Easy DIY Kids Activity in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Image source: thespruce.com

Last year, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, my preschool class created Cheerios Birdfeeders. The kids enjoyed stringing Cheerios on pipe cleaners, hanging them up outside of our classroom, and watching for birds, but guess what? The birds didn’t eat them! (Maybe we should have used Honeynut Cheerios?–lol)

Instead, this week with Kindness as our theme, we’re going to create a different DIY Kids Activity–Pine Cone Birdfeeders.

Texture, scent, math, and fine motor skills were explored with the pinecones I collected in the Fall. You know what’s fun? Making pinecone prints by covering them in paint and then rolling them on paper. You never know what patterns will emerge.

Steps to Make Pinecone Birdfeeders:

1) Tie yarn or twine around pinecones.

2) Spread Sunbutter over pinecones (no peanut butter allowed in school, although pb, almond butter, or similar will do).

3) Roll sticky pinecones in pumpkin seeds (birdseed, sunflower seeds, etc. can be used).

4) Hang in bushes and trees.

5) Wash hands!

Tips on creating Pinecone Birdfeeders from The Spruce:

  • Work seeds in between the rows of scales.
  • Hang in cool, shaded area so peanut butter (or whichever butter is used–sun, almond, etc) doesn’t melt.
  • “If you want to make multiple pine cone bird feeders at once but don’t want to hang them out simultaneously, they can easily be frozen for several weeks. The feeders do not need to be thawed before hanging, and freezing them first can help them stay firm in warmer temperatures.”

I’ll let you know what the birds think of them!

Pinecone birdfeeder made by a preschooler.
Image source, BBSMI

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful.

Advertisement

Highlights Foundation Word Garden

Highlights Foundation Kidlit writer retreats in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains are said to be magical. I’d head the campus is a place where editors and agents take the time to read and discuss the writers’ work, publishers and writers support each other in their joined goal of creating quality stories for children, there’s space and time to write, imagination is nurtured, and the food is excellent. One writer-friend told me a retreat changed the course of her career.

I’d also been told poems were “written” in the Word Garden, but had no idea what that was. In October, when I attended the “Jewish Symposium 2022: An In-Community Experience for Jewish Creatives,” I found the place where words are engraved into hundreds, if not thousands, of smooth, round stones. There, amongst the nouns, adjectives, prepositions, and verbs, sit “tables” made of flat-topped boulders—surfaces on which to create and communicate associations, poems, stories, wishes, and dreams.

Truthfully, hon, the Word Garden made me emotional. It felt like the words were pleading with me. They wanted to be lifted from the piles, combined with other words, and formed into something funny, catchy, quirky, or meaningful. Something all their own.

It felt like the smooth stones with grey and black engraving wanted what my own words want–to be known as stories that are lyrical, honest, beautiful, and wonderful. Stories which can be read over and over, and each time reveal a little more magic.


When I was ten years-old, I started attending a Girl Scouts sleep-away camp in Shadowbrook, MD. Upon arrival, we were told we could be called whatever name we wanted. My counselors were Clover and Honey, and I asked to be called “Flower.” Thereafter, in the summers I spent at Shadowbrook, I was known as “Flower.” No one knew my other name and I preferred it that way.

As “Flower,” I was free and happy and curious and independent and adventurous. I made friends with the other girls, and also the raccoon who woke me up in the middle of the night when it stood on my chest and spoke to me with its shiny, black eyes. I said hi to the daddy long legs who climbed over my sleeping bag as I slept under the stars. I practically touched the constellations which lit up a dark, wild grasses-filled meadow. I swam every morning at dawn with the Polar Bear Club, tracked animal footprints while hiking in the woods, cooked over an open fire, learned how to use my Swiss Army Knife, and helped out in the mess hall and wherever else I was needed. I wasn’t afraid of the dark or the cemetery adjacent to the camp. I belted out the words to the “The Littlest Worm” and other songs. No one told me to shut up. Or worse. At Shadowbrook, I didn’t have to pretend to be a mouse. I was a lion.

As sweet as a flower, but as strong and brave as a lion. I was who I was meant to be.

When I started writing and illustrating my own picture books, also as a ten year-old, my pen name was “Flower Milsten.” Flower was with me in the Word Garden.

Here and now,

Flower

must make it through

the thicket of bramble

in order to 

succeed in finding

light and water and wind.


			
					

Memorial Day Poem

I’m re-posting this poem, a prayer, from last Memorial Day with an added line.


In this year,

an historic year

of a global pandemic,

economic and educational disparities,

racial and religious hatred,

ideological and political divides,

innocence and freedom terrorized,

and our beautiful, irreplaceable earth

in deep trouble,

remember those who have served our country

and those who still do,

sons and daughters

whose families long to embrace them

and welcome them home.

Amen.

Spring Sings Hope

Hon, I’m currently in Spain and will have lots to post when I return. Hubby, one of our daughters and our son are visiting another daughter who is studying abroad this semester. We spent two and a half days in Madrid, then took a high-speed train to Barcelona. I’m so grateful to be on this trip!

Wifi isn’t the most reliable so I’m re-posting these pretty pics along with “Hope” by Emily Dickinson. The rhythm of the words gives this poem a “melody,” and the first two lines illustrate how I feel when my literary agent sends me a list of editors to whom she’s submitting my manuscripts.

Missing our Matriarch, Poem on Grief

We can’t avoid the saddest part of our humanity and though we know we’ll have to deal with it, as my husband’s Aunt Pauline said, “It never gets easier.”

I haven’t posted in awhile because Cecile Gruer, my 86 year-old mother-in-law and matriarch of our family, passed away last week. There’s so much to say about her decline, measures that were taken to try to restore her health, and the month she spent under hospice care. The last time she celebrated a happy occasion with the family was her granddaughter’s wedding in September 2021. Even then, she wasn’t truly herself.

There’s much more to say about Cecile, who as a young girl in Poland, ran with her parents and siblings from the Nazi’s during WWII. She spent years in Siberia, freezing and starving. After the war ended, she was a teenager in an Austrian displaced persons camp. Her immediate family eventually moved to America, first to St. Louis and then to New York. She met Morris, another Holocaust survivor, in Brooklyn, NY and they married and built a home and family. So much to say…

The outpouring of sympathy from family and friends illustrates the importance of community. It may sound cliche, but it’s crucial to support each other when a life starts and when it ends.

Hubby and I are exhausted from the many months of Cecile’s decline, reeling from witnessing her personality change, saddened by her loss of communication, and grieving her passing. A tribute post will have to wait. Though Cecile didn’t die young, Jon Pineda’s poem on grief strikes a chord.

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task was published in The New York Times Magazine January 16, 2022 with commentary by Victoria Chang. She said, “I first read this poem on Twitter, and even though it’s a simple poem about grief, it stayed with me. I’m fascinated by the way that it discloses so much in its title, showing how a title can get important information out of the way so that the poem can breathe on its own. Yet the reader doesn’t know what the ‘task’ is until the third stanza. The poem is an example of how abundant emotions can be conveyed by stripping language down to the bone.”

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,

their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,

takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,

even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.

For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,

and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into

the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,

she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

Winter’s End, Poem by Howard Moss

Magnolia Monday

Sharing a poem that acts as a salve to this winter’s bleakness.

I found “Winter’s End” by Howard Moss on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. My father used to tune in to Garrison Keillor’s radio show, so I have memories of listening to Keillor tell stories. This poem was published by © Atheneum in New Selected Poems. Spring starts March 20.

Winter’s End

Once in a wood at winter’s end,
The withered sun, becoming young,
Turned the white silence into sound:
Bird after bird rose up in song.
The skeletons of snow-blocked trees
Linked thinning shadows here and there,
And those made mummy by the freeze
Spangled their mirrors on cold air.
Whether they moved — perhaps they spun,
Caught in a new but known delight —
Was hard to tell, since shade and sun
Mingled to hear the birds recite.
No body of this sound I saw,
So glassed and shining was the world
That swung on a sun-and-ice seesaw
And fought to have its leaves unfurled.
Hanging its harvest in between
Two worlds, one lost, one yet to come,
The wood’s remoteness, like a drum,
Beat the oncoming season in.
Then every snow bird on white wings
Became its tropic counterpart,
And, in a renaissance of rings,
I saw the heart of summer start.

IMG_3598IMG_3594IMG_3596

Poem for Grief, On the Death of the Beloved

It’s been two weeks since Lucy died and it feels like I’m walking through sludge. One of my daughters said we have no ways to mark the death of our sweet, four-legged guardian angels and she’s right. There’s no funeral, shiva, or memorial service. Maybe that’s too much to ask since we enfold our furry companions into our families knowing we will outlive them, but still…

Lucy was also beloved by friends, neighbors and community, and the outpouring of sympathy is a tribute to her big, brown, expressive, soulful eyes and loving spirit. Those eyes. They talked to you. We went on so many adventures together. She brought us closer.

We miss her terribly.

On the Death of the Beloved

by John O’Donohue

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again. 

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” and Kindness

Image source, BBSMI
Flags fly at Liberty State Park.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kindness is the theme at preschool. Kindness is taught all year, but this week it’s emphasized with child-led acts of kindness. What can young children do?

This poem by Edgar Albert Guest is thought-provoking and meaningful. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech is timeless and needs to be read, repeated, studied and proclaimed now more than ever.

Transcript of speech by 
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
August 28, 1963. Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. 

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. 

Five score years ago a great American in whose symbolic shadow we stand today signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beckoning light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. 

But one hundred years later the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. 

One hundred years later the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. 

One hundred years later the Negro is still languishing in the comers of American society and finds himself in exile in his own land. 

We all have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to change racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice ring out for all of God’s children. 

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted citizenship rights. 

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. 

And the marvelous new militarism which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers have evidenced by their presence here today that they have come to realize that their destiny is part of our destiny. 

So even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.” 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

I have a dream that little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its Governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and before the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the mount with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the genuine discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together; to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom forever, )mowing that we will be free one day. 

And I say to you today my friends, let freedom ring. From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the mighty Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! 

Let freedom ring from the snow capped Rockies of Colorado! 

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! 

But not only there; let freedom ring from the Stone Mountain of Georgia! 

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain in Tennessee! 

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill in Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. 

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”

Manifesting a Grasshopper?

Bonding with a striped-leg grasshopper.

One of my favorite sounds is the nighttime chirping of grasshoppers and crickets. Summer chirping lulls me to sleep the same way as ocean waves. Right about now, in mid-October, I pay close attention to insect mate-calling. There will be a night when the air is filled with nature’s stereo, and the next night the record’s put back in its sleeve. Though I love autumn, it makes me melancholy to bid an official farewell to perfect-temperature-nights, warm-sand-days, and a summer’s promise of possibilities.

As I continue to work towards my writing goals, I’ve added something to my thought process–manifestation. I concentrate on my goals; what they are and what it would feel like to achieve them. If you see me gazing at the sky, know that I am sending my independent-minded characters, lyrical writing, and layered stories out into the universe, hoping they find champions who will bring them to life.

Did I know that when I read the poignant poem Postlude, I was also manifesting a grasshopper? I did not, but there he was, away from his lawn forest, a striped-leg, little guy who let me scoop him up. When I opened up my palm, he hung out and studied me with his five eyes. Then, he hopped out of my hand.

Do you think it’s a sign? A coincidence? A message from the universe that my-work-my-heart-my-passion to share the wonder in the world by writing Kidlit is traveling on both puffy white clouds and waving green grass? I pray so.

Stay by the hearth, little cricket.
Cendrillon

You prefer me invisible, no more than
a crisp salute far away from 
your silks and firewood and woolens.

Out of sight, I’m merely an annoyance,
one slim, obstinate wrinkle in night’s 
deepening trance. When sleep fails,

you wish me shushed and back in my hole.
As usual, you’re not listening: Time stops
only if you stop long enough to hear it

passing. This is my business:
I’ve got ten weeks left to croon through.
What you hear is a lifetime of song.

by Rita Dove, Pulitzer Prize winning poet

Poem “For Our World”

I wanted to post a poem on 9/11 and found “For Our World” by teen poet Mattie Stepanek. Though my memories flooded back and I wrote “Who Can Forget?”, Stepanek’s poem is as relevant now as the day it was written. The poem addresses strife in our world while, also, speaking to anguish on a personal level. On Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, we ask G-d and our loved ones to forgive us for our sins as we contemplate our mortality.

And. And, this year is the 5th anniversary of my mom’s and, three weeks later, sister-in-law’s passings. My mom would have been 80 and Sharon would have been 60. When my mom thought, for a brief moment, that she might live, she talked about what she wanted to do with her future. Up until her diagnosis of lung cancer, she’d spent most of her time working, with some time for reading and gardening. Granted, she had an amazing career as an award-winning investigative journalist and editor, but she lamented not finding something else besides occasionally spending time with friends and grandchildren that brought her joy. My mom said she wanted to volunteer at Stella Maris, a long-term care facility where she’d interviewed the nuns.

My mother-in-law, an 86 year old Holocaust survivor, whose health has recently declined, has also been talking about what she’d like to do in her future. When is the right time to add into our lives “the blessing of songs that grow in our hearts?”

The culmination of the Days of Awe is the fast day of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). This is the day…according to tradition, God seals the Books of Life and Death for the coming year. The day is devoted to communal repentance for sins committed over the course of the previous year. Because of the nature of Yom Kippur and its associated rituals, it is the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar.

My Jewish Learning

For Our World

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.


We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
That grow in our hearts.


We need to notice.
Just notice.
Notice for a moment.
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.


Stop, be silent, and notice.


In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
To nurture, to offer, to accept.


We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.


Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
Like children and lambs,
Never judging or vengeful
Like the judging and vengeful.


And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together,
Before there is no earth, no life,
No chance for peace.

September 11, 2001

© Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek 1990 -2004
from Hope Through Heartsongs, Hyperion, 2002

Mattie Stepanek was 11 years old when he wrote this poem on the day of 9-11.
Sadly he passed away in 2004 after a long battle with Dysautonomic Mitochondrial Myopathy.
You can learn more about his brief, amazing, inspiring life at his website: http://www.mattieonline.com/