Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Chapter 1

Three Stanzas and a Chorus

Violet exhaled and adjusted her red-framed glasses on her nose. Miss Mason handed her a test sheet. Yesterday, this same teacher had called the examination easy. Well, maybe! Violet, however, remained composed. After all, she was a Word-Dancer.


Later leaving school, Violet followed the forest path toward home. Breaking autumn’s cool silence, were her feet, large enough to rustle fallen pine needles, but delicate enough to leave small twigs unharmed. Suddenly, disturbing her musing, an acorn tumbled from an overhanging withered oak.

"My, how the world can dent a girl’s head quite unexpectedly!" she thought.

Violet, the occasional pragmatist, then realized that being lost in reverie could perhaps result in permanent loss of further thoughts. Falling acorns may not be the only object aiming to make an impression on her skull. Reality perhaps deemed her existence defenseless.

Alas, Violet had to contend with a maiden’s senses continually bombarding her. Autumn was a perfect time to concentrate on the rich poetry of life, not the frightful moments. Oh, the drippy watercolors in the misty mornings, the pungent musk in afternoon, the orange-blossom tasty aroma of the tea olives at her doorstep, and the chirpy chatty busyness of preparing for winter!

What is a girl like Violet to do? She could only leap in spontaneous delight, forgetting the confines of fear.

Violet, for the moment, fully embraced drippy, misty, pungent, tasty – and especially chirpy.


Samuel finished arranging his garden-grown gourds and pumpkins on a pyramid of three small hay bales. Satisfied with his autumn surprise for Violet, he looked up to see her returning home. Would she be excited? Of course! His little girl delighted in the change of seasons’ inventive show.

Violet gave him an embrace immediately. Then she and her papa stood back; they looked into each other’s eyes and then gazed back at Papa’s display. Pale green gourds with goose necks formed the heads on stacked orange pumpkins, resulting in a variety of playful creatures. Papa had left the faces of the menagerie for Violet’s creative touch. She would draw the expressions; Papa would carve them; and Mama would have inserted her handmade candles with scents she called "Apple and Spice Strudel." "Autumn Whispers," "Pumpkin SoufflĂ©," and "Mama’s Cinnamon Buns."

In their shared memories of Mama, they saw a garden. In this nurturing place, Cristen would have gathered three cups each of rosemary, peppermint, and exhausted rose blossoms, just as the early morning sun dried the dew from petals and leaves. This harvest she would prepare by removing any stem or leaves from the roses, stripping the leaves of the peppermint, and saving all of the rosemary. Keeping these treasures separated, Cristen would separate one at a time in a clean mortar to crush the materials until their natural oils appeared. She then would add each to its individual jar of almond oil, seal the aromatic treasures, shake them vigorously, and place all on her sunny kitchen window sill. Later these little jars would be strained and sold as essential oils at the woodland market. For that moment, Cristen would prepare potpourri sachets with her various combinations of dried herbs and flower petals, preserved fragrances of the summer months: lavender, roses, sweet basil, lemon verbena, sweet marjoram, scented geranium, rosemary, thyme and mint. In combination with whole cloves, cinnamon, or ginger bought at the market, these herbs and flowers in unique combinations created a myriad of intoxicating perfumes.

Most woodlanders would agree: Mama had been another familial reason their home radiated a richness of ingenuity and skill. Yes, Cristen - Samuel's beloved wife and Violet's precious mother - still radiated a loving richness within their hearts and out into the rest of their known world.

Papa left Violet to consider the pumpkins' faces; he went back to his work as a fence contractor. Samuel met the needs in a community that liked to mark their territories. In fact, Samuel often had wondered if the word territory was derived from terror; however, the demand for boundary markers gave him a comfortable living. He and Violet lived in a pleasant house. Violet was able to attend a wonderful school.

As a fence contractor, Samuel was primarily an architect: he could not only design elaborate and sturdy fences but also produce them with artistic effects. Many woodlanders called his fences ingenious, yet others considered them peculiar. The truth was that his creations were both. The result was that no imitations existed.

An original himself, Samuel encouraged Violet, his only child, to be an original, too. For that reason, when Violet asked to use his fences for her homework writing exercises, he never even cringed. From the time she learned to spell and share her thoughts, he provided the paint, brushes, and lumber. In fact, whenever she was not in school, Samuel agreed that Violet come with him as he assembled his masterpieces board by board. Violet would imagine what each panel would want to say to a passerby. His work portfolio, therefore, read like a journal of father-daughter collaborations that had grown through years together. What a content man Papa was as a father!


Why would this woodland community really need fences? Were they preventing something from entering? Or something from leaving? Samuel knew even the best fences could not keep out what was determined to be either inside or outside. For him, therefore, these community barriers were symbols of privacy, pride, separation, fear or their multifarious combinations. If, however, anyone looked closely, he could see several points of entry and escape. Samuel had innately designed them for that purpose, and he had shown Violet those portals as the duo worked. Whether he and Violet were out or in would be individual decisions and depended upon one another's perspective.

The whole earth smiles. A south wind blows softly.

Chapter 2: Enter Claws

As autumn rolled into an early winter, community barriers represented their hopes to discourage the occasional bobcat, an adaptable predator roaming their woodlands nightly in search of rabbit, but settling for anything from insects to mice to squirrels. Solitary and territorial, this cat sometimes inhabited their woodland from winter to spring, delighting in plentiful prey, dense cover for hunting and escape, and convenient dens. Woodlanders recognized immediately the first signs of his arrival, tracks ranging in size from one to three inches. The trees, meanwhile, revealed the dreaded mark of the claws.

Many tales had passed down to the woodlanders about the bobcat. Old storytellers said that at one time the bobcat was outwitted by a rabbit, which gave reason for the bobcat's spots. Apparently, after trapping the rabbit in a tree, the bobcat built a fire at the suggestion of the rabbit. When the embers scattered on the bobcat's fur, he was left with the singed dark brown spots as a marking of his gullibility.

Woodlanders, however, never wished to test the gullibility premise. Nocturnal wanderings were risky for woodlanders if bobcat wished an easy prey. Yes, the sign of the claws had now materialized, and woodlanders appeared always in forward motion during daylight hours, leaving nothing for wintry night-time but cozy household customs.

Not considering bobcat, rabbit, or mice on her path, Violet walked briskly another morning to school, Ahead she saw the boys in her class walking on the tops of Farmer Addison’s fence rails, practicing their comic moves, delaying any forward progress toward the day’s instruction.

Violet determined to ignore them as she passed. Later in class would be company enough when everyone suffered through their numerous antics to hinder patient Miss Mason’s creative teaching methods. Some days all to be accomplished were disciplinary dealings leading to shortened reading discussions, then to repetitive desk work.

“Lit-tle Vi-o-let!” shrieked Nate, “Are you sightless, as well as speechless?”

“No, just disinterested!” she answered.

"Just like being in class," she said to herself quietly. But in her head, thinking echoed, "Amid this gorgeous purple morn, boys are disturbing the serenity while risking their lives for mere amusement; each is a menace, nuisance, hazard."

Her mind immediately embarked on new amusements – peril, danger, jeopardy, trouble, threat, irritation, pest, annoyance, bother, aggravation, exasperation, vexation, pain in the neck, bane of one’s existence. Her faint smile puzzled her classmates; however, when she laughed aloud, they knew that they had won her over with their acrobatics. In fact, the boys had done that exactly. Their energy was inspiring, however distracting. Distraction, interruption, change, diversion, entertainment, intermission, interlude – perhaps wisdom could come from tottering on the rails.


Cooking with Joy

When our family arrived for a long-awaited Spring Break at our timeshare in Orlando, my husband brought out a beautiful golden gift bag as our hospitality gift. Inside was a single little cookbook entitled Lowfat Cooking. I laughed aloud because I had just spent the previous weekdays in cooking classes that culminated with our decorating our own wedding cakes. The first day had been cooking fun appetizers, the second day "the hearty breakfast," the third day fried chicken and fixings, and the fourth day individual pizzas. I have not eaten so happily in five consecutive days for perhaps forty years - maybe more!
"Do not worry about an occasional indulgence on a high calorie and/or high fat food; focus instead on improving daily eating habits." from Lowfat Cooking

This year during the school's Spring Intensive Week, I luckily had been assigned to "Cooking with Joy," a course in cooking basics for those in Upper School. Many students were tenth or twelfth graders I now teach. What fun to share learning (and eating) with them, as well with other students I came to know also. Joy, of course, was our instructor, and JOY was also what we experienced in her complete sharing of her talents and in her gracious hospitality. I was so impressed with the organization of activities and each student's confidence in trying new skills.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Eighth Grade Odyssey Tour Projects

As we study Homer’s Odyssey as a class, each student will plan an individual odyssey. Here is how the project will work. I will give each student a budget of $5,000. Using this booklet with my “Odyssey Educational Tours,” everyone must select one of the tours presented. Transportation, accommodations, most meals, and all tour and sightseeing fees are included in the price of the tour selection. Students will write me pretend traveler’s checks for their tours. The money remaining from the $5,000 after each pays for a tour can be used for additional meals and snacks, emergency needs, postcards, stamps, souvenirs, gifts, etc.

Each student will provide me the following:
* A weather forecast corresponding to the day’s destination city/area
* A list of what will be packed in one medium-size suitcase plus one carry-on
* A list of money exchanged for purchases (with any fees applied) - optional
* A budget log with all personal expenses while traveling (Remember lunches)
* A journal of daily “creative writing” travel experiences/sightseeing events
* Postcards from favorite visits (at least three total during the entire odyssey)
* A copy of a “pretend passport” with pretend stamps received from countries
* A friendly letter to someone in the United States about your trip
* A presentation of the student odyssey (Show-and-Present or PowerPoint).
* A travel hardcopy or digital “scrapbook” of above requirements, with several pretend photos, drawings, and “souvenirs” collected along the way

As the Odyssey Tour Guide, I will teach students research techniques, provide budgeting lessons, and design and produce templates for traveler’s checks, postcards, stamps, journals, budget logs, passports, and scrapbooking ideas. Occasionally I will present them with a travel challenge to be considered while away. Decision-making about these challenges will be recorded in daily journals.

If parents and teachers have any travel resources, adventures and skills to share, can you advise us how to be better travelers and learners? If you like, contact me to schedule a class time for presentation. We meet 1st and 7th periods daily.

Everyone, please work hard on this project to involve language arts, literature, math, history, economics, geography, ecology, art, music, and foreign languages. See the skills list that we will practice on page 15 of this brochure. Have a fun, learning time with this adventure! Do not let there be hardships in anyway—expense, stress, worry. I am open to needs and concerns, and I will be flexible as needed, except with deadlines. Time management is an important component.

Kindest regards, Jenifer Steller, Eighth Grade English Teacher