Author Archives: toesinthedirt

About toesinthedirt

Teaching and learning, as a family member, science and math teacher, neighbor, friend, writer.

Death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a person, Part II

The people who are praying for and with my husband, bless their hearts, seem to believe that sickness and disease are against the created order, a manifestation of the Fall. None of our friends, and not many of our acquaintances, are prosperity gospel types, looking automatically for moral failures and faith deficits in the sick — my husband is doing that task himself — not as a way to cast out the demons of sickness, but as a response to the reminder of the limit on the days of his life, and as part of the physical cleansing and peacemaking one must do to support wholeness. Of course he wants to live –and of course I want him to. I am waiting for a miracle too, and his faith is helping us all to stay brave and cheerful. I want him to go on growing along with us, so he can accompany our children into and through their adult lives. But neither of us really believes that cancer is evil. It is testing by fire, but if the fire eventually burns you up, well, it is fire, and we are combustible.

One of our cancer recovery books has a quote that says runaway cancer cells are simply response to starvation of the right nutrients and the long term barrage of harmful substances from our diets, environments, and emotional chemistry. The starved cells can’t help but go out of control, and unless we prevent that, or deal with it over the several months it takes for healthy tissues to regenerate, cancer takes hold. We’re hopeful that his body can recover, at least come away from the edge that seems so close, and alleviate symptoms, but perhaps, if there’s time to repair the damage, full recovery. Chemo can’t do that for pancreatic cancer.

Then there’s the other part of my brain, that acknowledges that the data says three to six months, without chemo, a year to a year and a half with, and no cure, and no recommended end to chemo. Five year life expectancy, 1 to 2%. Deadline, lifeline, both at once.

One MUST believe in healing, because one can, and it makes life better, . Yet one must make preparations, as if, well, we had to to do these things anyway–paperwork and such, so why not now, even if we both have decades ahead of us after all. For the children’s sake.

A friend, sleepless because of thinking of us, found a podcast by Kate Bowler  (Faith, Cancer, and Living Scan to Scan), and bought me the book, Everything Happens For A Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved); I loved the title, and the book was good. I think I would like her, if I met her, especially her wry Canadian sense of humor.

One of the things she said was “I did feel like cancer was the key that opened up this whole other reality…you notice things…like I was cracked open and I could see everything for the first time.” That’s where my husband is, most of the time, and I have a glimpse of that. But certain things are still very hard. Some of them are the same things as ever, which is disappointing. My tears last night were about that — how much of our time so far has been spent not being friends, either by default or by active relational dysfunction and poor communication. Now, when I need to be an even better friend, and need an even better friend, the pressure’s a little much, sometimes.








I feel so privileged to be a teacher. This going through cancer in the family has made me feel that even more deeply. Yes, I wish I could quit and spend more time with my husband and children, have more quiet for my soul, more time to write and work in the garden. Especially since my husband is starting to get me better and wants to take more part in what he calls my special spirituality. Which is less about going up front to ask for prayer, and more about taking deep breaths as the sun rises, stopping at thickets full of chickadees, and growing seedlings. He said he’ll let me teach him how to start the different types of seeds in pots tomorrow. I loved being a house mom/wife. But what I do at work is very, very special in terms of what is possible, what might happen, how I and my colleagues might affect some young people. We get to find ways to communicate that they matter, that there’s hope, that if they want to, they can. All in the guise of teaching math and science.

One of my favorite times, as I have said before, is the twice-a-week morning homework help drop-in, two and a quarter hours long. More students are coming now, for the math, yes, but that is definitely not the whole deal. There’s something going on I can’t put my finger on, a dynamic that connects from person to person as one gets a problem, another gets stuck, someone jokingly teases another, another one brings up something unrelated to the math, but important to life.

One girl might, just might, be starting to see her self-defeating attitude for what it is. Another might, just might, believe that even though Geometry continues to be extremely difficult for her, all the extra work she puts in is making her mind stronger and more capable. Another might, just might, believe that there’s hope for a young farmer and a good life that builds up the soil, meets new market demands, and is sustainable, and that the most important quality about a man is not the power of his truck. That one is still a longer shot, but today I saw a certain openness in his eyes.

I think I might need to shift the tables around, though, There’s this one section where everyone sits together, and a few newer attendees sit apart and alone. I need to get a new zone going, a branch of the community. The two new girls will learn to ask for help, I hope, not just wait shyly until I come over to see how it’s going. I want them to connect with each other –both are still on the edge of that, for different reasons.

As I consider what the role of teachers is in preventing violence such as the recent Florida school shooting, I think that part of it, for sure, is to simply be kind–deeply kind, not just professionally courteous and friendly, but to communicate the “I see you” that can help heal those ragged edges. I think of two of our students–both obese, academically passive, socially awkward, and obsessed with guns. They are lucky–we are lucky, and who who knows who else will be lucky–that at our school, they will not fall between the cracks and end up bent out of shape by the system–not if we can help it. My lead teacher is a real inspiration there–as problems seem unsolvable, she just ups the commitment, ups the connection, ups the support, sometimes making up for what a dysfunctional family doesn’t even know is missing in terms of parenting.

I think about how nice it would be to have fewer preps and work closer to home, but today our whole staff came in to my room an hour and a half after quitting time just to say they were all rooting for me and my husband, that we’d be in their prayers, and to let them know if there was anything I needed. Gave me a card full of sweet words and several hefty grocery store gift cards so I could buy the special foods my husband can eat. I’m at the right place, that’s for sure.



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Death can’t be the worst thing that can happen to us, since its probability is 100%

Never had so much prayer goin’ down around here before, and I say Bring it on! Whatever prayer is, whether objective truth or pragmatic placebo, I don’t care. I’m leaving behind my Truth filter, for this part of my life at least, and saying, whatever works, and I don’t care how or why.

My husband has been diagnosed with stage four cancer.

A long time ago I started writing a post called An Idol Demands a Sacrifice, about my husband’s addiction to chewing tobacco, which had its roots in football culture of the ’80s. I went though anger, trying to pressure him, then letting go and distancing myself. Then I was relieved that he quit, then came new disappointment and anger when he started again. Anger at his brother for leading him into temptation. There was a good deal of fear back when the kids were younger, as he had no life insurance, no job security, and, most of the time, we didn’t have much in savings. I was substituting, coming back into teaching after fifteen years of homeschooling our children.

His dad died in his fifties of esophageal cancer complications (lots f prayer healed the cancer, but not the perforated esophagus that resulted from radiation and bungling).

Two months ago he quit, and he knew it was for good, and no more excuses. A month and a half ago he decided to do an herbal detox, and soon started feeling stomach pain along with the cleansing. Thought it was just a reaction, or maybe the flu, which was going round. He quit the detox, still had pain, and we decided h should get checked. Blood tests came back normal, but internal scans did not.

This time my anger didn’t last long–I’ve learned to let go of it, along with worry and fear. I know how to let go, and detach from intense emotions. I kept the anger to myself except to confide in a friend, who totally got it, and said now she was mad at him too. But I’m done with it now, and good riddance. By the time I shared the preliminary news with my daughter, I had to explain my calmness so she wouldn’t think I was unfeeling.

The cancer either originated in the stomach or the pancreas, but fortunately (or unfortunately, as it led to it being missed until advanced), relatively low pain, for that kind of cancer. It’s been a week or so of appointments, and there are a few biopsy results to come in, but we saw the endoscopy photos and CT scan images, and we can be 99% sure. It’s off to oncology to look at options next week. Medical options appear to be few and too awful to bother with. We’re not that desperate.

Still, we’re inviting anyone and everyone to pray for us. All my wonderful believing colleagues and my husband’s family have been bending the knee on our behalf. Last week a Catholic priest engaged in the sacrament with my husband, who has no denominational, or even major religious category, hangups. This morning an old Bible study friend and his son, both now known for a gift of healing, and several other prayer warriors, some we’d never met, gathered around my husband for a laying on of hands, and even a bit of babbling and grunting sounds that apparently come from the Spirit. One of the women prayed for me generally, and claimed an annointing for me, but darned if I can’t remember which one. Must ask my other friend of many years, who was there too shedding tears with me, if she recalls. Or maybe just wait for a manifestation. Don’t mind if I do.

This evening there turned out to be a multi-denominational healing prayer service, so my husband went there too, and people prayed in all kinds of languages, one declared that he’ll live to a hundred.

We hold all possibilities with open minds.When he came home from the prayer meeting, I suggested we write down all the prayer times and special words, prophesies, or occurances, so we can track progress and share the story. I said, I don’t even know what prayer is, and I don’t really care, becasue I know its the right direction. He smiled and agreed. You know, I added, I’m not into all the shaking and weird sounds — I don’t get that, never will–it’s not my personality. I hope no one will judge me as unspiritual for that, and I hope I won’t judge anyone for being more of a Pentecostal type. I’m just more of a Presbyterian, I guess. Though I do like to pull in the other direction of any majority I’m among, I must say. I don’t like getting worked up  or manipulated into some kind of meditative state, though I recognize the value of that sort of leadership, I guess, for certain personalities.

We are also strengthening my husband’s immune system in every way we know how, with advice coming in from all angles. My husband has declared over and again that I was right all along about nutrition, and is glad that his radical turnabout has been pretty smooth for us all, since I had the kale and cabbage in the garden, a freezer full of antioxidant rich home grown berries, and knew how to make dandelion coffee and identify cancer-fighting weeds growing in abundance even in the winter. The additional learning I had to do for my How Not to Starve class is a bonus.

And my husband is finally laughing at my lame humor. Yesterday morning, I came out in the morning to find my husband in tears of joy, and he shared what he had heard from God, and the sense of love he felt. Then he said he wanted to do some more juicing. “I want to drink a cabbage, he said.

“Is that what God told you?” I asked. He started to shake with laughter, held in, because his stomach was sore, but went on and on, as I joined him. Kind of a Monty Python style, like the shrubbery skit (Nights of Nih) “You must drink….a..cabbage!”

We’re pretty sure my husband’s cancer will have to slow down, at least. All that love, peace, humor, and good nutrition will have its effect. And we’re pretty sure we don’t want him to do any radiation or chemo, which may attack the cancer, but also attacks any sort of physical comfortableness and placebo effect  that one needs to feel half decent and heal. Prayer, love, laughter, and good food have no drawbacks at all as far as we can tell.



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Hang in there

Get there.
Just get there, she said.
Any adequate means of transportation will do.
The wind might blow though the windshield, bugs splatter,
and wheels rattle,
you might have to swerve to miss a deer,
then run over a possum.

But if you get there,
Intact, together,
You can have the picnic.
Take out the platitudes, piled high,
Say, it was all meant to be,
in retrospect.
Footsteps in the sand.

Or, was it pedal to the metal
and three sheets to the wind?

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Posted by on January 27, 2018 in Uncategorized


The long way, home, or not, I don’t know

I’ve been spouting off a lot about evolution by natural selection, and interpreting everything I can through that lens–social behavior, religion, crime, politics, everything. Sounds a bit fanatical to be always on about it, but I’m going to try to explain why, because I’m not done. But I want it to be known that even if I become satisfied that evolution does explain everything, including what Dawkins called the God Delusion, I still plan to try to build a bridge back to faith. It will have to be using completely different materials, though. Faith itself will also mean something different. And it will be a rough road. What’s hard is that I can’t, and don’t want, to take anyone with me. I know this blog is just a curiosity, a hobby, and any of my traditionally faithful friends and family won’t even be reading it, let alone be led astray. If they knew my path, they would pity me and lovingly pray for me. Like I did for my young professor at the graduate unseminary, when he admitted that the more he studied the Hebrew Scriptures and understood how the process of interpretation, canonization, and Bible politics works, the less faith he had in its divinity and so-called infallibility. He seemed melancholy, so I tried to comfort him–comfort him!–with some pablum of an assurance that I was sure he’d figure it out, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit! He must have begun to feel very lonely at that evangelical school, as he came and went on his motorcycle. Wanting to teach and be honest, but knowing what he had begun to know, and being around so many who he just couldn’t be honest with, for so many reasons. Such as getting asked to move on, after the leaders’ prayer meeting in which God led the admin on who was called to the school’s ministry and who not. Such as, in case he undermined that faith that, even though he was losing it, still seemed precious, in a fragile way, in others. Not to be challenged before its time. And a humble man wouldn’t assume he was in the right, enlightened and needing to disillusion everyone else, anyway.

My niece graduated from, and now works at, another Christian college, which is now trying to strike an impossible balance between loving and accepting all people while asking them not to engage in relations outside of heterosexual marriage. It’s tough to hold together a school like that. Half of your critics say you’re too liberal, and the other half, too conservative, she said. How can you even be honest with yourself? They’d got over some conservative hurdles–my niece said that they affirmed that gifted and called women should be teaching and preaching along with (gifted and called) men. I told her, that’s very liberal, because it’s reinterpreting Scripture, going against specific apostolic instructions because they don’t feel true today, and so you can’t then say that gay marriage is unbiblical in the next breath (which this college does). You have to be honest and admit that you are evolving due to adaptation to the current environment. Women are not expected to sign an agreement to cover their heads while at the school, men keep their hair short, and Americans cut out the part about obeying the King centuries ago. So why draw the line here? Was it really about Scriptures, or something else? Maybe just part of the gene pool, that part that has driven the population explosion so far and doesn’t yet acknowledge the population tipping point, that can’t abide a non-reproductive kind of love.

Today in our semi-weekly math study hall, someone brought up Elton John, his music being the focus, t first. Someone hadn’t heard of him. The first student was aghast. I pitched in the he was Sir Elton John, even. From another part of the room came a quiet, “I hate him. He’s gay.”

“Whoa, I said, you hate him, just like that?”

“Yup.” Another student, though also raised a conservative Christian, also took issue, saying you shouldn’t be so quick to judge, should give people a little room. The hater said a few other things, but because he his speech is impeded by a birth condition, I couldn’t understand it all.

“That’s a bit harsh. Maybe you should learn a bit more before you hate people,” I said. I asked, “Do you think he’s talented?”

“No. he can’t be.” He was looking scornful and shaking his head.

“Well, I guess that’s not the conversation we need to have right now,” I said, and went back to helping him with how to use the Distance Formula to prove lines congruent. People were quiet. I think that student’s openness showed something up in its rawness, partly by being so in contrast with his amiable nature, in a way that wouldn’t have happened if it had been uttered by someone already known to be redneck, and proud of it.

So some of the sweetest people are homophobes, that’s for sure, just due to their imprinting. Because this guy is incredibly sweet, funny, loved by all. And tough. The one who, when we were talking about aches and pains, said, briefly, ” I don’t even think about pain–I just suck it up.” I hadn’t even been aware, hadn’t thought, about all the pain he experiences daily, especially with the physio he has to have just to keep his muscles flexible and his spasticity under control.

I wouldn’t even start to try to persuade him. If at some point a real issue develops, say with a new gay student, that will be really difficult for us here, maybe. But maybe not–friendship and proximity has a way of melting hard hearts, doesn’t it?


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I feel it in my gut.

Tonight I welcome feelings of bloat and stomach ache, because it means that likely my husband, who’s had something like it for weeks, probably doesn’t have any serious condition after all. He’s getting checked out anyway, despite being told his suffering was probably due to fasting (the PA didn’t believe in it), or gluten, or sugar, and things being complicated by his starting a purchased herbal cleansing.

I’m not a worrier. At least, not about things like this–I was just waiting, trying to field with thought and objectivity my husband’s questions about what might be happening with him. I don’t pretend to be expert, but he still asked me, and I guess I felt it was just a particularly uncomfortable set of symptoms of a bug that was going around. He’s not a patient patient, and I rarely get sick these days, so I guess I have become less reactive to his complaints. My unfeelingness was even a concern to me. Do I feel no sympathy for any particular reason? Suppressed emotion? Resentment? I’m even less likely to want to pity someone if they complain, though intellectually I know everyone has a right to state their ills, and have people care and want to relieve them.

Maybe I can view my relief at, as I said, my own gut-ache, as a sign of a soft heart somewhere. I do know my feelings of compassion and concern exist, just about different things. I worry about people who suffer ignorance, injustice, purposelessness, confusion, apathy, inability, lack of vision.  Also about people who haven’t found a way to contribute to society, or worse, who injure society. Such as by ignorantly perpetuating the consumer economy that is so destructive, that will, must inevitably lead to so much suffering.

Here’s how I see it. Natural selection will have its way. If we live beyond the boundaries of the ecosystems that sustain us and cause their collapse, most of us will die–that’s the way it works. Unlike with minor disruptions of stability such as war, natural disaster, famine, and so on, the rich and privileged won’t be able to capitalize in any real way, insulating and enriching themselves–the “fittest” will be those who, like the “leavers” in Daniel Quinn’s books, melt off into the jungle with survival skills, seeing the hollowness of present ways, returning to their mammalian mostly hunter-gatherer roots. Even these will be rather randomly selected, I suppose from the peoples who happen to live farthest away from sinking, storm- and flood-drowned lowlands, baked deserts, collapsed ocean fisheries, highway-dependent food systems. It will be impersonal and somewhat random. That’s best case scenario. Worse would be some kind of engineered destruction, like in the movies–by germ warfare, engineered addiction, genetic chemical, or psychological, manipulation but smart but morally degenerate (but who’s to judge–just another means of natural selection?) players who see it coming and manage to come out on top. The could live to pick up the pieces.

Looks like I won’t get to teach environmental science next year. The state, and the colleges, don’t view it as an essential science. Biology, Physics, Chemistry are the core, they say. It’s such bullshit. Even if all my students wanted to be biochemists and engineers, I still think they need to make room to learn how the planet works and how to live here properly. Who are these decision makers, that they don’t see this as a priority, now at least? I want to find, found a consortium of teachers, leaders, scholars who fight to get environmental science in the top three. I’ve tried to argue for it to my principal and lead teacher, but their hands are tied. I can teach a lite version on Fridays, maybe, but in a religiously conservative community like this, the name Environmental Science is suspect. I might teach kids that owls are more important than jobs.

Still, I did get to teach one Environmental Science last year (their way of enticing me). And I’ve managed to work in some themes this year–in Food Science we looked at food production, water and food waste; in How not to Starve we’ve looked at the history of agriculture and the effects of industrialized production on the environment, health, and culture. Naturally, although this town is surrounded by farmland, not many families are farming, because of the past consolidation of small farms, so I’m trying to inspire them to become a new kid of farmer, even used the terms pasture raised, local, animal welfare, and organic. My upcoming class called Science Debates should be rich in opportunity, and Marine Biology will include ecological themes for sure. I feel the privilege of getting even to decide on these classes–who gets to do that? And maybe, after all, I can integrate what I care most about into Chemistry, the core class I’ll be teaching next year.


Posted by on January 23, 2018 in Beautiful Earth, Education, science


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Hope for the Holidays

Totally vegged out tonight on episode after episode of “The Office” with my husband and daughter in the cozy living room, by the fire and lit holiday tree. Consuming the entertainment to excess, with chips, dark chocolate, and apple cider. Back of my mind says, still not writing? Answer, don’t have nothing to say. Do–what about what’s going on with school and stuff–that could be something. Or just get one word down after another, maybe prose, maybe a poem. So just before I head off to bed at an appropriate time, though not tired because of the latte I made myself a few episodes ago, and not doing anything to get myself tired–no exercise, no anger or frustration, and very little conflict, I opened up the blog of a writer I know and respect, and there it was, all these layers of experience as a teacher laid out in words, with the passion, the doubt, the questions, the commitment. So I opened up my own blog to get to work.

Swim meet today, watching my youngest son alongside my husband and two of our adult children, also both swimmers, feeling so full, proud, glad, to see youngest part of a team, with every reason to believe he’ll make some new, important friends, gain confidence, experience success, along with all the character lessons the experience will bring. Glad that his siblings are a hundred percent behind him, care about each other, and we can all enjoy being together, with lots of good conversation. Because it’s tough sometimes with us–getting offended and being insensitive being part of us too. Just not today. From yesterday, even, when my daughter, who always comes to the airport, and I picked up our oldest son. No, from last Sunday, when I called him on his birthday and we talked about teaching, learning, social change, philosophy, spirituality, growing up, feelings and thoughts and how they serve and lead us.

Whenever I share stories from my teaching, my son listens with great interest and makes comments that show he really gets why I love teaching, and that he could possibly head that route too, even if it means a pay cut from working in software. Not that he’s had much pay yet, graduation being still five months away and no time to work, being a full time students and college swimmer.

Feeling cautiously optimistic in regards to my second daughter too, who is making a great effort to share with me her plans for a road trip she has decided to take with a friend and two dogs down to Oregon and back. She’s hoping for some extra funds from me, as usual, but asking nicely and providing an itinerary is new. Still, I want to install a cell phone disabling device before she goes, to cut down on temptations to use the phone while driving. Couldn’t get the account to work when I tried it out on the other daughter’s phone, so it’s stuck for now, and when I ask for Daughter Two’s phone to install it there, I dread the conflict it will bring up, as she sees it as overly controlling. She would not be moved by the claim on the package, “if you are opening this box, someone care for you very much.” Still, I am persistent, too.

All these grown children being still pretty connected to us made us finally make the decision to buy a hot tub, hoping it will provide a good place for building community among us (as well as helping out with aches and pains). It comes in five days and there’s a lot to do to get ready–electrical, and laying down the base. I never really wanted one, because I rarely feel like soaking in hot water, but the last year I have wanted just that, a place to get the chill off, the tension out after a log day, and knowing that all six of us have strains and -“itis”es and tightness from this or that condition or injury. Several other families told us it was a blessing for them, bringing members of the family together, and sometimes the kids’ friends around. That’s what we’re hoping. We might even try some of our sons’ role-playing games in there, with a floating tray for rolling dice. It will be cool to look up at the night glory as we float there, get out of my head.


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Posted by on December 17, 2017 in Parenting & Family, Places & Experiences


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