Category Archives: Quotes

Out of the fire comes hope

fireweed Charli Mills Carrot Ranch flash fiction

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills wrote about fireweed. She describes it thus:

“the purple and pink flower that grows like a tall spear in a tribe of flower warriors. After a forest fire, mining reclamation, road grading or any kind of soil disturbance, fireweed grows back first from seeds born of despair. It’s a phoenix flower, a soil nourisher, a defier of the odds when life is bleakest.”

She then went on to challenge writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes fireweed. You can use it as the plant, a flower, a metaphor or as the name of someone or something. Go where the prompt leads. Burn bright when you write.

I don’t know of Charli’s fireweed, but I do know that Australia is home to a great variety of plants that are dependent on fire for regeneration. While large tracts of land destroyed by bushfires is devastating, a return to traditional land management practices of the indigenous peoples may see an  improved system.

There is an oft-repeated quote by German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

While that may be true of Charli’s fireweed and much of Australia’s flora, I’m never convinced of the applicability of the saying to every situation, or of its power to lift one up when feeling personally devastated. What does not kill may require a good dose of determination and strength for it not to annihilate the spirit.

While thoughts of how to approach Charli’s challenge were swirling around in my head, notification of a new post by The Wordy Wizard popped into my inbox. At the top of the post was this quote by  J.K. Rowling from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

 “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.”

The addition of these words of J.K. Rowling to those of Friedrich Nietzsche, for me, complete the thought. Without acceptance there is denial and an inability to move on, with acceptance we can begin to repair and renew.

Intermittently, over the past four years while I have been responding to Charli’s flash challenges, I have written about Marnie, an abused child who was able, with determination and support of caring others, to overcome the impact of her dysfunctional upbringing and make a better life for herself.

Just as we look for green shoots of hope in the blackness of a bushfire’s destruction, we must look for signs of hope and renewal in those who have suffered.

Bono quote about why he's a megalomaniac

While at times the negatives of children “burnt” by dysfunctional home lives, poverty, poor nutrition, lack of mental stimulation, and other factors that appear to obliterate potential can seem overwhelming and insurmountable, it is important to see within every child that seed of unlimited possibility and hope that needs to be nurtured.

Marnie’s teacher Miss R. saw it in her. In one story, “Miss R. handed her a rose from the vase saying, “You are that rose. You may be surrounded by thorns, but the beauty of the rose is inside you. Remember that always. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Perhaps it would be just as apt to describe her as fireweed, “a defier of the odds when life is bleakest”. This is where Charli’s challenge took me this time:

Burning with hope

Miss R. avoided the staffroom’s negativity, popping in, like today, only if necessary. When she glanced over instinctively on hearing her name, regret flooded immediately.

“Annette, we were just talking about you and that weed–from that noxious family–you know, Marnie-“

She bristled, failing to withhold the words that exploded, singeing all with their ferocity.

“Just look at yourselves. If Marnie’s a weed, she’s fireweed. Better than you will ever be. She’ll beat her odds and succeed, despite your belittling words and unhelpful opinions.”

She left the silenced room, believing in her heart that her words were true.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Note: The feature image after the bushfire by freeaussiestock.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

 

 

The art of choosing – self-care

This week, Charli Mills challenged the Carrot Ranch Literary Community to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes self-care. Does the character need it? What does the character do? Think about how you can use this action to deepen a character or move a story. Go where the prompt leads. She talks about being easy on ourselves and taking time to celebrate our progress and avoid being shackled by the imposter syndrome that masquerades as our harshest critic.

Dr. Andrea Dinardo is also talking about self-care this week on her blog Thriving Under Pressure. Her post urges us to Work hard. Rest. Repeat, and recommends

“If you get tired, learn to rest not quit.”

Resting can be difficult when there is much we want to do and achieve, both personally and professionally; but sometimes, if we don’t rest by choice, we have it thrust upon us.

This week, when I’m already masquerading as an overposter, as a mini-rest, an exercise in self-care, and care for you too, I’m presenting my flash response without the padding of a post. Here it is. I hope you like it.

Rest. In. Peace.

“You really should take a break,” they suggested.

“I can’t. Too much to do.”

“You need time off,” they said.

“I know. Soon.”

Eventually, “I’m taking a break,” she said.

The afternoon sun warmed as the sand caressed her aching body. Her eyes closed. Only an occasional seagull’s squawk interrupted the repetitive swoo-oosh of the waves that jumbled with the office cacophony looping incessantly.

“What? What happened?” they asked.

He scrolled quickly, searching for details.

“Sleeping. On beach. Seagull – ha!– dropped a baby turtle – landed on her head – died instantly.”

“And we thought work would kill her!”

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

 

 

STEM in early childhood classrooms – readilearn

Making space for STEM in early childhood classrooms is easy; or should be.

Children are naturally curious about the world. They want to know:

  • Why is it so?
  • How does it work?
  • What will happen if?
  • How can I?

It is important to harness their curiosity, explore their questions, engage their interests and inspire their imaginations.

Provide them with opportunities to investigate objects and phenomena in the world around them. Don’t always be in a rush to provide answers to their questions. Help them explore ways of finding the answer for themselves, if possible, or conduct the research with them.

A story reported by Michael Rosen in his book Good Ideas: How to Be Your Child’s (and Your Own) Best Teacher inspires me. The story explains that, as a child, David Attenborough took an interest in bones. If he was out walking and found some bones, he would take them home and ask his father about them.

His father, who was a GP and would have known, didn’t just tell him. Wanting his son to be curious and interested in finding things out for himself, he responded, for example: “I wonder if we can work it out . . .” They would then look through books about zoology and anatomy and try to identify the bone’s origin.

However, the answers don’t always have to be found in a book or on the internet. Some answers can be discovered through explorations and experimentation. Experts can also be consulted.

In a stimulating early childhood classroom where children have access to a range of resources and opportunities

Continue reading: STEM in early childhood classrooms – readilearn

Peace in a pod

© Norah Colvin

Gardeners understand that effort is required to create a garden that provides the desired outcome. The same is true for raising children, with the adage “we reap what we sow” appropriate in both instances.

A school principal surmised once, after observing my interactions with children, that I must have a beautiful garden. But such was not so. The time that may have been spent nurturing plants, I turned instead to nurturing minds, including my own.

While the sowing is important, so too is the nurturing. Just as there is more to raising a seed than simply sowing one, there is more to raising a child than simply having one. The amount of care required depends on the stage of growth. How they are nurtured in the beginning stages sets the foundation for future growth and determines the harvest.

Susan Scott was thinking along similar lines when she wrote New Moon, Rosh Hoshanah and the Equinox for her Garden of Eden blog this week. She says,

“A good time to plant – seeds of whatever kind – love, patience, kindness, joy are a few that come to mind – anything that blossoms in receptive and fertile soil.”

The words resonate with me at any time, but especially this week when writing my response to the flash fiction prompt at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Charli Mills challenges writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about what it is to gather a harvest.

With the International Day of Peace and its 2017 theme Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All falling just a few days ago on 21 September, it all seems very timely.

Jennie Fitzkee, a remarkable early childhood teacher who blogs at A Teacher’s Reflections, shared her, and her students’, thoughts  about peace on the International Day of Peace. Jennie is a wonderful role model for peace and is passionate about nurturing young children.  She says,

“peace is about the heart, thinking and doing the right thing. The little things are the most important of all, because they’re the foundation for the big things.  By teaching children’s heart they come to understand peace.”

In a previous post Plant the seeds of literacy, I included this excerpt from Jackie French’s 2015 Senior Australian of the Year Valedictory Speech:

“You never know what seeds you plant will grow; if they will keep growing; who will take them and tend them. But there is one thing I have learned in my 62 years: keep planting seeds.

Never think: I am 62 and still have not achieved world peace, universal tolerance and justice, or even an Australia where every single child is given the chance to learn to read.

Change is never fast enough for any person of goodwill.

A rain drop is just a rain drop. But together we are a flood.  Together we have changed the world.”

She concludes her speech with these words:

“Let us give our children role models who do not, will not despair, no matter how long it takes to change the world. And let us never surrender, no matter how tired we are, or how long it takes. Because with these weapons we shape the future of our planet.”

I also employed the garden analogy in a post entitled  The classroom garden.  Responding to Charli’s prompt to write about “fruit”, I included the word “harvest”.  Rather than simply repeat that story, which would be pleasingly easy but teach me little, I’ve gone in a different direction this time.

In her post, Charli talks about harvesting peas; peas in a pod. It doesn’t take much imagination to turn this into “Peace in a pod.”

Wouldn’t that be wonderful, to plant a seed of peace with “respect, safety, and dignity for all”; “love, patience, kindness, joy”; and “universal tolerance and justice”; nurture it, watch it grow, and then harvest the bountiful rewards. It’s not only the role of teachers and parents, it’s the responsibility of society at large.

Here’s my story. I hope you like it:

Peace in a pod

“The Peace Prize goes to …”

The applause was deafening. It took minutes to realise it was their life’s work being recognised. Who’d have thought? Against a long-range solar-powered superstealth aircraft with adaptive camouflage, how would a peace capsule stand a chance? They stumbled to the stage, minds a-tumble with words, phrases, and blank spaces. In their years of preparation, of tweaking combinations of ingredients, they’d never prepared for this. The standing ovation relieved them of the necessity, drowning each word. Finally, peace pods were ready for harvest and distribution. With mass inoculation, peace was now a real possibility.

 

After writing the story, I realised that such a pill may not be the panacea I was initially contemplating. Any pill that controls the thoughts and behaviour of the masses could be just as easily used for evil as for good. I may have to send those two back to the lab for further tweaking.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Meet Australian picture book author Aleesah Darlinson – Readilearn

Aleesah Darlison

This month, it is my pleasure to introduce you to award-winning Australian author Aleesah Darlison. Aleesah writes picture books, chapter books and novels. Her much-loved stories promote courage, understanding, anti-bullying, self-belief, teamwork and environmental themes. In 2015, she won the Environment Award for Children’s Literature (Non-Fiction) for her picture book, Our Class Tiger. She has won numerous other awards for her writing.

Aleesah has written over thirty-five books for children and in 2016, she set up Greenleaf Press, a business designed to provide critical support services to authors and illustrators. The company also acts as a booking agency for school and preschool visits.

Today, Aleesah and I are talking about her picture book Stripes in the Forest. With National Threatened Species Day just a couple of weeks away on 7 September, it is a timely interview. Stripes in the Forest is the story of an iconic species lost.

Thylacine quote

Told from the perspective of the last wild female thylacine, it provides readers with an insight into the rare beauty and uniqueness of these amazing animals, explains their fight for survival and provides important lessons for future generations.

An emotive and moving story, children will connect with the solitary, stoic and courageous female thylacine who does all she can to protect her young – just as a human mother would do. The story takes readers to a place in the past, but also offers a twist that projects them

Contine reading: Meet Australian picture book author Aleesah Darlinson – Readilearn

An oily problem

It would be difficult to imagine our daily lives without access to oil and oil products. Transportation is one of the most obvious uses of oil, but did you know that many items we use every day are made from oil or its by-products?

Some of these products include:

  • Plastics such as food containers, toys, computers and printers, white goods, CD cases
  • Synthetics used in items such as clothing, curtains, furniture upholstery, carpets
  • Cosmetics such lipsticks, moisturisers, deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Nylons used in stockings, ropes, tents, parachutes
  • Polystyrene used in cups, coolers, packaging
  • Toothpaste, chewing gum, dentures, contact lenses

The list, unlike oil, is almost inexhaustible.

But there is a downside to oil too. Oil spills in the ocean are an enormous issue for marine life. In this Ted talk The Great Penguin Rescue, “the penguin lady” Dyan deNapoli talks about an oil spill that occurred when a ship sank off the coast of South Africa in the year 2000, oiling nearly 20,000 (almost half) of the total population of African penguins, and the efforts made to rescue them.

deNapoli explains that a degreaser used to remove the oil from the pelicans was invented by a 17-year-old boy. How cool is that. She says that more than 1,000 volunteers turned up each day to help with the rescue, and continues

“After half a million hours of grueling volunteer labor, more than 90 percent of those oiled penguins were successfully returned to the wild. And we know from follow-up studies that they have lived just as long as never-oiled penguins, and bred nearly as successfully.”

It is an inspiring story, not only for the penguin rescue, but for the learning deNapoli credits to the rescue. She says,

“Personally, I learned that I am capable of handling so much more than I ever dreamed possible. And I learned that one person can make a huge difference. Just look at that 17-year-old. And when we come together and work as one, we can achieve extraordinary things. And truly, to be a part of something so much larger than yourself is the most rewarding experience you can possibly have.”

deNapoli finishes her talk with the words,

“Humans have always been the greatest threat to penguins, but we are now their only hope.”

I hope you find time to listen to the entire talk. It is what inspired my flash fiction story in response to the prompt set by Charli Mills this week at the Carrot Ranch. Charli challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes oil. It can be an oil refinery, the raw product or used as a commodity. How does oil fit into a plot or a genre? Go where the prompt leads.

Child citizen to scientist

Familiar sounds heralded his arrival: feet scraped stairs, bag thudded deck, screen door crashed.

Shouts of “Mum! Mum!” preceded him as he charged down the hallway, arms flailing, holding something aloft.

His words exploded in a jumble.  She deciphered few. Baby stopped suckling, curious.

“Slow down,” she said, patting the sofa with her free hand.

He thrust the brochure at her.

“I wanna adopt a penguin. Please, Mum. Can I?”

“Penguins can’t live here. It’s too hot,” Mum teased.

“Mu-um!” The words tumbled again. “Scientist… school… oil… penguins dying… ‘dangered… We have to save them from going extinct! Please!”

The title Child citizen to scientist refers to the now welcome involvement of citizens in the collection of scientific data, as described, for example, in this article on Fast Company about the collection of pollution data around the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

About 18 months ago, I published a post about a project led by science teacher Cesar Harada who encouraged his students to innovate and problem solve through science. He explained his project in this Ted Talk.

I particularly appreciated Harada’s conclusion about children and their involvement:

Who knows, if my young penguin adopter is encouraged, he may grow up to be scientist too.

For a picture book that introduces children to the concept of caring for our oceans, One Less Fish by Kim Michelle Toft and Allan Sheather is a great starting point. With its beautiful silk paintings, the book helps to educate children about the oceans, the way we pollute them, and what we need to do to protect them and their inhabitants.

If you are interested, there are a number of organisations through which you can adopt a penguin. These are just a few. I’ll leave it to you to investigate your best option. Just remember: you can’t take it home. 😊

Seabirds. Adopt a penguin

The Penguin Foundation

The World Wildlife Fund

Wildlife Adoption and Gift Centre

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Is anybody watching?

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills challenged writers to consider audience, and to In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character.

I have always considered audience important for children’s writing. Too often in school, writing is done simply for the teacher, to complete an exercise. It is read and marked (corrected) without any real concern for the writer and the writer’s purpose. That’s if, in fact, there was a purpose other than to complete the task set by the teacher.

However, it is possible to give children in school a sense of audience. They can write for the class as an audience, “publishing” their work to place in the book corner for independent self-selected reading. They can write for parents or other relatives and friends to mark special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Christmas and Easter. They can write for younger siblings or buddies. Letters can be written to residents in nursing homes, characters in books, the principal, politicians, and the local newspaper. Diaries can be written and shared with teachers. Audiences can be found everywhere.

But an audience is not essential for every piece of writing. Sometimes we write just for ourselves. Sometimes even we are not an audience for our writing; when it is simply the act of writing, of expressing our thoughts that is important. Express, understand, release.  That can be all there is.

While I think this is less so for young children, as they move towards double figures they may like to have a private lockable diary in which to confide. As you would wish your privacy to be respected, so should theirs. This is not true for their online communication though.

There is the lovely saying  that includes the words “Dance like there’s nobody watching” and “Sing like there’s nobody listening”. The words are meant to be encouraging: “It doesn’t matter if you suck at it, just do it anyway.” I wonder why it doesn’t include the words:  “Write like there’s nobody reading.” Would you? Do you?

Recently I admired and envied my 5-year-old granddaughter’s uninhibited self-expression as she sang and danced her way through the shopping centre. She didn’t care if anyone was watching or not. She was in the moment, in flow, sharing her joy in simply being. This is not a characteristic unique to my granddaughter. I have observed the same exuberance in other children.

Most often the children’s behaviour draws smiles from passing adults; but what would the reaction be if it were an adult singing and dancing through the shopping centre? The occurrence, at least with such enthusiasm, is much less common. Breaking into song and dance may seem normal in musicals but doesn’t generally happen in real life.

How would you respond? Would you smile, ignore, or hasten away?

I was fascinated by some videos I came across when I Googled “Dance like nobody’s watching”. Here’s one:

Children seem to vacillate through stages of “Watch me!” and “Don’t look at me!”, from pride to embarrassment.

I think it is that embarrassment that kicks in with writing, as it does with most other things. We learn to compare ourselves with others, and generally find ourselves lacking,  If only we realised those “more confident” others probably feel the same.

Or we might be reluctant to share out of fear of what others may think? Elizabeth Gilbert makes a good point in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She says,

“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” 

Gilbert says that we shouldn’t take “art” too seriously and quotes Tom Waits who once told her:

 “You know, artists—we take it so seriously. And we get so freaked out about it, and we think that what we’re doing is so deadly important. But really, as a songwriter, the only thing I do is make jewelry for the inside of people’s minds. That’s it.”

 

I shared Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk Your elusive creative genius in a previous post Whose idea is it anyway? over three years ago, but it is worth sharing again. With over 12 million views, I know I’m not the only one to find it worthy.

 

So, I’ve gone from audience to creativity. But what is creativity for, if not for audience? If your writing or artwork is not created to share with an audience; is the lack of an audience still uppermost in your mind as you create? Audience or no audience, self or other, how does it influence the process and product? Can you sing or dance without an audience, at least of self?

For my flash story, I’m going back to the carefree days of childhood when life was fun and there was not a care in the world, and you danced and sang, whether anyone was watching or not. Really?

The joy of childhood

The cool grass teased her toes and the breeze tugged at her skirt, begging her to dance. She flung wide her arms to embrace the world as she lifted her face to the skies.  They smiled approval and she began to sway. Her fingertips tingled with expectation as her gentle hum intensified, summoning the music of the spheres to play for her. And play they did. She twirled and swirled to their rhythm singing her own melody in perfect harmony. Suddenly she was done. She clapped her hands to silence the orchestra and went back to her sandpit friends.

Thank you for being my audience. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.