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Brood X Invasion

Imagine being isolated from all your family and friends for 17 years, oh wait, we can, as we were basically quarantined for the past 15 months. Welcome to Maryland Brood X. The enormous, and creepy, periodical cicadas are finally here after a cold spring, and they are ready to party, maskless! 

Emerging in a yard near you, the insect is in its final nymph stage. It climbs a vertical object, sheds its shell and becomes a winged adult. Then, the 17-year-itch and mating dance begins. The female cicada can lay up to 600 eggs. Cicadas don’t bite, don’t sting, don’t carry disease, and are not poisonous, so why are we so repulsed?

The last time these happy, liberated invaders graced our lawns, patios, and walkways was in 2004. Jenna was graduating from Middle School and she was not a fan. It seemed that every step she took, cicadas were slowly buzzing by her. Truth be told, Jenna never liked bugs, even when she was a small child. So, the large winged cicadas made her crazy, but she could absolutely out run them. Her 8th Grade graduation was indoors but as we walked outside to snap the prerequisite family photos, Jenna was nowhere to be found. She refused to go outside. Made for a tough afternoon.

Cicadas sing from dawn until dusk, but mostly in the afternoon. Their chorus is loud and can be grating. Older neighborhoods with less new construction seem to have a large quantity of the visitors, and Jim’s family home was covered in cicada shells that year. I remember well the crunch of each step up the walkway to the front door and the loud cicada buzzing I could feel inside my car when we pulled up to the house. 

As COVID restrictions begin to disappear with the prevalence of vaccinated humans, we are all about to have a summer party, maskless. Makes me feel some empathy for Brood X. They are just trying to have some fun!   

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Dress for Success

When I was first starting out as a junior advertising executive in NYC in the early 1980s, my highly ambitious female boss taught me an important lesson. When you are trying to make an excellent first impression in business, but are in doubt about what to wear, dress one level up from what is expected – so, if it’s casual, dress in business casual, etc. I have never veered from this in nearly 35 years, until the past 14 months.

I have always thought that dressing the part was important in gaining professional respect and success, especially as a woman, but now I am not so sure. From dresses and heels to jeans and boots, the pandemic has changed my thinking about professional wardrobe. 

Miuccia Prada said, What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language. And, while I agree that fashion is language, in this time of COVID, I have found that my language is, literally, language. 

I have spent 14 months leading a school in this complicated and unprecedented time requiring a high quantity of written communication and Zoom Town Hall Meetings to speak with parents. Professional clothing has not been a focus of my day, nor has it been a close second. The enormity of the issues facing schools and the world in this time of COVID require a very high level of reflection, informed decision making, and clear communication. This can be accomplished quite well in the comfort of casual clothing, especially from the waist down in our Zoom world.

Ralph Lauren said: Fashion is not necessarily about labels. It’s not about brands. It’s about something else that comes from within you. These words resonate with me. I know that it is not about fancy clothes or popular name brands, it is about feeling good about yourself and choosing clothing that reflects your personality. It seems to me right now that our personalities need soft, warm, and relaxed clothing to counter the heavy lifting our brains are doing.

Remember Jane Jetson – she was ahead of her time with her video telephone. The perfectly coiffed hair and face she “wore” over her true, tired self is what we all need for our Zoom meetings! Yet, it is our authentic tired selves making the world move forward and we are doing a pretty good job in jeans.

Dress for success? To me, in this moment, means being at ease with your fashion choices so that your mind can succeed. 

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Words Change Worlds

Words change worlds – just ask Jason Reynolds, the poet and New York Times best-selling author of over a dozen young adult and middle-grade books, including Ghost, a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature. I had the incredible opportunity to listen to Reynolds address independent school educators yesterday at the National Association of Independent Schools virtual annual conference (NAISAC). Despite the fact that I was sitting alone in my office, I was moved to tears and goosebumps as if I was listening in a room filled with educators from across the country, nestled alongside my dearest colleagues.

Reynold’s story is empowering, inspiring, and authentic, and he is on a mission to touch the lives of black teenagers by letting them know that he sees them.  “I can talk directly to them in a way that I know they’re going to relate to because I am them,” he told the New York Times in 2019, “and I still feel like them.”

To the crowd of educators at #NAISAC this week, Reynolds told us that he did not pick up a book until he was 17. “The books that were given to me in school, there was never a connection for me,” he said. Finally, an African American literature teacher gave him a book and asked him to read 5 pages – if he was not hooked he did not have to finish. He finally had a character he could relate to. The rest, as we say, is history. The book “chemically changed me,” said Reynolds, because it gave him permission to draw from the stories of his family and friends and write the way they speak. It is our job as educators to make sure that our students read books that offer windows and mirrors to the diverse lives they live. Reynolds’ journey affirms this.

“Language, this thing has freed me,” he passionately explained. I was enthralled by his every word and facial expression. Especially when he spoke about rap music. “Rap music saved my life – it shifted the way I thought about myself and shifted the way I thought about possibility. It was telling truths.” I remember when James was in high school listening to rap music. He also told us it was poetry, and it inspired his own writing and his love of words in a way that nothing else could. 

I hope one day to bring Jason Reynolds, a Maryland native, to Kent School as our endowed Kudner Leyon Visiting Writer. His words are so important for all of us to hear. He left us yesterday at NAISAC with an important charge to reflect upon. An essential question that is so important now in this global pandemic. How are we keeping our children whole? I have thought about this since he formed the words and said them to us out loud yesterday. I am convinced that along with heath and wellness initiatives, it must also involve reading and discussing books. Books that represent each and every student. Classics and new novels carefully curated to offer relevant glimpses into history and the complicated world we live in today.

Grateful to Jason Reynolds for his words that change worlds.

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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.

Hope Road

In my travels on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I occasionally see an exit for Hope Road in Centreville, off of Route 301N. I have never taken it, but I have often wondered where the road goes, and why it is named Hope. If ever there was a time we need to drive down Hope Road, it is right now.

To say that 2020 was a challenging year is an understatement. COVID, racial relations in our country, politics, the Presidential election, and an insurrection at the United States Capitol in the early days of 2021, have all weighed heavily upon our minds and hearts, and we all long for normalcy to return to our daily lives. Sadly, I have forgotten what that looks and feels like. Yet, as a school leader, I need to remain hopeful and optimistic.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind, based upon an expectation of positive outcomes of events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world. Research shows that hope has an impact on emotional wellbeing, and one’s level of hope can predict future anxiety and depression. 

This has been a year of intense learning, adapting, creating, executing, and hoping to implement a plan to safely open our school in the midst of a global pandemic. I am proud of my school and our efforts to remain open. We have successfully completed 16 weeks of in-person instruction. Yet, I am worried that I have not been able to focus my attention on long term strategies in many months. Operations has forced my hand, and I have had to be far more involved in creating a COVID-responsive school than advancing my non-COVID school.

I have a headache most days as I feel the strain of keeping our students and employees safe at school. Thank goodness for River, the Kent School dog, who turned one on January 3. River fills me with hope, and keeps me calm – except when he ruins another couch pillow. River also helps me get exercise and reflect outdoors, something I have really grown to love. While we got River as a puppy before we had even heard of COVID, he was an unexpected joy in the months of the Maryland stay-at-home order, and he has been a great addition to the student body at Kent School this academic year. The students love him and they need him. He is in constant demand as a member of each class’ gym routine. River is our hope. A wag of his tail or a dog kiss can certainly make your day. 

I have found in the past year that we must treasure simple pleasures and kindnesses. We had a surprise visit on our porch on New Year’s Eve from some new neighbors dropping by with a bottle of spirits to help us ring in the new year. They made our quiet celebration for two something a little warmer and happier. We all need more humanity in our lives, more warmth, more happiness, and more hope. 

This week a new President and an historic female Vice-President will take the oath of office in what I hope is a visible peaceful and majestic symbol to the world of our great American democracy. To me, it signals hope for a brighter 2021 and hope for a brighter future for humans of differing opinions in our country and our diverse world. 

As for me, I am going for a drive. You can find me on Hope Road.

Simple Abundances

And now let us welcome the New Year full of things that have never been.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

January, the month of new beginnings and cherished memories, beckons. Come, let winter weave her wondrous spell: cold, crisp, woolen-muffler days, long dark evenings of savory suppers, lively conversations, or solitary joys. Outside the temperature drops as the snow falls softly. All of nature is at peace. We should be, too. Draw hearthside. This is the month to dream, to look forward to the year ahead and the journey within.

I have just begun a journey to read Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach during 2021. Although the book was written in 1995, it is new to me. The passage above is today’s message. Happy New Year and Welcome 2021! I am looking forward with optimism and hope.

All day yesterday I kept thinking – what shall I wear to our New Year’s Eve festivities in our own dining room. It made me smile, but it also made me nostalgic. Truth be told, Jim and I have not ventured out on NYE in years, but last night felt different because there was truly no place to go. We were visited unexpectedly on our front porch by some neighbors who brought a gift of wine to start the new year. It was a heartwarming, simple abundance that Jim and I very much appreciated. 

When we were raising our children, Jim was always the Uber driver on NYE, back before Uber was a thing. My job was to maintain the home fire, while preparing a special five course meal which we ate between kids’ runs. Last night, Jim and I enjoyed our usual seafood-centric, five-course dinner with a gorgeous view of the Chester River from our new dining room picture window, our Christmas gift to ourselves. Thanks KRM Construction for the amazing simple abundance of a new view on life through a beautiful portal to our spot on the water.

Last night, as we face-timed with our children and watched the ball drop in an empty Times Square, I thought of the simple abundance of love that we are blessed to have in our lives. Love of family, friends, and a black lab pup who turns one on Sunday. Life is full of simple abundances and I am grateful for each of them.

And, today, as I gaze out the new window, I feel great hope and optimism for the coming year. I know that nothing really changed dramatically overnight, except, of course, our mindset. 

Cheers to a new year full of things yet to come!

Light and Love

Ultimately there is light and love and intelligence in this universe. And we are it, we carry that within us, and this is what we are trying to reconnect with, our original light and love and intelligence, which is who we are, so do not get so distracted by all this other stuff, really remember what we are here on this planet for.

~Tenzin Palmo, author, teacher, and one of the first westerners to be ordained as a nun in the Tibetan tradition

Light and Love are two powerful symbols of this season of Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. In this time of disconnection, light and love are also the most important ingredients for gratefulness.

Like many families this year, Jim and I will be spending Christmas without our children and extended family for the first time. While I am unhappy about it, I am grateful that we were all together for Thanksgiving, and knock wood, no one became ill with COVID after traveling to Chestertown. That said, traveling anywhere during COVID is not fun, and probably not smart, so I completely understand everyone’s decisions. I am sure we will be on Facetime a lot!

To enjoy this holiday season, without the love of family present in our home, we are filling the house with light. Well, sort of. Don’t judge, but we decided against a Christmas tree this year for a lot of reasons. What we miss the most, however, is not the large fir tree sitting in the middle of the family room dropping needles everywhere, but the bright, colorful lights. (Yes, I also miss the nostalgia created by opening the box of long time family ornaments, many handmade, and some with photographs, but that is another story.) It is the Christmas lights filling our house at night that warms our hearts and brings us joy. So, we have decorated inside with a lot of lights. It is very festive when the sun goes down in our cozy cottage and the lights click on. Like an old and dear friend, I am grateful for their comfort.

I have also realized this year in particular that we do carry light and love within us all year long. You can see it in the eyes of essential workers like the front line health care community, grocery store employees, and, especially, in our teachers, and those who support teaching and learning, at Kent School. As we embark upon our 14th week of in-person instruction on our beautiful riverside campus, our final week before a well-deserved winter break, I am so grateful and proud of what we have accomplished for our students. We are the light, the love and the intelligence for the Kent School universe. 

May Light, Love and Gratefulness fill your holiday season and the New Year.

One Drum

I have been thinking a lot lately about the connectedness of all living things. I chose CONNECT as my word to hold before the Kent School community this academic year because I believe that it is so important for us to CONNECT meaningfully in this time of disconnection due to the pandemic. But, my fascination with the word has taken me in a surprising direction.

A wise and thoughtful school head I know in Canada steered me toward the writing of the late Richard Wagamese. I have been inspired by his meditations since the summer. He is an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation of Canada. His storytelling is one of Canada’s many gifts to the world, and to me personally.

His words ground me. I began with Embers, but it is his book, One Drum, in which he reflects on the connectedness of the universe and all of its pieces, that is speaking to me. “We are all one energy, one soul, one song and one drum.” Yes. 

These morning meditations have inspired me to learn more about indigenous peoples in our country, and I also have been reading about Chief Seattle, Chief of the Dwamish, Suquamish and allied Indian tribes, widely regarded as one of the most important figures among Native Americans for his efforts to accommodate the white settlers in the United States. On the other hand, Chief Seattle had also been a lifelong advocate of the need to respect the land rights of the Native Americans. In a letter to President Franklin Pierce in 1854, he wrote: 

We are all children of the Great Spirit, we all belong to Mother Earth. Our planet is in great trouble and if we keep carrying old grudges and do not work together, we will all die. 

How incredible that these words ring true today – one hundred and sixty-six years later. Have we not learned the most important lesson of all throughout the course of history. We are all connected and we must work together to heal our one world. We must respect and celebrate the differences of others, because we cannot all be the same. Our world leaders must come together to fight a global pandemic, climate change, and senseless territory wars. We must listen to each other and listen to our planet.

2020 has been a tough year. (I realize that is an understatement but I was trying not to swear.) We must welcome 2021 by taking a lesson from schools. Humanity needs to adopt a growth mindset. According to Carol Dweck’s research, “a growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” This is the roadmap. Let’s go, people. We don’t have time to waste.

Over Thanksgiving I shared with my family my desire to learn more about Native Americans and their teachings and beliefs. James and his girlfriend Whitney sent me a belated birthday gift of a pair of beautiful mukluks. The boots, generally made from sealskin or reindeer-skin are typically worn by indigenous peoples of the arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and eastern Siberia. The word “mukluk” is of Iñupiat and Yupik origin, from maklak, the bearded seal. My bearded seal boots have a beautiful blue (for Kent School!) bead design and they are the coziest and warmest boots I own. I will treasure them, and I am grateful for the love and support of my family as I take this journey to more understanding. 

We are all connected. More so than I even believed in September when I selected my word for the year. Collectively, we can make change happen. And, we must.

Wine of the Fog and the Hill

Last evening Chester River Yacht and Country Club held one of their spectacular five course wine dinners. Jenna joined me and we learned about the Vajra wines from the Piedmont region of Italy. I love a great bottle of wine, but I really love a great story. 

Since the 1600s generations of the Vajra family have grown grapes on this beautiful countryside in the northwest corner of Italy near the Alps. Historically, the family sold their grapes to winemakers, but in recent years the younger generation decided to harvest their own grapes and produce under their own label. And, speaking of labels, the designs of dragons, flowers, and birds in full color are stunning pieces of art. 

One of the selections, Vajra Nebbiolo Langhe 2018 was especially delicious and when I learned the word for the grape nebbiolo means fog, I knew this was the wine I needed to offer at my Thanksgiving table in 2020. During harvest, which generally takes place late in October, a deep, intense fog sets into the Langhe region where many Nebbiolo vineyards are located. Hence the name.

Recently I was inspired by a new UnderArmour Team video featuring fog as a metaphor for COVID-19, I am convinced that the tagline – the only way is through – introduced in January, should be our anthem for 2020. The Nebbiolo Langhe, wine of the fog, is thus the drink of the year.

We have had fog on the Chester River almost every day for the past two weeks. I am now looking out my new dining room picture window at fog, once again. The best thing about it, though, is that when it finally lifts, you can see so clearly that which has been hidden. It is a reminder that once we are out of the fog of COVID our path will be visible. I hope that it will make people kinder, and more empathetic toward each other and to our differences.

We also tasted a bold and hearty barolo last evening, which I specifically went to the dinner to taste. Vajra Barolo Bricco Viole 2015 is also made from the nebbiolo grapes. Bricco means top of the hill. Another great metaphor for 2020. The only way is through the fog, and we must get to the top of the hill for the best vantage point.

Heart-Centered Work

I read non-stop for the past few days of my fall break to finish The Book of Two Ways – Jodi Picoult’s latest gift. Inspired by her son’s account of The Book of Two Ways in Egyptology, Picoult wrote a textbook about archaeology set amidst a brutally honest account of the choices we make, or don’t make, that change the course of our lives. In the novel, Dawn’s two possible futures unravel and collide. Her journey is familiar to us – who would you be, if you weren’t who you are now? 

When you get to be a certain age, old memories and questions are always in the back of our minds. What might have been? What if you went to the college where you were waitlisted, chose the job in another city, did not get on that train, you get the picture. It is also really heartwarming when you can look back with no regret and know that the choices you made were meant to be, even if you did not know it at the time. And, yes, even winding paths can lead you to where you belong.

Dawn also describes her work as a death doula, supporting people in their end of life process, as heart-centered work. This is the phrase that has played in my head all weekend. Why would you want anything less? All of our work should be heart-centered. We should be passionate about our career and love what we do. Or, why do it? 

COVID-19 has made me see my role as the Head of Kent School in a slightly different way. It is now, more than ever, a heart-centered position. We opened for in-person instruction on September 8. Planning and decision making has been mentally exhausting. But, it is the heartfelt caring for humans – faculty, those who support teaching and learning, students, and their families, that must be the highest priority in this time of great anxiety and added responsibility for everyone. 

And, while, all of the experts say you must also take time for yourself, the reality is that this is almost impossible right now. If my work were not heart centered, I would not be able to keep the pace with which I have allowed myself to work. My school community means so much to me. I am doing it for love. 

Fall break this past weekend was a chance to reset, relax, and breathe. So glad I had The Book of Two Ways to guide me.

The Writing Spider

Kent School Admission Office visitor

I am not a fan of spiders. I admit that if I see one, I will have to yell for Jim to take care of it. When Jenna was a little girl she interrupted Jim while he was watching an Orioles game one night to get a spider in her bathroom. Of course, it was the bottom of the ninth inning, the Orioles were down by three runs, and the count was three balls, two strikes, with two outs. Jim totally downplayed it and told Jenna not to worry about the spider so he could watch the final batter. As luck would have it, Chris Hoiles hit a walk off grand slam for the Orioles win that night, and Jim saw it. When he finally got up to check on the spider, I heard him yell from the kids’ bathroom, “Jenna, get my slipper.” It was a little bigger than he imagined, but that is another story. 

Recently, I learned that yellow garden spiders are also called writing spiders – now, that piqued my curiosity. What do they write?

The writing spider can be found throughout the temperate grasslands, prairie and scrublands of North America.  This common spider, sometimes called the black and yellow garden spider, is regularly found in backyards. Argiope aurantia prefers sunny areas among flowers, shrubs and tall plants. Open fields and meadows are another typical home for this sun-loving arachnid (Milne and Milne 1980). 

The writing part of its name refers to the way it spins its web. The white zigzag in the centre of its web is called the stabilimentum or web decoration and resembles a zipper. Many believe the way the spider moves back and forth zigging and zagging is similar to writing. 

While I have never seen this particular spider working, I imagine it is like Charlotte in one of my favorite children’s novels by E. B. White which tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of becoming the farmer’s dinner, Charlotte writes messages in her web praising Wilbur in order to save him. Charlotte is the first writing spider I ever knew.

Writing, for me, can also be a zig zagging process. Author Gustave Flaubert wrote: The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe. This statement truly captures my personal experience with writing. I often get new ideas for my blog through conversation. But those ideas don’t become mine until I write about them. Clear prose means clear thought and, for me, writing is all about thinking. It solidifies my thoughts and helps me formulate new ones. 

Writing is also about re-writing, editing, and reflecting on your message to be sure it represents your thoughts appropriately and authentically – zig zagging as it mirrors my stream-of-consciousness thinking. 

The ancient Chinese regarded the written word as a transformative force able to move heaven and earth and unite the reader with the source of all things, the Tao. (The Art of Writing, Chou Ping) If we all took some time to use the written word to formulate our opinions before we said them aloud, we might all get along just a little bit better. At a minimum, we would be more civil towards one another.

Everyone is a writer. Yes, to pursue it as a career takes education, special training, and endless practice. But, for most of us, on a daily basis, all it takes is time with your thoughts and their subtle back and forth, and a basic desire to elevate others with your words, like Charlotte.