SOL: Life’s Unexpected Turns

solchallenge

I have been away from my blog since the sudden and very unexpected loss of my big brother on May 25. While biking up the Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park, he suffered an apparent cardiac arrest, and died instantly.

Nothing can prepare you for such a tragedy. The utter shock and sadness in such a sudden, significant loss leaves a gaping hole that just can’t ever be filled in the same way.

But my brother would not want me to go on and on about our family’s sadness. He would not want the focus of his death to be clouded in sorrow. He would instead want us to focus on living life to the fullest – making every moment from each and every day count. This is what my brother did better than anyone else I know.

At his memorial, and even in the days after, I cannot count the number of people who shared how their lives were impacted by my brother. As a hockey referee, he was a calm, professional presence on the ice. He especially loved mentoring young referees as they navigated the often tricky moments of making the necessary calls in a game. Everyone loved when he took the ice, and had enormous respect for him as an official. In his job at Glacier High School, he was remembered for how he brought joy to everyone he encountered, always more interested in what others wanted to share than his own stories. His love of adventure was evident in all that he did; skydiving since the age of 18, kayaking, fishing, hiking, and cycling to name just a few of his passions.

Memories are my greatest source of comfort now as I transition into life without him here. It’s funny how I reflect on them in a different way though. I see the amazing way Don had of appreciating every moment in life that mattered. While my mind was more often focusing on the next thing I needed to do, or the next event that was coming up, his attention always remained right there in the moment. You could see it in his demeanor in the way he would just stop and take in the beauty of what was around him. You could hear it in the simple things he said about whatever we were doing together. And you could feel it just being with him; he had such a unique way of exuding a genuine satisfaction and happiness in every moment that he lived.

I sense his presence with me so much in these days since he died, gently helping me refocus my gaze in a different way, allowing me to capture moments in a deeper, more meaningful way. I want to keep this perspective and awareness always.

My greatest desires now are to see the world around me through my brother’s eyes, to connect with others around me with my brother’s heart, and to live each day to the fullest, chasing my dreams the way he did, and finding joy in all that I do until I see him again.

While it is impossible to fully represent the amazing life my brother lived, I share this slideshow with you as a glimpse of the big brother I was blessed to have. It encapsulates the highlights of a life lived to the fullest, of dreams sought and found, and reveals a man who was the greatest husband, father, brother, son, and friend to so many who count themselves fortunate to have known him. You can view it here.

The view from what will forever be known as Don Graham’s site, located just past the Weeping Wall & Big Bend on Going To The Sun Road in Glacier National Park.

 

 

 

Poetry Friday: More Than Meets the Eye

Poetry Friday round-up is with Margaret at Reflections on the Teche

This week for Poetry Friday I am participating in a poetry photo exchange, arranged by this week’s host, Margaret @ Reflections on the Teche. She is calling it “More Than Meets the Eye.

Margaret has paired me with Christie @ Wondering and Wandering. Christie and I have exchanged photos with one another, and will write a poem to the photo we each received. These are photos that we have taken in the area where we live. I am from Montana, and Christie lives in Maine.

I love this unique and fun idea that Margaret thought of, and am excited to read the other exchanges in those who participated. Be sure to head over to Margaret’s post and click on the Inlinkz at the bottom of her post to read other poetry photo exchanges.

The photo I received from Christie is of Walden Pond, famously known by many thanks to poet Henry David Thoreau. She shared with me that the pond is not far from her home, and that she has recently been spending quite a bit of time there, exploring Thoreau’s “ordinary, yet extraordinary home-not-so-far-away-from-home through a different lens.”

I found the image haunting at first examination. Knowing the long-standing history this place represented, I began to imagine Thoreau there among the still trees, seeking to deepen his understanding of his life through the beauty of nature.

“I suppose that what in other men is religion is in me love of nature.”
                     -Henry David Thoreau Journal, October 1842

As I continued to spend time simply looking more closely at the photo, my eyes were always drawn to the moss covered trees (at least I think that it’s moss covering the trees; I am actually not entirely sure what it is). Regardless though, I found myself seeing it like a blanket, covering the trees as if to keep secrets left behind from Thoreau and others who walked these woods long before Christie did.

The reflections, the stories, and the wisdom of those sojourners lie in silence, full of mysteries unheard by the ear, but perhaps seen through our eyes? I would love to know what Christie has discovered during her quiet moments at Walden Pond.

I share with you my tanka, entitled Walden Pond:

 

Poetry Friday: Winding Down

It’s the middle of May. For most teachers, the countdown has begun. Some are closer to the finish line than others, but regardless of the date, we are all beginning to wind down a full year of teaching and learning with our students.

For some, it can be a time of some sadness. My friend Margaret @ Reflections on the Teche recently published a blog post titled “May Blues” where she shared her own struggles in finding joy at the end of the year. I think many teachers can relate to her own reflections, struggling with worry about whether or not we did all we could do to get our learners where they needed to be by year’s end.

And the last day goodbyes. Those can be the toughest part about winding down. For me, I already feel myself getting choked up thinking about what it will look like on kindergarten graduation day. While I will likely see many of the faces of my students next year when they return as 1st graders, some won’t be there, having moved to a different school. Either way, they won’t be mine anymore.

My time, my influence, and my relationships with them are winding down, and will soon be no more.

Join me over at Sloth Reads, where our host for Poetry Friday is Rebecca Herzog! She is giving away a very funny book of poems titled I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups. Thanks for hosting, Rebecca!

Poetry Friday round-up is with Rebecca at Sloth Reads

Five for Friday: Celebrating Mom

While pursuing other #PoetryFriday posts this morning, I came upon Michelle Barnes’s post over at Today’s Little Ditty. Her “Five for Friday” topic was to write a five word poem about a special gift you had either given or received from your mom.

I immediately began thinking of gifts my mom gave me. One of the first thoughts that came to me wasn’t a material gift, but instead it was the give of time that my mom gave so generously in her life. When I remember my mom, I see someone who was always willing to sacrifice her time for others.

When I first became a mom, my mother was right there by my side for those first overwhelming, emotional, and unbelievably exhausting 2 weeks as I transitioned into being a mom. One of the things she loved most was giving my daughter Erica her evening bath. This ritual was a bonding time for both of them, and gave me a chance to rest after a tiring day. Watching her talk, sing and coo with her granddaughter brought me such joy, and I know was equally gratifying for her as a grandma.

I went on to have two more daughters, and her sweet bath time rituals were once again repeated with each of them. These moments and memories placed deep roots in their special relationships with each other. I know she treasured her role as a grandma deeply, and sharing bubbles and giggles together was one of her most coveted routines with her granddaughters.

Meme is gone now, but when I remember her on this Mother’s Day, one extra special gift I celebrate that she gave me was her love and devotion to my daughters. She exemplified selfless love and helped me become the mom I am today.

And one day, when I get to hold my first grand-baby in my arms, the first thing I will be longing to do is savor sweet bath times together, just like Meme did.

Poetry Friday: A Diamante Poem

Poetry Friday round-up is @ Jama”s Alphabet Soup

 

Our #PoetryFriday gathering this week is over at Jama’s Alphabet Soup where you’ll find delicious blueberry muffins & tea waiting, along with a plethora of wonderful poetry for your enjoyment. Won’t you join us today?

On a few of my morning walks with our two cockapoos this week, I have been greeted by the aftermath of a spring rain shower. The smell is simply glorious, and is another reminder that spring is here. There is nothing like the fragrant smell of spring rain. Even the rain itself seems different than rain at other times of the year. It has a gentler spirit and a different presence. It’s almost like it is telling us, “I am only here for a brief moment, and the sun will return shortly.”

I left school this evening and walked out into another rain shower. With all of my moments experiencing this pleasure of spring, I decided to try a diamante poem to celebrate what has brought me such quiet pleasure this week.

Kinders Say the Darndest Things!

As a kindergarten teacher, I am witness to many funny quips and comments from the little learners I share space with day after day. One minute I am hearing about their latest video game marvels, followed by a detailed play-by-play of what happened to their puppy when it got stuck under the couch. Colorful stories are always sprinkled with the unique perspective that only a 5 or 6 year-old can have.

Today I was completely taken by surprise by sweet John, and bright young boy in my class. Since the first days of school, John has kept me on schedule; his watchful eye to our daily routines never allow a single thing to slip by. Every classroom needs a John!

Last Thursday we launched into a mini unit on information writing. Specifically, the kids were going to put on the hat of researcher, and write about an animal of their choice. I have an amazing TCWRP classroom library with a great variety of nonfiction titles, and animal books are in abundance. I gathered the kids together, and explained to them that they were getting ready to do BIG things as writers.

I decided to use an analogy of swimming to help them understand that this day’s lesson would simply be to choose an animal book they wanted to use for their research. We would spend our time looking at our books to begin our first day of research. I asked them to think about this writing adventure as if I were taking them to the lake and preparing them to swim for the first time. Today, we would simply be dipping our toes into the water of research writing.

Honestly, I completely forgot about my analogy. Friday came, and I excitedly gathered writers in small groups of 4 or 5, and modeled how we would be using four different colored post-it notes to search for specific facts about our animals in their books. The blue post-it would be what color their animal is, pink would be where it lives, green would be what it eats, and purple would be a fun fact of their choosing. Away they went! These researchers took on this task with gusto, and by the end of the morning, everyone had their post-it notes done, and were ready for the next day’s lesson.

Monday I again worked with them in small groups, and brought out special lined writing paper, modeling how they could lay out their post-its in whatever order they wished, and write each of their facts on one piece of paper. Again, they went to task. Furiously writing, with a little editing here and there, my research writers completed their pieces with great pride.

Today we gathered once again for our workshop time, and I announced to them that today they would be illustrators! I reminded them that many of the books we read have one person who writes the words, and another who draws the pictures, and that today they would be illustrating a picture of their animal for their research piece.

I looked out at their faces, full of anticipation. Suddenly, John raised his hand.

“Yes, John? What is your question?”

“Well,” he asked, “where are we in the water now?”

It took me a second for his question to completely register. Of course! I last left them tiptoeing in the water, so now where were we?! A fair, and marvelous question to ask!

I laughed. I high-fived him. I was utterly on the spot with what I would say to answer his sincere question, and had to think quickly about what I would say. I repeated his question to the rest of the class, because I had a feeling a few of them perhaps had no clue what he was talking about. I affirmed to them that yes, last week when they began looking at their animal books, we were just tiptoeing in the water.

“But, boys and girls,” I continued, “on Friday when you started writing your post-it notes, I sort of picked you up out of the shallow water, walked you to the end of the dock and dropped you right into the water! I had a feeling that you were in fact ready to jump in and do the real work of research writers!”

Their eyes lit up with excitement as I went on to explain. “Research writers, you did some very BIG work on Friday as you researched, read, and wrote about your animals on those four post-it notes! You were swimming in very deep water, and you were amazing!”

So, back to John’s wondering: Where are we in the water now, Mrs. Burtsfield?

“As illustrators today, boys and girls, we are all just swimming and enjoying the water together! Today you will continue your journey as researchers by looking carefully at the photos of your animal in your book, and illustrate with great detail for your readers.”

The rest of the workshop was full of sketching, erasing, experimenting, and more drawing. Today was their first go at illustrating. Tomorrow we will get out the “real” drawing paper and they will draw their masterpieces.

I might ask them tomorrow where they think we are in the water now. My guess is they might declare, “The water is great! Come on in!”

 

Poetry Friday: Hello, Spring!

Poetry Friday round-up is with Brenda at Friendly Fairy Tales.

Back in  February I wrote a #PoetryFriday post on a bitterly cold and snowy Friday. We had recently watched several inches of snow fall, which meant there was a whole lot of snow removal that needed to be done. Winter felt like it was never going to end. February can be a long month in Montana, with many days of very cold temperatures, and often our heaviest snowfalls.

Fast forward just three months, and winter is a long departed memory from everyone’s minds. It was a long winter season, and it almost felt like we slipped from winter to spring in only a few day’s time. I took my kindergartners for a spring observation walk only a couple of weeks ago, and the buds on the trees were still tightly closed, but it took only a week of warmer temperatures in the high 60s and low 70s to encourage those buds to open up and reveal their beauty within. In February what looked like dead, skeleton-like trees have now transformed into budding green trees of beauty.

For my February post, I took a picture on a quiet block here in my neighborhood. Despite the cold that day, it actually was quite picturesque. Today on my way to school, I drove to the same spot and took a picture. The side-by-side comparisons are something to behold. I can see beauty in both images, but somehow my spring photo brings a warmth to my heart and joy to my spirit.

Welcome, at long last, Spring!