Monthly Archives: December 2014

Heart on edge

Drove back in my small car with the large windows that admitted in the light of the blazing stars between the dark trees. Had just dropped my son off with his luggage at the team rendezvous for the training trip to the sunny south. For less than a week this time, but what came into my mind was that soon I will be saying goodbye and good luck and I hope you have everything you need for college.

I am not a worrier, nor do I long to keep my children tethered and comfortingly local if such is not their path. Lately I have been happily dreaming about the exciting world of possibilities ahead of them, the joys of advanced study and building their own communities and life paths. I’ve been remembering my own happy college days. But as I drove back home, the stars pinpoints millions of miles away yet able to pierce the weak yellow glow of the streetlights, I remembered the mistakes I made, the painful parts of discovery, and my dark nights of the soul.

It’s not whether he eats right or remembers to separate light laundry from dark, buys in bulk or keeps his grades up that puts my heart on edge for him. It’s the narrow, rocky, dangerous path of wrestling with painful self awareness and essential solitude, the search for fellowship and true friendship, the struggle to master the self in learning personal discipline, the need to deny the self to put others first, the grounding in self acceptance, personal humility, and reasonable confidence wherein the most risk lies. Real risk, of more than life and limb. I hope that he will have guardian angels to remind him not to go it alone, that he is not alone, to whisper hope in the dark like the light of those stars.


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How much of our lives and culture is made out of nothing much? Of stuff, whether practices, beliefs, or physical objects, that in hard times would prove valueless and be soon abandoned? How much of our so-called social progress depends on the breakdown and replacement of these artificially menaingful cultural components and artifacts, and avoidance of permanence, depth, durability, true value?

Think of the contents of the average dollar store, say during some holiday season or other. Count necessities and what’s the total?

Think of what’s in your house, those carefully selected items large and small that someone in the household deemed necessary to make a home. Unplug the power for a week, and what’s left? Are you still using the soap, but no longer the clothes washer? Using the wood stove instead of the toaster, the wooden spoon instead of the mixer, the sun and the sound of birdsong rather than the wakeup alarm? Those hand tools and the fishing tackle are looking pretty useful, along with those buckets, that wagon, quality shoes. No radio, no news feed, so you get together with the neighbors to make hay and conversation while the sun shines, and plan the garden. Are you walking down to the farm market for exercise and carrying stuff instead of going to the gym? Thinking about which building will serve as the local community hangout, and who will play the next dance?

What about the books in your library? Copies of ones you read in your youth in which you now see the flaws, works of reference no longer relevant mixed in with some which will always be useful? Cherished life-changing volumes that helped you to see, really see, showed you life, broke through your pain, your egotism, your fear? Field guides? Now they won’t last the next few decades in this damp climate, so what will you keep? Do you have personal stories, family histories, songs and poems committed to memory? The screens are all off, the invasions into your living room by purveyors of vehicle love and the next entertainment series silenced. What will you want now? What’s worth working for?

And what do you have in your person, and here is where it might get a little uncomfortable. But it shouldn’t, no, not at all. Because eve if your place in the global economy has disappeared, you have the DNA for all you need for the local scene, and you’re in that wonderful gene pool of the community that still, even after all that domestication, can work it on this earth, at least enough.

Who are the folks that make up your neighborhood? As the electricity grid decays, the gas runs out, the refugees arrive, who are the pillars of the community now? Not the department store CEO or the hedge fund manager? Not the real estate broker or bank manager, or even the famous local actor or football hero. There’s the bicycle mechanic, the farmer, the philosopher, the minders of children, the story tellers. The builders, teachers, caregivers, preachers, prophets, and poets. The mail carrier, the horseman, the herbalist and the healer. The hunter, the brewer, the worker of stone, of textiles. Hewers of wood and drawers of water. Wise elders and energetic youth.

And how was your holiday?


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All in a spirit of love

That post about the alien movie was kind of different for me, wasn’t it? My way of getting out of a rut of writing mostly about things that bug me. Lots of things bug me, and when I don’t take that in a spirit of problem solving and creative public articulation, or at least self examination and compassionate understanding, I don’t like my own voice. Why would anyone, except someone who wants to complain along with me. I’ve sensed that kind of flavor in others’ writing on issues about which they have been passionate. At first there is the prophetic voice, the reasoning enlightenment, the hopeful invitation to raise one’s consciousness, mindfully pursue lofty goals, and celebrate progress. Then as the road is hard and so many do not respond, there’s a regression into mere sarcastic announcements of business as usual, with a tendency to neatly package up the opposition into labelled and derided types who aren’t even ceded approval for their best actions. Then one camps in one’s comfortable position, and who really helps anyone else grow from there?

When you find out about some word or action that someone has performed that goes against all your cherished values, do you ever think, “but surely they had good intentions”? That is, other than in those with the clear motivation of being reelected, increasing the bottom line, or escaping responsibility. That assumption of innocence (however unrealistic, I want to add), usually comes from the right place, from which there can be dialogue. It works both at the personal level, such as in parenting or management–we are advised to “catch them doing something right.” To open dialogue, door to door evangelists always start on something we can all agree on, such as “Do you desire a life of significance?” Could that also work–at least better than  scathing criticism and threats, in the public domain? I mean, showing respect, starting from, or trying to find, common ground, and calling out the best in a person?

A teacher friend of mine, smart and liberal minded, once recounted the story of how she heard in the lunch room one teacher asking another the rhetorical question, “Can you believe that some people don’t like Sarah Palin?” She responded with, “I have some views on that, if you would like to hear them.” Which they agreed to do. After describing Palin’s failure to be a devoted caregiver to her disabled child during the course of her political campaigning, she left these two teachers wondering if Sarah Palin was really conservative enough to have their approval. She opened the possibility of a meeting of ideas because she appealed to the values she knew they had, and applied them in a new way.

Did you know that people are more likely to believe evidence presented by scientists if the scientists are friendly? So I must be right in thinking that I need to steer clear of the “rude awakening” approach. With all due respect to Flannery O’Connor and John the Baptizer. But what self control it requires, what conscious and purposeful loving and humility! If I really want to change anyone’s mind, that is, and not just rail from my room.

So I meditate on this phrase: all in a spirit of love. (Mainly referring to 1 Corinthians 13 as the model) This has helped me to have a better perspective in home and family life, such as when I don’t want to clean up someone else’s mess (serve one another in love), or annoys me (love is patient), or fails to share my values (love is not proud). Helps me when I want to put off a duty or good deed (love is kind), want to let someone else set the good example (outdo one another in showing honor), want to stretch my little bubble of comfort and enjoyment at the expense of productive service. And so, can I manage to love in my writing?

Except, today was another annoyed at everything and everyone day. Annoyed that I feel so pushed into consuming by my culture, to buy crackers at $6 a pound, chips at $8 for a get together. Annoyed that none of the retail or office buildings in the new town minicenter has solar panels, only designer parking lots. Annoyed that some people drive twenty miles twice a week to exercise at my Pilates studio. Annoyed that some trendy health food company passes gluten free chocolate nut bars off as paleo diet (“for your inner cave man”). Annoyed that people grow lawns they never use and shop at the grocery chain. Annoyed that I have a big driveway and not enough bike storage. And so on.

I shared this with my daughters as we drove this evening, all about how grouchy I’d been feeling and some of the reasons why, and that I knew that the only good cure for frustration is work. Which includes speaking the truth in love, yeah.


Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Personal Growth


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Whether it takes a walk on a lonely shore, an open bar lock-in, a fight with blood sucking aliens, or a passionate kiss, we all need to get out of our heads sometimes.

Watched a movie last night with my husband–so many for me to choose from, though he’s pretty much seen or heard of them all. So he carefully scrolls through and I say, nothing gratuitously violent or shocking for mere entertainment value, please. A philosophical content movie would be good, not too much “action” as in exploding cars flipping over and martial arts combat, even if the woman wins to show the equality of the sexes. I want some relaxation after a long week, and to be away from people for a while in the back room. Some comedy, but nothing dumb; sci fi maybe, and a bit of convincing romance would be nice. Something to get me out of my head without feeling slimed afterwards.

He chose “Grabbers,” which is certainly inoffensive, but we agree that it’s a bit standard in plot, as it’s the usual beginning of an alien takeover from which the two local coast guards/peace officers have to save the world. But set in beautiful coastal Northern Ireland, green hills and pebble beaches, empty shores–the place to go to nurse a terrible grief, and if necessary combat alien takeovers. To heal, and then to live, with a variety of eccentric, no-shit neighbors who look out for one another. Seems that’s why the male guard is there. He is a drunk, handsome, sad, crusty on the outside but with a sensitive heart. She’s a cheerful, somewhat brittle workaholic, apparently immune to the drunken attentions she begins to receive from her colleague and every other eligible male in the village. She’s there to replace someone going on a few weeks’ holiday, and her first disciplinary action is to place her partner in detention for passing out on her doorstep. Still, there’s a tenderness there for him even so.

They discover that the blood-sucking octopus-like creature a local fisherman finds in his lobster pot recoils when it—she (no testicles, says the marine ecologist, and also she laid an egg)—tries to suck blood with a high alcohol content, which is why the fisherman survived its attack on him. They make the logical leap that there’s a huge male lurking on the shoreline somewhere waiting for the rain so it’s wet enough to travel inland to find its mate and more blood for the nurture of their brood.

The obvious solution is a free bar lock-in in the local pub, with everyone diligently keeping their blood alcohol content high, except one person who will keep watch and coordinate the killing of the monster. First they get the female officer drunk to determine the necessary blood alcohol content.My flesh creeps a bit as three men fill her with beer, whiskey, and the fisherman’s special home brew, but they are gentlemen, and merely prop her up, laugh at her slurred jokes, draw blood to feed the creature and determine the level of alcohol to which it objects. Later when she slurs her drunken affections to her partner, he looks at her tenderly, longingly, smooths the hair back from her cheek and says he is flattered, but now is not the time.

Everyone at the local church service is invited to the lock-in, and everyone accepts once the free bar is announced (apparently there aren’t any under aged locals). The grieving alcoholic officer volunteers to go cold turkey and dedicate himself to the destruction of the monster within and without, though he is vulnerable in his dry state to the attentions of the alien.The party commences and is well underway when the monster arrives in the night, with a brood newly hatched on the beach. The grand battle ensues, the monsters are driven repeatedly away from the partygoers, and confronted by the two officers in the muddy driveway. The reeling local marine ecologist who tries to take a picture is eaten, and the visiting, formerly uptight colleague who has never been drunk before remembers her essential purpose and devotion to her work, and with her partner offering himself as bait, helps lure the grabber to the local gravel mine, where it is pinned, fed vodka, and lit aflame by shooting a flare gun at the gasoline storage barrels at the bottom. The guard, flung away when the vodka is poured, claws his way up the muddy hole where he is pulled up by his partner, and as the sun rises they limp and lurch along the road back to the village. And then they kiss. And I have to say, the lead in to that kiss makes it a pretty hot one. At that’s the moment I remember best from the whole movie. So maybe one could say it’s a romance after all.



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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Arts, Poetry and Music


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After finishing my few weeks in high school biology, I felt tense about taking the jobs in 5th-6th grade that were coming up way more often. Even though when there was a possibility of actually getting hired for the high school position. As if I was in a sense abandoning my ideals. Having told others that middle schoolers were my favorite level because of their dynamic, challenging, still mostly untamed selves. Heard myself saying they were the ones who needed experienced teachers, teachers who had parental and life experience, teachers who could handle, and nurture, different ways of seeing things and doing things. Thinking that any good content-knowledgeable and reasonably organized teacher could handle the demands of teaching older students, especially since by that time the really tough kids, the failed kids, had been diverted into Options or Special Ed or one of the various extra-supportive programs.

Yet… I have four children of my own, and I’ve noticed that when I come home after a day with middle schoolers, I’m sometimes low on the mental and emotional energy my own kids need. Not always, but on days like one last week, when the teacher called in sick at the last hour and there wasn’t much of a plan. The printout said have them work on the packet that was due that day, the one she had assigned before the weekend as optional extra credit, or just read or play math games. In ninety minute block periods. And no time to make enough copies of the packet anyway.

So I ditched that plan and grabbed a random math book that a student said they hadn’t started yet, and taught the first lesson out of it–statistics. Had them gather data, table it, tell me about it, and graph it in two different ways. And then they played the math games we could find in the cabinets. Math games very loosely defined, because when you don’t know the kids you can’t assume that building designs with shape blocks is too easy, or the UNO card game is too elementary. The homeroom kids came back for a period at the end of the day, when they were wound up from being in school all day and being out of routine. They were expecting to do what the teacher called “free choice time,” and though I don’t like to chance that sort of thing as a sub, I went with it. Some drew, some read, some did homework, but a lot decided to stay at loose ends. It was tough to keep the balance in favor of those who knew how to keep things positive and reasonably calm. Some wanted to be a bit testy, with their tossing paper, walking back and forth, then packing up fifteen minutes before school ended and messing around by the sink or gathering in small groups to laugh and jostle one another, looking over to see how I’d take it all.

I smiled as warmly as I could, subtly steering some kids toward behaviors that were reasonable given the situation and the maturity of each kid, at which I was guessing. Knowing a lot of subs would crack down, I just felt empathetic, didn’t blame them at all for preferring to shoot the breeze and do a bit of leaping. I circulated, hung in there, and sighed when the bell rang. With a mental note to self to bringing read-aloud material, educational game ideas, personal stories and something to show and tell. Especially when a sub job comes up for this teacher, who, the T.A. told me, often calls in sick on Mondays. This is the same teacher whom I observed demonstrating on the board how to do a problem on the test the class was about to take (she left it on the board).

Today I was back in that class, switched at the last minute from that of her colleague due to a lack of subs. The colleague was pulled from her training, and, yes, it was Monday again, and I heard another teacher comment about that Monday pattern with this teacher. With the plan notes (same template, with a few changes) that apologized for the “unplanned” absence and the lack of materials, advising me to adjust if necessary. But this time I was prepared, and there was some decent work to do.

It was, over all, a good day. By this time I could remember most kids’ names, the boy who “didn’t do well with subs” had apparently adjusted to me, and was pitching in with all kinds of help and participation. There was more order and flow in general. I knew which kids hadn’t accomplished enough to go to the game cupboard last period, and had the extra support from para-eds so that they could get extra help. The most trouble I had was with the attitude of the “personal assistant” (a T.A.) of a supposedly horrendous discipline case now back in class. After a day of seeming docility, the student (out of boredom?) had managed to provoke the T.A. and she was pissed, couldn’t (of course) get the girl to take out her work again. I, choosing to be oblivious, came over and asked the girl to show me her work so we could go over it, but the T.A. said she was not to do any work, but just to read, because she was being difficult. So I moved on until the T.A. was with some other students (where mutual provocation also shortly arose), and I think, wow–she’s falling right into the trap. The trap I know so well, that I fell into so often as a new teacher, where the teacher comes across as annoying (we can’t help it sometimes), so the student resists, so the teacher gets further annoyed and then disrespectful, and the student feel justified in resistance, and teacher feels powerless, and maybe yells or does something out of frustration. And the student enjoys the sense of power that comes from annoying an authority figure they’ve decided they don’t like right now. Which can be worth a trip to the office, points docked from the golden ticket system, or even a call home.

Seeing the T.A. struggle, I admit I was feeling smug. Because it was so much easier for me to avoid that confrontation, having been on the sidelines, and I felt there was a way to get on the same team with this girl. The second time I went over she started an avoidance game with me, said she never got the worksheets. But she let me find them in her binder, and pretty soon–it was all in her hands, and we both knew it–she decided to work with me. She got the math problems, by the way.

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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences



Attempted fortifications

My consolation in knowing that my child is struggling, a lot and in a way I’m not sure how to help with, is that he has us, a reasonable stable family, and we love him and try our best to help him work through his stuff. Not every kid has that, so how indeed can they make it through those days when they hate school and feel like they have no real friends, and forget to do their homework, and can’t take it any more?  The stress is not only from everyday school stuff, like being surrounded by 90% immature kids such as yourself who aren’t thinking about kindness and courtesy and reaching out, but mostly the moment, and posturing and drama and survival. And knowing you’re different, your friends are different, and wondering how to fit in, and whether you want to anyway. And being the youngest at home and subject to a good deal of self improvement advice and teasing there too, and parents who are increasingly busy with work and all.

Also there’s this: trying to process all that “helpful” anti-bullying information such as, “Mom, did you know that there was a girl who was bullied so badly, she killed herself? And, sometimes I feel that way, and if things don’t get better, I…” And pretty soon he’s identifying with someone’s suicidal thoughts, thank you very much, school counselors. Whose idea was that, that every kid should hear that story? Now every day after school it’s me and my son talking over what he’s going through–nothing tremendous from what I can tell, but he’s taking every teasing, every innuendo, every deficiency of love and affirmation, as, maybe like what that girl experienced, which was actually too awful to mention to the sixth graders, thank heaven, but so he doesn’t realize that this is more about rolling with the punches. Right?

Other days he identifies with the boy who was bullied all through school and then when he became hiring manager at some important firm, in comes the bully to interview for a job, and it’s time for consequences, buddy! Those days are better. But it’s a real battle now to walk with my son through these feelings, and try to remind him that he’s strong, that he can handle this, that, yeah, sometimes people are jerks, but we’re all capable of being mean, or at least not as nice as we could be, but that’s just life. No, we realize that the counselor is not the sort of person one would want to talk to about that, but is there a way to tell someone you think would have the wisdom to keep an eye out? If not, just concentrate on learning, and keep your eyes peeled for someone else that needs your kindness. And be patient–people mature, and things get better.

And I pray that he’ll remember how much he’s loved, and discover each day those good deeds that the Father is providing for him to do, and be a blessing out there in the world. Because Mom is committed to working now, and can’t quit to homeschool you through this. I ask the siblings to pitch in with the support of friendship, and redouble my efforts to fill his love account to overflowing. And don’t you ever talk about suicide, boy, I want to say, because it makes me mad! Mad at people who aren’t loving, mad at people who are good intentioned but thoughtless, mad with grief. And I even tell him, I even say, the meanest person of all is the one who takes himself away from the people who love him. Maybe it’s a stupid thing to say, but there it is, and by God I hope it doesn’t do any harm.


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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family


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More post secondary planning discoveries – cheap study abroad options

My oldest son wants to study Arabic, among other things (at this point his interests are pretty broad). He’s somewhat familiar with how Arabic works, having learned a little in Israel, along with becoming fluent in Modern Hebrew, a closely related language. Arabic classes are not easy to find around these parts, though we’ve found some good programs through various colleges. But at $8000 to $11,000 for an eight week intensive program (including room and board), or a college-sponsored study abroad program at college rates and lots of hoopla, it’s not an easy sell for us. So I suggested we find something more grass roots. Inspired by The New Global Student by Maya Frost and fortified with the knowledge that my son has already lived in the Middle East and we still have contacts there, I did a search and found three opportunities under $2000, plus airfare and visa fees, with flexible lengths of stay. Love Volunteers and Project Hope take volunteers in the West Bank who teach and hang out with with Palestinian children and work on various projects such as farming, and Coptic Orphans volunteers help with kids at orphanages in Egypt. Both offer the opportunity to take Arabic classes, and in my experience, there’s no better kind of early language immersion than being surrounded by kids who speak the language. Opportunities in Jordan are currently limited, I assume because all resources are being directed toward the Syrian refugee crisis.

The other neat thing about Arabic is that it’s considered a “critical language” by the U.S. State Department (duh), which will fully fund second year Arabic studies through their Critical Language Scholarship program (which our neighbor clued us into). Not sure if that leads to recruitment into intelligence gathering careers, but we can use it. Also, depending on what college my son decides on, I’m hoping there will be opportunities for him to earn college level credits from this volunteer work and language study, maybe even in multiple disciplines such as international studies, journalism, politics, and education. Last, I hope that if he decides to go for it, his commitment to do so will impress the heck out of college entrance committees that might otherwise not be impressed by certain lackluster portions of his transcript.


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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Education


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Get out there and teach from your core, but don’t forget to teacher-proof-proof yourself uncommonly well

Got a call this week from the district about tutoring a home bound student in geometry and English. Apparently the geometry part was getting to be too much for the previous tutor, while I have a math endorsement. So not only do I get to work with this very pleasant young person, I get to do so in a balance of subjects. I loved geometry in high school, because I had a good teacher and enjoyed the formal logic and organization. Building geometric proofs shows a person how to reason, which is broadly applicable. I’ll also really enjoy helping with writing and lit, which form the foundations of the education of a thinking, feeling, communicating adult.

Today’s first session went very well. I introduced deductive reasoning and geometric proofs with the help of the online curriculum, and then set her up to start her persuasive essay on the value of a college education. Should be able to have some pretty good dialogue on that. I’m trying to dig up an article I read on what an education itself should be, to supplement the three provided in the Common Core text. I wonder if I should lend her my copy of the Teenage Liberation Handbook, too. No, I promise I will be very professional, and consider myself accountable to the student’s parents first as the taxpayers and guardians, and the district as the contract issuer. No pushing any anti-institutional anti-corporate takeover of education thinking.  Only providing resources necessary to form and articulate an educated opinion based on critical reading of informational text, personal experience, and sound reasoning. Which fulfills Common Core State Standard Number…(I’ll just look it up)…oh. I see there is no standard listed for that. It only goes as far as understanding what authors are saying, describing how they make their arguments (evidence plus rhetorical techniques), identifying the intended audience, and assessing the effectiveness of the argumentation on said audience. No mention of mining personal or community experiences and applying reasoned judgement of others’ views. Then it jumps to writing one’s own persuasive essay, with effective use of evidence and argumentation. Skipping the important step of actually forming an opinion, a view, a set of beliefs. Well, maybe I will sneak in some old fashioned reasoning, and even the much more radical search your own heart process, helping her get at her uncommon core.

Near the end I found out this student is getting no help with biology, which was apparently considered lower priority. That’s odd, I said—I wonder if they know I’m a biology major. The mom was concerned about her student lacking that class, so I promised to check in with the district about it. Sure would be great to get that going too for her, and would be very efficient for the district too, to have one tutor do all three subjects. English and geometry are allotted four hours a week. Two hours per class, which could imply, by extrapolation, that a student can complete a full load of five courses with only ten hours a week of formal instruction (rather than thirty-seven), plus assignment feedback. So what’s high school for, anyway? The convenience of mass production, job creation for administration and staff, large group peer socialization, practice at subservience, keeping daytime job market competition to a minimum, and creating an accessible, centralized, digitally accessible marketplace for curriculum and resources?

So I drive away to drop off her last geometry assignments to the school teacher for grading, thinking, I get paid to do this? Twice as much as substitute pay, too. And I wonder, how many students would opt for a tax-paid personal tutor if they knew about the program… No, one must fill out the paperwork and get the doctor’s signature–properly so. But at least there are some perks to illness and temporary disability. I’m curious how many other tutoring openings there might be.

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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences


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