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Gardening: Good for the Soul

A hidden treasure found inside my hanging fern... I am watering it carefully these days!

A hidden treasure found inside my hanging fern… I am watering it carefully these days!

By Karen Hendricks

As I’m writing this, a gentle spring rain is falling… music to my ears, because it means my garden is being watered. How many of our Off the Merry-Go-Round readers also maintain gardens? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s compare notes and exchange tips…

Every spring, I love rediscovering one of my favorite hobbies all over again–gardening. Through the long winter months, I enjoy dreaming about and planning my next gardening adventure, but it doesn’t turn into reality until I pull on the gardening gloves and actually start digging in the earth. What is it about gardening that draws me back year after year? There are many wonderful reasons, but one underlying and main reason: it feels good for the soul. There is something that resonates within me, deep down. And it’s certainly time spent “off the merry-go-round” of busy, hectic days.

I’ve compiled a free-form list of words, triggered by brainstorming about gardening and why it’s so good for the soul:

  • nature
  • peaceful
  • God’s creation
  • therapeutic
  • exercise
  • weeding
  • planting
  • nurturing
  • rewarding
  • earthy
  • healthy
  • beauty
  • green
  • growth
  • discoveries
  • wonder
  • sunshine
  • outdoors

Come with me and take a tour of some of my gardens, through photos, below… I hope it inspires you and touches something within your soul too.

Nothing says "spring" like a pot of pansies by your front door. This is one of my favorite spots to catch a cup of coffee or tea.

Nothing says “spring” like a pot of pansies by your front door. This is one of my favorite spots to catch a cup of coffee or tea.

 

"Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that's for thoughts." - Shakespeare

“Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” – Shakespeare

 

The vegetable garden... a (mostly) blank canvas, waiting for this year's crops.

The vegetable garden… a (mostly) blank canvas, waiting for this year’s crops.

 

My husband built me this little "greenhouse" from our home's old windows. The top window is hinged so that it can be opened. It's the perfect place to grow spring lettuce!

My husband built me this little “greenhouse” from our home’s old windows. The top window is hinged so that it can be opened. It’s the perfect place to grow spring lettuce!

 

Nothing tastes as fresh as lettuce straight from the garden... Can't wait for it to grow some more!

Nothing tastes as fresh as lettuce straight from the garden… Can’t wait for it to grow some more!

 

Spring onions!

Spring onions!

 

Parsley in a pot, beginning to grow from seed. I can't live without fresh parsley for summertime dishes, and growing it in an pot makes it versatile because I can move it right to my kitchen doorstep.

Parsley in a pot, beginning to grow from seed. I can’t live without fresh parsley for summertime dishes, and growing it in an pot makes it versatile because I can move it right to my kitchen doorstep.

 

This little bed features white tulips and a thick bunch of mountain bluets... a very unique flower that's one of my favorites.

This little bed features white tulips and a thick bunch of mountain bluets… a very unique flower that’s one of my favorites.

 

A closer look at the mountain bluets... they remind me of bright blue firecrackers.

A closer look at the mountain bluets… they remind me of bright blue firecrackers.

 

Several of our bloggers have recently written about family ties. These irises are very special to me, as they are the same ones that grew in my great-grandmother's garden. A wonderful reminder of her!

Several of our bloggers have recently written about family ties. These irises are very special to me, as they are the same ones that grew in my great-grandmother’s garden. A wonderful reminder of her!

Since Iris is the Greek goddess for the Messenger of Love, her sacred flower is considered the symbol of communication and messages.  Greek men would often plant an iris on the graves of their beloved women as a tribute to the goddess Iris, whose duty it was to take the souls of women to the Elysian fields.”   -Hana No Monogatari, in The Stories of Flowers

What does gardening mean to you? Do you enjoy tending a vegetable garden or flower beds? Any gardening “secrets” you’d like to share? Thanks so much for stopping by for a tour… and perhaps I’ll share photos of my garden again, later in the season! 

See You at the Clothesline

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cjansuebsri / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

Happy Earth Day!

Recycling, renovating, refurbishing, converting… all of these words remind me of DIY projects that help us find new uses for old items. Whether the idea is to save money, to be more conscious of the environment, or to be creative, I love hearing earth-friendly tips from other families.

So today in the spirit of Earth Day, I’m going to share one of my favorite earth-friendly, but very old-fashioned, DIY ideas: hanging laundry out to dry on a clothesline.

This might not sound all that exciting or revolutionary to you… but stay with me. I promise, there are many perks! I encourage you to rediscover this old technique… because it will renew your spirit.

Everything old is new again

Somewhere ingrained in me, is the old-fashioned poem about household chores that my great-grandmother used to follow:

Monday, Wash Day
Tuesday, Ironing Day
Wednesday, Sewing Day
Thursday, Market Day
Friday, Cleaning Day
Saturday, Baking Day
Sunday, Day of Rest

If your family is like mine, weekends are full of activities including sports, which means that Mondays are great candidates for laundry days. I do not like having stinky sports uniforms hanging out in the laundry room for very long. At some point over the weekend, I normally remind my kids to collect all of their laundry from the hidden recesses of their room, bring it to the laundry room and sort it out. (This also helps with the never-ending chore, “cleaning their room.”) I can’t say that I follow this old-fashioned poem’s advice on the remaining days of the week, although Fridays are definitely cleaning days at our house as well.

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Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday: A clean slate

Ok, so Monday morning rolls around and I honestly look forward to beginning my week with a “clean slate” and doing at least one, sometimes three or four, loads of laundry. Currently, I work from home, so it’s easy for me to incorporate this into my routine. But even when I worked full-time, outside the home, I looked forward to this Monday morning ritual and did a load of laundry before heading out the door.

If you don’t already have a clothesline, it’s a fairly simple DIY project to install one. I love the idea that a light breeze and sunshine can work magic on a load of laundry. It’s recycling at its best!

Benefits of “hang time”

So what are the benefits to hanging laundry outdoors?

  • Starting the day outside in the early morning sunshine
  • Time spent thinking about the day and week ahead
  • A peaceful start to the day
  • Light exercise
  • Saving money by not running the dryer
  • Freshly scented sheets and laundry
  • Time in the afternoon spent taking the laundry down is also a perfect time to “recharge” outdoors
  • Morning or afternoon–I often have a cup of coffee nearby!

A few additional tips:

  • I never hang towels outside—even if I use fabric softener, they get too stiff if hung outside.The dryer leaves them soft and fluffy and that’s the way we like them. Don’t mess with a good thing. The same goes for socks in my opinion. Besides, I don’t have the patience to hang the gazillion socks that go through our laundry every week. LOL
  • If the temperature isn’t forecasted to go above 60 degrees, then it’s too chilly, in my book, to either enjoy the time outdoors or to adequately dry the laundry.
  • How does the saying go? Don’t air your personal laundry in public? My family appreciates the fact that I do not hang any personal items on the washline. 🙂

It sounds simple, I know, but my Monday mornings at the clothesline have become a cherished routine. Now that spring is here, this is one chore that I’m ready to plug back into my schedule!

How about you? What are some of your favorite earth-friendly tips? Time or money-saving tricks? Ways to renew your spirit?

Monday morning in New York City, circa 1900, public domain. How incredible is this photo?!

Monday morning in New York City, circa 1900, public domain. How incredible is this photo?!

 

Grafting Onto Your Family Tree

No matter how "rooted" your family tree is in blood ties --  there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

No matter how “rooted” your family tree is in blood ties — there is always room to grow lush, beautiful branches that sprout from true friendships! Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

*In collaboration with Chris Little

When I think about family trees, my mind naturally drifts to how different so many families look than they did in the generations of our parents and grandparents. The “faces” of families today are much more diverse – for reasons such as interracial marriage and building a family through adoption. Nowadays, a family is often comprised of different skin colors, ethnicities and cultures.

As I think about this concept further, I also consider what – or should I say who, really makes up a family tree. Is it biological members of a family – those with only true blood ties to the family line? Or, can a family unit be more than that? I wonder too … if family is also supposed to be about love for one other, and about taking care of one other, and about respecting one other – then what if that is not happening with certain so-called “family members.” Then, are they your family? And then further … are the special people in your life who “make up for” those sour relationships – who do love, care for and respect you, are they your family?

In other words, is a family bound by blood … or love?

I will be very bold and say that I do not consider every person in my blood-related family to be my family. There are a few members in my family who do not exhibit the traits I consider to be worthy of family; and therefore I avoid them as much as I can, and certainly do not let them know much about my life nor infringe upon it. Yes, I feel they are that toxic.

Aside from this, our son is adopted. If I thought that family was only about blood ties, I could not possibly have become his mother. In my opinion, a family is less about blood ties and more about a culture. The term culture encompasses ethnicity, racial identity, family structure, economic level, language, and religious and political beliefs – all of which profoundly influence a person’s development and relationship to the world, from birth and childhood on. And, therefore, also how they integrate into a family and take part in that family unit. So in my mind – and in my world, family is built by choice. The “family tree,” therefore, is not so much about where the trunk of the tree first took seed, or how the roots took hold in the ground – rather about the many thick branches and lush leaves that grew from that initial form.

It is so very difficult for me to understand how others cannot see beyond how a child comes into a family and simply acknowledge that it is a true blessing that the child is there. Perhaps, though, that is because I have experienced the love of those family members in my life with whom I share not one ounce of blood. When I look back on my childhood, I see clearly how in many ways those special people were more of a family to me in the true meaning and experience of the word than many of my “blood” relatives. Just as some people remark that they “don’t see race” (I laugh heartily when Stephen Colbert humorously states this on his television show) as a factor in how they interact with people from ethnicities other than their own, I don’t see how inherited physical and personality traits such as daddy’s eye color, mommy’s nose, and grandpa’s sense of humor are at all relevant in how a family lives and loves together.

The credit for my point of view on this subject really must go to my amazing mother. Unknowingly, she is the one who taught me about the beauty of building a family through adoption. My mother was an “only child” and since she grew up without siblings, she built her family through friends with whom she became close over the years. Therefore, my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side of the family were introduced into my life from those friendship bonds. And guess what? I was none the wiser. There was no talk of how “Aunt So-and-So isn’t my ‘real’ aunt,” nor lengthy explanations and justifications as to why “Mr. and Mrs. X” became my grandparents. I did not find this at all unusual – it just was.

My mother's dear friend who became my aunt holds my son when he was a baby.

My mother’s dear friend, who became my aunt, holds my son when he was a baby.

As an example, there were two wonderful married couples who were very good friends of both my parents, and who then became my aunts and uncles – Don and Louise, who were my godparents and have both since passed away; and Bob and Nancy, who continue to be such a delightful presence in my family’s life.

Two sets of other “relatives” in particular influenced my life in some very profound ways. I can tell you that I have definitely “inherited” my Aunt Mary Alice’s flair for entertaining masses of people in my home without breaking a sweat. Her grace and class, and the way her home made an open, welcoming haven for traveling family and friends no matter what else she had going on in her life, astounds me even to this day. She also imparted to me the importance of moisturizing one’s entire body with lotion daily – clearly a beauty regiment necessity!

I remember my mother once remarked to me about Mary Alice saying, “She saved my life,” as her eyes welled up with tears. You see, Mary and her husband, Bob, had become more than just my mother’s dear friends – they became her family when she had none. It is amazing to me how anyone upon hearing this story could continue to think that a blood tie alone to another person makes them family in the true meaning of the word!

A couple of years toward the end of my Aunt Mary’s life, I had the pleasure of flying to Colorado from time to time where my aunt and uncle lived. My dear Aunt Mary had been very ill for some time, and along with her physical ailments, had begun to show early signs of dementia. Although my Uncle Bob had weekly help in his home and was able to take breaks from caring for my aunt round the clock, I wanted to be present during this difficult time for them both whenever I could. I wanted to help too. I wanted to give something back – no matter how small, to the people who are forever bound to me through love. To my family.

As I stayed present with my Aunt Mary while Uncle Bob played cards with his friends and went to the movies; as I helped to feed and dress her; as I looked into her eyes and smiled; I was overcome with emotion. These people had become my true family and I was so much closer to them than many of those who share inherited traits with me. When my aunt passed away, my heart broke in places I didn’t know it could – I had lost a big piece of it.

I had a similar experience growing up with my grandmother and grandfather. Both of my parents’ fathers had died before I was born, and my paternal grandmother passed away after having seen me only once when I was just an infant. My maternal grandmother battled cancer throughout my childhood and passed away when I was in the ninth grade. So the grandparents I refer to were not the biological parents of either my mom or my dad – they were actually our neighbors.

When my mother returned to work after raising us, she turned to a retired woman in the neighborhood who babysat regularly for help with our afterschool care. To our family however, Edna and her husband, Septimus, became so much more – they became our grandmom and grandpop. I cannot put into words what a special part of my life they became, sharing everything from school days to birthdays. Septimus passed away when I was a freshman in college and when my beloved grandmother passed away in 2001, I felt as though a piece of my life had died too. I assure you that in all the years I was blessed to have her in my life, her homemade cookies, cakes and pies tasted no less delicious; and her presence in my life was no less special, because we were not related by blood.

My "family tree" continues ... my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

My “family tree” branches out … my dear friend Alice has now become an aunt to my son!

Now the same need for family must be fulfilled for my son. He too is an only child, and my husband and I are not close with all of our immediate family members. So we are forming a family for him – growing and adding branches to our tree trunk. We have looked outside of our family members for those special relationships of aunts, uncles, and cousins. My best friends and their families have been very present in my son’s life. In fact, my son calls them aunts, uncles and cousins; and just as I did growing up, doesn’t seem to think anything of it. For they are the ones who make the effort to stay in touch across the miles, to send my son special gifts, to visit or host us when we visit them. They are the ones who support us in raising him, uplift us when we experience life’s challenges, and celebrate when we share our joys. They are our family and we treasure them!

The expression, “Blood is thicker than water,” is a misrepresentation of family life. It simply is not true. Although it is sad to say, when you go through a really difficult time in your life, you may well find that those still standing by your side at the end may not be your blood relatives!

In my blog, “Blood is Thicker Than Water and Other Misrepresentations of Family Life,” I share a story which illustrates further my thoughts about true family

My husband and I had been following the Camelot television series and during one episode, Arthur spoke to a man who was afraid of losing his daughter if she ever discovered that he was not her biological father. When Arthur spoke, my husband and I just looked at each other and smiled – finally, a script writer who truly “gets” adoption, who truly understands that families can be built by choice as well. To the man, Arthur said, “It’s not blood that ties you together; it’s the memories you share. Everything you taught her, everything you gave up for her – it’s your love, that’s what flows through her.”

Enough said!

Do you have a special person who has become family even though they are not related by blood? Are there people in your life you consider family members just as much as your biological relatives – and whom you would add to your family tree? Our OTMGR community would be interested to hear your story about those treasured relationships!

Addicted to Technology?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Karen Hendricks

We use the word “addicted” in association with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee (caffeine) and—sometimes in a teasing way—decadent foods like chocolate. But do you think it’s possible to become addicted to technology?

More and more research is pointing in that direction, saying that we are impulsively checking our phones and other devices as soon as emails “ping” into our inboxes or texts light up our screens. What do you think? Are there times when you feel addicted? Do you ever feel as though your children or spouse are “too connected?” Do you have rules or boundaries set for phone usage in your house?

I brought up this topic over the dinner table a few nights ago. Yes, we try to have dinner together as a family every night… it’s not always possible with sports schedules and other activities, but the majority of the time, we are successful! I think it’s one of the keys to family communication and connectedness. It’s also a sacred time, meaning that devices are not allowed at the dinner table. Rarely, there are exceptions, such as when my husband gets an emergency call from his phone service… or when we’re expecting a call from our college age daughter… but face-to-face dinner conversation is more important.

So, over dinner, we talked about Sundays and how they are probably the day when we use phones and devices (iPods, Kindles, etc.) the least. Sundays have a family feel to them, with our day typically beginning at church, progressing into our Sunday noontime tradition—brunch—usually with pancakes or waffles, and always bacon. Always. Afternoons are spent getting together with friends, watching sports together on TV, catching up on homework, doing fun projects around the house, taking walks or bike rides around our neighborhood, cooking Sunday dinners or baking special treats. It’s a day to recharge our batteries, but unplug from devices.

We don’t have a strict rule about phone or device use on Sundays, but we talked about how it’s just kind of evolved that way. And for that I am grateful. I cherish Sundays for their enriching family moments and want to preserve and protect these special days. Being unplugged allows us to unwind and reconnect with each other in some of the most binding ways: talking, sharing, laughing, touching, hugging and… loving each other.

Tell me what you think… I’d love to hear about your strategies and tips for keeping phone/device use in check. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Bad apples and sad stories: When your family research uncovers dark secrets, tragic tales, or shady characters

Bad apples

By Chris Little

When I began researching my great-grandmother’s life, I kept running into a wall when it came to her father. She scarcely mentioned him in her journals, and the newspaper column announcing her wedding in 1908 noted that he was too ill to attend the ceremony. And then in 1909, when his wife and unmarried daughters moved from the Boston suburbs to live near his son in Seattle, he did not join them. For a long time I thought he had died that year, but I recently uncovered records indicating that he had been committed to a state mental hospital in 1909, and that he had lived there until his death in 1919. There is much I still don’t know about that situation, but I’ve applied to receive his medical records and they should be arriving shortly—I look forward to learning more about those last ten years of his life …. sort of. It’s bound to be a sad story, one I’ll have to read between the lines of an attending physician’s report.

Mine is a rather tame example, but it raises the question: We may love to think of our ancestors as paragons of fortitude, resilience, and unimpeachable character, but what do we do when our family research uncovers a tragic story, or a deep family secret, even an criminal character?

Most of the time it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s too bad that my great-great-grandfather died in a mental institution, it really is, but to be honest his tale feels pretty remote to me—I don’t expect the story I piece together from his medical records to knock me off balance too much. I think it’ll be kind of interesting, actually.

But sometimes these old stories can unexpectedly uncover darker stories—tales of shady characters who may lurk in our family tree. These stories can be a bit unsettling. “Experts say reactions can range from detached bemusement to identity confusion and soul-searching as the researcher tries to understand—and rethink—his or her lineage,” writes Sue Shellenbarger in the Wall Street Journal. Our ability to accept the bad apples in our family tree depends in part on how bad they were—and how far from us they hang among the branches. It’s important to maintain some perspective—they are not us, after all, and their deeds are not ours.

Still, in some cases our history can shed light on our present, and knowing even the darkest sides of our family histories can be healing. “Becoming aware of patterns of alcoholism, divorce, abuse or other misbehavior can make it easier for people living today to understand and change them,” writes Shellenbarger.

While sometimes we may stumble across these uncomfortable family stories without intentionally seeking them out, some researchers go looking for the black sheep in their family, their curiosity piqued, say, by a raised eyebrow or a loaded silence at last summer’s family reunion. Maybe you’ve picked up on some reticence on the part of your older relatives when someone mentions your wild distant uncle, for example, or maybe it’s always hush-hush when the topic of your great-grandfather comes up. In my own case, the marked lack of information about my great-great-grandfather, especially in a family so dedicated to preserving its history, is what initially made me suspect that something had happened to him that the others didn’t want to discuss. Suffice it to say that most families harbor some kind of secret, and sometimes those secrets beckon intriguingly to the intrepid researcher.

But be prepared: “Before you go digging for the truth, know what you’re getting into,” writes Lisa A. Alzo in Family Tree Magazine. “We’re tempted to look at our family histories through rose-colored glasses, but that’s not realistic.” Alzo provides helpful strategies for fleshing out your research, but she includes a proviso from Ohio genealogist Chris Staats: “As genealogists, we are most interested in the truth. Sometimes the truth is not what we would like it to be and sometimes it makes us uncomfortable.”

What’s more, learning the truth behind an uncomfortable family secret brings with it a moral—and in some cases, legal—responsibility toward those involved and their descendants, especially if you intend to share your story publicly. You’ll want to think through the consequences of sharing your knowledge, whether with your family or the public at large, and resolve that if you choose to go public with the skeletons in your family closet, you do so with sensitivity and respect.

So, once you’re ready, here are a couple interesting resources for tracking down those ne’er-do-wells in your family tree:

Kimberly Powell describes tactics for searching prison inmate databases in this About.com article. She writes here about tracking down infamous ancestors.

And in addition to her article quoted above, genealogist Lisa Alzo provides suggestions for tracking down your ancestors through the tragedies in their lives in this article for Archives.com.

Image: Some rights reserved by Public Domain Photos.

Poetry Part 2: So What’s Behind All Those Stanzas Anyway?

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Old Letters & Quill: Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Attention all you future William Wordsworth’s and Robert Frost’s … Emily Dickinson’s and Sylvia Plath’s … Shel Silverstein’s and Amy Lowell’s – I know you’re out there! And whether or not you agree that you have it “in you” to be a great poet, let’s take a look at what comprises poetry and what draws us to it. Time spent exploring poetry is certainly enriching time spent “off the merry-go-round!”

In “Poetry Part I: What Is Poetry – Exactly?” we explored the “definition” of poetry, as well as what constitutes a poem. When you hear the word poetry, what goes through your mind? You might have a fixed idea in your head about what that means. But did you know that there is a whole world of different types of poetry out there just waiting to be explored – by you!

Here in Part 2, we will look at what draws us to certain kinds of poetry – why one poem might “speak to us” over another, as well as why someone might want to use poetry as a form of expression. We will then explore the more popular and familiar forms of poetry, and discover the first step toward composing a basic poem.

One of my favorite, albeit quirky, poets is E.E. Cummings. I think my enjoyment of his poetry stems from the memory of when he was introduced to me. The summer after I graduated from high school I had to have all four of my wisdom teeth removed – at once. Needless to say, later in the day following the surgery I didn’t feel that well. So my mother came to my bedside and read to me. She read Cummings’ poem, “in Just.” I took to it immediately and have read it many times since then. I explored and read other poems by Cummings. One I also enjoy is, “I Carry Your Heart with Me,” and it reminds me of what perhaps my mother thinks when she remembers my father who recently passed away.

I know why I like this poet and these two poems in particular. However, it is not as easy for me to express why I like Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are two of my favorites by this poet, yet exactly what makes them so and why they are the two poems I think of when I think of Robert Frost I don’t know. I think perhaps it is his use of language – and this just illustrates that sometimes the answers to these questions about poetry are unclear. Rather, the reason may be simply “because.”

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you.  (Snowy Forest - image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When you begin to read poetry, you will inevitably be drawn to certain styles of poetry, and authors whose work just “speaks to” you. (Snowy Forest – image courtesy of dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Many of you may have a favorite poet as well – an author whose prose simply “speaks to” you, though you may not even know exactly why. The why it does, however, is not as important as that you have found a poet and a style of poetry that you enjoy, as well as one that you can relate to as you read his or her work.

There are so many types of poetry that exist (and are still being created!) that it is nearly impossible to summarize and categorize them all, and some can be quite complex. However, there are more well-known, popular, and familiar forms you can learn to compose.

Categories of Poems

I.  Formal or Traditional

Some fixed forms such as sonnets (of which Shakespeare composed many) or limericks (remember Edward Lear?) have very specific line counts, rhythmic patterns and rhyme schemes. Other forms are classified by their use of different kinds of “constraints” – such as repeating end words, or words that repeat later in the poem.

II.  Free Verse

Free verse poems are very common today; and are less complex and easier to compose. They don’t have specific fixed rules in terms of line count, and rhythmic patterns or rhyme. In fact, most free verse poems actually don’t rhyme. Although some free verse poetry does incorporate a few traditional elements (e.g. alliteration), and can use rhythmic patterns and rhyme, there is no specific rule it must rely on to do so. Free verse poetry also relies on line breaks, which can be broken in different places to emphasize different words in the poem and create different meanings. The best part? The format of free verse poetry is determined by the author!

III.  Prose

Prose poetry combines elements of prose and poetry into one “hybrid form.” It doesn’t use line breaks, however does use a lot of the same techniques as free verse: alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, and poetic imagery.

IV.  Experimental

Some types of poetry step in an entirely different direction and therefore are classified as experimental poetry. An example is “Oulipo” which uses different types of formulas and constraints to create new poems. For example, the author of this type of poem might take a poem that already exists, and replace each noun with a different noun from the dictionary. Pretty wild!

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The best way to get started writing poetry is to read poetry. Of course, you may find a few forms of poetry more enjoyable to read than others, yet the important thing is just that you are reading. This allows you to immerse yourself in the language and form used, and perhaps soon find that words in a certain form begin flowing naturally for you as you begin to compose.

As a lover of poetry, and a writer of poetry, I often look online for poetry websites. I recently came across a wonderful site that I think you will really enjoy checking out! Family Friend Poems is a simple, yet popular site for contemporary poetry published on the Internet. There are thousands of poems organized by themes, and the site prides itself on being different from other poetry websites. Family Friend Poems publishes contemporary poems not already posted on the Internet, though only after they know they are well-liked by their audience. Posted poems are enhanced by the stories of many readers facing similar life events. Once a poem is published, the site uses feedback from ratings and sharing metrics to ensure that published poems are meeting the readers’ needs.

What I really like about this site is that the writers are “everyday” people – who just happen to enjoy creating and writing poetry. Poetry is such a wonderful way to express everything from a simple topic that amuses the author, to some of life’s most powerful experiences and the deep emotions that accompany them. I think of writing poetry almost like making a short journal entry.

When you visit a particular subject matter on the site, it takes you to an introductory page that explains the general topic, or theme, for each poem categorized there. For example, an excerpt from the section on “Nature Poems:”

Whether one is watching a thrilling thunderstorm or looking up at a mighty tree, the experience of nature is one of awe. One cannot help but marvel at the intricate design of a single leaf, or the roar of a great waterfall. Time spent in nature is time spent realizing that you don’t know it all and that you never will…

Preceding each poem, the author then offers a brief summary as to why they wrote the poem; as well as perhaps how they got into writing poetry. I came across what I thought is a beautiful poem about nature called “May’s Spring Days” (© Hemakumar Nanayakkara). Here is the first stanza:

Over the distant mountains morning breeze blows
Humming through robust beech birch and oak trees
Evergreen pines whistle to the tune of nippy breeze
Group of songbirds sing delightful springtime Songs

Willow Catkin - Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Willow Catkin – Photo Credit: Licensed under Creative Commons by Aka

Reading the writing of others will enhance your own. Reading this poem in its entirety got me thinking about nature which I enjoy most in springtime and the warmer weather it brings. For me, it is a time of renewal. The more poems about nature I read from this site, the more the writing spirit inside me stirred.

Once you have immersed yourself in the writing of other poets (and not necessarily well-known ones), the more you too will find the words to express how you are feeling … about anything that is on your mind! Another way you can get started writing poetry is to immerse yourself in experiences. Simply put – get out there! Even a quiet walk in a light, soft rain can spark a creative feeling; and what you see and feel around you can bring those descriptive words to mind.

Do you have what it takes to write a poem? We’ll find out in Part 3! In the final part of our poetry series, we will learn specific ways how to write poetry – even if you have never composed a poem before. Additionally, I will share a poem I wrote, as well as how I got the idea for my poem.

In the meantime… Share your favorite poems and/or poets with us. Feel free to offer any tips for writing poetry that you have found helpful – you may just read them in part 3!

Wrinkles in Time: When your life echoes the past — and why that’s really awesome

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By Chris Little

One of the most rewarding parts of researching and writing about my great-grandmother Ethel’s life is when my life seems to replay hers.  

A few months ago I spent an afternoon transcribing a stack of letters she had written to her youngest son. It was 1935, and Ethel and her husband were digging out of the Great Depression. They had moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Memphis, Tennessee, so that he could rebuild his landscape architecture practice in an area with a longer growing season. Things were looking up for Ethel, after the long years of uncertainty and real poverty, and she was immensely proud of her son, who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was working to gain admission to the U.S. Naval Academy.

I spent an autumn afternoon reading through her letters—which were mostly responses to his letters describing life at sea. She had sprinkled her replies with homey little details about her shopping trips to town and the progress of her flower garden. As I transcribed the letters, I wove them together with selections from her unpublished memoir, in which she described these same years of settling in to a new home in a new part of the country. In her memoir Ethel remembered warm days alone with her dog while her husband was off at work, and long walks down her driveway, past the cotton fields bordering her little house in the country to pick up the mail—and how each day she’d hope to receive a letter from her son.

All that reading and transcribing was fun, right? But eventually I needed a break, so I grabbed an apple and called the dog and took a walk down my long driveway to the mailbox—maybe there would be a letter from my son, who’s away at his first year of college.

Somewhere along the driveway it dawned on me that this is what Ethel did. Yeah I know, not a big deal, right? Lots of people walk down the driveway to pick up the mail. But somehow it meant something to me that my life was overlapping hers just a little—we were both missing our sons and hoping to hear from them at the end of a long walk on a warm afternoon—it was a kind of wrinkle in time.

It happened again this winter, as I was transcribing Ethel’s journals from her 1909 honeymoon trip to Europe. Last spring I was fortunate enough to go to Italy for a couple weeks to see the principal sights in Venice, Florence, and Rome, so it was really fun to read Ethel’s descriptions of being in those same cities—in many cases standing in the same churches I did, and before the same paintings. I was amused to find that she was as unimpressed by St. Peter’s Basilica as I was: “We did not seem a part of it, nor did it convey to me a sense of repose or reverence or sanctity, but only wonder at the prodigious achievement,” she wrote, while I had similarly, albeit much less poetically, compared St. Peter’s in my own journal to “a glorified train station.” That said, we were both utterly bowled over by the Pantheon. Neither of us cared much for the tourist shops in Venice but could have lived in Florence for a good long time.

I don’t know whether this is trite coincidence or something important. But what I think is that spending time learning about Ethel’s life—where she went and what she did and what she thought about it—lends a depth of meaning to my own life, especially when I go to the same places and do and think the same things. It both compresses and lengthens time, telescoping her past into my present and, as I write a record of her life, extending both her life and mine generations into the future.

I don’t farm land that’s been in my family for generations, and I don’t live in the same house my ancestors lived and gave birth and died in, but I can see how being connected with your family in those ways can make you feel anchored in place and time, rooted in a story that doesn’t belong only to you but also, in one direction, to your ancestors, and in the other, to your children’s children. Since many of us are disconnected from the geographic roots of our family, researching our family history may be a great way to develop a sense of connection that can be meaningful, not to mention build resiliency and purpose. So let’s call that Reason No. 253 (give or take) why it’s a fabulous idea to research your family history.

Image: Some rights reserved by karlenj5.