad to have a written record of their experiences. It might help them in the future years, too.

Reflection is good for students of all ages. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself within the lines. Give it a try.


A Poem is Waiting

Tonight I reread a chapter from a favorite book, Lucy Calkin’s The Art of Teaching Writing. I was reading the chapter on poetry because I am presenting a workshop on poetry tomorrow and I’m always looking for last-minute inspiration.

I  left an index card in the book the last time I read, I guess. It’s in a section about images. I had written:

take b&w pic of the shirt on the nail

the nail holes on the mantle

other rough places that say home

comfort and joy came first

before what some visitor might think now

we hung our stockings at a different

place each year, sometimes

nails pulled out, sometimes not

 glass doorknobs

Well, it’s not a poem, but it is the beginning of one. I don’t remember writing any of this, but I often think of these images when I think of the old home place: glass doorknobs, the nails on the mantle at my parents’ place where we hung our Christmas stockings every year, my dad’s old work shirt that is still hanging on the back porch on an old nail…it’s been hanging there since 1974.

I had given myself directions that day, and I have followed them. I do have pictures of the shirt and the mantle. I know I need to go back and take a few more. There is still a message there.

I had also jotted down the words from  a message from my friend Tina on one of the pages: “You’ll write your way through this.” And, looking back, I know I have done that time and time again. Writers always write their way through it. We have no choice. The words storm out or wait on a card in a book…and we seem to return to these same books over and over, too.

I am struggling to get all of the images and words on a page that I would like to, lately. I know I’m transitioning. I can feel it. It is days like this, though, days with a message on a card at just the right moment, that change the game.

Next I had written:

paint the sweetgums

use pencils dipped in paint

and rolled for texture

I see those trees immediately. I wonder why I have waited so long to paint them. It is dark now, otherwise I would be at the edge of the pond taking in every textured piece of bark, the points on the balls that will fall soon, the ones that are already on the ground, the colors exploding into autumn: violet, mulberry, crimson. The yellow trees behind them that I’m never sure of…are they birch? It is time to learn some names. A poem is waiting…



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