Poetry is Good for the Soul

A marbled black and white composition book that I got at the beginning of third grade is one of my most treasured possessions. It is full of hand-copied poems in the neatest handwriting I could muster. Poetry became special to me in first grade. I attended a small classical school and one of the key events of the year was a poetry competition. Every student (from kindergartners to seniors in high school) would memorize a poem to recite to their class. Finalists would be selected from each classroom for a poetry evening. I still remember the poems I learned in 1st and 2nd grade and how hard I worked on presenting them and how fun it was to wear a costume and have props.

In 3rd grade, when my mom began to homeschool me and my sister, we each received a notebook for poetry. We would practice penmanship while copying, talk about vocabulary, meaning, sometimes historical context, and then memorize the poem. We memorized about one a month. I kept it up through high school, memorizing everything from childhood poems by A.A. Milne, fairy tales by J.R.R. Tolkien, and brief poems by Emily Dickinson, to sonnets by Shakespeare and classics by Longfellow, Poe, and both the Brownings. I would sit down and read A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson from cover to cover. Though I have not done much memorizing since graduation, I keep my composition book out and handy. In college and after, I have added poems to it when I read or hear a new one that strikes a chord with me. Recent additions include Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Human Family by Maya Angelou.

This year, I had the privilege of helping my 1st grade students get ready for the same  poetry competition I was in so many years ago. This year’s selection of poems was written before 1840. My students memorized Mother Goose, Eliza Lee Follen, and even John Bunyan. They tackled some challenging words and abstract concepts and, for some, faced their fears by presenting in front of a large crowd of parents and grandparents.

Why should students have to interact with and even memorize poetry? How does it benefit them? Memorization is often discounted today because it is possible to memorize without understanding. It is true that understanding is the goal. However, it is also true that sometimes understanding follows memorization more easily than it follows explanation. This particular form of memory (poetry) has incredible benefits. Poetry uses an economy of words, often expresses emotions vividly, and trains children to listen to the sounds in spoken words (an important skill for reading). Memorizing poetry for presentation further impacts children. It teaches presentation skills, the use of clear diction, and creative expression. Reading and memorizing poems also helps students build up a stock of good examples of literature (from their own memory and those they have heard performed by their classmates) that they can enjoy and apply later on.

I have enjoyed some reading on classical education this month and found this quote by T.S. Eliot. “No one can become really educated without having pursued some study in which he took no interest-for it is part of education to learn to interest ourselves in subjects for which we have no aptitude.” Even if poetry is difficult or seems boring to some children, it still has a valuable part in education.



Photo is my own.

Trying Could Mean Failing

Many of you know that I am a perfectionist. I like to get things exactly right the first time. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to avoid things that I don’t think I can do just right. In the new year, I have a uncharacteristic desire to try something new, even if that means I cannot do it perfectly.

I have been taking harp lessons again with a new teacher. At my first lesson, she mentioned she likes to teach how to arrange music. I had never tried to arrange anything. My friends who could play anything by ear always left me mystified. I am not very creative, but I can follow instructions really well. I have always relied on finding the best music and then learning to play it just like it is written. I decided to step out and try arranging a song since I had a willing teacher. I chose to start with I Wonder As I Wander (a nice minor key Christmas carol). It took me several weeks just to come up with a brief intro, interlude, and conclusion with little variation to the left hand (bass clef). It was hard to get started and there were several times when I kind of looked at my harp and looked at the blank staff paper and wondered if it would be easier to just write some notes down and then play them and keep trying until I hit on something. I finally got out a simple arrangement and even used some music writing software so that it looks like published music. You know what? I like it. I have decided I want to continue arranging in the new year with the help of my teacher. Even though it isn’t my natural bent, I hope it will get a little easier each time and I will be a little more satisfied with the result each time. I definitely have already learned a lot more about music theory and how written music works on the page just after one song. I had hardly ever thought about arranging my own songs before and definitely not composing, but now I even have that in the back of my mind. It might be a few years away, but it could happen.

Apart from the new things I want to do this year, I will also be doing some things that I am more used to. I am going to be helping my church with a free English conversation club that is available to the internationals in our area. I am excited to get to meet new people and to brush up on my ESL skills. I also want to continue blogging and write more fiction this year.

I encourage you to try something new, even if you try it and don’t like it or if you don’t stick with it the whole year. Remember that even if you fall short of your goal or fail utterly, a step forward is still significant and you can learn as much from failure as success.


Photo credit to Lauren Brouillette

Advent: Christ is Coming!

It has been a long time since I have enjoyed the Christmas season so much. Even though I have been home for Christmas the last two years, I have missed the lead up to Christmas that starts with Thanksgiving. It was so fun to be here for Thanksgiving, get to help with decorating the house, attend Christmas parties, and take part in the Christmas traditions that I have missed. I think the other reason I am enjoying it so much is that I get to teach my 1st grade class about Christmas. Our public schools are no longer allowed to celebrate Christmas (they are allowed to teach about it academically if they teach about other religious holidays equally). This means most schools did not decorate for Christmas, have a Christmas performance, or otherwise celebrate.

It is such a privilege to teach at a private Christian school where I am encouraged to celebrate and teach about Christmas in a meaningful, religious way. Having ties to the Reformed Episcopal church, our school made the distinction between the Advent and Christmas season. While advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, the Christmas season starts with Christmas day and continues until January 5th, the day before Epiphany. If you were wondering, Christmas season is 12 days. That’s right, the song is talking about the 12 days after Christmas, not before.

For 6-year-olds, waiting is hard. For that matter, waiting is hard for adults too. I am constantly catching myself wishing I could get this sooner and get through that quicker. Advent is all about waiting. Advent reminds us of the overarching story of the Bible and how the Israelites (and really the Gentiles unknowingly and even creation) waited for thousands of years for the coming of the Messiah. We talked about how many of the prophecies about the Messiah were written during some of the darkest days of Israel’s history, when their princes and priests were both corrupt and the nation was about to be destroyed. God gave them reminders of the hope to come, though it was still far off. As we think of the Israelites waiting and hoping, we remember that we are also waiting and hoping for Jesus. We are waiting for his second coming when he will come as the reigning king, bringing justice and destroying the curse.

I have also been teaching about the traditions that come out of Europe as they were passed on to the U.S. (though I was excited to devote a day to Mexico and talk about Las Posadas and the Poinsettia). We started out learning about St. Nicholas, who was from modern day Turkey, noted for his generosity, and who argued for the divinity of Christ in the Council of Nicaea. We talked about various traditions and legends associated with St. Nicholas in different countries, made some traditional ornaments and crafts, and thought about gift giving as a way to show generosity and kindness in remembrance of Christ’s selfless giving. I even got to wear my amazing vintage Polish dress that I got this fall. I can’t resist an opportunity to dress up, even at school!


I love having our beautiful Victorian home decorated for Christmas for the first time. I have enjoyed making and buying gifts, singing so much Christmas music, and…eating Christmas cookies! The waiting time before Christmas is so sweet. I will be sad when it is over, but looking forward to what the New Year holds.

Photo by Laura Barnwell

This Our Hymn of Grateful Praise

For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Every morning when I get up and look out my window, I am awed by the beauty around me. The mountains forever call my name and the hues of the bright trees catch my breath. When the sun sets, I again am amazed. Our God is the great God of creation.


For the wonder of each hour of the day and of the night,

Hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

As much as I love the season of spring when all is new, as much as I love the mid-day sun when all is bright, every hour has its place and purpose. No matter the season or time of day, I am thankful for the plan God has for me and how He is teaching to be here now.


For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child;

Friends on earth and friends above; for all gentle thoughts and mild:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I am incredibly thankful to be with my family during this season of life. I have missed them so much and am glad that I can be present as a daughter and sister. The friends God has placed around me and around the world are treasures to me. For the friends who are near, and far, and those who have gone ahead of me to eternity, I must thank God for His gracious gifts to me for the time I had them close.


For Thy Church that evermore lifteth holy hands above,

Offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

I cannot even begin to describe the great mystery of Christ and the Church. I do not understand why Christ would sacrifice Himself for her that we could have fellowship with Him. Neither do I understand how He allows us this incredible communion amongst each other and how the church can come together out of its many diverse parts to bring a song of praise. He knows that we need this kind of community.


For Thyself, best gift divine, to our race so freely given; 

For that great, great love of Thine, peace on earth and joy in heaven;

Lord of all, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise. 

Best gift of all, the Giver. Thank You that we can know You intimately and that You are the source of all peace, joy, love, and hope. All that is beautiful and good comes from You. To You be glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.


For the Beauty of the Earth text by Folliott S. Pierpoint

First three photos are mine of Thanksgiving 2016. Fourth photo is Carola Venega’s of part of the Church in Mexico.

Barn Dance

Yes, I am very cold right now. Yes, I wish I could be enjoying the perpetually mild climate of Guadalajara. Yes, a Virginia barn dance is worth it all.

This weekend, a couple friends asked if I wanted to go to a barn dance out in Amelia. I had never heard of Amelia and an hour and a half was a long drive, but I am so glad that I decided to go for this outing. The three of us bundled into the car on the very crisp, windy Saturday before Thanksgiving and enjoyed the drive. We passed fields full of hay bales, quite a bit of picket fencing, and dozens of little country churches, rustic barns, and white farm houses.

The wind was chilling, but we walked in and around the silos and barn as the sun was setting. The smells told you this was a working farm, not just for the tourists. Their cows were out in the next pasture over (probably wishing their owner would put them in the barn already). After the sun set and we could not longer enjoy the views of the farm, we went up into the barn loft for dancing. The loft was wide open, with hay bales pushed against the edges for seating, two quilts hanging from the far wall, and a string of white lights going around the ceiling. That was all the decor it needed.

I knew many of the dances already including the Virginia Reel, Trenchmore, Harper Ferry Quick Step, Posties Jig, and the Snowball Reel. Though I only knew the two girls I came with, we had no problem fitting into the warm, inviting crowd of plaid, denim, and cowboy boots. It was nearly impossible to lose the beat as 100 people or more clapped and stomped in rhythm on the wooden planks.This is the kind of event that is so suited to the environment, it would be hard to recreate anywhere else. I’m glad that I was there at the right moment.

Photo by Leanna Branner

Season of Fullness

As lovely as the weather is in Guadalajara, I have missed the seasons. I have been very cold recently, but I’m investing in some warmer clothes and the fall trees are so beautiful it is almost worth shivering inside my house. It has brought me so much pleasure to watch the changing leaves. It was just a few weeks ago that every leaf around town was green. Last week, they were hinting about changing, and this week there are more reds, yellows, and oranges than green. I was thrilled to be able to go on an afternoon hike with my sister last weekend. We climbed Mount Pleasant. It was only an hour from our house, but I had never been there. The drive out through pastures and winding mountain roads was beautiful. The hike itself was… fantastic… in the sense that I felt I was in the setting of an epic fantasy. The position of the sun casting shadows, the steady wind cooling and rustling the leaves, the golden ferns, and the top-of-the-world view all added to the experience.

I know that I haven’t been writing as much recently. It isn’t because I don’t have anything to say or because life seems boring compared to my exotic time overseas. It has actually been that my days are pleasantly full this season. It seemed that in Mexico, after school, I would have hours each day without anything to do. Now, I did everything possible to get out and enjoy Guadalajara. On weekends I would try to do something fun or see something new and make the most of the fact that I was living in another country. However, I was not surrounded by my regular hobbies, books, and projects that I had back in the states. I spent a lot of time on the internet, or if I was trying to be productive, writing for my blog.

This school year, now that I am back in Virginia, I have been very busy with school, even after school hours, and always seem to have something to do or someone who wants to spend time with me. It is fun being around all of our family’s craft and sewing supplies whenever I have a creative idea. It is fun to go yard-saling and get something cheap that needs a little tailoring or altering to make it meet my needs. It is fun to have my harp in my home and be taking lessons again. I’m so enjoying music and brushing the mothballs off of my repertoire to be able to play for other people. This morning I enjoyed playing in The White Hart coffee shop downtown. My new harp teacher even came by to see me. It is also nice to be able to go most places in Lynchburg by myself safely, without having to persuade someone else to go so that I can go myself.

So far, I would say it has been a good transition. I do miss Guadalajara very much, but it hasn’t been overwhelming or a burden. I’m very thankful to have found the Spanish speaking community here and I have the opportunity to speak Spanish at least once a week if not more often and I know that connection is helping me. I still think in Spanish sometimes and that always makes me smile. We’ll see what develops next season. I will try to take the time to reflect more so that I don’t miss anything and you can share it with me.

Photo belongs to Bri Barnwell.

Lynchburg: My Own Little Magic Town

I loved living in the big city of Guadalajara, but I also loved the opportunity of using it as a launch pad to go visit other places in Mexico. There is currently a tourism promotion in Mexico called Pueblos Magicos. These “magic towns” are quaint little places with historic interest or natural beauty. I was able to visit a few of them and have linked my posts Mazamitla: Colder Weather Calls for CabinsMarkets and Churches in San Cristobal, and Contradictory Ecotourism in Palenque.

Coming back to Lynchburg has reminded me that I am a small-town Virginia girl. Though it is small and a lot of it seems “ordinary” compared to exotic Guadalajara, I think my time away has helped me love it even more.

This weekend, I went to an annual event that promotes our downtown area. Because my family now lives in the historic district, I just walked a couple blocks to Get Downtown. Walking around, enjoying the architecture, listening to music by local musicians, and looking at photography and artwork by local artisans made me feel like a tourist. My own little city  has immeasurable charm. I am so proud to be from Lynchburg and to call it home. Don’t miss the “magic” in the small, old, or ordinary. If you ever want a tour guide around Lynchburg, I would be thrilled to show you places of interest, share the stories I have learned about it, and introduce you to the people who make it so special. Come visit us!

Photos are mine and Laura Barnwell’s.