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Predetermined

I love November – the final act of autumn – on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Waking to the calls of migrating geese who fly our way in formation, nightfall brings crimson sunsets that brightly paint the sky along the Chester River. The air is cool and crisp, yet you can still feel the sun’s warm kiss on your upturned face.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. For me, it is the most sacred time of the year to gather with loved ones, show gratitude for the many blessings in our lives, and share a harvest meal. 

This week also marks the rise of my zodiac sign, the sacred warrior, the archer, Sagittarius. 

The Constellation Sagittarius is located in the Southern celestial hemisphere and the sun travels through this sign between November 22 and December 21. Sagittarians value independence above all else. I had a poster in my college dorm room that said: Question Authority, but that is another story.

In Greek mythology, Sagittarius represents a centaur – half human, half horse. The story describes Chiron, an immortal centaur who acted as teacher to many ancient Greek heroes. He was kind and taught medicine, music, and prophecy. Zeus offered him a place in the stars as the Constellation Sagittarius.

Sagittarius sacred warriors are also known for their emotional intelligence, which helps them to connect with others. I never realized that my sign, its meaning, and its history, predetermined my path – independent schools, teaching, and connecting. How perfectly aligned. 

November and Thanksgiving are also perfectly aligned as a time to refocus and regain our inner strength through connection with our loved ones. I plan to do just that this week. 

Wishing you and yours a Thanksgiving filled with gratitude and love.

Editor’s Note: Inspired to write this today after receiving a beautiful birthday necklace depicting the sacred warrior which I will wear proudly!

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Dog Days

Today is the official first day of summer, although some of us have been celebrating the season’s onset since its unofficial opening on Memorial Day. The lyric, Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, made famous in Porgy and Bess, is truth. These precious months do not include over-commercialized holidays to shop for, or major family command-performance dinners. Except for the occasional barbecue and fireworks, it is truly a time of year to relax, enjoy life outdoors, and store a year’s worth of Vitamin D.  

We often hear about the “dog days” of summer but do you really know what the expression means? Some people say it signifies hot, humid days “not fit for a dog,” while others suggest it is the weather in which dogs go crazy. I did not realize that the Dog Days of Summer are an actual calendar item, referring to the most oppressive part of summertime between July 3 and August 11 each year. But, what does it have to do with dogs?

I learned by reading the Farmer’s Almanac, that the phrase references the Sun which occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth. In the summer, Sirius rises and sets with the Sun. On July 23, specifically, it is one with the Sun, and because the star is so bright, the ancient Romans believed it actually gave off heat and added to the Sun’s warmth. They referred to this time as diēs caniculārēs, or “dog days.” Thus, the term Dog Days of Summer came to mean the 20 days before and 20 days after this alignment of Sirius with the Sun.

In my book, every day is a dog day, just ask River. We just came in from a run on the beach. He ran, I walked, in case that was not clear. River is a sprinter so when he is completely exhausted from running and retrieving, he literally drops almost anywhere and sleeps for hours. 

Today, on the summer solstice, I am going to take my lead from River. Here are Ten Tips for a Great Summer from the Dog Days.

  1. Wake with the Dog Star.
  2. Go directly to the beach.
  3. Run, walk, play until you are exhausted.
  4. Nap in a cool spot – on a tile floor or a porch with a breeze.
  5. Drink lots of water and don’t eat too much during the day.
  6. Play with your toys (or read a book).
  7. Repeat from step 2.
  8. Eat a healthy dinner.
  9. Relax on the couch with a movie.
  10. Go to sleep when the Dog Star sets.

Woof, Woof

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Faces of Nature

One year ago yesterday, I caught my first fish on a fly. As you know, I have a great teacher, my son James, a fly fishing guide with Hubbard’s Lodge in Emigrant, Montana. We stayed in the home belonging to the Gignone family, owners of Sweetwater Fly Shop. This week the unyielding force of nature tore through Paradise Valley and northern Yellowstone National Park with record flows causing the Yellowstone River to literally erupt. Houses, bridges, and roads washed away, Yellowstone Park evacuated, and flooding at our favorite fly shop and Airbnb. 

James, Whitney, Boh and Aster are safe, but shaken. The main highway they travel is closed and they are looking for ways to bypass it. A fly fishing guide makes his living in these summer months and the Yellowstone will not be fishable for a while, not to mention the hazards that are now awaiting anglers in the river. I am thinking of James and all of his guide family, unmoored by nature’s power. 

I have spent the past few days in Bermuda, celebrating my sister-in-law Tracy’s 60th birthday. It was a wonderful and hilarious long weekend filled with family and good friends. An especially memorable trip to a spa inside a cave was had, but that is another story. I felt a deep sense of calm there which was most welcomed after ending another COVID academic year.

Bermuda is quite simply paradise, nature in its full glory, a beautiful tropical island filled with the sweet scent of freesia and Easter lilies. The ocean is crystal clear, bright aqua blue, with fine white and pink sand. Bermuda sits atop a long-extinct volcanic sea mountain 600 miles east of the Carolinas in a part of the North Atlantic Ocean known as the Sargasso Sea. Bermuda fish chowder and rum swizzles served al fresco were the order of the day. I did not want to leave.

I am now vacationing in Satellite Beach, FL. Yesterday, I woke to the sunrise over the ocean, with a school of dolphins playing nearby, seemingly welcoming me home. I joke that I go to the sea each summer to find my soul, but this year it is not a joke. It feels like a necessity. Numerous research studies highlight the benefits that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress, and promoting well-being. And, while Kent School, itself, is an unparalleled natural environment for learning on the Chester River, being away at the ocean, and internalizing its strength, increases my relaxation, my ability to reflect, and my creativity. 

Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods in 2005, and his book is largely credited with starting the movement to get children outdoors at home and school. He coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder. He noted that over 1,000 research studies point in one direction: “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning.”

I agree. Nature is truly a force, yet that force has many faces, some destructive and some healing. I will be soaking up the latter at the beach, if you are looking for me.

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About Nancy Mugele

Nancy Mugele is passionate about the written word. She is an aspiring columnist, writer and poet. Nancy believes that being grateful and kind can help change the world.

Nancy is the Head of Kent School, an independent day school serving girls and boys in PK – Grade 8 on the bank of the Chester River in historic Chestertown, MD. She is the Secretary of the Board of the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Rebuilding the Muscles of Connection

Education is heart-centered work, and I am grateful every day to serve Kent School. These past two months, however, have unearthed a stamina issue which quite surprised me. In our school we have literally gone from 0 to 60mph in about 10 seconds as we fill the calendar with our traditional springtime community events after two years of very limited in-person connection. It is wonderful to be together physically, but recently within one week, I found myself at two large events talking non-stop to hundreds of people leaving me with no voice, a sore throat, and limited energy. 

While tea with honey has certainly helped, I think I need some time to rebuild my muscles of connection. I have not spoken before large crowds, held conversations with a hundred people, and shared the wonderful story of Kent School repeatedly at spring events since 2019. My post-COVID energy level is not the same as my pre-COVID energy level, and I never really thought that I would need to work up to doing the things I missed so much. I need to rediscover my muscle memory, defined as the ability to do a particular movement without conscious thought, due to frequent repetition. Practice is the only way I know to succeed.

I am currently reading Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves Us from Surviving to Thriving by Christine Porath. In the book, she describes our deep desire to feel a sense of belonging, although many of us feel isolated coming out of COVID. The use of technology and remote work have led people to feel disconnected. As our human interactions have decreased, so has our happiness, and this is contributing to a mental health crisis. Porath’s research suggests that through “uniting people and sharing information, creating a respectful environment, providing a sense of meaning, and boosting personal well-being, any one of us can help a community truly flourish.” 

I believe this is my sole job this spring – uniting our school community in meaningful ways to help everyone thrive. While at the same time, rebuilding my own muscles for connection. Challenge accepted!

Family Tree

A tree is a plant with a tall structure comprised of a stem and branches to support leaves and a root system that anchors the stem as well as procures and stores essential growth elements, such as water and nutrients.

Last week’s blog post mentioning a cottage in Marshfield motivated one of my nine Troiano cousins, Tim, to start a Facebook Group – Troiano Family Descendants of Amadio and Helen Troiano. It is so fun keeping track of the posts from my beloved cousins whom my brothers and I spent a lot of time with in our childhood. Sadly, like all families our individual lives have spread in different directions (and states), yet our roots remain as one.

This week, I learned that we all remember fondly the times spent at the cottage and the original clawfoot tub. I never knew my grandmother was a poet until cousin Tim posted one of her poems, and my cousin Susan, also a poet, posted her tribute to Babcia, our Polish great grandmother. My cousin Kathy’s son James (great name!) is a genealogical researcher and has great information about our Italian and Polish heritage. 

Kathy, Susan, and Beth, do you remember when our Polish cousin Roma spent the summer? This week’s Facebook communications, together with a war at the crossroads of Russia and Europe, on the border of Poland, has made all of my memories of our beautiful great grandmother and our cousin come flooding back. I spent years writing letters to Roma and learning about her life. Sad that we did not stay in touch and I wonder what she is feeling today.

A family tree is a genealogical chart showing the ancestry, descent, and relationship of all members of a family. In the later Medieval period, nobility adopted the tree as a symbol of lineage, and by the eighteenth century, family pedigrees were commonly referred to as “family trees,” although the foliage had disappeared and the “roots” appeared at the top rather than the base of the diagrams.

Regardless of the tree imagery as upside down or upright, trees are magical systems of sturdy trunks and spreading roots and leaves – just like a family. While we can spread our leaves, our roots nurture the steady trunk which in turn strengthens us year upon year. I am so grateful for my great grandparents and grandparents who made lives for themselves in these United States of America. And, no matter where my life journey takes me, my roots anchor me, and have made me who I am today. 

Time to plan a Cousins Reunion in Marshfield.

Ebbing and Flowing

Throughout my lifetime the ocean has always been my source of strength, inspiration and reflection. As a young girl going to my grandparents’ cottage in Marshfield, MA for a month each summer was a gift that I treasured. For the past five years, I have lived on the Chester River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It has made me realize that I must always live on the water.

My job leading an independent school in the past two years of COVID has been complicated, exhausting, and challenging at times. Yet, my school is located on the Chester River and the views, especially the one from the Library, brings peace when I can take a moment to gaze outside or better yet, take a walk with River through the back field to the water’s edge. 

My home has also been an oasis of rejuvenation each day as I watch the ever-changing and never-ending flow and colors of the river, and reflect on the health and well-being of my school community. I have heard many times, “take time for yourself.” That is much easier said than done. But, I do have an amazing view from my new picture window at home and I am so grateful for the chance to relax and regroup at the red roof inn.

A colleague shared a poem with me recently. Advice from a River by Ilan Shamir resonates with me and I refer to it almost daily. Its last line, Beauty is in the Journey, speaks directly to me. No matter the obstacle, go around it and continue with the flow. The journey will make you stronger and you will come to understand its beauty. This seems like an especially accurate metaphor for life in the time of COVID.

The ocean’s beauty always calls me and I look forward to being in Satellite Beach, FL for spring break. I plan to use the time to decompress. That consistent ebbing and flowing you see and hear as you gaze at the ocean or sit by its side “de-stimulates our brains,” says Richard Shuster, clinical psychologist and host of The Daily Helping podcast. The noises and the visuals activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which literally slows us down and allows us to relax.

In addition, the color blue has been found to be associated with feelings of calm and peace. “Staring at the ocean,” says Shuster, “actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state.” A study published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s journal even found that blue is associated with a boost of creativity.

Maybe this explains why I can always do my best writing in my home or at the beach. The energy of the ebbing and flowing awakens and stimulates my creativity flow. And, the water always shows me that no matter the storm, this, too, shall pass.

Question Authority

Banning books has been around for centuries. From differing political, religious, and cultural viewpoints and expression, the explanations for censorship are unlimited. In 1624, Englishman Thomas Morton arrived in Massachusetts. He soon found that he did not want to abide by the strict rules and conventional values that made up their new American society. So, he established his own colony and wrote about it. His New English Canaan, published in 1637, criticized and attacked Puritan customs so harshly that even the more progressive New English settlers disapproved of it, and they banned it, making it likely the first book to be banned in the United States. (readingpartners.org)

Throughout our literary history in the U.S., many, many books have been banned or challenged. This past week, a school board in Tennessee voted unanimously to ban Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from being taught in its classrooms because the book contains material that board members said was inappropriate for students.

Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus, said he was baffled by the decision. “This is disturbing imagery,” he said in an interview on Thursday, which was Holocaust Remembrance Day. “But you know what? It’s disturbing history.”

In schools, classroom literature is carefully vetted so that creative, engaging, and bright teachers of Language Arts, Library, and English classes can offer students diverse characters, perspectives, and experiences. Educators know best the literature their students can handle and discuss in an age appropriate and relevant way, often finding selections that reflect the time in history the students are studying. Kent School 8th Graders read The Diary of Anne Frank, and pre-COVID went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Banning books from school libraries and curricula is a form of indoctrination, disguised as guidance by people with closed minds. Our students deserve better.

As a college student, I had a poster in my dorm room which said: Question Authority. It is a mantra I have always lived by – not in a disruptive way, but in a curious way. Banning a book makes me want to read that book, if I have not already. I can think for myself and I don’t need someone telling me what is or is not appropriate reading. I hope bookstores around the country offer customers sections filled with banned books. You will find some of the best and most thought-provoking novels ever written there.

And, honestly, if your child has a smartphone with a data plan, so they can use TikTok and search the internet, you have a lot more to be worried about than books.

Reason and Passion

I just watched Legally Blonde for, perhaps, the millionth time. Based on Amanda Brown’s 2001 novel, and released as a movie in July of that year, it was both of my daughters’ favorite movie for the longest time. Starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods, Legally Blonde tells the story of a very fashionable college senior, dumped by her boyfriend, who decides to follow him to law school. While she is there, she learns a lot about herself. In the movie, on the first day of law school, one of her professors starts the class with a quote by Aristotle – law is reason, free from passion. Over time, Elle comes to believe, however, that passion is a key ingredient in the practice of law and in life.

While I believe the movie made the quote famous, I have been reflecting on it recently, as my son gave me a stone engraved with the powerful Passion word for Christmas. The stone itself is blue and white – a nod to Kent School’s colors – and it has been added to the stone collection on my desk. Students frequently stand in front of my desk and ask me about all of the words on the stones, many of which have been my words of the year. Passion, defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion, is a key ingredient in my life and my work. I could not imagine otherwise. And, reason, the power to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic is also critical.

I have long been passionate about books. My mother, who began her career as a first grade teacher, instilled in me the mantra that books are your friends. I took that to heart, (unlike my three brothers – but that is another story). In the front yard of my childhood home I had a “reading tree” – a beautiful big oak tree whose shade comforted me while I read Ramona, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, and every single Nancy Drew mystery. It was my sanctuary. My reasonable side had actual human friends, but I was so passionate about my book character friends and spoke their names as if they were present. I still sometimes think, when I am using reason to investigate a situation, what would Nancy Drew do first?

The only way to parent is with both reason and passion. Parenting is a tough job and one must act with reason, and also with passion, with each and every decision made. With an empathetic nod to all parents, I know it is an exhausting role, but the rewards and outcomes are so beautiful, I promise. Having my adult children as friends is a gift that I am so grateful to have. Yet, it was not always this way. Saying no to a party, with good reason, is often wrought with guilt that you are socially harming your child. It is a constant struggle, made even more difficult today in this time of COVID. I was just talking to a parent about this very issue and the angst in her face was so palpable to me. 

Educators, like parents, must also use reason and passion in their daily role. It is why I love and respect teachers so much. Even when they are reprimanding a student, and actually most often when they are doing that, it is because they care so much about each student that they are trying to help them become the best version of themselves. Creating honorable citizens is a role we take seriously and it involves both reason and passion. 

Honestly, I don’t think you can or should divorce reason from passion. Both are critical to leading a life of purpose. Feel free to quote me: Life is reason, full of passion. 

Weekend Workout

Bucket List – Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro

If you need a reason to stay inside on a cold, rainy Sunday and read a book, here it is. Reading for as little as six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, slow your heartbeat, ease muscle tension, and positively alter your state of mind. All the better if you have a dog beside you on the couch and a fire roaring in the fireplace. Reading is my weekend workout.

The problem with reading a good book is that you want to finish it to find out how the story ends, but you don’t really want to finish reading the book. This happens to me all the time. I have a goal of trying to read a fictional story every two weeks. I know, I am a classic book nerd, but book lovers like me thrive on having an unread book on the stack at all times. 

A Kent School colleague, who knows me well, gave me a signed collection of essays by Ann Patchett, These Precious Days for my winter break reading. I love Patchett’s work and her personal essays were soul-baring and inspiring. 

Two lessons from her warm and witty pieces, which I will carry into the new year, are that life is a winding path with turns that we cannot see coming. How we react to those obstacles marks our character. We must persevere and move forward with kindness and humor. (sort of like the last two years and COVID, but that is another story!)

Secondly, Patchett wove through all of her essays the importance of reading. As a bookstore owner, she shared that it is always important to have children’s activities in the shop because she is creating a love of reading in those who are her future clientele. I love that thought and it resonates with me as an educator who believes in reading aloud to children often. Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” We are growing readers and book lovers at Kent School, and I am proud to play a small part in that by reading aloud weekly in Little School, Kindergarten and First Grade.  

Sharing my love of reading with students brings me great joy. Yet, I am most proud that my own children are readers and it is always inspiring to talk to them about a book they have enjoyed. When they were very young, Jim and I always read aloud to them individually at bedtime – a ritual we still have on Christmas Eve when we read The Polar Express aloud as a family. I know they secretly made fun of me for always having my face in a book when they were growing up, but now they appreciate reading a great story. Jenna enjoys historical fiction, Kelsy prefers mysteries, James loves fly fishing personal accounts, and Jim likes history. 

Everyone reading quietly on a beach is my ideal family vacation! And, if we can’t find a beach, the living room also works. Join me for my weekend workout. Your membership fee is a good book.

Jewel of Autumn

Once when I was living in the heart of a pomegranate, I heard a seed saying, “Someday I shall become a tree, and the wind will sing in my branches, and the sun will dance on my leaves, and I shall be strong and beautiful through all the seasons.” Excerpt from The Pomegranate, Kahlil Gibran

I just bought my first pomegranate of the fall and I am so grateful. This is the time of year for the jewel of autumn to once again grace our fruit bowls. Pomegranates are a fascinating fruit with a rich history whose name derives from the Middle French pomme garnete, or seeded apple. 

According to the Pomegranate Council in Sonoma, CA (who knew?) pomegranates have been cherished for their exquisite beauty, flavor, color, and health benefits for centuries. From their distinctive crown to their ruby red arils, pomegranates are royalty amongst fruit. They are symbolic of prosperity and abundance in virtually every civilization. 

Fortunately for us, this unique fruit has an abundance of juicy seeds, or arils, to savor. Some sources claim the number of arils is exactly 613, while others allow for an error of +/- 200 – a wide variance. I can tell you from experience, whether the number is 600 or 800, pomegranates have a lot of seeds. It takes uninterrupted time, a bowl of water, and a lot of patience to extract the flavorful gems from their web of spongy skin inside the husk. But, trust me, it is so worth it.

Pomegranate seeds are superfoods containing polyphenols, powerful antioxidants thought to offer heart health and anti-cancer benefits. Pomegranates are also a source of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K and potassium. There is some evidence that suggests pomegranates can protect from Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis, and aid in digestion.

Almost all of the world’s religions have recognized the pomegranate’s significance. The mythology of ancient Greece regarded this fruit as a symbol of life, marriage and rebirth, and by eating a few pomegranate seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades as a symbol of the indivisibility of marriage.

Pomegranates are highly symbolic in Jewish tradition, most often associated with fertility and good deeds, and are an integral part of this week’s Rosh Hashanah meals. By eating the pomegranate at Jewish New Year, it expresses a wish for a year filled with as many merits as a pomegranate has seeds. A beautiful sentiment.

When I placed a pomegranate in my shopping cart today, I smiled to myself. Holding the jewel of autumn makes me anticipate our family being all together in a few short months at Thanksgiving. And, while I am not a fan of Halloween decorations in stores in the summer, or Christmas decorations in stores before Halloween, the pomegranate is definitely a welcomed guest in the fruit aisle of the grocery store right now.

Looking regal atop the apples and bananas in my fruit bowl, pomegranates are a strong and beautiful symbol of love. Pop some in a sparkling beverage and let the fun begin!