Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Creativity--December 31st

CREATIVITY—December 31st

I never sweated the source of creativity until my World Lit 101 teacher told us the ancient Greeks thought that poets were spokespersons for the gods. They thought words from the gods came down a poet’s arm and into his or her stylus. Hearing that and the laughter from my fellow students, I tried to determine for myself where my inspiration originated. Was it from my brain entirely or was it divine? It was a great topic of conversation and civil argument in my circle of friends while drinking coffee or diet pepsi or whatever beverage of choice and waiting for the next class.
The older I get the more I believe the Greeks got it right. My inspiration and what I do with it doesn’t come from my thinking brain. It comes when I open my celestial aperture and focus on what flows in. I don’t have a stylus but the idea comes right out the end of my fingertips onto my computer keyboard and bypasses my thinking brain entirely just the way the Greeks said it would. Sometimes, like now, I just a have a word or an image and the gods take care of the rest. They are truly brilliant.
Inspiration doesn’t come at any one time or any one place. It doesn’t come according to how badly you need it. In fact, if your life depends on it, you should go do something else for awhile. A great idea, whole lines of dialogue, a beautiful image—it all comes when I’m on the toilet, taking a shower, hoeing weeds, washing dishes. Sometimes what I’m looking for comes when I tell my brain I need an idea when I wake up in the morning and then I go to sleep.
You have to say “yes” to life, you have to act immediately when an idea arrives or ideas will stop arriving thinking you are done with them. You have to be grateful and joyful in your expression. If you don’t know what to do with what you’ve been given, write it down in a journal because the time will come when you’ll know what to do with it.
Creativity is the glue that connects us with that universal life force that I believe is love, the force that is in all of us and in all living things. That love flows to and from and around all of us and it is the one thing that informs us and all other things that we exist and we are beautiful. When other people enjoy our creations it’s because they recognize the spark of the divine that we’ve used our human skills to enhance. Their joy is their way of saying thank you, thank you.
Creativity can be found in every walk of life, not just in the fine arts, so I never believe those folks who say they are not creative. I so admire those who are creative with preparation of food. Yum! A gifter tile-setter who works in my town says he never really knows what his work will look like until he starts it. I never know what form my garden will take until I start planting. I might have a plan but how the garden layout ends up is never quite the same. It’s always better.
The Greeks used to give their Creatives food and shelter in honor of the god in them. Patronage is a good idea!
Our lives are boring and dull if we can’t find a way to express the divine in ourselves. That’s why the creative arts must remain a part of our daily education and later, our lives. Without them, we will shrivel and die and not know who we are.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Purpose--December 30th

PURPOSE—December 30th
Nothing much works in life without purpose. First comes your inspiration, your idea, and then, your intention or purpose. You put that intention out into the universe, focus on it and work toward it and voila, you achieve success. In order to be self-actualizing and responsible, you first need purpose.
Without purpose, you’re like a drunk wandering home after a big toot. You may get there but most likely, you won’t. You may not even remember you have a home or where it is located. Flopping around out there on some footpath or another, you’re at the mercy of highwaymen.
If that’s the case, then your authentic self isn’t deciding your purpose. Chemicals, medications, or soul-sucking individuals have usurped your purpose and you will never be truly happy. Why do you think there are so many depressed people out there? In order to be happy, successful, and your authentic self, you have to find your purpose and put it into action.
I remember reading a novel in which the teenage character was unhappy and behaving badly. His school made him start to spend time with an old man, doing chores to help him out. The old man was a grouch and at first they made each other miserable. Somehow, though, they began to look forward to their time together. The young man started to feel good about himself because he was helping, and the old man started to feel good about himself because he was paid attention to and he could help the young man by sharing his life’s wisdom.
Aha, I thought to myself. If a person’s purpose is to help others, in the very act of that, he is helping himself. You think you are helping someone else, and you are, but at the same time you realize the many ways in which you are learning lesson after lesson. Your one gift is laying many more in your lap.
My soul, my heart, the part of me connected to everything else in the universe lets me know if I have chosen my purpose wisely. I can feel its rightness if I pay attention. I work toward my goal and I’m happy inside. Riches come to me. I am wealthy in results. Sometimes I don’t recognize my treasures because they are not the ones I thought I’d receive but that doesn’t change the fact that they are treasures all the same.
Those treasures aren’t going to arrive, however, without action on my part. I can’t just say here’s my purpose and then stand at my door expecting the arrival of my goal at any moment. I have to work for what I want. Purpose and Action are joined at the hip and you get nowhere without both of them. Both of them together lead to accomplishment, self-knowledge, and serenity.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cooperative Economics--December 29th

Early in the 70’s with the advent of “hippies” came a most advantageous example of cooperative economics, the exchange of goods and services from one to another without benefit of cash. This they called bartering. My parents, having grown up during the Depression when there were no cash resources, engaged in bartering long before the hippies, who, no doubt having parents like mine, took up the gauntlet and carried on the tradition. I learned how to barter from Mom and Dad and from the pages of Mother Earth News.
As a young married, I bartered what I could produce for what I could not. My friends hunted and brought me game and I traded with loaves of my homemade bread or prunecake. I could paint houses and others could dig fence posts. My friend Sharon painted my kitchen so that she could afford to stay a week at my home and visit the beach in the afternoons. What I enjoy about these exchanges besides the end results, is that every participant is respecting and honoring the skill of the other participant. It’s a way of saying, “What you know and do is worthwhile to the well-being of our society.”
Thanks to websites like Craig’s List, bartering continues today, proving that cooperative economics is still alive and flourishing.
Another way we hippie types prospered despite our tiny wages was to form co-ops to buy goods in bulk, and goods that were organic and grown by people we actually knew and not some corporation. Then we volunteered our time to run our own stores so that we could afford to buy those goods. I read every now and again that another co-op is starting up and some of the good ones never went away.
I admire large companies that engage in cooperative economics. In Kenya, the middlemen of corporate business were sucking the profit to be made from growing coffee away from the growers. Every inch of ground was being used for the growing of coffee so that the farmers were not allowed to even grow other food for their own use. Streams and water sources were suffering as well.
Wangari Muta Maathai of the Green Belt Movement[1] went to Starbucks to say these farmers were producing as much as they possibly could and still they were starving. Was there something Starbucks could do? And they did. They formed contracts directly with the farmers leaving out the middlemen entirely and once again those farmers could make a living wage from their land and grow their own vegetables on it as well. They replanted trees along the stream beds and water came back.
Both sides profited, thanks to a company that wasn’t afraid to give something back to its suppliers. Wouldn’t the world be better if every corporation cared about the lowest common denominator? If every government did as well?
I love the idea of cooperative economics as one more way to celebrate the worth of every person on the planet and to improve the lives of all.

[1] “The Green Belt Movement works to help individuals and communities improve both their environments and livelihoods, sharing the values of self-reliance, self-determination, fairness, and accountability.”

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I first encountered this as a concept early in my life when I read the words, “noblesse oblige.” Nobility obligates, that is, privilege entails responsibility. If you are with, you help those who are without.
Noblemen weren’t the only ones taught this philosophy, however. Native Americans know this as a law of the universe and practice it even today in our self-oriented modern world. My Paiute students weren’t satisfied with their own understanding of material; they made sure their fellow students understood it also before we moved on to another topic. I learned to never praise one until I could praise them all.
Until I read the term in college, I had no idea that “noblesse oblige” was a philosophy to be found in books. In my family this had always been a way of life. If any family is to succeed, each member is involved from the cradle nurturing everyone else in the family. You help out and everyone is better off. The cows get milked and then you can eat. You wash the dishes, your sister dries, and they get done faster. You help weed the garden, pick the vegetables, can the vegetables and in the winter you have something to eat. Tom gives you the apricots from his trees and you take him a box of canned fruits and vegetables, jams and jellies for Christmas. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it was every family’s duty to take care of its own.
Of course, that was when our life was more agrarian. It seemed obvious what had to be done to help out. In today’s world, just what responsibilities you undertake depends on how you define “family.” Some see those related by blood; others--Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, Mother Theresa, HIV/AIDS workers in Africa, Doctors Without Borders--see those related by that in us which is God.
You undertake your work and fulfill your responsibility not because someone tells you to do it or because people admire you for it but because you know it needs done and you know you can do it. You do the right thing because you know it is the right thing. The opportunity is a gift you’re given. You do it because while it may improve the recipient’s life, it certainly and always improves yours.
We are a moral people, despite what we hear about ourselves in the news. Our financial economy may be tanking but our moral economy flourishes once we understand and put into action this law of the universe-- what goes around comes around, or whatever force we put out into the universe comes back to us tenfold, or for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. The need for us to act grows every day.
In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Robert Heinlein’s character Dr. Johnson felt that to find a moral man was impossible: “One may as well search for fur on a frog.”
I submit that if Dr. Johnson had bothered to help someone who needed his skills, he could have found that man in the mirror. By accepting responsibility to work for the common good, so can we all. We just need to get fluff up our pelts and get hopping.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Self-Determination--December 27th

I have long wondered why any two children born in the same family respond differently to the family environment and even their own genetic make-up. Why do some siblings from the same family turn to drugs, alcohol and other self-medication, for example, while others find the inner strength to work past the negative forces of their home environment and become a success?
I have seen vastly different outcomes between siblings and even those who are twins—it’s not home environment, then or even genes. What is it, from what source comes that quality of self-determination that makes one person succeed in life while another stumbles, fails and fails yet again?
In my family, we are stubborn, we have that fighting quality to keep on going no matter what. Some of us stumbled at first but we got up, assessed the situation, and made changes that took enormous strength of character and courage, that unwavering determination to make a positive change.
Some of us didn’t stumble at all, however. That’s what I want to know about. Some of us didn’t go down the wrong path to start with, despite how easy that could have been. Why not?
I have spoken with people who said they knew from the time they were small children what they would do with their lives, what they would be. And that is, indeed, what happened.
I have also spoken with people who have never understood that they make their own future by what they do today, that they are the captains of their own ship and that they should be aboveboard steering, as Thoreau said. Amazingly, some aren’t even on the ship but lolling on the banks waiting for the passage of time to bring them their future, to wash them along on a flood of fortune. Some are convinced that is their due, that all things good in life are owed them.
Here’s how it works, I want to tell them. First, you listen to your soul and how you do that can take many forms. Next, you think it, then you visualize it, then you research to learn what you need to make it happen, and finally, you take action. You advance unwaveringly, no matter how much time it takes. Eventually, you get to where you want to be, powered by the engine of self-determination.

Unity--December 26th

UNITY—December 26th

Unity is a principal taught to us the purpose of which is to get something done, make something happen, achieve a common goal. When something important needs to get done, the way to do it is through unity.
Pieces of wood are glued and bent to make a truss and voila, you have the seat of a rocking chair, a roof or a boat frame.
There’s an order for 100 chickens that has to go out tonight. This morning they are running about their pen, picking and clucking. Tonight they are in their plastic bags, frozen, and ready for delivery.
As my mother used to say, “Many hands make work light.”
The focus in that statement is on the end result and the efficacy in joining together to reach that end.
Something more comes from unity, to my mind.
Appreciation of other people and an understanding of how we are all truly connected begins to dawn upon those who join hands to accomplish a common goal. We become something more than just ourselves, our one tiny, ragged ego. We begin to realize that all of us have certain priorities in our life, despite our personal politics—a warm home in which to live, education for ourselves and our children, health care for all of us, enough to eat, and satisfying employment.
The outcome of the recent election is an example of the power of unification because we all wanted the same outcome. Here we were, all tiny, non-essential folk in the grand political scheme but because of the unity of the internet, together we could make a positive change happen.
Unity makes us a force to be reckoned with, the glue factor that shores up our nation. When it’s used for the common good, it’s a beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Treasures of the Heart

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” --Thornton Wilder
When I work out in our home gym, I listen to John Fogerty’s Long Road Home album, singing loud as I can to every song I remember from the 60’s and 70’s—Who’ll Stop the Rain, Down on the Corner, Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Lodi. I finish feeling re-energized and young again thanks to the music. I loved those songs back then and I love them now, especially since now I know all the words. Nothing like a little Creedence Clearwater Revival to feel young, young, young.
I watched a movie the other day in which two of the characters made love to a CCR song. I could understand how the song I admired could move them to such action. Then, my bubble burst. I realized the producer of the film chose this song to show that this segment of the movie took place in the PAST. If you were a viewer who knew the words to this song, it meant you were OLD, OLD, OLD.
I’m not alone in my delusions of youth. Otherwise, why the ongoing popularity and financial success of the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, The Beatles (in number of albums still sold), and Neil Diamond? Cher, Bette Midler, and Tina Turner sold-out concerts? Most of us boomers still have our heads in the clouds thinking we’re the young ones who are going to change the world. Sometimes looking in the mirror shocks us into reality but not even that hurts like listening to the music we love and coming to the aching conclusion that we loved it 45 YEARS AGO as well!!!!
Actually, there is a bigger hurt than realizing our age. I’ll be listening to one of my favorite old songs, maybe playing it on my guitar and singing, and tears spring unbidden into my eyes. That old song isn’t just an old song anymore but a repository of memories, a jumble of friends, places, and potential left fallow. How I long to go back and be there in that time once again just to soak up the love and the longing and the import of each small and ordinary measure of time, to see up close again the faces of those I loved.
I tried, oh how I tried, to hold on to each wonderful moment of life as long as I could. I tried to heed what Thoreau said, to be alive, really alive and see how wonderful even the most routine of moments really are. Sometimes, though, life got heavy and I made haste, forgetting to savor. Thornton Wilder’s Emily was right when in Act III of Our Town she asks Mrs. Gibbs, “They don’t understand, do they?”
Maybe, Emily, the problem is not that we don’t, it’s that we can’t. Only at this end of our story do we understand the significance of those everyday occurrences that got us to where we are now. Awareness of what was precious comes to us now when there’s no way to rewrite that old chapter. Time requires that we let go and move on. When we hear an old song or see an old photo we suffer a moment of comprehension that is painful in its clarity. Suddenly, our hearts are conscious of our treasures. This is what it means to be alive.

Christmas Slippers

A decade ago I helped a friend sort clothing for her mother who was moving to assisted living. You know the triage—save, toss, or donate. It was beyond her mother physically, so we’d make choices and then run them by her for approval. For me, it was a lesson in letting go and an understanding that my mode of operation for my own shedding of stuff should be the sooner, the better.
My friend and I were astounded to see a vast amount of her mother’s riches lay in slippers. Drawers and drawers of slippers, some used and threadbare and others brand new, all mixed up together. We wondered how on earth she got so many slippers and why on earth she hadn’t thrown the old ones away. I think I know the answer now.
For the past two Christmases, I have received almost my weight in warm, toasty, colorful slippers. OK, that’s hyperbole. Not my weight’s worth but a considerable number, like my weight. Not hyperbole, unfortunately. More than I have feet, even if I run as they do in the comics and end up having ten feet in a big semi-circle.
Now I have some shiny purple slippers out of material curly as unshorn poodle hair with bumpy bottoms safe for walking on slick wooden floors.
I have some red and green and black and white Christmasy stocking slippers that come halfway up my leg, the tops tied with green fluff balls at the ends of the strings so that my cats think I’m a walking toy. These slippers have no bottom bumps so I can pretend to snowboard across my living room if I want to. Sometimes this happens even without my prior intention.
I have some plain red slipper socks with chevroned white sticky stuff on the bottom, the kind that we are now given in hospitals in the neutral color of gray. These are really used and I often wear them as socks because they’re thick, good for wearing with my hiking boots, and they match a lot of my clothes.
Still in a drawer I have slipper socks from three years ago. These came with buttons and green trees sewn on the sides, the background black with embroidered snowflakes falling. A tree has fallen off one of the socks and when I try to wear them with my hiking boots, the buttons push into my ankles. I haven’t given up on them, however, because they’re still very thick and warm.
This year my step-daughter and family gave me some black fleece slippers for toasty TV viewing, along with an accompanying scarf that holds a TV remote. I will use these in the 5:30 a.m. mornings as I’m reading the paper and waiting for coffee to make its rounds stimulating my circulation to full awakeittude. I wore the slippers to bed last night and waited until my feet warmed up before slipping them off.
Tonight I’ll try another pair of slipper socks I was given in striped cream, gray, and maroon, ones that match my bedspread and rugs. I’ll hang my feet alluringly out of bed and have my husband take my photo for Sleep and Snore Magazine. I can do all those things with proficiency—sleep, snore, and model footwear to match bed ensembles.
I know how my friend’s mother got so many slippers. Each Christmas brought another pair or two from friends and family who cared about her comfort, who wanted her to be cozy like their memories of her.
I also know why she kept them all. Each pair of slippers reminded her and now, me, of those who were the givers, the ones who wished the best for me with their gifts. When I look at my slippers I’m filled with joy that so many beautiful people comprise my circle of friends and family. Thoughts of them ride on my feet across my drafty wood floors and that’s what keeps me warm. How could I throw any of them out? They are my riches.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Misty's Woman Cave

Everyone knows what a man cave should look like (stereotypically speaking)—a giant flat screen TV with huge speakers; a blackout curtain so all the better to see the giant TV; an ear-shattering stereo system; an assortment of posters, usually football or basketball; a plush, enveloping recliner with holes in the arms for beverages; a small frig to keep the beverages ice-cold and maybe a neon sign, either for a certain university or that certain beverage, a can of which fits in the aforementioned chair arm holes.
How many of us, though, know what a woman cave looks like? Are there woman caves? Early feminists like Kate Chopin or Virginia Wolff told us to get one, this room or small apartment of one’s own but how many of us have one? And what goes in it once we have one?
I recently visited my friend Misty in her own apartment blocks from where her ex-husband and sons live. One room hold bunk beds for the boys’ visits, a dresser, a table for this-and-that’s, and a box half the size of a refrigerator filled with books lying as they landed when they were tossed.
One room was Misty’s bedroom where I never ventured as it was a private space.
The living space was enough to give me an idea, however, of what a woman cave, a space designated for one woman and her honored friends, looks like.
In front of the bay window were two lime-green fainting couches adorned with floral pillows and warm rust and rose throws. Between them was a small stand upon which resided a potted palm reaching almost to the top of the windows. Books on the stand invited reading should the reclining person wish. A fern hung in the window to the left.
Further in the room was another seating area, two sleek, modern-style armchairs facing an orangy-brown love seat with an antique coffee table in between. The table intrigued me because on either end at the top was a small repository topped by a door with a black knob. These spaces were big enough for a small book or innumerable small treasures which, indeed, were inside when I looked. Between the two covered receptacles lay the glass top upon which were written words and phrases in wax of some kind, maybe crayon; words of hope for women looking for new jobs in our jobless economy. Also on this glass shelf sat the book, Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd. Under the glass top lay another shelf full of women’s magazines, flowers adorning every cover.
The loveseat was covered in more throws and pillows, as were the two armchairs. On the wall to the left hung two pieces of wall art made by Misty out of handmade paper, painted bamboo from her garden, and buttons. A dark wood mask hung between them. Under them sat the stereo and two small speakers. There is no TV in this home. The stereo was covered by a hand-embroidered table scarf and three candles.
Further down the room lay the creative areas. The kitchen table was full of jewelry making supplies—old and new beads of all sizes, shapes, and colors, chains, clasps, earring hooks, feathers, rocks, buttons, old jewelry pieces yet to be broken down, wires and implements to break apart old pieces and to join her creative pieces. All along the kitchen counter lay these interesting and intriguing items and bits that had caught her artist’s eye.
On the back wall above a bookcase hung a small mirror bordered by mosaic work. Surrounding that frame were a series of small paintings of people and women in mostly neon-vivid colors. On top of the bookcase were receptacles holding Misty’s natural finds: rocks, shells, feathers. These little “nests” so fun to peek in were to be found all over her home, in fact.
Her writer’s desk sat next to a sunny window where natural light can beam down on her musings. Scattered papers lined the top of this desk, along with various books, such as Writing Your Screenplay and an advertisement announcing, “ Winter 2009 Screenwriting Class.” This is where Misty does her writer’s work—the articles she writes for money and the fiction she writes for her soul.
This, then, is a woman’s cave: intriguing, pretty, wood and earth and things from nature. A place where things are created from the old to make the new. A place where thought becomes word. A place that invites other women to repose, revive, and collect themselves, to sink into comfort, wonder, and beauty before venturing back into the fast-paced, complex world. A place of peace.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Dream to Remember

I usually don't remember my dreams or if I do they are not ones I wish to remember but this morning's dream before awakening is still with me--as much as dreams ever can be.

We lived in some kind of attached housing on the second floor with a long balcony running the entire length of the housing. Down below I could see heads of people and horses and bands--a parade was forming and passing. I had an errand to do and was in a hurry to get back in order to see the parade, so I had not combed my hair, brushed my teeth or showered. I did see my husband's butt as he backed out of the shower. I see that cute little thing all the time, though, so that wasn't the memorable part.

Whatever the errand--that part is fuzzy now--I was on the way back across a food court when I spotted out of the corner of my eye Ben Affleck and Matt Damon chatting at a table. I'd heard they were around but I didn't stop to oogle in order to give them the space I know they rarely get. I ascended several of the steps out of the court leading to the long balcony when I felt an arm around my shoulder. I stopped and looked over to see Ben Affleck.

"Oh, hi," I said, as if he were an old friend. "How are you doing?"
"Shoot," he said. "You're a schoolteacher."
Why that would be disappointing I didn't know.
"I'm retired," I said. "How did you know?"
"You handled my hug with aplomb. Regular people go nuts."
"I'm a writer, too," I informed him.
"Come sit down with us a minute," he said.
I did.
I told them about all the everyday people I knew whom I considered to be heroes, like the women in my water aerobics class. I talked about my poetry, my essays, my feature articles. Matt talked about a will. (I think my brain was doing the "Good Will Hunting" association.) Ben just goofed around saying goofy things in his charming fashion. I told them about being in Jerry's short demo film sitting in a bathtub full of cool water in my bathing suit in an unheated house in December and how I now understood what long hours actors have to work sometimes.
When I thought they were getting bored, I excused myself. I could tell they liked talking to normal people about everyday things.
I never told them I was a screenwriter or that my sister and I have two spectacular scripts ready for production.
"I don't do that," I told friends later. I go through the proper channels.

When I awoke, I was so upset with myself for neglecting to ask how their respective wives and children were. Whatever will they think of me, one of the great unwashed?

Monday, December 8, 2008

In the photo of my father in his 87th year
he blows out the six balloon candles
on his beribboned German chocolate cake.
He sucks in air
as much as his liquid-filled lungs allow,
sucks twice more
to fill his arsenal.
His cheeks bulge
and he lets fly
his life force expelled
in celebration
of his birth,
a defiant exchange
to say he is still here
with something to trade
in search of joy.
He throws caution to the wind
that may not be here

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When I was small my father used to sing a song he learned in the oral tradition, “Oh the Duke John was a mighty fine man, he had ten thousand men, he marched them all up the hill, then he marched them down again.” He also used to sing, “The bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain, the bear went over the mountain to see what he could see. And all that he could see, and all that he could see, was the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, the other side of the mountain, was all that he could see.”
As kids, we just learn the songs and sing them because someone taught us. It’s only later that we start to think about what those songs could really mean. I think the first song was really about King George and how he was a nutcase who was sure he could see Italy out his bedroom window. He (and most monarchs and even some presidents, sadly) made his armies do things simply because he could and no one could complain, at least to his face. How the name got changed to “Duke John” I don’t know; words often change in the oral tradition and maybe my assumption this is about King George originally is incorrect, after all. Be that as it may, the point is that we all are involved in activities that occur over and over and are just as nutty and non-productive as marching up and down the same damn hills. The story of Sisyphus is a myth for a reason.
In the second song, we learn that no matter where we go, there we are. Our nature is the same no matter our place. Traveling doesn’t change that. Perhaps Emerson was right when he said we need to develop who we are where we are.
Although the birds in my backyard sing interesting and often lovely songs, it’s too bad they don’t have the benefit of reflecting upon my father’s songs. Week after week, all summer and long into the winter, they end up taking a joyride down my chimney and end up in the fireplace batting about, not enjoying, as none of us do, coming to a bad end. If I don’t hear them, they spent hours there in the dark, learning despair. What do they think when they find the bones of those I didn't hear; the ones who came when I wasn't home to hear? The cats, intrigued at first by the new sound of flapping wings in the stovepipe, become bored, stretch, and pad away. If they can’t pounce, don’t bother them. The birds are on their own, shortening their lives by all the frantic flapping.
I wonder, just as I do with humans, what makes them choose this downward slide? Do they fall in by mistake, a product of clumsy bumbling? “Oops! AIEEEE!”
Is it curiosity? “Hmm. What have we here? A black hole? Let’s investigate!”
Fatalism? “The hole is here, I’m here. My plunge is meant to be. I’m not going to live that long anyway.”
I see parallels here, don't you?
Once or twice a week, I’m called upon to be compassionate, to rescue these misguided, winged wonders from the gloomy tomb in which they find themselves. I cover the pipe opening with a long plastic bag in which I once brought home seafood on ice. (It’s not easy getting a bird out of a home with multitudinous windows and vaulted ceilings, not to mention the superstition that a bird flying in the home signals death—hence the bag.) Finally, I open the flue and wait for them to come into the light, like some proselytizing prophet. Sometimes, it’s a long wait, as any prophet knows. Once they are safely inside the bag, I walk to the door and release them. They chatter a bit as they fly off. Maybe they are saying thank you. Maybe they are shouting relief.
I wonder how many times I rescue the same bird.
I wonder why I’m the one chosen to rescue them. Is it my destiny to be an avian avatar, the chosen one to show them the way?
Or am I just being who I am where I am, climbing up and down that mountain, trying to make some sense out of the journey?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Playing "Homework"

In yesterday’s “Blondie” comic strip, Dagwood asks Elmo if he ever plays “homework,” with the assumption his answer is no. The present creator of “Blondie” must be younger than I to have presumed that no child would do such a thing. The truth is, I played “homework” for several of my elementary school years and I loved it, longed for it, looked forward to it. There was no television in our home to distract me and that was wonderful.
My Aunt Benny was an elementary teacher and she brought me old teacher’s editions of textbooks her school was throwing out. I was ecstatic. Here was information on every topic imaginable. I loved learning and now I could indulge myself. I could take the tests after each chapter and then I could check to see how much I‘d retained.
These books took me out of my everyday world of home--where there were difficult and dirty chores to be done in all kinds of weather-- and school—where there were boys with beastly behavior. The world of textbooks thrust me into a space where all the wonders of the world were divulged and explained. In the world of textbooks, there were correct answers. Sure things.
I remember the science textbook especially because of the chapter on constellations. How the ancients saw those drawings in the arrangements of the stars was beyond me. While I admired their imaginations, I found their artistic skills lacking. No way did the stars look like that to me. Still, I memorized the names of the star groupings and tested myself nightly to see which ones I could find. That ships can sail guided by stars alone still amazes me. Cassiopeia, Orion, The Big and Little Dippers (or Big and Little Bears if you live in France)—all led me to the stories of the characters upon whom the names were based and I began to learn ancient mythologies. The mythologies took me into other short stories, novels, poetry. They took me into the history of western civilization and geography.
I read and read, answered the questions and soaked up knowledge like a sponge. I entertained myself for hours and I realized the world was bigger than my sphere alone. I concluded that life might not be so dismal, so painful, so mean in another spot under those same stars. I understood that knowledge could get me to that better place and it was the only hope a poor girl such as I had for such transport.
Looking back now, I thank that stellar grouping “Lucky Stars” that Aunt Benny brought me books when she did. Hitching my ride on that constellation has brought me to where I am today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If Wishes Were Horses

“If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

Listening to my mother’s cautionary proclamations was like being on a verbal treasure hunt. For every situation, she had a warning to impart, thereby ensuring her children would grow up socially correct, at least in her world view of what was acceptable. The only trouble was, much of the time we children found it difficult to discern exactly what these tidbits of social dictum actually meant.
Let me give you an example: When her intention was to deride us for behavior that was childish, she said, “Too sweet and fat to pity all day for muzher.”
If we stopped our pouting, it was only to consider what the hell she meant by that statement. What about that sentence makes sense? I’ve been decoding that pronouncement all my life. Now, I sensed the emotional intent of the phrase was to convey, “You poor thing,” and mean the exact opposite. I understood the tone. But what about the words?
Later, as I studied French, I deduced that “too sweet” could possibly mean “tout suite” and “pity” could mean “petit” but what about “fat”? “Muzher” I’m reasonably sure meant “mother.” Still, that sentence means nothing to me and I may go to my grave pondering its derivation.
Another of her momisms was “Like it or lump it.” Again, the intent we children could understand. “That’s the way it is whether you like it or not.” Why not just say it clearly? What does “lump it” refer to? Where did that come from and whoever uses “lump” as a verb?
Her clearest decrees were known proverbs such as, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.” All of us knew the message was that we could wish all we want but our wishes were fruitless expenditures of energy. That was harsh enough but it took years to piece together what wishes and horses and beggars all had to do with each other. We lived in the world of cars where beggars usually walked or bummed a ride—in a car, not on a horse.
I remember my sister challenging my mother who had told her, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” No one we knew lived in a glass house and why would they throw stones at it my sister wondered. “Just think about it,” my mother said. Obviously, she didn’t know either.
I suppose deciphering Mother’s dictums helped somewhat when we got to the analogy section of standardized tests. My scores were always high in that section since I’d been forced to figure out abstract meanings all my life.
As a mother, however, I chose to be as succinct and clear as possible in delivering my edicts. Having suffered from thinking so hard I walked into door jambs and walls while pondering various meanings, I came to a realization. A good parent needs to think before speaking and acting rather than relying on that parental tape in the head based on old and sometimes flawed information.
In all forms of communication, it is crucial to be as clear as possible so that misunderstandings and confusion do not arise. Pondering takes up valuable time and brain space. To that end, as far as I’m concerned, “Because I said so,” is as good as it gets.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Angry White Boys

Today I followed a black sedan with the words “White Boy” printed in large black letter on the back window. I wondered why, though the racial designation may be true, any sane person would want to proclaim this for the world to see and respond to. The sign wasn’t made to define, but to provoke. In some places the driver could get shot for his sign.

In a recent newsarticle a psychologist stated that people with bumper stickers and window signs are dealing with unresolved anger; that these are drivers of which one should steer clear. While I fail to see how “Baby on Board” is indicative of flaming rage, I do understand the gist of the expert’s statement and agree with it in general.

I have seen a van about town, its windows sporting unkind statements about our current president and his administration. Since the statements change almost daily, to witness them is like scanning the headlines of one’s newspaper. While most citizens agree with the sentiments expressed, some do not and therein lies the rub—or the angry phone calls. I know this driver and I know he has received threatening phone calls suggesting that he keep his windows bare or else. We live in a rural town, but if he lived in a larger city, he might well be deceased by now.

He’s angry and is wearing his heart, not on his sleeve, but on his van. If you drive anywhere, you see his fellow signmongers. We live in a world that has not taught us how to deal with conflict by compromise or in a peaceful manner. We carry that anger around with us, our own personal powder keg ready to explode. Playing nice most of the time, we don’t realize the powder is tamped down nicely, all the better to ignite. Why someone wants to add fuel to the fire, especially in a vehicle full of gasoline, is beyond me. I’m told that some people just love drama but isn’t getting through daily life drama enough?

Everywhere we have images flashed before us that shows us the way to deal with conflict, with people who don’t think like we do, is with violence--to hit, maim or kill the offender. When your kid talks back or doesn’t do the dishes, you smack him one. And you keep smacking him because, by God, that’s what your parents did and look how well you turned out. When your neighbor builds a fence you hate, instead of negotiating, you sneak over in the dead of night and demolish it. When a country won’t let you steal its natural resources and its port situated for prime trade, you start a war there under false pretenses.

It’s not hard to see then why some people respond to the anger on bumper stickers—road rage of the printed sort--with anger.

We don’t always get our own way. People don’t act or believe the way we want them to. We need to vent in a way that leads to right action. We need to learn conflict resolution. We need to put on our big boy and girl panties and learn how to deal with anger in a way that’s positive and healthy, a way that doesn’t damage a child's spirit, a way that doesn't lead to more conflict or death. Just a warning: Bumper stickers and car window signs may not be that way.

Friday, May 30, 2008

BEWARE! Bird Poop, Klutz of the Year attempts involving sharp objects, and other Unwanted Turns of Events

There are ledges atop many of my windows outside which this time of year become perfect (in their birdbrains) nesting places. As a result, this also is the time of year my windows are streaked with bird poop. Since I don’t choose to go out every day and hose down my windows—usually because it’s pouring down rain that never comes sideways enough to wash off the poop—the offending material becomes hardened and, if it’s been sunny (sometimes miracles occur), even baked-on.

Take my word for it, this effect is not in any way attractive to those on the inside, looking out. Or the other way, for that matter. To make my surroundings more palatable without actually doing anything strenuous or involving hoses, I simply keep the blinds down. What you don’t see isn’t there, right?

This May, however, we’ve had an added avian feces festival in that a small bird with a lot of spit and determination has built a mostly mud nest on the front facing roof crossbeam of our porch. Usually I spy the nests early on and knock them down so the birds go elsewhere, but my timing was off this spring. I don’t know if eggs are up there yet, but she’s been sitting there day and night lately. She’s also been—add an “h” to “sitting” continually as well. Now an artistic arrangement greets our ins and outs as well as the arrivals and departures of our guests. If we catch them in time, we warn them to step to the left or right when ascending our porch steps and hope they remember when later descending. I could solve the problem and knock down the nest, but I just can’t. Mama (and Papa, for all I know) worked so hard to get it up there. And there are babies to consider.

All of this to say, if you are a visitor this summer, your visit will not all be pretty. Beware.

The world can be a dangerous place as I found out last night. Hence, my second warning. Beware of technology. Not so much the use of technology, actually, which is in itself quite frightening and frustrating, but the packaging of technology. I bought a zipdrive on which to store my works of writing because I had a scare earlier this week when my computer shut off all by itself and wouldn’t re-start. Obviously, too late, I realized I should have back-up. When the computer mysteriously (thankfully) started up again I knew I could have a small window of opportunity in which to save my work.

Last night I was going to copy all my documents onto the zipdrive, but first I had to get that out of its hard paper and unbendable plastic container. Taking my red-handled desk scissors in hand, I made a forceful cut. Right into my finger. I have no idea how I did that, but I was faced with a spewing red fountain emanating from a bone-deep divot to deal with. Whenever I do something inexplicably stupid which involves my own pain and blood, I first think, “Sh..t!” and then beat myself up with my mental bat.

After I used up an entire box of kleenex and most of my energy in an adrenalin rush, I realized this fountain would have a longer run than those at Versailles. I ran downstairs, grabbed a clean white rag, washed out the wound, then wrapped it tightly. Neal arrived home from teaching his last criminal justice class, and transported me to the emergency room for wound clean-up, a tetanus shot, and stitches. It was a busy night and a long wait. I answered the same questions four times, the most inane of which—as it seemed to me in the midst of shock—was, “What time did this occur?” Does everyone immediately after causing themselves injury look to establish the precise moment it occurred? I was really more concerned about blood loss and tetanus, silly me. Today I have a sore upper left arm, eight stitches, a white bandage the size of the bottom of a golf club and serious sleep deprivation. I was warned that the numbing shot would wear off around noon today.

Consider yourself forewarned on these two accounts.

Because the above afflictions are not all I now sport. I rototilled a new area of herb garden yesterday and the vibrations caused a blister on my right thumb and palm and one under my ring finger on the left, plus aching shoulders and neck. Consequently, today I will be taking a shower with a plastic bag over my left hand. When I prepare dinner tonight, in the spirit of leaving well enough alone, I won’t be chopping anything. I will not be attending my water aerobics class, typing my memoirs sans typos, practicing playing the guitar, or washing up the daily dishes.

Unwanted turns of events, indeed. Well, except for the dish thing.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Black Lab

The black lab
in the neighboring field
bounds after a bird,
chasing his passion,
ears flopping
tail wagging
until his prey alights.
he is precisely
en pointe
as he was bred.
For a full minute
he holds his position
pleasing only himself
and me behind my window.

c. 2008 KK

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Lesson from Liz and Melinda

Yesterday, Liz, Melinda and I met to celebrate Melinda’s birthday last week. I don’t recall which one it is for her. It really doesn’t matter as much as celebrating her entrance into the world where she’s done so much for young people as a former teacher. In fact, all three of us were teachers and today, Liz told us a story about the cook in the new restaurant we visited, the cook, H. who had been one of her students.
Liz had been to one of the furniture stores in town where she encountered H., a young mother with two children, trying to establish credit to buy a washer. The landlord of her apartment refused to repair the washer that came with the rental unit. We all know how much laundry must be done when you have two young children. Having access to a washing machine that works is crucial.
After their catching-up chat, Liz told H. to give her a call if she didn’t get her credit. Liz was hatching a plan. I have to insert here that Liz is one of the kindest people on the planet and the plans she hatches reflect that. She had an unused washer and dryer at her house she’d been planning to sell, but now the Universe had plopped down another option right in front of her.
H. did not get her credit and tough as it was to do, she called Liz. Liz told her about the washer and then asked her if she could use the dryer too. Of course she could. H.’s kids got clean clothes. What did Liz get?
What she got was happy because it’s a rule of the Universe that when you give from the heart where there’s a genuine need, you get back tenfold—or maybe more—who’s counting?
Melinda shared that when she had given a range in much the same situation, she too ended up feeling happy. Both my friends said they were sure they felt much happier than the persons receiving their generous gifts.
I’m positive that this is one of the lessons we’re meant to learn in our lives. Giving is more blessed than receiving. Didn’t someone say that? It’s a law of the Universe. Science has proven by doing brain scans that human beings show more happiness when they give than when they receive.
Need seems to be escalating daily. Food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, reading to a child, teaching an adult to read, compassion, a hug. You don’t have to look far to find the need. Your gift doesn’t have to cost a lot. If you’ve been feeling a little down recently and could use a boost of happiness, then my question to you is, “Given all the evidence right in front of your eyeballs, what are you waiting for?”
Oh, and while you’re busy giving, how about some gratitude for two retired teachers who have never stopped teaching. Liz and Melinda, thanks for the lesson!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


She walks into the waiting room
the telltale aura of her life
wafting after.

Be still; concentrate.
Like a bloodhound
you can sniff it out.

She fries food.
There’s a dog and a child.
A dry shower stall,
unused shampoo.
Sex an hour ago.

He loves monster trucks
and “Jackass.”
She hides the remote sometimes,
gloats when she knows the answers
on “Jeopardy” and he pouts.
Hoping to trade up
he sees other women on the side,
won’t marry her..

She knows.
She hungers for something
and doesn’t know it.

Hurt holds her captive
with the strong arms
of a rapist.

She searches your face
for a shred of nice,
eyes pleading,
“Don’t judge.”

Our stories surround us.
You can smell them
like an open book.

c. 2008 KK

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Chemistry Set, or Too Late I Think of Consequence

I don’t know what Mr. Lovely was thinking the recess he left Barbara Hyde and me alone in our classroom with an unlocked chemistry set. It was newly purchased and so enticing, a little suitcase filled with glass vials of elements to be explored. I am sure Mr. Lovely had intended to have us perform scientific experiments with the contents under supervised study. He probably imagined our eager little minds intrigued with testing to see if a substance were an acid or a base, a classroom full of engaged, hormonal 7th and 8th graders. He never banked on how powerful an urge is curiosity; how it overcomes reason in a young brain as yet unfettered by consequence.
Barbara and I read over the contents, which while interesting, were mostly unknown to us since we’d had no instruction in their usage so far. That might have been a good thing since sulpher was in one of the vials and we could have made stink bombs had we known. As it was, thanks to me, what we did was awesome and scary enough. I recognized the contents of two vials as we read: nitrogen and glycerin. Something sparked. Ah, yes, thanks to TV and its depiction of building railroads in Westerns, I knew things were blown up with nitro-glycerin. I didn’t know the exact recipe, which can no doubt be found today on the internet, but this was waaaay before personal computers. I reasoned that maybe if we combined some of that nitrogen with some glycerin, we could make some home-grown dynamite. I think it’s safe to ask what was I thinking.
My mad scientist buddy agreed this experiment was one worth doing, and so we poured, sloshed, jiggled and combined and there was our result. Now the frightening reality hit us. What were we going to do with it? If it really was dynamite, we couldn’t just throw it anywhere because it would explode—us, for sure, maybe the school and everyone in it. This was when Barbara got really angry with me and started yelling. That brought Mr. Lovely back from the teachers’ break room with its cigarette haze and day-long burnt coffee stench.
We had to tell what we’d done. I did not volunteer it was first my idea because I didn’t think I’d get any gold stars for brillance in this case. Besides, I didn’t want a whipping either. I swear that a look of fear passed over his face when he heard what ingredients were in our concoction, but maybe that was projection? Surely he had enough of a science background to know what we’d done was harmless? Surely he realized the makers of the chemistry set would never include ingredients that could kill schoolchildren? I’ll never know because he looked panicked to us.
He took the vial, slowly and carefully, as if it were the deadly substance, from my hands. “I am going to throw this down the sink,” he said. “You look out there on the playground,” and he pointed to a specific place. “That’s the septic tank. If you made dynamite, the whole place will blow up and you will be in more trouble than you can even imagine.” Not to mention, dead.
His footsteps faded and our heads turned toward the septic tank. Time stopped and our short lives with it. Images of what could be gushed through our brain. Silence reigned except for kids on the playground shouting and laughing.
Nothing happened. When it became clear nothing would happen, we breathed again. Barbara started yelling at me. “I hate you now and I always will.” She remained true to her word, too, for the rest of our school career together.
We were punished by having to stay in for a number of recesses, her glaring at me and making nasty comments, the chemistry set safely locked away somewhere for the rest of the year.
That Mr. Lovely hadn’t made the kids get off the playground or emptied out the school should have been a clue to us that our dynamite really wasn’t. That he just threw it down the sink should have been another. That we hadn’t already blown ourselves up with all that jiggling and fumbling, another. Because, really, had it been real, he wouldn’t have made all those bad decisions, would he?
Mr. Lovely died quite early and I hope our experiment had nothing to do with that. I don’t know what happened to Barbara after high school. Myself? I never did take a chemistry class.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Grandma Georgia!

Today is my grandmother Georgia’s birthday. Born in 1906, she would have been 102 today. She almost made it to 100 years, passing away at the age of 98, all but one of those years in possession of her faculties.
If someone is your grandmother, what do you remember about them? Her hair ran a close second to the run-away look of Albert Einstein. A stylist she wasn’t. One of her gestures was to put spit on her palm and then flatten the frizzy mess as best she could. Like a nebula, all the hair circled out from her crown. She never dyed it, set it, waved it, or permed it. It just was and it wasn’t pretty. I see from her wedding portrait that such abandon might not have always been the case. There her hair is brunette, long and flowing. By the time I knew her, it was salt and pepper, all the time heading toward salt, short, and unruly. She was a widow, working continually, and didn’t have time to battle her wayward coiffeur. She never gave up hope of being a beauty, however. When she could no longer even feed herself, bemoaning that she just looked awful, I told her that I thought she was beautiful. She made me bring her a mirror to see, just in case.
She always wore the same style dress that she cut out and sewed herself. She had a nice one, and one or two for every day, always a floral pattern and the everyday dresses were always dirty around the stomach area.
She never wore makeup that I know of. Her face had always been wrinkly and seemed to stay the same forever.
She limped. Her story was that her older sister dropped her on her head when she was an infant, and that had caused one leg to be way longer than the other. I’m not a scientist, but sure that what happened instead was simply a birth defect. It helped her cope to blame her sister, a whopping case of sibling rivalry. I never thought her a lesser person because of the limp, though no doubt others did an maybe herself as well. It just was. That’s the way it is when someone is your grandmother. In later life she tried to have her legs evened out in one of the first double knee operations. Since the salesman for the joints actually performed the surgery because the doctor didn’t know how and it wasn’t perfected yet, it didn’t take. Her legs were the same length, but the joints had to be removed and she spent the rest of her life on crutches and then in a wheelchair. None of that stopped her from being an active person. She did everything a normal person could do with very little help while on crutches. Having once spent six months like that, I know how strong in both persistence and body she must’ve been to live years like that.
When she started singing, you wondered why someone hadn’t oiled that door hinge. And she loved to sing. She sang songs she learned from early childhood in school, songs she picked up from cylinder Victrola recordings, from vaudeville, from her Irish mother. The songs were mini soap operas full of warnings about the right way to live and what would happen if one should make the wrong choices. Some were hilarious and extremely non p.c. by today’s standards. My favorite was the song she’d performed in school as a little Japanese girl with a fan. She still had her fan until the day she died.
At every family function we sing, and even when she was stone deaf, Grandma sang along. She started and ended a song when she pleased which was not when the rest of us did, causing one hell of a cacophonous din. Still, it made her so happy and it made us happy too, to see her laughing.
She was not educated because girls simply weren’t when she was young. The family needed you to work, and then your husband needed you to run the home. I don’t know how many years of school she did end up having, maybe through 8th grade. But she had opinions and nothing kept her from voicing them, right or wrong, or hurtful. Blunt is a nice word for what she was. Her prejudices were from another era. Men with mustaches were bound to be evil. To wear earrings was wanton.
Cooking was one of the things she did well, despite her distaste for tomatoes. It became her career late in life, cooking for Boy Scout camp and then for Eastern Oregon College boys’ dorm. She loved having her grandkids come over and presiding over a tea party. There would be cookies or fruit bars or some delectable, and either tea or hot chocolate. She didn’t drink coffee. I’ve never had hot chocolate as good as Grandma’s, nor her other standby’s, German Chocolate Cake, Banana Crème Pie or Coconut Crème Pie, all from scratch. This was the time when Grandma got to be our age and hear what was going on in our lives and we heard about her young life, the part she wished to share. If tea was our beverage of choice, she read our tea leaves for us. She told us how to interpret our dreams and read to us from her mother’s dream book. She told us how to medicate ourselves by reading to us from her mother’s doctoring book. Sometimes we got to play with her ouija board, which was the most fun of all, until my mother told her she’d prefer Grandma not do it.
One of the most fun times I had as a college student was when my cousin and I took Grandma to the movies, and then drug the gut with her, having guys check us out and then watch their expressions as they saw one of us was older than they’d expected.
Grandma bought her first home when she was 60, and she started driving. I remember my father saying how someone that old shouldn’t even be driving, let alone just starting to learn how to drive. Her car and her driving were a point of contention until she finally scared herself and gave it up sometime in her 80’s. She loved her little house and we thought it was cool because there was a brick barbecue in the back yard and we envisioned summer barbecue parties. The truth was more that it was always stuffed full of paper garbage that she burned, nothing as glamorous as what we kids had imagined. Her back wall brick flower planter was always filled with pink impatiens. After our grandfather had died at age 49, Grandma re-married for a short time but had that marriage annulled, so she always said she’d never re-married. She loved having her own life and making her own decisions.
There were family secrets. Grandma had a sister she’d not known about. Her mother had been forced to give up one of her children because she couldn’t feed her, and that sister’s son got in touch with Grandma to tell her about it. Sadly, that sister had already passed away, so she never got to meet her. If Grandma didn’t like a family member or a neighbor, she was not nice. She could be spiteful, rude, and plain nasty. She wasn’t always thankful for what other people did for her. She hurt one of her daughters by openly preferring the other. She never seemed to learn her actions were unacceptable. To me, she was always, for the most part, except when she commented on my weight, very kind and accepting. This was because she’d lost a daughter a few months older than I, born stillborn. I became the replacement, and since people told Grandma that I resembled her, she was happy enough with me.
Living in another town a state away, I mostly communicated with Grandma by letter. I tried to write at least one a month. She wrote sometimes twice a month with conservation of paper always in mind. Not only would I have to decipher what was written on the back of very thin paper, so hard to read, but she would then write around and around the margins until there was no more space left at all. When her handwriting got shaky in her later years, to figure out what she had written took a lot of concentration and asking other people what they thought. The advice, the recipes, the opinions kept coming until she could no longer write. In person, we communicated by white board, since she could no longer hear and refused to wear hearing aids.
The other day I was laughing about something, and I stopped to listen. It was Grandma’s laugh I heard. I’d missed that. But I can sing in tune. Honest. Happy Birthday, Grandma Georgia!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sun, finally!

Sun has arrived and that means I’ve gotten down and dirty in the eastern flower bed. I became judge and jury when it came to what stays and what goes to compost. Grubs sentenced to death were excuted between thumb and forefinger. Today I’ll save some for the birds to eat, placing them on a big bowl in lovely presentation. Some protein to augment their usual diet of birdseed. Earthworms are huge out there, and the grubs are larger than usual and thicker skinned. I wonder what that portends? There’s a lot going on under what the eye can see and it’s fun to have a sneak preview.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Not a valid excuse

In recent days I continued to read editorials and letters concerning school districts keeping teachers who were flawed in some way because, according to them, the teachers' union fought their dismissal. I'm here to say that such an excuse is hooey. What I saw in my long career, time after time, was that the administrators did not do the necessary paperwork to fire the teacher, or did not do it correctly.

Believe me, teachers do not want the rats and perverts as colleagues any more than parents want them around their children. However, unions exist to help those innocent teachers who are accused, or those who discover someone has it out for them. That is the union's job. What we teachers always wished was that the administrators had done their job just as effectively. That's one of the things they were getting paid for. Time after time, they bumbled. Where was THAT story in the media?

7 a.m. walking to get the paper

litter the asphalt
like scratches on old celluloid film.
Bradley's rooster
gripping the fencepost
and the next door neighbor
leans out his door to yell,
in response.
I tell the hens roosting
in the apple tree
they are silly girls.
Mist falls from the
one-shade-of-gray sky
Another homespun morning
here on South Prairie Lane,
a most splendid beginning.

--c. 2008 KDK

Monday, February 18, 2008

Schools in the News

Two articles came out in the news today concerning how schools deal with problems. How schools get rid of teachers accused (and guilty) of sex offenses was one topic; the other focused on schools that pay their students for attending and for doing well on state/federal measurement testing.
As a retired educator, I could write volumes about how I think schools should be run. I've seen plenty and wondered plenty about how things could be better. I have taught in schools where the practice of giving creepy teachers a severance check and moving them on elsewhere was in force. Like so many unfair things in life, the creeps got paid off for being creeps while the good teachers just got their barely above minimum wage salaries. I see no difference between schools pushing bad teachers out to another school and the Catholic Church sending bad priests on to other churches. I'm thrilled that some school districts are now refusing to write references for teachers who have engaged in criminal acts, instead of giving them promises of confidentiality as to why they were let go, health insurance for six months, and a fat severance check. Those kind of people should be nowhere around children.
Should students be paid for attending school and doing well on mandated tests? All of us hope and wish that schools were so good that every student would find the inner motivation to be there every day and excel. The truth is that it's hard to find inner motivation if you are rarely at school to begin with and your parents are so overwrought with daily life they neglect to encourage you scholastically. Money speaks to every income level and more so to the districts where there is not enough money to live or eat. As was pointed out in the news segment, rich kids get these financial incentives as a matter of course. Do well this semester and we'll take you to Italy during summer break. Do well on your SAT's and we'll give you a car. If you get a hundred percent on your spelling test, you can go to the movie Saturday. If you pass the math test, I'll buy you a guitar. $100 for every A, $75 for every B...
Here's how I think it works: You get the kids there, and paid for good work according to their success, and it doesn't take long before the love of the learning takes over, and the pride in accomplishment, and the money earned becomes sooner or later secondary to learning. If you want it to work even better, you teach those kids the benefit in saving their money in savings accounts for college. You take them to a bank and you show them and their parents how to get a savings account. The kids know they are headed for college. Their parents know the students are headed to college and they become cheerleaders for the future. You get cooperation and support from home and there's nothing a student can't do. If it works, don't knock it. And in the meantime, put even more money into schools so the kids have good books, good teachers, good programs and good organic lunches. If you aren't willing to support schools, then why would students ever think what they do there is of utmost importance?

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Yesterday I ground whole wheat into flour using our brand new Vita-Mix. I felt the way the ancients must've felt to see that their two stones together made a fine dust out of hard nuggets of grain.
Then I tried to make a loaf of bread using the recipe given. Something did not go right because I ended up with a brown mass, slightly hardened, that didn't rise. I baked the gummy mess, and we ate it in little one-inch strips. It tasted great despite whatever mistakes I made.
I'll try again tomorrow to see if I can improve the results. In the meantime, this "first" has got me to thinking about firsts in general. They usually don't go perfectly, do they? The first time I drove, the first time I kissed a boy, the first time I had sex, the first day of my first job, the first interview, the first marriage, the first time I tried to follow instructions to put furniture together. Each one of these firsts is a story unto itself, a story of fumbling and nerves, of determination to start and afterwards, keep going.
I'm painting my front door today, gold to match the color of our shop, another first for me. And this is my first blog. I'll keep going, n'importe quoi, (no matter what) because our brains like firsts. New synapses are born. Firsts keep us young and interested, if not a little enraged sometimes. The more firsts we have, the more we want, and the more we appreciate others going through their own firsts.
Happy Firsts to you!