Exclamation point

May 26, 2016 (147/366)

“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight  like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness...” - Haruki Murakami. Just an exclamation mark from my 3rd annual field trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum. More butterfly photos in May 2015 and 2014.


June 22, 2015 {173/365}

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it's like drilling rock…”

- Ernest Hemingway


June 5, 2015 {156/365} Twenty-one

Today marks the end of my 21st year in the Pewaukee School District. I've taught two subjects, French and English, in two buildings, Asa Clark Middle School and Pewaukee High School. I've coached and mentored colleagues as they use educational technology to engage students while maximizing their own educator effectiveness. I've published 25 yearbooks, taken six trips to Europe with students and countless fields trips to art museums, plays, universities, and restaurants. I've worn a lot of hats and accomplished a lot in twenty-one years. This year I took time to really reflect on what I've done by creating an EE Portfolio. The process helped me to recognize my accomplishments (even if they aren't always acknowledged by others), to bring closure to another year, and to celebrate for a just moment before beginning again on Monday. 

All is Calm

February 18, 2015 {49/365} "Calm"

In 1939, the British government created a series of propaganda posters featuring the slogan Keep Calm and Carry On.

The posters were designed to raise the morale as the British people were threatened with massive air strikes during World War II. Although 2.45 million copies were printed, and although the Blitz happened, the poster was hardly ever publicly displayed and was little known about until a copy was rediscovered in 2000. Since then the original slogan and several variations have appeared on everything from posters and t-shirts to journals and coffee mugs. So I wasn't at all surprised to see these tea tins at our local market this week.  

As cliché as the motto has become, it did get me thinking about the wisdom behind the idea and what I do to maintain grace under pressure and to decompress when stressed...


March 20, 2014 Photo (079/365): "Ducks"

"Then I thought of something, all of a sudden: 'Those ducks in that lagoon, that little lake...Do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? '" - Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye

Mallards on Okauchee Lake. Maybe it's because I'm teaching The Catcher in the Rye or maybe it's because I always fed the ducks in Sturgeon Bay's Little Lake when I was a little girl, but I wondered too... I don't know where the ducks go when the lake freezes over, but on this first day of spring, I'm so glad that they're back!


March 10, 2014 Photo (069/365): "Daffodils"

“Daffodils that come before the swallow dares, and take the winds of March with beauty. And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.” - William Shakespeare

O Me! O Life!

Typewriter - C'est ma vie!

Today's Gush is inspired by Walt Whitman's O Me! O Life! and by Robin Williams' brilliant interpretation in one of my favorite films,  Dead Poets SocietyIf you haven't seen the film, do yourself a big favor! It is the story of 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?  Answer. 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?"

- Professor John Keating (Robin Williams), Dead Poets Society

Here is my verse, my gush: (revised from a poem composed in February)

C'est moi

I am...a teacher, a mentor, a colleague, an innovator, MLH, Tech Coach, American Literature teacher, Madame, prof de français. Does my career define me?

I am...a traveler, a sailor, a reader, a writer, a photographer, a linguist...Sometimes I speak, write, think in English. Parfois je parle, écris, pense en  français. Do my interests define me?

I am...fair with freckles, a blue-eyed brunette, petite, curvy...Does my physical appearance define me?

I am...creative, intelligent, innovative, generous...Do my attributes define me?

I am...sensitive, impatient, self-critical, a perfectionist...Do my faults define me?

I am...a wife, a sister, a daughter, a niece, an auntie, a godmother, a friend...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 the 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 got 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.

A Thousand Words

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?