In her invitation to the bloggers today, Lainie quotes Kwame Alexander:

Words have the power to really help us take in the world around us, understand it, see it then be able to react to it, make it better, imagine it in a different way.-Kwame Alexander

qtd. in Two Writing Teachers blog

In my quest for what to write after a BIG weekend, I take Lainie’s cue. I relied on Kwame’s wisdom last Saturday when I presented at the Fall Conference I had been planning for the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE).

“Transformation: The Power of Poetry” opened with this:”If you want a student to be moved by poetry, then you must share poetry with which you (and they) connect on an emotional level.” (The Write Thing by Kwame Alexander)

The last concurrent session was my slot and at the end of the conference day. Board members were given those spots because we were committed to stay throughout. During lunch, a fellow end-of-day presenter said, “Well, each session has its challenges.” Ours would be having a crowd, as it was clear that many had already left by 1:50.

Here’s the thing: I have lots to say about almost anything teaching, BUT I am not a strong, relaxed presenter. I am working on it since I want to improve, and improvement begins with self-awareness. I struggle with parameters—what to leave in, what to take out? I want to do it all!

The end of the day though was a sweet spot for me. This conference I had agonized over for more than a year was successful. No, it wasn’t a huge crowd—people still hesitate to gather, online habits endure, and are still requiring a full weekend to recharge—but those who attended were enthusiastic and engaged, many of them training to become ELA teachers. The energy was palpable—and I was pumped.

I could, finally, relax. Presentation? Yup, I can. For the first time, I had real FUN with my group. Kwame had set up the discussion about reading and playing with poetry as consumers, then writing it as creators. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Kindness” let us share: reading our favorite lines aloud; reading together aloud in a chorus; acting out lines—which line am I?

We brainstormed abstract nouns and action verbs; we paired them to create personification. Confidence swaggered into the room/strutted up to the front/turned to face the crowd/scanned the faces /and smiled without breaking/a sweat.

Funny we chose confidence. It was the first time as a presenter I had actually felt it!

(Thanks to those wonderful committee members and attendees who made that day a success!)

Finishing Touch

I put the finishing touches on my Canva presentation, “Transformation: The Power of Poetry,” focused on the punch and playfulness of personification, and head into the kitchen for…a pear.

Worth waiting for…

“What’s going on with you?” I ask, examining one of the stubborn red pears.

Their russet skins drew me to touch, (even though I know the dangers of judging by appearance), then hold, then add to the shopping cart last Friday. Oh, those Picasso-celebrated shapes held such promise. Every morning, it’s been three now, I cradle them, gently turning and testing with thumb and fingertips. They remain resistant, unyielding.

I bemoan their stubbornness, impatient for a firm, juicy slice, hungry for that sweet spot…now.

I turn to Harry & David, purveyors of pears and other delectables, and The Table for counsel. There it is, the article, “How to Ripen Pears,” with the opening claim, “Harry & David was built on pears.” Hyperlinks underscore “built” and “pears” and could distract me from my mission, but no! I am goal-driven, searching for those “seven tips” promised in the title subhead.

I learn about cold storage and individual timing. Like people, “not all pears ripen at the same speed.” They come in various types and colors, but even the fact that the four I’m tending all boast that scarlet hue is no guarantee they’ll mature at the same time.

Temperature matters; the Oregon State University Extension provides a timetable, but no promises from this Dr. Spock-like guide to parenting. The thumb test is what I’ve been using, tip #4, but the loving pressure I’ve applied has been fruitless.

A brown paper bag with a ripe banana or apple inside, I learn, will allow my pears the ideal companionship—the ethylene gas a catalyst, pear-pressure of the best kind! Oh, you model fruit, I salute you.

But it’s trick six that makes my heart sing, my pulse race, my fingers tingle: “Ripe pears give off ethylene gas too, so storing them together with your un-ripe pears in a sack or bucket will cause the rest to ripen. If you listen closely, you can hear them talking to each other, offering words of encouragement. ‘You can do it, Bill! Ripen like you’ve never ripened before!’”

Oh, Autumn Michetti, blog post article author, you’ve given me the example of personification parading across the page I’ve been looking for, the perfect real-life playfulness I can share when I present.

May all your days be fruitful!

Can You Leave Butter on the Counter?

The Star-Keeper

The wonder of the internet with this tantalizing tagline strikes me this morning. AllRecipes promises an answer, and I think of my mother. My mother who passed her culinary bent to all of her six children, albeit in differing degrees of devotion.

Butter always sat on our counter—when it was being used—a stick of yellow resting on a simple saucer that was tucked away on the bottom cupboard shelf safely behind closed doors when it wasn’t. No fancy dome or  butter bell

These were the days of butter-rich recipes from the initial Joy of Cooking edition, the days when butter was the only fat worth featuring. Butter was a star! And while the article I read this morning assures me that indeed, my mother’s habit is (and was) safe, it recommends a two-week time limit.

No stick of butter ever lasted two weeks in our house. Butter was a serious staple. Softened butter spread smoothly over toast, my mother’s homemade bread right out of the over, and atop a dome of fluffy, already-buttery mashed potatoes.

When I returned to Oregon, several close friends from New Jersey followed right behind, joining me for the total solar eclipse. The Oregon Coast delivered on August 21, 2017, a sublime welcome-home and a joy for my guests. As a thank-you, they bought me a lovely butter-keeper from a shop on the bay front here.

Funny—how such a gift keeps giving, my friends and family present on my counter, whenever I lift its lid.

Working Girl

Do you remember the scene from the 1988 movie, Working Girl? Melanie Griffith is trapped in an elevator with some corporate execs and questioned about how she came up with an ingenious idea that the evil Sigourney Weaver is claiming for her own.

“‘I thought—Trask…media…Trask…media.” She explains its origins. And the alchemy happens: two disparate ideas meet and gold is the result. My husband uses that phrase whenever lightning strikes, or anything that seems like lightning, in our daily lives.

I had a “Trask/media” moment yesterday as I, their substitute science teacher for the day, stood in front of a disengaged, dare I say resistant, class of sixth graders. I have been in this class before, know the teacher and respect his teaching.

But the slide show they are to complete, a review of reading they’ve been doing about cells, despite my best efforts to assist them reference their notes, the information they have at their fingertips, as I’ve been asked to do, is a non-starter for too many of them.

During third period, after first period disinterest, second period P.E. (don’t ask), I had a breather, a “prep”—time to closely read the texts they have annotated, and affixed to their interactive science notebooks.

I realize that this would be a perfect time for the poetry-writing strategies that I will be presenting at a workshop for the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) later this month.

Personification, anyone? “I am a cell./How can you tell?/ My DNA gives my identity away…”

…or maybe an epistle form? “Dear Prokaryote,/Just saying your name makes my heart beat fast./You with that cytoplasm floating free/ missing your mitochondria/ How jealous are you of Eukaryote?/ That sibling with the smart organelle.”

Even a found poem or blackout poetry would turn the students back to the text to look at it with new eyes. Poetry has such daily potential in every classroom.

Don’t get me started about the terrific examples of nature/science poetry available for those naysayers out there. Linda Rief’s new book, Whispering with Words, provides an extensive list to introduce and explore. Yes, it’s science, but it’s literacy, and too many kids don’t explore the connections. (I discovered this last weekend in Sapiens, an anthropology magazine, science—and mind-altering.)

There I am, knowing what I could be doing but turning away from that alchemy. This golden moment will pass me by because, as a substitute, I lack the power.