Losing Your Fear of Poetry

little tree by ee Cummings

little tree by ee Cummings

When I taught ESL, my students dreaded analyzing poetry. I was able to relate, as I once feared the condensed rhythmical words myself, for their power to humble students and teachers alike. But I pushed past my fear, and delved into the dark dungeon of poetry, and unearthed a treasure, which I have been richer for ever since.

You feel a poem, not in your mind, but in your imagination. The meaning of poetry is in your interpretation of it, as long as you can provide supporting details to back up your statements.

Poetry communicates the sentiment to us, before we understand the words. It goes beyond words and magnifies our experiences, senses and emotions with life enhancing energy.

Here is the poem little tree, written in 1920, followed by the analysis:

Little Tree
E. E. Cummings

little tree
little silent Christmas tree
you are so little
you are more like a flower

who found you in the green forest
and were you very sorry to come away?
see i will comfort you
because you smell so sweetly

i will kiss your cool bark
and hug you safe and tight
just as your mother would,
only don’t be afraid

look the spangles
that sleep all the year in a dark box
dreaming of being taken out and allowed to shine,
the balls the chains red and gold the fluffy threads,

put up your little arms
and i’ll give them all to you to hold
every finger shall have its ring
and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy

then when you’re quite dressed
you’ll stand in the window for everyone to see
and how they’ll stare!
oh but you’ll be very proud

and my little sister and i will take hands
and looking up at our beautiful tree
we’ll dance and sing
“Noel Noel”

When we read a poem like “little tree” in class, and I would ask what it was about, the students would fall silent, as if they didn’t know the answer.

Then I would ask them to free-write their ideas about the poem, stream of consciousness style, without concern for grammar or organization, to capture the essence of the poem.

Their scribbles didn’t lie; they understood the poem, and a rough outline emerged for their analysis as proof on the page.

This helped them gain confidence in their own interpretation, and allayed their fears. They would be on a time deadline during their test, so they needed to get their initial impression down quickly.

Then they organized their free-writing scribbles under the headings we had discussed in class, such as: theme (what the poem is about), title, the rhyming pattern, or meter, (if any) the stanzas (or the group of lines forming recurring metrical unit of a poem, or a verse) the length, the imagery (words that paint pictures). Also, the narrator (the voice that is speaking and to whom the narrator is speaking to), and figurative language such as: similes –comparisons using like or as, and metaphors – (indirect comparisons where two unlike things have something in common), and personification – giving human qualities to inanimate objects. Also, literary devices would be a heading under such topics as: symbolism (one object representing another), and word connotations and inferences, alliteration – repeating the first letter of a word, onomatopoeia – words sound like their meaning, and hyperbole – (exaggeration). In addition the headings could include comparisons, contrasts, tone and style.

Most of my students were from South Korea, and were preparing to write the S.A.T., T.O.E.F.L., or BC Provincial English exam, to apply to American colleges. They came to the study academy to prepare for the English portion of the tests, which included poetry. They had been issued a list of around one hundred outmoded poetry terms to memorize by their high school teachers, which added to their poetry paralysis. Only about ten percent of Greek and Latin derived terms on the list are used to analyze most poems. The majority of terms would confound a PHD in Literature. I told them that the terms were secondary to their understanding of the sentiment of the poem, so their focus would shift to interpreting the meaning of the poem.

After discussing in class the main points and theme of the poem, the students were ready to write their analysis, which would go something like this:

EE Cummings poem “little tree” is about a tree that has been taken from the forest to become a family Christmas tree. There is no rhyming order, but the words form the shape of branches of half a Christmas tree and reinforce the subject. The poem is narrated by the sweet voice of a child speaking in simple diction, emphasized in the use of lower case letters, like a child first learns to print in school. The child says the tree is “so little”, “like a flower”, a simile that invokes our senses by comparing the tree to a spontaneously beautiful, colorful, sweet smelling, and delicate item. It also invokes the reader’s sympathy, and affection, as EE Cummings uses the metaphor of the tree as an orphaned child, who needs a mother.

Personification of the tree draws us into the theme of the poem – the tree is given human emotions when the child asks the scared tree: were you sorry to come away? Then the child makes the tree happy by giving it the spangles to hold, and promises: ”you’ll be proud”, and you will be so beautiful the passersby will stare! This is a picture poem that helps us visualize the tree framed up in the window. Cummings uses the imagery of the tree wearing ornaments like jewellery on its’ arms and fingers to personify the tree. The spangles are also personified, as they have been sleeping all year in a dark box, and have been awoken out of a dream like a flower bulb waiting to be planted in warm earth in the spring to flourish, or “shine”. The tree is also given a voice, as it is a “silent tree”.

The style is simple, with a playful tone, and full of sentimental emotions.

Cummings displays a reverence for nature in the spectacle of the decorated tree: ”Your beauty will cause my little sister and I to dance and sing”, and in relationship with nature – the tree increases the child’s happiness, as the tree is transformed by the child, naked at first, later dressed, cool, but later warm, afraid, but later proud. The child becomes a protective parent – comforting the scared tree by kissing its’ cool bark with warm lips, and hugging you safe and tight like a mother. The tree symbolizes nature’s innocence and the gifts of beauty it bestows on humans.

Lastly, I would tell the students ways to increase their mark, and asked them to share their feelings about how the poem impacted them, or if they could draw a comparison between an aspect of the poem and their own life experience. I told them my cherry on top was to say that I was similar in age to the narrator of the poem when I first read “little tree”, and forty years later, it makes me feel young again as I remember the wonder that I felt as a young child setting up our Christmas tree.

By analyzing the poem, it was clear the students lost their fear of poetry, and gained an appreciation of it.

Texasunderrgraduate writing centre – Texas Education.com

photo credit: HikingArtist.com via photopin cc

Review of Week 52- Optimizing Yourself – Report Card for Year of Optimizing Yourself

When I looked back on all the optimizing yourself topics of the year, I found a common thread among them all, and it was improving how I used my time.

My time on earth is short and precious, and a large percentage of it is already used up with sleeping,eating,showering and cleaning.

By setting goals for myself each week, I feel that I optimized the use of my time, and did more activities that I wanted to do, such as spend more time in nature, listening, reading, writing, playing, meditating, working, clearing clutter, visualizing, and being aware. I still have room for improvement on my goals, and will continue to work on them, but I am putting a gold star on my optimizing yourself report card this year, because I feel I came a long way towards achieving my life goals.

This year, I made a habit of optimizing the hours in my life, and added more life to my hours!

To My Dear Blog Readers:

Celebrate today

Celebrate today

I wish you all a peaceful and happy holiday, and, when the stress of hustle and bustle subsides, the time and energy to savor all the special moments, as you love, and be loved.

When we exchange gifts, we share ourselves – our time, our energy, our money, and our love. When we make our gifts, we give the best gift ever – our talent, expressed in a homemade card or cookies, cooking Christmas dinner, or building a snowman on the lawn.

We reflect back on Christmases past, and look forward to the New Year, but the best time in our lives is now.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.” Alice Morse Earle

As you exchange gifts this holiday season, enjoy some quiet time to celebrate the gift of today.


Ann Hoy

the gift of a snowman

A Snowman Is A Gift for the neighbourhood

photo: photo pin

Tuna Noodle Casserole Christmas Gift

Tuna noodle casserole

Tuna Noodle Casserole Ingredients and utensils

Tuna noodle casserole has been a popular dinner at our house for years. My sister gave me this recipe 30 years ago when my husband and I were first married, and by the time we had three growing boys, we had to double the quantity to feed everyone, but it has been a quick and easy comfort food dinner for years.

This year I know some young people who are cooking on their own, and instead of buying them a gift card to a restaurant and feeding them for one night, I am giving them the casserole recipe and the ingredients, and the tools so they can feed themselves for life. I wrapped up a collander, a cheese grater, a casserole dish, and the ingredients (except for the cheese as it’s perishable) in a basket for a practical gift. See the recipe below.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
3 Stoned Wheat Thin crackers, broken up
1 can of flaked light tuna
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
1 ½ c. macaroni noodles

Boil 3 cups of water in a large pot.
Add 1 ½ cups of macaroni, to boiling water and heat on medium heat for 7 mins, stirring occasionally.
Drain noodles, and rinse with water.
Heat the cream of mushroom soup and the tuna on medium in a smaller pot, and stir.
Add the tuna mixture to noodles and stir together, then Spoon it all into a baking dish.
Break up 3 stoned wheat thin crackers in your hands, and sprinkle on top.
Grate one cup of cheddar cheese, and sprinkle on top.
Bake in oven at 375 degrees until golden (about 20 mins). Serves 3 – 4 people.
(You can add frozen peas or mushrooms to the mix if you like). Enjoy!

gift wrapped in cellophane with recipe

Gif wrapped in cellophane with recipe attached

Top 10 Children’s Christmas Songs From Boomer’s Childhoods

These 10 Christmas songs were hits when the baby boomers were kids or young adults, and are now classics.  These quality songs are still being played on the radio today, and the reruns of the television specials that many of them are a part of, are being enjoyed all over again by the boomer’s kids and grandkids. Read the stories behind the songs.

The first 4 songs are from these four classic animated Christmas television specials that still air every year:

1. Burl Ives – Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer –

The song was written by Johnny Marks, and was based on a poem written by his brother in law Robert L. May in 1939. It was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 and was #1 on Billboard pop singles chart at Christmas that year.

2.  Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmastime is Here– A Charlie Brown Christmas  TV special 1965

Peanut’s creator Charles Schultz asked pianist Vince Guaraldi and his trio to put together the soundtrack for his Charlie Brown Christmas special, and he did an extraordinary job in capturing the funny and whimsical story with music that we know and love. Christmastime is Here is one of the most memorable songs on one of the most popular Christmas albums of all time.

3.  Thurl Ravenscroft –   You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, TV  special 1966

The lyrics were written by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel.  Albert Hague arranged the music and Suess was happy that Hague could slide a full octave on the word “Grinch”.  The Grinch’s character was based on Suess’s grouchy feelings during the Christmas season.  Anyone who has tried to park at the mall on Christmas Eve, or lined up at numerous checkouts can relate; but like us, the Grinch’s heart expands by Christmas time and he is transformed.

“The Grinch that stole Christmas” on vhs, was on constant rewind in the 1990’s at our house.  My three sons watched it at Christmas, in the spring, in the summer, and in the fall.  They loved Dr. Suess’s classic Christmas special so much, they wore out the tape from rewinding it so many times, until a message appeared at the beginning of the tape that said “tracking” for the first five minutes.

The original 1966 version of the animated Christmas special was expertly narrated by Boris Karloff.  My son’s favorite part of the show was when the song:  “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” was sung.  I assumed Boris Karloff was the singer of the famous song, until I learned that Boris Karloff couldn’t sing. Instead, actor Thurl Ravenscroft, ( who did the voice of Tony The Tiger for Frosted Flakes), sang the song, but his name was left out of the credits in error on the original film. Isn’t that grrrrrreeeat trivia?

4.  Jimmy Durante – Frosty The Snowman,  Frosty The Snowman TV special 1969

This song was written by Walter Jack Rollins and Steve Nelson and was recorded by Gene Autry and the Country Boys in 1950, a year after the successful Rudolph, and although it never mentions Christmas,  it remains one of the most popular Christmas songs ever. Jimmy Durante is unforgettable as narrator and singer.

5. Ross  Bagdasarian – Alvin and The Chipmunks Christmas Time Is Here (Christmas Don’t Be Late) 1958

– Bagdasarian sang the song and released it in 1958. To make the voices sound like chipmunks he sped up the playback.  It topped the Billboard charts for 4 weeks    and won 3 Grammy awards.  Bagdasarian died of a heart attack in 1972, and in 1981 his son, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. released A Chipmunk Christmas, the animated Christmas tv special.

6. Burl Ives – Holly Jolly Christmas, Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer TV special 1964.

Burl Ives released the Johnny Mark’s song as a single the following Christmas along with “Rudolf The Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Silver and Gold” and had great success with the singles. This song remains the favorite Christmas song of many people to this day.


7. Gayla Peevey – I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas – 1953

This song was released at Christmas time in 1953 when Gayla was 10 years old.  She performed the song on The Ed Sullivan show before it was released in October of that year.  The song reached #24 on the charts. The Oklahoma City Zoo did a newspaper promotion to raise money from the public to buy Gayla a hippo.  She received Matilda the hippo which she donated to the Oklahoma zoo, and Matilda lived there for over 40 years and had many babies that were given to other zoos across the United States.

8. Spike Jones & The City Slickers – George Rock (lead vocal) – All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, 1947.

The song was written in 1944 by Donald Yetter Gardner who was a public school music teacher in New York.  While teaching music to his second grade class, Donald Yetter Gardner asked his students what they wanted for Christmas, and saw that most of them had one or two front teeth missing and that they  talked with a lisp.  He wrote the song in 30 minutes, and it was recorded it in 1947.  It was a hit on the pop charts in 1948 and in 1949.

9. Rolf Harris – Six White Boomers – 1965

Australian Christmas song, written when the temperature was 100 degrees fahrenheit in Australia. Boomers are special white Kangaroos used in Australia by Santa instead of reindeer.
Their names are: Jackaroo, Bluey, Curly, Two-Up, Desert-Head, and Snow.

10. Royal Guardsmen – Snoopy’s Christmas – 1967

Fictitious song, but based on a true story that occurred during World War I in 1914.  German soldiers (not the officers)  initiated a “Christmas truce”  with the British soldiers between Christmas and New Years.  The truce varied in length depending on location, but the soldiers exchanged small gifts of beer and tobacco across the lines.

Optimizing Yourself – Week 52 – Dec 16 – 22, 2013 – Report Card for The Year of Optimizing Yourself


optimizing yourself report card

Otimizing Yourself Report Card

This week I am going to review the optimizing yourself topics during the past year, and give an update on how improving myself is going this year.  I continue to work on many of the weekly exercises, such as “read more books” beyond the week that I posted the topic, and throughout the year.  I will let you know what my report card for optimizing says next week, so you can see how I did. I Hope you have a great week!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/ajc1/3693303191/”>AJC1</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

Review of Week 51 – Optimizing Yourself – Go On a Journey To The Spirit

My journey to authentic power of the spirit began this week when I was about to get in my van one morning, and discovered that I had a flat tire.  I felt anxious when I discovered the tire, and began to think about how I could manipulate events and people to get the tire fixed.  But I knew this was using external power, and I don’t make good decisions out of fear.  So I summoned my inner calm, or authentic power, and formed a plan to get the tire fixed.

I thought about filling it with air, and seeing if it would hold the air so I could drive it to a repair shop, or asking my neighbour to help me jack up the van and remove the tire.  But since it was snowing outside, and cold and wet on the ground, and getting dark, we would have to work outside in harsh conditions.

So I decided to leave the tire repair until the following day.  By being patient, I was able to act with love for myself and others.

My son arrived home a few hours later, and said he was off work the next day, and we could remove the tire and get it repaired at the tire shop.  We dropped off the tire the next day at the shop, and went for breakfast while they repaired it.  Using the authentic power of patience and compassion made the tire repair easy, and we made it fun too, because we had a nice conversation over a meal of spinach salad and eggs while it was being repaired.

How To Survive The Winter Hot Flashes

For 50 years, I have been cold.  Although the winters on the BC Coast are moderate, it still gets chilly in December.

This year, however, I did a complete 180, and am incinerating with menopausal hot flashes that are hotter than July. I shunned hormone replacement therapy, so had to devise a strategy to survive my change of life.  The following is my plan:


Since summers end was only an illusion, sleeveless tops are perfect to wear in the house.  A hoody can be worn over them outside, and in case of a meltdown, the zipper can be undone.  Removing layers of clothing allows you to escape the heat, but how can a bra still make you feel hot?  Knitted sweaters, hats, gloves and fur lined boots are sooooo pre-meno.

In the house:

Open the windows until someone everyone complains that they’re freezing, and the dog goes missing under a comforter.  The furnace is the enemy, so turn down the thermostat each time you walk by it, because said freezing people keep turning it up.  Freeze plastic mugs in your freezer to keep your drinks colder, and volunteer to go get everyone a mug out of it when they want a drink.  While you’re there, grab the ice pack and place it on your spine and go sit down.  Cover the heat vents with magnetic sheets to block the heat from you, and divert it to the freezing people.  Hair dryers are sooooo out – wet hair is cooler. Seize the following opportunities: running your hands under cold water, refilling the ice cube tray, standing barefoot on the cement floor in the carport, or the backyard ice rink (see photo), which didn’t fully freeze due to aforementioned moderate winter.


Back Yard ice rink

Back yard ice rink

Going out:

Going to stores, theatres, and coffee shops, feels like you’re going to the beach.  Seek shade, and avoid standing directly under high wattage lights. At the theatre, reserve an aisle seat, so body heat is only radiating on one side of you. Avoid sitting near roasting fireplaces inside coffee shops, and dress your dog like you’re going ice fishing, as an excuse to sit at the outdoor patio at Starbucks.  Drain your frapuccino until you achieve your brain freeze, and remove the ice from the dog dish outside and add fresh water, so the pup will be happy.

keep cool walking the dog

keep cool walking the dog


Apparently, it won’t be too much longer until my change of life is complete, and I’ll be in the middle seat of the theatre again, wearing a winter coat and sipping a hot tea.  I only hope it’s not in July!

Winter Needs Christmas

Winter needs Christmas

Christmas brightens winter

Many people are not religious, but they still love Christmas.

Christmas has become more secular, and more spiritual.

In those parts of the world where winter is cold, Christmas warms our bodies and souls from the inside out.

Christmas is a time of expansion – we eat too much, spend too much, drink too much, but our hearts expand in the process.  When we extend ourselves for others, we feel better, and associate Christmas with abundance and love.

A Happy Celebration

A Happy Celebration

The neighbours’ Christmas lights stay on all day and night, leaving an added glow, brightening the outside, when the days are short and the temperatures are cold.  When the letter carrier delivers the mail, it`s only a Christmas card, yay no bills!

My sister hosted a family Christmas gathering at her house, a wonderful opportunity for family bonding. No need to fly to a sunny location for Christmas; almost everyone wants to be home for Christmas, spending time with loved ones.

At Christmas, we give what we can.  It’s a time of goodwill and peace. We call a truce to arguments and wars, we see people we only see at Christmas, reminisce about Christmases past, and get updates on their lives today.

Christmas trees and decorations transform the inside of the house with colored lights twinkling like stars, with an angel on top.  We relax by the fire with hot cocoa, grateful for all the riches around us.

Christmas breeds joy in our hearts, of giving and receiving, rewarding service,  holidaying from work and stress, making wish lists, filling stockings with names on them, shopping in bustling toy stores, going to parties, making gingerbread houses, and smelling pine cones.

goodwill to all

goodwill to all

People I meet are wishing me a Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays, and to me it means have a happy celebration, good fortune, good food, and love.  I am not offended if they wish me a Happy Hanukkah, or Happy Kwanzaa, although I am not Jewish or African-Canadian, because I know they are wishing me the best celebration they can imagine.  Christmas is a family time that warms the heart and shortens winter.


photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinbell/2094406126/”>Darwin Bell / photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cameliatwu/6541663721/”>CameliaTWU

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/8303780929/”>** RCB **

Week 51 – 0ptimizing Yourself – Dec 9-15, 2013 – Go On A Journey To The Spirit

Journey to the spirit

Journey to the spirit

For this week’s optimizing yourself exercise, I am going to go on a journey to the spirit.  Since the human spirit is full of goodness, I am going to listen to my spirit this week so my decisions will be influenced by love instead of fear.

In In Gary Zukav’s book, “The Seat of The Soul” he describes a shift from pursuing external power to pursuing authentic power, based on the values of the spirit, such as reverence, compassion, and trust. External power is based on the five senses, and includes using manipulation and control which has caused conflict and destruction.

I am going to practice Gary’s philosophy  of pursuing authentic power this week, and I will let you know how it goes next week.

photo credit: photo pin


Review of Week 50 – Optimizing Yourself – Think About What I Can Give This Holiday Season

Helping others is fun

Helping Others is Fun and Easy

This week, my goal for optimizing yourself was to stop thinking about what I have to do for the holidays and think about helping someone else.  I didn’t do one big grand gesture, but I found small ways to incorporate helping people into my daily activities, so it would be easy and fun.

I decided to double all my tips to restaurant workers and hairdressers this week, to show them I appreciate their service.  I appreciate my hairdresser who cut my hair how I wanted it cut, and the Starbucks barista at the drive-thru window in freezing temperatures who was so polite as he handed me my tea.

I donated blankets to a Realtor who did a blanket drive in his office, and gave our empty bottles to some students who did a bottle drive for AIDS.

I learned that to be kind I don’t need to go out of my way; it can be a habit that I incorporate into my daily routine.

I also found that sharing my good feelings in the form of sincere compliments and gratitude, made people smile, and it was like a gift to me.

Trying to help others this week only cost me $30, and a few car trips.  It was worth it to help others and to feel connected to those around me, and I was grateful that I had something to share with them.

As I got into the spirit of giving, I became more aware of many kindnesses going on around me.

When I drove to Costco in Langley, there was a truck from the Vancouver Zoo picking  up produce.  The fellow told me that Costco donates their day old produce to the zoo to feed the animals.

I realized that there are “random acts of kindness” going on all around me, but sometimes I am too busy with myself to notice.  I am going to continue to look for ways that I can show kindness in my daily routine.

What is Your Favorite Holiday Decoration?

My Favorite Holiday Decoration

My Favorite Holiday Decoration

Sometimes our favorite holiday decorations are not the ones that cost the most money, or fit into a designer color scheme.  They are often the ones that catch us by surprise, and melt our hearts, because they were made with love by the hands of a child, who is so excited to give them to us, that their love lingers on years after we have received the gift.

My favorite holiday decoration is a wreath my son made me in his grade 7 class out of green garbage bags!  It is pictured here on my front door where it has been proudly displayed each Christmas!  Money couldn’t buy such a precious gift.

Here’s how he made it:

He bent a metal coat hanger into a circle with his hands and left the hook on top for hanging.

Then he cut the seams off a green garbage bag and cut the bag into strips 4 inches long and 1 inch wide.

Next, he tied the first garbage bag strip to the wire frame with a double knot and pushed it to the bottom of the hook, with the ends of the plastic being the same length .

Then he  continued tying strips of trash bag to the frame until it was completely covered, pushing the strips tightly against one another as he worked.

Next, he fluffed the garbage bag strips once the wreath was covered, making it appear full. With a glue gun, he glued small ornaments to the wreath and hung it on the door with the hook!

Please share your favorite holiday decoration with us, and any tips on how to make it, by hitting the reply or comment button on the blog. Thanks.

Read more: http://www.ehow.com/how_12052640_make-christmas-wreath-trash-bags.html#ixzz2me1zNRdD