Look for it. Feel it. Name it.

I had the opportunity to chat with two of my colleagues this morning. It was a great exchange. It was wonderful to see one another (virtually), to listen, and to share. I left feeling connected, encouraged, and uplifted, with lots of things to think about.

One of my colleagues shared that so many people she’s communicating with now have heavy hearts. I could feel the weight as she spoke. People are struggling to feel joy. In the face of so much discord, difficulty, fear, injustice, illness it makes sense to feel a powerful incongruence. How might one legitimately feel joy, or be justified to do so, when so much is wrong around us. Everyone is dealing with such strong feelings – many of them less than positive. It’s a struggle to figure out how to sit with it all.

Thinking about it, I responded. “Maybe it’s because I’m a Kindergarten teacher, but my first thought is to quote Mr. Rogers. — Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

For me that translates into look for the good, the positive — there is always good and positive. I thought for a bit and continued. “I think if we don’t look for the good, if we don’t experience, embrace, and celebrate whatever good and joy we find, then evil wins in an even stronger way.”

We must continue the fight. We must acknowledge the things that are not right, the things that anger us, frighten us, or sadden us. We must sit with all those who suffer. We must cry out for justice and mercy. But, at the same time, we must, I think, continue to look for, and find, joy. We must continue to hope.

After talking, I resumed a yoga and mindfulness course I’m taking with Little Flower Yoga. It included a video of children and parents sharing their experiences with mindfulness. I was struck by how much they were speaking to my conversation with my colleagues, and the one I’ve been having with myself as I prepare to start my cancer treatment again this week.

Mindfulness, they said, helps us understand where we are now. It affords us the opportunity to notice everything, and connect with the now, ourselves, and others. It was a real aha moment for me. Sometimes I feel like I need to remind people of how tough things are. Other times I think I shouldn’t feel joyful when things are so uncertain and potentially dangerous. But, as I take a breath and try to see things in my here and now, with kindness and curiosity, I notice that those thoughts and feelings are only part of my now. There is, even amidst the difficulties, many points of light, hope, peace, joy. In mindfulness, I must see and explore everything, give everything voice, light, time, thought — and even in my darkest moments that includes joy, goodness, and hope.

This photo reminds me of some of the reasons I have for joy, hope, peace, gratitude.

There are so many people choosing to help, to love, to pray, to do what is right – in my life and in the world. There are many reasons to be grateful. I am using my breath, my body, and my mind to connect to those truths, and to allow them to inform my feelings and action. I texted a friend that my to do list today includes — see the good, the positive, the blessings, the strength, the safety, and the helpers; speak of them in some way (to myself and others); and let it inform and bless me, and the world.

No matter what, this is my mantra. It is me encouraging mindfulness in myself.

I hope to see the world, and the situations I am in, in the fullness of truth. I know, for myself, it is the only way I will have the strength, courage, and ability to be, and to do, what is best.

An Exercise in Mindfulness

There is a mindfulness practice one can use to counter anxiousness and worry. Become aware of what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel. By doing this you gently remove yourself from the world of your fears. As you notice more and more, you are brought more deeply into the present moment.

I need to spend more time in the present moment, and less time in the future which is not yet here. So much can change between now and that future moment. Why do I fret so much about it? I want to begin to spend more time in the present, aware of its goodness and beauty. I took a moment to do that today. It rained yesterday removing much of the humidity from the air. Today is spectacular — breezy, clear, cool.

I was encouraged to do a bit of writing that uses some sort of stacked words — alliteration, repetition, whatever worked. It seems apropos to use the repetition of small phrases to encourage mindfulness and call myself back to the present moment and all that surrounds me there.

Breezes blow. Breezes blow softly, then vigorously.

Breezes blow.  Breezes blow, and soothe my soul. 

Breezes blow. Breezes blow, and my breath grows in depth and ease. 

My eyes.  My eyes gaze up from my computer screen, and soak in the verdant green that surrounds me.

My eyes. My eyes rise higher and admire the beautiful blue sky accentuated by clouds slowly moving by.

My eyes.  My eyes notice the birds who join me on the patio — as if we are friends. 

My ears. My ears hear the distant rumble of cars, and the sound of my vertebrae straightening as I lean back and stretch.

My ears. My ears delight in the sweet songs of my bird friends. 

My ears. My ears react to the soft worship music on my laptop, and mysteriously slow my breath.

My mouth. My mouth feels the smoothness of the coconut cream in my afternoon matcha.

My mouth. My mouth tastes the delicate sweetness. 

My mouth. My mouth enjoys the green goodness of this delightful drink.

I choose. I choose to embrace and encourage peace.

I choose. I choose to believe the best. 

I choose. I choose to live — as much as I can — from a place of trust, peace, and positivity.

I. I sit quietly and breathe deeply.

I. I pray.

I. I am. 

Embrace the Bitter, Lean into the Sweet

This year we ended our time together in Kindergarten without being in each other’s physical presence. That was hard. During the preparation for our end of year celebrations, and during the many goodbyes, I had to deepen my breath, and hold onto their bright eyes in our zoom calls.

True to form, it was a bittersweet moment. My love and respect for them always intensifies the bitter. But this year, their thoughts spoken during our celebration intensified the sweetness, and soothed my aching heart.

Yup the bitter remains, but the depth of bitterness only reflects the depth of our love and the sweetness we shared. We are a community. We love one another. We have shared so very much. To honor all that, I’m choosing to embrace the bitter, and lean into the sweet.

It was wonderful to see each Kindergarten face, and hear their shouts of greeting on our end of year zoom call. But, my favorite part, was listening to them share about Kindergarten — this was a new addition to our end of year celebration.

Each girl shared answers to one, or all, of these questions. What did she LOVE about Kindergarten? How did she surprise herself? What is she most proud of from Kindergarten?

As each girl’s face popped onto the screen, I watched them intently from afar. I leaned into the screen as they spoke. And, I celebrated!

I want to share our celebration with you. Here are just a few of the things that were shared and celebrated.

  • My favorite part of Kindergarten was dance. I thought I couldn’t do dance moves, but I did it!
  • My favorite parts of kindergarten was doing math sentences, publishing my writing, coloring, and art.
  • I enjoyed “play to learn” because it was mostly playing with my kindergarten friends. 
  • I didn’t think I would be able to learn how to count coins, but I tried really hard and I did it!
  • I thought Spanish must be hard as it is a foreign language. Turns out it is not so hard, and now I know I can do it!
  • I never thought I could make the art pieces that Ms. James made, but she taught us how to make them, and I did it!
  • At the beginning of the year, I could only go 1 bar on the monkey bars, but now I can go across the whole monkey bars.
  • I am most proud of being able to present in front of a crowd of people. I do not get nervous anymore!
  • I love Science, we did lots of activities, we put the white thing into the cola, then it exploded. And we had safety goggles. 
  • I didn’t think I could, but I learned how to tie my shoes. 
  • I didn’t think I’d be able to do 3D shapes in Math class. It’s hard to remember names of 3D shapes but I did it.
  • I am most proud of learning to read. 
  • What I LOVED about Kindergarten was being together! Working hard, playing fair and being AWESOME together!”
  • I am most proud of all the math I learned. 
  • I did not think I could draw, but I can,  and l love art
  • I loved that all my friends were in my class. I loved that I was still able to see my friends on zoom.
  • I surprised myself by making new friends and writing poetry.  
  • I’m proud that I made it through the whole year of kindergarten!
  • This year in Kindergarten I am so proud that… I NEVER GAVE UP!

Sharing them here allows me to listen once more to their words. My celebration is even deeper the second time around. I hear their joy, pride, and confidence. I am buoyed by the many ways they have grown, overcome, learned, and discovered — and any part I played in that.

Spring 2020 remote learning/teaching was different, difficult, time consuming, and energy draining. But it was also profoundly wonderful, beautiful, creative, and filled with reasons to celebrate. It was filled with learning, thinking, wondering, joy, discovery, growth, and beautiful relationships.

And, that is very, very good.

Wonderfully Powerful Words

Words are amazing things. They are beautiful alone and when strung together. I love the way plethora feels as I say it. When I string it together with possibilities, it encourages me to open my mind to a plethora of possibilities! I eagerly await a myriad of miracles. I am fierce — fantabulously fierce.

Words allow us to express our thoughts, feelings, understanding, and wonderings. That in and of itself makes words wonderful. But, beyond that, I find that words, used well, allow me to discover and give joy, reinforce or alter my feelings, and create new spaces for breath, life, and ease.

Poetry is not my usual creative jam. I’m intrigued by it. I enjoy the rhythm, and the way words are used to form incredible images. But, I don’t often indulge.

However, for some reason, a few years ago I started a poetry journal. I played and experimented. I pieced together words that encouraged life, joy, peace, breathing, and possibility.

I found that journal the other day, and was amazed at how much I need the words I wrote 8 years ago. Perhaps I will experiment again — there are many blank pages — but for now, I will simply share a few poems with you.

Two Magnet Poems:

Life is.
Laughter is essential.
Tears are inevitable.
Life is good.
Possibility surrounds me.
I see possibilities.
They whisper to me.
"We can happen soon." 

Transforming Fear:

From every acorn regrowth. 
Face everything and relax.
Flying eagles are radiant.
Fantabulous, easy, and remarkable.
Fun even amidst rainstorms.
Funky earrings are rockin'!
Fantastic embraces are relished.

Enjoy Every Moment

Let's ... 
sing with the bluebirds
breathe between kisses
laugh in the sunshine
smell every flower
make many wishes
dance beneath the moon.
Let's ... 
enjoy every moment.

A bit of alliteration — I love alliteration, I’m not sure why, but I find it so satisfying.

Super soft sunshine
pours perfect pretty patterns
in incredible intricacies
making mere movements
become beautiful bits
of 
amazing abstract art
upon 
otherwise ordinary 
simple surfaces.

And then there are words, written on my body, in smooth, beautiful henna. These words mingle with my spirit, my actions — with my very self — and become a living poem.

Perhaps that will be my new poetry experiment – life, me, and relentless positivity.

I Did It!

I did it!

My brother and I got out for walk in nature, and I PAINTED!!!

I sat quietly, enfolded in the sounds and sights of nature. But, something in me rejoiced loudly “YAY!!! II’m sitting by the water, and I’m painting!!! All is right with the world”

It was a remarkably beautiful, and emotional few moments. I’m not sure I can express how lovely it is to sit by a river, with my watercolors, a fresh piece of paper, a paint brush, and some water (often from the river itself).

I know creativity isn’t the same thing as art. But, sometimes art gives me the opportunity to indulge in my love for creativity and creative thinking. Art sharpens my ability to be open to possibility and think differently — How might I express with the paint what I see with my eyes? How might I use the water, or the vegetation, or the wind as part of my process? Is there something new I might try? What if I expressed it in shades of black and white rather than color?

Strangely, COVID gives me more opportunities to think creatively as well. How might I feel comfortable sitting and painting? Where can we find a place to actually sit? If I have to stand, how might I use what is around me to hold my paint and water? Might I wonder and entertain all the possible things that might go right, instead of the things that might go wrong?

We humans have a negativity bias – keeps us safe – but I think sometimes for creatives our ability to problem find and imagine possibilities works against us. Well, I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes it works against me. Remember I said the moment was emotional? It was emotional because of the beauty, joy, and peace I felt. It was emotional because it was one of the first moments I have not felt afraid being out of doors doing something normal.

Yesterday I painted by the river.

Today I knitted.

Life is good.

These artistic endeavors soothe my soul. They teach me to look, notice, and wonder. They encourage me to be in the moment, open to possibility, even when it seems elusive.

I am a creative. It is part of who I am. I think I was born with the ‘I love noticing, thinking, creating, and figuring things out’ gene. Or perhaps, I don’t have that gene, but simply was blessed with parents who raised me to notice, think, create, and figure things out. Either way, here I am.

Yes, I am a creative. Each day gifts me with opportunities to increase my understanding of creativity and creative thinking, challenges that strengthen my creative confidence, and moments that urge me to consider possibilities. As I write this I am reminded of the Mary Anne Radmacher quote ““… sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

If I might be bold enough to allow her quote to speak to me and inspire me about creativity, I would rephrase it like this — often creativity is the quiet voice at the end of the day, that, looking at opportunities untaken, or problems as yet unsolved, says “I will sleep on it tonight and will try again tomorrow.”

May we always treasure and nurture that small voice.

Painting Today

There will be painting today!

I got these beauties in the mail a few days ago, but they had to sit in quarantine before I opened them, so for all intents and purposes, I got them today!

I staged the photo as I did because it pleased me aesthetically, but also because it hints at a message. The brush is supported by hope and courage. The combination of the three make the image complete, and somehow — in my heart today — increases the possibility of my being open to the many miracles that are gifted to me each moment.

That brush is fantabulous. I cannot wait to see how much water and paint it is able to soak up, and how it moves across the page.

Yes, there will be painting today.

Perhaps on my porch, or — gasp — dare I hope, at the edge of a stream on a walk? Mask and glasses on, but heart blissfully open to the blessings that will surely come my way. And, if tears come, it will be alright. They will mingle with the watercolors bringing unexpected beauty.

Saint Joan of Arc

I fence. Actually, I don’t just fence, I LOVE to fence, I enjoy doing drills, bouting, learning, even being smoked by a fencer who is better than I am. Fighting with all I am emotionally, intellectually, and physically is magnificent!

As a fencer and a Catholic, I’m a big fan of Saint Joan of Arc. A while back, I read the book — Joan of Arc In Her Own Words, by William Trask — and was deeply touched by her faith and her courage. I think it was after reading that book, that I added her as a regular, to my nightly litany.

My brother Harry, me, and St. Joan of Arc.

Long ago, someone told me they thought we didn’t choose the Saints we have a devotion to. Instead, the Saints choose us. Quite remarkable that Joan of Arc might choose me. Remarkable, and quite fantabulous. I like it. I embrace Joan of Arc as my spiritual sister — a fierce woman of God who can understand my humanness, my fears, my love of fighting, my love of God — me.

People who know my story, remark on my courage, my fierceness, my bad-ass-ness. Sometimes I don’t see it as clearly. asthey do. Or, I know it is true, but don’t feel it, and don’t affirm myself in it as fully as I might.

That’s been my experience lately. I’ve been feeling a bit off my fierceness game as I manage life, remote teaching, family and friends, and try to wrap my head and heart around beginning cancer treatment sooner than I expected. It’s all good, but it’s not easy.

The moments of fear and emotion, where I cannot keep from crying, seem to fly in the face of fierceness. But perhaps that inner sense is not an adequate, or accurate, assessment of the situation.

As I sit here — not in a whirlwind of fear, grief, emotion, or crying — it appears my crying and feeling deeply, is an intense expression of fierceness and courage. I am not running away from the feeling or the intensity. I’m not pushing it down. I’m sitting with it, feeling it, and then going about life.

I will do my best to recall that truth when next I am in the storm.

The other day, amidst feelings of anxiousness, I noticed the book – Sitting Like A Saint, by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. I decided to play a bit of “bible roulette.” Have you ever done that? You ask for a word, and then just open the bible and see what is there. I figured “Sitting Like A Saint roulette” could work too.

I said a quick prayer and opened the book to — you guessed it –Joan of Arc.

“Sometimes we might feel scared, or not up for the challenge

Yes, yes, that’s what I’m feeling

“… but remembering God loves us and is here to protect us can help to calm our worried minds. You can be courageous in the face of a challenge … covered by God’s love and protection … and a soft white light”

The meditation continued with a suggestion of a form of standing that I immediately recognized as the power pose! I always use the power pose. I suggest it to my Kindergartners, my HS athletes, and myself. So, it made me laugh out loud to see it in my “Sitting Like A Saint roulette.”

I mean really, how much more perfect? Joan of Arc, courage, being covered in the light, love, and protection of God, breathing. and the power pose.

I took a few breathes, and then whispered with a chuckle “I just might have to cry uncle, and finally believe you’re protecting me.”

We shall see.

I am super grateful for these moments when my inside and outside life collide in a brilliant display of awesomeness and clear message. It’s very interesting. I’ve been experiencing it with some regularity in my teaching as well. I must pay a tad more attention to those moments so as to really hear them and allow them to inform my inner dialogue and sense of being.

PS.

I let this post sit for a bit before publishing it, and I’m so glad I did. While I was away I was reminded of my post from April 19. I quoted Ruth Ayers in that post — “the magic of story happens when a story is released into the world and it wraps around someone’s heart.” That is exactly what happened here! The story that the Gregory and Barbara Bottaro crafted and released into the world found its way — with all its magic and blessing — to me, and my heart. How cool is that?

Possibility and Fantabulousness in Quarantine

The other day a colleague shared a link about how to force a copy to be made of a google doc, sheet, slide, or drawing, when you attempt to download it. What a great idea! Now no one has to remember to make a copy, or risk changing your original by mistake.

While I was on the Shake Up Learning site learning how to do that, I clicked on a few other things I found interesting. My absolute favorite was her magnetic poetry board that featured small white rectangles with black lettered words, waiting to be placed on a retro mint green refrigerator! Oh my GOSH!!! So good.

After playing for a bit, I noticed she had a free mini course about how to make the magnetic boards. I wasted no time clicking on that link.

I listened, played, and created a magnetic board for my Kindergartners. It was lovely, but a bit too complicated. Back to the drawing board I went.

Finally I decided I’d create a board that had space to create sentences in the middle, while holding the words on the top and bottom of the slide. This would allow the Kindergartners to create the sentences by clicking and dragging.

I shared it as an optional assignment.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

When you are finished with your other projects, please consider teaming with me as an Official Tester of Our Kindergarten Virtual Magnetic Words Board.

I can’t come put magnets on your refrig, so I had to do it on the computer. I learned some new skills, and used them to make word “magnets” as well as a place for you to create sentences, poems, lists, or other things we haven’t yet imagined, on your computer.

This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’m not sure how it will work for you on your device, or how much you will enjoy it. But I’d really like to know.

If you’re ready to be brave, resilient, I can do it Kindergartners, click here. Make a copy, and see what you can do. Try it for a few days. I’ll be waiting for your thoughts, and your sentences.

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I was sure they would except the challenge. But, I had no idea what I’d get in return. I waited, with hopeful anticipation.

Slowly their responses began filling my email inbox. They were great! Each one showed me the spirit, resilience, and all around awesomeness of the student who did the work.

Their sentences speak volumes about who they are, how they see themselves, and what they are experiencing and thinking. I gotta say, they filled my heart with joy! Take a look at a few:

Yes, yes indeed, I do feel all the love!

Fantabulous, right? I included a few words in their word bank that were a little less than positive – yell, cry, worries. I added them to honor and validate the reality that we might want to yell, cry, or be worried. They didn’t choose them — except to suggest — after a long line of things they do — love, laugh, imagine, and create — they don’t yell. That actually made me laugh out loud.

Curious to consider, but true none-the-less, this fantabulousness happened because of the quarantine.

Because we’re home and not together in our school, I needed to rethink how to do what I would normally do in our classroom. How could I give them open ended opportunities to create with words? How could I allow them to share themselves and their ideas? How could I do some formative assessment?

Living during this pandemic I have a bit more time, and am experiencing a good deal more stress. So what could I do? I could try to follow my passion to learn and create. So when this opportunity to learn and get caught up in the flow of creativity came my way, I eagerly embraced it.

I think this fantabulousness also happened because of all the work we put in together pre-quarantine. Not just the work to develop skills, but the work to develop relationships.

Everything about our time together — even now — is about relationships. Relationships with arms, hearts, and big beautiful brains, wide open to embrace each other and all we bring to one another.

We say good morning, inquire how the other is, look each other in the eye, and share our thoughts ideas and feelings. We laugh, and sometimes we cry. Our relationship is based on trust, love, openness to possibility, wonder, willingness to risk, and mutual respect.

For sure, that relationship allowed me to take a risk, do something new, and ask my students and their parents to join me in my experiment. Undoubtedly it gave them courage and freedom as well.

We remain apart, but at the same time together — together in all our fantabulousness!

Notice Small Things

“They world is full of ordinary moments, and when noticed they become special.” Ruth Ayers

The other day — well actually it was months ago, but saying the other day soothes my heart. I miss my Kindergartners! So please, join me in imagining that it was just the other day that I was with them, rather than nearly two months ago.

The other day, in my Kindergarten classroom, the girls were dismantling their Lego creations. I couldn’t find the tools Lego makes to take the bricks apart. Even if I could find them we hadn’t made the creations on the Lego plates, so the tools wouldn’t have been that helpful. So, instead of the tools, I gave suggestions of ways to get the bricks apart, and lent my fingers when their fingers reached a snag.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one of my girls working with incredible focus and intensity. She was getting her blocks apart like a champ! I wandered over for a closer look, and noticed she had created her own tool. She didn’t ask for help. She problem solved all by herself!

She was using a paperclip as her handmade tool!

I immediately abandoned any thought of the pre-made tools, and began sending everyone who asked for help to this sweet and ingenious girl. Each time I did, I said, “C figured out a way to make a handmade tool. Go ask her to teach you.” And, each time I sent a girl her way, she humbly and quietly showed them what to do.

Day two of Lego dismantling began with requests for paperclips. I recalled the one C had used the day before was small and silver, so I quickly found the small silver ones and handed them out. They didn’t work. I thought perhaps C had opened them the blocks a bit before she used the paperclip, so I suggested trying that.

From across the room, C noticed me out of the corner of her eye. She came over and said “They aren’t the right paperclips, Ms. James.” To which I responded, “They’re not? I thought you had the small silver ones.” To which C replied, with incredible patience and complete confidence. “Yeah, but not those.”

I think perhaps at that point I laughed. “Not these?”

‘No” C said, as she took the container from my hands.

She moved the paperclips around, clearly looking for something specific. I still wasn’t sure what she was searching for. Then I saw it! The day before I had borrowed several paperclips from a colleague. They were thinner than the silver ones we typically used, and they had tiny lines on them.

“See, Ms. James. These are the ones that work!” C said with a smile. “Oh my GOSH!” I replied. “I didn’t notice that, C. Thanks so much for showing me.”

Small things. They really are important. I’m glad I noticed C’s creativity and ingenuity, but if she hadn’t noticed the small things about her tool — the things I had overlooked — my noticing would have been much less.

She taught me a great lesson about being in the moment, present, observant, and focused. I love C and all my girls. They never cease to amaze me.

Hope and Create

Recently, I received an SOS — an invitation to be part of a group of bloggers making and experiencing magic by sharing our stories. I love their idea that “the magic of story happens when a story is released into the world and it wraps around someone’s heart.” Fantabulous, isn’t it? I hope this bit of my story wraps around someone’s heart bringing a sweet song of hope and peace.

Sometimes, being is difficult, because life is difficult. That is not to suggest in any way that being and life are not glorious, mysterious, and wonderful. They are! But, sometimes, there is uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and pain, amidst the glory, wonder, and mystery, and that can be burdensome.

This year has had some wearying moments.

I have an incurable — but totally manageable — form of cancer. I am well, I really am. I am strong, brave, beautiful, fantabulous, and very loved. And yet, sometimes, it gets the best of me. It has been becoming more active over the last few years. And that, as well as how it makes me feel – fatigued, sometimes ill and unsafe — has been hard to manage.

Did I mention wearying? Yes, I did. Part of me whispers “It bears repeating — weary.”

But even for the weary there is hope. I love Pope Francis! Listen to a few things he has said recently about hope.

“Hope does not disappoint!”

“Do not be afraid, do not yield to fear: This is the message of hope. It is addressed to us, today. These are the words that God repeats to us this very night.”

And not only hope, but creativity as well.

“I’m living this as a time of great uncertainty. It’s a time for inventing, for creativity.”

I am doing my best to breathe, and to live the words Pope Francis speaks to me, and to us. Let us live in the moment, even in uncertainty — with hope and creativity.