Morning Porch Sittin’

Our rustic home for 3 days in Happy Valley, Tennessee

I turned over in bed and noticed the faint light penetrating the thin muslin curtains. Ah, morning time. I love the first streams of light and the soft nudge they give me to wake up and start my day in the stillness.

Brewed coffee in hand, I step out of the 100 year old cabin onto the front porch. The wooden screen door creaks on its hinges. I catch it carefully so it doesn’t slam. I breathe in the damp mountain air; feel the moisture on my skin of the fog rising off of the Smokies. I settle into the rocking chair with my books and notebook. THIS is what I came for. These next 120 minutes of time to think, reflect, observe, and be at peace in my mind.

I notice the chorus of little birds on the hillside across the quiet street. Swooping and calling in playful movements. So many varieties playing chase in the meadow.

My devotion and prayer time come first. I picked up a bible from the end table inside, inscribed with “Bobby Christian.” It molded to my hand, soft and malleable from years of use. I wonder what life was like for Bobby? Did he and his family attend the church two lots down?

A deer appears near the top of the hillside. His head on a swivel; frozen in place and looking for enemies. I beg him to relax and feel the safety of this place. He knows the area much better than I and the risk of being out in the open. Finally, he settles and feeds on the dewy grass.

Next up, notebook time. I let my mind process some of what the last month, last year has held. My role as instructional coach was put on hold to address many different needs in our building…tech support for teachers and families, teaching 6th grade math online, teaching 3rd-5th grade writing online, teaching in a very challenging 5th grade classroom in person for the last nine weeks, preparing for my son’s high school graduation and the open house that followed. Putting these thoughts on the page allows them to leave my mind; breaking the cyclical thinking attached to them.

My eyes search the unruly overgrown wire fence separating the road from the hillside. The green of the trees brings peace and calm to my being. I’m not sure what it is, but trees have this immediate effect on me.

I open Mary Oliver’s collection called Devotions. “I Worried” spoke to me. I love the last stanza: Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang. Then I read “Passing the Unworked Field” about Queen Anne’s lace, how it stands straight on its thin stems how it scrubs its white faces with the rag of the sun how it makes all the loveliness it can. Sitting in a rocker on the porch of a 100 year old cabin reading Mary Oliver. The perfect setting to feel the essence of her poetry.

I hear a rustle in the cabin. The others wake to the start of the day. My solitude time is over, but I am filled up and ready for the family time ahead.

The view from the front porch

Sparks of Joy #SOL21

Every morning I pause and write one thing I am thankful for from the previous day in my journal. This practice sets my intentions on the positive and begins my day seeking sparks of joy. Two from this week particularly caused me to smile. And of course they are tied to reading and writing.

Board Books for Big Brothers and Sisters

When a family welcomes a baby, we give the student a board book to read to their new sibling. Included with the board book is a letter congratulating them and encouraging them to read a book everyday to their new brother or sister. We also have a letter for their caregiver highlighting the benefits of reading aloud, along with tips for the first twelve months.

This particular student beamed when she talked about her new brother, Cannon Matthew. She shared with me how she was responsible for feeding him in the car and how important it was to make sure there was milk in the nipple of the bottle. She told me that he was too little for her to hold now, but in a few weeks, she would be able to wrap her arms around him.

These exchanges remind me of the importance of making time for each student and their life stories. They are bubbling up with things to share with us. Pausing from the rush of the day and taking time for just one student is so important.

I hope in a few months this book will be tattled and worn from its use.

Haiku

When she saw me walk past her classroom, she jumped up and ran to the door. “Mrs. Bless! I have something to show you.” She reached in her pocket and pulled out the smallest piece of cut paper. “Please read it.” I read her haiku aloud. I commended her writing and told her how peaceful it made me feel. I thanked her for saving it to share with me.

The next day, this student was having a rough day and needed to take a break in the office. I shared with her how thankful I was that she showed her haiku to me the day before. I even explained to her my daily ritual of writing down something I am thankful for each morning and that on that day, I had written down that I was thankful for her and her writing. Her eyes brightened and a small smile was visible (even through her mask). Yet another example of the importance of relationships and connections with students. They need us, and we need them!

But, let’s talk about your books… #SOL21

Packing for Spring Break, I was chatting with my friend about the expected weather and what clothes I planned to take. Then she stopped the conversation and said, “But let’s talk about what books you are taking.” She knows me well. I spend more time gathering my reading material than my outfits for a trip. Here’s the low down on what I’m taking this year.

The Vanishing Half—I’m over half way done with this book, so I will finish it before I move on to any other books. I’m definitely at the point where I don’t want to put it down. Stella and Desiree are black (light skinned) twins. They leave their town as teenagers and head to New Orleans. While there, Stella is able to pass as white. She ends up leaving New Orleans (without notice) for Boston with a white man. Desiree spends the rest of her life looking for Stella. Things start to get interesting when Desiree’s daughter and Stella’s daughter meet in Los Angeles.

The Four Winds—This is my next book club book. Our book club started in 2015, and our first book was Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. We eagerly read The Great Alone in 2017, and couldn’t wait for The Four Winds to come out this year. I’ve saved the book for this trip, so I could give it my undivided-attention.

Why We Get Fat and What to do About It—Ever since hearing Gretchen Rubin talk about this book and interview this author, I knew I needed to read it. I want to make some changes with what I eat, and I know after I know the facts and science, I will be convinced to make a change.

When Stars are Scattered—This graphic novel has been on my to read list for many months. I’ve heard such great things about it. It may be out 4th quarter 4th-6th book club choice.

Garvey’s Choice— I’m reading this to help our 5th grade teacher prepare for a novel study for this quarter. It is a novel in verse, so I should be able to read it quickly.

Conscious Discipline—I’m reading this professional book with a group of colleagues. We have our final book study meeting upon return from break. I will read it a few sections at a time. It’s very dense with lots of great classroom application.

Not sure I can get all of these done, but I’m excited to try. I’m hoping to have several hours each day over break to read!

The White Swing #SOL21

Inspired by Leigh Anne Eck’s post about her porch, I got to thinking about the two houses I’ve lived in that have front porch swings.

Orchard Lane–It was a white swing with hard wooden slats. Not comfortable at all, yet I would spend hours on it, swinging and reading. I remember the creak the chain would make as I moved forward and back. I remember the prickly green artificial grass carpet as my feet slid back and forth along its cool bristly surface. I remember the way I would curl up on the swing, my body cramped into an awkward shape with my head on the wooden arm rest. We didn’t have central air conditioning, so in the summer the front porch swing was one of the coolest places to be. We lived a short distance from the library, so many afternoons were spent visiting the library and returning home to read on the porch swing. It might be a Judy Blume book or the next book in the Flowers in the Attic series. Hours would pass. Page after page would turn. I was so content on that white swing.

Franklin Street–It was a white curved wicker swing with a flowered seat cushion. I remember the sticky, clear plastic sleeve that covered the metal chain. I remember the grinding sound the metal links would make as the swing oscillated. I remember the painted concrete floor with a gritty sand texture that gently massaged my feet as I skimmed them up and back on the ground. Many afternoons were spent on that swing gliding my babies back and forth after they woke from a nap. The gentle movement as they got out of their post nap stupor, sipping at a cup of milk and eating some animal crackers always did the trick. As they began to lift their heads to look around, we would read from our stack of books. It was the perfect wake up call each afternoon.

My current house doesn’t have a front porch swing. Maybe someday I will again. Will I enjoy a cup of coffee on the swing with a book in my retirement? Will I rock my grand babies holding them close and reading them stories? I hope so!

Coffee Dates #sol20

Coffee dates are one of my favorite things. My husband and I usually go once a week to our favorite coffee shop with our reading material. Typically, we go between 3-4 pm on a Friday or Saturday. I always order a small latte “for here” (I want my drink in the real ceramic mug, no paper or plastic please). My husband always gets the brew of the day and splurges with a splash of cream. We pick a spot to settle in and read. Have I said that this is one of my favorite things? I’m not sure if it is the sound of the espresso machine, the hum of foot traffic coming in off the street, the look of perfection in my latte art, or the uninterrupted reading time. It is something I look forward to every week!

Just like everything, coffee dates have changed in light of the pandemic. Yesterday my husband asked, “Do you want to bike down to the coffee shop?” I knew they were closed to indoor seating, but were still taking orders for curbside. “Yes,” I replied enthusiastically. We haven’t been to the coffee shop in a few weeks, and I have really missed it.

So, I packed up my bag with my current book, my husband’s magazine, and our readers (of course!). I dropped it in my basket, and we pedaled off to the coffee shop. We passed many people out and about, walking, biking, sitting on porches (it was unseasonable warm). Upon arrival, we parked our bikes by a nearby tree, and I went up to the door to read about online ordering. I could see the workers congregated by the espresso bar, just hanging out waiting for orders. Once I placed our order, the barista popped her head out the door and said she would bring it out when it was ready.

We walked over to a bench across the street and started reading. The streets were eerily empty. Very little traffic, except for customers pulling up for their online orders. A few minutes later, the friendly barista walked out with gloved hands and passed the coffees to my husband. We sat on the bench for close to an hour reading and sipping our cups of comfort. It was a nice distraction for a few hours. A way to find a little normal in this uncertain time.

Missing my “normal” coffee date, but happy to have a little piece of comfort

Reading Like a Writer #sol20

We are 14 days into the Slice of Life challenge, and I am learning so much about being a writer. I’m learning about finding stories in everyday life. I’m learning about looking for nuggets of ideas in my notebook when I’m struggling to find a slice. I’m learning how to give meaningful feedback as I think of feedback others have given me and how it pushes me along. I’m learning how to read like a writer.

I just started Susan Orlean’s The Library Book. I’m finding the content of the book fascinating, but just as important, I’m learning so much about writing through her craft. She begins each chapter with a list of library books that have the theme of the chapter in common. I find myself reading to find out the common thread with the books. Also, I have stopped several times to reread and study her phrasing and word use. This writing challenge has heighten my awareness as I read. I am looking for ways I can try things out in my writing that I notice other authors use. I know this is a practice I can use with students, as well.