Yesterday was National Root Beer Float Day. I love that there is a National day for almost everything, and I was especially happy to have an excuse to make a root beer float. When we were little, my sister and I spent a lot of time with our grandmother, especially during the summer. Her house was surrounded by shady maple trees that kept us cool, but on sweltering afternoons, nothing beat the heat like a root beer float.
Grandma had tall pink plastic tumblers that were reserved for these warm-weather treats. Joanie and I got them from the cupboard while Grandma took the ice cream from the freezer and the cans of root beer from the fridge. She scooped two precise balls of Sealtest vanilla into each cup. Then she slowly poured in the root beer, trying to prevent streams of bubbly foam from erupting over the rim.
We sat together at the kitchen table and sipped as the icebergs of softening ice cream dissolved into crystal-coated blobs. We laughed at the foamy mustaches on our upper lips. Grandma never threw anything away, so we used long-handled, red plastic spoons from Carvel’s to scoop out the last remnants of the ice cream from the bottom of the cup, savoring the creamy blend of sweet and sharp flavors, the perfect antidote for a hot summer day.
Those plastic tumblers are long gone, and I don’t think Sealtest Ice Cream is even made anymore, but that didn’t stop me from savoring a root beer float yesterday. It was just as delicious as I remembered.
My week has been filled with birds. (If you’re a frequent reader, you might be asking yourself, “What else is new?”) At the beginning of the week, I made may way to a new Audubon Center near my home for an early morning bird walk. Then I finished Mozart’s Starling (which I wrote about here). I really loved this book. Haupt ends by deftly weaving the threads of her starling Carmen, Mozart, and artists of every stripe into a reflection on the nature of creativity. “And what is this wild summons?” Haupt asks. “To listen with changed ears and sing back what we hear.”
Inspired by these words, here is a tanka filled with the sounds from my week.
As the last stars fade, robins and cardinals sense dawn’s approaching warmth. Trills and cheeps float from treetops chasing away night’s shadows.
How often do we go down rabbit holes in search of one thing, only to come out on the other side with something else altogether? Maybe not as often as we should.
This week I’m reading Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s captivating book, Mozart’s Starling. (Little, Brown, 2017). At one point, she quotes French poet Paul Éluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” This idea launches Haupt into a rumination on wonder. Did you know the root of “wonder” is an Old English word, wundrian that means “to be affected by one’s own astonishment”? Isn’t that lovely? Haupt ends this brief passage with this: “For us, the song of the world so often rises in places we had not thought to look.” These are the words of a poet.
Curious about her, I discovered that Haupt “is a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.”
But no poetry.
Back to Paul Éluard. The Poetry Foundation has two of Éluard’s poems, but neither of them really appealed to me. What did catch me eye was the poem of the day by Linda Pastan. Pastan is a favorite, so I clicked on the link to find this:
We haven’t filled our bird feeders for months because we don’t want bears wandering through our yard, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still bringing us beauty and inspiration. I found this lovely visitor tucked into a corner that doesn’t get mowed. What better form than a Fibonacci for a poem about a sunflower?
grows summer surprise:
one blossoming, buttery sun.
Happy National Macaroni and Cheese Day! Last week, Tabatha Yeatts, today’s PF Roundup hostess, suggested we celebrate this delectable dish in verse. Coincidentally, I had just read Rita Dove’s prompt, “Your Mother’s Kitchen” in The Practice of Poetry. Dove directs writers to include “the oven… and also something green.” My draft deviates from the instructions slightly by not including “something dead,” and not having a female relation “walk into the kitchen during the course of the poem.” My sister doesn’t like to cook and wouldn’t have been anywhere near the kitchen while my mother was cooking!
My mother’s hands were healing hands. After standing all day helping doctors stitch broken bodies back together, she came home to tend and mend us.
When she was seven, my sister suffered from chronic strep. Soft and smooth on her raw throat, my mother’s macaroni and cheese was all she’d eat.
In the kitchen, my mother gathered milk, butter, and cheese. Velveeta was the cheese of choice. She took the foil-wrapped brick from its bright yellow box, diced it into chunks.
Standing in front of the avocado green stove, she whisked the mornay sauce, stirred until the liquid was smooth and golden, then poured it over steaming macaroni waiting in a pyrex dish. Into the oven it went, where it transformed into a creamy, bubbling concoction.
To this day, whenever I see a box of Velveeta, I can taste the macaroni and cheese my mother used to make with her healing hands.
One frustration I often have after attending workshops or conferences during the school year is that when I get back to school, I’m immediately caught up in day-to-day demands. This leaves little time to process and implement what I’ve learned. Presenters always advise to “pick one strategy or activity” to weave into your practice, but this too can be a challenge. So I’ve loved having some uninterrupted time to process my learning from the four days I spent at the Yale Center for British Art, which I wrote briefly about here.
As I reread my notes, some overarching ideas stood out:
I created a document with five columns, sorting my notes according to these ideas. I quickly realized that I was “tackling complexity” by “putting the pieces together, rather than taking them apart, [which allowed me] to see connections, relationships and patterns of interactions.” (p. 4) It was deeply satisfying to see these relationships emerge.
Vicki’s underlying argument is that, in our rush to scaffold our students for success, we have deprived our students of opportunities to engage in critical thinking. They need many opportunities to engage in “productive struggle…the process of thinking, making sense and persevering in the face of not knowing exactly how to proceed” (p.13).
Visual literacy teaches children that, as Linda Friedlaender, Senior Curator of Education at YCBA, pointed out“images have an underlying narrative.” They automatically provide an accessible text that allow students to engage in productive struggle. Images allow students to think “for themselves, with a minimum of scaffolding.” (Vinton, p. 27). Reading images develops the same skills readers need when they read any text, including vocabulary, identifying key details, precise word choice, observation, and formulating and defending a thesis. (What Vicki and Dorothy refer to as “first-draft” thinking). Importantly, visual literacy makes abstract comprehension skills more concrete.
By incorporating visual literacy into our regular literacy routines, we create opportunities for students “to wonder, generate questions, and form hypotheses, then to test out those hypotheses, using reasoning and logic, to arrive at a final judgment or claim” (Vinton, p. 37).
Give it a try. What do you see in this painting? Images such as “The Young Anglers,” by Edmund Bristow, offer students a chance to orient themselves to the narrative of the image, just as readers have to orient themselves when reading written text.
After observing and gathering information, students share their thoughts. Just as with a piece of writing, students’ ideas have to be grounded in the details of the painting. Again, the process of reading a painting parallels and supports what we do when we read a book. If someone says they think the dog above belongs to the two boys, they have to share the exact detail from the painting that makes them think that. This is a critical step. As Vicki states, “the more opportunities students have to talk about their thinking, the more likely they are to transfer that thinking from one text to the next” (p. 77). This is true for images as well as written texts, and will also transfer from images to written texts.
Once students have developed an understanding of the narrative of the painting, the response options are limitless. Students can sketch or draw their response, write about their thinking, or (ideally), both. And, just as writing deepens our understanding of a text we’ve read, sketching deepens our understanding of visual images by drawing us ever deeper into the fine details.
The possibilities incorporating visual literacy into our classrooms are endless, and I’m excited to get back to school and working with students to build their thinking skills. In the meantime, I’m going to finish reading Vicki’s book and continue gathering images that will “give [students] a chance to build up the muscle to deal with the problems texts like this pose” (p. 79).
According to Marcel Gleiser, Carlo Rovelli’s Reality is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravitiy “is a gem. It’s a pleasure to read, full of wonderful analogies and imagery and, last but not least, a celebration of the human spirit, in ‘permanent doubt, the deep source of science.’” What it is not, however, is a beach read. (Krista Tippett’s interview with Rovelli here is worth listening to.) That didn’t stop me from picking it up at the library a few weeks ago. While some of the science confused me, the poetry of Rovelli’s prose was immediately apparent. I decided right away that this book was perfect for the “Collaborative Cut-Up” exercise, shared by Anne Waldman in The Practice of Poetry, that my critique group partner, Margaret Simon, shared on her blog last week.
Rovelli’s text definitely “utilize[s] a vocabulary not [my] own.” Less apparent was what lines of my own I would “intercut” them with. Then, as I sat on my porch one afternoon, the answer was obvious. My yard and the woods and fields around it are a riot of green at this time of year, and I asked the question out loud. Lucy, my trusty beagle, looked up at me, but had no reply.
How Many Greens Can One Day Hold?
How many greens can one day hold? I’m not sure.
As many greens as blades of grass, lit by sun- light falling on a surface like a gentle hail shower? Or ferns, reaching toward the sky, forming small diaphanous clouds of vibrant, growing green.
Nothing stays still. Glossy green treetops tremble like the surface of the sea.
Step into the unknown, where coolness hides. The truth is in the depths of shadowy green pines.
Fireflies’ neon green signals speak with the voice of nature, blink on and off, whisper goodnight, accept living immersed in mystery.
If quantum gravity isn’t a topic you’re anxious to learn more about, this book isn’t a good choice. But in the last chapter, “Mystery,” Rovelli asks some serious questions about the nature of knowledge and what we can know with certainty. He states “to seek to look further, to go further, seems to me to be one of the splendid things that gives sense to life.” Splendid, indeed.