Monday, May 19, 2014


Photo by: Megan Black
‘I have wonderful news!’ ... ‘This is wonderful news you want to hear,’...‘You are going to live a good and long life filled with great and terrible moments that you cannot even imagine yet!

Anybody who has read, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green probably recognized this quote. IMHO, The Fault in our Stars is an exquisite book everyone should read, when you are mature enough to understand and enjoy the meaning of words like exquisite, and hopefully, before you see the movie that is coming to theaters this June. Although I love movies, books are always better. You get to dive deeper. You get to live inside the characters. Reading calls out a different form of attention than watching. And, attention is my theme for today.

Although I will not ask you to “Pay Attention.” I never liked that phrase. Probably because of the word pay. I don’t like to pay for things. Not because I am cheap, at least I hope not, but because of the obligation behind it. I don’t know, maybe I don’t like be told what to do.

So instead I will ask you, as a favor, to please, give me the kindness of your attention. For truly, there is no greater act of generosity you can do than offer your full attention to someone.

As I said at the beginning, you are going to live a long life, with great and terrible moments…”What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The poet Mary Oliver, another great writer, asks this question in one of her poems. By the way, I quote a lot. I like quotes. Saves me the trouble of writing. Anyway, Mary asks us what do we plan to do with this one, wild and precious life we get and she answers her own question in another poem. She says, “Instructions for living a life: pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.”  Astonished is another of those ten dollar words I love. To me, it means to hold wonder and awe in equal measure.  

John Green  would agree with Mary Oliver’s instructions for living a life. In another passage from “The Fault in Our Stars.” He writes, “I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.” He tells us that the real heroes are the people who notice things.

The Buddhist philosophy is founded on mindfulness. The Dalai Lama describes mindfulness as kind, loving awareness or attention without judgement. It isn’t easy. Especially now when we have so many things to keep us distracted. Which is why we have to practice it. Practice mindfulness. Practice being attentive and letting go of judgement and our need to make something good or bad.

There are few absolutes in life, few things you can be certain about but I know this to be true in my heart, whatever you give your attention to will be transformed by it, will grow from it. And YOU will grow from it. If I asked you to become aware of your breathing...without asking you to change it,  just by bringing your awareness to the breath, it will deepen. The same can be said of how you sit, or how you listen, or look...once you give your attention to that moment you will see that you actually need to try harder NOT to make it better. This is the heart of meditation. Mary Oliver again says, “I do not know how to pray, I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to stroll through the fields.”

So whatever you want to do with your one wild and precious life, whatever that is, it will be richer if you give it, or practicing giving it, your full attention.

St. Thomas said, “The reward for patience... is more patience.” The same is true of attention. The more you practice attention, shifting your awareness, the more you are able to practice it. And how do you do that? Set the goal or intention each day that you will give attention to some area of your life. Something small. Something near you. Maybe you will give attention to how you breathe, or what makes you laugh, or the words you say, or perhaps you will do your best to look at the sky and feel the sun on your face.

Because life is full of both great and terrible moments, there will be many times in your life practicing attention will demand courage. But, I still believe, with all the love in my heart, that the mind is powerful and the focal point of our thoughts can be transformed. In the same way energy from the sun transforms life, or the pull of the moon affects the tides, consciousness radiates.

You will find the more you practice attention, the more you appreciate what is given you, now, in this moment. All that you need is here.  Truly, what better time to observe the universe’s elegance than right now, when the lilacs are in bloom, when the trees are blossoming? Notice our beautiful lake, how everyday, sometimes every hour, it changes.

The Great Sufi Poet Rumi wrote, “Let the beauty we love be what we do.
Photo by: Megan Black
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the earth.” The Gospel of St Thomas tells us Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is spread on the Earth but men do not see it. Be the hero or heroine of your own life. See the kingdom of heaven spread before you. Notice the beauty and elegance of the universe in the moments you are given, offer your attention to your “one wild and precious life.”

Every Monday morning we meet in our Chapel at Grosse Pointe Academy. Today I gave the talk. This is the transcript from it. I thought I would follow Mary Oliver's advice and "Tell about it." 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Poetic Apps

By Megan Black
April cannot come soon enough. This winter has tested the grit of everyone. April is my favorite "Mud-luscious" month. Not only because of life returning, and the buds, or the lingering daylight and warmer air. But for the poetry. 

There are several free apps to help you discover your inner Lucille Clifton. Many of which are offered by Read, Write, Think from the International Reading Association. Many of you are probably familiar with their wicked awesome website. They have taken their most widely used web applications and created mobile Apps

Haiku Poem

This is my personal favorite. The Zen-like design is appealing. They have broken down the process of writing a haiku and made it interactive. When you are finished, you have a peaceful, elegant product. 

Diamante Poems

Again, this takes the poet through an interactive, foolproof process to writing a Diamonte Poem. I had a student named Diamonte' once. He quite often confused this format with...

Acrostic Poems

This App will guide the poet through the steps of Acrostic formation. (That sounds almost Biblical.) The final product is plain and simple. Maybe they'll add some super cool fonts soon. 

Theme Poem 
The Theme Poems App is great for the wee ones. You can make a poem about a shoe, in a shoe. Or an existential fish, in a fish. 

by: Megan Black

Friday, February 28, 2014

Feisty Expectations for their 100's

Every single day I am both proud and humbled by the extraordinary educators at GPA and the incredible kids. This year's second grade is full of personality. Those spirits get to shine through the learning experiences designed by their teacher, Beth Ahee. On the 100th day of school, the kids created a two dimensional picture of themselves at 100 years of age and wrote the most optimistic views of what their life will be like. Some of hysterical. Some are touching. Please enjoy!

Here is a great video showing more of the awesome learning going on at Grosse Pointe Academy.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Choosing the Given

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by
Marko Kivelä:
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel's: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will." ~Annie Dillard

Another bitter, cold day hold up in my den. Time to recognize the gifts the world offers that we rarely notice because they are given with such nonchalance. Ice crystals on the windowpane. The merry whistle of the tea kettle. The warm body of a sweet companion.

It is true that we tend to undervalue that which is freely given. And yet, these "daily presentations"* are so often the very things that make life worth living; kindness, comfort, rest, everything in the natural world. As important as it is to pay attention to these serene miracles, it is equally as vital to tell others. 

You may find it odd that I choose to tell about a tool and the generosity of the company that provides it. However, I was so completely blown away by the folks at EduCanon and their support for the technology they offer educators, on the house, that I simply must. For those unfamiliar, EduCanon is a relatively new service that allows teachers to post video content on YouTube, TeacherTube, or Vimeo to their class with pop up questions embedded at intervals of their choosing. For each assigned video and questions, teachers get a response spreadsheet with information on student log ins, graded scores, and unanswered questions. Essentially, it allows educators to flip their classrooms while holding students accountable for viewing the instruction. Through EduCanon, students can rewind and rewatch the video as many times as is necessary, but they cannot fast forward through the process. This was the missing link my brave, innovative colleagues needed to make flipping their classrooms successful.  

I shared EduCanon a couple of months ago with my staff at Grosse Pointe Academy because many of them are using the vast wealth of educational videos out there for instruction, or creating their own videos for students to watch at home. Then, using person to person class time to coach learners as they apply the lesson. The greatest setback to this process was the students who did not complete their homework and actually watch the videos. Or those who grew impatient after thirty seconds and fast forwarded through the meat and potatoes of the teaching. You know of whom I speak.

My headmaster latched onto the enormous learning potential of EduCanon and charged me with making it so that every student in middle school could log in easily and have a consistent experience each time. I wrote to EduCanon asking for their assistance in this. And, they gave it. Kindly. Patiently. And Consistently. This was no small task, mind you. We had to match every student's schedule with every teacher and every class. Add to this confusion the fact that classes are titled one thing in our school database, known by another by each instructor, and listed under a third on student schedules. I give tremendous kudos and thanks to Susan, and especially to Benjamin Levy, at EduCanon for never failing to ask me questions and persist in accomplishing our goal. And so, dear readers, please do yourself a favor and also support them by exploring their wonderful tool and telling others.

*Mary Oliver talks of daily presentations in her wonderful poem "Mindful"

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Polar Vortex Dog Fishing

That's How Much 
Being forced to spend all day indoors with nothing but time on my hands is my idea of heaven. It is Coco, my high-energy, 7 month old puppy's idea of unadulterated torture. She had nightmares last night and awoke shaken and whimpering. Who knew dog's had nightmares? 

Not that Coco doesn't have a reason to have nightmares. She's been through hell and back. Which is why she sports a blue Kong collar and a t shirt in the photos. The Kong collar is a compassionate alternative to the collar of shame and keeps Coco from licking her wounds. She has been in one nearly half of her life thus far and still has a few weeks to go. 

Given the extra time and my inability to withstand endless games of tug 'o war or hide and seek, and given that I did not want to venture out to the store in forty below wind chill factors, necessity became the mother of invention. I found inspiration to work on the following diversions. In the spirit of the Maker's Movement I offer evidence and cite my sources. 

The Doggy Rattler 
This first creation is for smartypants dogs. I believe Coco Pup to be the Madam Curie of the canine world but right now she just rolls this jar of fun around and barks at it from frustration. All things in time. I bet Neil deGrasse Tyson had a few temper tantrums in his infancy too. The Doggy Rattler consists of a toilet paper roll inside an old peanut butter jar that I cut a hole in. I put duck tape over the hole to protect her from any sharp edges and in case she decides to bite through the plastic, which let's face it, will inevitably happen. The toilet paper roll makes treat distribution extra challenging. 

The Pooch Pole
Coco and the Rubber Chicken 

Next comes the impetus for the title of this blog, The Pooch Pole. Take a length of clothesline, run it through a section of PVC pipe, tie a rubber chicken to the end and viola, you can fish for Fido. I've spent a pleasant hour or two casting off from my sofa and Coco Loco got her wiggles out. 

Because the Doggy Rattler proved a bit too much for Coco Butt, I adapted one of her all time favorite toys, a tennis ball, into a treat ball. Simply cut along the seam, squeeze it, and put the treats inside. She has been able to get a couple of treats out but still hasn't put two and two together. Every goody is astonishing. She'll flip that ball and roll it for a good half hour before it gets lost under the couch. 

My last bit of experimenting has nothing to do with Minerva Poopsalot (Another of Coco's pseudonyms), but has everything to do with the Polar Vortex visiting Detroit. Our heater is close to 20 years old and on its last legs. Due to some hefty Vet bills, a new one is no where in the near future. It was recommended to keep the thermostat set lower, especially when it is extremely cold out, so as not to overburden it. I am an unabashed wuss bag when it comes to cold. I learned of the flower pot convection heater from a Facebook Posting and realized I only need to go to the garage to put it together. I did. It works! It is more noticeable in smaller rooms, but there is a difference even in our open living area. 

Light four tea lights and place them into a bread pan. Put a smaller terracotta pot on top. Place an empty tea light tin over the hole. Put a larger terracotta pot over the smaller one. You're done. 

Terracotta heater 

Here's my kindergarten understanding of how it works. 

Terracotta Heat Convection

Soapbox Alert: None of this would have happened if it weren't for snow days. Three glorious days in a row on the tail end of winter break. Making, creating, experimenting, and exploring possibilities require time. The time to be bored and the time to decide what to do with our time... as Gandalf would say. 

FlowerPot Heater

DIY Dog Toys

If you really want to get fancy with the Terracotta Heater, you can try Household Hackers method