Tag Archives: work

If the Spanish word for cow is vaca, what is the etymology of vacation?

In a fog, and this might be the effects of being on vacation. One is meant, when one vacates one’s premises, responsibilities, and community rhythms, to refill the void thus created. Go for a this, try that, get this or that done, but no real work, nothing essential, and most importantly, have fun. And having a family (or partial family) vacation is meant to draw everyone closer together like being in the grit of real life never can. One has worked and saved and booked the rooms and flights and amusement facility tickets, doubled efforts to get all the vacation week’s chores done ahead, and briefed the temp workers who will hold down the fort meanwhile.

Then one packs and heads east, or west, whatever is deemed best by the man in charge, or woman in charge. Who of course asked one’s opinion, but there were certain correct answers and somehow it all came down to those choices, and among those you don’t care much any more. Isn’t it enough that it’s a vacation? It’s been so long. We’ll have a great time, honey. No separate vacations for us.

One arrives and settles in, then goes grocery shopping. Except this time it’s a special occasion and one is supposed to care less about price and quality and diet and more about making sure this is food fit for a vacation. More red meat, perhaps, and a small set of gourmet spices to go with the salmon. Then one sets the table and cooks it. One does not dwell on the awareness that there are some other couples who share domestic tasks, even on vacation, all other things being equal.

One enjoys a meal with the other vacationing couple, and then dang it if the men don’t go off to read their books and there are the dishes to clear and wash. Because among certain kinds of menfolk, old habits die hard. But these habits are close together on the allele with other good diehard characteristics, so one shouldn’t complain. And in this case the womenfolk don’t get paid anything much for their daily work, so why not have them have a slightly less vacant evening for their part?

The main thing is to get tired enough by the end of the day to sleep well. Because weed is not yet legal in the state of Idaho, even for sleep aid, though the fellow in the orange house across town makes a good herbal mix with organic coconut one could try. Especially anyone who hasn’t slept more than five hours a night for months. Its no wonder, with a naturally fiery temper and sense of justice, that such a one said he would have punched the #$%&ing crap out of the band leader in the movie “Whiplash” if he treated him that way.

One’s digestion is, too, somewhat on vacation. Not enough stress and exercise and routine and plain food to keep things moving.

The pillows are good at the condo, though, and there’s no television in the bedroom, a nice change from the hotel. The mountains are lovely, softly folded and interrupted by ridges of sharp outcrops, divided by creases full of trees and snow. Textured like the scalp of a young black boy with closely cropped curls, all faded to washed out blue-greens and yellow-browns.

Tomorrow the river is the destination–a blue, babbling, stony river only a few feet deep meandering between the feet of the hills and the highway. The strongest color around, that blue, next to the snowy banks. There are reputed to be moose there, and likely magpies. Hoping to catch a little wildness, as everything else in the landscape has been tamed and trained into the service of the tourist industry and the pleasure of well-to-do retirees.

They have creased, leather faces and season passes to the slopes. And why should I think their faces don’t have the same beauty as that Amerindian woman with the homespun and woven alpaca headdress in red and blues? Why indeed–I am awash with unjust prejudice. Is it anyone’s fault that some have earned strength and beauty with useful work out of doors, and others through taking ski vacations or retiring into sunshine with their nest egg?

I’m already feeling the yearning to get back to my work, however I sometimes complain about it. Spring is coming and it’s time to get the potatoes and new apple tree planted. I want to get those chairs finished and reupholstered, and see if someone can’t improve my design for an addition to our little house. Because I want my son to have a room to set up a drum kit, and I want a sewing space and a place to lay out a puzzle for the family.

I want to see about getting my boy into the best college we can, figuring out how to get my youngest a drive back and forth to some kind of athletics training, helping my daughter through her cold virus, and the other daughter adjust to the pace and expectations of her community college classes..

For the next three days I’ll try to be a good vacationer, going skiing with my husband, hiking and sketching by the river with my son, and trying to spot a few movie stars at the lodge. I’m sure there are important things for me to accomplish and experience here, too. But for now I feel a bit like a grazing cow that looks up stupidly now and then and slowly follows the herd across the fenced-up pasture.


Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Places & Experiences


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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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Just another first day of school, and look at that beautiful rain!

I made my two youngest children…do you know, I hate labeling children by their school level? As in “middle schoolers”? As if that tells anything meaningful about them–I do it sometimes, but I’ve become sensitive to the practice…made them chicken sandwiches and pretzel packets for lunch and off they went, my daughter having agreed to include her brother in her walking group this time, until he could form his own. And I went off to help at the high school book room with the other volunteers. It was pretty quiet, only a few teachers being eager to get those texts into their students’ hands on the very first day, so the three of us chatted between times. I brought up the topic of self-censorship by textbook companies, just as something I’d recently read about that was interesting, then thought, I could do with some self-censorship of my own; we shared second had our children’s experiences in school, current activities and aspirations, our hopes. One woman had one child, the other (a friend from up the road and fellow swim team mom) two, and I, way over the average except in homeschool circles. We shared our disappointment that the math program was less than adequate at the school, that some English teachers didn’t teach writing or require much reading (three books a year in some cases) or stray from their personal favorite genres (dark, with lots of violence), and that there were such strict prohibitions against teacher choice, so what could we do? Then, we served a large lineup of bright-faced students that appeared at the counter, checking out three different texts. I went for more texts and tripped on a chair in the cramped space, bringing my forehead down on the top of a cart with a whack. A new volunteer was just arriving, and asked if I needed ice, and my co-volunteer (a nurse) insisted I sit down. It was embarrassing, and I kept thinking how non-risky a book room ought to be, and how could I have managed to have an accident. No fainting this time, though, and, since the cart had had a lot of give, being on wheels, with a bit of ice I was fine. Pretty much flustered the woman who brought the ice, though–along with the size of the group that were lined up, and one of the computers shutting down. I wanted to say something to soothe her nerves, but just thanked her for the ice and went on my way at the end of my shift.

Been thinking about my spouse, bone weary of traveling to the big city, staying there several nights, missing the family. I’m ttrying to be less reactive to his appeals to relieve him be going back to work. Which, I continually assure him, I am attempting to do. One can’t substitute teach at the very beginning of the year, after all, and there were orientations to attend and paperwork they had to receive still. Then I could make as much in a day as he could make in one hour. But of course, it would open up the field for further opportunities, and after twenty years I could probably get to one third his salary plus benefits. That’s how much folks are willing to pay for fast-fluxing, always changing, always at the competitive edge cell phone service (he works for one of the large providers) as compared to teachers for their community’s children. Ironic, no? If only they could make schooling more efficient and put all those kids on computers that could quickly train them to work at those cell phone companies, video game creation shops, app development firms, and the ones with a hankering for social service, cyber-intelligence and security. Then the teachers could go find careers in real estate or selling futons.

The other day I’d asked my spouse to remember  that I was committed to pitching in, I was not dragging my feet, finally felt I could balance it with family responsibilities (if he found local work), but that I needed to feel he was on my side, at my back, rooting for me, rather than a feeling of being pushed out into that mean ‘ole world and suck it up. His mom had cried at going back to work, and I did feel it would be a big adjustment for me to “go back,” but that I was going in with my eyes open and willingly. (I admit to you that this is a statement of faith, with a bit of “fake it ’till you make it” to it–resolve rather than conviction, you know.)

I picked up my two kids at the park on their way home between rain showers, the first in over a month, heard them debrief, caught tones of general contentment with their teachers and classmates in general, optimism about the year ahead, except my daughter felt that her L.A. teacher was not so good. My first thought was–no way; she has to have a good L.A. teacher, or she might lose her love for writing. And, maybe I should homeschool her just in that. As in, no choice about it, really. As the sky darkened, she lamented how much time of her day was now being used up, with so little left to make her own choices. A waste of time, she said, and I dutifully answered, It depends what you do with it. Just like time off, in that sense, or full time job. Also like prison time. Depends what you do with it.

Later I made a point of calling my husband, which I don’t do often enough, sharing the day, and he so appreciated it.



Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences



More about post secondary planning

Here in the silence of my parents-in-laws house, nothing but the click of keys and mouse, passing of cars, ticking of clock and muffled song of a sparrow outside. I’m unaccustomed to such quiet, not sure how to structure it, though we sought it here—a retreat on the way to pick up our youngest son from Scout Camp on the Oregon coast. There was getting up at a reasonable time, fixing breakfast for my husband and me, finishing my book while he did work remotely on his laptop in the living room. Yesterday on the way here he spoke again about the one satisfaction in his work, knowing he was providing for us. How important or our children to learn a trade so they could do the same.  I’d been expressing my deep value for the type of education that would not only prepare a person for the work force, but enable one to understand the forces at work in the world, develop vision and wisdom, exert influence in the world for good. My desire that they go to a college that would provide the support and opportunities that intelligent, young, Type B introverts need, a place where they would be known by their professors who would mentor them, help them develop a vision for meaningful work in the world based on their gifts and values, and confidence in pursuing that and other important aspects of life purpose. We told our children and they were growing up that God made us to be a blessing in the world. Even now and then I ask, why did God make you, and they answer “To be a blessing to the world.”

There’s certainly an element of wanting for my children what I felt I never received. Back then I didn’t know what I was missing. I expected university to be big and impersonal, professors to inhabit a  different world and not have much to do with undergrads. Science was about attending lectures in big halls, taking notes, getting the labs done, doing well on exams. I expected most of my meaningful growth and learning to be outside the classroom (as previously). I studied at the big research university, but lived on a small neighboring campus, a self contained Oxford-style liberal arts and journalism school with a rich student life–frosh, upper classes and grad students mixing in the student pub, lit society, theater, debates and open mic nights. But I think now, if only I’d had the kind of academic and career mentoring and encouragement from my professors that some of the colleges I’m now researching have the reputation of providing–what might I have discovered about my life purpose? What if someone had noticed and helped me develop my strengths and particular way of seeing things, my confidence, in the realm of scholarship and work? There was a bit of activity in the way of picking off the top few students from each class to invite them to apply for lab assistanceships or encouragement to do grad work, but that wasn’t me. I studied marine biology because it fascinated me, but who knew? Who knew my other interests and how they might be connected? I had no idea what the options were, or where I might best serve and develop. But maybe that’s what you get for under $16,ooo a year.

Maybe better to get that technical degree or certificate, keeping costs down by living at home and studying at the community college, then work to earn what a great liberal arts education costs. Then you always have a trade, and can afford to build your mind, deepen wisdom with a foot in the “real world.” Trading on potential straight out of high school is a pretty risky business, as well as a highly competitive market. I wonder if my oldest, who doesn’t lack intelligence or commitment to learning, but doesn’t have stellar test scores, can place in that race. And to try for a swimming scholarship and then have to balance two workouts a day with studies? Maybe not feasible either.

So I maintain a balance of hope and anxiety, continue working on the options, helping him feel out his plans and desired possible courses of study, travel, work. One thing going for him is that he has a good network of friends–sensible, caring, intelligent friends, a variety of personalities. That goes a long way in helping one work things out, doesn’t it?

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Posted by on August 7, 2014 in Education, Parenting & Family


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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.



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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!





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