Slice of Life Tuesday: Figuring out the space

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In my past life as a teacher, figuring out the classroom space was the most important first step into settling into what would become my professional home for many long and happy years: Room 202 in my middle school.  I remember walking into that room for the first time and taking in the bare and bereft looking space with consternation: how to make this a practical and inviting space in which all the learning I was envisioning to take place? But, my kids helped me find my way, and by the end of that first year our room became the place we all loved – the place my students wanted to return to long after they’d left sixth grade behind.

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In my new life as a shepherd (to be, because sheep won’t be arriving here until next summer), I am again trying to figure out my space.  Our farm has not housed sheep for many years, and although the barns and fences and gates are in place already, they have sat unused for a long time.  Our lovely rolling pastures, perfect for sheep, are now wild with weeds and thistle.  The big barn, a beautiful and imposing structure, is an utterly intimidating place.

I am back to square one.

 

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Poetry Friday: Summer poetry swap!

Poetry Friday is hosted by Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone 

Summer poetry swap goodness arrived in my mailbox yesterday thanks to Donna Smith.  Somehow, Donna guessed that the first summer of my retirement would entail reading…lots of reading!  So much reading that I am juggling several books at once at a rate far greater than before.  To that end, she designed the most lovely bookmarks – poetry and photography married in the perfect way:

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And this wise and witty reminder about how to be a smart reader:

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Thank you, Donna!!!

Slice of Life Tuesday: A lavender farm…in upstate New York

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

One of the interesting things about living in Washington County in upstate New York is that I am always discovering the unexpected.  This is dairy farm and cornfield country, and the rhythm of life here is set by hardworking farmers who never seem to rest.  But, you are also likely to sit next to a stranger at a community dinner and discover, as I did, that this new neighbor had  played first trumpet for the New York City Ballet, and was full of the most fascinating stories and esoteric knowledge.

So, it is perhaps no surprise that there is also a lavender farm about forty minutes away from where we are.  A lavender farm! The story behind Lavenlair Farm is best told by the good people who created this lovely place, but we had the pleasure of visiting it last Sunday, and were absolutely enchanted.IMG-1461

These lavender farmers were once from our neck of New Jersey, which is not as unusual a thing as you might expect, and is also perhaps why the true natives here roll their eyes when they first meet us and learn that, yes, we, too, are from New Jersey.   Their stone farmhouse overlooks the Adirondack Mountains on one side and Vermont’s Green Mountains on the other, a thoroughly American scene…but for the lavender field in between, which felt like Provence, especially on this sunny and hot day when the scent of lavender enveloped us.

Off to one side was a lavender meditation maze, which we took our time wending our way around, breathing in lavender and listening to the humming of a thousand bees.

On the way to the maze, I had to spend time with a one room school house flanked by the most gorgeous stands of sunflowers I have ever seen.

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The proprietors are full of the enthusiasm, sense of mission, and love for the countryside.  Family farming is hard enough these days, but especially so for the small niche farmer, and they have all sorts of endeavors designed to sustain and grow their enterprise: from lavender based products such as honey, oils, sachets, to sunset jazz dinners.  They’ve also teamed up with Cornell University to experiment with hybrid varieties of lavender that can better thrive the North Country winters.  People like Diane and David fill me with such admiration.

It was hard not to be greedy while picking a bouquet of lavender to take home.  I took my cue from a toddler in an enormous blue sunhat, who was content to run around admiring the blooms with just two springs of lavender clutched in his little fist.

 

Celebrate this week: Rain and reading

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A rainy week here in the North Country.  And, a week of waiting for this or that repair person to show up, each of whom was late (i.e. hours late).  I managed to get one flower bed dug up, composted, and planted…but that was it for outdoor endeavors.

The silver lining to all the rain was the time it allowed for reading.  The pleasure of the reading habit, the fact of which I tried to preach each and every day of my teaching life, is that it allows one to never be bored, and to feel forever enriched.

The week ahead promises to be sunny (and very hot, but I’m ignoring that, for the moment).  But, I feel lucky that Olive Kitteridge, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, various other characters, and odd bits of sheep knowledge will be keeping me company…thanks to a week of rain and waiting.

 

Poetry Friday: Declaration by Tracy K. Smith

Poetry Friday is hosted by Mary Lee at A Year of Reading

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It was James Baldwin’s birthday yesterday, he would have turned 91.  Reading the tributes in his honor, and watching some of his interviews, I was saddened by the thought that we have not come nearly as far as a truly equal and just nation as Baldwin would have hoped we would.

“Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected—those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most!—and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person—ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” —from No Name in the Street(1972)

Under Trump, ignorance is truly allied with power, and we have only to read or listen to the news to know this on a daily, minute by minute, basis.   Thoughts of Baldwin reminded me of this poem, by the current Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, from her new collection: Wade in the Water.  The text for the erasure poem is, of course, the Declaration of Independence:

Declaration
by Tracy K. Smith

He has

sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people

He has plundered our—

ravaged our—

destroyed the lives of our—

taking away our­—

(you can read the rest of the poem here.)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Baldwin, thank you for still awakening our conscience, may we find the strength to act upon it.

Poetry Friday: Walls of Rain

Poetry Friday is hosted by Catherine at Reading to the Core

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It’s been a week of trying to establish new routines for the new phase of life ahead.  Summers were always about planning for September and a new batch of sixth graders: new ideas to try out, new books to introduce, and new ways to jiggle the curriculum so that it remains fresh to me.  Now that the farm has become my full time home, that routine shifts. To what? Well, that’s what I’m working on: preparing for sheep next Spring, bringing the garden back to life, and writing.

This week, I was invited to join a writing group.  The invitation was so unexpected that I was caught off guard, so much so that I found myself agreeing to arrive prepared to share a piece of writing: a poem, perhaps, or even two.  What was I thinking??!!

Of course, I am used to sharing my writing every time I blog, and I have been blogging about my teaching life for many years now.  But, this new, non-teaching phase of life calls for me to share the type of my writing I am loathe to share – my creative writing.  How marvelous, though, to be welcomed into a new community in this particular way! Which is why I steeled myself to join in the first place, and to share the first draft of a poem:

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Slice of Life Tuesday:”…sitting in the middle of perfect/possibility”

Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers

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This morning, ever-thoughtful Terje wrote a post about her summer of not writing which has me ruminating over my own summer writing habits. “I need the summer to turn inward,” she concluded,  “cherish the seldom moments of solitude…”.   After months of hectic activity – closing down my classroom, packing up one house, moving into another – I find myself with plenty of solitude to cherish, and yet an inward turning that seems to preclude writing.

Yesterday, the farm was battered with rain from all sides: sometimes it marched up the valley, at others it stormed eastward from the Green Mountains, and at others it seemed to simply break overheard without warning.  From time to time I watched its progress from the one dry end of our front porch, mesmerized by the play of wind, rain, and light.  I was so still that a bird alighting on the porch table in search of some respite did not notice that I, too, was taking cover there.

A rainy day. The perfect day to write.  It brought to mind this Jane Kenyon poem, especially the last two lines:

Afternoon in the House – Jane Kenyon
It’s quiet here. The cats
sprawl, each
in a favored place.
the geranium leans this way
to see if I’m writing about her:
head all petals, brown
stalks, and those green fans.
So you see,
I am writing about you.

I turn on the radio. Wrong.
Let’s not have any noise
in this room, except
the sound of a voice reading a poem.
The cats request
The Meadow Mouse, by Theodore Roethke.

The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats—and even so, I’m frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect
possibility.

Summer seems to call both ways: inviting us to turn inward and replenish, and also inviting us to take advantage “of perfect possibility”, to write.  Sometimes one can answer both calls, sometimes not…yet.