writing meditation

Habit is persistence in practice.

Yesterday’s quote from Octavia Butler made me wonder about habits. What I persist in and why. And as a believer in practice, what should I practice? What habits have I created? What could grow from the past 31 days?

I came to the March daily slicing challenge after a long period of not writing. Wary of the stress that daily publishing and commenting could create, I was on guard. Protective, I suppose.

I was surprised to find the work a pleasure.

I managed to banish my inner critics, Brilliance and Failure. For some reason, I don’t know why, I let both go. Most of the time. It’s not to say, I didn’t have moments when their cousins Perfection and Doubt threatened. But most days I allowed myself to ignore them.

Perhaps it’s Vanity that has waned, knowing it lives in an imaginary place.

Stepping out of March and into April, I’d like to think a habit has started to form. One that dismisses criticism that gets in the way of doing things that create an interesting life.

And on that note, what follows is my attempt at “a golden shovel poem” for the final day of March 2021.

I question my landscape, searching, to attach value, to identify a habit

worthy of pursuit. Does it require ability to sustain, or, is

knowledge a deterrent to dreams? Is persistence

bequeathed genetics that conjure tenacity in

spite of fatigue and obstacles? Or, is it faith that compels the spirit to practice.

Day 30 slice of life daily challenge 2021
Read more slices here

30 things that make me happy

For March 30th, I collected 30 things that make me happy. Each could be a slice. Maybe I should have started with this list!

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum and Caitlin, at Love Always, Caitlin

  • holding a warm cup of anything when I’m cold
  • steel cut oatmeal with raisins
  • the color of my kitchen, buttercream
  • yunomi, a ceramic cup with no handles
  • tea towels
  • time to read the Sunday newspaper
  • berries, banana and apple smoothies
  • bamboo sheets
  • reading a hand written letter from a friend
  • writing back to that friend
  • the way my cat curls on my bed
  • lemon ginger tea in the afternoon
  • a throw over my legs and feet
  • ironing cotton napkins
  • good reading light
  • notebooks, books, pens, paper
  • book stores with comfortable chairs
  • anticipating the weekend
  • red wine with pasta and pizza
  • shopping with my daughter
  • finding sea glass
  • bouquets in short tumblers
  • finding the perfect book for a friend
  • exchanging books with a friend
  • foreign language television shows
  • poetry podcasts with Tracy K. Smith
  • listening to my friend’s voice as I walk
  • the way melaleuca tree trunks bend with the wind
  • the unfurling of leaves of an indoor plant
  • finding buds on the fruit tree in the front yard
  • my dad’s bird bath in the back yard
day 30 slice of life daily challenge, 2021
read more slices here.

the road between

“Let’s do something,” my daughter said.

“What do you want to do?” I replied.

“I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

“How about a Beach Bowl?”

The drive to get a Beach Bowl is one of my favorites. I’ll take this road even though it takes longer. I’ll shop in stores along this road, even if they might not have the best choice. Along this road, I pass my childhood home, my old high school, the Little League field my brother played at, the homes of my friends, roads I ran. I ended up raising my family about ten miles from my childhood home. The road is a repository.

The road between my house
and my childhood home
play in the back yard
birthdays and holidays.

It holds
damp mornings
sleepy sweatshirt bundled children
smeared in sunscreen.

Windy afternoons
sand covered, salty, and starving
bodies bounce along
the road between my house and
my childhood home.

It holds
family outings
shopping trips
dropping off and
picking up
doctor’s appointments.

that mix and fold
as I travel on the road
between my house
and my childhood home.

day 29 slice of life daily challenge
read more slices here

things to hold on to

My Saturday felt busy and full.

What was it?

I went out to Lowes. That’s it!

A trip to a home improvement store made the day feel busy.

I have some serious adjusting to do. I’m not used to going out much.

I remember the schedule I made this morning. The one that will get me to school, once we go back to buildings, on time. In addition to all the things that must be done to get to work before I can get to work (park, health check, conversations in the hall), I’m making time for a few things that have made my life better in this year of staying home.

In the before times, I went to the Y, ran on a treadmill and rarely made it to a yoga class. This past year of running outside has given me moonlight and sunrises; daily app led yoga has made it possible to keep running. These solitary spaces take more time, but will continue to begin my day.

In the before times, I walked to my car with a cup of coffee and a bagel in hand, bag of books on my shoulder. I’m sure I will have that bag of books, but I do not want to worry if I will burn my tongue or spill on myself as I take that first sip of coffee. My first cup of coffee needs to be consumed at home preferably with a newspaper.

There are other things I’d like to hold on to. Things there won’t be time for, but mostly the things I can’t take with me. My cat. My desk. My kitchen. The sunlight. Mostly my cat. These are the things I’ll miss as I make my way back into the world where people congregate.

Day 28, slice of life daily challenge.
Read more slices here.

books make a home

I walk into a lifeless room.

Desks in rows.
Rugs, couches, and pillows gone.
Bookshelves barren.

An alien planet.

Every aspect of it is contrary to the place I have considered a second home.

My hope is to resuscitate this space. And bring in a sense of comfort and warmth. There is nothing I can do about the desks or the lack of soft fabric to touch or congregate on.

I spin in circles wondering how this could go. How this should go.

Finally, do what I know. I start to pull out books.
Books returning from home.
Books stored in cupboards.

I stack books on desks, by category and interest.
And, I start to see my students. Who would want what.
I grab my phone ordering to fill the gaps.

The mess of it all begins to shift.
One desk fills and I move to fill another.
Stacks migrate from desk to shelf.

I walk the length of the shelves searching for spaces. Scanning the titles.

As shelves fill, I Imagine seeking the book for that child.

I stand back and look. Still a bit foreign. But the familiar fills the shelves, lights up the room with color and hope. Ready and waiting.
The books.

day 27 slice of life challenge 2021
read more slices here.

they don’t need me

All were in their breakout rooms. Each group of three had a task: to plan reading for Spring Break. Before I sent them off I explain/semi-demonstrated their goal.

“I have a book I’m reading right now.” I hold up Epic Zero #1. “There are thirty pages till I’m done. I’ll finish that today. So I need to pick up my next book.” I hold up Front Desk. “This is the book I’m gonna read for the next week. Now you all need to do this same kind of thinking.”

Hands go up.

F: But Mrs Harmatz, I’m on page 75 of my book.

So we do some figuring out with F and the whole group. I start, “If you read thirty pages a day, then… “

Through our calculations, F gets to the end of the book by Sunday. “Perfect!” I say. “Start your new book on Monday!”

I realize I’m asking students to do something they haven’t had to do. They plan their reading every day in class. Never over a long period. This is always tricky. Ah well. It will be a first experience.

I set my expectations low and give them time to figure things out in breakout rooms.

In less than a minute a message flashes on the screen: C- needs help in room 4.

Here we go.

I pop into room 4. (As an aside, I’m I the only one who feels magical materializing in “rooms” ?)

C – “Mrs. Harmatz, we have a problem. We are trying to figure out a way to meet during the week, but we have trouble setting up the zoom.”

The group goes on to explain how their technology, some school borrowed, has limits.

I am thrilled that they want to meet. I didn’t expect it. After listening to all of their technology woes, I offer to host their zoom.

They confer. Developing multiple plans. All independent of me. In the end they have plans A and B. I am plan C. Plan B involves a parent. They inform me that they will get back to me.

I leave to see H in room 8 who is requesting help.

H – “Mrs. Harmatz let me show you our plan. We used the big seven strategy.”

He shares the google jamboard he created on the screen. “We took the total number of pages and divided them by the number of days so we know how much to read a day.”

I don’t know what to be most proud of. The independence with technology, the understanding of the task at hand, or the ability to utilize a recently learned math strategy to figure out a real life problem. And, I don’t know whose prouder, H or me.

I go on on touch base with all of the groups. Some are negotiating book selections. Some are figuring out how their vacation plans will fit in to which others respond, take the book with you.

We return to the main room.

C informs me that plan B worked. They don’t need me.

Talk in the main room continues, through the chat box and outloud.

I hear, “Do we have a padlet to post our Animal Crossing zooms?”

I say, “Just post your meet ups on the reading padlet.”

Giggles. “We’re gonna have all our conversations on the reading padlet.”

Who knew planning to read a book over Spring Break would be so engaging and informative.

day 26 slice of life daily challenge 2021.
Read more slices here.

unmuted bumps

I remember back in the beginning of distance learning, the idea of muting someone felt wrong.

We don’t mute people.

But it had to be done because we couldn’t make sense of who was talking.

We learned how to find space for our voices without raising hands. Tricky with the lag, but students figured it out. They learned to pass the conversation on to someone else without me orchestrating it.

In the virtual space, when we write, read, or think, muting become an expectation.

Students policed each other. “X- you’re un muted” is the phrase used to keep the work space quiet.

And it is deafeningly quiet.

Today, students were taking a mandated math assessment. Occasionally someone would ask a question and then forget to mute.

We’d hear…

“Ten times four plus twelve”

“A, you’re unmuted.”

“Ugh, I can’t believe I did…”

“Oh, I get it!”

“H, you’re unmuted.”

“This is easy.”

Each voice would realize or be informed of their unmuted status and mute themselves.

We all process in different ways. Thinking out loud is necessary sometimes.

One of my students has a beautiful voice and she loves to hum as she works. And I’m sure others have their habits. We just don’t them. Yet.

At some time to be determined in April, my school will be going to a hybrid model. The majority of my kiddos elected to stay on line, but for the eight returnees learning how to be with other humans outside their home will be the first order of business. There will be no mute buttons.

How will it feel when they are surrounded by others who have their own, sometimes noisy, ways of sorting through problems?

Now that they have had their own audio space, I wonder if sensitivities will be greater.

When we return, there will be bumps. And muting will not be an option. We don’t mute people.

Perhaps, the experience of being in a space without the intrusion of others will help kiddos see the need for tolerance and self control. It’s a tall order for any one. Learning how to live with others respectfully is one of the most important things to teach and learn. For now, I’m imagining the unmuted bumps.

Day 25 slice of life daily challenge 2021.

stored treasures

My adult children love looking at old pictures of themselves.Trouble is the albums they’re housed in are so old, the pictures are in danger of being destroyed or lost.

As my daughter flipped through them this Christmas, I mentioned my plans to redo them. This was enough to get her to offer to reconstruct the books. A perfect task for someone who takes huge pleasure in labeling and organization.

The project began by upgrading the drug-store purchased three-ring binder albums, to leather bound ones. Pricy, but hey it’s the family history. Over the last few days, pictures are being transplanted to the new beautiful books. Half of the collection now in six volumes. Five hundred, or so, pictures to go.

Trouble is there is a growing stack of photos that are found after a certain time period has been completed. Inserting them now would cause a disturbing detour in the chronology.

“I’m sure you have a duplicate of these in there somewhere,” she said handing me a stack of the now homeless pictures. “Or something like them. Why don’t you throw them out?”

I glance at the photos and set them on my desk.

Hours later, I return. The pictures of my oldest stare up at me.

i consider each one.

In his stroller, hat on his head ready for a great adventure with his grandma. A memory of their close relationship.

In his new bunk bed, covered by a blanket that will became threadbare, he’s ready for bed. It is his alone. Bins of picture books are at the foot. At that moment, we didn’t know it would be shared with his younger brother once his sister is born.

In rain boots and shorts, a firefighter’s plastic helmet and my father’s gardening gloves, he waves at the camera. A stegosaurus at his side.

I can’t let these go.

I consider putting them in my desk. Then, I notice my notebook, perhaps put them at the next clean page.

I think again and place each picture at a random spot in the journal. A treasure to find again when I’m in the mood for reflection.

day 24 slice of life challenge, 2021.
Read more slices here.

being with myself

“Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself.
An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were
before the world got its hands on you.”
– Emily Mc Dowell

A lot of people have been reflecting on a year ago. When everything changed. I’ve been doing the same.

Tonight, I looked back on what I was writing a year ago. I rarely revisit my journals or blog posts. Maybe because I’m afraid it will make no sense. Maybe because I’ll realize I keep going over the same things. Mostly because I’m afraid of what I might find. For all of those reasons I decided to look back.

In my journal, 2/11/20

If you move fast enough you can run from your issues. Trouble is, the older you get the slower you are. You can’t keep moving on because the places to move are fewer. You don’t have access. Or maybe the places you go are less obvious.

Life was about getting things done so I could get to the next thing. Life changed in March 2020 and the next thing wasn’t there.

Being home made me stay put with myself. Because there was no place to go, I did some serious nesting. Looking for what pleased me most. Discovering the joy in small items and practices. Things I had set aside for a time when I had time, started to resurface and require my attention.

Being home made me face a lot of what I was setting aside. Things I would deal with later, became what I did. My parents things I had put in boxes, became things I pass daily and notice the sun shinning on. Dishes I use. Things that were hard to see morphed into things that comfort.

Being at home made me discover home and more of myself. Things I had put into piles and had made things accessible to use, but not cherish.

I’m still hurrying to finish something in order to get to the next thing. I still look away from things I should consider. But being at home the last year has made me stay right where I am, a bit longer with myself.

day 23 slice of life challenge, 2021
read more slices here.

I’m a member of the herd

I got there two minutes after they opened. The line was long. No doubt all had figured out that the appointment time didn’t matter. It was the date.

A large electronic sign messaged “2ND VACCINE ONLY!” We all were here three weeks ago getting our first shot.

Our lives have become so interconnected over the last year in ways no one imagined. It continues to stun me how much we have in common.

I park and then walk past the table with volunteer interpreters. The signs read Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, American Sign Language, Vietnamese, Korean. I live in a city with so many, from so many places. And all of us were here. Ready to participate in climbing out of our last year shared in lockdown and fear.

I stand in the first line. Checked in. Vaccine card updated for the second dose.

I stand in the next line and wait to be inoculated.

The army medic sits me down. We chat a bit. She’s from Colorado. Been in Los Angeles for a month. Enjoying the weather. Done.

I walk up ready for the next set of instructions. The woman at this station points to one work on her legal notepad. “Congratulations!”

I feel a strange mix of gratitude and pride.


The next morning, I wake slightly achy, nothing coffee and Tylenol can’t remedy, and open up my Sunday email where I find the always brilliant Brain Pickings from Maria Popova. In it, she discusses Eula Biss’s book On Immunity The quote Popova shares made understand my emotions the day before.

If we imagine the action of a vaccine not just in terms of how it affects a single body, but also in terms of how it affects the collective body of a community, it is fair to think of vaccination as a kind of banking of immunity. Contributions to this bank are donations to those who cannot or will not be protected by their own immunity. This is the principle of herd immunity, and it is through herd immunity that mass vaccination becomes far more effective than individual vaccination.

I am grateful and proud to become a member of the growing herd.

day 22 Slice of Life Challenge, 2021.
Read more slices here.