Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Summer Soliloquy

Thank you to everyone who has helped me launch my book this year! It’s officially been out for a month, and it’s been a great start with over 70 copies distributed in the US and UK. While my blog typically covers more general writing, I wanted to write today for everyone in education. You are dear to so many, including me. Consider this essay a rough sketch that could find its way within the next Dear Teachers. :-)

make your own sunshine.pngThe current school year has either closed down or is coming to its end for a large number of folks. It’s a time of transition in the natural world as well. Energy is building, gaining steam for the growing season of summer in the northern hemisphere. Everything feels so alive.

What are we growing for ourselves?

Our bodies.

We’re entering the 6th month of 2017. There’s time and opportunity now to wrap loving arms around our bodies and renew our appreciation for the wondrous forms we inhabit. For example, consider your feet. Sure, we could think of them as ugly. And yet, they have gotten us through to this day, carrying us faithfully through life’s ups and downs. Those without might (rightfully) chide us for our pettiness. Our feet are amazing. When’s the last time you looked down at them and said, “Thanks!”.

We may frown when we look in the mirror at lumps or flaps that weren’t there 20 years ago. However, these bodies of ours have made it through years of life’s turmoil. They deserve respect. So, let’s love the wrinkles and appreciate the grey.

While we’re at it, it’s the perfect time to tune up how we treat our bodies. Summer’s bounty of healthy fruits and vegetables and the lush weather that grows us these feasts are at our doorsteps. Let’s get out there and savor it all!

Our minds.

I recall days spent as a child reading in summer. I honestly don’t have the time or inclination today to spend that much time immersed in a book. There are so many other great things to do as well!! However, the quest for knowledge still runs deep. We can absorb new information and experiences through a huge swath of sources. Book clubs, twitter chats, podcasts, trips, classes and more can give us windows into great new ideas.

Time to ponder deeply or dance lightly through a delicious romance or adventure, whether in written, graphic or video form, stretch our brains in refreshing directions.

Our spirits.

Oh, our connections to others. We give and give and give some more all school year. We may find ourselves drained at this point. Now, it’s time to turn to family, friends and personal adventures like no other.

In nature, all the living things retreat into themselves in the cold and dark of winter. Trees and plants, birds and mammals, reptiles and insects. Everything pulls itself inward. For protection. For comfort. For preservation of stores.

For those in education, that time is not then and there. It is now. We retreat to our inner circles and bathe in a rich company of bloodlines and lifetimes together. We gather our stores. We find comfort. We are wrapped in the protective arms of our loved ones.

Here’s to a great summer for all. May you find what you need and enjoy your days in whatever ways you choose! Body, mind and spirit- fill them with sunshine!

If you haven’t already checked out my book, you can do so on Amazon here or contact me for signed copies at Dear Teachers is an everyday person’s thoughts & tales of life in education.  Pass along the word to your own contacts as well! I would love to talk to administrators and principals about how entire schools or districts could benefit from the messages, photos and writing space within my guided journal.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Your Life's Dance

Photo by our 11 year old
Today marks the day where I will have been married for as many years as I was single. I’m pumped that after all these years and 2 kids, I fit into that old dress again. I’m definitely not the same woman in that dress- no, no,  no! Emphatically and thankfully not- nor is the man who’s still standing by my side the exact same one I walked down the aisle to. We've both grown and changed.

How have we done it? Was it commitment, being straight-out pigheaded or simply that it was just easier to keep going than to choose to quit? Depending on the day, any or all of the above. Why? Because marriage is like anything else in life.


I’m so glad more people around the world today can officially commit to each other in a variety of ways. Just this week, Taiwan declared same-sex marriage legal, for example. We got married in a church, but to me, the commitment was formed in the first few months of our relationship, years ahead of the wedding. To me, there’s a meaningful unwritten contract that any 2 people can make at any point in their journey that is affirmed by what goes on in life’s most needful moments. We’ve been married for 23 years but our commitment to each other goes back another 4. The marriage ceremony itself was simply a secondary affirmation.

If you’ve committed to something, you love it, warts and all.

Being Pigheaded

My husband and I are both stubborn. There are days one can get so angry or disappointed, there’s a huge temptation to just set a match to it and watch it burn. Then, memories of all the work you’ve both put into this life flash through your mind. The good times and stories that have been written into your family’s collective history. You refuse to let an argument or perceived slight kill all that.

Being ornery gets you through the “I quit!” moments.

Just Chill

Needs that haven’t been met, comments that feel like attacks and not taking care of yourself can lead you to the point where even the Dalai Lama would disappoint you. You think, “Is it worth it?”. You begin listing the things you’d have to do in order to break the pattern and you pause. Problem-solving strategies to get you both to a better place replace petty grumbles.

Sometimes, you just have to stop. That gift of time can restore both you and your commitments.

I don’t have any magical tricks for any of it: love, career, family or friends. Life is tough, whatever path you take. It takes commitment. It takes some stubbornness. Sometimes it takes stopping instead of reacting, so adjustments can be made.

All I really know is, it’s worth doing with your whole self. It’s your life’s dance!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Growth & Renaissance

The KPop band BTS won the Top Social Media Artist Award (another great article, Tamar Herman!) at the BBMAs on Sunday, May 21. This group of 7 young musical artists from South Korea hit another milestone in their careers, introducing themselves to a new audience as they accepted the award after flying back to the United States from the world tour they are currently on.

It got me thinking about growth and milestones in general.

This week I also hit a couple of milestones. I had a birthday, turning 46. I’m also coming close to the 1 month anniversary of the release of my first book, Dear Teachers (and in the UK here), and I’m both excited and amazed to announce that there are already well over 60 copies of my stories already out in the world, being held in others’ hands and minds. I’m humbled by the feedback I’ve received both directly and in the reviews. I am feeling very hopeful.

Big changes in life aren’t just for people in their 20s. We all are capable of, and should reach for, new things. We can all reach new heights.

I have a chronic medical condition, having been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes almost 23 years ago. Despite that, I’m approaching the year anniversary of my foray into the world of running. I’m in much better shape than I ever have been. The bookworm has metamorphosed into someone who works out daily. I am also working on a new guided journal, this one geared for Diabetic Warriors, using my experience with T1D as a guide.

Struggle gives us wings.

Getting back to BTS, some of their best work has been inspired by hardship. Songs like Not Today, Blood Sweat & Tears, Am I Wrong and Spring Day cover harsh topics like feeling intense criticism from the outside world, undergoing years of ridicule and effort to achieve something, suffering attacks on self-worth and experiencing tragedies that steal our youth and hope. Their response is to repeat to the world that they, and we, will not be bowed. The key is to stand with someone.

I have struggles. You have struggles. Everyone has struggles. If we stick together, we will rise.

Everything we experience can give us something to grow by. We walk through fires of pain, fear, anger and loneliness. If we can stay connected to others in whatever ways work for us and hear their encouragement, we can get through the trials.

Speak your truth. Give someone that smile. Be open to receiving the same. Who knows where you’ll end up and what tale you will be able to tell at the end of your story.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Dear Teachers Intro Video

On a beautiful May morning, I took a few minutes to introduce myself (and some happy insects) to the world.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sum of Our Struggles

I shot this photo this morning at the park I took my boys to for a walk. The older one had been struggling with his math work and I decided a (forced) bit of fresh air was just what we all needed.

My VerboStratis logo features a dandelion and this one caught my eye. We had a miserably cold and wet the day yesterday and this flower was weighed down with the damp. And yet, it was standing upright, waiting for the winds of chance to allow its seeds to fly free.

This is a weed. I consider myself a weed, and perhaps we all are. We live as best we can and try to spread our influence, molded by our experiences, to the wider world.

My son is a weed and he’s in the thick of the very beginnings of his growth. He needs guidance on perseverance, smart use of resources, relaxing techniques to fight anxiety and learning when it’s best to beat a calculated retreat in order to regroup and revise plans before going out once more to try.

I’m sure he doesn’t feel it, but he has a unique and fascinating beauty. Look at this seed head closely and you can see enchanting patterns of architecture and textures. He’s the same way- one has to look closely to get his glow. He struggles with school but he has a wit and charm that are both edgy and engaging. He sees things and understands things I did not at his age (and probably never will)  and that’s a needed reminder to me: we are all different, but we all want to, and can, shine.

We’re weeds. We struggle day-by-day. We all want to grow and let what we are- what we’ve become- float on the winds to the world. Let's help each other along the way.

Good news! There is still time to order my book, Dear Teachers, though both and, in time for school year-end gifts, but TIME IS RUNNING OUT!
Dear Teachers offers a year’s worth of supportive essays, great nature photography and room for teachers to pen their own ideas. In addition, I will be hosting a closed Facebook page for readers for 2017-18 to offer additional weekly encouragements and opportunities to share.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Bell

The weather has warmed up enough that I sit at my kitchen table writing with the windows open. Humid breezes brimming with the sounds of spring are brushing my bare arms; it’s a rich pattern of bird song, wind chimes, trembling tree leaves and construction traffic. Suddenly, there’s a new sound.

Wafting in from a distance comes the buzz of a school bell.

Personally and professionally, this sound has regularly ran my life, as it has with most people at some point. Today, it reminds me of bigger bells.

The old Metallica song is going through my head: “Time marches on. For whom the bell tolls…” (Sorry, Mr. Hemingway, for once I’m not going to cite only great literature.)

While I think the chiming melodies they use in Japan are far more soothing than the jarring ones we typically use here in The States, school bells can be great reminders for us. Set goals. Follow a schedule. Go for it every single day.

Time goes by regardless.

The zing of springtime reminds us also to ENJOY it. Don’t just work for work’s sake. Don’t just trudge through something with no interest or excitement. Like the kids on the playground before the start of a school day- let’s laugh and move with enthusiasm. Tensions and worries abound. Some live with violence and fear at their very doorsteps. If it’s nothing more than telling your feet you’re glad they are carrying you today, then so be it.

The end of the current school year is within sight here. The bell will be silenced for a while. Time will tick on, however. Let’s embrace its movement and keep moving forward.

I thank my readers for your time. Speaking of time, there is still some to order & receive a copy of my book, Dear Teachers, before this school year ends!

Parents: Dear Teachers would make a thoughtful gift to end the school year, as it’s filled with messages of support. I will also have a Facebook page through the 2017-18 school year to offer weekly followup all year.

Principals & Administration: Please consider Dear Teachers as a gift to a special teacher or to your entire team. Writing and photography from artists working with teachers for teachers.

Teachers: You always take care of others, treat yourself to a year of positive vibes and room to write your own thoughts for well, all for well below $20. You deserve it- you are Dear!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Hesse in Wisconsin Via South Korea

Demian_Erstausgabe.jpgYou know you’re living in incredible times when you’re sitting in Wisconsin, having just read a book originally published almost 100 years ago in Germany, because a 7-member boy band in South Korea, BTS, makes extensive references to it in their songs.

Demian, by Herman Hesse, was originally published in 1919. Consider the world this book came out of. World War I was known as The Great War and had just ended the year prior- there was no need to number them yet. The very first movie studio was built in Hollywood in the same year. In Korea, March 1, 1919 saw the start of widespread nonviolent resistance to Japanese rule that didn’t end until 1945.

Besides the publication date, what could possibly intrigue a bunch of young men so far from this book’s beginnings to quote lines from it so ardently? I’m sure it’s still used in literary classes around the world but I confess I’ve never read any Hesse, probably because as a high schooler, I was enamoured by the more standard romantic styles, with my most exotic reaches being E.M. Forster’s Room With a View and some Chinese poetry.

Demian has many layers but deals with boys struggling for identity and what is expected of them. The main character is Emil Sinclair, who is initially presented as an overall rule-follower whose life is going as it should. He seems perfectly content to follow everything his parents tell him is right but then the “second” world beyond home calls and he is exposed to external influences that speak of other possibilities. In addition, he finds himself subject to the effects of his own changing body as he begins to mature. Emil is torn and miserable, swinging wildly between rebelling and repenting. He finds a comforting guide in the storms in a mysterious, more mature classmate who arrives after the book begins, named Max Demian.

I believe this is what would draw the members of BTS in. Foreverkpopping has an incredibly detailed breakdown of the various song lines and book references which BTS could possibly be referring to in their lyrics and videos. If even half of the citings are correct, the depth of reverence they (or whoever is guiding them) have for this work is truly impressive.

KPop band hopefuls are intensely trained for years, typically debuting in groups as teens or as late as their early 20s. BTS has been a group since 2013 and their youngest member, Jungkook, is 19. Once in a group, it seems that almost every action and word of everyone involved with the group are carefully orchestrated by the organization. These management firms encompass a host of highly skilled professionals all focused on product success. While this allows for amazingly consistent quality in marketing, messaging and performances, it must be extremely stressful at times, especially when one remembers all the internal battles the band members are dealing with concurrently. Just like everyone else during these years of evolution, they are undergoing heavy mental, physical and spiritual growth.

The internal struggles of youth described in Demian are as timely today as they were back then. I’m sure Hesse’s descriptions or confusion, urges and fears would have been shocking in their time. Today, they are charmingly vague but still retain a fresh sense of being genuine. I won’t give any spoilers but the book goes into the realities of war and its aftermath as well.

Figuring out who you are and where you want to go, and the understanding of the universality of those desires, are even greater today than when Demian was first written. So, thanks, South Korea, for helping to bring this writing back into the greater modern conscious for us all to enjoy.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I Need Somebody

I_need_somebody.jpg“I NEED SOMEBODY.”

I saw this posted on someone’s social media last week. Someone with a life you wouldn’t think would require this sort of plea.

Sometimes, calls like this can be just for attention. Perhaps this person was looking to see how people would react. Maybe it was for personal entertainment or just a request to fill a random lonely evening. There are times when we all just want someone to respond to us.

They see me. I matter.

Other times, it’s for real. We can find ourselves in a place we can’t even remember how we got to.

Sometimes, we put on a performance for so long, it becomes our reality. Sometimes, we can craft such an elaborate life storyboard that the people around us can’t, or won’t, remind us that it is, in fact, a construct.  Everyone goes along for the ride. Perhaps because it’s thrilling or they get something out of the fantasy world, they don’t want to give it up, either. Then, something cracks that manufactured vision. We sense a problem but don’t know how to save ourselves.

We all need somebody.

We can swear up and down that we don’t need help. We can go about our days adamantly insisting that we’re fine, just as we are. I’m an introvert. It scares me basically every time I reach out. However, I’ve learned how much better I feel after I do. I’ve learned that I grow when I do. I’ve learned how problems shrink and answers bloom when I extend my hand, heart and mind AND open myself up to receive the same from others.

Together, we can laugh. We can cry. We can embrace. It’s a 2-way street. We can heal and see the good that we have within and around us if we’re together.

I’d like to thank all my readers. I definitely need (and appreciate!) you. If you are, or know of, a teacher who would like a book of essays, photos and writing prompts all geared towards feeling connected and valued as an educator, please check out my book, Dear Teachers.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Grit. Revisited.


The following is an essay I wrote a year ago. At that point, I was writing short newsletters to our teaching staff every Sunday, reviewing what was happening on the Playworks playground and offering stories I hoped would make them smile and feel joined to something beyond their own classrooms.

This experience helped launch what I have accomplished a year later: the publication of my first book, Dear Teachers. You might say I demonstrated some grit! I’ve always enjoyed writing. This time, I kept writing and rewriting until I had crafted 40 essays I believed would interest a broad range of educators on topics from finding niches to finding sweetness.

My intentions remain the same: I hope to initiate some smiles and remind educators that they are connected far beyond their classrooms. I relied on Marlene Oswald’s photographs to give me a comfortable and approachable starting point. Her images lend themselves to relaxed study. I placed writing prompts to help readers remember ideas stirred by their time spent with the book. The Facebook group for readers will be another opportunity to unite and encourage.

I hope our book brings us all a little bit closer and a little further down our paths.

In re-reading this essay, I smiled at its roughness. I’ve already grown in my writing style since then. It was written in the craziness of the last weeks of a school year, as we find ourselves in once again, to encourage everyone to forge ahead and not give up.

Another example of the power of sticking to something. Here’s to grit!

May 1, 2016

Grit: (noun) Courage and resolve; passion and interest over time.

Heard a discussion on NPR this morning about grit. Angela Duckworth, psychology professor from the University of Pennsylvania, has written a book about it, called Grit. I loved how Dr. Duckworth had great ideas about grit and related traits like empathy and curiosity but also fights the notion we can/should test for it, or grade it or decide how effective a teacher is by how much grit his/her students have.

I had a few cases this past week out on the playground where grit came into play (word fun!):

I don’t want to coach that game.”
“It’s so cold.”
“But she’s doing it, too.”
“I want to try, but I’m not good enough.”
“Ugh! It’s only Wednesday!”

That last one was me. :-) Anyway, each one of these quotes is either an opportunity to show grit or to give up. We can help each other out by how we respond:

“How about you cover that game for 10 minutes and then switch at the bell.”
“Let’s run some relays!”
“I have some 3rd graders who would love to show you how to play RoShamBo relay instead.”
“Stand right here and I’ll be your partner- we’ll do it together.”
“But you made it!”

Sometimes, it’s the tiniest of things from deep inside ourselves and those around us that help us make it to the end.

Let’s do this!!!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Nothing New. Just Growth

seedquote.jpgI used to be afraid of speaking up because I thought I had nothing new to offer.

I destroyed countless pages and tossed aside numerous half-formed stories because I lost hope in their worth and in mine to make them whole.

We all sit on this rock together- over 7 billion of us. Thinking. Laughing. Crying. Struggling. Winning. Working. Loving. Dealing. Losing. The odds that I’d come up with something completely unique in all that are miniscule. And you know what? That’s totally fine.

It’s fine because we build on each other's work.

Yes, there still are big names today that leap out like the great masters of previous eras. We still have the opportunity to be in awe of someone’s outstanding artistry or extraordinary mental acuity.

However, when you look at their works and ideas, there are some common threads. Physicist Dr. Carlo Rovelli talks of interaction being the root of all things physicists study today. Philosophers like The Dalai Lama talk of the overwhelming importance of connections between peoples, faiths and science. Meanwhile, experts in education are defining the successful educational environment as one where the students immerse themselves in subjects, pulling together multiple disciplines, mechanisms and perspectives with the sharing of learning and discussions among peers (& beyond) a crucial part of the process.

Everyone comes from a certain perspective, but patterns of connection are visible.

Perhaps we’ll eventually come to a point where life’s apparent complexity will be revealed as pure simplicity. Perhaps we’ll eventually discover ways to explain it all with a few math expressions or lines of text. Right now, that still seems hard to believe but I do find solace in the hints that there’s the  possibility of a supportive web connecting it all. Connecting us all.

I can return to my writing in comfort, knowing I have the opportunity to string some words together. Not uniquely. These words have a past, present and future apart from me. But if I participate in their use, craft something with them and hand the results out to the world, I’m participating in something bigger than me. Something that is growing.

And that’s something to believe in.