Friday, October 26, 2012

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...
English: This is a high-resolution image of the United States Declaration of Independence (article (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Teaching English as a second language to immigrants and refugees is an eye-opening experience.  First, there is the exchange of ideas, beliefs, customs, etc. that can't help but happen when one is teaching someone of another culture.  Then, there are the stories of hope that pull at your heart-strings, shared in between grammar lessons or during a practice conversation. 

One of the greatest hopes of many of my students is to become a U.S. citizen.  To these amazing people, it is the ultimate dream.  

As the great grandchild of immigrants, this dream is not so far from my personal experience not to understand the great passion and drive people have towards reaching it.  Therefore, I jump at the chance to teach my students what they need to become citizens. 

One of the questions for citizenship in the U.S. is, "What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?"  There are three - Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness - but students only need to remember two.

Students, who study for citizenship, do so with great eagerness and pride.  They believe that by becoming active, contributing citizens of these United States, they will have a good life where they will be free to pursue their dreams.  Of course, learning English is one of the stepping stones used to reach their dreams.

Recently, in a conversation with a colleague, I was told that funding for English as a second language classes was being slated for cutbacks.  How, I asked, with more and more English language learners coming to our schools every day, can anyone justify cutting back this vital component of the curriculum?

Let me go back to what I have just finished teaching my students.  The Declaration of Independence assures us that ALL humans living in the United States have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  How can the State and Federal governments promote this and then go about cutting the funds of programs that will enable new citizens to actually have these rights?  

Of course, the bigger issue here is not simply the small ESL programs.  Rather, the problem is the corporatization of education, by which music, art and other subject matter that promotes creativity and promotes critical thinking are also being cut.  Corporate giants believe that if it doesn't make money, then let's get rid of it.  

What the men in suits don't seem to understand is that education is not and never has been a money-making venture.  Education is a  service that provides citizens with the means to become productive members of society, contributing to the good of the nation.  Turning education into a corporate venture will only produce human beings that can robotically spit out facts and figures, but who have no depth, no creativity, no ability to think and discern critically.

I have no way of fixing this problem, other than to continue to teach my students to be the best they can be - to thirst for knowledge - to practice their English skills so that they, too, may have the capital by which this nation runs.  I encourage the newly sworn in citizens to vote. I encourage all my students to ask questions, not to take no for an answer when they know it is the wrong answer. And, I remember that Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are still not rights enjoyed by all people here in the land of the free.

May we all be instruments of peace,  promoting the unalienable rights for all who call this nation Home.


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Woods Are Lovely, Dark and Deep

 Autumn in New England

There is no place like New England in the autumn.  Poets and writers have captured the essence of the beauty in poems, essays and songs.  Indeed, many of my favorite poems are those written about the woods, trees, flora and fauna of New England.

This weekend, I had the delight to go on a road trip up into the hill country of Western Massachusetts with my cousins.  We had a wonderful time discovering covered bridges, waterfalls and great landscapes, all of which will inspire future writings, I am sure.

As we walked around the woods, I kept thinking of all the Robert Frost poems that speak of these hills.  I remembered how Thoreau loved them and how Emily Dickinson captured them in her lilting lyrics.  As the wind blew, causing leaves to rain down upon us, I recalled the song, Autumn Leaves.


 I guess it is true, what I have been told so many times.  I am a romantic.  I love the sound of babbling brooks, rushing waterfalls and falling leaves.  As my cousin said, it must be genetic, since we both love it so much!

Rushing Stream in Conway, MA

One of my favorite poems about the woods is by Frost.  After having it read to me over and over as a child, I came to think of it as my vision statement for life.  The poem, A Road Less Traveled, suggests that being different, going the way others dare not go, makes a difference in life.  Friends and Family, alike, will tell you that I have always been a wee bit different!  Wouldn't have it any other way.

Road to the Poet's Seat 
Greenfield, MA

Miss Emily, the Belle of Amherst, MA wrote a lovely poem in praise of Autumn.  Her words always touch my heart and soul:

AUTUMN by Emily Dickinson

The morns are meeker than they were, 
The nuts are getting brown; 
The berry’s cheek is plumper, 
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf, 
The field a scarlet gown. 
Lest I should be old-fashioned, 
I’ll put a trinket on. 

Looking off towards Amherst, MA
from the Poet's Tower, Greenfield, MA
The one picture I was thrilled to have captured was of the beautiful sculpture by artist,  Joseph Pollia in 1932.  For me, it speaks to the joy of being here in these mountains and hills, of our connection to all of live and to our gratitude to the Creator for all we are given.  I was so thrilled to see that not only did I capture the beauty of the sculpture, but also the golden trees in the background.
 Hail to the Sunrise 
Charlemont, MA
As the days grow shorter, let us remember to take time to give thanks for what we have.  Let us stop in wonder at the beauty that surrounds us.  And, let us never tire of putting our thoughts into poems, essays, songs or capturing them in bronze, clay, on canvas or in sketches.
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 Sacred and Ancient Sites of New England (
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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Power of We!

 The theme for Blog Action Day 2012 is …

Today, I am participating in Blog Action Day 2012, as a member of the National Writers Union (NWU).  The theme for today is The Power of We - We, the People - We, the Underdogs - We, the Marginalized and We, the 99%.

Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."  One person alone is like a pebble dropped into the pool of humanity.  Their strength, convictions, and abilities ripple out into the universe creating change.  As each ring of the ripple moves along, more and more people become engaged in a cause.

Today, the Power of We has never been more obvious.  Each day, we are deluged with imaged from cellphones, tweets, and Facebook comments.  We know within seconds if someone has lied about an action or committed an injustice.  More than once in the past year, pressure from people around the globe has changed the world.

As an ordinand for  Interfaith Minister, I am mindful of how a simple gesture, a few words or a gentle touch can change the attitudes of others.  The Power of We, is about coming together regardless of gender, race, religious preferences, political parties or nationality.  We ARE the change we have been waiting for...together, we can make a difference.

I know that a difference is made every day in Swaziland, a country racked by poverty, disease and lack of education.  My dear friend, Dr. Maithri Goonetilleke and the team of devoted people, who dedicate their time and talents to the Possible Dreams International organization, create change in the lives of Gogo's (grandmothers), who care for their orphaned grandchildren.  They create change for communities that are battling the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy.  The create change for young men and women by giving them hope for a better tomorrow.  The Power of We, pure and simple!

The PDI Choir singing a song written by Dr. Maithri Goonetilleke

In Malawi, a group of tireless people work with the World Food Program to bring nutritional education and food to students throughout the country.  I am very proud to say that my step-daughter is one of these people.  Her dedication to this work, her insights and talents, combined with those of the other members of WFP, create life-giving change for the students of this small country, who will have school food programs to help bring them the nutrition they need to be successful scholars. A Princeton in Africa fellow, Bridget is writing about her experiences in her blog, Roads Less Traveled: Malawi.

In my own community, I see the difference that the Power of We has on the immigrant and refugee community through the work of the Center for New Americans (CNA).  CNA is not a big organization, but the work it does make a huge difference for those, who have come to the United States and now call this country home.  CNA assists immigrants and refugees in learning English, in navigating the systems needed to live in our community (health care, housing, education, etc.) and in becoming citizens.  

One of the most touching and enlightening moments for me this year, was attending the annual swearing in of new citizens on the lawn of the courthouse in Northampton, MA.  Many of those in attendance were affiliated with CNA, either as clients or students.  I was so moved by the ceremony and the stories shared of hardships overcome and lives changed.

Next month, CNA will be bringing people from throughout the community together to celebrate literacy and poetry, while raising much needed funds for the Center.  The celebration, 30 Poems in November is something that I, personally, will be part of, along with many other writers, students, neighbors, and community members.  Imagine, not only will funds be raised, but for some of the participants, this will be the first time their poetry will be read and honored.  Now, that is life changing!

The Power of We - may we never forget its worth. 


 #PowerOfWe  #BAD12  #Blogactionday

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Finding the Music in Life!

All my cherubs being silly

Finding the music in life requires making a choice to see beauty rather than the ugliness.  I have often been accused of wearing rose-colored glasses, because I choose to look for the music, to listen for the counter-point and to dance my way along the road.

Finding the music is easier when one has a full backpack of joyous tools.  My tools are family, friends, nature, Spirit, and the arts.  Little reminders come at the strangest times, usually when I need them most.  Little things like a yellow butterfly - a reminder of my Mom, or a line from a poem.  Little things like the way my grandchildren call my name, or how a dear friend will phone, out of the blue.

May you find the music in your life and may it fill you with joy, especially when the rest of the world is out of tune!


Today’s post is in participation with Women On Writing’s mass-blogging event, Everybody is Talking About Finding the Music in Life. We are celebrating the release of Sonia’s Song by Sonia Korn-Grimani. 

To read Sonia’s post and follow our symphony of participating bloggers visit The Muffin at Share your comments on any participating blog for a chance to win a copy of Sonia’s Song!

Sonia’s Song is the story of one girl, who rises from war's ashes to sing the songs of hope and love world-wide. A heart-wrenching and poignant memoir, by internationally renowned singer Sonia Korn-Grimani. Learn more about Sonia at

Monday, October 8, 2012

From the Poet's Own Voice

Poetry is a form of writing that is best heard from the poet's own voice.  By hearing what a poet says and how he/she says it, we are able to grasp the essence of the poem.

This week, I taught myself how to create audio recordings of my poems.  I am so excited, because now I can actually share them with my family and friends as if I were sitting with them.  What fun!

In introducing my first recording, it seems appropriate to begin with The Oak and the Maple.  This is a love poem of sorts, speaking of how some people come into our lives for a short time, but leave their mark on our souls forever.

Listen to The Oak and the Maple here.

And, for those who wish to read along --

Once upon a time, two trees grew

side-by-side in the forest.
On one, there grew a sturdy oak leaf
and on the other a delicate maple.
As spring warmed to Summer, they grew
stretching themselves out to meet the other.
By Summer’s end, the edges of their being
gently kissed, as they danced
to the cool breeze that whispered Autumn’s arrival.
Autumn strode through the wood
painting each tree and bush.
The sturdy oak leaf wore a coat of lion’s mane brown
and the maple a shimmering gown of sunset red.
From their own branches, the two admired each other.
They hoped for another playful wind to come
so that they may dance together once more.
But, the winds that came were fierce and cruel.
The maple leaf was soon ripped from her home.
The oak could only stand watch
as she tumbled to the ground.
Thinking he had lost her forever,
he grew sad, hanging wearily from his branch.
Winter came at last, bringing with her a fluffy, white, snow quilt.
As she quietly passed through the forest,
she gently plucked the brokenhearted oak from his home.
With great tenderness,
she laid him on the moss below.
As the snow fell about him,
the oak felt a familiar touch.
There beside him lay the maple leaf
still dressed in her sunset gown.
Their love bound them together
As they returned to That, which gave them life.
by Linda M. Rhinehart Neas   © York, ME 1992