Saturday, August 4, 2018

A few weeks ago I attended my 50th high school class reunion in my beautiful hometown of Port Gibson, Mississippi. 

Presbyterian Church

Windsor Ruins

It's hard to believe I've been out of school so long. We had a nice two days. Friday was a
barbeque at an old friend's home, and then on Saturday we had a slightly more formal dinner with a short presentation. 

I got to see people I haven't seen in twenty years and some I haven't seen since graduating. Also, I got to spend time with my friend Nancy who was also my college roommate at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi.


The highlight of the evening, however, was our seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Dobbs. She was a new teacher that year, and we were her first ever class. She later became our yearbook sponsor. I love the fact that she came to our reunion in a sparkly blouse and gold sneakers. When asked by our master of ceremony if she had anything to say, she laughed and said, "Of course." Then she proceeded to keep us in stitches for the next fifteen minutes or so, reminding some of us that we were less than stellar students and all of us of the dreaded sentence diagramming lessons for which she was so well known.

 Because there were only 44 people in our graduating class, we were a fairly close group. For the most part, everyone seemed just the same, only a little older. Two of our classmates who'd been cheerleaders led us in the fight song and then did a cheer. One of the former majorettes twirled for us. I wrote and read the following poem. I chose the title for a number of reasons, one being that our yearbook was called The Echoes. I dedicated the poem to our high school English teacher who passed away shortly after we graduated. She was well-loved and a little feared. I could've easily dedicated it to Mrs. Dobbs. She taught me how to use grammar correctly and Miss Person taught me to love literature. Together, they inspired me to become an English teacher.


(Dedicated to the memory of Miss Lucille Person, who taught me
that literature is as necessary to human beings as the air we breathe.)

So. Here we are, the class of nineteen-sixty-eight,
reuniting to recollect our halcyon days, that time before
double chins, gray hair, and saggy skin claimed our youth.

Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.
The dreams of “what might be” replaced
by the reality of “what is.”

Could it be we’ve grown dearer to each other because,
once upon a time and place that no longer exist except in reflection,
we shared our too-brief teenage years?

Reunions remind us of all that used to be:
pep rallies, football games, study hall,
flag raising, bad hairstyles, shift dresses,
first love, broken hearts, learning to say goodbye.

Some went east. Some went west.
Others vanished through the veil like morning mist.
A thin thread of loss connects us to the shadows left behind.
Let our memories be their elegy.

Different paths we each have taken.
Distances have changed us.
Look around.
The passage of time can’t be denied.

Still. Soft echoes that cannot be forgotten
intertwine our lives like welcome twilight ghosts.
And we feel lighter simply standing with those
who knew us when we were young.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

It has been a while since I last posted. I'm sorry about that and I've promised myself that I will try to do a better job as a blogger. Now that I'm retired, I don't have as many teaching experiences to share, but I'll continue to share links to things I read that I believe would be helpful to those of you still in the classroom and to great Teachers Pay Teachers products. I'll also share gardening tips and other things that may be of interest to you. Facebook Pinterest TpT

Today, I want to tell you about a new blog created by my friend Linda Whitesitt. It's called Tree Stories. It's a place where you can share stories about your family or others who have played an important role in your life. 

Check it out and read some of the inspiring stories collected there, and maybe you'll decide to share some of your own.

Here's the link: Tree Stories

Friday, September 2, 2016

Favorite Poems to Teach in English Class

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As an English teacher, I love teaching short stories, novels, plays, and, I'll admit it, even grammar. But my real passion is poetry. Here are some of my favorite poems to teach. Each of them deals with at least one of the main themes in English Literature - love, death, loneliness, our place in the natural world, alienation, sense of self, betrayal, duty, family.

If at all possible, I encourage you to seek out contemporary poems to use in your classroom. They provide a good gateway into poetry for your students. There are many wonderful poems available in chapbooks, magazines, or literary journals. Here are links to three of the best literary journals for poetry:
Two other good places to discover new poets are the following:

Don't overlook the possibility of finding good poems in your own community. Below is a poem by Charlotte, North Carolina, poet Maureen Ryan Griffin. You can find out more about Maureen and her poetry classes at her website Word Play Now.

Things We Think Will Stay 

A man was cleaning the attic of an old house in New England and he found a box which was full of tiny pieces of string. On the lid of the box there was an inscription in an old hand: "String too short to be saved." 
Donald Hall

Violins, for example, the way the bows dance
across the strings in tandem, like crickets
rubbing wings together in tempo
with the weather. Letters from lovers
hidden in bottom drawers, linen fancies,
silver tea sets, scars, old baseball tickets.
Things we think we can count on,
don't think about at all, that are
staged by someone pulling strings
behind the scenes - mountain ranges,
constellations, eclipses in their proper season;
an orchestra librarian
who marked each score beforehand
in pencil with upstrokes and downstrokes.

The things we think we can prepare for,
the things we think we can fix - the broken
marionette, the failed marriage of a friend.Why else
are we keeping all those pieces of string
too short to be saved? Other things:
the fist and the kite, our feet and the earth;
our children, whether we like them
or not. Whether or not
we can shorten the tether
to keep them
from damaging their thin lives.
Like Geppetto, like God,
we want them to love us,
we want them to want 
what legacy we leave them.

Here's a poem from Chris Daly, another Charlotte poet whom I met in a writing class.

Gifts of an Ordinary Day

The empty laundry basket
The run after my husband for the forgotten goodbye kiss
The primo first parking space next to TJ Maxx
No traffic on Brawley School Road
The breath of my son on my face as he lies asleep
on his Buzz Lightyear Pillow
The key chain from my daughter with the words
"my mom is my best friend' spelled out in beaded blocks
The twang of the tennis racquet as I hit the perfect cross court shot
Finding a toy pirate hook hanging from my bathroom door
Gifts of an Ordinary Day

The full laundry basket complete with individual scents and stains
" The plane has landed" message on my answering machine
The farthest spot away from TJ Maxx in the pouring rain
Being stuck in traffic on Route 77 as the sun sets
My son deciding that today is the day
for putting together the 500-piece Lego set
A daughter's room so cluttered with clothes that I've forgotten
what color the rug is
Gifts of an Ordinary Day

Finally, I'd like to leave you with this thought. If you write poetry yourself, share it with your students, especially if you ask them to write a poem. It's a little scary at first, but well worth the effort. Here's one of mine that I've shared before. 

The Art of Lingering

Sometimes I think of my younger self with envy,
her long, shampoo-commercial black hair,
her pert breasts and un-crepe-papery neck,
her limber joints that made movement as
thoughtless as a heartbeat.
Other times I look back and wonder
at her urgency, her hurry-upness,
the yearning for something just  beyond her grasp.

I’d like to tell her to allow herself the soft comfort
of stretching and breathing,
of long conversations late at night in bed with a lover
despite the busy-ness  tomorrow holds,
of waiting in a darkened theater until
the last credits of a just-watched movie roll away,
of soaking in a hot bath until her fingers and toes
resemble the wrinkles of a shar-pei ,
of lying with dew-dampened skin on summer grass, staring at stars.

I’d warn her that too soon she will find herself lost in
this drive-thru, multi-tasking, instant-everything world.
I’d tell her to perfect the art of lingering,
to pay attention to her one beautiful life.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Teaching Argumentative Writing to High School and College Students

Check out this classroom tested lesson on argumentative writing. 

This lesson emphasizes the following important critical thinking skills:

  • evaluating evidence uncovered in research in order to distinguish fact from opinion
  • recognizing generalizations, slanted writing, propaganda, and logical fallacies
  • synthesizing information into a coherent essay

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Overheard Conversation

I'm the mother of sons, so I never got to do girlie things with a daughter like many of my friends did. Now I have a one-year-old granddaughter, and I find myself fascinated with little girls wherever I go. I watch them for clues as to what to expect from Eleanor as she grows up.

So, Saturday night John and I are at Chili’s Restaurant. A woman who looks about my age and a little girl of six or seven, with a pink, polka-dot bow in her curly blonde hair, sit at the table next to ours. I can’t help but overhear their conversation, especially since I’m blatantly eavesdropping on it.

“Marvy, which color do you like best? Purple Pixiedust or Buxom Blueberry?” the girl asks , admiring her fingernails, painted in alternate shades of purple and blue.

“Purple Pixiedust.”

“Me, too!” The little girl sounds astonished that she and Marvy share the same fondness for Purple Pixiedust nail polish.

“What do you want to do when we get home?” Marvy asks.

“Watch Hotel Transylvania, but first I want to show you my new dance. It’s the Whip/Nae Nae.” The girl starts dancing in her chair, arms moving like a rapper, singing, “Now watch me whip. Now watch me nae nae.  Ooh, watch me. Ooh, watch me. Do the stanky leg. Do the stanky leg. Bop. Bop. Bop.”  The pink bow bops right along with her.

“Sounds like fun.” Marvy glances over at me and gives me an “Isn’t she the cutest thing you ever saw,” smile. And she is cute in her glittery silver jellies, pink leggings, and pink and white striped top with its big pink butterfly applique.

“Marvy, do you have any cucumbers at your house?” the little girl asks.

“No, but we can stop at Harris Teeter and pick some up on the way. I didn’t think you like cucumbers, though.”

“I don’t want to eat them. Yuck! I want to put them on my eyelids to get rid of the puffiness. I packed my special soap, too. After I use it, you’ll be able to see my youthful appearance shining through.”

“Who are you?” Marvy chuckles.

“Well, by my calculations, I’m your granddaughter.”

I’m laughing so hard that I almost choke on my margarita. I can’t wait for Eleanor to be six. This is going to be so much fun.
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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lost Things

I have a friend who often loses things - car keys, grocery lists, sunglasses, just about anything that's not nailed down. Often she simply misplaces something, and after a few minutes of frantic searching through pockets, in drawers, or under the bed, she finds the missing item. She has a whole box of mismatched earrings and a drawer full of single socks, each one a lonely survivor, left behind when its mate mysteriously vanished into thin air, sort of like what the end-of-timers say will happen to unsaved souls at the Rapture.

I, on the other hand, am more of a-place-for-everything-and-everything-in-its place sort of person. Lately, though, I've been thinking about the word "lost" and what it means. When we're children and a baby tooth falls out, we say we "lost a tooth," even though we're holding it in our hand at the time. We say we've "lost our way," and it can mean we're off course, that we've headed north when we should be headed south, that we turned right when we should have turned left. It can also mean we're confused, bewildered, mystified, flummoxed. We can be "lost in thought," "lost in words," or "lost in the music." Things get "lost in translation." We can "feel lost," meaning we feel abandoned, aimless, vulnerable, alone. When people we love die, we say we lost them, as if all we have to do is search through our pockets, in drawers, or under the bed and there they'll be, like lost keys, or grocery lists, or sunglasses.

Some lost things aren't so easily found. Last year, I lost my mother. She has Alzheimer's disease and no longer recognizes me. She has lost all memory of me. When I tell her I'm her daughter, Dianne, she says, "No, I don't think so. I never had a daughter named Dianne."

How exactly does one lose memory? Where does it go? Is there a Land of the Lost where mate-less earrings and socks congregate, hopeful of one day being reunited with their companions? Where my mother's memories can be found? Where I am once again a daughter named Dianne?

A Year in the Garden


A flock of cedar waxwings make a quick visit. Their thin, high whistle fills the air as they strip the berries from the holly bushes before moving on to someplace else, perhaps someplace more exciting. Bluebirds pop in and out of the bird houses. Fat robins pluck at the ground. I walk around the garden and survey the landscape. Should I move that lenten rose to a shadier spot? Hostas poke through the soil. Would my neighbor Nancy like some of them? Is it time to toss the red twig dogwood I planted three years ago with high hopes but which never thrived?


Hummingbirds dart and dive like fighter pilots around the Major Wheeler honeysuckle vine that grows at the corner of the house. Chickadees flit from purple coneflowers to anise hyssop to sunflowers and back again. The drone of bees fills the air above salvia, agastache, and mountain mint. The vegetable garden provides a bounty of squash, tomatoes, and cucumbers. In August, the milkweed, planted especially for them, is chewed to nubbins by monarch butterfly caterpillars. Later, I will find delicate, jade green and gold Christmas-ornament chrysalises hanging in the most unexpected places - the handle of an old wheelbarrow, the underside of a garden bench, the eaves of the potting shed.

I count twenty-seven black and yellow swallowtail butterflies feasting on the zinnias and tithonias that grow along the back fence, gray now, weathered by rain and sun. Suspended between the fence and one of the bright orange flowers, a large spider web. In one corner, a frighteningly large yellow and black spider hovers. As I study the intricate zig-zag design of the sticky web, a butterfly flutters into it. My first instinct - rescue. Instead, I turn away, leaving the beautiful butterfly to struggle against its not so beautiful fate. 


So much to do. Divide the day lilies and bearded irises. Plant camellias and azaleas in the back shade where the pine tree used to be. Plant daffodil and hyacinth bulbs. Pick the last of the tomatoes and peppers and pull up the plants, scraggly now. Plant lettuce, kale, spinach, and onions. Weed and mulch the beds in preparation for winter's cold.


I sit at the kitchen table, sip a cup of tea, and watch cardinals flock to the bird feeders, bright splashes of red on a mostly gray landscape. Despite all appearances to the contrary, life lurks beneath the barren earth. When the first blush of spring arrives, I'll be out there, open to whatever new surprises await. The fresh air and sunshine will work their wonders and make me glad to be alive at that precise moment and in that particular place. To me, preparing the soil, planting the sees, waiting for the harvest, and reaping the fruit feel like sacraments. Birdsong becomes hymns of praise, and the wind the voice of God.