In front of the John Lennon Wall in Prague.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

According to, "Civilizations around the world have been celebrating the start of each new year for at least four millennia. The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival date back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon." That's a long time.

Just what is it that makes human beings feel the need to celebrate cycles, reflect on our past and wonder about our future? I guess it is one of the things that makes us humans. Since I am not a philosopher, psychologist or minister, I'll leave the whys to someone else. Suffice to say that today I have joined the millions of us around the world who feel the need to do a little reckoning of our lives on this day.

Today my inbox has been filled with blogs from others doing just what I am doing right now. And the problem is that all our musings and reflections are of little use to anyone except ourselves. With the burgeoning of blogs and online sharing of every sort, we often reveal too much too many times. I don't want to fall into that category so I'll just say this:

It's been a strange year for me. I changed jobs after 23 years, and am no longer a classroom teacher. I didn't use my passport once, the first time in over a decade that I didn't travel somewhere internationally. And there have been other strangenesses that are too personal to reveal here.

While much of the year has left me shaken, there is one accomplishment of which I am particularly proud: my daily haiku writing. Over the past 365 days, I have written 365 haiku. I will admit I missed three days (one of them was my birthday for which I can be forgiven), but did make up for those by doing double haiku afterwards. Most of my hundreds of haiku were just plain horrible as far as poetry goes, but some I think actually can be called poems.

Along the way I have had the deep pleasure of being involved in an online Facebook community of fellow haiku writers, most of whom I have never met in person. Even so, I have learned so much about these wonderful people through their haiku. Along the way we have become writing buddies, "liking" and responding to each other's work. It has been a joyous experience. 

So to ring out the old year and welcome the new, what better way than with a haiku? It may not be one of my best but it's the last of 2014.

                          day scrubbed shiny clean
                          sunlight streaming through windows 
                          new year's eve wishes 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankfulness on the day before Thanksgiving 11/26/14

Yesterday was another hard day. I was so hopeful as I took my early morning walk through the neighborhood taking photographs of trees. And then the rest of the day happened. That's just what it's like right now.

But yesterday I was thankful, at least for a little while, for the trees. I think they just could be the best thing about Portland. Not the food trucks or the wine or beer. It has to be the trees. So today I am thankful for these trees on an almost sunny day.

under a milky 
sky trees stand serene remind
me to stop look breathe 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Today I can be thankful... 11/24/14

Yesterday I tried to be thankful. I really did. But I couldn't make myself feel it at all. I wasn't thankful for the sunny morning or the afternoon deluge that left the streets flooded. I wasn't thankful for eating lunch with my teenage niece or dinner with my family. Nothing worked yesterday.

So this morning, I tried again. Here in Portland, it's a crisp Autumn morning - perfect for taking a walk under tall, yellow-leafed trees, sloshing through piles of wet leaves. Growing up, was my favorite season in the midwest. It is a something I have always missed since moving to California. Here in Portland, I get to experience that beauty again. 

Today I am thankful for those trees and for my two legs that could walk me under them.

Autumn leaves gilded
sun-struck I walk through masses
breath puffs before me

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Today I am thankful for... Saturday November 22, 2014

Today in Portland the rain has stopped and there is a hint of blue sky over the roof tops -- at least for now. Sitting in this little condo that I bought with my sister and brother-in-law, I have a few moments to myself before going off to take my mother to see my father. His condition is improving, and he will be moved out of the hospital today. So many things to be thankful for right this moment.

after rain and wind
blue sky morning peeps over
roof tops and bare trees

this small place I build
myself pen paper coffee
hot in a green mug 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday November 21, 2014

 I had planned to spend my Thanksgiving holiday with a friend in Calistoga, walking and talking, tasting wine, maybe even having a mud bath for the first time. However, Life (at this time it seems appropriate to give her a capital letter) got in the way. So instead of hanging out and relaxing, I'm sitting in the airport on my way to Portland. My 87-year old father is in the hospital, and I need to go help my mother. 

However, after my initial self-pity and grumbling, I've decided to think of this as an opportunity to stop every day to reflect on something I can thankful for. After all, I'm sitting here at SFO surrounded by travelers going off for their own Thanksgiving holidays. I will get to see my family. That's a good thing.

It's been over a month since I posted to this blog, so this time between security screening and boarding gives me time to reflect. And I realized how this small moment has given me something.

So here is the first of my haiku to celebrate this Thanksgiving week:

sunrise over air-
port flying alone gives time
to write into day

Won't you stop at least once during this busy day and notice the goodness around you?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Once Again Teachers Blamed

To Time Magazine

teachers blamed again
low pay no respect too much
work with no support

journalists use us
to sell magazines to whip
up feeding frenzy

too bad they didn’t think
no teachers no people who
can read magazines

Time magazine is about to use its cover to blame teachers for every problem in America's schools. On Monday, Nov. 3, this cover will be in every supermarket checkout line and newsstand across the country—and it's already online.

There are serious challenges facing our schools—tell Time that blaming teachers won't solve anything.

Take action! Sign the petition telling Time to apologize to American teachers:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Real Rain Today!

This morning I didn't really want to get up at 5:40 a.m. I was so cranky until I heard the sound of real rain pounding the roof. I was inspired to write today's haiku even before I had a sip of my tea!

oh sound of water
hitting waves real rain pouring
to quench our deep thirst

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Earthquake Haiku 8/24/14 3:20 a.m.

Today's haiku was inspired by the 6.0 earthquake that struck this morning at 3:20 a.m. 

shaken awake I
rode along lost solid ground
in earth's rock and roll

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Happy Anniversary! 365 Days of Writing Practice

One year ago, I sat in the Albuquerque Airport with my good friend and writing buddy, Barbara Ann Yoder waiting for our flights back to the Bay Area.  We had just finished our second A Room of Her Own Foundation's Writing Retreat, still riding high on the glory of the past week.  We had spent our time among 100 writer women:  writing and talking about writing, reading and listening to others read, reveling in the gorgeous high desert scenery of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.  How could we keep this all alive when we re-entered our daily lives?

I'd been here before; after the 2011 AROHO retreat I had sat with  Tania Pryputniewicz, another AROHO friend, trying to make a writing plan.  Back then I still thought I could get myself to write after teaching all day. So that year my plan included locking myself in my room when I returned from work each day. I thought I now had enough fortitude to do this.  After all, I've struggled to write after work for years, sometimes successful but mostly not. Could I do it this time? What I worried about came true: the mental and emotional drain of teaching still won out. No amount of "you should", "you can do it" and "you want to this" self-pep talks could make a real difference. Yes, I wrote more consistently after that first retreat, but not every day. 

And now a year later I sat facing the same problem. I couldn't - and didn't want - to quit my job. I still felt too overwhelmed to write every day after work. What was left for me to try?  Oh, yes - the dreaded early morning wake up call.  

I have always hated the idea of getting up early to write, having resisted the idea that I would ever, ever, ever willingly get up before the sun rose each day. But on August 18, 2013, I made a desperate decision to do just that:  I would get up a half hour earlier each morning to write before going to work.  I was terrified that I couldn't keep it up, but I promised both Barbara and myself that I would at least give it a try.

The next day, August 19, 2013, the alarm rang at 5:45 a.m., and I jerked myself out of bed to sit in
my chair with my notebook.  Since school didn't start until the next day, this was my practice run.  I survived.  I wrote and it felt good.  Now I just had to keep it up. 

That was one year ago today. I have gotten up early every single day since then and written.  365 days in a row. The first time in my writing career that not even a cold or late night celebration have kept me from writing. I have even set my alarm for 4 a.m. to write before catching an early morning flight.  
To commemorate this momentous anniversary, I did a little accounting. During the last year I have filled eight notebooks and am half way through a ninth one.   I have used countless pens. To assuage my guilt at adding all those used carcasses to landfill, I found a new type made from recycled soda bottles. Out of all those notebook pages, most, of course, are just filled with gobbledygook that will never see the light of day.  I remind myself that's not the point.

Today summer vacation ended, and I returned to my full-time job for the school year. This morning the alarm rang at 5:40 a.m., and I wrote for a half hour before getting in the shower. And tomorrow I'll do it again.

What works for you? I'd love to hear.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sir Paul at The Stick!

Last night I got to see Paul McCartney perform live for the first time.  The last concert The Beatles gave was at Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966.  Now the old, windy and cold Candlestick Park is soon to be demolished.  What better way to celebrate its passing than a concert with Sir Paul?

McCartney is 72 years old and still an amazing musician.  The band was wonderful as well as the video and fireworks.  Just as the three hour concert was ending, the moon rose up over the stadium to join the flickering of myriad cell phones waved in the air by mostly aging baby boomers like myself.  

So of course yesterday's haiku commemorates this event:

Paul McCartney played
Candlestick's last moonlit song
we sang all the words

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An American Institution: The Highway Rest Area

What can beat the All-American road trip? And what would road trippers do without rest areas along the way?

Nothing like a picnic lunch under the canopy of summer trees.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Discovering Ourselves: Memories of Making a Blog Mask

How delighted I was when a notice from my friend and AROHO alum Martha Andrews Donovan popped into my email inbox announcing a post for her blog, MarthaAndrews Donovan: One Writer's Excavation.  Reading this post, I felt a real burst of pride.  After all, I had been there when the seeds for that blog were planted.

 At the 2013 A Room ofHer Own Foundation’s summer writing retreat, Martha and I participated in Tania Pryputniewicz’s small group titled “Transformative Blogging”.  The focus of the group was the creation of a mask that could be a physical representation of what our blogging persona would be or become.  Along with making a mask, we wrote about what we wanted from blogging, what our writing focus would be, what the mask might reveal – or not reveal - about ourselves.  

Thanks to Tania I had been blogging since the 2011 AROHO retreat and had already taken another blogging class she taught, so I didn’t really expect any new insights about my writing.  I just wanted to make a mask and have fun.  As the participants paired up, I found myself with Martha.  Although we had met in 2011, we hadn’t really gotten to know each other.  Deciding to make masks together felt a bit risky. 

We started with me.  I lay down on my yoga mat, and Martha began putting the plaster strips on my face.  It was very cool and wet.  We had read in the instructions that the person putting on the plaster should talk to the “plasteree“ during the drying process, so before we started I asked Martha to tell me stories about her mother’s life.  Since my mouth was covered in plaster, I couldn’t interrupt her or jump in with my own stories.  All I could do was make murmuring noises to show I was listening and feeling fine.  It was wonderful listening to Martha’s calm, soothing voice tell stories of her India-born mother and missionary family.  I could picture that world of India and missionaries, of a New England family so unlike my own.  She made me want to meet those women and ask them about their experiences. 

Then when my mask was done, Martha decided I should plaster her foot instead of her face.  It was such an intimate experience making that foot mask.  I’m not sure I had ever touched a relative stranger’s foot before. I loved the feel of the plaster as I smoothed it with my fingers, how delicate my movements had to be to keep from bunching up the strips.  It was almost meditative to dip the strip in water, lay it and then smooth it until no seams showed.  It was almost like caressing her foot.  I felt I was giving her something, helping to uncover a part of her in some way.  Dipping and smoothing, dipping and smoothing. I didn’t want to stop.

As I had lain on the floor with the plaster drying, in my mind’s eye my mask looked exactly like me only better with smoother skin and no wrinkles. I pictured Martha’s hands smoothing the plaster over my face to create this mask.  I imagined how strong it would be once it was dry, strong and able to face the world. I pictured what I would do with my mask, how to make it represent my true self, the one I am so often afraid to unveil to the world.  I would use it not to hide behind, but to affirm.

Afterwards, when I first saw my mask I was disappointed.  It didn’t look like a face at all; rather it was rough and mummy-like.  Martha apologized and asked if I wanted to change it, but I decided keep its original form.  Perhaps its roughness could tell me something.  And as I began to paint it, that coarse texture became something other than a face, it became part of the landscape around me.  The blue New Mexico sky, the clouds that rose over the desert each day, Pedernal Mountain.  I surprised myself with that painting – because I had painted a place,  not a person.  I realized it all made sense because it is places that that so often are important to my writing and to me.  Finding my place, describing places I go, building the world one word at a time as I describe where I have been or where I am right now.

My mask is not a face, but a landscape.  And Martha’s mask isn’t a face either, but a foot.  A foot to embody the journey she is on, trying to find the way along her path.  When it came for her to decorate this mask, she covered her foot with the most amazing assortment of beads, feathers and scraps of paper with inspirational quotes. It is ornate and intricate.  And as I read her blog post about photographs of people unknown to her, or small objects found buried, I realized that her foot mask, rather odd and not quite the usual thing, was like one of those enigmatic objects that so fascinate her.  This mask could represent her impetus to uncover mysteries left by others.  Because by writing about those mysteries, Martha tries to stand in the world of those unknown people for just a while.

And so those masks we made last summer really do reveal our deepest motivations for writing, what our blogs would be, have turned out to be.  In her blog, Martha uses a Telugu proverb she learned from her mother: By digging and digging the truth is discovered.”
 Isn’t that what all writers are trying to do?  Digging down to find the truth about themselves and the world around them?  Even though I didn’t believe it at the time, making those masks was an important step in that digging process for Martha and me.   

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Postcards from Sea Ranch: Two Haiku

roses lavender
yarrow calla lilies poised
make this week’s house home

ocean mist rising
bluejays over sea grass call
cast for morning tide

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Room 31

After 23 years teaching Reading and  Language Arts to more 7th and 8th graders than I want to count, I am hanging up my teacher shoes.  I began my career in this very room in 1991.  As the years of my teaching life piled up, I thought I'd spend my entire time as an educator right here in Room 31.  Then a new opportunity came my way, and I decided to leave the classroom for a new career path.  What happened to change my mind?  I haven't really figured that out just yet.  Maybe summer vacation will reveal the answer.  Maybe not.  Maybe it doesn't matter.  Perhaps some changes just don't need explanation.

In any case, when August comes, instead of standing at the door to Room 31 to greet a fresh bunch of middle schools students, I'll start my new job as a district English Coach working with teachers to help them with their own students.    

Saying goodbye to this dusty old classroom with peeling window paint and rickety furniture older than my career is bittersweet.  Being teacher has been so much a part of my identity for so many years that I'm nervous about who I will be and become.  I'm like one of my eighth graders going off to high school.

And of course all this uncertainty has come out in writing.  Here are some haikus about how it feels to end this part of my life:

twenty-three years one
classroom time to close the door
step into unknown

Steinbeck: teaching great
art melding mind and spirit
what will stir me now?

eight more days to teach 
asked my friend what will I be
poet she replied

paper folders books 
paper folders books all packed
now to say goodbye

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Farewell to Poet Mother Maya

“Poetry put starch in my backbone.” — Maya Angelou

Years ago I was privileged to hear Maya Angelou speak before a large audience of teachers.  This statement that she made about the importance of poetry has stayed with me.  In fact I’ve had a poster with these words in my classroom ever since.  

This morning I woke up thinking about this statement.   Then I heard that Maya had died this very day.  I like to think she visited me as she went on her journey.  So like so many other writers around our country, I felt compelled to write about her.  How she would love to read all the poems written in her name.

Mother Maya passed
in dreams today reminding
me stand up stand tall

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Northern California Haiku

This weekend I got to spend some quiet time on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in Northern Sonoma County.  No cell phone or wifi, just waves and whales, stars and moon - but of course I still wrote my daily haiku!

waves crash below cliffs
hot tub bubbles as week's cares
offered up to moon

pelicans take flight
whales northbound on day's bright now
begin our own yes


Happy Mother's Day

nose up flippers down
mama seals and babies rock
sea wave nursery