Monthly Archives: April 2014

Five acres, and a mule–that’s me. The mule, I mean.

I had trouble sleeping last night. What upset me, what I was in turmoil over, was that I had a strong reaction to someone else’s choice–a lifestyle, big financial choice, and then I couldn’t approve of my own disapproval. Even though I’d scorned folks for similar decisions before without a qualm. Because this time the culprit had a face.

I knew her by name, remembered her face (don’t know her spouse), and my impression when I encountered her years ago was very positive–a down-to-earth, guitar-playing folk-hymn-singing Christian woman, had traveled, worked in missions, a kind and open face, a smile I liked. The kind of person I’d expect to be living a simple, frugal lifestyle.

Now she and her husband are selling their house–kids all out of the nest, and we were tipped off by a friend that we might want to see it, since it’s in the location we’d hoped for (for school and commuting), has acreage (for the minifarm we’d dreamed of), and each child could have their own bedroom, and we an office. Maybe too much space for the long term, I thought, but maybe my folks-in-law would like to move in with us, or we could rent out a room; I’m trying to be open minded, though I don’t want to take care of the house more than the farm and garden, or heat and secure all that space while we’re all off at work and school.

The house had been listed online, I was told, and my girls and I (they stay in tune about these things, because they share half of our garage for a bedroom) were excited to look it up–could this be the one we’d sell out to buy?

It was a palace. Six bedrooms, five bathrooms, over 5,000 square feet of space, and a shop bigger than the house we have lived in since 1997. A garden, and orchard, yes, but also acres of mowed lawn. It was laid out like an English estate, and it was listed at almost 1.5 million. No wonder the owners wanted to list it themselves–the savings in commissions could almost buy a modest house in one of the soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhoods across town.

My heart fell, and I thought, what’s a family of four, a nice family of the faith, doing with a house like that? First, it’s surprising in a town where all but doctors, top executives, Microsoft retirees, heirs, and a few select others struggle to earn a family wage. Second, how do you look the 99% in the eye, sitting on that? Make whatever you want–I’m not down on earning a lot for hard or highly specialized work, or even wise investment–you can do great things with money if you’re good at making it. But I have a hard time with people who pour so much into visible luxuries such as fancy houses, expensive cars and frequent exotic vacations. Even to let burned out pastors camp there on sabbatical or host lots and lots of foreign exchange students or friends’ troubled adult children.

So lots of judgments coming out. Maybe it’s my poverty mentality. I grew up without any luxury, and with having to share everything, or do without, except when it came to space outdoors, books, and creative pursuits. I was in an environment where luxury was simply inaccessible, and not really familiar. My definition of luxury was having more than one car, a paved driveway, and having to take off your shoes at the door to protect the carpets. And I picked up a subtle sense of disdain for folks that had lots of money and possessions.

During the brief period when my husband’s business made him, technically, a millionaire, we didn’t really change our lifestyle, except we bought a brand new vehicle, which I was somewhat embarrassed to drive, and got out of debt. Other money flowed out in what we might call investments in people. Then we took our family overseas to study another culture and language, and spent the rest. No regrets, no naming opportunities requested. If it ever comes our way again, I hope we’ll do about the same.

But here I am, trying not to look down on someone, draw conclusions, wondering if I should go to the open house just to ask the owners how it all came to be, how they were led or whatever in that particular financial direction. I do want to understand, and maybe change my mind, and maybe the folks who applied for a permit to build an extra 10,000 square feet on their house, and the castle down by the water, and the four-story on on the ridge, have perfectly reasonable explanations. Or maybe, they just don’t know any better, and neither do I.


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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Economics, Ethics


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The more I hang around horses, the more I come under their spell

The more I hang around horses, the more I come under their spell

20140419-2252 GMGMy daughter has been inviting me into her horse world. She leases a lovely twenty-two-year-old mare named Lucy who knows how to do everything, and is willing, but has enough spirit to be interesting. My neighbor’s daughter also leases, so we moms share the twenty-minute commute so our daughters can ride three days a week, including a weekly ongoing lesson with the owner. They do chores for the use of her tack as we gradually help them buy their own. They ride in the arena and on trails, practice for shows in English and Western styles, participate in the 4-H club associated with the barn, and build friendships with both older and younger girls. This has been a wonderful activity for my daughter, who is very kinesthetic, hardworking, and intuitive, and who has had a special interest in caring for animals from early on. This has been my first regular contact with these beautiful, impressive, mysterious animals. I’m pretty intimidated by horses I don’t know, but am comfortable helping my daughter groom and do a few other minor tasks. Mainly I fetch and carry, and of course buy. It’s a neat way to spend time with her, to see her connect with the animals and the other riders.

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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Beautiful Earth



True Colors by Cindi Lauper

I’ll put this out for you beautifully unique humans. Drink it in:

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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Arts, Poetry and Music


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I dreamed I was walking that road
and approaching me was a dirty man
with too many clothes on, carrying a khaki duffel bag.
He looked strong and was muttering to himself.

As we came abreast, I said Good morning
looking him in the eyes
He stopped, and his sweet, acrid aroma
blew over me.

“One,” he said,
and moved on.


Do we really believe Bill Gates’s main objective with this is better education? And what’s his definition of better, anyway?

I’ve been trying to make sense of the so-called Common Core State Standards Initiative, wading through the rhetoric, promotional material, vehement objections, sometimes muddled and paranoid rants (though “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”–Kurt Cobain). I want to know if it’s ethical or advisable to have my children taught and tested under this system. The school district is set to implement high school testing, for example, next year, and I got a notice from our high school that a non-scored practice test is scheduled for next week. I plan to find out how much instructional time will be lost and what other resources will be funneled away from academics into this, and make a decision whether to send my daughter those days and/or request further services to compensate for this intrusion that doesn’t serve the interests of the students being tested. To that extent I’m already not going with the flow. But it’s a pretty powerful flow, and some of headwaters seem to come from underground..

Among the first things I noticed is that the CCSSI is a misnomer, because it is not initiated by states at all. Maybe should be called the Federal-Corporate Partnership on National Educational Standardization or something (but that would make it look unconstitutional, so the word “state” was inserted. It’s driven by folks we shouldn’t trust with our children’s education and personal data, because their vested interests are not lined up with the best ideals of parents and communities for children’s education, and because voters have no say in what they are doing. Many of these CCSSI proponents are powerful and/or rich folks (not that that necessarily means unethical, but it means they don’t have to wait for the people’s consent if they don’t want to) pursuing what they see as worthy goals but who have a skewed and merely pragmatic vision, and a true-believer enthusiasm that blocks out people’s concerns and objections and even ridicules them for it. Bill Gates and other corporate sponsors who in their main line of business sell computer systems and software and educational curriculum and testing materials (think access to data on school children, marketing, monopoly…) are bankrolling much of this.

Bill Gates explains his reasoning for supporting the Common Core in the first video below. It it he says, “[the Common Core and aligned curriculum and tests]… will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching. For the first time there will be a large, uniform base of customers looking at using products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.” [my emphasis]

Developing customized products state departments of education, districts, schools, and even parents will buy depends on obtaining and analyzing data on children, as Jane Robbins explains in the second video.

As I said, the Smarter Balanced practice tests were scheduled for next week according to an email from the principal’s office, but guess what: My daughter was sick this morning, and when she went in late, she found out that the first test had already been administered during English class.


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Wind whipped, wave washed, wondering …why wail, whine, and wither?

Thinking back to the spring break trip, how we drove just ahead of the rain storm from Washington to northern California, and it caught up with us when we stopped at Crescent City to stay in one of the special hotels I’d booked. Not fancy, but rooms overlooking the ocean. Inside with the glass balcony doors closed, we could just make out the sound of waves breaking on the beach over splattering of rain on the foggy glass. I tried to go for a walk between cloudbursts after supper and got only a few hundred feet before I was drenched by renewed showers and turned back.

The next morning was rough inside the hotel room–can’t remember why–something too direct was leveled at me before I was in my right mind, while I was too sensitive, probably due, as I now know, to unstable blood sugar and related morning hormones. Couldn’t take it, so I threw on running gear and headed toward the beach. I’ve learned something over the years at least, how not to spiral down but instead get outside and let the surge of mixed emotions power my legs along, get out of my head, settle down, because mostly it’s nothing that should matter so much.

Skirted puddles across the parking lot, cut across the edge of the camper park behind the bus stop where early shift workers waited, onto the bike trail. A concrete walking bridge spanned a stream flowing toward the beach, the banks of which were lined by reeds and debris. Then banks of angular gray rocks–a manmade breakwater–rose along the edge of the sand and pines at the top edges a park green space. I climbed down the rocks onto the long, wide curve of wet sand. Rain clouds’ voluptuous underfolds in shades of gray moved en masse across sea and land, and a cool, damp wind blew over the beach and swooped up the curve of cliffs, lifting my hair.

I went down closer to the water line, testing the firmness of the ground, whether I’d get my sneakers wet–it was perfect footing, and it was time to get moving to replace the body heat stripped away by the wind. I started, felt the slight give of the ground at each impact. Past a bank blanketed in a kind of succulent-leaved beach plant with pink and yellow flowers. A raven called from the pines on the shore, and flew from tree to tree, tracking my progress and relaying what it saw of significance to its fellows. It felt like company, but then I wondered if it was just on the lookout for something likely to fall and not get up.

When I was a bit warmer I slowed to a walk, turned my eyes toward the water. In every sight, smell, brush of the wind there was so much relief. More than that–delight. I hadn’t been on a beach for months, maybe that, but also the sense of being all alone and immersed in these elements, alongside other creatures that happened to be there, glad to have chosen this way and aware how easily I would have missed all this.

As I turned to watch the waves to my left, four silent shore birds patterned in white, grey and brown materialized to my vision. They watched me from their few inches depth. I greeted them but they were not at ease with foraging in my presence, so I nodded and continued on my way. I felt something else was about in the sky, and looked up; silhouette of broad, wide wings soaring, a glimpse of orange head: California condor!

A small stream blocked the path to the rocky promontory on which a lighthouse perched, but up the shore was a log for crossing, which I used, and jogged over to the natural cove where waves were crashing against the black rocks. I hoped to see or hear sea lions; we’d heard some barking during the night. I walked up the partially fortified trail to the lighthouse hill. The hill projected into the surf as the prow of a ship, high and rocky, taking the wind full in the face, but terraced in rows of rock and green grass, with more of the succulent flowers, and, nearer the lighthouse, signs of habitation. Too early to take the tour, but it was the ocean I wanted to experience anyway. Warm enough from my exercise, I went to the front of the promontory and let the wind say what it would. Then I scanned the water on both sides for sea lions, and finally spotted a glossy black head with its own movement. Pleased, I waited to see if it would make a sound. A few seconds later, again materializing as the shore birds had, there were suddenly more sea lions bobbing in the waves–several, then dozens, then more than I could count. I’d mistaken them for more rocks, but now, there they were in company.

The family was finishing breakfast in the lobby when I returned. I gave each of them a memento–succulent flowers for my mother-in-law and daughters, a club-shaped stick for stick collecter, a smooth stone for my oldest son, a pussy willow for my father-in-law. Renewed, I went to take my shower.


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A Triptych of Dreams

When I dream about bears
and living in a house with broken locks
It means I am afraid

When the flood dream comes,
in which my basement fills with water lit green
I have my own private swimming pool
It means I am happy

As for the dream about an earthquake,
The question is,
how far away
is the helicopter.



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