Some Simple Lessons from Kids

As a volunteer docent with our local art museum, I got to spend a few days last week with elementary school students. My own children left the nest more than a decade ago, and I’ve been retired from teaching for a few years, so I almost forgot how meaningful time spent with kids can be. Here are just a few simple lessons they reminded me.

  1. Be Energetic. From the moment they tumbled off the school bus, the students exuded a contagious sense of energy and excitement. I think it’s possible for adults to maintain a youthful energy without bouncing around like Will Ferrell in Elf.
  2. Share. Kids are used to sharing. Whether it’s a crayon, the water fountain or space in front of a painting, they know they have to wait their turn.
  3. Learn. Kids are proud of what they know and are little sponges for learning new things. As adults, every day is a chance to learn something new.
  4. Create. Give a dozen kids the exact same art supplies and they will confidently create a dozen completely different things. Creating stuff keeps us young and sharp.
  5. Follow the Rules. Kids know there are almost always rules to follow, and they understand there are consequences if they don’t. Imagine if adults did the same.
  6. Give Hugs. Spend a day with little kids and you are guaranteed to remember the sweet gift of a hug.
  7. Play. If you’ve forgotten how to play, watch kids for five minutes. They will remind you how.
  8. Be Yourself. Look at any group of children and you will quickly see their individuality even if they’re wearing the same school uniform. How wonderful it is that we aren’t all the same.
  9. Keep it Simple. Show kids an ornate marble sculpture and they just might be more impressed by the ladybug crawling on it.
  10. Think About the Future. Children remind us we will be replaced by the future generation. What kind of world do we want to leave them? §

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 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

The Elegance of Showing Up

One gorgeous morning this fall, I found myself gathered with a handful of like-minded souls to write and illustrate poetry at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts. I couldn’t help but think how many other things we could have done that Saturday morning, but we each decided to show up. Brené Brown said, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

Showing up at all can feel vulnerable, but showing up creatively takes guts. Our creativity can be expressed in many forms including art, music, writing, dance, performance, and innovation. On this morning, I taught a lesson on haiku poetry and Shrode Art Center director Carrie Gibbs taught sumi ink drawing, but we were all there to create.

Golden sunlight flooded through the windows magnifying the creative energy in the studio classroom. After three hours, I felt more alive than I have in a long time. I shared another quote by Brown with my fellow workshop participants, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

Here’s a sample of participants’ fall haikus, each contributing beauty, peace, and elegance to our world. §

mushrooms grow from the floor
their hats like umbrellas
covering them from the downpour
by Avery

black, white, red crouched low
hop, extend, push down, lift up
whooping crane takes flight
by Cindy

crows caw a greeting
among yellow crimson leaves
autumn morning song
by Debbie

a tree lit by the sun
a gush of wind blows by
whoosh! the tree is peaceful again
by Allie

in my reflection
my thoughts return to my roots
leaving soul to bare
by Brian

“Show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there.”
~Marie Forleo

The Elegance of Live Music

It’s a fall afternoon and pianist Brian Woods fills the small performance hall with soul-stirring classical music that beckons autumn leaves to dance and transports the audience to another time and place. For a brief magical time, we are lifted above our everyday lives and united in the joy and elegance of music. 

The pianist from St. Louis ushered in the first of four concerts at our local cultural arts center, each of which I look forward to attending. I am no music expert; I just know how it makes me feel. Experiencing live music is different than listening to it at home or in the car. There’s something special about joining an audience of diverse people who come together specifically to experience the emotion and awe of a live performance. 

In a world fraught with conflict and division, music can bring us together in a delightful way. This summer, my daughter and her husband took us to a popular piano bar after a baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. People of all ages, sporting Cardinals and Cubs gear, belted out Elton John’s Benny and the Jets at the top of their lungs. If those die-hard rivals can put aside their differences to sing together, there is hope for harmony. 

“Music has a great power for bringing people together,” said media mogul Ted Turner. “With so many forces in the world acting to drive wedges between people, it’s important to preserve those things that help us experience our common humanity.” Music genres can be diverse as people, but with an open mind, lovers of jazz or rock may discover they also enjoy Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. 

Opportunities to experience live musical performances can be found at regional schools, churches, universities, libraries, bars and restaurants, and cultural centers like Cedarhurst Center for the Arts in my hometown.*

According to Americans for the Arts, there are many good reasons to support the arts, including boosting local economies, strengthening communities, and improving academic performance among students. The organization points to research that shows participation in the arts reduces depression and anxiety and increases life satisfaction. In the 1700s, Jean Paul Friedrich Richter said, “Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” 

On the sunny afternoon the pianist swept his audience away with stunning musicianship and stage presence, I took a moment to notice the expressions on the faces around me and knew we were  experiencing something significant. As composer Aaron Copeland said, “So long as the human spirit thrives on this planet, music in some living form will accompany and sustain it and give it expressive meaning.” §

“In the presence of great music we have no alternative but to live nobly.”
~ Sean O. Faolain

*If you are in southern Illinois, tickets for the 2022-2023 music series at Cedarhurst Center for the Arts are available online at This year’s line up includes a Brazilian father-daughter duo Oct. 15, a standards-singing trio in March, and a dynamic flutist, pianist and educator in April. You won’t be disappointed! 

The Elegance of Community

IMG_1847 (1)Six-year-old Mariah sat perfectly still as I carefully painted a swirling green vine across her forehead and around her soft cheek. We chatted breezily as I added yellow sunflowers to her sweet face. A touch of gold glitter made her smile sparkle all the more.

I recently jumped at the chance to volunteer with a local museum, Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, at a community event held at our town’s park. It’s the same park I frequented as a child. I still remember sitting at the small concrete amphitheater listening to someone dressed as The Cat in the Hat read a Dr. Seuss book. I was just about Mariah’s age.

On this sunny June morning, local groups gathered to kick-off a state-wide collaboration called the Sunflower Project. This community project will beautify the area, regenerate soil, and increase natural pollinators like butterflies and bees.

The park was buzzing with people of all ages planting sunflowers, browsing educational booths, devouring funnel cakes, and getting their faces painted. It warmed my heart to see people coming together at a time when we see so much division. A Saturday morning in the city park of one little community painted a different picture.

I’m inspired by the good citizens of our community. They volunteer at hospitals, schools, churches, museums, and other charitable and service organizations. They donate their time, food, money, and other resources. They attend events people work so hard to bring to about. Their support of local government, businesses, athletics, the environment, education, and the arts makes a real difference.

Being part of a community requires the elegance of our participation. Involvement is what makes any community more successful, whether it’s a family, school, workplace, town, state, nation, or planet. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

I can hardly wait to watch the sunflower seeds so carefully planted in our park grow and bloom into a joyful patch of yellow flowers. What a perfect symbol for a thriving community filled with strong and happy citizens. Wherever you spend this fourth of July weekend, I hope you take pride in all of the various communities you are a part of and look for ways you can get involved to make a difference in your life and in the life of others. §

“Alone we can do so little; together, we can do so much.”
~Helen Keller

Featured Art ~ A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1886.