First Light

For some reason, the phrase We go at first light has been stuck in my head for weeks. Maybe it is because, finally, I am waking in the light to go to school, and I am very attuned to the first light of the day. It may also be because this week marks the AIMS 10 Year Accreditation Visit at Kent School. We have been reflecting as a community on every detail from mission to program to experience for two years to unearth and showcase all of our highlights. Or, it may just be because I read it recently in a book.

First light as a phrase has been used since the 1700s, presumably dating back to a time when people had no other way of telling the time. Morning twilight, or dawn, is the time of day when light first appears, before the sun makes its appearance. In the Military, first light is the beginning of morning nautical twilight, when the center of the morning sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. In astronomy, first light is the first use of a telescope to see star light.

To me, the phrase signals adventure and the start of a journey. It is also in its simplest form, poetic and romantic. It corresponds to a magical and peaceful time of day when only poets and authors are taking notice of the awakening. The birdsong and the gentle river currents feed the creativity of the soul. All things are possible.

Although we don’t use the phrase first light in education, we should. I have witnessed many times myself at Kent School that exact moment when light first shines in a student’s eyes as they master a new concept. Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher captured it perfectly: My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed!

If you need me at first light, I will be on the porch, writing.

Photo: Satellite Beach, FL


Write On

With all due respect to this month’s religious holidays and rain showers, to me April means National Poetry Month. I know I am a literary geek, but as an aspiring poet myself, I am inspired by this month dedicated to poets and their craft. National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry. 

For me, poetry has always been the vehicle which allows me to observe and comment on my world. I cannot remember a time when I did not read and write poems and I can still recite poems memorized in my childhood. I especially loved reading and writing Haiku as a young girl and later expanded my writing using rhyming techniques. In my early 20s I began to explore free verse or open form poetry which does not follow a specific pattern and that is the style I currently use. 

My first published poem appeared in my local hometown newspaper when I was in the 6th Grade. I won a town-wide poetry contest and that was all I needed to throw myself into writing. I have had several poems published in Poetic Voices of America anthologies over the years and they sit on my bookshelf as a reminder to Write On. I wrote a poem to each of my children when they were born – that is another story – but, I have a journal for each of them which I hope one day they will treasure. 

Next, I hope to add a children’s book to my writing collection. Yes, I have written a manuscript about my kitten, Jingles, who followed me to school every day when I was in Second Grade. I have submitted the story to six publishers, and have heard from two – a mainstream publisher and a self publishing company. I am currently learning about both options as we speak. I am pretty excited! 

You may think writing a children’s book is coming out of left field, but I have spent a great deal of precious time in the past seven years reading aloud to students at Kent School. I have read my old favorites, from my own well-loved collection, such as Make Way for Ducklings, as well as new children’s gems like Kwame Alexander’s How to Write a Poem, perfect for this month. 

Dear Readers, cross your fingers for me. Perhaps I will have a children’s book in the world soon. Write On!


Waking Up

Springtime is the land awakening.

The March winds are the morning yawn.

~ Lewis Grizzard

One more day until the Vernal Equinox, yet I feel the sun’s warmer kiss already. Springtime is the eternal optimist of the seasons. A time of hope, when the Earth awakens and the outdoors blooms right before our eyes. But, please March, why are you so darn blustery?

Some weatherdudes made it clearer – it is windy in March because of the increased atmospheric instability caused by the increasingly strong sunshine. This heats the earth’s surface and since warm air is lighter than cold air, the air rises. This process results in more “mixing” of the air, which tends to bring down the stronger winds from the upper atmosphere. 

This makes complete sense. The sun is ready for summer, but winter still has a hold on the earth. No wonder the lioness that is March cannot go away quietly. She is doing her job to wake up the earth with her windy yawning. Living and working on the Chester River means double the wind for me every day. I need to go buy some hairspray.

March is also the month when we lose an hour of sleep. This week has been particularly difficult following our school spring break. Normally, daylight savings time is my favorite eight months of the year when we make better use of natural daylight. Created by Congress in 1918 as a “way of conserving fuel needed for war industries and of extending the working day” (Library of Congress), it was repealed after World War I and re-established in 1942 during World War II. 

Four months of standard time does nothing but make us cranky, so I am glad to be heading into spring. A time change, a full moon and St. Patrick’s Day all within a week has played a little havoc with my internal clock though. 

The best news of the past week, however, is that our ospreys are home – both at my house and at Kent School. Like clockwork, our resident river hawks arrive in their nests around St. Patrick’s Day. I went to bed that night wondering where on their journey the ospreys were, only to wake up and find them sitting in their nest on the morning of the 18th. They have some work to do! The March winds, and a few windy winter storms, have ravaged their nest. They are out looking for sticks as we speak.

Here’s to our osprey’s return and March winds. The earth is waking up. 


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 President of the Board of the Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools, a member of the Board of The 1911 Group (formerly Head Mistresses of the East), a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, a director of the Mid Shore Community Foundation, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Social Fitness

In 1938, Harvard researchers embarked on a decades-long study to find out: What makes us happy in life? 85 years later they found it. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. It is positive relationships that keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer. 

Humans are social creatures, and relationships affect us physically. The researchers found that to make sure your relationships are healthy and balanced, it’s important to practice “social fitness.” Social fitness “requires taking stock of our relationships, and being honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive.”

I have been thinking alot about this lately. I recently returned from a trip to Nashville for The Heads Network annual conference – A Positive Mindset for School Leadership. It included one of the best leadership workshops I have ever attended taught by Leadership + Design. The highlight of the weekend, however, was connecting in person with a group of creative and intelligent school leaders who mean the world to me. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which we felt isolated, disconnected, and anxious, the return to being with family and friends is so joyful. I also exercised some retail fitness, but that is another story.

The Harvard study reveals seven measures of social fitness.

  1. Safety and security: Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?
  2. Learning and growth: Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?
  3. Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows everything (or most things) about you? 
  4. Identity affirmation and shared experience: Who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?
  5. Romantic intimacy: self explanatory!
  6. Help: Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem.
  7. Fun and relaxation: Who makes you feel connected and at ease?

We all need the people in our lives who fulfill these needs, and we need to intentionally strengthen our relationships with them – social fitness. I love this new term and plan to put it in motion in my life. I have a close friend who is retiring soon. When I asked her what her retirement plan is she said, I am going to reconnect with all my family and friends whom I have been too busy working to see regularly. It made me think that I need to practice social fitness. Easier said than done with all of our busy lives, but just as you exercise your body, you need to exercise your mind and heart.

It is never too late to deepen the connections that matter to you. Start the heavy lifting now.

Follow the Crumbs

Everyone in my family knows that I believe the best Italian pastries come from Modern Pastry Shop on Hanover Street in the historic North End of Boston. My grandparents were married in the North End, my grandmother was born in her families’ apartment on Prince Street just around the corner from Modern Pastry, and I vividly remember visits to my great grandfather’s house and community vegetable garden there. My niece is carrying on the family tradition and currently lives there.

In my childhood, every birthday required a rum cake from Modern. Established in 1930, the award winning and family owned bakery was opened by the Picariellos who came from Italy to share authentic recipes and culture. When we left the nest our Nana would send us boxes of Modern cookies for our birthdays shipped across the country, the familiar boxes tied with the signature red and white string. She, herself, would take a bus to the post office to mail them. I am pretty sure that her post office, and many mail trucks over the years, had crumbs all over the place after one of these sacred deliveries.

My sister-in-law has kept up the beloved tradition. For my Thanksgiving birthday this year she sent cookies and crumbs to Florida which was where I was celebrating my birthday and the holiday. Literally just opening the box brings a flood of fond memories and warms my heart.

Recently, I wanted to send a gift of food to my parents in South Carolina, and although I live in Maryland, I could think of no better gift than cookies from Massachusetts. I am so grateful for Modern Pastry’s website and shipping options. The cookie tray arrived and all the cookies were amazingly fresh. There is nothing like an Italian cookie to brighten your day and put a smile on your face – especially when dunked in a cup of espresso. I always love when the cookie crumbs sweeten the drink.

Segui le briciole 


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!

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

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.

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.