Teaching Mantras

Mary Oliver reminds me of the importance of words, just a few of them, here, there. Sometimes intentionally spoken. Sometimes intentionally included in a collage. Sometimes spontaneous. Sometimes silent.

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

When I harvest words from old books, magazines and other clippings, they become an offering to me, from me. It’s a simulataneous give and take, back and forth between my muse, the universe, Gaia, God. Now, I’m taking this practice and giving it a different spin during my Spring Semester. Totally inspired by my friend Alke, I am making a mantra card a week that directly relates to working on becoming a better teacher/educator. These different kind of offerings surface during conversations with students, reading professional development articles and talking with colleagues.

My top ones so far are Make every class you teach your favorite and Make every class you take your favorite. It came out of a conversation in my Typography Class. The students in that class work hard, invent, imagine and consider craft. They show pride in their work. So much so I said to them recently that they were starting to overtake my Design class as my favorite class. One of the student’s replied with, “well, why not make every class your favorite class.” It was a great moment for everyone, seriously, why not. So that is what I have set out to do this semester, to make every class I teach my favorite. And so far it’s working. Now if only I could convince my students to make every class beyond their art classes their favorite classes…

Attitude is everything.

Teaching Mantra Week One

Teaching Mantra Week One

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Five

Teaching Mantra Week Five

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Two

Teaching Mantra Week Three

Teaching Mantra Week Three

Teaching Mantra Week Four

Teaching Mantra Week Four



The Snow Labyrinth

Snow! While my friend Alke was visiting from England during the past couple of weeks, we discussed my fascination with walking and art, including the labyrinth that I mowed into one of our meadows last summer. The idea of a labyrinth in one’s backyard totally inspired her to want to make one in the snow. So armed with a printed image of the labyrinth we set out to create one. (It was REALLY cold that day. Like, 5F or something equally ridiculous. We both donned serious amounts of layers and were quite warm!) We also welcomed moments of apricity or, the warmth of the sun in winter. Thanks to fabulous PRESS intern Jonas McCaffery for teaching me that word. You might just see it on a mantra card at PRESS in the near future.


We approached the making differently from the summer mowing creation. Instead of using a super large compass, we began in the center and slowly made the outlying rings by following the pattern.

I am so grateful to her for wanting to do this together. I did not realize how I missed walking the labyrinth–and it was really a fun creative problem to solve. And we celebrated by making s’mores afterwards!


Yes, Vancouver, as in Vancouver British Columbia. For those of you following this blog, you will remember that I was just in Thailand. I returned on January 12th and on the 15th I was back at the airport flying across the country to Vancouver for the conference, Design Practices and Principles. While I don’t recommend putting one’s body through this kind of travel, I’m glad I got to attend this conference and see Vancouver. I was there to present a workshop about the mantra cards I make at PRESS with my friend and colleague Alke Groppel-Wegener. You can read more about the workshop on the PRESS Blog. You can read a bit more about what she’s doing with mantras here.

I’ve wanted to go to Vancouver for over 10 years now, ever since I read Susan Vreeland’s book The Forest Lover, which is a fictionalized account of the artist Emily Carr’s life. Emily Carr went into the British Columbia wilderness, befriended the native people and painted their forests and their totem poles. She did this alone and at a time when women just didn’t do things like that. I loved the story and I love her paintings. They inspire me to research and write–comparing her work to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Look for that coming from me some day…

I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

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The merit of disconnecting

The Buddha defines making merit as the accumulation of good in one’s soul through three main practices: giving, virtue and meditation/mental development. Of course there are other practices that add to one’s merit, and one that I considered as a possibility  while in Thailand was the merit of disconnecting from technology. This builds merit because being disconnected fosters connection to those I am/was with, encourages engagement with whatever I am doing/experiencing and allows me to get into a mental groove.

I also appreciate the little things even more. My second or third favorite time in Thailand was stumbling into a late night flower market in Bangkok, dazzled by the color and the pattern.

The less I am tethered to my technology  the more I creative, happy, and engaged I am. I’m also more inclined to lose time in the right things, like nature, friends and making things.

So, I have numerous strategies for limiting my time online including timing myself, not turning on the computer, limiting the apps I have on my devices (no FB on the phone) and even using programs that block the various sites where I tend to lose track of time.

But the best way to disconnect is to go somewhere where there is no 3G/4G service and don’t carry any of your devices with you. Such was the way I approached Thailand, and how I am approaching weekends this year, turning off devices and leaving them at home. While I am discovering all kinds of loopholes that I use to convince myself that it’s okay to go online, noticing them is the first step, right?

What are your strategies for staying connected to what’s most important to you?


Favorite Thailand Pics

Here are some of my favorite pictures from Thailand. There are many more, as you can imagine. These stand out, maybe you can tell me which ones you like best.

Happy New Year from Thailand Part Two

After floating lanterns into the night sky, we walked back to our hotel grateful for sleep and looking forward to some fun adventures. We decided to spend New Year’s Day walking the streets of Chiang Mai visiting temples, offering prayers and taking selfies.Thailand106

My favorite temple was Wat Cheddi Luang. The cheddi originally had 16-20 full size stone elephants encircling it. Only one original remains today, plus four reconstructed ones.  Thailand137 Thailand112 Thailand121






















But what caught my eye were the aphorisms on the trees in the courtyard around the cheddi.

Trees + Mantras = Heaven

I imagine that many phrases will find their way onto cards that I make at PRESS or collages. Some of the translations crack me up and made me wish I read Thai. Perhaps in another lifetime.

Which one is your favorite?

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Happy New Year from Thailand!

We arrived in Chiang Mai–which is in the northwest corner of Thailand, fairly close to the Myanmar border, just before lunch on New Year’s Eve to visit Doug’s son Eli who is teaching English there. After a lovely walk around, followed by a two-and-a-half hour massage for $30 we joined the masses to begin ushering out the old year and welcoming the new.

All along the moat that encircles the old city of Chiang Mai were locals and visitors lighting and floating off paper lanterns. We missed Loi Krathong which takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar–which happened in November. Apparently thousands of these lanterns were sent off then. We just got to see hundreds of them.Thailand056

The lanterns size in around 3x2x2 feet. A wire or bamboo ring holds the paper with a fuel disk that gets lit in it’s center. The result is a mini-hot air balloon. I had to float one off of my own!

All three of us did it–we wrote our prayers/wishes for the new year on the outside of the paper lantern, and then helped each other hold and and adjust the paper as they filled with hot air.

Eli helping me hold my lantern as it fills with hot air.

Eli helping me hold my lantern as it fills with hot air.

One of the moments I will remember the most from this two-week trip to South East Asia is Eli saying to me as I was holding onto my lantern, “Remember Melanie, when it’s ready, just let it go.” And I did what I often do in life, I held on tightly to the lantern, and kept holding and holding a little fearful that if I let go it just might not do what it’s supposed to do. As those thoughts rifled through my head, a tugging and pulsing began in my hands, the lantern wanted to move into the sky with all the other prayers and I just had to let go. I just had to let go and trust that it would go along into the sky along with all the others. And it did.

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Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas! May your days be filled with wonder and light. And may you live as fully as you can. Wishes to you from Ohio–the map of which is the base of this collage. Do you see it?

Happy Holidays!