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While the bread rises

I was in a serous mood, having just read some thoughtful, intelligent writing, and so inspired, started writing this post. It was about how I have been kidding myself that there’s a Reality, after all, beyond subjective interpretation. That there are time, and space, and atoms, and biological and ecological imperatives, and even something above all that and both superior, higher, and, sadly corruptible at that higher level, resulting in detestable, shameful, manifestations of human free will, and fates worse than death! But that I would, by choice–faith, if you like—continue to believe in  this Reality, or Truth, because I can’t think of any beliefs that I like better.

I took a break, noticed that my store of tomatoes and zucchini were growing, and decided to get on Facebook to ask a friend for that vegetable chowder recipe. Facebook, which I had abandoned over a year ago for reasons of principle as well as personal weakness. I set up an account again a few days ago, because I missed being in contact with some really old friends I couldn’t reach in any other way. Told myself I’d just get back on for a month or two, post a minimum of information, find friends enough to build a network, then say good bye and invite them all to try out MeWe, the private, no ad social network alternative I use.

I got sucked in. Yes, Facebook worked its magic, and soon I was clicking Send Friend Request on names of people I lived near, saw often, or was related to, instead of just my long lost. I started reading, remembering, laughing, deciding which old friends I still might have enough in common with, trying to remember which ones to avoid because they were always liking commercial links and posting photos of their meals, political and religious videos and news items, and rescued dogs. Or because there was am uncomfortable mutual memory I wasn’t ready to hurdle yet. A never ending list of “you may know” names got me scrolling, looking for familiar faces.

Then I came back to WordPress, and my words here appeared to be in a foreign language by comparison. Facebook by its very nature calls for cheery, impersonal, generally acceptable images and phrases, and anything unique, flavorful, provoking, personal must be shared with caution, for it’s bound to irritate, cause concern, or confuse some. Posting for the kind of group I’m now connected to is a strange and artificial act. Maybe the best strategy, besides saying almost nothing and sticking to personal messages, would be to mimic a certain farmer friend who posts gorgeous photos of farm life and landscapes, with a few of his children playing and working. Seems like everything else could irritate or worry the folks on my friend list. On the other hand, it could be a wonderful challenge, like a game with lots of rules, which necessitates strategic thinking and creativity. Would it be possible to get a hmm or a smile (a like?) from both the conservative Christian relative and the beer-happy former school buddy?

That’s enough of that. I think I’ll be okay. It’s good to be back. I haven’t sat down at the writing table much because I’ve switched to food growing mode. My garden is now overflowing with beans, Swiss chard, tomatoes, beets, berries, herbs, and some flowers, and everyone knows about that sort of thing–its just the turning of the seasons. Every year I get more in the swing of this, less likely to neglect the plantings, prunings, feedings and thinnings needed to keep everything growing strong, better at keeping up with the harvest and preserving so not much gets wasted. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that the youngest half of the family prefer microwave popcorn and quick snacks when there isn’t a full course meal on offer. For the rest I cook up or cut up two or three vegetables or put out salad ingredients, and now and then bake some muffins or bread. Every day I dump the kitchen compost pail, pick a big basket of beans and a few tomatoes, and stop to watch the hummingbirds zip over and rest on the wire fence, and admire the honeybees and other pollinators who sip at the ever blooming borage and crocosmia. The spring plantings are at the maximum, early summer plantings coming on, and the next phase of planting is here, the fall crops that will be set in the ground as soon as the summer crops are done. Chard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, carrots, beets and salad greens will stand well into fall and some overwinter. Meanwhile it’s almost time to take a child or friend or tow to a hedgerow to gather wild blackberries, and after that I’ll pick my first crop of apples from the new trees i planted year before last, as well as the golden sauce apples and Italian plums from the older trees. I never get tired of this–it’s the same, but also new every time, and I can become more and more in tune, more in harmony, if am given and make the opportunity.

This Reality that I spoke of before has to do with this cycle, as reflected in the seasons, but also with something linear, a journey of learning, with an option of growth. In my education days, and before that studying biblical exegesis, it was represented by a spiral, each lesson or concept being revisited in turn at a higher level, with the general trend being cumulative and integrative learning. I turn away from that option of growth often enough, as if there is no purpose in this after all but to amuse myself and keep from letting my circumstances give me too much trouble. I certainly resist being shown the error of my ways by anyone close to me, preferring approved, and impersonal, sources. Still, I hope, I hope and try and try to yield, if that makes sense.

 

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California Trip Part 1

California Trip Part 1

Last week I left my home town for a drive to California and back with my daughters, me the sole driver and lots to do on the ground, so not much time to write. I  feel like I’m seeing too much too fast, and at a shallow level, that I can’t do any of it justice in print. For once we’ve arrived at our stopover before bedtime, so here I am.

As for schools, so far we’ve toured Santa Clara University, University of California Santa Cruz, Occidental College, and Chapman University. We will do our duty and visit the appropriate home state campuses later, as well as several in Canada. We’re trying to see what each offers and discern the mission and priorities of each and see if the ones that cost so much more would still be worth applying to. Of course Canada’s the best deal by sticker price, but my daughter so wants to study in California. #1 pick so far is UC Santa Cruz, second Santa Clara. More on our impressions later.

I spent all of a day and a half planning the itinerary before leaving, which took care of the first four days: basically a straight run south on the interstate, munching baby carrots and listening to audiobooks to stay alert, a stopover at Grant’s Pass, then down to Santa Clara, where we started our campus tours. Between Santa Clara and UCSC we had booked a rare open campsite at Manresa State Beach near Santa Cruz, where we slept to the sound of surf and woke to the shriek of a frustrated hawk. As I sat by the tent in the morning I discovered that the whole area under the campsite had been colonized by ground squirrels. Right after a posse of kids finished their umpteenth bike race down the sandy trail, up popped a little head and paws started tossing sand out of a tunnel that had been crushed–industrious little thing, though maybe short sighted. The night before I was reminded of my need to restrain my tendency to complain and snap at others when I’m tired, can’t find my flashlight or toothbrush, and feel like I’m doing all the hard work. Especially when I’m supposed to be an example to young’uns feeling the same things. Welcome back to camping charm school.

A treat for the girls was a two night stay at USA Hostels of Hollywood (intro to world youth travel). It looked a little sketchy on arrival but turned out to be very clean, very comfortable, and very conveniently located. My daughters really noticed the jump in the “cool factor” of their fellow guests. We strolled down the Walk of Stars (realized it was no big deal after all), visited Madame Tussaud’s, had excellent service and burgers at In ‘N Out, went to the Hollywood Bowl for an L.A. Philharmonic concert, and experienced the creativity and weirdness of walking back to the hostel down Hollywood Boulevard at 11 pm. It was nice not to have to pack up after that first night, and I was able to find some time to start planning the northward journey.

When my daughter proposed this mother-daughter trip I found the idea intriguing but overwhelming, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even with one driver and a last minute itinerary, things can work out so well. So far not a bad accommodation, other drivers have been easy to get along with, and it’s amazing how many cool places we’ve been able to see. The night drive through the pass into L.A. with everyone but the trucks going seventy-five mph or more and occasionally drifting into my lane was intense—I couldn’t let the girls talk to me or play music because it took so much concentration.

We’ve eaten well from groceries, free hotel breakfasts, and local eateries along the way, and even picked up a few bargains (clothes in a cafe!). Yes, the world seems smaller, more accessible to all of us. With fewer fellow travelers (than our last family trip to CA), planning is simpler. The actual travel has worked out well—the van navigation system (“Bridget”) worked great and we had no trouble finding our destinations. On the way back we’re taking a more windy route–once we got to Sacramento we headed into the mountains and stopped to swim and picnic at Lake Tahoe, then zigzagged down the other side, drove up through citrus and nut groves and then wheat and ranch acreage, bought cherries and peaches by the roadside, and stayed in Yuba City (another well-kept, East Indian-run, independent motel). Today we crossed into Oregon and drove up to Crater Lake, where we saw those fabulous views, interacted with the local chipmunks and Clark’s nutcrackers (gray, back and white birds), and were then shrouded in mist and pummeled with rain down the other side of the pass.

Tomorrow it’s to Portland (hopes of getting in on a tour stand by at U of Portland) then out to the Olympic Peninsula (We’ve never been there), where we hope to snag a first-come, first-served campsite, and then home, where we’ll be back with the boys, and it will be back to morning swims, regular chores and responsibilities, picking berries and beans, and the job search.

 

 
 

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Haikus written to the sound of the dishwasher’s last run of the day

Cat’s ears turn, tail flicks
Paw stretches, bats a wrapper
Big eyes watch, and wait

 

Why do you look, smile,
only when my head is turned?
Eyes flick across, miss.

 

Empty kitchen, clean,
except the crumbs of sweet bread
and your last cup of warm tea

 

I watch for you, still.
Though your heart is forgetting,
mine will never heal.

 

You hold out your hand,
Tilt to see the creases there
Age, dismissed, returns.

 

Pacific Ocean
Stretching always undersea
Igneous yoga

 

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Arts, Poetry and Music

 

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My Lord, what a morning

“Schew” Schew!” My son is shooting laser guns at I don’t know what enemy again this morning as I empty the dishwasher, and I ask him to stop, for the second time. As usual he’s up earlier than anyone and has been listening to a “Star Wars” audiobook. “How about some music, JP, like the birds are doing outside? You can sing. All that shooting bothers me.” Reminds me of death and violence, though I know for him it’s some kind of ingrained need to prepare for action, ready his instincts, move his body, be a boy, so I should be tolerant. The mental picture I work up of boys and men cultivating gardens and making art doesn’t really cut it as an alternative to crawling through swamps with guns after aliens who have sworn to annihilate all our villages. But how about clambering over houses and schools under construction, hammering together beams and messing with clanging pipes and welding torches? Why can’t we train them all up with that instead of the killing part? “Bob the Builder” and “John Deere Machines” cartoon being a good start, but what happened to the woodworking classes beyond age twelve? Useful Lifetime Skills, make way for Common Core. Because we need masses and masses of computer programmers to feed the kind of companies my husband works for, who pore over line upon line of code and manipulate masses of cell phone user data in an attempt to gain an edge on the other company doing the same thing. As personal information slips through the floorboards and gets pilfered by…aliens. Solving the world’s problems with technology, such as, why is my computer frozen again so I can’t access my next door neighbor’s morning Instagram post, or find the phone number of my dentist, or whether someone is defrauding my bank account from Nigeria?

And I say, can we start some banks, insurance companies, and school systems where the data is minimal and kept strictly local, maybe in file cabinets or big binders, or a few offline digital systems that a thief can only access by breaking a window and opening the safe? That an employee can’t even take home on a thumb drive to sell to the highest bidder? And the NSA is complaining now that some of the social media giants want to make users happy by allowing encrypt messages that even the government can’t access. I’m trying to apply this rubric to my activities: Who can find out, anyone in the entire world with cyberskills, or only those who happen to look out their windows or over into my shopping cart or overhear my voice in real time? The decision whether to replace our back yard fence with a closed wood one or open wire grill seems silly in comparison–do I really want to keep secrets from my good and kindly neighbors when strangers already know so much?

This morning the air was different. How much of that was conveyed to me subconsciously by the difference in this morning’s bird song as I rose from the pool of sleep, my soul slowly returning from that dream about escaping someone beloved but not very safe? But there was also the dingling of my small wind chimes, the shhh of the big weeping willow and fir trees, an auditory foreground outcompeting this time the distant sound of early freeway traffic several miles to the east. A clean, cool breeze off the water just audible, and the ticking of a clock.

My first thought was of mornings at my maternal grandmother’s house in New Brunswick, the thrill of waking up there on a July morning knowing the tide would be in on the river shore, where there was sand instead of the muddy, weedy ground further out. The brilliant sunshine would be warming the shallows except up under the sandstone banks where scaly fir trees leaned out. My brothers and i would bolt our cereal, argue over who got to use the big surf board first, and where was the small one, and could we go down to the river now? Annoyed at the necessity of wearing shoes through the rising hay and thistles, brushing spit bug nests along our calves and enduring the prickle of dead thistle leaves caught in between flop flop and sole. When we were little, a parent would have to accompany us for safety, and parents were in the habit of sticking around the house reading and drinking coffee or something boring like that. Grammy, or course, couldn’t come, with her stiff joints and fragile frame. Though now I wonder if we should have found a way, as I believe she would have enjoyed watching us wade, and how many memories did she have of growing up doing the same? We never asked her.

Sometimes I long so much for a river that I can’t stand it. But not just a river park, a picnic or day’s trip, a river of my own, or at least a place on the shore to put a cabin. The ocean is a necessity, of course, and should not be too far–with islands, preferably. But a river moves me. It brings so much, and washes so much away, yet holds on to everything important. Out of the shadows come the minnows, if I stand still, nibble my toes, and flip their tails in unison, flashing away as take a step in the velvety shallows. The river shrimps materialize and shoot several feet on either side as I walk and disappear again in a mist of fine sand. There may be beetles and butterflies and apples and raccoon hideaways and even a natural spring on the shore and in the woods nearby, but what can compare with a river? How can I help but feel that, having been bequeathed with the experiences of two rivers, one visited only a handful of times, and the other every summer? Both are out of range now, thousands of miles away, one owned by my aging uncle and aunt, probably later by their children, and the other even farther away, perhaps with some shoreline still in my father’s family, but I live here now.

I live here now. And as I aspire to end my sentimental journeys and laments on a note of hope and good intentions, I affirm the presence of two or three perfectly good rivers here. I only feel the need of a guide, someone who would not only not be put out but would delight in helping me get acquainted, showing me where to get my feet wet, cast a line, launch a canoe.

It occurred to me that I’d expressed some river longing other posts, such as River, and this, If I had a river, which I checked to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself too much. I noticed that the second one was written exactly one year ago today. And so I declare this day, June 11, to be River Appreciation Day. May you find your flow, see good things coming down and be able to experience a cleansing, healing, refreshment in the river of your life today.

 
 

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What doesn’t kill you either makes you stronger, or initiates a slow and inevitable death

Again I reflect on what could be going on in this huge world filled with individuals so connected in some ways that they seem like part of some huge protoplasm phagocytizing the latest presenting body, absorbing whatever is diffusing through this cultured medium, yet also so fundamentally alone, cut off, unique and mysterious, perhaps even breaking off the main body entirely. Whether that makes for freedom and independence, the establishment of a new population of adaptable organisms, or drifting vulnerability, death of the apparently unfit–are we all comfortable with that?

After the middle school class had received their tests and were getting down to them, continued from yesterdays’ work, I noticed one boy just sitting at his little table, lank hair hanging over one eye. I asked him if he had missed the previous day and so had not got a test started. He said no, he didn’t have a group. Group? You mean study group of this material? Yes. And why not? He just didn’t get a group, so wouldn’t be doing the test. Everyone was joining groups and he didn’t get in one, and didn’t want to interfere with anyone else’s. So I don’t do the work, I just read, he said. That’s what I do. Besides, there are so many questions, over eighty, on and on, and it’s too hard to read all that, I won’t be able to do it.

I tried for a little while to make the connection between the test as a tool for just finding out what he knows about U.S. history, and learning U.S. history as a way to be informed and capable of making smart decisions and not just being a pawn of the influential, and…he just looked at me quietly with those big eyes in that small, pale face. Sensing that what he got something from all this was that someone was at least noticing him, talking to him. Under cover of the quietness of everyone writing the test–as I continued, a somewhat unnatural quietness, as if there was a curiosity about this interaction, those fellow students having more background, and what was this sub on about with the boy who never did any of the work?

We started with The American Dream. It was on the test, after all, and I just told him about it, how it meant the idea that everyone had the chance to succeed through hard work, not only the rich or connected or advantaged. Could he imagine two boys, one who was told from an early age he could do just about anything if he worked hard, and the other, that he was dumb or didn’t have what it took or that the world was a messed up dog-eat-dog place and it was the luck of the draw. Which one would be more likely to succeed, if it was a matter of mindset? His hair hung over his face as he sat on a stool by mine, and I couldn’t tell his expression. Was I skating close to something painful? I imagined a quiet weeping behind that curtain, though he made no sound. Because this boy struck me as, more than anything, deeply discouraged. And usually that comes from external sources at that age, someone shutting him down somehow. He had adopted a fundamentally passive stance toward events in his life; it seemed the only form his righteous anger–if it could be so called, could take, and probably the most powerful. No one will tell me I’m doomed to be a failure–I’ll do it to myself, of my own free will!

There was so little time. Who was working with this kid? Who had time? And anyway, why bother? Survival of the fittest, right?

 

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Of course I have favorites

Is it all my failures at home that have given me this advantage when it comes to dealing with students bent on offending, rebelling, sassing, dissing, and being generally, in their own minds at least, free thinkers and nobody’s fool?

There was this girl in my class the other day, and she’s sitting with her friend at a new table during group work time. One of the boys at that table is attempting to explain to her why she and her friend can’t be in that group. They have already started the assignment, are on a different topic, and there can only be groups of up to four people and that would make five. The boy’s expression shows a mixture of determination and trepidation. He’s speaking hesitantly but reasonably. The other boy looks on, believing this may not turn out well.

The girl is sitting hunched, her back against the wall, glaring, red-faced (could be sun burn). I sense the need for intervention, and approach. What’s up, I ask. I hear the boy’s explanation. I ask the girl what her name is, because she’s not noted in my seating sketch yet. She turns her glare on me. “your name?” Yes, she has heard me, and she is giving me the silent treatment.

Glares? I can handle those. So I say, “Okay, just asking. I’m not going to do anything nasty with your name, only wanted to be able to address you properly to be polite. How can I help?”

“You can’t. I’m NOT moving.” She is not quite gritting her teeth, or holding her hands in fists, but there’s the feeling of it.

I look at her friend, a girl I’d previously spoken to, whose name had been offered then on request. She awaits the verdict–she is in a support role, willing to also look a little fierce, if not openly defiant. Trying this out, maybe under a thrall a little. I look around at the students at the table. “Okay, see what you can work out.” I move away, thinking, these boys are in over their head, and here’s an incident waiting to happen. I confer with the special ed teacher, who nods, looks determined, and says, I’ll deal with it.” I’m hoping she doesn’t have her back up at all, thinking she might, suspecting she thinks that as a sub I can only make things worse. Something has to give. I wonder if a call down to admin would be a good preventative. Still, I move off, act normal, continue to check in with other groups without any indication that there’s a problem anywhere in the room.

A few minutes later I see that the SpEd teacher has worked her magic and the girl is gone from the boys’ table. She’s working out in the commons with two other girls. Since there are three educators including the instructional assistant, I stroll out to check in on the three groups out there. The girl is looking relaxed. I offer a few thoughts on how each group might include indigenous peoples’ angles on their Washington state history research on transportation, women’s roles, child rearing, industry. Remind them that these social studies concepts were realities not invented by the colonists. They are all open, but prefer to consider the state history part from the twentieth century on. There are no kids with indigenous roots in this group, I think.

I am smiling at the girl, along with the others in turn as I ask questions, offer suggestions. Suddenly she says, “I’m sorry I yelled at you in there.” Which is not, strictly speaking, what happened, but that’s how it felt to her, apparently. So obviously she was all set to yell. “I was just mad at them for not letting us in their group.” I reassure her that I know she had nothing against me personally. “But thank you; that’s sweet–I forgive you.”

I try to be professional when I’m working with students. Try to convey an equal interest, equal warmth, equal approach to intervention or disciplinary actions, equal respect. But to admit the truth, I really look forward to the opportunity to interact with strong willed students. Yes, I have some strong willed children on my own, and am not as alert to the need for staying on my best game at home, in being patient, in holding my ground while being empathetic, in giving frustrated children space. But it seems I’ve learned a few things along the way even so. And so now I feel so responsible to use that, to offer that, to allowing myself to be in that challenging place where I handle things in a way that really does some good for students like this. They are students who offend, and no one thanks them for that. They have their reasons for being mean, rude, defiant, difficult, touchy, and so few adults have the inclination to ask them what those are, to come alongside and understand, then work to help these kids discover and practice ways to harness their strength in a direction that helps them succeed.

 

 

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Last summer in the nest

Last night I almost bought a one way ticket for my oldest son to fly across the continent. Only reason I didn’t was that my computer froze, and I’ll really do it tonight. I go over the steps in my mind to prepare for his launch into college studies–assembling essential belongings such as passport, clothing for east coast weather, a few special things from home to set up in his room, his laptop. I wonder what he’ll want to bring besides. Driving him to the airport, saying good bye in that low key, heartfelt way we have, and walking back to the car feeling both bereft at that gut maternal level, and happy for him. Happy he’s found a good quality small college with the program he wants and affordable costs, happy that he’s eager to continue studying after a few months of summer–he told me he really thinks he’ll enjoy it. Happy he’ll be near my family, especially now that my parents are nearing their eighties. Happy that he looks forward to immersing in a Canadian environment, but will also meet folks from all over. Happy that he seems pretty put together and should be able to make wise choices in the midst of the inevitable segment of the student population who won’t.

Then we drive home. Will I be flooded with memories, want to write to him right away? What will be the shifts that will take place in our family with my second child, a daughter, now being the eldest, holder of (by the) the other driver’s license and attending local community college for her final year? And how will it be for my youngest son, who so enjoyed spending time with his brother, roomed with him for years? Will he become better friends with his nearest sister? Will they reach out to one another more in his absence, have a new sense of the impermanence of all things?

I guess I’ll pack away the rest of his things, not having the luxury of keeping his bedroom the same for his return–it’s only part of a garage, and shared. Suddenly my youngest will have a space of his own–the one who has been shunted from one corner to another, without shelves, toy storage, a real closet, or much in the way of expecting any of those things. Now he’ll be able to set up a table for Legos, have a mattress off the floor. I’ll paint his room, fix it up sweet.

How will we be at keeping in touch? Will we video conference, email, talk on the phone? Will he find it easy to be away from home, or will he be home sick at times? Is it a good idea to make that memory book of our family life, home town, friends and homeschool days, or will that make it harder?

My sister-in-law once exclaimed that it was too bad that just when her kids were becoming such nice people, they had to leave. We’ve had our rough times, but it seems that’s true–this young man is becoming such a pleasure to talk to, and more helpful around the house, kinder to his siblings. My daughter told me that her good friend, who has also known my son since they were small–her brother is a good friend of my son’s–that she was amazed at how much nicer my son was. Said he hardly talked to her before, or showed any interest in being friendly, was now really nice. She used to be intimidated by him. Funny how that is.

And so, I process, a little at a time. It’s a time to return to a discipline of prayer as I let go, we all let go and send this young man off to new tasks, relationships, hopes, and plans.

 
 

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