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Author: susantara

Dragonflies in December

Dragonflies in December

Lately, I have been reflecting on some of the images I captured on the river over the summer and remembering my plant and wildlife friends – especially water lilies and dragonflies, which I spent countless hours observing with awe and wonder.

Recently, tragedy struck the family of a child in my life, and in my search for stories to help grieving children, I came across a gem of a booklet called Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Strickland. I requested it through the library and was delighted to finally get my hands on it. The gist of the story is that a colony of water bugs wondered why every now and then one of their own would climb up a lily stalk and disappear, never to be seen again. They got together and came up with a plan: The next one who went up the lily stalk would come back and let the others know what happened. In time, another water bug found himself climbing up a lily stalk and turning into a dragonfly. After zipping about for a while, he landed on a lily pad and noticed his old water bug friends at the bottom of the pond. He wanted to go down to tell them what had happened to him, but since he was now a dragonfly, he wasn’t able to go below the surface of the water. And if they were to see him looking down at them, they wouldn’t recognize him in his new form. So he decided that he’d have to wait until his friends climbed up the lily stalk in their own time, and then they would understand for themselves.

I absolutely love the way the dragonfly life cycle can be used to explain death to children. I remember attending a hospice memorial service one December during my internship and hearing what must have been this very story – but I thought it was about caterpillars and butterflies. It was a powerful story that I loved immediately, although I must have misremembered the details over time.

After reading the little booklet, I recalled one afternoon this past summer when I paddled to the lily pads and arrived just in time to witness a newborn dragonfly fall out of its exoskeleton (which was still clinging to a reed) and onto a lily pad. It was pale and colorless and looked completely disoriented. It just lay there still, and I wondered if it would be okay, hoping the fall wasn’t too much for this tiny creature. (The little booklet mentioned such a fall, so it must be a normal part of the transition.)

 

I felt honored to have witnessed the dragonfly emerging from its nymph state; it felt like a Very Important event to observe despite it being a common occurrence in the natural world.

After seeing the newborn dragonfly resting on the lily pad, I noticed numerous shells, or exuviae, of dragonfly nymphs clinging to reeds and water lily stalks all around me. They were completely motionless and looked like they were sleeping or just resting there. All this time, I had mistaken them for living creatures.

Dragonfly (top) and two clinging exuviae (middle and bottom)

As I read about the dragonfly life cycle, I learned that the exuviae would continue to cling to the stalks. However, they were simply empty shells, ghosts of former selves. Something about this image felt profound to me, and I became fixated on photographing them.

I didn’t understand the power of this image until reading Water Bugs and Dragonflies with the child mentioned above in mind. I realized the exuviae piece could further explain to a child that the body of his/her deceased loved one is merely a shell, not to be confused with the living presence s/he had known and loved.

Although I did not feel it was my place to discuss the dragonfly allegory with the child in question, I passed the information along to someone who is in a better position to do so. The adults with whom I have shared this story since reading it myself were very touched by it, which is why I feel compelled to share it with you. My hope is that it will bring comfort to someone who is in need of it.

 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Finding the Helpers

Finding the Helpers

As a mother and a kindergarten teacher, my heart goes out to everyone affected by today’s tragedy in Connecticut. I remember hearing about the Columbine school shooting when my own children were one and four years old and how it shook me to my core. Now a new generation of parents has to grapple with unanswerable “why” questions and concerns about their children’s safety. You just want to hold them tight and keep them safe.

I recall driving my oldest child home from the hospital 24 hours after she was born. Passing through a crime-ridden section of Albany in the darkness, her newborn life seemed so fragile. Those first days of her life, I kept thinking about how she was going to have to share the world with so many hurting people who, as a result of their own pain, would be capable of hurting her. Protecting her from harm had become my new life’s purpose.

Children are especially on my mind this evening. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a child and to hear about innocent children “just like me” being killed so senselessly at school. Every single day, I use the language of safety in my classroom, reminding my kindergartners that my number one job is to keep them safe, and that the various rules they are expected to follow are there for their physical and emotional safety. School is supposed to be a place of safety. For children with challenging home situations, school is a place of consistent, comforting rhythms and routines, an atmosphere of caring.

I hope families – parents, older siblings, extended relatives – will be mindful of how and to what extent their children are exposed to news about the Connecticut school massacre. Some families will be vigilant in limiting their children’s exposure to the news. Others may have the news on in the background and assume the children aren’t paying attention. Still others may communicate more or less openly with their children about what transpired. Even when families are vigilant, we can’t control what young children may overhear on the bus or from older siblings.

Here is what I wish, most of all, for children to know about tragedies such as this one: Yes, something happened that was very wrong. However, there is more light than darkness in this world. People are capable of fantastic, wondrous things.

I am inspired by a quote from (“Mister”) Fred Rogers that I copied down several years ago:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.  

 
 

May we do everything in our power to nourish the gardens of our children’s hearts and minds with the sunlight of kindness, the pure water of beauty, and the warmth of goodness, and be vigilant in tending to the weeds of fear and sadness as they arise. May we teach them through our example and loving presence to be kind and resilient and to do good work in this world each day. May we expose them to positive role models – the helpers of this world who rarely make front page news but go quietly about the business of filling our world with light, hope, and love. May we bring children’s attention to the goodness that exists in this world and surround them with opportunities for developing kindness, compassion, and caring. May we guide them to feel safe and secure, knowing that many people are looking out for them and safeguarding their well-being and that there is much more good than evil in the world.

I also envision a world in which people who need help have easy, affordable access to appropriate, effective health care.

For the adults struggling with fears, sadness, uncertainties, and unanswered questions, I offer a poem that has comforted me on numerous occasions titled “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

 
 
 
 
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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

New Moon Project

New Moon Project

This evening, I write under a moonless sky; the visibility of the moon is 0%. This is the time of the new moon –  a special time of the lunar cycle – and I will write a little about its significance in my life.

The new moon and the waxing phase of the moon are linked with renewal, beginnings, and the availability of fresh, new energy. The idea is that projects or undertakings begun at this time grow along with the moon. The new moon is considered a favorable time to start something, whereas the waning phase is the time for letting go and clearing unnecessary clutter from one’s life.

At this time of the lunar cycle, I like to focus on forming an intention by asking: What do I wish to cultivate in my life at this time? The answer to this question sets in motion my “new moon project” for the lunar cycle. This month, my focus is on getting up earlier in the morning so I can both exercise before going to work and observe the early stages of the sunrise. I intend to prioritize this behavior and put my full attention on cultivating this habit for the next 28 days.

With only 20 days until the beginning of a new year, new beginnings are on my mind more than usual this month. I’ve heard more than once that it takes at least 21 days to establish a new habit so it becomes more automatic and a more natural part of one’s life. Whereas I haven’t come across any hard data to support this time frame, I know from my own experience that real change usually takes time and that the early repetitions of a daily habit carry a certain momentum.

I don’t recall being especially successful with New Year’s resolutions, perhaps because a year is a fairly large chunk of time. A 28-day lunar cycle, with clear-cut beginning and ending points, feels much more manageable. And I love the idea of growing along with the moon. As I watch the moon grow in size, it keeps my intention in focus; the moon is like a visible companion on my journey that motivates and encourages me. If I need more time to work on a particular intention, I can recommit myself to it during the next new moon and reflect on the progress I have made.

The new moon is also a great time for astrophotography, which is a brand new fascination of mine. I love seeing the stars on a clear night reflected on the calm surface of the river and experiencing the peace and stillness.

If you care to join me in harnessing the energy of the waxing moon, may you find success in whatever endeavor you pursue!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Inspired Books to Share with Children

Inspired Books to Share with Children

As a parent, one of my favorite memories is of reading truly beautiful books with my children at bedtime. As a teacher, the moments I feel most in-the-flow are when I am sharing wonderful literature with my students. I was like a kid in a candy store when I worked as a shelver at our local public library and was able to discover so many unknown treasures. I love books and have a passion for children’s literature – picture books, in particular. There is something incredibly compelling about the pairing of beautiful art with an inspired story. I love how certain children’s picture books can express such depth in the space of only 30 or so pages with limited text. 

Giving books as gifts has been my biggest exception to homemade gifts, and I thought I’d create a list of what I consider the best of the best in children’s literature for anyone looking for some ideas for children, grandchildren, or other special children. The books on my list truly honor and are worthy of children through their aesthetic value and inspired content. Rather than describe them myself, I created an online list that makes it easy to click and find any information you would want about a particular title:

Click here for my list of The Best, Most Inspired Children’s Books

My original list was twice as long, but it seemed too overwhelming with so many choices, so I forced myself to narrow it down.

A few of the books on my list are more like prayers or meditations than stories. These include:

  • All I See is Part of Me
  • The Circle of Days
  • The Secret of Saying Thanks
  • The Wonderful Happens

I asked my teenagers what books they remember most fondly from their childhoods. For my daughter, it was Grandmothers’ Stories retold by Burleigh Muten. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey and Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger were the ones my son remembered. However, I also recall all the times I read The Country Noisy Book when he was little, and I remember him laughing like I’d never heard him laugh before as we read David Wiesner’s version of The Three Pigs. I also remember how much my daughter loved the rhymes in Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say It Again by Clyde Watson when she became a big sister, and snuggling with her for repeated readings of Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse, The Big, Big Sea by Martin Waddell, and The Tomten adapted by Astrid Lindgren.

So many wonderful books. So many wonderful memories of time well spent with my children! 

What are some of your favorites? 

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World

I just finished an exhausting but totally-worth-it week in my classroom kicking off what is probably my favorite unit of the year: Holidays Around the World.

This unit spans the entire month of December and provides children with rich exposure to geography, multicultural folktales, and winter holiday traditions around the world (avoiding belief systems since I teach in a public school, but of course you could go into that in different settings or at home). It is organized around the Gingerbread Baby’s travels around the world en route to the North Pole. Anchored in literature and social studies, the full unit spans the curriculum, integrating art, technology, science, math, and music, as well. It packs a powerful punch in terms of the Common Core Curriculum.

The unit begins with a study of my favorite gingerbread stories, including: The Gingerbread Man, The Gingerbread Boy, Gingerbread Baby, and The Gingerbread Girl. When we get to the last page of Gingerbread Baby, we find that the Gingerbread Baby has jumped out of the book and left a note in his place with clues regarding his whereabouts. Thus begins a search around the school for the Gingerbread Baby. Finally, all clues lead back to our classroom, and as we get closer to the room, the smell of gingerbread (room spray) becomes stronger. When we return to the classroom, we find the Gingerbread Baby’s house and the Gingerbread Baby inside it sleeping on a pillow of cotton snow!

Children holding down the roof so the Gingerbread Baby wouldn’t escape while I got some tape

This year, we put a scarecrow out front to keep watch, and the children insisted on putting up a sign to ensure nobody would disturb the house and let the Gingerbread Baby out.

Despite the safeguards, by the time we return the next morning, the Gingerbread Baby has escaped and left a note telling us he plans to run, run, run to the North Pole and send us mail along the way.

This segues into a study of winter celebrations around the world.

Throughout the month of December, we receive a letter, postcard, or email nearly every day from the Gingerbread Baby telling us about various multicultural celebrations taking place at this time of year. He is directionally impaired to say the least and even ends up in Antarctica at one point! He is a curious cookie who just loves a party!


We read stories and do art projects related to many of the different countries, cultures, and traditions. The places where the Gingerbread Baby stops any given year vary depending on the ties my students have to different geographical locations or traditions.

Poinsettias (Mexico), faux stained glass (Italy), menorahs (Hanukkah), and an Australia display


Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am able to show my students videos of these diverse celebrations taking place far and wide via our large SMART Board screen. I also use Google Earth to show them the Gingerbread Baby’s route by “flying” from one place to the next. We touch down at various places to see landmarks or just navigate down a road to see what it actually looks like in different countries. For example, the letter we receive from Mexico references monarch butterflies (which we released in September), and we are able to touch down and see actual monarch butterfly sanctuaries! It takes a little research to find interesting locations and attractions, but the connections are so rich and entirely worth it in my opinion!

Each time we read a letter from the Gingerbread Baby, we use Google Earth to determine whether he is getting closer or farther away from his destination. We notice what kind of land masses or bodies of water he travels over, determine what mode of transportation he may have taken, discuss the different seasons occurring in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, notice how climate is a factor in the way holidays are celebrated in different places, and more.

It is so much fun.

I have spent many hours searching YouTube for the best videos related to multicultural celebrations and have created a Pinterest board that I am thrilled to share with you. (Note: I have found that researching the terms used by those cultures and locales yields some really great search terms that lead to authentic videos of community celebrations!) I’ve included videos from Thailand, The Philippines, The Netherlands, India, Sweden, Mexico, Italy, Israel, Australia, Finnish Lapland, and even Antarctica. I’ve really tried to target places and traditions to which my students have personal connections, and therefore the list is by no means comprehensive or balanced. It is a work in progress, and I love adding to it!

Click this link for my Pinterest board:
http://pinterest.com/susantara/holidays-around-the-world/

Watching these videos really puts me in the spirit, and I appreciate how so many of them focus on beautiful traditions and festivals featuring light. If I had access to these videos when my own children were younger, we definitely would have enjoyed them together. I just love sharing them with my kindergartners! I don’t know who is more excited – they or I – to see a whole community gathered to witness the festive arrival of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) in The Netherlands aboard a steamboat from Spain! We learn that there are so many ways to celebrate at this time of year and that children around the world are a lot like them. Being able to see the expressions on the faces of children across the world is quite powerful.

When we learn that the Gingerbread Baby finally has made it to the North Pole, the unit culminates in a Polar Express party.

This is a magical time of year! I love it!


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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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