March has arrived, and the calendar tells us that spring is here, yet chilly weather remains in many places and the coronavirus lingers. It has now been a year since my husband, Wayne, and I began sheltering in place in our home.
“The birds build their nests in circles
Because theirs is the same religion as ours.”
Black Elk (Oglala Lakota Medicine Man, 1863-1950)
I am blessed with a round window in my kitchen,
I can wash my hands at the sink,
And look, as through a kaleidoscope,
At the shifting leaves of the oak,
The bright oleanders, turning in the summer wind,
The long feather-fingers of the eucalyptus.
The red-headed woodpeckers,
Strong searchers, find their food in the dark branches,
Feed their children high in the deep green,
And the circle of sky holds us all.
The Circle of Sky has been my refuge for the past year, and certainly one of my richest blessings has been the privilege of living in constant connection with the natural world.
A year ago, if someone had told us that we would spend at least an entire year in isolation, sheltering at home and not touching another soul except the people we live with, we would have treated that ridiculous idea like the plot of a cheesy science fiction movie. But what if we had known and understood? Would we have looked for the blessings hiding behind this horror?
I cannot take credit for any of the blessings that have come my way during the past terrible year, but looking back, I can see them. Willa herself is a priceless blessing to me. I have become her teacher and her constant companion as her school closed due to the pandemic and her parents went back to work on adjusted schedules. As an older woman with no daughters and no grandchildren, I have been given an unimaginable gift. Thirty-five years as a college professor did little to prepare me to teach a three-year-old, but Willa and I are learning together. Based on the briefest orientation to her previous school curriculum, we have set a schedule that starts at 8:30 AM on Monday morning; technology and a few school supplies help us along the way.
Willa has learned to call upon Alexa to play “Reveille,” we get out our small American flag, and say the Pledge of Allegiance, (which I fear I had not recited in years,) together. Morning prayers follow, all of which she has memorized, and I am reminded how good children are at memorization, unlike elderly women and men. Then we have a chat about the calendar, the day, the month and the year. Yes, she knows that it is 2021. Before we get to the “academics,” of course we have to discuss the weather report. Here in Hawaii, the weather is always “warm,” with a very rare “cool” day, but we have plenty of clouds, rain and wind to observe by looking out the large windows facing the sky and sea.
Now the serious learning begins: letters and numbers. This is so much fun for me, as I am all about literacy and life-long learning. Every week, Willa learns a new letter and uses her tracing book to write upper-case and lower-case letters. She loves painting far more than writing, so we paint pictures of things, mostly animals, that start with the letter of the week, cut them out (I do the cutting, but Willa really wants to take over that job,) get out the Elmer’s glue and paste them into her notebook. We also spend quality time with “Captain Seasalt,” an online cartoon with the pirate-like hero, guiding his sailing ship, along with his hearty crew of chipper and curious kids, to a different island every week, (this week we will be sailing to T Island,) where the crew discovers lots of interesting plants and animals whose names are spelled beginning with the letter of the week. (Quail, quicksand, and Queen Anne’s lace a couple of weeks ago.) Each episode concludes with the crew finding a treasure chest filled with every child’s favorite thing: food! (Quiche and quesadilla!) I love Captain Seasalt almost as much as Willa does.
Of course, we have to have a real snack after sailing with Captain Seasalt, and Uncle Wayne comes to the rescue with steaming cups of miso soup with plenty of tofu and seaweed. Then he and Willa change into their swimming suits and jump onto the beach where endless opportunities for learning await. She has spotted sea turtles, seaweed, coral and lava rocks, lots of shells and a large number of imaginary orcas, great white sharks and dolphins, not to mention mermaids and various assorted swimming lions, bears and underwater volcanoes.
What a joy it is to enter the world of magical thinking with a child! Many other blessings came my way unexpectedly, in the past year. Among these were the opportunity to explore my creative passion, poetry, spend more time reading and learning with an on-line book club, be a better friend and family member by reaching out through zoom, text messages, emails and even hand-written notes, and nurture myself physically and spiritually through yoga and meditation. I am guessing the same or similar opportunities presented themselves to everyone else during this year of involuntary free time.
During this past year, I have joined a monthly (every second Tuesday) virtual poetry reading with the Union Poets, originating in the state of Washington. This open microphone event is hosted by the prolific poet and author, Sterling Warner, my former colleague at Evergreen Valley College. The poets who participate live all over the country, from Alaska to New York, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Hawaii. We are an eclectic group, from a young schoolteacher in Alaska to an octogenarian journalist from Texas. One of the poets combines her poems with photography; another plays a native flute as we read her printed poems on our computer screens. We have formed a supportive little band, listening in respectful silence as each person shares a poem in turn.
At our most recent gathering in February, I was thrilled to greet, though virtually, two of my former students, whom I had not seen in years, Roohi Vora and Danny Le, invited by Sterling to join us. Roohi and Danny (who goes by the professional name Dandiggity,) have both evolved from college students to successful poets and professionals. Roohi is now an English Professor at San Jose State University where she has received the Lecturer of the Year award, and Danny is a librarian and dynamic performance poet who helps to organize artistic events in the Bay Area. Hearing them read their poetry among this distinguished group was more than music to my ears. The greatest reward for a teacher is to see her students succeed!
I have also had time, at last, to work on my other website: mybestpoetry.com. While it is still a work in progress and may never feel complete, this website contains a large collection of the poetry I have written over the years, organized into categories: Lyric Poetry, Dramatic Monologues, Haiku and a textbook called Finding the Poet. This text, all about poetry, is designed for students who want to learn to read, understand and appreciate poetry as well as for poets who want to learn more about their craft and to master the art form they have chosen. All of the readers of myteaplanner.com are more than welcome to peruse mybestpoetry.com at their leisure.
As you experience another March, still in lockdown mode, you will probably not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in a crowded Irish Pub drinking liberal amounts of beer, dancing a jig and listening to an Irish band with a penny whistle. But we can still honor our favorite Irish Saint, as everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Why not enjoy the simplest of Irish meals at home with your loved one? Irish Brown Bread with Irish Vegetable Soup is as humble as a meal can be, but trust me, it is delicious.
- 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons toasted wheat bran
- 3 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
- 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) salted butter, chilled
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- Cooking spray for the loaf pan
Special equipment: food processor, 9x5x3 inch loaf pan, parchment paper, 1-quart glass measuring cup, wire cooling rack, wooden skewer or sharp knife, kitchen mitts, serrated knife
Makes: one loaf, approximately 8 servings, or about 12-15 2-inch scones
- Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with parchment paper cut to fit and spray the paper. Set aside. Combine the first 8 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse briefly to mix.
- Cut the chilled butter into small pieces, add them to the mixture in the food processor and pulse briefly until the texture resembles fine meal.
- Add the buttermilk and egg to a 1-quart glass measuring cup, whisk briefly to combine, and add to the mixture in the food processor. Pulse until a soft dough is formed.
- Remove the dough and quickly shape it into a loaf, pressing it into the prepared loaf pan. Bake until the bread is dark brown, and a wooden skewer or a sharp knife inserted into the center comes our clean, about 40 minutes. Using kitchen mitts, carefully remove the loaf from the pan, remove the parchment and cool on a wire rack.
- Cut with a serrated knife and serve with Irish butter. The dough can also be rolled out and cut into scones with a 2” cookie cutter and baked for approximately 11 minutes on parchment-lined cookie sheets. Serve with Irish Vegetable Soup or for breakfast the next day, toasted with butter and orange marmalade.
This tasty Vegetable Soup is the essence of Irish cooking, simple root vegetables from the garden combined with the ever-popular cauliflower and a few fresh herbs to create a meal that will satisfy. Serve it with Irish Brown Bread and Kerry Gold Irish butter. Some Irish Cheddar would be a nice addition to complete the meal. Any of the desserts from our St. Patrick’s Day Irish Tea Menu would turn this simple supper into a feast. Or check out Kathleen’s March 2021 blog for two fabulous Irish-inspired pies: Buttermilk Irish Whiskey Apple Pie or Vanilla Malt Pie with Pretzel Crust.
- 1 head of cauliflower
- 2 sweet yellow onions
- 3 leeks
- 4 potatoes
- 5 carrots
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence, or 3-4 tablespoons of fresh herbs from the garden such as parsley and rosemary
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth
Makes: 6-8 servings
- Wash and chop all the vegetables into small pieces. Peel the potatoes if you wish, but peeling is not necessary. Keep the vegetables separate as you chop them. Cutting up the vegetables will take a while, but it is a simple process. Just make sure that the pieces are small; this will help them cook more quickly and evenly.
- Saute the chopped onions and leeks in the butter until softened. Add the chopped carrots and stir for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and cauliflower, then the broth and seasonings. Bring the mixture to a boil for a few minutes.
- Turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about one to one and a half hours, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables, especially the carrots, are very soft, remove the bay leaf and either mash the soup with a potato masher or puree it with an immersion blender. Serve immediately and refrigerate any leftovers.