Monthly Archives: June 2014

No stone unturned, but please set them all back in place when you’re done

No stone unturned, but please set them all back in place when you’re done

Had a whale of a time mucking around on the beach at low tide that morning with my son’s fifth grade class a few weeks ago. All up to the gills in neat things to look and, smell and feel, deep in concentration, ebb and flow of kids between water line and rocky shore. And kudos to the leader the facilitating non profit environmental education group, who reeled all the parent volunteers in and specifically gave permission for the kids in each of our “groups” to drift off down the beach and not be called back to stay with the group. “Just wave and say, ‘see ya!'” was her wise advice. I like to see that prioritization of learning over control. There weren’t any cliffs or dangerous undertow currents, after all.

A good hour or so of free exploration, a few optional tools and field guides, parents to carry heavy stuff and bandage fingers sliced by shells. The field guides went by the wayside, the shovels got whisked off for use on the sandy part of the beach, and the pan filled up with things to look at and show off: purple sea stars, sun stars, limpets, clams, mussels, hermit and rock crabs, red, green, and brown algae, sand worms, and small fish. One find let to another: as we were lowering a rock after we’d finished admiring the mass of golden eggs stuck to its underside, the water in its muddy footprint swirled and revealed a mud-colored fish keeping guard. Later I found a post with a good photo of the fish.

All very nice, all very good. The kids gently return all the creatures and habitat samples back to the wild as instructed, and toddle back to the school in time to ride the diesel-powered buses, parental hybrid vehicles, SUVs, and minivans lined up on three sides of the school. Today they learned how neat nature is, and did what children way back to Adam and Eve’s got to do with their morning hours, messing around with real things God placed on this Earth. What now? …I’m fishing for possibilities, plumbing depths for implications, diving for pearls. How about this: instead of merely poking and prodding, then gathering up at the park shelter for pizza and drink boxes, why not then gather firewood, pull out the nets and rods, and catch dinner? Och, it’s a park, girl, and what if everybody did that? And I say, what if–let’s explore the idea in theory, anyway–what if a lot of folks really did? Not all in the park, but spread out, like, along the coast, up and down. If all the current inhabitants of the coast had to go locovore and forage with their young and old ‘uns, go out and fish, and never venture back to the grocers’ in the petro-powered vehicle at all? Would the impact really be net destructive? That’s what I want to know. I mean, if the contents of those intertidal zones and pelagic fields weren’t contaminated by mercury and whatnot from the other more modern ways of pursing  a livelihood, if they were still edible like in the old days?

Next time, I want to take the kids up to the Lummi shoreline for a lesson in survival from the elders who still know how to make that kind of living. Just in case California really does dry up in the next few years and not send us any more off season fruits and veggies, let alone lunchables and go-gurt.



Tags: , , ,

Diagnosis, prognosis, prescription, payback?

In the back bedroom my husband is catching up on the Mariners game on his laptop. I tune in only when the name Michael Saunders comes up, since he’s a relation, which makes me a fan. But this isn’t about baseball, or even sports. An advertisement for a surgery center is deftly inserted into the game commentary. Advertising surgery clinics? Seems inappropriate, unprofessional somehow. Can’t that money go somewhere more useful in the field, like maybe gas money for carless sick people to get to the hospital? Must those surgeons compete for customers–ahem, patients? Used to be only chiropractors who did that, even offered discount coupons in those envelopes along with DQ and lube shops. Hence the hard time I had accepting these practitioners as legitimate. Now surgeons are doing the same. Can a woman hold out for a two-for one mastectomy sale offered by the new surgeon in town? And isn’t it so cute to see those ads and brochures with the white coated doc surrounded by his team of subordinates? Am I supposed to gain confidence from the existence of so many well-groomed female assistants? Better than including the doctor’s spouse and children in the feature, like so many local businesses. “Oh, that’s S____ from my daughter’s class. Her father does carpet cleaning? Lets’ hire him!” “What a nice looking family! I’ll call the company about our lighting needs!” Apparently the leap of logic from “I know him” or “I like his appearance” to “He’s the best choice of doctor” is still too great for most people. With the current trend away from teaching logical thinking, we’ll get there before long.

Then there’s the medical product trade. My optometrist, one I followed from his debut at Costco to his own practice because I liked his professionalism and thoroughness, now escorts me out front  after my appointment to deliver me to the optician in his spectacle shop as if the transformation from patient to consumer is the most natural thing in the world. I stiffen, politely browse, and say thanks, I’ll be shopping around. Will the surgeons come out with a special line of proprietary bandages next, on contract with Disney? Or maybe certain medical groups will take out stock in certain pharmaceutical companies and then, well, why not–write preferential prescriptions. Oh, I forgot–isn’t something like that already happening? Or am I thinking of auto dealer service departments?

I’m not liking that cynical tone, are you? Okay, I’ll back up, and ask, in a neutral tone, like a good CBC journalist:

  • What is the role of the business model in the medical field?
  • How can medical professionals and facilities inform the public about their services and qualifications in an accessible, truthful and balanced way, so that prospective consumers–ahem, patients–can make informed choices?
  • Is there a role for market competition in the provision of medical services?
  • What are the most effective structures of accountability for medical providers marketing their services, or selling products related to their own medical advice?
  • What business-related activities could constitute conflict of interest for a medical provider?



Posted by on June 29, 2014 in Economics


Tags: , , ,

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

Jumping to conclusions on my new trampoline

We splurged on a big one, hoping it would help us all center somewhere in the home landscape, be a spot of choice for our teens, fun for the younger ones, and an attraction for all their friends. They are all using it, for exercise, for fun, for a dry place to lie and chat while scanning the sky and fir tree silhouettes as the dark falls, and for sleepovers after that.

It took me about a week to get up on it myself. Just didn’t get around to it until then. I was surprised how good it felt, how uplifting. And a good workout. Keeps one accountable in the area of remembering to do one’s Kegel exercises, too, which one occasionally neglects, doesn’t one? It’s kind of modeled after a pelvic floor itself, in a way. I remember the feeling of my son trampolining on mine in utero.

The city children’s hospital has a vegetable patch in the picnic area by the cafeteria. We looked at growing chard, tomatoes, peas, strawberries, and ate fish and chips. My son expressed the hope that some of it would be served in the cafeteria. Been thinking a lot about food lately, since starting listening to the audiobook Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Carefully researched, clearly articulated, gently communicated, and illustrated with stories from their family’s year of eating food produced as locally as possible. I understand better now the true cost of the low prices I’ve been paying for food, the ways I’ve participated in the system that drives small farmers into bankruptcy.  Time to be more proactive in my food choices for the family. And to try to take the author’s gentle approach at attempting to coax themy into better purchasing and eating habits. We use our share of processed foods, feedlot meat, and vegetables from megafarms which destroy living ecosystems, impoverish soils and guzzle fossil fuels, all subsidized by us, the taxpayers. Time for me to research what to cut out and ways to replace those things, or not.

There’s the garden, of course, containing the most local food of all. We are blessed with a sunny, fenced back yard which is now graced with a large, organized, productive vegetable patch, complete with greenhouse (formerly a large, muddy, productive garden that needed a lot of upkeep). I’m recording the expenses and inputs (labor aside–that’s a pleasure and free exercise anyway), as well as outputs in the form of seedling and food production. So far, though we started late, we’ve had abundant salad greens, onions, beets, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs, and a few berries. As soon as we use our store bought potatoes I’ll dig some of our own reds, yellows and bakers, which always mature before I expect them to. The tomatoes are just starting to produce little green balls, and in a month or so there will be cucumbers, squash, beans, cherries, aronia berries, and eventually peppers and apples. My goal is to have the family eat and preserve all we can use, as well as save seeds, and give away all the rest. I’m also planning to be more insistent that the children participate in this, so they can learn at least the basics of harvesting food. That’s the fun part, which I hope will help interest them in the planting and cultivation aspects later on. Not much time now to refine the seed-to-table techniques of my oldest, and to expand their healthy meals recipe repertoire.

Now I shall jump to my conclusion, leaving you with the link to the site related to the book, with seasonal recipes for your garden or local farm produce:

Bon appetit!





Tags: , , , , , ,

Coach Mom

Coach Mom

It’s too hot and sweaty for my brain in this indoor pool, as I wait for my son to finish workout.

I’ve been working with this son, the eleven-year-old, on things I could loosely define as “attitude.” He’s a kid that currently resists almost every suggestion for involvement in extra activity, maybe because as a younger boy I didn’t have time and he got used to a pretty open schedule, and with homeschooling, so as long as lessons got done, there was a lot of flex. Suddenly I realized how little outside activity he’d had the opportunity to do–at most he was tagging along with a pile of books while I drove one of his siblings or did errands. For one thing, he’s a high energy guy and he wasn’t getting enough exercise. Last year he expressed interest in karate, so I got recommendations, and as it  happened forgot them all at home and went with a different studio, the one closest to the YMCA so pickup would work out for a sibling involved there. It was a good choice–a traditional dojo with very experienced couple as sensei. Deep understanding of the process of adjustment for today’s kids to a quiet, focused, rigorous practice. Standards of excellence, the opportunity to observe and work with older students, good communication with students and parents, a vision I shared and opportunity for me to learn more, periodic individual instruction for young students. My son was motivated, worked hard, looked forward to each session, and enjoyed working on his moves at home. But this couple then retired, and the transition to new dojo and instructors was too rocky, the new sensei not really ready to teach the young ones. My son was really not able to connect and did not enjoy sessions. So we moved on.

Off to the swim team prep squad it was, like it or not. With a moan and much dragging of the feet, but only until he got into the building. He participates fully and works hard once he’s in the water. So the fitness and technique is improving, and he’s made friends, but I get to hear all the complaints–how he’s extra tired because of sleeping poorly, feeling sort of sick, hates–absolutely hates–swim team. I’m experimenting with various ways of responding, the goal being to help him do his best and see the value of this, maybe even get pumped to learn and improve. He accuses me of wanting him to be a great swimmer just like his two siblings, which isn’t it–though I know he has equal athletic potential, for me it’s about the fitness and life lessons–how to work hard, be a team, respond well to coaching, push oneself, gain confidence, and so on. Also swimming is a survival skill–the stronger the better. Plus I know the team, and don’t have the time right now to figure out something new.

I’ve also required the boy to work on his land skills at the city-run track meets this summer, so he’ll have familiarity once he hits middle school. At these meets, I’m the coach, and I think we’re making progress. First, I used bribery. I told him if he enters five events with a good attitude, he gets a treat, and if in future he enters all possible events for his age, he gets a full meal deal, with dessert. That will serve for some motivation for now, to get him through the “I suck at everything!” hurdle. Can you believe it? Where did he pick that up? From being the slowest runner and least experienced sports kid in fifth grade, he claims. Yet Grampa, a track former coach, saw him run and said he has natural talent. That was a year ago, and something has happened between then and now so the boy just doesn’t use what he has–I see it in his body language. Tried to get him to warm up with me for his runs, and he’d take off as if he wanted to best me, then just sag, as if his brain was crying, “You can’t do this! If you do this, you’ll suck!” I told him I don’t care what place he comes in, just that he needs to do his best, etc., etc., and he’ll see improvement. Told him it’s rude to put people down, including himself; even if they actually do suck, it’s hard to get better by being told so. Told him his body needed encouragement, not criticism. The more he plays this psych-out game, the more resolved am I to help him overcome. I need wisdom. Anyway, he raced twice and did all the field events, and has already improved over his first meet, and  knew it. Heck, the kid more than tripled his discus throw on the third try with  help from the college volunteer! And he was a close fourth in his 50m hurdle heat instead of dead last. At this point he doesn’t seem interested in practicing during the week, but I’ll coax him, and he’ll see how it helps

We’d just got back from his Seattle eye appointment, involving two plus hours of driving and almost two and two hours of waiting. We were back in time for swim team, so I decided he’d do his workout, so he could get in his three this week. He gave the usual moan and rolled over to take a nap right there in the car. I went into the house and did some chores until it was time to go, packed his stuff and woke him up at the pool. He may as well come quiet.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the summer team season at the pool down the street, with workouts four mornings a week. I’ve decided he can do only that starting in a week and take the summer off the club. I’m risking the coach’s displeasure there, for sure. Coach expects a high level of commitment from everyone from beginner on up, no exceptions. I feel that double teaming would burn us both out, and exceptions have their place in pedagogy. As for me, I need to cut down on driving, and have more fun with my parental duties. Summer meets are like community parties. I love seeing all the families come out, the little kids making it across the pool for the first time, their parents’ faces as they lean in and cheer, so proud. The big high school swimmers tearing up the pool and impressing the heck out of everyone, the friendly but intense competition. This year I’ll have three kids on the team and one to sit with and cheer. Lots of new faces, a few familiar, a good chance to connect. Since I’m such a home body when I’m not driving by necessity, and my husband is away working so much, we need that.



Tags: ,

Would you rather be as asset to the company or to future generations?

My two oldest apparently checked some box on their standardized tests, so we get junk mail from a bunch of colleges, all of which assure us that my children are “impressive” and “motivated” and of course a good fit to enter their institution. All based on the estimated GPAs my children gave. I was tempted to send notes back saying that an institution that presented itself in such a way, oozing such insincerity on such a quantity of paper, was certainly not a good fit for any children of mine. My daughter admitted it was flattering to receive such kudos and invitations. And the personality and claims of college reps made an impact on my son on college night. All so frivolous. Make way for me, the super-researcher, who sees through it all, compiles lists, cross-checks, takes notes, weighs the pros and cons, and writes a treatise, based on dreaming big and some of my own unmet academic needs. Meanwhile it’s my husband who maintains the practical view that if we can’t afford it, we can’t afford it, and how likely is a good job to come out of it? The part about them meeting their future spouses at college can work in my favor, though.

I’m checking out various library books on colleges, since one of our offspring one will be ready to go in a year and another in two (not that it’s a given). A real mixed bag, those books, from intelligent and insightful and full of useful information and thoughtful perspectives, to shallow and stupid– full of quotes like “Everyone is happy here–everywhere you go you see a smile!” Seriously, the Princeton Review included that in their severely edited pages for one college. The ranking -based books are in the go back pile. On the other hand, I get positively giddy reading books like Cool Colleges for the Hyper-Intelligent, Self-Directed, Late-Blooming, and Just Plain Different by Donald Asher, Colleges that Change Lives by Loren Pope, and The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost. I get the way they think–looking beyond the Ivy League, the local options, even the national system. And the descriptions of these places, how they nurture the life of the mind and the development of vision leadership! I read excerpts to my kids to get them interested–even my thirteen year old, when I find colleges with equestrian programs.

At this point I’m advising my young adults to consider going straight to another country to broaden their cultural understanding and learn another language by working and/or studying–no need to go through a U.S. university at all (much more expensive, anyway). Plus you’re less likely to get shot by a crazy person with a semi-automatic weapon (I have a niece at SPU who recently escaped that fate by being in the right place at the right time. Maybe back to the Middle East for my son; he’s already bought Rosetta Stone Arabic on his own, and has a leg up knowing Modern Hebrew–both are Semitic languages. I’ve also compiled a list of colleges with a great liberal arts education, which I happen to believe is important for a good number of humans to have in order to be leaders and not just workers, to understand what the world is like and why, and its problems and possibilities. Moving toward a career, a way to get paid and support a family, yes, but meanwhile broadening and deepening understanding and developing life purpose. I hope to see more folks young and older address that disconnect between the call to keep up with “progress,” and a true understanding of from what and to what we are progressing, besides more complexity and a higher GNP.

Then there’s the up front cost of higher education to consider, and the possible future debt load; how does one weigh those against the projected take-home value of an education at various colleges? One side of my husband’s family gave a good deal of financial assistance to their children for college, with mixed and as yet undetermined results, and the other gave none, preferring to teach theirs the lesson of personal responsibility–with mixed and as yet undetermined results. All of them stayed in state–in fact just about everyone I’ve talked to has kept their kids in state. I’d been thinking getting farther afield would be a good idea, but I was reminded today by a friend whose sons are only an hour away of the value of considering travel costs, continued connection with family, including siblings, and the opportunity for parents to connect with their kids’ new college friends.

This is not a science. Lots to consider and prioritize, balance opinions, collect data and narratives, then, I guess, go with some combination of the heart in submitting applications, and the budget (loosely defined) in making the final decision.


Posted by on June 22, 2014 in Culture & Society, Education


Tags: , ,

It may be just a genetic expression, but free Willy and pass the predestination!

It may be just a genetic expression, but free Willy and pass the predestination!

I am very aware that this is the last full day of school for most of my children. It’s quiet, they are engaged elsewhere, and I am only emergency backup. I am ashamed to feel what I used to scorn in others–dread of summer vacation, of so much sudden family togetherness. Ashamed because for many years I was a homeschool mom–the kind of mom that wanted to be with her children, chose to spend almost all waking hours engaged with them, and missed them when they went to Grandma’s house or music camp. Who didn’t call, “Bye honey! Have a good day at school! I love you!” and rush off to work where she could do important things and get recognized and paid for it. Or off to zumba class, out to catch up with the ladies over coffee before the Bible study or empowerment group, or to get her hair done, while the house cleaner took care of the toilets and the landscapers edged the lawn.

I used to promote homeschooling as a rich and natural way of life, invite young mothers and doubting mothers of public school kids to consider it, lend them books, cite the research; my husband would point out that it is a choice of the privileged, and name the high-earning professions of all our close homeschooling friends–medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine, software, finance. But no, there were plenty of others, I’d argue, whom we didn’t see much because they lived out in the county. People who had chosen to live on a single income and struggle financially to maintain closeness with their children, pass on family values, and oversee a quality individualized education that included skills training and opportunities not available to the public school child. He’d point out that home schoolers were turning their backs on public school kids, who only suffered when families with a high value for education and the time and energy to facilitate it left the system. I’d argue that parents are first responsible for their own families and also that most of homeschooled kids I knew grew up serving other kids as sought after babysitters, active community members, world explorers, activists, scholars, and devoted family members, and would affect culture in new ways after having traveled a different, more independent path. He’d point out that school provided a healthy competition, schedules, structure, deadlines, just like the real world, as well as sports and recess. I said I didn’t want our children to depend on extrinsic motivation to want to learn, and we’d do sports and recess too.

Are you feeling uncomfortable with this portrayal of conflict? I’d like to insert some soothing words, a comforting story of how my husband and I always eventually came to consensus. We usually did, but not always with hugs and kisses. We agreed that for certain seasons of our family life, homeschooling was a good choice. We were definitely not smug. We had seasons of some kids in school, some at home, full time, part time, structured and unstructured learning, group and individual, tutors and community classes. Sometimes the kids’ main subject was stress management, as we left our friends, moved overseas, learned a new language, lived without a personal vehicle, ran out of money, and came home to take our youngest son to an eye surgeon and get jobs. That crazy decision is turning out well after all, with our kids wanting to travel, reaching out to international students, having something unique to list on their college applications.

An interviewee I heard on CBC Radio, can’t remember the field he was in, whether philosophy or psychotherapy or neurology, said humans do things entirely based on how their genes drive them, then the brain makes meaning of it, justifies, judges, and ultimately sees these actions as conscious choices, when they are not, as such. I’m driven to struggle in the direction of nurturing my family in this particular way, certain genes being turned on in response to my internal and external stimuli, I observe and follow those desires, then in hindsight construct a philosophy around what I have done and feel inclined to do. Not necessarily a self-satisfied one–like so many parents I construct a layer of self-doubt, perceive obstacles, generate convictions and confidence that drive me to overcome them, experience a sense of success or failure. The fact that others in seemingly similar circumstances make different choices and have different convictions is merely an expression of healthy diversity in the human gene pool, and the interactions of the sets of genes in each individual as they contact one another. I turn on (or off) your genes, and it’s mutual–don’t you feel it?

I say, whatever. Determinism in biology is like predestination in religion–I’m not determined or predestined to believe in either, it seems. Still, I’ll embrace the possibility that what I’m doing is only natural and relax a bit, but at other times accept the presence of angst and inner conflict as necessary precursors to growth and positive reorientation. I have no idea if we’ve done the right thing with our kids, but as my genes have determined, I’ll look on the bright side of life, with an abiding shadow of self doubt, some fear, some anticipation, and set the table for dinner.


Tags: , , ,

“With all the will in the world, diving for dear life, when we should be diving for pearls” Elvis Costello

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 17, 2014 in Uncategorized