5 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month

In addition to all the other joys of springtime, April is also National Poetry Month. Initiated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, the international event has become the world’s largest literary celebration with the goal to recognize poetry’s integral role in our culture.

As a middle school literature teacher, I found the beauty of spring could bring out the poet in the most unlikely students. Even if poetry has never been your thing, this might be your chance to see what all the fuss is about. Here are five specific ways you can celebrate National Poetry Month.

1. Start off the month by reading this light-hearted love poem by Mortimer Collins called The First of April. It’s a favorite of mine because my late parents actually tied the knot on April Fool’s Day 62 years ago.

Now if to be an April-fool
Is to delight in the song of the thrush,
To long for the swallow in air’s blue hollow,
And the nightingale’s riotous music-gush,
And to paint a vision of cities Elysian
Out away in the sunset-flush –
Then I grasp my flagon and swear thereby,
We are April-fools, my Love and I.

2. Get a free 2023 National Poetry Month poster, seen above. You can download it or order yours at poets.org. This year’s poster was designed by Marc Brown, creator of Arthur books and television series. The poster features this important line from a poem written by current Poet Laureate Ada Limón, “…we were all meant for something.” 

3. Check out a book of poetry from the library, buy a new book or pull a dusty one from your own bookshelf, and read a poem every day this month. A favorite poetry book on my own shelf is titled Poems That Will Change Your Life by Fall River Press. My copy naturally opens to a dog-eared page with this beauty by Emily Dickinson titled If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking.

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Into his nest again,
I shall not live in vain

4. Celebrate Earth Day on Saturday, April 22 by going outside and reading or writing poetry inspired by nature. There’s nothing like being outside and reading a poetic verse like this from Auguries of Innocence by William Blake.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palms of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

5. Participate in Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day on April 27. This event takes place every year during National Poetry Month. The idea is simple. Find a poem you love and carry it in your pocket to read yourself or share with family, friends and even strangers. You can even share it on social media using the hashtag #PocketPoem. Choosing a poem meaningful enough to carry with us is an exercise in itself. For years, I posted on my classroom door this poem by Langston Hughes called The Dream Keeper.

Bring me all of your dreams, you dreamers
Bring me all of your heart melodies
That I may wrap them in a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers of the world.

Each time I entered my classroom, the poem reminded me of my desire to educate and nurture students with tender hearts filled with hopeful dreams. Though I am retired now, the poem still speaks to me, so it remains tucked away in my purse pocket. It is a message I celebrate during National Poetry Month, and always.§

“Poetry, like jazz, is one of those dazzling diamonds of creative industry that help human beings make sense out of the comedies and tragedies that contextualize our lives.”
~ Aberjhani, American historian

Note to Subscribers ~ April 23 will be my last post on The Simple Swan. As I have often written about the changing seasons, I have been slow to realize I’ve entered a new season in my own life. It is a season of being more than doing, listening more than speaking, learning more than teaching, reading more than writing. Thank you for your loyal support. Love, Alicia

March weather imitates unpredictability of life


“It was one of those March days, when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it was summer in the light, and winter in the shade,” wrote Charles Dickens in Great Expectations. Though much has changed since 1860 when that novel was first published, March weather is just as unpredictable, and life itself continues to defy all expectations.

I can still picture a bulletin board in my elementary school that showed the month of March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb. There is debate about that old English proverb.  Some say if March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb. Some say it’s the other way around. The debate only illustrates the point that March weather is uncertain.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our life is March weather, savage and serene in one hour.” We’ve all experienced what Emerson is talking about. One minute we’re skipping down the sunny side of the street and suddenly the skies darken and we’re caught in an unexpected downpour. This scenario occurs throughout life, both literally and figuratively.

Among his lessons in living, my dad said, “The only predictable thing about life is its unpredictability.” He didn’t say this to make me throw my hands up and quit, but rather to prepare me to react to life’s unpredictability with as much grace as possible. His wisdom came in handy in my career as a middle school teacher when carefully constructed lesson plans were often tweaked, altered or completely scrapped due to an unexpected teachable moment. A co-teacher had this sign on her desk, “Blessed are the flexible for they will not be bent out of shape!”

In an article in Psychology Today, Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D. offers some ways to cope with the unpredictability of life. Her ideas include relying on a support network, avoiding media that generates negative feelings, and understanding what is and isn’t within our control. “We don’t have the power to control our world or other people’s actions and decisions, only our own,” she writes. “Once we accept the limits of our power to control, we can let go of a lot of stress, anxiety and misplaced responsibility.”

Another good way to face life’s unpredictability is to laugh and smile. She writes, “When we smile, our brains kick into ‘happiness gear’ and dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are released – all feel-good neuropeptides.” In a similar manner, laughter protects us against stress and anxiety. “Learning to laugh at yourself,” she writes, “is a crowning achievement that puts you in a good place to control the way you react to life when things don’t go as planned.”

Humorist Mark Twain said, “A great great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has ever been done.” Trying to control life is almost as silly as trying to control the weather. March weather, especially where I live in southern Illinois, reminds me of this childhood tongue twister ~ Whether the weather be fine or whether the weather be not. Whether the weather be cold or whether the weather be hot. We’ll weather the weather whatever the weather whether we like it or not! §

“I don’t make plans, because life is short and unpredictable ~ much like the weather!”
~ Al Roker, veteran weatherman

Make this Your Season to Bloom

IMG_4604Tomorrow is officially the first day of spring, and there is no better time to make this our season to bloom. Poet Anais Nin offered us her own encouragement when she wrote, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Merriam Webster defines the verb bloom as a time or season to mature into achievement of one’s potential; to flourish in beauty, freshness or excellence; to shine or glow. Does the idea of coming into full bloom feel too risky, vulnerable, difficult or even silly? Imagine if the daffodils and daisies had such thoughts!

Here are ten little seeds we can plant in our minds to help us bloom like flowers in springtime.

1. Be aware. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” Take time to contemplate tiny green leaves budding on trees and flower petals unfurling. If we train our eyes to see beauty blooming all around us, we will likely be inspired to do the same.

2. Be amazed. For months, a small bulb lies dormant deep in the ground. One early spring day, a thin green stem pushes through the cold hard dirt. Soon a bulging spathe forms at the top of the stem containing a host of flower parts that miraculously bloom into an unbelievably perfect yellow daffodil. The Buddha said, “If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly our whole life would change.”

3. Be yourself. A daisy doesn’t yearn to be a rose. A rose doesn’t envy a tulip. Blooming requires us to think about who we are and what we were created to be. Author Cheryl Strayed wrote, “Transformation doesn’t ask that you stop being you. It demands that you find a way back to the authenticity and strength that’s already inside of you. You only have to bloom.”

4. Be ready. Don’t wait around for the perfect growing conditions to come into full bloom. “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all,” said Walt Disney. If a wildflower can grow through a crack in a concrete sidewalk, we can surely bloom wherever we are planted.

5. Be joyful. Just as flowers brighten someone’s day, so can we. French essayist Joseph Joubert said, “Politeness is the flower of humanity.” Simply being cheerful and kind can bring joy to everyone we encounter. Having a joyful demeanor is a habit that just takes a little practice.

6. Be hardy. A delicate yet tenacious flower can survive downpours and droughts. Flowers get trampled on by thoughtless feet and paws. Have you ever watered wilted flowers and watched them magically revive? Like resilient flowers, we can resolve to keep blooming even when everything isn’t coming up roses.

7. Be colorful. Flowers bloom in such beautiful colors! Bringing these colors into our clothing and surroundings can add happiness to our everyday lives. In her book Choosing Happiness Alexandra Stoddard wrote, “What brings me great joy is to surround myself with nature, to select colors that have happy associations with the beauty I experience on a spring day when the sun shines, highlighting the world’s freshness and luminescence.”

8. Be relaxed. Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…” Each and every flower, like each and every one of us, was wonderfully made. There’s no use in worrying and fretting about life. Rather than being anxious, we can relax into who we are and bloom naturally like the flowers.

9. Be caring. Master gardeners plan, prune, weed, fertilize and lovingly care for their plants and flowers. “People are like flowers. Some need only a little tending to, and who knows what kind of beautiful blooms may burst forth,” said writer Meredith Barron. In order to bloom, we must take time to care for ourselves and others the way a gardener might tend to prized roses.

10. Be grateful. All a flower needs to bloom is some good soil, a little light and water. Most of us are blessed with everything we need to thrive, but we often misuse our resources or take them for granted. This spring, let’s be thankful for the sun and the rain and all the metaphorical dirt that work together to help us grow so we can come into full bloom. §

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”
~Frances Hodgson Burnett, from The Secret Garden

Something Sublime for March ~ The Joy of Watching a Live Performance

IMG_4532March is Oscar time, and I watched this year’s award show from beginning to end. It made me realize that as much as I love going to the movies, it will never match attending a live performance. So far this month, I’ve happily found myself in the audience of four different shows ~ a jazz concert, a high school musical, a friend’s bar gig and a play at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis. Each experience reminded me of the importance of live performances, especially in a world of increased isolation created by digital technology, social media and screens, screens and more screens. The benefits of live music and theater are numerous, but here are five things that make attending a live performance simply sublime.

1. Human Connection ~ When we attend a live performance we become part of a temporary community made up of people who have at least one thing in common – each has chosen to suspend all other activities to attend the same performance. These communities might come together at a fancy theatre in the city, the local high school or a corner pub, but the result is similar. Research shows the heart beats of audience members actually synchronize!  Live performances create the human connection our world is so desperately lacking.

2. Valuing Artistic Talent ~ One could argue that our society values things over people. How refreshing it is to celebrate the talents of both a Juilliard-trained cellist and a friend who sings and plays the guitar. This week I was moved to tears by high schoolers singing and dancing in a school play and by veteran actor Richard Thomas’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. While such talent may be God-given, these ordinary people work unbelievably hard to refine their abilities so they can graciously share it with others in a live situation.

3. Social Discourse ~ Our high school’s anxiously-awaited annual operetta featured a new musical called Ranked. The story of a dystopian world where academic competition reaches a new level as highly publicized grades define high school students’ worth made for a thought-provoking evening. In the same way, the audience watching the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird contemplated issues of poverty, race, addiction, injustice and innocence. In a departure from the novel, the main character and narrator, Scout, ended the show with this line, “All rise!” Long after the curtain closed, I’m still thinking about the deeper meaning and call-to-action of those two powerful final words.

4. Real Human Experience ~ Movies, albums and Facebook posts can be edited to perfection before shared. More and more often they are computer-generated. Every live performance is unique. No two live performances are ever the same. For this reason, the experience becomes more real, risky, exciting and ever-evolving for both the audience and the performers. With live performances, it takes more effort than just pressing play. There’s something fresh and real about a performance that isn’t canned and digitized.

5. Different Perspectives ~ Live performances help us see life from different points of view other than our own. As an audience member, we watch life happen in a pin-pointed way on a stage in front of us. The music, action, dialogue, props, light and sound reach into our emotions and can make us see life from another perspective. As Atticus Finch said in both the novel and in Aaron Sorkin’s new play, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” §

“Nothing beats a live performance. Nothing.”
~ Jonathan Demme, filmmaker

A Wee Bit about St. Patty’s Day Shenanigans

IMG_4333This St. Patrick’s Day will you wear green, catch leprechauns, search for a pot of gold or chug green beer?  You might be surprised to learn some of our St. Patty’s Day traditions have little to do with the holiday celebrated on March 17 by people all over the world.

St. Patrick’s Day, also known as the Feast of St. Patrick, is actually a religious celebration in honor of the foremost patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick was thought to be born in Roman Britain in the fifth century. It is believed at the age of 16 he was kidnapped by pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. At 22, he broke free from his captors and returned to England to study theology and become a priest. He later returned to Ireland as a missionary and is credited with bringing Christianity to the country.

It is widely believed that St. Patrick used shamrocks as a tool to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans, with the three clovers representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today in Ireland, many practicing Catholics attend church on St. Patrick’s Day wearing bunches of shamrocks pinned to their holiday finery and then head home for a family meal. Meanwhile, some folks celebrate the occasion a wee bit differently.

Let’s start with that traditional green St. Patty’s Day beer. Research shows it was all-American idea created by a New York City doctor for a party in 1914. He’s said to have used blue laundry power to dye the beer green. Today, there is always a demand for blue food coloring around St. Patrick’s Day. In fact, until the 1960s, the sales of alcohol was prohibited in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day in honor of the holy day. Some pubs in Dublin and other larger cities now serve green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but mostly to please tourists who are visiting Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Day parades and festivals, didn’t originate in Ireland either. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in New York City in 1766. It wasn’t until 1995 that Ireland held its own St. Patrick’s Day parade to boost tourism. The five-day festival is now held in Dublin. Chicago is the host of the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade where the Chicago River is dyed green for the annual event.

Historically, green has been associated with Irish nationalism, and it remains one of three colors of its flag. Ireland is also known for its lush, green scenery and is nicknamed the Emerald Isle. Wearing green is a way to celebrate one’s Irish heritage or at least avoid getting pinched.

As Irish folklore goes, the color green makes us invisible to leprechauns. Without protection of the color green, the mischevious little creatures will  jump out and pinch us! Leprechaun lore has its roots in the Celtic tradition. These lucky leprechauns are said to hide pots of gold at the end of the rainbow where it is impossible for mere mortals to reach.

The Irish and pots of gold may have at least some factual significance. According to the author of 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History, the phrase “luck of the Irish” may refer to the gold and silver rush in the United States during the late 1800s when many successful miners were Irish. Over time, the association of the Irish and mining fortunes might have led to the expression.

On St. Patrick’s Day, at a bar or parade somewhere, someone will be wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Kiss Me, I’m Irish!” The phrase originates from the legend of the Blarney Stone, an iconic stone set in a wall of Blarney Castle constructed in Ireland  in 1446. There are many legends about the stone, but kissing it is said to give a person the gift of eloquence and good luck. Maybe it’s just a bunch of blarney, but about 400,000 people reportedly turn upside down to kiss the stone every year.

It’s said everyone is a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Although I am not of Irish descent, some of my favorite people are. Many years ago one of them taught me to sing this beautiful Irish blessing, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” §

“As you slide down the bannister of life may the splinters never point the wrong direction.”
~ Irish Blessing

March Presence ~ Truly Listening


Gorgeous weather beckoned Mike and me to sit on the back porch this week. Exhausted from yard work, we sat in silence taking in the sounds of spring. First came the whoosh of dove wings flapping against the air and landing under our bird feeders with a low and gentle, “Coo, Coo.” Next we heard the familiar sound of an unseen cardinal calling, “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie!” A robin seemed to answer with a musical tweet that sounded like, “Cheer up, Cheer up, Cheer up!”  Soon there was an entire symphony of birds serenading a deep orange setting sun. Without trying, we were practicing presence.

Throughout the week, I noticed the many chances I had to be fully present by fully listening. There was the wonderful jazz concert at our local museum featuring two cellists and a pianist with the voice of an angel. There was a bible study on Esther. A touching eulogy for a dear friend’s mother. A sermon on Daniel. A couple of meetings. Several prayers and songs of praise. And many conversations. Each experience was enhanced by being present and truly listening.

Listening can be hard. As a teacher, I often saw thirty faces sitting in front of me in complete silence. I’d like to think they were mesmerized by my every word, but I know from experience they were not. They were thinking about middle school drama, how their hair looked, or what was for lunch. They were looking through me at something across the room, or out the window, or in a daydream.

One time I was in a passionate lecture on some beautiful piece of literature when a student suddenly raised his hand. “Yes?” I said expectedly. He asked matter of factly, “Did you get your hair cut?” Every teacher empathizes with the classroom scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In a dreadfully monotone voice, the teacher repeats, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” That poor burned-out teacher may as well have been talking to a wall.

Adolescents aren’t the only ones who have trouble listening. Have you ever thought you were listening, only to suddenly realize you’d been off in la-la-land? It can be difficult to stay present. We can be better listeners by setting an intention to clear our minds and stay present. When our thoughts drift off, we can gently bring them back again and again.

Mother Teresa said, “God speaks in the silence of the heart. Listening is the beginning of prayer.” Sitting outside on that beautiful evening did feel a little like a prayer, and I thanked God for the happy sounds of spring and for my sweet husband sitting beside me. Listening is a way to show our gratitude for music, for sermons, for conversation, for sounds of nature that make our hearts sing like the birds on a gorgeous spring day. §

“The earth has music for those who listen.”
~ Reginald Holmes, poet of The Magic of Sound

Springtime Encourages Us to Be Possibilitarians

IMG_4331The calendar has finally turned to March and spring is almost here! If this was our first spring to see grass turn green, flowers burst from the ground, and robins hatch from tiny turquoise eggs we might think, “Impossible!” Springtime is a season of hope, optimism and endless possibilities.

In his distinctive voice, the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale said, “I challenge you to become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities ~ always see them, for they’re always there!”

Peale, who died in 1993, was a minister and bestselling author of The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale also had a successful radio broadcast called The Art of Living, and I recently listened to a recording of him discussing optimism and the idea of being a possibilitarian. Peale credited a friend for introducing him to the word and explained, “A possibilitarian is one who sees the possibilities rather than the impossibilities.”

Peale recounted a time when he had a problem that really had him stumped. “No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t see the silver lining to that cloud,” he said. So he went to his friend, a possibilitarian, who said he never did see a problem that didn’t have a soft spot if you just keep poking. “Sure as daybreak,” Peale exclaimed, “he found that spot!” Peale said he learned there are always possibilities where there seem to be none at all.

Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in possibility.” Her poem 466, compares possibility to a physical structure in which one can live. Her house of possibility is a strong one with windows, doors, rooms and an “everlasting roof”. She welcomes visitors to this house and “gathers paradise” through possibilities.

So how do we learn to dwell in possibility? In the short radio broadcast I listened to, Peale said possibilitarians have a simple, honest optimism toward life. “Although optimism begins in the heart, you’ll find it has a way of working its way up through your mind until it shows on your face and in everything you do,” he said.

Make no mistake, Peale doesn’t believe optimists are ones who stick their heads in the sand and ignore realities of life. He said, “A true optimist sees all the difficulties, but unlike the negative thinkers, the optimist sees difficulty in terms of solutions.”

I’ve been accused of being an eternal optimist, which may be a result of reading so many books with happy endings. When faced with the impossible, I think of a song from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. “It’s possible! For a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage. It’s possible! For a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage. It’s possible!” Sure it’s a fairy tale, but it’s also a joyous reminder that impossible things happen every day.

Go ahead and call me an optimist, a dreamer or a dewy-eyed dope, but I prefer the term possibilitarian. Springtime gives us all reason to believe in the impossible. I stand with Peale, Dickinson, Cinderella and Audrey Hepburn who said, “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, I’m possible!” §

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.”
~ Thomas Edison

March Poetry ~ Snowdrops

IMG_4403Exactly one year ago I was surprised to see a cluster of tiny white snowdrops blooming right through a patch of icy snow by the side of our house.  If you remember, a year ago news of the war in Ukraine was just a couple of weeks old. The tenacity of those fragile white flowers inspired me to write this poem.

“With the Strength of Snowdrops”
by Alicia Woodward

Snowdrops pierce through frozen ground
Amid fiery blasts and artillery rounds

Tiny flowers so brave and bright
Show strength in their tenacious fight

Eager blossoms unfurl with glee
Like a flag flying free

Beauty and promise spring after spring
Despite despair the season brings

While man may sow hate and strife
Nature blooms with hope and life 

I’m glad I didn’t know then that the war would still be raging one year later.

Or that so many of our country’s problems would still be unresolved.

Or that my own challenges would still be looming large.

We humans sure know how to make a mess of things, don’t we? But God, God stays strong. While we weakly stumble through our days, he lovingly offers us encouraging symbols of strength. God stays faithful, too. Even though we did nothing to deserve it, the snowdrops bloomed again this year. I’m still amazed by their strength, but today I’m struck by their humility. I notice how the flower humbly hangs its head, as if bowing down in prayer. §

“Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring
And pensive monitor of fleeting years.”
~William Wordsworth, To a Snowdrop

Waiting for Spring ~ 10 things to do now

IMG_4102I was given a paperwhite bulb kit as a holiday hostess gift. Two months ago, I put the soil in the white ceramic container and planted the bulb with the pointy tip just barely peeking out. I set the pot near a window that gets plenty of direct sunlight and watered it as directed. The green stem grew quickly and produced a promising bud, but it never bloomed. I’m afraid the flower needed more sunny days than the weatherman delivered to southern Illinois this season.

As we reach the end of winter, are you feeling a little like my pitiful paperwhite ~ droopy, unproductive and bit yellow around the edges? I’ve given up hope of my paperwhite blooming, but not on spring’s arrival. Here are ten ways to get us through the final stretch while we wait.

  1. Spread some sunshine. I do my share of grumbling about the weather, but I’m challenging myself to go the whole week without complaining about it. Put a smile on your face, a spring in your step and hum that great Temptations’ classic, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May.”
  2. Arrange some fresh flowers. It’s amazing how a bunch of inexpensive, grocery store flowers boosts my mood. Separate them into several containers or plop the whole bunch in a single vase. Flowers help us possess what French philosopher Albert Camus called an invincible summer.
  3. Do spring cleaning now. Start in the kitchen by removing everything from the cabinets and pantry. Give all the shelves a good wipe down and put everything back neatly, discarding expired items and donating things you don’t use. If you get a second wind, go through the same process in your bathrooms and closets. When warmer weather arrives, you’ll be free to go out and enjoy it.
  4. Shake up your day. Especially in the winter, we can fall into a dull and monotonous routine. For a change of pace, take a different route to work, go someplace for breakfast or coffee, bake something delicious or wear something special. Give yourself a tiny thrill to look forward to each day.
  5. Wash the car. As a child, I would often surprise my dad by cleaning his car, and it’s something I like do for my husband now. Crank the heat, climb in, and clean all the interior surfaces and windows. Pick up trash and wayward objects and vacuum the seats and floors. Go through the car wash, knowing full well you’ll hit several large muddy potholes on your way home.
  6. Escape from reality. A tropical vacation would be wonderful, but we can leave the world behind on a budget. Duck into a movie theater, stroll through a museum, wander the stacks at the library and then dive into a good book. I’m revisiting all the delightful characters in Jan Karon’s Mitford series for a second (or third) time.
  7. Plan your spring garden. Decide what plants and flowers you want to grow in your vegetable garden, flower beds and pots this year. Look at gardening books and magazines for inspiration. The photos are so beautiful you may bring them to your nose hoping to catch a whiff of sweet fragrance.
  8. Savor the sun. When the sun does make an appearance, however briefly, welcome it with open arms. Sit in a sunny window and bask in its warmth. Bundle up and take a walk. One of my favorite quirky things to do on a clear cold day is park my car in the sun and read with the heater warming my feet.
  9. Finish indoor projects. You probably made a mental list of things you planned to do while cooped up indoors this winter. Paint bathroom. File paperwork. Organize photographs. There’s still time to check off a few things before spring arrives.
  10. Enjoy the season. By this time of year, even those of us who like winter need to be reminded of its beauty. How lovely that on a dreary February day, it’s perfectly acceptable to stay in our comfy pants, curl up by the fire with a warm cup of something and dreamily wait for spring. §

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
~ Albert Camus, French philosopher

Creating Beauty this February ~ Thinking About Our Words

IMG_4297When considering how to create beauty, we may think of decorating our living room, arranging flowers or setting a table. Maybe we imagine painting a picture or playing a piano concerto. These may all be worthy pursuits, but we can create beauty simply by the words we choose to speak.

One of my goals as a middle school teacher was to create a beautiful classroom environment. I wanted our language arts classroom to be a place filled with lovely words. Of course, the best way to fulfill this goal was to let my own words model what I desired. At one time I had a poster in my classroom that read ~

Before you speak, THINK…
T – is it true?
H – is it helpful?
I – is it inspiring?
N – is it necessary?
K – is it kind? 

I admit the poster was as much for me as it was for my students. Now that I’m retired, I’ve noticed my own words have become less admirable. How easy it is to let the words that come out of our mouths create ugliness instead of beauty, especially in a world where toxic language is often the norm. It’s difficult to go through a single day without hearing words that are rude, crude, sarcastic and negative. None of this will ever create beauty ~ for ourselves or for others.

Recently, my morning devotional (once again) seemed written specifically for me. It ended with this prayer, “Lord, please put a guard and filter over my mouth and help me speak only what is edifying, uplifting and encouraging to those around me. Help me to see the good in others the way you do. Help me to highlight that which will bless another heart and make someone else’s day.”

Oh, if I could only do that how much beauty I could create in the world! Like anything that requires self-discipline, I’m taking it one day at a time. Just for today, I will think before I speak and ask myself if it is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind. §

“Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”
Proverbs 16:24