words that nourish

Words That Nourish, Friends That Write

I can count on one hand the number of women I trust will always be in my life. They each entered my world at different, crucial, life altering times, and while not one of them lives within walking distance of my home, our connection remains – through words that nourish.

I’ve been a pen pal, a journaler, a poet, a blogger, a note-take, list maker and a lesson creator. Words make my world centered, they offer me a chance to slip away and at the same time, ground myself. Words are solace in a life that I struggle to understand and often, to trust.

One of these phenomenal women is my friend Michelle. We met during our early years of teaching English – a time in our twenties when life as we know now was merely a whisper. Our paths crossed in an interview for a teaching position – I, the interviewer, she the interviewee. I was captivated by her quiet grace, her creativity, and her absolute desire to share her love of language and words and books.

That was over two decades ago, and despite many moves, some marriages, a divorce, numerous job changes and a few precious children thrown into our realiity, our friendship ebbs and flows like the tide, constant, reliable, soothing.

Michelle may not realize what an inspiration she’s been to me; she may not know that when I bake bread or dig in my garden, or read about her treasured Lousisiana or find myself succumbing to fine food and wine, she’s with me.

words that nourish

Today, we were on each other’s minds. Close friendships work like that – I mailed her a book she needed on her shelf this morning, and this afternoon she called to talk writing and summer travel plans.

Today, I’m happy to share a beautiful blog post written on Michelle’s new blog, A Power 4 Good. I know you’ll love her words that nourish – she’s one of a kind! Please welcome her to the blogging community with open arms!

Words that nourish; words that heal by Michelle St. Romain

“Wherever I’ve lived my room and soon the entire house is filled with books; poems, stories, histories, prayers of all kinds stand up gracefully or are heaped on shelves, on the floor, on the bed. Strangers old and new offering their words bountifully and thoughtfully, lifting my heart.” ~ Mary Oliver

I have been thinking recently about why we write stories, why anyone writes their thoughts on paper (or computer screens). In my days as an English major in college, I was always amazed by my classmates and even my professors who chose to put their written hats in the ring and try to publish their writing. Why would anyone pick out of the millions of things that have been written this particular piece or that particular poem? Why would anyone care about my writing, or anyone’s, for that matter?

And so I chose to do other things. I continued to write, because I cannot help it. I wrote in journals. I wrote essays. I wrote for a newspaper for a short time and I found quickly that my writing could be used in almost any profession, to entertain, market, raise funds, make a case, explain, take a stand.

At this point in my life, I find that the writers I have loved have become my teachers, their words the medicine for my soul. These are the ones who have the power to change my mood and my thinking in an instant. These are the ones with a power that transcends everything that is happening in our world, at any time, no matter how ominous or depressing.

They are Mary Oliver, Toni Morrison, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan. David Whyte, Alice Hoffman, Joanna Macy. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Marge Piercy. Alice Walker and Maya Angelou. Sandra Cisneros and Kate Chopin. This list could go on, go deeper, go farther into the past, more fully into the variety of cultures and stories that inform our world, whether we are conscious of it or not.

words that nourish

It goes to Ovid and Shakespeare, Richard Wright and Steinbeck. Their classics shaped my view of the world, challenged what I was taught about class and reality. They are immortal inside me and the influence of their words on paper cannot be known, even in the singular strand of my life – of decisions I have made, paths I have taken, words I have spoken. Of stands I have made on issues that seem larger than my small life.

I am making these decisions today.  And their words are my solace and guidance. They are my living teachers. Their stories and reflections shape me still, in this time of great change in our world.

I believe that stories and words will heal us from all that is hurting around and within us. I believe that every story that has ever been lived or spoken is still alive today. I believe that every story we are now living, every truth and broken moment, every travesty and victory, no matter how small or large, has been lived in one way or another and we can learn from what has happened before us.

We may have to go deep, go far into the past. We may need to journey to cultures far from our own, or perhaps simply allow ourselves to imagine what it is like today, in this moment, in a country where running water is a luxury and homes have dirt floors. If we expand our thinking to include the larger stories of those who have gone before and of those who are now living lives much different than our own, we may find our way. We may find hope.

We will most definitely find sorrow and grief, but we will also find companions on the path. We must only look, be curious, be patient enough to step back and open to seeing the larger shape of what is happening in any moment of our own life stories.

Thank you, great writers and thinkers and teachers. Thank you for the living gift of words that heal and uplift, teach and guide and make us question ourselves. I bury myself deeply in your wisdom. I offer my own words as an offering of gratitude, and as a prayer.

(this post originally appeared on Michelle’s blog, A Power 4 Good)

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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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

On January 21, 2017, I joined over 20,000-plus other like-minded souls at the California State Capitol for the Women’s March On Sacramento. I wasn’t prepared for the enormity of the event; I had no idea that when I left, I would feel so energized, so heard, or so replete with joy.  This is what democracy looks like.

When we set out on foot, first to cross the swollen Sacramento River, I wondered if there would be anyone else who showed up. It was early, and quiet. We meandered towards Southside Park, and I had my answer.

Thousands showed up.

To be honest, it was a bit overwhelming at first. There were so many signs, costumes, and smiles. there were men and women, children and elderly, mobile and non-mobile. Queer, straight, white, black, brown, all kindred spirits fearlessly flying their frustration with the new administration.

I had to walk around to take it all in. The crowd never ended.

Some people were clearly first time activists; others, I could tell, had been here before. And the children, their gently hand lettered signs of hope tinged with fear, stole my heart.

As we marched lines of folks gathered on the sides to cheer us on. They reached out of second story windows and snapped photos from balconies.

We chanted. We helped each other. We united.

This is what democracy looks like.

I’m positive the event coordinators were overwhelmed with the numbers, announcing that they couldn’t start the program because there were some who hadn’t yet left the starting point, miles away.

But when the mayor took the stage, and politicians from school boards to city councils, from Congress to State Controller, we listened. We heard the calls for getting ‘fired up’ and ‘fighting back’ against the Capitol’s west facade, flags flying at half mast.

The rain held off while we heard about women being ‘Raped On The Nightshift’  – female janitorial staff who used their courage and voice to legislate change.

We chanted for human rights, for women’s rights – for grabbing back.

And we felt the power of the 2.5+ million women, men, and children worldwide who were chanting with us; I knew my sisters and friends and my community was with me.  It was like one huge book club discussing our thoughts on a recent novel we’ve read, looking for common threads and weaving in our personal stories.

We vowed to ‘stay loud’ and to fight back, to speak up and defend the rights women have worked so hard to earn.

I stood behind a 95 year-old-woman, wheelchair bound, who wiggled with excitement and energy right along with me as her daughter wiped away tears. I pushed my former students in front of me, young women curious about their future, and felt their eyes on me as my fist rose in the air time after time.

I stood alongside a Vietnam vet pushing his wife’s wheelchair and watched his eyes, eyes that have seen more horror that I hope I ever know.

I heard the rage of a queer woman of color, recently elected mayor, who fears for her daughter’s future.

I felt my grandmother’s spirit pulsing through my chest, a woman who spoke four languages yet never went to college – an immigrant who left a secure life in South America to follow her heart to the United States, and a woman who taught me to say what I think and have compassion for all.

And I wept silent tears as I realized that this moment was just the beginning; that I am tasked to push back for my daughter, for my son, for my mother and grandmothers and all those phenomenal women that have come before me and paved my way to this moment – to this opportunity to show my love for my country.

THIS is what democracy looks like.

And I vowed to use my words, my platform, my writing, my teaching and my parenting not to make war with those that differ but to hold them accountable for THEIR words, THEIR actions. To remind them, over and over, that it is love, not hate, that makes America great. To ensure that this movement – this march, this gathering of humans who are looking to put their voice to the voiceless, to extend kindness to those who are hurting, and to show my children that I will walk the talk for what I believe in.

This is what DEMOCRACY looks like.

I’m not ready to make nice. I’m not ready to give in, to get over it, or to go back.

I’m ready to be loud. I’m ready to be heard. I’m ready to fight back. I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change – I’m changing the things I cannot accept.

How about you?

Here we go!

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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Equal Pay For Equal Work

“Equal pay for equal work!”

His words broke the silence. The midnight air was sultry and my feet ached from tromping around in sandals all day; in March, I’m not used to 90-degree weather, and my body was protesting. The bright moonlight and headiness of three new soul sisters, along with being 100 yards from my air conditioned hotel room were close at hand. In three days I have grown close to these three women surrounding me in the parking lot, and knowing this was the last night together was keeping all of us from retreat.

“I was billy clubbed for you,” came a voice from beside me. “Equal pay for equal work!”

Turning, I saw him as he spiraled, dancer-like, around his suitcase. “Billy clubbed – I stood up for you!”

I glanced at my companions and giggled at their astonished expressions. They’d obviously never come this close to a tweaker before.

“I went down and stood up for equal pay and those cops just billy clubbed me and you know I used to be the face, I used to be the one the agents were calling. I have two children, you know, and now those goddamn….taxi driver, you’re running the meter, right?” His voice rambled, almost incoherently, but we were intrigued.

The taxi driver stood with a coy smile on his face, his eyes glinting in recognition. Tweaker guy was entertaining, and he was getting paid.

Equal pay for equal work
Soul sisters night out

“Why are you standing so far away?” he growled at Kim, who hadn’t moved a muscle since he interrupted our soul sister circle.

“Dude, what’s up?” I tried to connect to his eyes, but they were darting between us like a well-caffeinated mosquito. Meth, I thought.

“I have two children you know. I was billy clubbed for equal pay for women. Those celebs, I was with the best of them. And now nothing…” his chiseled features and Southern California tan made him believable as he teetered between our reality and his. Twirling on the handle of his luggage, he recited his lines with Academy Award winning accuracy. “I was raped by a priest and then I protested for women. Burn the bras, I say! Burn them!”

It was silent in our circle; no one could respond nor get a word in. I reached out my hand to stop his pirouette, to somehow connect and see beyond his ramble. He grabbed it, and for just one nanosecond he stopped spinning. We were there, under the Palm Springs starlight, and I had gotten under his Hollywood veneer and seen him.

“I’m 51, you know. 51 and they all knew me, equal pay for equal work, I say! I love women!” he rambled as the moment was lost, and he was back inside his story. Four sets of eyes fixated on him, the taxi driver chuckling in the background as he waited, trunk open, meter spinning.

“Take care of yourself, dude,” I cautioned as we stepped away and down the driveway.

“Burn your bras!” he screeched back.

I walked along the moonlight driveway surrounded by my tribe. I wanted to buy him a coffee. I wanted to hear his story  – how did two of us, the same age, take such different paths yet collide in a hotel parking lot? What choices did we make to create this moment? Why did the Universe have our journeys collide?

“We need to load the car at 7:45,” I heard myself saying. “We can leave straight from the conference with plenty of time to make it to the airport. Maybe even grab some lunch close by.”

I could see the taxi lights in the distance; he hadn’t left. What was going to happen to him, this soul-sister in solidarity? Where would his story end tonight?

Helpless and hopeless, I slipped my key into the door, wishing I had taken his photo, wondering what his name was and where he would go. The taxi lights were still there, and the silence washed over me. His journey continues. I wished him to find a safe place to sleep, and someone to reach out a hand in the morning.

Equal pay for equal work
View from the next morning – the taxi was gone.

Drug abuse and homelessness are a choice away from so many in our society. Once whole, once vibrant, our journey can pull us in directions we never imagined – away from careers, from friends, from our children. We have the choice to look away or to extend our hand to those who are suffering. In your community, is there a way you can extend your hand, open your heart, and help?

In Sacramento, we have Saint John’s program, an organization dedicated to break the cycle:

“There is no easy way to escape living in crisis. Since our founding on the steps of St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1985, we’ve challenged many homeless mothers with children to grapple with that difficult truth. And not everyone can. It takes a certain type of woman to stand up to everything that’s ever damaged or broken her and take full, complete control of her life. It’s difficult. It’s painful. And again, it’s not for everyone. Saint John’s is for the woman who wants to make the leap. Who will fight the pervasive influence of homelessness, poverty, and abuse. Who will make an empowered decision to rise up and become a productive community member. Who understands, unequivocally, that the decision to create a better life – for herself and for her family – rests entirely on her.”

I’ll be working with Naot Footwear on April 2 as my way of reaching out. The Naot Trunk Show & Donation Event at Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento allows us to combine two things that we love, fashion and helping those in need. Everyone invited to attend the event will be able to contribute to Saint John’s Program for Real Change just by simply trying on shoes. If you try on a pair of Naots, they will donate a pair to those in need. If you buy a pair, they will donate two pairs. It’s fashion for a cause – and your small action can make such a huge difference!

If you’re in the Sacramento area, reach out and join me on April 2 between 10-5 at Birkenstock Midtown 2500 J Street Sacramento, CA 95816. Catch a ride with me if you need to!

I hope to see you there- remember together, we can do great things.

I received compensation for this post; however, I wholeheartedly endorse this orgaization.

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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Mothering By Faith

Emmalee pulled another mug from the cabinet and poured more coffee. She handed it to Cora. “Can I ask you a question? But you got to promise to be honest with me, even if it means hurting my feelings.”

Cora nodded and took a sip from the mug. “Sure.”

“It’s just that you know so much about babies and mothering, and I was wondering if you think I can take care of a baby on my own?”

“Of course you can, sweetie,” Cora said, sitting her mug on the counter and reaching for Emmalee’s hand. “But you ain’t alone.”

Emmalee brushed away another tear.

~from The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Mothering By FaithDo any of us really know if we can take care of a baby on our own?

Eighteen years into motherhood, and I still find myself asking that question on a regular basis.

Motherhood, for many women, is the ultimate mission in their lives. It is the transcendent goal they strive for, feeling that with the birth experience complete, their lives will somehow magically fall into place.

Many of my friends carefully planned motherhood. Some wanted to be young mothers, feeling that if they were able to give birth in their early twenties that they would be ‘young enough’ to enjoy their children – I’m sure some felt their youthful bodies could more easily survive childbirth and keep up with active toddlers. Numerous girlfriends, like me, chose the college and career path first, deciding that the stability of accomplishment would surely be the golden ticket for a successful parenting experience. I was confident that if I took care of myself first, I would be well-equipped to deal with the uncertainties of mothering.

Some women I know simply tumbled into motherhood, like many experiences in their lives, without any inkling of how they got to that place where they had to choose between what was right and best for their child, and what felt right and best for themselves. I have friends who have endured the torment of infertility, their bodies battling against every maternal instinct they feel, only to end in crumpled dreams and a reconfiguration of self. And I know women who calculate the ticking of the biological clock, never having cast their bet at deliberate conception but feeling each second tick by in real time, sure that if it doesn’t happen soon, it never will.

There is a certain sense of possibility in the unknown. The first moment our child is placed upon our chest is glutted with possibility and hope. We feel powerful, exhilarated, and terrified all at once, knowing that life as we knew it before has forever altered. Our insecurities, our inadequacies, and our aspirations pile into the six pounds of sticky, squirmy flesh that has suddenly become ours alone to nurture for a lifetime. And we wonder, can we do this? Are we enough? How will we know when they ________ or __________ what to say? To do?

And somewhere along the way, we realize the secret. We hear the words of those wiser than we, words that remind us that we all we really need to do is practice mothering by faith.

“Our crown has already been bought and paid for. All we have to do is wear it”― James Baldwin

We realize that we are not alone, that all those mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers that have come before us have set the course for that pocket-sized little person we cradle in our arms. We realize that we carry with us in the very center of our soul everything we need to take care of this baby on our own. We realize, that if we stop long enough to peer right into our hearts, that we really do know the answers.

We become conscious of ourselves. We exude the instincts bred into us. We wear the crown proudly, sometimes pausing to push it back into place when it teeters precariously, or drop to our knees to scrape it up off the ground when it falls.

But we smile broadly at our child, feeling every bit the queen of the world. We trust. We are mothers. We CAN do this. We are not alone.

We are mothering by faith.

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” ― Margaret Drabble

 No one has ever entrusted impoverished Emmalee with anything important but she takes it upon herself to sew her mentor’s resting garment in The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Join From Left to Write on October 15 as we discuss The Funeral Dress.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. 

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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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Feminism Gone Wrong: Wounded Deers or Wonder Women?

The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo
The Wounded Deer by Frida Kahlo

Earlier this week, my friend Lindsey from A Design So Vast shared an article written by Debora L. Spar, president of Barnard College, titled, “Shedding the Superwoman Myth: Where Feminism Went Wrong”. I often find many of the  topics Lindsey writes about lingering in my brain, but this one in particular struck me between the eyes and hasn’t left my mind for days. That tells me something. I need to listen.

I’ve written before about the idea that women today have more choices to make than ever before, and with those choices comes a whole assortment of wonderful opportunities and enormous challenges. Debora Spar writes on this idea, stating that “the challenges that confront women now are more subtle than those of the past, harder to recognize and thus to remove.” Or challenges are subtle – until we get to the point when the dessert tray of post-feminism becomes less tempting, and we run screaming into a dark, quiet corner wondering how we ever got here when all we have is all we ever really wanted.

I absolutely owe a huge debt of gratitude to those women who fought so hard for my generation’s ability to have it all, to be simultaneously a full-time worker, mother, and wife all in one lifetime. Never in my 1970s formative years did I ever imagine I would be juggling these demands and actually enjoying myself most of the time. It never entered my imagination that I could do all this – nor did I imagine the struggles myself and the women in my life encounter when we can’t.

I think what we didn’t bank on was the fact that with our struggle to be equal, to open doors of opportunity, that the rest of the demands placed on us women wouldn’t diminish. As Spar states, “none of society’s earlier expectations of women disappeared. The result is a force field of highly unrealistic expectations. A woman cannot work a 60-hour week in a high-stress job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without that job and all the stress. And she cannot save the world and look forever like a 17-year-old model.” Amen.

I often find myself in that place – wondering if I’m making the right choices, if my children are getting the same kind of parent as I had, one who didn’t work outside the home. I wonder if I’m using my time well here in this lifetime, if I’m walking the talk, and if I am, are my kids watching. I am not, however, worrying about looking like a 17-year-old model – at least I can take that one off my plate.

When I was talking to a friend today – a woman I met professionally several years ago, and have come to admire, I started thinking about this again.  She’s nearly a decade younger than I am, and has already been a teacher, directed educational programs, and is starting her first principalship. She’s married, has two young children, and is going back to school. At night. After a full, full day of a full time job. I asked her why, and she matter-of-factly responded that it was her time. I immediately flashed back in my life ten years in comparison, and then stopped. She likened her life to being on a treadmill, and we both agreed that when we were in the middle of it we were ok-almost giddy, actually. We consented that, for us, the familiarity of work, the acknowledgement of focusing on a task that we are confident with, offers what Spar describes as “because these women are grappling with so many expectations—because they are struggling more than they care to admit with the sea of choices that now confronts them—most of them are devoting whatever energies they have to controlling whatever is closest to them.”

I started to do what is so familiar to me, to many self-proclaimed feminist and wonder women – I retreated and reflected. I second guessed, I what-if-ed, I imagined the different choices I could have made, should have made, and then saw myself ten years ago. Two small kids, a full time job, a husband with health challenges. The enormous weight I was carrying crushed down on my shoulders like a giant hand, forcing me into the ground. For a moment, I felt like I hadn’t done enough. I had somehow let myself down.

Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (Photo credit: Looking Glass)

And then I stopped. First world problems, Jen, my inner muse whispered to me. Be grateful for what you have. The choices you have are more than many women today can ever dream of. Don’t let anyone make you feel you’ve done anything other than the right thing. Everything happens for a reason.

Suddenly that put it all in perspective for me. Debora Spar, Lindsey and I agree – it comes down to choice. “Women need to realize that having it all means giving something up—choosing which piece of the perfect picture to relinquish, or rework, or delay.” I made my choices long ago, and most of them, I think, have been pretty good ones. I learned that maybe I can’t have it ‘all’, but I can have what I need – and for that, I am grateful. Blessed. Proud.

For all those moments when I felt like a wounded deer – and those arrows still pierce now and then – and for all those days when the Wonder Woman cape chokes my neck – and it does on a regular basis – I am grateful. I thank the women who came before me, who paid for my ability to be more, do more, than they ever dreamed. I thank them because I get to choose. That’s what I get to carry on to the women who come after me.

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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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