Category: Reflections


Illuminate: Finding My Way Gently Into 2021

Posted on January 15, 2021 by

This is the first year I’ve put away Christmas in stages. The last to go, finally, is the mantel. It’s the lights, really that I can’t seem to take down. They illuminate and comfort me during these early grey January mornings.

This year I figured out that I could simultaneously set a timer to light the room at dawn AND dusk – a way to welcome the day and say goodbye to the evening. It was honestly game-changing, something so simple and obvious that truly allowed me to see my way into and out of the day.

To close 2020, I also added a new wreath to brighten the front door, although not many come through it these days. Battery operated white lights on the front trees, and even solar twinkle lights on the bare bushes near the driveway were all my small attempts at lighting up such a dark year. A way to say hello to 2021, wishing for more light, more joy; a way to remember that all hope is not lost.

2020 forced a profound dive into the deepest parts of my self. COVID, wildfires, and distance teaching require an examination of the physical and mental spaces I live in and what I want my world to be and do and show.


I quickly realized it’s light. Light prompted an urgency to explore the binary need to look so intently into everything hiding within to really SEE, and the illumination to slow down and be present to what is already HERE.

It’s been years since we’ve seen the tule fog around here – used to be that kind of mist was commonplace when I was growing up. We learned to drive slowly, to concentrate, to pay attention. Tule fog is deceptive; one minute you can see clearly, the path obvious, and the next you’re sunk into the midst of obscurity.

Just when I noticed I missed it, it’s back. It’s grey, calm, and oddly quiet when I take my morning walk. I’m required to look intently around me to what’s coming into view, attentive to what’s hiding within me that I need to see. Now, the mornings open their opaque arms wide, the sun determinedly popping melon-colored aura behind the trees.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

-Mary Oliver

These mornings are neither dark nor light, clear nor completely obscured, just intriguing enough to keep searching. Fog-walking forces me to find my way, helps me move forward, or when it becomes too much, sends me home to a cup of tea and a good book.

I naively thought 2021 would be a fresh start, desperate to leave behind the pain of a year that brought us to our knees. Quickly, I’m reminded that it often gets worse before it gets better and that as I walk those foggy streets I have a new day no matter what, a day to just start over and pay attention to the illumination just ahead. And as Mary Oliver said, a reminder that “all things are inventions of holiness”.

The Wren From Carolina

by Mary Oliver

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed

through the neighbor’s hedge

a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down

much less sing. 

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat

and delivers such a cantering praise–

for what?

For the early morning, the taste of the spider, 

for his small cup of life

that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

I’m on that list too,

though I don’t know exactly where.

But, every morning, there is my own cup of gladness,

and there’s that wren in the hedge, above me,

with his blazing song.


Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Impermanence, COVID and This Present Moment

Posted on November 19, 2020 by

It starts again with the breath, the in and out that we rarely pay attention to. The impermanence of breath, the pause at the top of the breath in, the pause at the bottom of the exhale.

Somehow, every time I close my eyes, breathe deeply and ground myself, the breath brings thoughts of the impermanence of life – of me, of those I love, the job I do, the dog by my side, the moment. Tears trickle silently as I try to focus on anything else – usually unsuccessfully.

Thich Nhat Hanh says, “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they’re not.”

Is this just another way of saying I’m middle-aged? That from now on, the shift from what I know is true and solid is somehow slipping into something more supple, more pliable? Is impermanence permanent?

My county, along with most of California, and increasingly, states across the country, find ourselves locked down again. The COVID ‘break’ that many people took is coming full circle, the relief of impermanence from the virus, just for a fleeting second, now takes an ominous turn. The permanence of family gatherings, of kids coming home for the holidays, of snuggling together on a rainy day in front of the fire now feels different. Less joyful, more anxious. The thought that Thanksgiving will always be a time for togetherness is certainly tucked away this year. I watch the line for my neighborhood COVID testing wind around buildings and parking lots, extending blocks and blocks on a sunny afternoon. The media reminds me incessantly to be safe, this won’t be forever.

Breathing in, my happy place – Carmel, CA with mom.

The permanence of the death counts, the positivity rates, the inescapability assault our senses. Shake our security. Heighten our fear.

Impermanence today

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death sure reminded many of us of life’s impermanence – do you remember back to January, pre-COVID? Twitter feeds and the thousands of posts on Facebook of him smiling with love at his daughter, and you can’t help but feel it. Reminders to just ‘tell someone you love them’ or ‘don’t hold back’ feel genuine and true…but also far too simplified.

Now, our vulnerable worry about going into the hospital and never coming out.

Turns out the Kobe messages may have been a somber prelude to the rest of 2020.

Life just isn’t that easy right now. We don’t always remember when we should. We cut people off in traffic and push for the shortest line at the grocery store, even when the person behind us has less to purchase. In our own little bubbles, we forget to lift our eyes to the server behind the counter and don’t take the time to write teachers a thank you or to send a quick text telling a friend how much they mean to us. Those who have gone before us are lost in a daily rush of to-do lists, rather than altars.

The present moment

How often do we notice the pause between the breath – the ending of the inhale, just before the beginning of the exhale? Do we forget to stop, to honor beginnings and endings, each extraordinary moment of our lives?

On a beautiful blue sky afternoon, I heard an unexpected whhhhooooossssssh and saw this out my window.

Impermanence is life. Nothing lasts, despite our resistance. We fight change, instead of embracing it. It’s unavoidable, yet we try to avoid change at every opportunity. We want our kids to ‘stay this age forever’ and wonder ‘how did the time go so fast’ when they celebrate their birthdays. We can be standing in line at the post office, on an ordinary day, and look up and see that suddenly we are the oldest one in the room. Perhaps the only one wearing a mask.

Or we can watch our parents die, gracefully slipping from the permanent place in our lives to somewhere much freer.

Planted narcissus after my dad died last fall…as they sprout, the robins return with moments of joy.

Much more impermanent.

Like the flow of the river or the breath of wind on our cheek, nothing stays – especially this instant, this presence in this exact moment is all that we have.

This present moment is all that is permanent. Let us begin our appreciation right here, right now.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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9/11/20 and the Country Crumbles Around Us, Again

Posted on September 11, 2020 by

Nineteen years ago I sat at this same desk, looking out this same window. I still get up at the same early hour, teach the same grade level, same subject. I still don’t watch the morning news, but now in 2020 it’s for vastly different reasons.

I have the same husband, same children, and even the same hair color – although, after the last six months living through the pandemic, it’s definitely showing signs of grey, appropriately matching the smoke in my California sky. and the emotions in my heart.


Nineteen years ago we realized that the world would never be the same – not for those of us living through the attack on the World Trade Center.

The attack on our citizens in our own country.

The attack on our sense of security.

In 2001, I still woke early – but then it was to find some ‘me’ time before my babies greeted the day and my focus shifted. Today, my babies are adults, living in some other house, in some other states.

In 2001, I’d never even visited New York, I had trouble imagining visiting many places with a three-year-old, a 23-month-old, a full-time teaching job, and just, life. Today in 2020, I imagine visiting my 24-year-old and my 21-year-old on Zoom, in between teaching virtual classrooms and a pandemic.

Now, in retrospect, I’m glad I made it to New York before 2020, before the idea of getting on a plane terrified me – not because I fear dying from more acts of terrorism like 9/11, but because I fear dying from the terror of COVID-19.

I fear never seeing those places I dream of visiting, those places that just six months ago awaited exploration and checking off my bucket list.

Did any of us ever imagine there could be a horror greater than 9/11 in our country? That more people would die in a week, a day, of a disease that COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED, than died on September 11, 2001?

Today, September 11, 2020, I’ll stay safe inside my house. I’ll still look out the same windows, still listen to the morning news, still prepare to teach 7th grade English, just like on September 11, 2001.

Today, though, I’ll stay safe from COVID and wildfires. I’ll look out at smoke and ask swirling outside my window, listen to the morning news not about unbelievable loss in New York City but this year, unbelievable loss across our country and our world.

I’ll still prepare to teach 7th grade English, but this year it will be from my ‘classroom’ down the hall, in front of a camera, unable to hug and comfort and look into the eyes of my students. This year, I’ll teach them how I’ll never forget that September 11 morning in my classroom with students. I’ll share with them how shocked and scared and silent we all were, wondering what would happen next.

But still, just like 9/11/2001, I’ll smile and still remind students that I’m there for them, to be a stable adult for them amidst the chaos, just like I did nineteen years ago.

Not at all like September 11, 2001 – but why do I feel the same sense of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, and fear for my children? For our country?

What follows is a re-posting of my 9/11 reflection, written nine years ago – before the country crumbled once again before my eyes. Back in 2011, when the comfort of a decade of healing gave me a little bit of room to breathe. Then, looking back when an ordinary day was something we dreamed about.

Still, the same.

It may never be an ordinary day again. But now, in 2020, for vastly different reasons.

9/11: It started like any ordinary day. 

  After maternity leave, I’m still getting the hang of getting out of the house on time each morning. I’m up early enough to have some ‘me’ time – 5:30 a.m. – before the pitter patter of my 23-month-old boy’s feet signal the start of mommy-time. 

Must plan Cameron’s birthday party for next weekend, I think.Coffee made, candles lit, I start up the desktop as part of my morning ritual, eager to check email and read the news.   Having children broke us of our TV news habit when we realized they were transfixed with images of stark reality we were trying so desperately to shelter them from.  

  A breaking news alert flashes into my inbox – “Plane crashes into building in New York.”  Hmm.  I’ve never been to New York.  Worlds away from my cozy study.  I hope it’s nothing serious.   Pitter patter pitter patter…here comes my boy, blankie, and book in hand.  My heart thrills at the sight of his big round head.  “Make sister juice,” he chimes with a smile as big as any Cheshire cat. 

I switch off the computer, eager to start the morning snuggle and reading time.  It is just another ordinary day.   The 11-mile commute to school is nothing unusual.  I drive past the harvested tomato fields, crop dusters skim the highway.  Lesson plans fill my mind.  Exit right, then left, then straight down the walnut tree-shrouded road towards Douglass Junior High, where my 7th grade English students stand lined up, waiting for me.  

“Hey, did you hear about the plane crash?” they shout as I open the door.  

“Yes, I did,” I answer, and switch on the lights.  “Let’s get started.”  

“But, can’t we watch the TV?  I have an aunt that lives in New York, and I’m worried,” a child pleads.  

“TV?  When do we ever watch TV in class?” I respond with a smile.   ‘Let’s get started – it’s grammar day everyone’s favorite!”  

Moments later, an announcement is delivered by a TA telling us the grim news.  Not one plane crash, now it’s two.  What???  The Pentagon?  Three planes?  Buildings collapsed?  People dying?  But it’s just an ordinary day!  

Why don’t I have my cell phone?  This ancient classroom has no Internet; the only technology is the old TV mounted in the corner of the classroom. 

Where are my babies? Did Lily make it to kindergarten?  What the hell is going on? I want to go home…  

Thoughts flash through my head as I try to process what to do.  Thirty sets of eyes stare at me, searching for comfort.  I’m the teacher.  I’m in charge.  I know what to do? 

Frantic thoughts of my own children race through my mind.  Are they OK?  What will happen to us?  Are the terrorists on their way?  

Then I realize-someone is taking care of my children, just as I’m taking care of someone else’s.  I know what to do.  They need me to make sense of it.  That’s what I would want my child’s teacher to do. 

Reluctantly, yet desperately, I turn on the TV.  I have to know. I can’t wait all day.  

After two hours, no word from my family, I switch it off.  Business as usual – that’s what educators do.  Keep them calm, keep them busy.  I know it’s only going to get worse, and it’s only 10 a.m.   Two more hours and I’m done. 

As I jump in my little gold Escort wagon, I’ve never been so relieved to only work part-time; 11 miles fly by-not enough time to decide how to explain the unexplainable to my 5-year-old.  The radio news drones on and on.  Thousands dead.  The children.  The mommies and daddies who will never commute home again.  The parents who will never see their babies again.  The young people who will never have the joy of holding their child in their arms. 

It’s more than I can bear.  The tears stream down my face as I safely reach home.  It’s clearly not just an ordinary day.  

‘Mommy, why are you sad?  What happened at school today?” Lily whispers, her big blue eyes boring into mine.  How do I answer?  She’s only four.  Far too young to have to learn about such horrors. 

I tell her a story about a plane crashing and good guys trying to stop the bad guys. “Did the bad guy go to jail?” she questions.  

“No, he died,” I reply, choking back tears at her innocence.

“I’m sorry he died, Mommy.  But I’m glad that we weren’t on that plane.”  

“Me too, baby.  Me, too.” 

I realize it may never be an ordinary day again.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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It’s Hard Not To Feel Sad Right Now

Posted on April 22, 2020 by

Are you finding that it’s hard not to feel sad right now?

It’s lingering right there, all the time. Some days life feels somewhat ‘normal’ – we’re adapting to the new routines, becoming used to the safety of our homes. And then other days…it’s just hard not to feel the weight, the enormity of what is unfolding in our world.

For the first week of the shelter at home orders in March in California, I slept. A lot. 12 hours or so a night. That counts the time I lay awake around 2 am, wondering how this was all going to play out. That was before I really understood what safe at home would be like. How distance learning and virtual teaching would transform education – and my job.

It was awhile before I realized how very, very sad this would make me.


I tried to get up ‘on time’, tried to cut back on coffee, to write my daily gratitudes, to reach out. I filled bird feeders and pulled weeds and watched my backyard slowly grow and give me a new space to just be. Never venturing too far from home I took twice-daily walks, just looping around and around my neighborhood, staying in the familiar, close territory to home. I switched out educational podcasts for audiobooks, responding to my need to hear and read stories, letting myself loose in the narrative. I made myself pull on a pair of well-worn jeans every morning, just to start some sort of routine.

Over the following three weeks, I dove into training teachers. I’m prepared for this – and I love being able to share my skills and excitement for educational technology with educators who feel scared, vulnerable, and yes, sad.

There’s a grief factor to what’s going on now if you’re an educator. The ‘old’ way of teaching and running a school died with the decision to close the buildings, to pivot into Google Classrooms and WebEx and Zoom to deliver curriculum and connect with students.

We hardly had a moment to take a breath. We had no time to be sad. Educators had to act fast, come together and figure this out.

We’re good at that – the quick decisions, the thinking on our feet.

And now…

And now, two weeks into our virtual classrooms, it feels a bit more routine – a bit more ‘normal’, whatever that means. I’m waking up earlier – too early, in fact. I’m starting my days outside, coffee and journal and birds and blooms. My walks are longer, taking me on new paths, new landscapes. I’ve had a few moments, even, where I feel almost settled.

But, despite my heroic attempts to push it aside, to break it down and not deal with it, I’m finding the sadness creep back in.

The postponements started trickling in, the canceling, rescheduling, the pushing-back on things that we’ve been looking forward to. Graduations. Weddings. End of the school year projects. Family trips. Funerals. College.

We’re flattening the curve, most definitely. But we’re flattening ourselves at the same time. Days blend into each other. The routines that helped me make it through the day feel comforting and monotonous simultaneously.

The dark side

I start to let the dark side crawl in. The spiraling, swirling sense of never-endingness. Of worry. Of wondering.

I’ve been using a ‘Weekly Check-In’ form with my students to build community and maintain relationships even when we’re not in the same physical space. You can see a copy of it here. They have options to tell me how they’re doing – ‘’I’m happy”, “I’m silly”, “I’m stressed”, “I’m angry”, and “I’m sad”. You can make a copy of my form here.

And guess what – sadness topped the list this week.

When a 7th grader shares their sadness on a digital form, it hurts. The impact of knowing they’re isolated at home, away from the structures and systems and community that we’ve created in our schools makes me sad.

How do I respond to that? Ignore it? No way. Brush it aside? Nope.

I agree.

I am sad. THIS is sad. Challenging. Scary. Unsettling.

I want them to know I feel it, too. And that it’s ok to feel sad.

What I do

I ask them what they do to feel better and I tell them about how I go outside every morning, curl up under a fleece blanket on my patio, and sip my coffee.

I write to them about how I walk around my garden first thing, looking for new blooms. About how I take photos of my flowers and post them online, just to bring a smile to someone who is looking out the window at the snow.

When I feel sad, I say, I take a walk around my neighborhood. I look at the little things, the trees, and flowers and try to notice changes from the day before.

Sometimes I share how I look up at the sky, searching for birds and butterflies and clouds, and how I smile at other people as we walk towards each other, and then step out of the way. Sometimes I cross the street, just to keep my distance.

I still smile, even though it makes me feel sad.

I tell them about how I pick grapefruit off my backyard trees and leave them in a bag on my front lawn with a sign that says, ‘Take some for your family. I’ll keep sharing. Stay home”. And how I smile when a few hours later, the bag is empty.


I’m sad, for sure. I wish my mom could drive here and spend the weekend. I miss being able to jump on a plane and visit my daughter. I’m sad that her wedding is being postponed, colleges are shutting down, that trips and graduations are canceled and that people everywhere are sick and dying.

This loss of control over our lives, the lack of feeling like life (and we) aren’t moving forward, leaves us feeling like wanderers in a dark, dense, forest. We know there is a path, somewhere -it might be overgrown or trampled down, or we might have just taken a step too far to the side to stay on track. We know that once we get through this part, the scary, solitary steps we make will eventually lead us to…somewhere. Better than this. Definitely a different landscape.

I think I need to just leave it here, to be with the sadness and sink into today – to what is right here, right now. Robin Wall Kimmerer says, “If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”

I’m ok with that kind of doorway. I’m ok with weeping a little bit now and then – I’m pretty sure our tears are just a lens to magnify the stars, anyways. With that kind of grief – that sadness that we can fix with love – I trust that we will find our way.

Do you?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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breathe mamawolfe

Intention, Breath, Renewal, and Resolutions

Posted on January 4, 2020 by

I first noticed the lambs in the field.

Two days ago, they grazed gracefully in the green grassy meadow. Babies spotted black and white and grey kicked their hind legs and nuzzled their mothers. Their unique markings caught my eye as I drove down the two-lane road, not sure where I needed to be at that moment.

Last night they caught my eye again.

This time, mothers and babies huddled close as the tule fog drifted in, coating their meadow with grey light and dropping dew on their wool. And as I glanced back to the road, John reminded me of how nervous he felt driving towards the headlights, the two of us, together. Parenthood always brings that anxiety of abandonment, the fear of leaving our kids parentless when we’re just having a normal day. Always the anxiety of ‘what if’. Always bringing me out of the moment.

‘Look at the sunset,’ he suggested. Ever cautious, he typically reminds me to keep my eyes where I’m going. If you look ahead, he shares, you’ll get where you want to be.

But tonight was different.

The sky, an exhale of pink and silver and mauve was not to be ignored. The first sunset of 2020, caught by chance, brings me to tears.

We’re reminded to make resolutions at this time of year, to identify what is wrong with us and our life, and try to fix it. As if just saying it, or writing it down at the stroke of midnight will somehow result in a different me. Drawing attention to an ‘all or nothing’ mentality as if it will spur me towards some sense of ‘betterness’.

For the last decade, making a resolution hasn’t been my focus for the turn of the December calendar. I’m not a ‘wind-up toy’ able to switch on a date; I’m the same ‘me’ I was the night before, maybe with a bit more anxiety thinking about the push to focus on something different.

My tears don’t stop as I pulled into Home Depot. The sky glows over the Berryessa Hills as I wipe my eyes with the cuff of my sweater and take a breath in. I make my purchase, and as we drive home the sky is dark, sunset replaced by stars shimmering energy drizzling down. I feel my breath like stardust now as I stop and start, careful to focus on the road ahead. Breathe in, breathe out. My intention surfaces with every inhale, a desire to pay attention – the intention to breathe in what I’m about to create.


The possibility of moving onward.

I don’t need the resolution to be outside, to search for your spirit. Every time I look up, the birds or the sunset or the stars of a fleck of spirit dust in candlelight refocuses me, reminding me that you are everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

I have intention.

I have daily practices beginning with my first breath of ‘thank you’ as my exhale hits the floor. It’s the same me as yesterday and the day before, just another reminder of the divine presence all around me.

I won’t see every sunset in 2020, no matter the strength of my resolve. Some days I’ll see sunsets on social media and wonder what I was doing that was more important. What could possibly take my focus away from right here, right now? I won’t hear every moment of birdsong outside my window. And I’m sure some days I’ll repeat my mantra ‘onward’ just to make it through.

But I will remember my intention of breath, my hope for the possibility of moving forward. I’ll feel your breath like stardust, shimmering down on my shoulders when I don’t know which foot to put first. I’ll know your spirit soars over me with a birds-eye, omnipotent view, reminding me to enjoy life. To breathe. And to just start again tomorrow.

intention starlight

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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