November 28, 2013 Photo of the day: "Thank you"
As we gather around the Thanksgiving table, we pause to give thanks for our bountiful blessings. I am so thankful for my family (especially two silly little boys who love to cuddle and always make me laugh!), for my friends near and far, for my home, and for opportunities to travel, to be innovative and creative. This year, I am grateful for this project which has taught me to be observant and patient, to be present each day and to be inspired by the beauty of the ordinary and the extraordinary.
November 23, 2013 Photo of the day: "Beauty that Remains"
"Don't think of all the misery,
but of all the beauty that still remains.
Think of all the beauty still left around you
and be happy.” ~ Anne Frank
All of my beautiful roses have died, their delicate petals carried away on the brisk autumn winds. Today, as we brace ourselves against bitter temperatures, it would be so easy to lament the imminent arrival of a long, dark, frigid Wisconsin winter. Yet each season, each stage of life brings new discoveries if we are alive and aware, at once cognoscente of the ephemeral and hopeful for the beauty that is yet to be revealed.
November 21, 2013 Photo of the day: "Duck!"
I have been trying to take Michael Caine's advice:
"Be like a duck: calm on the surface,
but always paddling like the dickens underneath!"
With an eye toward the future,
I plan, encourage, initiate, and innovate.
I reflect on successes and challenges, learn and move forward!
November 19, 2013 Photo of the day:
"Wild Goose Chase"
As much as I love The Sound of Music, I have to disagree with Maria, "wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings" are not a few of my favorite things. Canada geese are beautiful, powerful birds, but they make a lot of noise and a lot of mess. And just as robins signal the arrival of spring, honking flocks of geese in their "V" formations flying south are a sure sign that winter is imminent. Ready or not, there they go!
November 18, 2013 Photo of the day:
Now that the leaves have fallen
the trees are revealing their hidden secrets:
abandoned nests perch on bare branches
which once nourished and sheltered
families of birds and swarms of wasps.
This nest has intrigued & frightened me for days.
Logically, I know that the angry dwellers
of these elaborate cells are no longer in residence.
Wasps colonies only last a year, dying in the fall.
Only the queen survives the winter
by lying dormant until spring's warmth wakes her.
Yet, I inched cautiously toward the tree,
trusting that the yellow orbs surrounding it
are only reminiscent of the swarming insects
that once guarded this fragile home,
now battered by the weekend's storm.
Today's Gush is inspired by Walt Whitman's O Me! O Life!
in one of my favorite films, Dead Poets Society.
If you haven't seen the film, do yourself a big favor! It is the story of Professor John Keating, a New England boarding school alumnus who returns to teach at his alma mater. His unconventional methods inspire his students to think for themselves, to love literature, to write, to express themselves, and to carpe diem, seize the day: "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman:
'O Me! O Life!
..of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless --
Of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself,
(for who more foolish than I,
and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light --
Of the objects mean --
Of the struggle ever renew’d;
the poor results of all --
Of the plodding and sordid crowds
I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest --
with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring
What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here --
that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on,
and you will contribute a verse.'
What will your verse be?"
Here is my verse, my gush:
(revised from a poem composed in February)
American Literature teacher,
Madame, prof de français.
Does my career define me?
Sometimes I speak, write, think in English.
Parfois je parle, écris, pense en français.
Do my interests define me?
fair with freckles,
a blue-eyed brunette,
Does my physical appearance define me?
Do my attributes define me?
Do my faults define me?
Do my relationships define me?
For the first year of my life,
I didn't have a name: I was Jane Doe.
Miraculously, I was adopted,
given my name: Melinda Marie Larson.
Melinda: gentle, sweet
Marie: the French variant of Mary
"Star of the Sea,"
A name for a girl who grew up on the water,
for a woman still most content upon it.
I was named for my maternal grandmother.
I was named for Mary, the Blessed Mother.
Larson: A noble surname, ethnic and geographic
Son of Lars, Scandinavian for Lawrence,
A laurel, fragrant, ever green,
A wreath to adorn the heads of heroes...
I am child of noble victors,
of Door County Scandinavians.
My name is a gift itself.
I wasn't born into the Larson family.
I was adopted, chosen, given this name.
In high school, I was Mindy, in college, Mel.
When I started teaching, I was Mademoiselle.
In 2005, I was married.
I became Mrs. Eric Horne.
I struggled with social convention,
with "taking my husband's name."
He was considerate and appreciative.
He was disappointed.
He, too, desired to share his name with me.
I added a hyphen,
and the gift of another name.
I am Melinda Marie Larson-Horne.
November 17, 2013 Photo of the day: "Stormy Smorgasbord"
Sunday Brunch for the Senses:
Strong black coffee
A crackling fire
Velvety skies in shades of gray and violet
Rain beating on the window panes
Cozy sweaters and slippers
Sunday papers and holiday magazines
A good book and classic movies
Sample a little bit of everything :)
"Remember to play after every storm" ~ Mattie Stepanek
November 14, 2013 Photo of the day:
"All the leaves are brown..."
As the song says, "All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray," but I'm not "California Dreamin'." We did have a wonderful time in San Francisco earlier this year and I'm sure it is warm in L.A., but I prefer to spend my winter days here in Wisconsin. I really do appreciate our four distinct seasons. Although winter is officially a month away, the days are shorter, the skies are steely, the brown leaves crunch beneath my feet, and we have already had our first dusting of snow. It's hard to find beauty in the the bare branches, the biting winds, and the prolonged darkness. Yet there is a lovely stillness that settles in and I look forward to the comfort of cashmere sweaters, Norwegian mittens, bowls of homemade soup, steaming mugs of strong coffee and hot cocoa, George Winston (Autumn, December, Linus & Lucy), crackling fires, knitting, reading Little Women.... Doesn't that sound cozy?
November 14, 2013 Photo of the day: "Trust the Gush!"
As bell work in all of our Pewaukee High School English classes, students spend ten minutes each day reading a book of their choice. Although ten minutes is never enough, the time is meant to establish a culture of life-long readers by taking time to read for pleasure. Reading and writing are the cornerstones of any language arts course, yet constantly prescribing what students must read is counterproductive to developing a passion for reading. Likewise, it became evident that after six weeks of teaching students how to write a well-constructed, persuasive paragraph using the Pewaukee High School "IT'S CLEAR" format (Indent, Topic Sentence, Context, Lead-In, Evidence, Analysis, wRap-Up), we had taken much of the joy out of the writing process. Student writing had become so formulaic that individual voice, style, and passion had been sacrificed. How could we also establish a culture of life-long writers by encouraging students to write for pleasure?
On the last day of the first term, my colleague, Nan (who has been my mentor as I teach American literature this year -- my first English class since 1994), attended the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English convention where she heard Professor Tom Romano speak about the writing process. Dr. Romano instructed teachers to encourage their students to write what's on their minds and in their hearts: "A good writer has a distinctive voice. A great writer has an inimitable one. Regardless of subject or place in time or space, good and great writers share one trait—they are true to their personalities, spirits, and characters. Craft an authentic voice in your own writing. Then revel in the candor and insight, the absorbing and entertaining stories, the clear thinking, the good, maybe even great writing!"
Therefore, during the second term, in addition to ten minutes of free reading, we began devoting ten minutes of each class for students to write what they are thinking, feeling, contemplating, worrying about, celebrating, and anticipating because, after all, this is what writers do! The activity has been named "Trust the Gush!" Each day, we provide students with an image, quote, letter, or idea that may elicit a visceral and/or creative written response. Students are not required to write about the inspiration, but they are encouraged to keep their writing (either on paper or digitally), to "welcome surprises of language and meaning." Students have also created blogs to share their "gushes" with classmates and/or an audience beyond the classroom.
The student response to this activity has been overwhelmingly positive. Although we recognize that it is necessary to learn to write for a variety of subjects and purposes, it has been wonderful to see what students can write when allowed to "trust the gush!"
Nan also recommended A Year of Writing Dangerously by Barbara Abercrombie. The book is a "collection of anecdotes, lessons, quotes, and prompts...[that] provide a delightfully varied cornucopia of inspiration —nuts-and-bolts solutions, hand-holding commiseration, and epiphany-fueling insights from fellow writers...who have gone from paralyzed to published."
This book has served as inspiration for many student gushes and has also encouraged me in my own writing, which brings me to the real purpose of this post. I know you're out there, dear readers and followers of my blog! I know this because many of you have mentioned that you look forward to my posts each day and because my Blogger stats indicate that there are about a thousand hits on my blog each week. As my 2013 Project 365 enters its final fifty days, I am already planning for next year's project. I have learned so much this year about photography, writing, social media, and most of all, about my own aesthetics. I have blissfully reconnected with my visual and verbal creativity. What began as a simple photo of the day has evolved into inspiration for my own "gushes." Sometimes the images inspire the writing while other times, like today, the writing inspires the photos. I have several ideas for next year, but I haven't quite decided what I will do in 2014. I do know that I want to continue taking pictures and writing, but I'd love to know your opinions. Do you read what I write or do you just look at the pictures? Are you tired of flowers, landscapes, shorelines, clouds, sunsets, pages of books, my nephews (these seem to be recurring themes)? Should I choose a topic for each day of the week or perhaps focus on a specific idea or color for a week or a month? Rather than a quick post each day, would you prefer a more carefully crafted weekly post? I welcome your suggestions. During the holidays, I will curate this year's photos into collections and decide my direction for a new year of observations and reflections. Will it be "A Year of Writing Dangerously" or will a picture be worth a thousand words?
November 11, 2013 Photo of the day: "Veteran"
Today is Veteran's Day,
a day to honor all our service men and women
who have fought bravely to defend our freedom.
One day is not enough.
Today and everyday, I humbly say,
"As we express our gratitude,
we must never forget
that the highest appreciation
is not to utter words,
but to live by them."
~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy
November 10, 2013 Photo of the day: "All Is Lost"
Every time we visit
it feels like an event.
The decor, the pipe organ, the real popcorn machine...
a movie at the Oriental is like stepping back in time.
My mom and dad had their first date
at the Oriental in 1958; they saw South Pacific.
Not much about the historic cinema
has changed since it was built in 1927.
Today, Eric and I saw All Is Lost.
I was apprehensive that the film
would scare the passion for sailing out of me.
Robert Redford is brilliant as "Our Man" solo navigating a 39 foot sailboat in the Indian Ocean. When his boat collides with a shipping container, he must endure equipment failure, violent storms, sharks, injuries, and his own tortured thoughts as he fights to survive. There is little dialogue in the film, leaving the viewer to share in a sense of loneliness and raw emotion as only the sound of the wind, rain, and roaring seas echo through the theatre. Only in the opening scene do we really hear his voice as he composes a final letter of apology and farewell. Otherwise, he is virtually silent, a silence more eloquent that any words. Redford's character embodies that vanishing, Hemingway-inspired protagonist who exhibits courage and calm resolve when faced with overwhelming adversity; the kind of hero that always reminds me of my dad. The filming is at once breathtakingly beautiful (and no, I am not referring to Mr. Redford, although he is still amazingly handsome at 77) and heart-stoppingly terrifying. Despite what the the title and opening monologue suggest, the film is anything but predictable. I was mistaken in my predictions for Our Man's fate...twice!
Ironically, just as I was finishing this post, it dawned on me that today is November 10th. Thirty-eight years ago, another ship wreck occurred hours after leaving port in Wisconsin -- the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. When this Great Lakes ore carrier sank in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, the tragedy hit very close to home for my family. My mom worked at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company whose president was the lake boat's namesake. She remembers attending the ship's christening in 1958. My Uncle Jack, who sailed on the Great Lakes for forty years, made several crossing on the Edmund Fitzgerald. On the evening of November 10, 1975 when the ship went missing in 25-foot seas and 58 mile per hour winds, my uncle was on the Arthur Anderson, just a few miles ahead of the Fitzgerald. Uncle Jack and the crew of the Arthur Anderson turned around to search for the missing ship, but no survivors were found. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald haunted my dad and his brother for years and inspired an eerily familiar song by Gordon Lightfoot. If I had remembered the date earlier, I might not have chosen to see All Is Lost today.
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