Tuesday, November 6, 2012

playing with others

A few weeks ago I was in Arizona visiting grandchildren (and children). We had a weekend full of birthday parties, Halloween parties, baptisms, you name it. We managed to squeeze in watching one of our grandsons play soccer. He is not-quite-four. I didn't know that there were soccer teams for 3-year-olds!

There were only three players on the field at any time--and the field was about half the size of a normal one. The job was to get the ball in the goal--there were no penalties or anything like that. There was also no sense of teamwork. Our grandson (in the gray shirt above) was aggressive. He would just go in there and start kicking the ball. About half the time he kicked it into the opposing team's net--apparently nothing about each team having a goal was in his frame of reference.

One of the funniest things about the whole thing was how often the kids would be kicking the ball and lose ir or someone would kick it away or out of bounds, and the little players (both boys and girls) would suddenly stop, stamp a foot (or both of them), fold their arms, and start crying. They did not like their play interrupted, their progress thwarted. Parents and/or coaches would have to help soothe--and sometimes remove a player from the field. It was funny. I kept thinking, "how little they are! how much like babies they really still are."

And then I thought that I might not actually stomp my foot, fold my arms and start crying--but I do it inside and more subtly when I get bugged at people who "steal MY ball." We aren't, after all, so different, except that we've learned to respond less like a three-year-old. We still want our way, we want all the prizes and all the praise. We want to make our goals without any interference. Seeing those budding soccer players put my life into a different lens. I hope I'm nicer to drivers on the way home today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Little things

I was in Maine this past weekend. One afternoon after the workshop ended, I drove around to see sights. It was, after all, my first time in Maine. I loved the rocky coastline and the working fishing boats in the harbors. I loved the trees and the granite outcroppings. I loved the white wooden houses with their flat fronts against the narrow streets, so proud and forthright. On my map, I noticed that there was a lighthouse nearby, so how I could I resist? I headed over and walked the trail that led to these stairs. I have to admit, even from this perspective, the lighthouse looked small. I mean, I have read about lighthouses (they are a particular interest of mine) and seen some in Florida and Oregon, and they'd all been big. This one didn't seem so big.
 When I got up to it, I realized that my original perception had been accurate. It wasn't big. I wouldn't want to live in it, the way some people lived in lighthouses. I found out later that the keeper's house was built two years after the lighthouse, so apparently there was no need for it to serve two purposes. It did the job. It had all the requisite parts of a lighthouse--and it's been there for 150 years (built in 1852!), so it is obviously useful. It was tidy and sturdy. Small, yes, but just what it needed to be. Kind of cute, actually.
Today I read a picture book called Little Bird (Germano Zullo). It's about the little things in life that matter. In the book--which I HIGHLY recommend--the author says this: "Most of the time we don't notice these things. Because little things are not made to be noticed. They are there to be discovered."  I reflected (not for the first time) that big things can be impressive just because of size, but little things (people, events, emotions) matter, too. Little things others do matter to my life: the smile of a stranger, a text message from a friend. The small things that make me smile (my 3-year-old grandson had his mom text me a picture of a piece of an apple he'd shaped with his teeth into a boat) and the small moments that matter (a former student just stopped by my open door to thank me for helping solve a problem last week) are the things that help to make the foundation of a life. If we discover them. They are, after all, not made to be noticed. I have to look for them. Little things. Discover. Good reminder.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

living more importantly

I am going to show off some of my grandchildren today with two photos I received recently. The one at the tops shows Millie: she'd gotten into the bowl of pears her mom had left on the table and eaten parts of five different ones. I love her look that says "Aren't I wonderful?" With the one at the bottom, my son-in-law attached this caption: "which of these doesn't belong?" (since one of the "princesses" is a boy). Obviously, Gabe didn't think anything except that he'd been having fun with his cousins.

I guess I'm putting these photos on my blog today partly because they both made me smile. They are, after all, my darling grandchildren who always can bring a smile to my heart and face. And partly, they also both made me think about how kids don't think the way I do. I would think I should finish one pear before I begin another--or, worse, that I should only allow myself one pear, even though they taste SO GOOD that I'd like another. I might forget just having fun with my cousins and think that I don't want to appear silly. In my grown-up thinking, I worry if something is appropriate or healthy or wise or silly or a waste of time or whatever. And there are good reasons that as we grow we learn to think like that. It's important to think mature, wise thoughts. But I wonder if too often I forget the joy that comes from not worrying, just for a minute, about grown-up things. The pleasure of eating a cookie before the salad (or, heaven forbid, in place of the salad). The joy of sitting with my husband in the backyard swing and simply watching the sunset when there is a stack of papers to be graded inside the house and floors to be vacuumed. The pleasures that come just from enjoying the moment and not worrying about the next one. Thankfully, I have these delightful reminders that there are, sometimes, more important ways of living.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

new things

When we were at the grocery story last week, we saw this fruit.
It's called a Jackfruit. It is the largest fruit that grows on trees. This one was about 20 pounds, but they can get as big as 80 pounds. I want to see the tree that can bear that kind of fruit! Jackfruit is common in Southeast Asia, but I had never seen one before going to the store. I guess the inside is full of pods that cover seeds that look like nuts--and the meat is VERY sticky. One source said that even the knife you use to cut open the fruit should be oiled because the fruit is so sticky. If it's cooked, I learned, the meat resembles chicken in texture (doesn't everything?) and can be a part of a vegetarian diet in that way.

Anyway, the jackfruit got me thinking about all the things that exist in this world that I don't know anything about. I don't even know they exist! Our lives--or I guess I should say, my life--are really sheltered in some regards. We have all this access to information (all I had to do was google the word on my phone, and I had more info than I wanted), but we still can't comprehend all that is out there, even just in our surroundings (not counting space or the depths of the sea). It's cool to think there will always be more to learn, but kind of daunting, too. So much to learn, so little time to learn it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


There's a new show on TV by this name. The details of each episode change, but the general idea of perception (as presented on the show) is unique. What do we think we see? Is it really what others see? Can we trust the obvious? Or is there more?

I have some experiences with seeing something and thinking that it is something else in that first moment of viewing. I've often found that first impressions are often wrong. And yet, seeing is so much more. Smithsonian recently had an issue with three pieces about seeing and invisibility. In one study, researchers found that if observers were asked to count the number of times a basketball was passed among players, they totally missed the gorilla (fake) that walked through the scene partway through the study. Another short piece explains the art work of Liu Bolin, a Chinese artist who has an assistant paint him so that he blends almost perfectly into his surrounding. I've seen some of his art before. It's a very compelling statement about invisibility, about perception, about seeing.

This weekend we went up to Swiss Days in Heber. In one of the booths, an artist sold photos of words--but the letters were bits of things in our environment--the curve of a railing, the notch in a tree. The artist saw in these elements, letters. And from these he created words that had meaning. It fascinated me because it showed me a different way to see.

We had parked in a field outside of town and ridden a shuttle into the fair. As we got into the car to come home, I noticed this tree.
It looks like the tree has dark leaves, but all of them are birds. When we shut our doors, they all flew up and around, like a big wind swirling leaves through the field. Then they settled back into the tree, again looking like black leaves.

In The Little Prince, we read that it is only with the heart that we can see clearly. In another book, Antoine de Saint Exupery says this: A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral. 

How often do I see without seeing?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

first day of school

Why is it, after more than 20 years of teaching, that I still get anxiety before school starts? 
I love teaching. I love my students. I love what I teach. 
But I have nightmares (this year, at least, it wasn't the normal dream that my students had used the phone in the back of the room to order 100 pizzas, and, while I am trying to deal with the mix-up, they are jumping from desk-top to desk-top and I am wondering how the phone in the room, which only goes to the office, could have been used to order pizzas to be delivered!). Still, a night of nightmares over the weekend, and then two hours of sleeplessness in the middle of the night last night, wondering if I had thought everything through, if I had all the preparations REALLY completed. If I was ready. And what would I wear??? As if that mattered! 
Maybe it's because I know how important teaching (and teachers) can be. 
Maybe it's because I love what I do so much that I want it to be perfect (even though I know that's rarely possible). 
Maybe it's because I realize, more every year, how little control I have over what happens in my students' minds--that what they bring to the classroom is so vital to making a class "work" or not, and I have only so much influence on that. I can hope to establish a good sense of community, but I can't do it alone. Maybe it's that sense of what I want my classroom to be, every day and every year, and my own sense that such a classroom is a fragile and precious thing. And I don't want to mess it up for my students. 
What I do matters. But I'm not doing it alone. And that's what I remember every year at this time of year. And that's what brings the nightmares and the open eyes and wandering mind in the dark of the night when I should be asleep. 
But I wouldn't trade it for anything else I could do. 
Hooray for the first day! 

Friday, July 27, 2012


 My mother-in-law passed away about a month ago. I wrote about her in summer institute, right after her passing,  but now I think I want to share here what I wrote.
Here's a photo of her with my children (and one grandchild!) taken with her about a week before she passed.She doesn't look much like the woman in my writing. I hadn't realized, until I was helping to write the life sketch and watched a DVD my daughter had made of Dottie three years ago, how much she had changed from the woman I remember for most of my life--certainly all my adult life.

Here's what I wrote:

Sometimes you just get used to a person's clothing. That's what they wear, what they are. And then, at odd moments, you realize that the clothing is as much a part of them as their laugh or their voice. Dottie always wore bright clothes. And not just bright in color but large bright patterns, too. In the 70s, she wore psychedelic prints--like modern art paintings in colors that shocked the eye to be next to each other: fuschia and chartreuse and mustard and lime and violet. She loved to laugh, to feed people, to give parties. The bright colors seem to reflect her approach to life: full and vibrant.

Dottie was a large woman, so you'd think that she would wear tame colors. But she said that if she was going to be large, she was going to be noticeable at it. And she was. She often changed her hair color--red, black, and then orange for a while when she tried to bleach the black out. Whatever she did, though, she did with flash.

Most of her nine children inherited Dottie's love of color. My husband, for instance, thinks nothing of wearing bright red or yellow shirts. He has always looked for and purchased bright orange swim trunks. Although they make him easy to spot on the beach or in the water, most of us wouldn't pick that color once, let alone for decades. David's sisters wear bright colors and also large, chunky jewelry designed to call attention to the wearer.

When I was pregnant with one of my own children, Dottie gave me a pantsuit--maternity top and bottom--in a bold red plaid. I thanked her, and tried to keep my face impassive. I didn't think I could wear it. After all, I was already as big as a house, a barn, practically. This would just draw attention to it, right? I tried it on. Oh my. I couldn't wear it. No way. I loved Dottie, and I knew it hurt her that I wouldn't wear the outfit, but I just couldn’t.

I want to live life with Dottie’s enthusiasm, with her awareness of herself and her acceptance of that self--but I hope I do it without the bold-colored clothes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

(optical) illusions

What seems to be and what actually is: two different things.
Take this photo for instance.
These are three of my grand-daughters. It looks like they are playing in snow. Actually, this is Arizona in spring--and all that white is from the trees. Not snow at all (although the youngest kept saying, "Look at all this snow!").
Sometimes we get tricked by other illusions in life, too. People who seem to have it all together are really falling apart inside. Homes that look like the pages in a magazine may be (underneath the surface) dysfunctional and unhappy. What seems like success may actually be something else altogether, at least for a specific person.
Looking just at what seems to be, at the surface, is easy; looking more deeply is hard. It takes time. It takes commitment. And our lives are so fast-paced that such time and commitment aren't easy to come by. Besides that, most of us try to make the appearance be what we want people to believe--we don't want people to know the underneath. That makes seeing what is even harder.
I don't know why I'm writing this today. Maybe just an idea that, once again, slowing down and paying attention to people is what matters in life. More than all the surfaces and speed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Recording words. . . with ink

I recently attended a professional conference. In one of the last sessions, even though the speaker was interesting, my attention was drawn to a young woman sitting one row ahead of me and a few seats to the right.

She is young, probably mid-twenties. Her long brown hair is pulled up in a pony with a black stretchy elastic. Small gold hoops thread through her ears. Large glasses with red frames are perched about half-way down her nose so that she can both look through them and over them. She has a large journal on her lap--about 14 inches tall and 9-10 inches wide--with a black fabric cover and a red binding. (I'm beginning to think the glasses, outfit, and journal are selected for the pleasing color coordination!).

Instead of filling a page at a time, she writes across the two-page spread, words running down into the center seam and then rising out again onto the facing page. She doesn't write ON the line, but slightly above so that all the rows of writing seem to float between the lines printed on the page. With a pen of fine point blue ink, she writes very neatly. And constantly. I mean it. Her hand rarely stops!

As she writes, she keeps her head up. Her eyes glance down at the page from time to time, but she keeps her head up, facing the speaker. And all the while she wears a slight smile, as though the act of sitting in this large hall and writing every word (it has to be every word being said--either that or she's composing a novel in the midst of all of this) is a pleasant experience she wants to savor. That's the look. Enjoyment savored.

While I've watched, she has filled almost two pages with text--which means four large pages. So much writing! I can't imagine that it is all about the session, especially when I look at my sparse notes (okay--yes I have been a little distracted by the puzzle of this woman writing constantly and with such pleasure in front of me, but still!). What is she writing? I am writing notes. She is writing talk. Content. The Great American Novel. I don't know. But I wonder. And, when the session ends and I sit forward to get a peek--maybe I can get a better sense of what she is writing--I see . . . shorthand! What young person knows shorthand today? She is making a transcript? I can't fathom it, and yet it fascinates me. This anachronism. I have to think about the implications.

As I wander away, I think about how I am aware that I walk by surveillance cameras many times a day. My car gets pictures taken of it as I drive through stop lights. It's possible that someone with a smart phone will take a photo or movie of me doing something when I am unaware that I am being recorded. And yet, I've come to pretty much accept these aspects of modern life. What puzzles me is my wonderment at having words recorded in this traditional way. Somehow, it seems more intimate. Why is that?

Saturday, March 31, 2012

mixed (media) messages

I saw this sign:

I guess we live in a world that always sends mixed messages. But this sign made me think about the ways we use both digital writing and hand writing, both in our lives and in our classrooms. I started to wonder if there are benefits to handwriting--even though my students often resist it since word processing is so much faster (one of its benefits). I went online (of course) and found this:

In the segment titled “This or That? Longevity Boosters,” Dr. Oz asked what is better, “typing or writing by hand?”In the segment, he said, “Writing by hand gives your brain a workout and reduces incidents of cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s.” He went on to say that “…there was a big study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience that said writing is associated with improvements in memory compared to typing.” on this site.

Maybe we should do some of both???

Friday, March 30, 2012

This I believe

I sometimes give the "This I Believe" prompt to my students. Here is one of my drafts in response to that prompt, with a belief I've been thinking about a lot lately:

I believe in the power of human contact: a hug, a handsqueeze, a stroke.

In the night, when I am wakeful, worried about family or friends, my husband's stroke on my head or shoulder tells me he's aware of me and my needs.

When a friend gets the news--after a year of battling her husband's cancer, through repeated series of chemo and surgeries and medications--and after being told just three months earlier that--MIRACLE--all four stage 4 cancers were in remission--that he is now filled with incurable cancers in every part of his body and she must tell her daughter who is away at college--I can hold her hand. It isn't a cure, but it's something.

When my grandmother stepped off the plane, I could see the signs of trauma. Her caregiver had threatened her and locked her in her room, had abused her verbally. She walked to my mother and me, and the three of us embraced. Just stood there and held each other. I could feel healing begin.

Touch matters. Babies die without it. We all do, a little.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

nerdy? reading???

I couldn't help but chuckle when I saw this poster. When I was growing up, summer vacations, to me, meant unlimited time to read. No school to interfere. But in summer, my mother would say--multiple times a day--"Go outside! Don't stay indoors all the time." I know she meant to go outside and do something physical. But I really resented the constraints that such activities made on my reading time. For me, summer meant reading.
So, when she wasn't watching, I stashed books outside or stuck them under my sweatshirt (sorry, raised in Alaska, we wore jackets even in summer) and found places in the woods either on the side or back of my house to sit, my back against a tree trunk, and read. There I was unlikely to be disturbed. It was heaven.  I remember the sounds of birds and breeze accompanying my reading; I remember finishing a book and then looking up at the sky through birch leaves and just thinking about the story and the people I had just experienced through the pages of the book.
I may have been a nerdy girl, but I look back on those days of reading in the trees as idyllic.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Taking a mind vacation

My students are anxious. The semester's end is coming soon and they have lots to do, not just for my class. I understand anxious. I feel it, too.

When too many things demand my attention: home, family, church, school, friends.
When time is spread thin between important needs and and more important needs.
When the to-do list carries over onto the back or (worse) another page.
When I don't get to choose between good, better, best, but must simply do what's in front of me.
When sleeping is a dream and breathing seems impossible.

When that anxious feeling starts to overwhelm, I close my eyes. I take a deep breath. And I go for a mind vacation. I go to a point on the drive when we go to see our "Arizona" children, a point where I am far enough from home to feel all the duties attached to being home break away and a point before I start to take on the roles of mom and grandma for the visit. A point when I am just me. It's a moment of freedom. Just me and David in the car. What's outside is not relevant. It isn't even very geographically appealing. It is just the place where the worries and stresses go away: I can't do anything about what's behind me for now and I can't yet do anything about what's in front of me. When I take my mind vacation, this is the place I go. Just for a minute. Can't take a long time. Too much to do.

Pause. Go there. Okay.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

5 Things to Love about Cinnamon

1. It smells like Christmas, and Christmas is the happiest time of the year. We try to be nicer and we spend time with family and friends. So, cinnamon=happy. :)
2. I'm sure it has medicinal properties. Yes. I looked it up. It can lower blood sugar (does that count when we eat it in a big cinnamon roll?) and it has anti-viral properties. It has even been shown to inhibit the development of Alzheimer's in mice (mice get Alzheimer's????).
3. It makes most things taste better. Oatmeal? Yes. Apples? Yum. Toast? Of course, especially French toast. Pumpkin? Definitely! Jelly bears? Oh, yeah. I've even heard of it in soups and on meat!
4. Next to chocolate, it seems to mark celebration foods more than anything. I've often thought that if I became allergic to chocolate--heaven help me!--at least there would be cinnamon to celebrate with. But if I eat cinnamon, I feel that I'm getting a treat.
5. It not only tastes good. It also is one of those words that feels good to say. Cinnamon. Cinnamon. Yum.
this clip is all about words that feel good to say. Cinnamon belongs there!

Monday, March 26, 2012

capture a city

I spent several days last week at a conference in St. Louis. It was my first time to go there, and I found myself thinking what I often do when I visit a new city: what is the take-away image? It's not that easy, but this time I snapped some pictures to see what I could come up with.

This image is the one everyone thinks of. . . and, no, I didn't take the ride up it. Too high for me (and I hear they cram you in a little car. Not for me.)
I snapped this one as I was walking around looking for food. I guess it could be any city, anywhere, but there wasn't a lot of traffic (foot or auto) downtown St. Louis, and this image represented that empty feeling to me.
I snapped this one because it seemed to symbolize, for me anyway, the combination of old and new in downtown St. Louis. There is the old (red brick or pioneer style architecture) and the new (glass and angles) in downtown buildings. This image captures some of that, I hope.
But if there's one take-away for me, it is the walking girl, part of a series of sculptures (apparently) that are placed around the city. I wish I'd had time to find them all. I found her captivating with her smile and energetic stride, taking off for the next place. Since St. Louis was the stepping-off place for the westward movement, I guess it's an appropriate image for the city.

 But for me, it just symbolizes an enthusiastic forward motion, something I hope to emulate.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I am afraid of noises in the night. I guess it's not really the noises that frighten me as much as it is what the noises might represent.
That bump could be a prowler, a robber. . . a murderer! It doesn't matter that no house in our neighborhood has been broken into in years or that the string of robberies that did occur several years ago were all during the day when people left garage doors open. There is, in my mind, still the possibility. That creak could be a crook!
It doesn't matter that I've locked every door and window in the house and checked them twice. That bump could still be a prowler in the house, bent on stealing. . . what? I don't know what we have that is valuable enough to steal! It doesn't matter that the phone is on the nightstand and 911 is easy to dial (how many movies show too little time for dialing, after all?) or even that David is snoring away beside me (how many movies show the big, strong man getting killed, too?).
Those thumps are scary and keep me awake in the dark when I wish it could be light or I could sleep.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Away is. . .

Away is the sound of seashells echoing the sea.
Away is the sand beneath my feet and in the bottoms of my pockets and on the seat of my pants.
Away is the tang of salt water and sea life.
Away is the silhouette of palm trees against the sunset.
Away is the sound of children laughing and big kids (their parents) outdoing each other at Guitar Hero.
Away is bonfires on the beach.
Away is holding my husband's hand for a slow walk in the cool night air with ocean waves as serenade.
Away is piling a wagon high with too many supplies and pulling it the one block to the beach, all the while keeping toddlers from running into the street.

Monday, March 19, 2012

mysterious neighbor

Every day I drive through an intersection a couple of blocks from my house. On one corner of that intersection, surrounded by a chain link fence, sits a little white house. Built of wood, it looks as though it was probably built 100 years ago when the area was covered in cherry and apple orchards. A few fruit trees hug the edges of the small yard that is cut across by the canal.

 The only person I've ever seen there is a man, probably in his late 40s to mid-50s. He is tall and fit and ALWAYS tan. I know this because he ALWAYS wears blue shorts. These are not the kind we see kids wear today. These are bright blue and fairly short. Definitely not to the knees. Definitely not baggy. In the summer, he wears them without a shirt. Flip-flops and blue shorts. That's it.

Today, he was out shoveling snow off the walk in front of the house. And he had them on. Blue shorts! It's not the first time I've seen him in winter in his blue shorts. Today, he did have on a shirt with a vest over it, some boots, and a hat--but his legs were bare, and tanned.

Over the years, I have seen him about his property at all times of day. Always in the blue shorts. And so, I've wondered:
What does he do?
Does he have any family or friends?
What does the inside of that house hold?
Why shorts all the time? Why blue ones that look like they came from the 70s?
How is he always tanned--and with the kind of tan that looks like it's all over? There's never a white line or gradual fading to suggest otherwise.

Now I know my wondering makes it seem like I've watched him more than is respectful. Not true. But I drive by his house everyday and have done so for almost 12 years. Over that time, I've seen him a lot. He doesn't change. And neither do my questions. Who is he? What is his story?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sudden winter

It was 70 degrees yesterday. I raked some of the needles and old leaves away from the space in front of the front window to see shoots of green: future hyacinths and tulips and daffodils! Today, we woke up to snow on the ground and more coming down today. It's cold, and I'm snuggled under a blanket as I write this. But I don't feel discouraged. Spring will come back, probably in just a day or two. And in the meantime I am reminded that most things we want involve a path of some kind, a trajectory that isn't always a straight line but more of an upward bouncing line. Yes,I I may work in my writing project everyday for a week and then hit a spot or have life interfere that means I don't write for a few days. . . But I go back to it. So this little slide back into winter, it's no big deal. We will get there, to flowers and leaves and warm, eventually.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

living with gusto

We met one of our daughters at Costco this afternoon. One of her daughters was eating a chocolate donut and had chocolate smeared across her face. We said, "You must have really enjoyed that donut!" and our daughter wondered aloud (something every parent must have asked a jillion times) why kids get food all over themselves. I was thinking that it's partly because they go at the food with gusto. Coley really liked the donut. And I was wondering how it would be if we went at everything in our lives with that kind of gusto. Maybe we'd burn out. But maybe not. I mean, look at this face. She's enjoying life!

So maybe, I tell myself, instead of feeling tired and worn, I just need to go at life like I'm a little girl eating a chocolate donut. Certainly with all the great hugs we got this afternoon, I have to say that the gusto feels good to the people it spill over on.

Friday, March 16, 2012

children and memories

My children are all grown. . . and it happened much faster than it seemed like it would when I was in the middle of it. But last night one of my daughters sent me an email that brought a lot of memories back. Of the silly things they said and did. Of the sibling rivalries. Of the imaginations they had. We had three girls and three boys. The girls were in the middle, so they shared a bedroom for most of their lives. If I ever wondered what they talked about for so long after they went to bed.  .  . well, I guess now I have an idea.

What follows is an entry of my middle daughter's journal--the one she said covered the years when she was 12-15--and what she emailed me last night.  The sister she refers to in the entry is about 18 months younger, so she would have been 11-13 at the time. Also, my daughter informs me that she did "clean up" the punctuation and spelling (which she says was so bad that it's embarrassing to see now) but kept the text the same.

One night I was scared because I read this scary book.  I asked Julie to tell me a happy story and guess what she told me (it didn't help much!)? 
"There is a bear who calls himself Berry Bear and cons people into going into his cave.  Then his true nature comes out.  He is really a monster-bear named Menacing Max.  One day he got a girl named Jenny to come into his cave.  There were all these goblins and trolls.  They were going to kill her.  One guy she met was named Muzua.  He was bald with one hair sticking straight up.  It was white.  He had no eyebrows or eyelashes.  he had black eyes and pointy ears.  To kill her they put her in the middle of the monsters.  Then a huge eyeball with a little tail came slithering out.  It was called the Killer Eyeball.  Before it could kill her, white balls came and killed all the monsters except Muzua, Menacing Max, and the killer eyeball.  The white balls turned into people.  They told her that Muzua was really her father, who Menacing Max caught and turned into a monster many years ago because he had a tidbit of evil in him." 
That was where we stopped.  She didn't finish it so it would be mysterious.  It didn't help much. 
 Julie says she will make a sequel, called 'Menacing Max Comes Back.'"

Thursday, March 15, 2012

it's THAT day

I remember from last year's March challenge.
I knew there would be these days, days when I sit and think and look out the window and think and do other things and come back and stare at the computer screen and think and there is JUST NOTHING THERE. No slice of life. Nothing to share. Just blankness.

So today when that happened, I thought, Really? There is nothing in the last 24 hours worth reflecting on, worth sharing? What kind of life do you lead? And that makes me feel sorry either that I didn't have that kind of a day or that I didn't pay enough attention. So I'm focusing now. I'm making yesterday a series of snapshots--no certain order--but enough to let me know that I was present and that some of what happened is with me still.

There are buds on the flowering pear tree across our back fence. I noticed them last night as I stood at the kitchen sink, rinsing the cutting board after chopping vegetables for omelets. And so spring and good food combined in a moment close to sunset. If I had only one picture for yesterday, it might have been that moment.  But thinking back now, there are other snapshots I recall from yesterday, too: A student's tears. A colleague's laughing comment as we passed in the hall. A new book that came in the mail. A cookie drop-off that turned into watching the neighbor being put into a car and taken to the hospital. The smokey smell from another neighbor burning a tree stump (inside glowing red in the dark of the night). My husband teasing me about learning something new on my phone. 

So today is a reminder. There are those moments in my life when I stop, right then, and say, "Make this a mental picture that you won't forget." But everyday should have moments like that. Moments that I remember, not because they are big or momentous or worthy of anyone's attention beyond my own. But moments that mean I was present in my life, I was participating and not just going through the motions, even of the moments when I couldn't do anything about the event except experience it and add it to what makes me me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

words and shoes

I am drawn to words. Always have been, according to my mother. I loved books and learned to read before I started school. My love for words (or anything associated with words, like letters or books or libraries or pencils) continues. When we visited Barcelona last year, my husband was a little impatient with the time I wanted to spend at the door of La Sagrada Familia that was covered in words. 

So, I guess it is no surprise that when I saw a pair of Tom's  in canvas printed with words, I had to have them.

I LOVE wearing words on my feet. I am not big on t-shirts with sayings, but on my feet? Yes! I sometimes want to just look at them as I walk, words in front of me, words taking steps, words moving me forward.
So, what are the words on my shoes?

Even the close up might not show them, but here are some of them, inspirational words about walking and moving and doing and dreaming. Appropriate for shoes. And good reminders for me.

Dream more, sleep less.
A foal limps but his dreams gallop.
Feet require journeys.
Walk a mile to loan your shoes to another.
Measure a man by how many miles he's walked, not the achievements of which he has talked.
The best journey is the one walked, not the one talked.
Never lost step with your fellow man.
Sit not, the dream waits for none.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

crayons and new beginnings

There is something about a new box of crayons. I always respond the same way to them--and I can't help but buy them every August when school supplies go on sale. I have boxes of them around the house and in my office. When my grand-daughter dumped these out, I had to snap a photo. What makes me so responsive to them? I am not sure. I'm not an artist, but I love to color pictures with my grand-children. There's something soothing about the activity. But it's the crayons themselves that draw me: the look of them, the smell of them, even the feel of them--rough paper and smooth ends. I've finally decided that it has to do with possibilities, with beginnings.

A new box of crayons signals the start of something: school, a project, a picture.
* Every color I need to complete any idea for a picture I have is there. Shades of colors and neutrals. More than a rainbow. They are all there. I can do anything I want, create anything I want. A whole new world where trees are purple and the sky is green? I can do it!
* The points of the crayon are still sharp, still able to draw narrow lines or in small spaces. Later, when they are no longer new, the blunted points constrain possibilities.
* The crayons are whole now, not broken. I didn't notice until recently that the length of the crayon is just perfect for doing intense work. When a crayon is broken and short, it's not as easy to work with, doesn't allow the detail I might want.

Yes, a new box of crayons symbolizes a start and all the possibilities inherent in that starting. Even now, as I begin a new writing project that is both exciting and strangling me, I sense the possibilities in the project. And, like the box of crayons, I am drawn in to what could be.

Monday, March 12, 2012

little free libraries

I saw a news story last night aboutLittle Free Libraries, little boxes of all sorts that people put on their property as places for readers to borrow and trade books.

I LOVE THIS IDEA. The concept of trading books, of making books available to readers who just happen to be in the neighborhood, is so appealing to me. I love books, and I want other people to love books. My friends and relatives already consider my house a place to borrow books--so why not extend the idea to the middle school children who walk by every day on their way to and from school or the neighbors out on walks on summer evenings or spring mornings? I want to be a part of this.

The libraries can be of all different kinds. Some of the ones on the news story were made of recycled items, like bread baskets or old post office boxes. The visual is unique; the concept is shared: Take a book, return a book.

Is there anyone reading who has done this? Are there any issues to consider besides the obvious? I can't think of a better way to be a good neighbor and share what I love. I am so excited!

http://www.littlefreelibrary.org/ In case the link above doesn't work. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

time change

So why is the "spring forward' so difficult to adjust to? I like the "fall back" time change better!

I saw a story on the news that heart attacks increase by 10% on the Monday following the spring forward time change. The reporter went on to say that researchers find that if we get up early on Saturday, exercise, and drink plenty of water, we adapt to the change with greater ease. So what did I do yesterday? None of those things. I turned all the clocks back at about 9:00 last night so that we would see, literally, that it was later than we thought. I didn't go to bed any earlier. I think it's about a weekend with one hour less than usual and trying to make sure that we get just as much fun and relaxation (if not sleep) as a usual weekend. I like light and longer days, so I'll look forward to that.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

technology and fearlessness

I have been moving over to Apple products, probably slowly. I have a PC at work and a laptop at home. But I purchased an iPad last year and just switched to an iPhone from a Droid. So I'm kind of ambi-system-ous, or maybe I'm just confused. Moving from one system to another can be a trial sometimes. . . touching the screen of my office computer to make something bigger or to open a file? Reaching for a mouse when I'm on the iPad? Those are just forgetting, for a moment, what system I'm on. But, despite what everyone says, there is more to switching to i-anything than people let you know. Yes, some of it's intuitive. And, yes, even my two- and three-year old grandchildren can do whatever they want without any instruction. It's almost the first thing they ask. . . "can we play on your iPad/phone?" And after a recent trip to visit one of my children, I found images saved in my pictures file from the sticker boards of several games as well as some pages my three-year-old grand-daughter had colored. I don't know how she managed to save them to my picture file, but she did.

So, given that these almost-babies can run the programs, why am I having so much trouble posting blogs from them? I try to insert a picture. I get the prompt to select a photo. . . but I can't do it! The link isn't live. When I wasn't feeling well last week and tried to copy the address to post my slice on the class wiki and the twowritingteachers site, for the life of me I couldn't copy it! I even went online to find directions, which I followed, but they didn't work! And today, I followed the link that asked me if I wanted to use the "updated" blogger platform, and now I have this screen that I can't entirely see! And since I was planning on taking the iPad with me when I traveled to St. Louis later this month, now I'm worried that I won't be able to post! Or my posting will be limited. So, I am trying to figure this out and trying to figure out what in the world I am doing.

So here's my wondering: I remember taking a linguistics class where the theory was presented the we have a language acquisition device in our brain that closes as we grow, limiting (but not ending) our ability to learn new languages beyond our first one, at least in the same way. I remember that I've heard challenges to this LAD theory, but I wonder if it's kind of true for technology? I am reading more about not using the term "digital natives" to refer to my students who have lived their whole lives with technology because, even though it's there, they don't know as much about many tools as we'd expect. Still, they seem fearless when they're engaged. And a part of me is a little worried that I'll break things. Do something I can't undo. My grandchildren don't seem to even consider that, and a part of me really admires that fearlessness. Will that transfer to the rest of their lives, I wonder. Will they be so willing to embrace new ideas in other areas? Will they be willing to try something they don't know much about--just go for it? I want to be that fearless, not only with technology, but with lots of aspects in my life. Not that I want to jump from a plane or bungee jump off a bridge, but maybe stretch myself in ways that seem risky in other ways. But I don't know if I have that kind of fearlessness in me. I hope I do. I hope I'm willing to try new things and consider new ideas--and I hope I'll continue to step into new areas of life.

I guess I'll see, first, if I can make this post work on this new system today.

Friday, March 9, 2012

baby toes

Yesterday I wrote about babies laughing and now I'm going to write about baby toes, so it appears I have some sort of thread going. I don't. It's just coincidence.

Yesterday I took a day off and tended three of my grand-daughters while their mother had a day of re-certification as an audiologist/speech therapist. I could probably write all month about spending a day with a 5-year-old, an almost-3-year-old, and a 3-month old, but I won't. Suffice it to say that the house got a lot messier than I remember and I got a lot less done than I remember from when my own were little and filling the house. Instead I want to write about the baby's toes.

I think toes are pretty much the most unattractive part of the human body. In fact, they are a little gross to me. I don't know why I think that. I know there are some people who have beautiful feet and toes--I see them in advertisements for summer footwear. But to me most of the human population really has ugly feet, especially toes. Even with this thinking, though, I still wear sandals and flipflops in the summer and dread giving them up when cold weather arrives. I paint my toenails for such footwear. I know that at one level it draws attention, but more important for me is the fact that nail polish kind of hides, too. I love to have my feet rubbed, but can't stand to have my toes touched. And I really can't stand to touch (or mostly even look at) other people's toes. Even people I love.

So why do I think that baby toes are so cute? They really aren't. See?

They are round and stubby. They are really shapeless. They have fat lines! And big round tops that look a little like worms. But every time I held and fed that little baby girl yesterday, I couldn't stop rubbing and holding her fat feet. I thought they were so ugly they were cute. So what makes something so ugly that it becomes cute? I don't know. But today I miss those baby toes.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

laughing babies

My husband was on Facebook. When I heard a baby laughing, I asked what he was watching. He said, "Come watch this." We sat side by side on the couch watching this clip of babies laughing. What is it about their laughter that makes it so compelling, so contagious? It never fails. You just can't be sad or mad or worried when you see this and listen to these baby belly laughs. What a lift.

(Sorry I can't make the link open in the post, but here it is. . . I hope)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

eye tricks

On the way to work this morning, I glanced at a yard I drive past regularly and thought I saw a white goat there. It's a yard encircled by a chain link fence--with the kind of bumpy ground that looks like a goat could live there. But I'd never seen a goat there before, so I glanced back: They got a goat???
It was a white patio chair, probably blown over by the winds last night so that it didn't really look like a chair because it was on a diagonal slant.

And I remembered in that moment a drive we'd been on as kids. I don't know exactly where we were because my parents were big drivers. We drove all over Alaska, Canada, and the western United States. They thought nothing of driving hours and hours just to see something they wanted to see. Still don't think anything of it, for that matter. Anyway, it was in the afternoon, and we'd been driving for a while. The road was two lanes with fields and trees along both sides. The sun was warm, and most of us in the car were drowsy. All of a sudden Dad stomped on the brakes. The sudden screeching stop brought us all awake in an instant. "What's the matter?" we asked. "I saw a bear," Dad replied as he shoved the car into reverse and whipped around to see behind us as he backed up at high speed. He stopped as he came to a clearing in the trees so that we could see the meadow beyond. And there, sure enough, was an animal. But not a bear. A cow. Along with a few other cows. The experience has become family lore. Whenever Dad claims to have seen something unusual on one of his drives, we answer, "Oh really? Another bear, huh?"

And I started thinking about all the other times I've thought I've seen something but then found out I've seen incorrectly. Words that I read one way--they don't make sense--and then I realize I read them incorrectly. Things that seem to be one thing but are really something else (there are some pretty embarrassing experiences here). There is just an instant while my brain tries to make sense of what I see, tried to match it with what I know, and then I find out that the instant view is incorrect. We think we can believe our eyes, don't we? What we see can be trusted to be truth. But is it really? Certainly with study, it may be so. But I wonder if we give too much credence to what we see. We might need more background knowledge and more time to really understand something as it should be understood, beyond that first glance--or even a second one sometimes. The chair-goat reminded me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

orange cones

I have decided that my state must have the most orange cones of any state in the U.S. The roads around my home--indeed, roads all over the valley--are torn up. Narrowed to one lane. Closed.  And this has gone on for months. There are at least three construction projects between my house and work, some days four or five. The average is three road construction projects between my home and anywhere I want to drive.  Currently, in order to go south from my house, I must first go east and then north and and then west before turning south. Kneaders is one mile directly west of my house, so a sandwich or soup and bread--what used to be a quick run--now takes a lot longer to get. I have to think twice before I make the run for a cream cheese brownie (maybe a good thing?).  My route to church (like Kneaders, also directly west) requires the other three sides of the rectangle. Today, I saw a sign go up notifying me that another road I take regularly will close. And these closures are weeks long, generally 4-6. So my routes anywhere are different now than they used to be. They change almost weekly.

I'm trying to be positive; I don't want to be crabby every time I get in the car.  I'm playing the "glad game." Here are the reasons I am glad for the road construction.
1. I am glad all of these workers have jobs! Really! So many people don't right now. And if I think about it, these guys are just the tip of the iceberg. All these pieces of equipment--even the orange cones--have to be made somewhere, so other people are employed, too, because of the road construction.

2. I travel different ways to work, so I see the world differently. I don't get used to the scenery to the point of not paying attention to it. Because I travel different routes, the drive is more interesting and I am more involved and attentive.

3. The most invasive project is covering over a canal that travels through all the towns in the valley--miles long. At first I was sad when I heard this, as I liked to walk along the canal. But then I found out that the project will make a walking path and bike trail along the whole route. How cool is that??? It used to be difficult to walk the canal in the spring when it was muddy. One time I had about two pounds of mud on each shoe by the time I got home--I was two inches taller, which, although a nice idea, didn't last past the mud scraping. In the summer, the canal was dangerous for children. So, now we will have this great new place to walk and bike that will be fun and safe. We just pay a little price now.

So, my plan is to take the detour in stride--like all detours in life. Look for the ways it can be a good thing and be patient for the outcomes, which are usually better for me anyway.

Monday, March 5, 2012

stepping off the sidewalk

It feels like spring--at least for one more day--but a few days ago, we were in the middle of winter. As I walked to my car, I followed a young boy and his dad, going to theirs. The dad walked on the pavement. The boy walked in any snow he could find. He was having a lot of fun.

I found myself wondering if I sometimes do the expected, the easy, the mature thing instead of the fun thing. Nothing was harmed by this guy's climbing the hill and walking in the snow. But a lot was added to his day and his walk to the car. Maybe I should step off the sidewalk once in a while? Enjoy the snow or the grass or whatever for a minute? I'd probably enjoy it! And maybe make someone else smile, as I did when I watched this guy's fun.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

swinging on a swing

It feels almost like spring out today, and I saw some children swinging on swings in a park. The boy had his tummy on the swing seat and would push off with his feet, lift his legs, and let gravity take him, watching the ground fly by. The girl used a more traditional method, holding the chains and pumping with her feet, aiming for the sky. And though it's been a while since I've swung on a swing, the feelings all came back to me.

The effort, yes, especially as I start up. I step back and then swing forward while I lean back and put my legs out straight in front. On the return, I do the opposite: lean forward and tuck my legs tight under me. Repeat until I get as high as I want--and then it gets easier. Then I get to maintain: push and pull, lean and tuck. And enjoy the swoosh. The wind. The sky--my feet reach for it. The birds above me. The ground swinging below me. Yes, there are other people around, but on the swing, it's as though I'm alone in the world. Alone. Free. In control. Happy.

I've pushed my grandchildren on swings enough to know that the wonderful sensations of swinging on a swing are not unique to me. They feel it, too, and can swing for hours--as long as I push them. And there's something soothing about pushing a child on a swing, too. Maybe not the exact same as being on the swing, but close. And it occurs to me that maybe there should be more swingsets around so that all of us can take a turn now and then. Get on the swing, hold onto the chains, and push off into the sky. Maybe if we did that more, we'd get along better, be nicer to each other, be happier. It's an idea--and it wouldn't cost much money.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Trying to plan

I had a plan for the day, lots of thing to do: groceries to buy, gas tank to fill (eek!), floors to vacuum, bathrooms to clean, papers to grade, lessons to plan, sick friends to visit. You know the plans we make for a Saturday?

But I woke early with a migraine. So I feel sick AND tired and not up to doing much of anything even though the worst of the pain is over. And I am left with the question of what I actually will do today. I guess that's not so different from other days, is it? It's just doing it on a day I feel should have some flexibility, some room for play. And it's doing it when I don't feel up to much, even though I don't feel as bad as I did when the pain and nausea woke me.

Okay. I've vented. Now I just do the day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

what makes a life?

This morning I watched some footage of the devastation following the tornadoes in the mid-west. I felt so sad thinking of what those people went through (the fear) and what they are now facing (the losses).

One scene showed a woman picking through the rubble of her home for remnants of her life. Amid the broken drywall and snapped wood, she had started to build a stack of dishes: china, white with blue and purple flowers in a sprinkled pattern around the scalloped edges. Three plates. Two teacups. And she was looking for more.

It made me think about what makes a life. Sure, we need a roof and food and warmth. But we also need these pieces of material that represent so much more. I don't have time to make a complete list today (I hope this entry  reminds me to come back and add later), but I started thinking about what I'd hope to find in the rubble if such a calamity happened to me--and what those bits mean in my life.

Two teacups. My great-grandmother collected teacups. Her sons (including my grandfather) were in the navy and merchant marine, and they traveled all over the world. Wherever they traveled, they brought back teacups for their mother. As a small girl, I remember spending hours looking through the glass doors of the cupboard built especially for those cups and saucers in her home. She had the whole world in a cupboard in her small home in a small town in Idaho! Sometimes she would take some cups out and tell me where they were from. She handled them gently--they were, after all, fragile. But I could tell they meant more than just bits of porcelain to her.

When she passed away, I was given two of her cups and one saucer, ones my own grandfather had given her. One was from China and one was from England. The saucer was broken in a move, but the cups are still in my care. When my children were little, I kept them up on shelves, high enough to protect them (I thought) but still where I could see them and think of Gram. Even that, however, didn't prevent the breakage of one of the cups. One of my daughters--about 1 and 1/2 at the time--had stood up in her high chair (this was before the days of belts) and taken her bib off and was waving it around. Her antics knocked the cup off the high shelf, causing it to break. My heart was broken, but I couldn't really be mad at a baby for doing what babies do. I picked up the pieces and glued the cup together again, crying as I did so. My older children were small, too, but they still remember that. From that day on, they took it upon themselves to warn the younger children not to damage the cups. To do so made mom sad. They have told their own children, my grand-children, about the value of the cups--and how much they mean to grandma.

Now, when I look inside the cup and see the delicate lines that show where the cup was pieced together nearly thirty years ago, I remember all the way back to the wall of cups and my great-grandmother pulling them out to show me her treasures that meant her sons thought of her wherever they were in the world. I remember my choice of balancing loss with patience. And I see my own grandchildren looking at the cups with wonder, as if they can't imagine someone who is older than their grandma's grandma having such a thing. So, if I lost my home, I would hope to find the teacups. They don't hold tea anymore. They hold generations of memories.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

slice of life challenge

I have to say that I've been a little nervous for this to start. Not because I don't like it or it's not good for me as a person and a writer--just because the commitment makes me squirmy. Can I really have something to say--something I want to share, that is--every day for a month??? I'm not sure. And, so, I've been thinking about it. And this is my solution: I am taking pictures with my cell phone whenever I see something interesting. I figure those are my back-ups (and now any readers will know when those appear!) for days when I'm not sure that I have a meaningful slice to share. I feel less anxiety now.

I also have to say that I've been a little excited for this to start. My first time participating was March of last year. It was a challenge I shared with my students (and one I am sharing with this year's students, too). I was a little nervous about posting on the twowritingteachers site because I didn't know the other slicers. I wasn't sure how my students would respond. In both cases it was an incredible experience. I should have anticipated the benefits of the regular writing and sharing of that writing, both on the website and with my students.  I mean, I know the value of regular writing and I know the importance of informal writing and I know how sharing writing changes us as writers. I don't know why I was so surprised and moved by how it felt last year. How it felt to go to class and know more about my students in personal ways (and have them know me in those ways, too). How it felt to share my thoughts with people who didn't know me at all, people I know only from screen names. How it felt to see replies to my posts!!! I didn't know that would matter to me. I was so excited that I kept telling people I met about the experience. And, at a conference, a colleague listened to me babble on and then said, "You should write about the experience." So I did. Not only about the slice of challenge, although that's what got me started, but about the whole writing regularly and sharing. I had a friend who added some of her classroom experiences to what I wrote and we sent it to English Journal. And it's coming out this month. Appropriate timing, right? So, I'm excited, too because I know that really good things happen from stretching myself in this way. Yea, March and slice of life and Ruth and Stacey.


Can you become "not responsible" simply by putting up a sign saying that you are not???
I saw a big cement truck--a cab with two long mixers linked behind it--with this sign on the back: "Not responsible for broken or cracked windshields. Stay back 200 feet."
First of all, a person couldn't read the sign more than 1-2 car lengths back, let alone 200 feet. And second, does putting up the sign really take away the responsibility?
If so, here are my signs:
Not responsible for forgetting to pick up the milk.
Not responsible for saying what I think without worrying about how you feel.
Not responsible for giving poor feedback on your writing.
Not responsible for coming to class with an ineffective lesson plan.

Of course I am responsible! For those things and for a host of others. And a sign doesn't take it away.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

snow--all kinds

Snow. We haven't had much of it this year, but we are getting it today. And I have to drive to a meeting in a town an hour away. Oh well.  I have to expect it in February (even the end), right? The mild weather has made the trees begin to bud so that we have white on red. . . snow on buds. Appropriate for the month, perhaps, maybe not so good for the buds?

It's really pretty. It softens the world, and, after yesterday's news from Ohio, I feel that I could use a little softening. As I watch it fall, I think about all the snows I have known in my life. I've lived (mostly) in Alaska, Washington, and Utah--so I have some snow-life experience. Today's snow consists of tiny dot-flakes, wet, and thick, though falling slowly. My school is on the side of the mountain--but you can't see the mountain!--so today's snow is kind of like being inside a thin cloud.

On Sunday, while we were watching Downton Abbey, my husband commented on the snow in one of the scenes. The flakes were really large puffs of cotton, and they floated in the air! They didn't fall so much as swirl around. It was a lovely scene. It didn't look cold, rather like a snow globe scene. That conversation about snow, combined with today's fall of it, has made me think of all the different kinds of snow there can be. I can think of a few. Want to add??

Dry powder that blows away with the movement of my boots along the walk: I imagine I am a giant, in control of the elements. Swish. I step and, Swish, the snow parts in front of me.

Crusty snow that comes down wet and warm before the cold winds turn the top to a crust. I wish I were a feather so that I could blow along the crusty top without breaking through to experience the suck and pull of ice chunks that inevitably find their way inside my boots--no matter how tall they are--and turn to cold water.

Just-right snow with enough water to make a ball but not so much as to make either slush or ice. Perfect for snow angels and snow men and snow ball fights--all the fun things we associate with snow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

do we shape our houses or do they shape us?

Yesterday, we were driving back from spending the weekend in Boise, Idaho. I was pensive as we drove past fields (not as green as in the picture at this time of year) and noticed houses of all sorts: old and new, large and small, messy and tidy. As we passed one community after another, I looked at houses in subdivisions on the hills at the edge of town and those along the streets, next to shops and restaurants. I observed single-family homes and duplexes and apartment buildings. And as I watched I wondered: how much are we shaped by the places/spaces where we live and how much do we shape them to us?

I saw one farm house a small distance from the freeway, surrounded by fallow fields. The home itself looked to have been built in the 1940s, but it was neat and well maintained. Farm equipment was parked off to the side, and large trees had grown up around it to provide shade during the summer. I wondered: if I lived there, would I work on a farm? Or would I still be a teacher? Or would I do something altogether different? Would I furnish such a home with antiques? Or Early American? Or would I have any particular style? Would I be the same person I am now if I had grown up in that house as I am having grown up in a different place, a modest home but in a neighborhood of similar homes with smaller yards (no fields) and different furnishings?

We had been visiting my son and his wife and children in the Boise area. They have a relatively new home in a fairly new subdivision. But some of the furnishings are ones my grandmother passed along to my son, her great-grandchild. My grandmother had been born and raised in Idaho and returned there after retirement from the FAA in Alaska. Her homes in Alaska had been mostly modern in design and furnishings, but when she returned to Idaho, she gathered in some furnishings familiar to her, some Early American tables and chairs that probably were from her family home. Now they are in my son's home, making it seem a little less modern, a little less shaped by the house. And I wonder how much of what my son and his wife have brought into their home shape the home instead of it shaping them. They bring their pasts into the space, but it is a space that will house their future--and be the home their children remember as their past.

My uncle Joe (my grandmother's brother who never married) lived in the house where he (and my grandmother) grew up. It was a small home on a ranch outside of Boise. White wood on the outside, the inside space was mostly functional. The kitchen was the biggest room, but the living room was fairly spacious, if a little crowded with chairs and tables. Beds (at least to me as a child) were tremendously tall and took up almost the entire floor space of the bedrooms, places where my ancestors apparently didn't spend much time. Squeaky wooden floors were old when I was a girl. Worn linoleum (from the 40s or 50s?) covered the wood  floor in the kitchen where an old stove that used wood for cooking seemed central--until I was a teen and Joe was too bent from arthritis to use it anymore. The couches and chairs in the living room sucked you in when you sat in the indentations made by lots of bottoms over lots of generations: hard to get out of, once you got in, but then the visits to Joe's house were always long, slow ones anyway. Doilies covered many surfaces--some I have now, not because I use doilies so much as because I admired the intricate designs crocheted by fingers that were related to me in some way. If I had grown up in that house, would I have been different? Do the things I bring from that house to mine shape me? Or do I choose where I live because it reflects who I am now and what I am now? Raised in Alaska with gray days and long winter nights, I must have a home with lots of windows, lots of light. I prefer high ceilings so that I feel space, even if the rooms are not tremendously large. So, do I shape my space--choose it and furnish it--because of who I am and what I bring with me? Or do the spaces and places where I live shape me? Or is it some of both?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

So it's good to eat chocolate (and sweets), right?

In my forays into any shopping area in the last few weeks, I have been amazed (and tempted) by all the treats I've seen prominently displayed. Now I will admit to seeing a very cute balloon bouquet that I thought would be fun to be surprised with on Valentine's Day, but mostly, I thought the food was beyond tempting. These cupcakes? I think I could eat the whole box--and they are the jumbo ones from Costco!

But all these sweets--and especially chocolate, by itself or covering almost anything--made me wonder why we associate so much of it with this holiday. I get that love should be sweet--so there is the metaphorical connection. But I learned that there might be more logical reasons, too.

Kate Dailey (Newsweek 2009) states that the taste for sweets is "hardwired into humans." Apparently, sweets reduce anxiety and stress. We certainly don't want our Valentine to feel stressed on this day of romance, do we? And the benefits of chocolate??? I could take all day to describe those. The basic idea I learned is that there are 380 known chemicals in chocolate, and--either by themselves or in combination--they  have the following effects:
* improve mood
* dull pain
* increase feelings of well being
* extend natural feelings of well being (to last longer)
* contribute to alertness and contentment
* decrease stress
I can see why we want these feelings on Valentine's Day. Day of Romance. Holiday of Love.
Oh--and chocolate has health properties, too. Physical, that is. Not just emotional. So, yes, chocolate is good for your heart in other ways, too.

But now I'm thinking that we should be enjoying these benefits on other days, too. Right? We want to be happy and de-stressed on other days, too, right?
 I think I might head to Costco at lunch today. I could stretch that box of cupcakes across several days, at least.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

being grateful

Last week a neighbor had a stroke. When the ambulance and fire engines swooped to a stop just past our house, I worried. I put on a coat and walked over. Paramedics took my neighbor away and left behind--for a few minutes at least--a family shaken and weeping, not knowing what the outcome would be. It was heart-breaking to watch. My neighbor survived, and she is supported by a great family--so those are the good parts. Her husband and sons shaved their heads so she wouldn't feel so sad about having her head shaved for the surgery that stopped the bleeding. One of her daughters told me that she had never seen her mom without hair to her waist, so this is a shock to the grown children and, probably, to my neighbor.

The hard thing is that she is having to learn to speak, and eat, and use her left side again--and these are long, slow, difficult processes. The oldest daughter started a blog so we could keep up on her mom's progress (great things, these blogs); yesterday's post said that the day had been a discouraging one. They had hoped to move from ICU to a rehab facility, but couldn't yet. Each day, there are pictures--ones I'm sure my neighbor will want removed when she is feeling better but ones that help us understand the challenges she is going through.

I have found myself reflecting on my neighbor's experience throughout this week. I have thought about how difficult times draw friends, family, and neighbors together. Or can. I thought of the end of To Kill a Mockingbird: "Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between." We have exchanged Christmas goodies with these neighbors for years. We see them at church each week and exchange pleasantries. Their boys have sometimes shoveled the snow from the sidewalk in front of our house. I have ached for them this week,standing in their shoes--on their porch, so to speak--knowing the multitude of changes that will come into their lives as a result of this event. I think they will be okay; it will take time, but they are already expressing gratitude for what they have gained from the experience.

I have thought a lot about how quickly life can change, how plans can be swept away through accidents, illness, inexplicable tragedy, and how, when those things occur, what we thought mattered isn't really the important thing anymore. More than ever, I have thought about being grateful for what I have, right now. For the gifts of the day: being startled by the deer bounding out of a neighbor's yard and prancing down the road past my car; seeing the stark white snow on the mountain tops against the bright blue morning sky; finding a parking space. Being grateful for the stuff I take for granted like food and water and warmth and work and love. So much.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I saw a group of kids coming from the high school the other day and going into McDonald's. One of them had this box on his head. I followed him and asked if I could take his photo. I think he said yes. He didn't run away.
I have been wondering ever since about why he did this. Was it a project (and did I help or hurt it)? Or was it just that he wanted to hide out for a while? I know the feeling. I had recently been considering wearing a bag on my head. . . if I could get away with it.

A month ago I had to renew my Driver's License. I went in one morning, right when they opened up and before work. Early. I wanted to avoid long lines, and I did. I didn't know that I was going to be someone's joke for the day. When I went to the first station, the man told me to take off my glasses and look at the sign. Okay.
My picture would be available at another station. Move on. He smiled. I know why now.

As I walked away, I had a question: why take off my glasses? The person next to me had hers on. I anticipated a not-so-good picture. First, I can't see without my glasses. The sign had a word on it, and (without my glasses) I had squinted to see what it said--thinking that it might be significant. It wasn't. I later noticed that the other sign was a smiley face. In addition, I was just getting started on medication for conjunctivitis (thank you, darling grandchildren!), finishing a very heavy semester, and preparing to leave for a conference where I had two presentations. I was tired. I want to say that all as an excuse for why the photo turned out the way it did. I want to think that I don't really look like what that photo shows.

The picture was the worst I have ever seen of myself. And I've had some doozies before. Ones where one eye is drooping or my mouth is twisted. One was my DL picture in Washington where my hair had been blown crazy by the wind. I thought I had fixed it, but a chunk was still sticking up. Did the guy taking the picture mention it? No. Instead of what I thought was a welcoming smile, I know now that his smile was for himself, thinking about how funny it was to take a picture of someone with a big hunk of hair sticking up. I understand that the work in the DL office can be boring and repetitive, but I wonder about how these employees find humor in others' misfortune. After all, we live with that photo for a long time.

So, back to my photo. I didn't see it just then. I was moved to another station, eye test!, and then on to someone else where I had my old DL punched out and paid the money for the privilege. That worker told me that I would receive my new license in 4-6 weeks. I asked about air travel and was told to use both the old one and this new temporary one, which is when she pushed a bunch of papers toward me: my receipt, some info, and the temporary license, with my new photo on it. I took the papers and was heading out of the building when I looked down for the first time at the photo that would live with me for the next four years.

Now, I have never liked my picture being taken. I have never claimed to be a beauty. But I thought I wasn't someone who would scare little children or small animals. The picture that looked back at me looked like I was sister to the Nick Nolte mug shot that went viral a few years ago. I started hyperventilating.

I have calmed down a bit since then, but I still cringe to think of the photo. I hate to have to take it out for any purpose at all. It doesn't help that the TSA agent at the airport flinched when he saw it. And, being sensitized, I have noticed that if I ever come up missing or (heaven forbid) commit a crime, guess what photo will show up on the evening news? Yep. My DL photo.

So I understand wanting to walk around in a box. Maybe some days, not just for my face's sake, but for other reasons. To be left alone (look how well that worked for this guy). To have a little extra barrier between the world and my sensitive feelings for a day or so, just enough to get tough again. I get why a box. I really do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter and Seasons and Whimsy

So. It finally snowed in Utah. Bill Bryson notes that native Alaskans have fifty words for snow: "crunchy snow, soft snow, fresh snow, and old snow, but no word that just means snow." This is a wet snow on top of a crunchy, icy snow. I wonder if there's a word for that. When I skied regularly, I was much more attuned to the quality of snow. Now I think of it more in terms of shoveling: wet snow is a lot heavier! 
I think I'm happy about the snow. We've had the mildest weather. We've had days where we couldn't stop talking about how mild it was: "Can you believe this weather?" And I enjoyed those mild days when we normally are shivering in our brief forays outside. But I think a part of me missed winter, too. Missed the idea of a season of winter. Growing up in Alaska, we had all the seasons. One of them was a lot longer than the others, but we had them all. In Washington, winter was mostly rainy (although we did have a huge snowfall one year, the last big one before the one that just hit!). So when we moved to Utah, I looked forward to four seasons again. 

Now, finally, winter is here. It's lovely outside (I tried to get more pictures but for some reason they are sideways?!). I love the contrast of the white snow piled so carefully along the dark brown limbs of the bare trees that line my yard and the streets I drive. Everything looks so fresh and new. When the snow was falling the first night, the flakes were so big I tried to take a picture of that, too. Again, sideways! But the air seemed full of cotton puffs floating past the street lamps. Picture perfect. 

But now is also a different reality: It's slippery. There is ice under the snow, and I'm very conscious of falling. And, before we know it, this lovely white will be scraped up in piles alongside roads and driveways. It will turn the grey color of old snow. And it will be tipped with brown thrown up from sanded streets and car exhaust. It will be ugly and we will wish for spring. . . and then we will be eager for summer. . . and then we will wait for fall to turn leaves. . . and then we will watch for new snow to fall. It occurs to me that we are somewhat whimsical about seasons. We are mostly waiting for the next one, for what is not what we have now. I am back to my word of the year: Present. I don't want to wish for the snow to melt just yet. I want to enjoy the beauty of it today. 

My grand-daughter loves the snow (her brother hates for it to touch his snow pants or boots, so he only walks where it's been shoveled well). I am going to love the snow, too. Even when it's gray and brown. I will remember what it was when it was young. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

slowing down

As it was a day off from school yesterday, we took three grandchildren to McDonald's for lunch--along with about a hundred other parents and grandparents. What a lot of noise! 

We spent a longer time than we had planned, which wasn't a big deal. We were having fun. 

One thing that made the stay longer was how long it took one grand-daughter to eat her meal.  Our five-year-old grand-daughter is a deliberate eater. We don't say "slow" anymore, because she has been told it so often by others that she sees herself as slow, and, for her, that is not a positive attribute. She ate a chicken nugget in little teeny bites. She took about 20 minutes to eat the apple slices. In between, we got to hear about gymnastics and her new baby sister and commentary on what was going on around us. 

Actually, if she eats quickly, she gets sick. We don't know why. No one does, but she learned early on that the result of quick eating was not a happy thing. So, she eats slowly, visits in between bites, ruminates about what she sees, and generally takes about four or five times as long as others to eat the same amount--or less. She is healthy and happy. Except that she calls herself slow

I found myself thinking about my word for this year, about being present, and about how often we rush around. We walk fast, we eat fast, we do three things at once. This morning, on my fast walk from the car to the building (it was about 20 degrees out!), I saw a little girl--probably 4 years old--on her way with her dad to the preschool located on the ground floor of my building. She walked up the brick wall (it does look like stairs) along the cut-through--and then went back and did it again. Her father was speaking both English and Spanish to her, but he didn't rush her much (she was well bundled against the cold--more than he was!). Instead, when she stopped to tap the light pole and ask the name of it in Spanish, he told her. She repeated it three times, each time patting the base of the pole. Then she skipped to something else. As I walked behind them--and then passed them--I got the impression that the little girl likes preschool, but she likes the getting there, too. Was she slow? I don't think so. 

I read something this week about multi-tasking. Researchers did brain scans of people doing one task, then doing another, and then doing both at the same time. In the third set of scans, the brain lit up in the areas associated with the two tasks, but to a much smaller degree. It appears that we really can do two things at once--but we don't do either of them well. 

So I'm thinking about my grand-daughter and what it means to slow down. Maybe it shouldn't be such a negative to be slow? To eat more slowly, to enjoy the journey as well as the arrival, to focus on what is important in a day instead of focusing how much there is to do? Quality over quantity? I don't know if the world will let me do that, but I'd like to give it a try from time to time.