Happy 2016!!

Hope this is a great year…for reading…for writing…for teaching..for Faith…Hope..and Love!


What likes what, when Autumn comes…?

What likes What?  is an observational writing strategy that I have done for years (see my scratch what likes what notes on my writer’s notebook page)…In the novel Cold Mountain, Ruby tells Ada,  in trying to describe how she knows so much about plants, herbs, the natural world: Well, you just have to know what likes what…”...that line spoke to me. So, I have lists, still compiling them and some have become small works of art. This is a good observational suggestion for students–to notice what likes what throughout their day. If you have students do this exercise it will open their eyes to really noticing the world. The world is full of beauty–beauty in the simplest of sights and moments. Here are a few examples of my recent photo shots, to which I have added What likes What jots…Ask your students–What likes What when Autumn comes?

DSCN2792golden dune-lined path likes solitary companion

IMG_4621...shades-of-blue-lake like November day whitecaps

Dec 3 sun e…Autumn leaves like surprise of early snowfall

IMG_1117…yellow maple leaves like shadow and light

IMG_1137..November lake likes lingering kiss of sunset

IMG_1133…weathered dune pine likes view from above

IMG_1124…brown forest floor likes nature’s brilliant contrast

IMG_1709…downy woodpecker likes calm Autumn morning

Around the World in Nine Photos

This is the second set of ‘Round the World Photos I have reblogged. What writing possibilities they offer!! ENJOY!

The WordPress.com Blog

Do you love stories from around the world? Check out the work of the following nine photographers on WordPress.com and allow your imagination to take you away…

Nathanael‘s monochrome photo of the Star Lite Motel in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, conjures images of wayward romances and clandestine meetings. We loved the marquee’s message, “Forgive and forget its human to err.” (sic) which offers an almost haunting absolution. For more of Nathanael’s work, check out his blog, G’Nat’s Eye View.

Photo by Nathanael Photo by P. Nathanael Gough

The image below, by UK photographer Andy Hooker, had us at hello. We love how the sign matches the woman’s red coat and how her right leg is in crisp focus just as her stride reaches the “h” above her head. Check out more of Andy’s work at LensScaper.

Photo by Andy Hooker Photo by Andy Hooker

Bao Pham‘s photo of this

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The Shepherd’s Journal

The Shepherd’s Journal is truly the marriage of writing of the natural world and prose/poetry writing. My writing group created a Shepherd’s Journal a couple of times during winter writing retreats, so many years ago now. Here is an example from one year. Our little group emerged in part from Sunbelt Writing Project fellows; others, invited writing pals. Some of us teachers, others not. The journal is easy enough to do: students in your classroom would choose a month of the year and compose thoughts about the natural world and create a poem or passage. The shepherd, historically, and yet today in many countries, followed the natural signs of each month; lives depended upon watching closely.

To make this a lower risk writing task, have student groups work together!

To make it lower risk–have students “find” poems or passages in prose that reflect the months. Not necessarily to find a poem titled, “January,” but to find a poem or passage that creates images of that cold month that launches a new year.

Here is ours—-(Except for mine, all last names of the contributors have been removed…all rights reserved–please do not copy text; please do use the idea!)

Our Shepherds’ Journal

22 February 2003


Cold-cold-cold this month does bluster and blow

With wintry gleaming sun sharp crystal

As the icicles adorning the houses’ eaves

With snow and ice outlining each forest limb

And lonely tombstones’ epitaphs as if

To recall the Winter’s tale that January weaves.


It is the stories of the Dead we read …

The solitary voice of our hinterlands

Whose echo and countenance haunts and stalks

Under cover of dark-hearted Winter’s cloak

Our buried longings and distant dormant lives

Are revisited in the evening embers then reborn with icy morning walks.



Some February days in Alabama the soft wind’s a caress, whispering “spring, spring” on hurried, pale winter faces. Strong rains strike on tornado-dark days.   Outside my bedroom window the trees are brown tracery against gray sky, the same as January, the same as December—not a green edge of dogwood or sycamore leaf, still. Each time I take my wool winter dress coat out of the closet, I wonder: The last time? . . . before spring cleaning and the sultry months that even now—Suddenly, a 70o day!–are building steam.

Pines sing, the sun’s hot. Bright-white clouds, only their undersides gray, sail across sky deepened by just a tinge of cold, a graver blue than the skies of summer.   The surface of Lake Martin, the trees on its opposite edge, and that sky dance in a palette of silver grays and gray blues, shifting, transmuting in the now-warm, now-cold wind. Where I sit, on a rough wooden picnic table just dry enough to let us write outside, Andy’s fingers dance on the keys of his laptop. We’re sharing the picnic table top, the multiple-personality wind, the caws and honks of occasional birds and rush of passing cars woven into the sssshssshsssh of the pines. Andy speaks lines to himself, a quiet sound as writing-companionable as the waves of pinesong. Kim’s at the next table over, legs stretched out, soaking in the winter sun, the page of her writing tablet brilliant-white, Vanna White’s teeth white—in the midday winter sun. We’re alone together, in our clean-skied Lake Martin winter-into-spring.



Magical March brings warmth for which our souls long…like medicine to cure the colds of winter. March winds whip away frost, sweep away leaves, and blow in the beginning of spring, reassuring all creatures of a new season. Birds come home and begin singing us awake before the alarm clock. Lovers come together and begin kissing before breakfast. Parents prepare picnics, plant flowers, and begin working on spring projects. Kids fly kites, sail toy paper boats, and begin planning for a week out of school. Lonely souls awaken to the idea that life is about living!, and the lucky ones find a way to start.



Oh glorious days of constancy!

The fickle winds of winter

Are truly gone as April

Spreads its warmth.

The birds sing rejoicing


Songs to celebrate spring.

Reds, yellows, greens, and

Browns swoop down to

Alight on fence posts and

Preen in the warming

Glow of the sun.


The beauty of a world

Reawakening to growth—

Flowers bursting with color,

Children chattering as they

Shake off their winter’s blanket

And emerge, open and alive.


The throaty neigh of a galloping

Horse as she kicks up

Grass seeds all

Over the field.

Life, reborn and free,

Celebrating every day

With unabashed glee.



The sun shines down in streaks of gold between the castled clouds of gray.

The wind at first comes blustering, then like a mood it softly fades.

The greening of the earth begins and flowers bloom and children play,

A melody that’s soft at first bursts forth in joyful song.


Animals move into the light to warm the winter chill away

And ducks come sailing down to rest upon the glassy lake.

The forest strummed by gentle winds plays songs of celebration then

Like the skilled musician, it pauses and it plays again.


I came upon a meadow filled with lavender and white,

A delicate gown of buttercups dancing in the light

The sun shines down in streaks of gold and breezes gently sigh,

Then one good puff turned the buttercups into a million butterflies.


It’s May and all across the land the earth bursts forth in green,

And sings in celebration at the coming of the spring.



If you love the outdoors, you find reasons to be out there.

June is good enough reason.

In June, you feel new and rich and important.

And, if you have the habit of keeping a daybook, it will fill with wonders in June.


Your pen forgives and forgets the impetuous temper of spring and journeys boldly

and confidently into June—who stands as a sentinel, guarding the promise of summer.


You find words for June mornings. You say the morning sun shakes you gently and whispers you awake—

you also tell of it shouting your name, impatiently calling you into the day.

And, you take a brush and capture June’s sunlight with soft, proud, yellows in broad, lingering strokes.


Storm clouds of spring give way to fat chubby cumulus clouds

And you notice that the words in your daybook hide your cares and free fall through blue skies.

As June’s days wane, your words ride mare’s tales across the horizon.

New landscapes emerge in June, in the planned structure of gardens and in surprise-filled fields of


The words in your daybook dot the landscape of June.


You welcome, no, you need, the promise of birds in June.

You build and you fill feeders and delight that feathered friends choose your habitat to visit.

In your daybook, you write: “June 15th –a pair of cardinals seem to be warming up to me.

Still skittish, they abide my presence today…” In June, the songbirds balance your busy life.


Your June daybook memories recall moonless nights on a northern lake where lights from thousands of stars

illuminate the tree-line across the lake, and you, in a small boat, are enveloped in a warm summer night.

In your daybook you note how once in a while on these moonless nights, a shooting star would stream across

the sky, adding some movement to what seemed like a magnificent painting of the night sky.

Your only hint, you write, of the world we live in, is a few slow-moving satellites sneaking through the stars.


And, you marvel that you are not sure how it is that you are so fortunate to be out in this small boat listening

to the water gently slap its sides, and gazing up at a night sky so beautiful that it reaffirms your belief that

the best of this life cannot be earned, but is given freely to those who watch closely.


Yes, you write, if you love the outdoors, you find reasons to be out there.

And June is a good enough reason.

Pam Stockinger


July is sluggish in summer’s heat

Sun takes over the land

Grass withers and browns beneath our feet

Cats and dogs lie limp on the porch

And children toasted and tired

From long hours of play

Reluctantly wave goodbye

And run toward Mamma’s cooling treats

Flags wave across the sky

Banners of our freedom

Moon looks down upon us all

Smiles and closes another day

With a satisfied sigh.



Strong, full of fire,

August roars in.

The sun mercilessly beats down

On the sun-baked people,

Whose souls are truly touched

By the burning warmth.


The heat’s only reprieve is

the afternoon rumbling

Of thunder and rain.

The blue quickly covers the sky

Again when lazy, puffy

Clouds float toward the evening.


The parched grasses steam in

Relief as the afternoon rain passes.

The dewy moisture evaporates

Quickly as the sun takes back

Its reign.


Dogs dig in the dirt scrounging

For the cooling moisture the

Earth offers.

A somnolent twitch of

the ears or flick of the tail

Urges nosy flies on

Their way.


The only creatures truly

Active in this month are

the insects: flies, mosquitoes,

Moths, dragonflies, ants

Immune to the heat, they

Go about their business of




The stillness of a summer day gives way to season’s change,

When once again the wind returns to chase the summer heat.

The ducks come by again and pause to rest along their way,

Following the sun to where the land is still at play.


Grassy fields of golden hay dance the winter in.

The sun grows cool and chills the air as evening comes too soon.

And when the air begins to move, the forest sings again

And animals fuss about their nests beneath a sanguine moon.


New flowers bloom, their colors bright, but overnight they fade,

Like stars against the darkened sky give way to light of day.

The forest fills with orange and gold, the air is filled with leaves.

That plant their seeds within the earth until the rains of spring.


It’s fall and all across the land the earth lies down to spend

A winter waiting for the spring to bring it life again.



Once I heard one wizened say “nothing…nothing gold can stay”

Another described what’s best – Time, Friendship, or Emotion-

By sighing wistfully “Ahhhh! It was golden

Which only goes to verify the all-too-truly-true

Nothing-gold-can-stay Frostian and philosophic notion.


But then we have October turning…returning…

Revisiting earth with rolling gold a’golden…

A thousand gilded gourds and glistening maple leaves

Pilgrim geese V o’er grateful farmers -gathering ripened ears and sweetened bales

As once they harvested in ancient Autumns olden .


Samhain in mystic smoke billows up the sky from ritual

While Nature’s flames burst harvest homeward

Amid green leaf and scarlet berry whilst wanton elements

Fire and Earth and Air and Water shift shapes and

Crisp footed old Jack frost sweeps o’er morning meadows

Call All Souls for October’s closing to come forth to make our mischief merry!



Signals the year is tired and old

Tree stand bear, with no protection

Tiny rabbits scurry and cuddle

Ashes from last night’s fire grow cold

We need a spark to perk us up!

From winter’s dark depression

Inter family gathered ‘round

Table bearing tradition

Our stories fill the evening hours

And send us off to happy dreams

And restful sleep

Under Mamma’s loving quilt.



December delights in delivering closure on another year of life’s blessings. It invites the cold of winter to nestle just outside the warm circle around the fireplace. The cold teases our toes and tickles our nose—like the gentle kiss of an Eskimo. We begin getting used to layered clothing, wool socks, and warm scarves when we leave our abodes. Birds have said their goodbyes. Forest animals are moving, busy, busy, busy before harsh weather moves in. Pets are allowed inside to make a bed for cozy nights, tucking themselves beside the ones they love. Eyes of young and old begin to dance as the season’s sparkles tantalize. God sends gifts of time with family, memories of those not with us, and promises that our hope is not in vain.









Kooser, again!

The poet Ted Kooser (past poet laureate for USA) just speaks to me. I have all of his poetry books, most are dog-eared from re-reading. Perhaps it’s his Midwestern Nebraska voice that finds myriad ways to distill the complexity of our lives to simple and beautiful words—perhaps that is why he reaches into my heart and head with his poetry. In this poem, Splitting an Order, can you not visualize the scene—an elderly couple sitting at a table in a diner, probably the same table and the same diner they have visited for decades?? I would use this poem with middle/high school kids to invite them to consider how keen the observation in this poem, how the simple details create powerful emotion. It was a sandwich order split among two people!—how beautiful the images created by the details. Enlarging small moments.  Kooser is a wonderful poet-author study for middle and high school. His poems reach deep into our own storehouses of memories. Writing from what we know best. This poem is in the collection Valentines, a poetry text I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog.

Splitting an Order

I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,

maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,

no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady

by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table

and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,

and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,

observing his progress through glasses that moments before

he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half

onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,

and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife

while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,

her knife and her fork in their proper places,

then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees

and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.

by Ted Kooser, from Valentines. © University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

Lessons learned….

Lessons learned from Momma….
My mom is 89, spirited, and a joy in our lives. She’s had recent heart issues, but is tough and so far has overcome each. We hang onto her days like treasures. Here are some life lessons learned from her–lessons picked up along the days and ways. Any one of them could be the start of a memoir piece. All of them guided me in raising my own kids. Writing ideas can and should begin with what we know best. This one may be useful to you. If not a momma..a daddy. a gramma..grandpa..best friend…..IMG_0034

No means No: no need in even trying to finagle a mind-change out of this woman.

Be happy with what you have. Not everyone is as fortunate as you: As a kid, especially a teen kid, I wanted all of the latest fads…clothes, makeup, etc. Sometimes, if my want equalled a need, I got it. I learned the difference between wants and needs. We always had what we needed and more. Didn’t always get what we wanted.  She would say–be happy with what you have. Not everyone is as fortunate as you. At the time, of course, I didn’t get that. Now, of course I do. Totally. I was exceptionally fortunate in having a solid, loving family.

Logic: she taught me logic in these words: Because I said so–that’s why. Enough said!

Choose your friends wisely: Don’t try to be on the inside what you see in others on the outside. Follow your own moral compass. Friends should never make you compromise what you know to be right. A hard sell for a teen–but I did follow those words and had good, nice friends.

Don’t be boastful: A few years back, she and I were going through some of her old papers and photos. She came across a letter that my sixth grade teacher wrote to her praising me. I asked her–“Why didn’t you ever show me this letter?” Her response: Because I wanted you to continue to be the person in that note. Wise words. In all of these years, I’ve never heard my mom brag or boast over any of the amazing things she has done. Enough to have just done them.

Be the same person Monday through Saturday that you are in church on Sunday: another be true to yourself adage that we heard a lot. More wisdom.

Bite your tongue: Think before you release sharp words that you may have difficulty taking back. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Another tough one, but she was a great model for it.

Don’t Gossip: Don’t think for a minute that those you are talking about aren’t also talking about you. To this day I’m uncomfortable around gossipers and do my best to avoid.

Just a few—thinking so much of my mom today as she underwent a heart procedure and came out smilingly am happy to say. Fabulous role model! Love you. Momma!

To Understand a Watermelon

IMG_9197Last week at my local Farmer’s Market I picked up three watermelons. They weren’t seedless. But, I noticed a crowd around the watermelon bin; folks grabbing them up like crazy. I asked a shopper; she said they were sweeter than Sugar Babies–well, that sold me. I thought, well, we’ll just spit out the seeds like back in the day. That plan didn’t work out. I decided to “de-seed”them myself. First guy up was a challenge–all those tiny, well buried seeds. How to get them out without losing precious fruit? Without destroying the melon? By the second watermelon I had the seed “design,” if I can even call it that, down. The seeds are in the upper portions; tenacity and gentle probing resulted in bowls of fruit to savor. Today was my first day back at the university and I met my new, fabulous group of preservice teachers. As I tackled the watermelon I saw parallels between me and my new students, (and they, with their future readers and writers). We all have seeds–experiences, memories, emotions, ideas, tendencies, that need to be located, noticed, and worked with by teachers who care enough to dig deeply into who we are, to get to the essence of the person. Each watermelon had a unique arrangement of seeds. Without those seeds the watermelon, star of summer, would not exist. Each melon was a challenge well worth the undertaking.