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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My Favorite Moments of 2016 – In Photos

Even when I can’t find the time/inspiration/concentration to write, I try to always pay attention to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life. I used to print out all my photos, hand write captions in photo albums and stick the images onto the pages, gently smoothing back the plastic to protect the memories from sticky fingers turning pages. I think my last albums were from 2007, when I began collecting photos on floppy disks, then CDs and now in the cloud. I must say, while I don’t take quite as many snaps of my kids now that they’re teens, looking back on 2016 I am pleased that I caught so many of these ordinary moments that might have otherwise slipped my short-term memory. I’m grateful to be able to share my favorite moments of 2016 with you. Thank you for being part of my mamawolfe community, for your thoughts and comments and likes and shares. I’m looking forward to thinking deeply, loving fiercely and teaching audaciously with you in 2017,

Thank you for being part of my mamawolfe community, for your thoughts and comments and likes and shares. I’m looking forward to thinking deeply, loving fiercely and teaching audaciously with you in 2017,

December – I don’t always remember to have a family photo taken on Christmas, but this year we all managed to squeeze onto our sofa. As the kids get older, these moments of togetherness become so treasured. I wrote about turning 51 and my nightmares about the election results. As I love to do, I’ll ring in the new year in the mountains with these three people that make my life so extraordinary.

November – I always think of my son as a wanderer; he loves to go alone, to explore, to get lost in the moment. This image of him on Carmel beach was exactly one of those moments; we were all up at the car and I had to go back to search for him. I stood and snapped this photo without him noticing; so grateful for these small moments as reminders to slow down and just be. I wrote a bit about the presidential election, teaching, and the not-so-ordinary month of November.

October – To be honest, this photo just makes me smile. I went back to San Diego for a conference this fall – I say back, because in the late 1980s I made S.D. my home. I’m a completely different girl now, but I still find myself most comfortable hanging out with people who think out of the box. This night was a good reminder to remember who I am and what I believe in, always. This month I wrote from the heart about teaching and Trump.


September – When my kids were little, I loved throwing birthday parties for them. We invited the whole family, ate and drank and celebrated together in our backyard. These days, birthdays are celebrated much more quietly. September is always a month of new beginnings when you live as a teacher – and this year, we celebrated Cam turning 17. Bittersweet moments – he reminded me the countdown now begins to adulthood and leaving home. Glad one of us is excited about that! I only wrote a little – a sharing of a favorite Mary Oliver poem.

August – This summer, my two babies took off on a solo backpacking adventure – they hiked and camped and drove all around Wyoming, just enjoying being together. Although I didn’t hear from them too much, and I worried more than I should have, the moment they texted me this photo I knew that all would be well. I feel such gratitude that although they’re not living in the same home anymore, they love each other this much. I wrote about family time in Tahoe, sending my girl back to college for her third year, an awesome trip to Blog Her in L.A., and how much I love my ordinary life.

July – I love traveling, but I equally love spending time at home. July started off on a trip with Lily to Capital Reef National Park in Utah, but I found most of my mid-summer days best spent at home, surrounded with love in my garden, with my books, my dog and my family.

June – We celebrated Lily’s return from  hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain and her turning 20. The shooting in Orlando left me feeling sad about the fragility of life and committed to help end gun violence. I finished school, and spent the month reflecting and resting.

May – It’s always a good month when I can dig in the garden. This year, Cam and I planted and tended a veggie and herb garden – and were surprised with gourds sprouting up, too! I wrote about being healthy, stepping out of my comfort zone, finding wholeness and that curious moment in motherhood when you realize that your children are capable of taking care of themselves – and you.

The Only Appropriate Response Is Gratefulness

April – Another rare moment of togetherness in our backyard garden; the month of April made me weep more than once over the fierce love I have for my children. I thought and wrote about the fleetingness of this life, of gratitude for the smallest of moments, and of intuition and being in the moment.

March – I wrote a lot about motherhood, working and mothering, and equal rights. We had a rare ski day together at Tahoe; rare because I actually skied with my kids rather than watch them fly down a race course!

February – I found myself taking daily walks, searching for some center. My girl got a ‘real’ job, I hunkered down at home and read a lot of poetry from Mary Oliver, Jane Candida Coleman and Thich Nhat Hanh.

January – I was looking for joy everywhere – it was a hard month. Concussions, avalanches, and loss were surrounding me. I tried to focus inward, to be present and to pay attention to the beauty around me.

 

I’d love to continue this amazing life journey with you over on Instagram – you can find me at mamawolfeto2.

All the best,

Jennifer

 

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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Tell Me, What Do People Thank You For?

I’m a huge believer in gratitude. It’s actually had a huge, transformative impact on my life in the last several years, and gratitude makes its way into my writing with great frequency. Every morning I practice rituals – savoring a cup of coffee quietly, listening to the birds outside; setting silent intentions for the day; writing daily pages in my journal, always punctuated by five, detailed things that I am grateful for.

Oftentimes, my gratitudes are somewhat repetitive, but I find comfort in that. It’s my time of self-reflection, of noticing the ordinary things that bring me love and beauty and safety. My gratitudes are oftentimes balanced by what Anne Lamott refers to as “the three essential prayers”: Help, thanks, and wow.

The results are truly amazing.

In her book “Help, Thanks, Wow”, Lamott writes that gratitude, “…without revelation and reframing, life can seem like an endless desert of danger with scratchy sand in your shoes, and yet if we remember or are reminded to pay attention, we find so many sources of hidden water, so many bits and chips and washes of color, in a weed or the gravel or a sunrise. There are so many ways to sweep the sand off our feet. So we say, ‘Oh my God. Thanks.'”

I’ve been working diligently on paying attention in the last few years, especially since I realized that my time at home with my teens was ticking down. I so agree with Lamott when she juxtaposes a life without gratitude as one that scratches and leaves us parched with living in a space of thankfulness, where the world around us shimmers with color and brilliance and just plain ordinary extraordinariness.

I suppose that this practice of intentional gratitude is what made Lindsey Mead’s post catch my eye the other day. Titled “What do people thank you for”, Lindsey shares her discomfort with her perceived self-indulgence of flipping this idea of gratitude back onto herself.

I share that uneasiness – as a mom, a teacher, a wife, I wouldn’t necessarily say I enjoy the parts of my life that simply are thankless – but I do have a certain acceptance of them.

Her post definitely made me think about what people thank me for, which in a way, has deepened my gratitude practice and developed my own desire to do more of these things; not because I am acknowledged for them, but because when I expose them to myself, I realize they are the things that make me feel the best:

People thank me for cooking and baking and sharing meals with them. As a mom/wife, I fill this role with frequent happiness and without question, but I now realize that when I share my love of food, the love comes back.

People thank me for writing about things that they cannot. I started this blog five years ago to help understand my changing life, to help share my feelings about aging and parenting and teaching and loving. I never, ever imagined that other people would react with gratitude when they read something that resonates strongly with them.

People thank me for teaching. Whenever I answer the question “What do you do” with “I’ve taught middle school for the last 25 years”, the most frequent response is “Oh my goodness, I don’t know how you do it. Thank you.” Honestly, that response makes me smile every time. Teaching middle school is like breathing to me – I adore working with my crazy, puberty laden, self-conscious, silly and mostly lovable students. And when people respond, “You are a saint”, I smile, too.

Tell Me, What Do People Thank You For?Recently, my students wrote reflections of the year that thanked me for a variety of different experiences they had in my classroom. The one that made me tear up the most was the one that thanked me for ‘never giving up on him’. I never, ever take students’ thanks for granted.

Writing this post created internal discomfort, to be sure. It’s much easier to write about my own gratitudes; like Lindsey, these things that others thank me for create discomfort and make me wonder why I’m being thanked for them- because these are the moments and experiences and ordinary parts of my life that fill me up and that I can’t imagine living without. Family. Writing. Teaching. Students.

I guess I know what tomorrow’s entries in my gratitude journal will be.

So please tell me, what do people thank you for?

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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How I’m Learning To Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity

“The only unique contribution we’ll make in this world will be born of creativity.” ~ Brene Brown

There’s this crazy, confusing thing  happening as I get older. As I’ve passed through the decades and find myself looking at a life ahead that is bound to be on the downhill slope, I see with clarity things that I hadn’t seen before -I see the urgency to step out of the comfort zone of creativity.

Perhaps these things were never there to begin with. Maybe they’ve been inside all the time, and it’s taken this long to realize that creativity is a need, not a want.

I’ve never been what I considered the ‘creative’ type. My sister, my aunts, my mom, my grandmother – now there are women who are creative. Canvas becomes startling images of beauty. Clay transforms into object. Fabric turns into clothing and pillows and bags.

The closest I’ve ever felt to being creative was through my garden. My approach a cultivation painted with reckless strokes, sometimes wild combinations of color and texture, but always with the hands of a woman trying to squeeze beauty into my space; of one attempting to simultaneously curb and release the loveliness of a part of what makes a home. I guess some might consider parenting an exercise in creativity; I’ve always felt that if I do it well enough, my children will be my greatest contribution to the world.

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity
My garden is my creative escape.

“When did inspiration promise us that it owes us anything?” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Writing wove its way into my life five years ago; blogging transformed my private journal scribbles into a rough-hewn, unrefined platform to practice sharing my stories for the first time. As my children aged and my confidence matured, I recklessly dove into my newly released creativity. Inspired to connect with other women – mothers and teachers and writers and like-minded creative spirits who used words as their outlet, I greedily crafted a community that lifted me up, gave me courage, and reminded me that I need to write every day.

“When you get to the place where standing on the edge is more fearful than the risk of failure, I think you owe it to yourself and your world to leap.” ~Brene Brown

And here I find myself, half-way to 51, standing on the edge of what is left of my life. I see my children launching into adulthood with grace and courage. I write and publish and share and push myself to refine, to reflect. I know the nest will be empty soon, and I’ll be left with a vastness ready to fill.

I think about teaching another 15 years, and wonder if the system will support my need for change. I’m astonished I’ve made it this far – 25 years ago, I comforted myself with the notion that there were so many possibilities in the world, and when I didn’t like teaching anymore, I would jump, hoping that the net would catch me.

Turning 50 has created a strange sense of comfort and discontent; the moments when I sit in my writing space, surrounded by all that I’ve created in this life, I feel as if there is nowhere else I would rather – or I should be. I breathe deeply and slowly and write my daily gratitude for home and family and this span of moments which weave together so exquisitely. I wonder where my creativity could lead me, and what is worth doing even if I fail.

Step Out Of The Comfort Zone Of Creativity
Looking down from my writing space.

“Failure has a function. It asks you if you really want to go on making things.” ~Clive James

And then the discontent creeps in on the back of absolute acknowledgment of where I am. I know my days are finite. I see my mothering transfer into my children as they age and grow and find their own space in the world. I wonder where my creativity could lead me, and what is worth doing even if I fail.

Now is the time to step out of the comfort zone of creativity, the time to leap without knowing where the landing is. It’s the time to trust the creative journey, and to know that whatever challenge the day presents is there for a reason.

It’s time to go on making things and continue the story.

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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My Favorite Moments of 2015-A Year In Photos

I love the new year. Not because I’m a big one on resolutions (I’m definitely anti-declaration in that way). And not because I like to whoop it up on New Year’s Eve (I don’t – I was in bed by 10 p.m.). And I love photos – not because I’m any sort of skilled photographer, but because I love the moments they capture.

And certainly not because I love endings and change and the unknown (not.not.not.).

But I do love the new year because I adore reflecting on memories. I love stories. I’m sentimental that way.

I’m a huge creator of photo albums and memory boxes – at least, I used to be, before I got a digital camera.

Now my photos are stored all over the place – my phone, my computer, the cloud, Google Drive – and I need to do a serious project to get them organized.

Wow – that sounds almost like a resolution. *shudder*

To start, I searched up each month of photos that I could, and want to share my favorites here. Not because they’re terribly technically good photos, but because, for me, they tell a story of 2015: what happened, where I went, and who I loved.

And that will have to do for now.

JANUARY 2015

no cast

This was in the orthopedist’s office – it was the first time C had seen his leg outside of his cast since he broke it on the ski course. I love the look on his face and the fact that he wore his “Bomber” shirt that day – sigh.

FEBRUARY 2015

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While most days I dislike the fact that my daughter moved to Utah to go to college, when her photographer boyfriend sends me these shots, I can’t help but smile. Can you see her face? She’s loving life. What more can I ask for?

MARCH 2015

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I love the blurriness of this shot-it’s so representative of how life was (is?) feeling in this moment. I love that C is on his skateboard after months of being in a cast (wait -really?). I love that he hasn’t lost his confidence and that our dog follows him everywhere. A boy and his dog. And his skateboard. *sigh*

APRIL 2015

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Being a part of Listen To Your Mother seemed like an elusive writing goal – although motherhood tips the topic list of my blog, it took a huge leap of faith for me to actually submit my writing. My smile represents my joy at being chosen, at doing something that made me nervous, and the accomplishment I felt when I was done. And this photo also reminds me how short I am.

MAY 2015

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My girl and her dog along the trail at Five Lakes. It’s near Alpine Meadows, where we spend the winters skiing. If I was in this photo, my smile would fill the frame – this was the first time I’d seen L since Christmas, and I couldn’t get enough of her. This adventure, hiking with her and her boyfriend and our pup, was one of those perfect moments that I appreciate so much more now that she doesn’t live with me anymore.

JUNE 2015

selfie free summer

A day trip to Point Reyes, CA, was one of the first things we did when L came home (briefly) in June before she left to work in Oregon for the summer. My boy was still not 100% on his now-healed leg, and yet he made it down to the coast with his camera. Can you feel my heart bursting here? I assure you, it was.

JULY 2015

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NYC subway with one of my oldest girlfriends taking the snap. I’d never been there, never ridden the hot, steamy, sweaty, crowded subway, so I insisted she capture the moment. I’d just finished attending BlogHer16 (awesome) and was spending my last few days seeing the sights. I may not look like I’m 18 years old in this image, but I sure felt like it.

AUGUST 2015

Utah hiking

I can’t remember the name of this lake in Utah but I do remember the moment. C and I had driven L back to school and she and her boyfriend took us up into the mountains of Alta where they ski during the winter. I was pretty happy I kept up with the youngsters (elevation and all), but mostly, I felt the joy a mother feels when her babies are by her side, happy and healthy and loving life. I’m not sharing the photos I took the next day when I left her there and had to drive home…

SEPTEMBER 2015

sixteen

My boy turned 16. What I love about this photo is how much he’s changed, yet how he’s stayed the same. He didn’t want a ‘sweet 16’ party like my girl did, so I dug out an old cake photo to contrast with where he is today – the fact that his broken leg healed, he was able to skim board in Carmel and is growing into such a determined, kind human….I’m a proud mamawolfe.

OCTOBER 2015

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An Instagram screen shot of L and her boyfriend hiking in Utah. What mom wouldn’t be proud to see her daughter in love like this?

NOVEMBER 2015

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Even though I turned 50 in December, and even though I did NOT want a party, my mom did it anyways. The day after Thanksgiving, before L went back to college, and when my extended family was still in town, we celebrated. And I’m glad. I chose this photo because it is a rare moment when I am in a shot with both of my parents – they divorced when I was a teen and are rarely seen together. I love this because it reminds me what parents will do for their children and that I’m getting old. Older, but better. Definitely better.

DECEMBER 2015

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I love the holidays, but they overwhelm me. Too much going on, too many people, and I’m usually exhausted from teaching during those crazy December days leading up to the break. But here, on Christmas Eve at my dad’s house, this photo made it all worthwhile. My babies. My boy (with a concussion 🙁 – can you see his hospital bracelet?) and my girl, my best life’s work. What makes me mamawolfe.

Here’s to 2016, a year for more photos, more adventures, and more writing about thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. A year for trusting the journey.

That’s one resolution I can keep.

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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