Keeping my eye out

...looking for a time when it might be possible to use this quotation in ordinary conversation. Only ... would it be an "ordinary" conversation that would provide such an opportunity?

On my Google homepage, I get daily Shakespearean Insults. They often make me laugh, but shoot! THIS one's a prize! Now ... when to use it ... when to use it ... I'd have to be pretty mad ...
You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat's-tongue, you bull's-pizzle, you stock-fish--O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor's-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!

-Taken from: Henry IV, part I

The calendar, the cost, and a pretty cool kid

I have changed all my various calendars to July.

I know it's not July until tomorrow, but ... well ... it's JULY tomorrow! There's nothing on today's pages anyway, and I can't wait any longer. July's calendar has work days (at the library, which is, in fact, the best place in the whole world to "work" out there in the big wide world), and school days, and birthdays, and vacation days on it. And at the top, a gorgeously bright picture of the Stone Mad Gallery in County Cork, Ireland. July, July, July ... I do love July.

This year, on the way to July, I have discovered "hidden costs" of my returning to school.

The first is the undeniable fact that being happy - sometimes stubbornly happy - being optimistic and hopeful and ready to move into the unknown - the fact is that this earns a hostile response from a certain sort of person. I find myself as bewildered by this as I have ever been. There is always a small and persistent group of people - a faithful, all-volunteer Greek Chorus - somewhere in my life who, hearing me say about almost anything, "I'm happy because ___," feel that they simply must take me down a peg. It's like some kind of compulsion for them. They get quite fierce sometimes - they simply must warn me of impending failures, or show me the dangers I'm evidently too silly to see, or testify earnestly to me of the pain and difficulty that awaits me.

Why is that?

The easy answer is in ordinary things like jealousy and insecurity and things like that, but those things don't answer the question for me. I guess what I want to know is this. Why do some people, when faced with reasoned and yet ebullient happiness, react as if they, personally, have been threatened in some way? That's what I think I'm starting to figure out. It's not personal about me - it's something threatening about happiness itself somehow. What is that? (Corollary question: Should I stop being happy out loud? I won't, of course. I made that decision a long time ago. But it does bother me to cause such disturbances in other people, and I can't help noticing it.)

Another unexpected price for this new adventure is found within my own reactions. That "chronolog" we're working on for our next class? Where we list the dates and places and names of our experiences and then articulate the learning? Well, it's a shockingly intense exercise! It has only the remotest connection to a "list" and has a lot in common with things usually called "examination of conscience," and "introspective analysis," and "dredging up the past." A person can only excavate in this territory for just so long at a time before the emotional component of making such a list becomes too overwhelming. I confess - I am surprised at this. I'm also glad I started early! And the kid in this blog entry's title? That would be our youngest. We had a very interesting conversation yesterday, this kid and I. This is the only kid of our three kids who got old enough before learning to read to know that he didn't know how. The other two weren't ever really aware that they didn't know how to read - to them, it seemed like everything else in their worlds. New stuff happened all the time. Reading was just one more new thing.

For that youngest kid, though, there were months and months and months and months of extreme frustration. It became my chief occupation to take off the pressure. Motivation wasn't nearly the problem that the frustration was for this kid. And back then, in the midst of it all, I used to tell the Dad in this house that I was going to "write my learned paper" on the several steps needed for literacy. I would be fully qualified to do so by the time this kid learned to read because he wasn't skipping or hurrying through any of the steps. Every excruciatingly minuscule element of human written, spoken, and readable language was obvious in this process thirteen (fourteen? fifteen?) years ago.

There was one day that sticks in my mind. It was the day I announced the outrageous concept that, "if you know the word, you can just read it. You don't have to sound it out."

He looked at me like I'd just told him that "if you're really mad, you can punch the other guy in the face." Or ... "if you really want the candy, just steal it." You'd have thought every moral law he had ever encountered was offended by such a shocking announcement. He studied my face for awhile to see if I was serious. I appeared to be so. But I was so startled by the look on his face that I found myself sputtering. "Really! Everyone does it!" (Oh, now there's a great way to make decisions!) "I mean, that's how people read. Just say the words you know. It's okay. When you learn a whole bunch of them, you can read as fast as you want."

Hm. He had his doubts as to my personal integrity that day, but he was willing to humor me. And he began to read.

Yesterday, the grown up version of that kid did something that reminded me of this whole reading episode of his life. He named off all the things he has wanted to do or experience or have, and then how he did or experienced or got each of those things. The kid is still all about the specificity of life. Every tiny bit of a thing is something he sees - still experiences as a life reality. But now? Now he draws his own conclusions.

Yesterday he said, "So I started thinking about it." (My heart leaps for joy. He "thinks about it." That was one of the things we wanted most for our kids - the ability to "think about it.") "And I figured something out." (Note: we are not leaping to conclusions here. No, no. Not this guy. Every component still in place, we proceed from the list to the conclusion one step at a time. His life is a game, but the game is Hopscotch. You're not allowed to skip any squares.) And his conclusion?

"The reason people don't have what they want is because they don't go get it."

Oooooh, yeaaaaah... The dude can READ!



You Are Chopsticks

People see you as exotic, unusual, and even a bit intimidating.

You are a difficult person to figure out.

In truth, you try to live a very simple life.

But most people are too frenzied to recognize the beauty of your simplicity.



Education is the ability to listen to almost anything
without losing your temper or your self-confidence.

Robert Frost

I spill over

Where I live, in the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington, the very rocks run with water. For a short season in the late summer and early fall, most of the smaller streams and drips dry up, but for most of the year, the edges of the Gorge and the edges of the highway, and the edges of everything form little waterfalls and huge crashing, falling courses, and streams and falling water are everywhere.

Every once in awhile, I match my topography.

This is one of those days.

This week, my ground has been watered with such generous understanding and sparkling gifts of "atta girl" and "good for you" that I have become saturated. I spill over. I splash and play in the sun.

I have returned to "school" - even if "school" is a rather anticipatory word for what I'm doing right now. The very first edge of inquiry in a proposed and possible course of study - a class that only asks and answers the question, "Is doing it this way feasible for me?" - it's not really proper school. Not yet. It's challenging, of course. There are assignments, and things due, and a schedule to follow. But it's just a brief taste. Ha! I just got a little flashback! This part? Where I am right now in school? It's like a future bride and groom tasting various minuscule squares of wedding cake so that they'll know which whole cake to order for the Big Day. This class is just a nibble. (Like these tastes from &Eat It Too) But this is probably a good thing in my case. This tiny nibble is sending me into ecstasies of happy rapture. The real thing would probably cause me to lose consciousness!

Then, in addition to the loving support and enough applause to make me blush coming to me from other people, and the fact of my tiny sample taste of school, there is the impending Anniversary. We're doing things like buying rings and a few pieces of new clothing and some lovely spa stuff for our vacation. We're talking about it all the time. "We need a vacation." "Yeah. Let's go." It's a growing tune in the background, more and more audible. A melody and a harmony and a rhythm we already know - we're the composers of this particular little symphony, after all - and we can hear it swelling again, ready to fill the whole of the universe with its glory once again.

The end of June and beginning of July is always a time of anticipation for me. My birthday is in the first part of July, and since it's only a few days after the Fourth of July, it's seemed to me my whole life that my birthday starts with fireworks. Twenty-five years ago, I got married nine days after my birthday - so now the whole first half of the month is Celebration Season. We've never done anything flamboyant. We're more about the quiet dinners and homemade cakes and personal, private gifts. We vacation for a little while if we can. But still. Even for all the quietude of it, it's ours. And the anticipation I feel shimmering in the air, the knowledge that there will be something sweet and just for me around the next corner ... it's in my bones.

Today, my thanks for my friends, and my re-entry into academia, and my growing eagerness for our Season just around the corner -- they spill out of me and splash and play and run into the eddies at the sides of my river. I am so well watered I'm making a fine mist rise up, and everything around me seems to shimmer.

Welcome, 4Real-ers!

This is just a little note of welcome to all the Catholic Charlotte Mason and 4Real Learning visitors coming here lately! I keep up with the homeschooling world a little bit, checking in every once in awhile with some of my favorite folks via their blogs. I'm glad to have you here! You lead beautiful lives - I'm honored to be a part of them today.


Useful exercise

We got an assignment last night. We have to do a "chronolog" of everything we've done since high school that might translate into collegiate learning categories. But, I just got to thinking ... this is a useful exercise in reflection and self-evaluation anyway. Even if a person weren't using it for school, it would be a useful thing to do.

You make a spread sheet sort of format, with the first column being the year in which you had some sort of experience, then you have a column saying where this happened, and then a column saying what it was. So, the first three columns take up only about 2/3 of the page's width, and then the last third or so is the final column. "Skills and Learning" - the results of your experiences. It could be things like 1980 --- Anchorage, Alaska --- Started backpacker's hostel -- and then bulleted skills all listed in the last column. Things like Conflict Management and Cookery for Crowds.

When you sit and think about it, there are lots and lots of possible learning "outcomes" to any experience. You spent a summer as a camp counselor? Well, maybe you learned that teenagers are just as fragile as eight-year-olds and you got a little first-hand practical Psychology of Development in Adolescents. Or, maybe you learned that you really deeply abhor sleeping in a sleeping bag, slapping mosquitoes, and eating in a cafeteria -- so ... um ... what would that be, I wonder? Values Clarification maybe?

Anyway, for many, many years, academia has proposed to teach students about the world, and then expected the students to go out into the world and use what they have learned. The Prior Learning Assessment way of doing things is to take what's been going on out in the world, and translate it into academia's language and documentation. The learning becomes re-contextualized -- and this makes it possible to award collegiate credits for the things people know and can articulate.

But what about people not in this course of study? I'm finding the chronolog to be a very useful meditation and memory tool, regardless of the intended final use for the thing. Every once in awhile, I think I should do this exercise.

Where were you?


What were you doing?

What did you learn? What can you do now, learned through that time?

Interesting exercise, don't you think?

First Session

It's from a poem called "Requiem," by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's an epitaph for a gravestone. But it suits me.

Here he lies where he long'd to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

...but I'm not home to stay. It's not a death. In fact, it is new life. Another life, maybe. It's a respite. It's a temporary rest. I am home, and it soaks into my bones and softens my skin and fills my eyes and wells up from my center and spills over my edges. I'm home - in the deepest, most personal sense, I'm home.

Are there people in the world who do not settle into the academic world as if they are seedlings being well-watered in? I'm home, I'm home, I'm home. In a classroom old enough to have chalkboards (not white boards) on three walls, and one of those with sliding boards so that it is possible to pull one in front of the others -- in a room with open windows and a fan instead of air conditioning -- in a room I can get to by the wide, main, front stairs or the narrow, more steep and slightly creaking stairways at the ends of the hall -- last night, in class again, I came home.


1320, and that's my final offer

Okay... for what it's worth, and I honestly can't think it could be worth all that much, here's the final draft. The purpose of this assignment is so that the instructor can figure out whether the student: (a) is going to be able to write well enough to write for the PLA program, or needs to take a writing course first; and (b) has life skills and/or practical knowledge that can contribute to the desired degree. So, here's my shot at it. --- And no pictures. Boooor-rrriiing ...... but I got it down to 1320 words.



June 25, 2008

High school graduation seemed to me like the gift of a toolbox, and the project was to chisel and sculpt a life of my own. So, the first thing I did was chip off my place in my peer group by taking my dad’s advice to work for a year and figure out what I really wanted to do. I stayed home while “everyone” else went away to college.

My first job was as a temporary worker for the phone company, filling out grid sheets for the data entry people. There was an application, an interview, a typing test, and then a job, complete with a commute on the city bus and clocking in at the start of the work day. I was fascinated by things like office dynamics, the way promotions were supposed to work and the way they actually worked, and the amused irritation in a co-worker’s voice when she told me I “had to” take my breaks because of the union’s rules.

Next, I worked as a checker at a grocery store during a strike. This was not a job I wanted to keep – it wasn’t interesting, and worse than that, I hadn’t chosen it for myself. I got that second job because my dad knew the store manager.

So, after the strike ended, I got my own job. I took the bus to Lloyd Center from our Laurelhurst home, and I started going to every restaurant and retail establishment where I thought I might like to work, and asking them if they were taking applications. At Stevens & Son’s Jewelers they took my application, and asked me when I could start. I said “immediately,” and they said, “How about 2:00?” I called a cab, went home, asked the driver to wait while I changed into clothes more suitable for work, and then went straight back to the jewelry store to clock in. This was the job where I learned about retail display, the difference between good costume jewelry and junk, and adult discretion about adult dramas in the workplace.

That job was enjoyable, but it ended when my dad decided I needed to make more money than I could as a retail clerk. I, who had never even balanced my own checkbook, got my license as a real estate agent. I was not a success.

By the next fall, I began attending a small college in Florida, majoring in Elementary Education, with a minor in English. I loved everything having to do with education “materials and methods,” but I really reveled in things like display and design in classrooms, and in the dynamics between the students and the teacher. During those years, I also acquired a growing certainty that fundamentalist Christianity’s paradigm did not offer me a workable life.

I nearly flunked a couple of courses in my freshman year, and so learned first-hand that learning is inextricably linked to emotional stability. I also began to see myself through the eyes of people who knew nothing of my girlhood, and so figured out that I was smarter than I’d thought, mentally tougher than I’d thought, and braver than I’d thought. I auditioned for and got into the advanced choir, and accompanied voice lessons as a pianist. I took part in student leadership, performed recitations at all-school programs, and started to feel my natural abilities to inspire groups of people. During my second year, my home church splintered, and I learned then that such episodes are never really about things as esoteric as “doctrine.” It was then that I began to see the similarities instead of only the differences in religious expressions, and I began to study these things for myself.

After graduation, in July of 1983, I got married. During that first summer together as a married couple, we were the camp counselors for the first through sixth graders of the church’s Family Camp. We lived with, played with, ate with, and taught those kids all week, and went home exhausted. But we hadn’t run out of ideas or enthusiasm for a minute of the camp.

For the next two years, we worked in my dad’s neighborhood coffee store, and I worked as a substitute teacher while my husband took Greek at a local seminary. Our first child was born in September of 1984, at the Northwest Naturopathic College. During this first pregnancy and childbirth, I began in earnest to research and discover the various aspects of traditional herbal and homeopathic medicines and natural health. Of course, the topics of children, child-rearing, religion, home, and family were all subjects of research as well. And since we had “more time than money,” I began in earnest a lifelong habit of making things rather than buying them. I have a handmade life.

In the fall of 1985, we moved to southern California, where my husband attended seminary, and I taught second grade for a year, then gave birth to our second child and took a year off from teaching, and then taught eighth grade English for a year. During this time, I was involved with the group of seminary wives, and helped to organize presentations and gatherings.

After seminary, I gave birth to our third child, and we moved to Seattle, where I worked as a local sales representative for the children’s magazine, Highlights for Children. I also worked as a substitute teacher, and this began my personal research into dyslexic and multi-sensory learning. During one of the grad school summers, I used what I had learned about dyslexia, and taught my adult brother-in-law basic literacy skills so that he could go to college.

In the summer of 1995, we moved permanently to my husband’s family home in Stevenson, Washington, where I completed my kids’ home schooling until they each went either to community college or high school. Here, I worked for awhile at the local liquor store, where I took inventory, made purchasing orders, and had fun with the display merchandising. I now work as a substitute Assistant at the public library, where I once served a term as the president of the local chapter of The Friends of the Library. There they know me as the sub who does display work and is good at fast research. I know them to be my natural companions in a shared fervent love of books and of information of all kinds.

My personal studies have taken a bent toward an understanding and working knowledge of ancient medical and health traditions, and I have continued to be fascinated by human and societal development, especially in the arenas of family, education, and religion. In my more public life, I am now a past master at organizing programs and gatherings for adults, as well as classes and programs of all kinds for all ages of children.

Because I have had a husband in grad school, have educated my own kids, and have been a personal resource for several adult friends who have been students, I have done a fair amount of research for other people, as well as tutoring, coaching, proofreading and word processing. Along the way, my husband and I also acquired a publishing company, in which we write, print, bind, and sell religious education materials. For this and for other things, I do design and copy work in various kinds of publications.

Little by little, chip by chip, my life has taken shape. Compliance for the sake of compliance or for the sake of rewards has been chipped away. This sculpture of mine is far from finished. Apparently, the materials I work with are: a conscious practice of a traditional religion; service to other people where occasional need arises, as well as in private and classroom teaching; and a personal interest in writing, reading, research, natural medicine and health, human development, group dynamics, graphic design, music, and arts and crafts. It is, I think, enough to be going on with.

Rock Paper Scissors

Sean Sears of Chicopee, Mass. threw the winning rock to defeat Julie Crossley of Anderson, Ind., in the final match of the 2008 Bud Light/U.S.A. Rock Paper Scissors League Championship in Las Vegas on Sunday, June 22, 2008.

Sears will get $50,000 and will represent the USA in the first ever international competition at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

(click on the picture for the full article)

This is real - it's not a joke. The guy is going to the Olympics with his winning Rock-Paper-Scissors technique! It's not an Olympic event ... it's just happening at the same time. I wonder ... will the air quality in Beijing effect the rock throwing at the Rock Paper Scissors event?


Page requirement beats word count, right?

In the evening of the day after tomorrow, I will be in class. I will be handing in my "pre-assignment" - an autobiographical essay "that refers to activities and learning experiences since high school." (oh wait -- I just thought of something to add -- just a sec)

Okay. I'm back.

Now, the thing about this pre-assignment is this. It's supposed to be "approximately 800-1000 words," but it's also supposed to be three to five pages of double-spaced typing. And ... well ... I have whittled it down to the "5 pages maximum" but my word count is 1693. Even I can see that 1693 is more than 1000. But it's under five pages. So that should be good - shouldn't it? Let's call it good.


A blogging homeschooler friend of mine just posted this picture. She says it's what heaven looks like for her. Gotta say ... I agree with her. It took me a second to figure out what it is -- can you tell? It's a library. Those are stacks above, and stacks below, and the wide space down the middle, under the vault. Ahhh....


A town mouse in the country

I keep thinking I'll get used to it. I keep thinking I'll acclimate. Generally, perhaps, I have. But every once in awhile there's a day like today when I was going about my ordinary tasks in my ordinary funky little house, and I heard a sound I recognized ... yes... metal groaning, engine louder and softer and louder again ... those guys have some of the heavy machinery running out there ... diesel smoke smell now wafting into the house confirms this ... and then -- what on earth? What is THAT?

It sounded like a huge splash of water - no wait - that's not water - sounds like gravel in a bucket - a really really big bucket. Nothing for it. I have to go look.
Ooooh! Now that makes more sense. One dude in the scooper and one in the dump truck, and the stuff going into the dump truck makes that noise. Oh -- and that's not a big scooper excavator after all. That's just the tractor. Now, that I should have been able to recognize. Judging by the bass vibrations now permeating the walls and floors, the elder bearded young giant is conscious for the day. Must've thought of something while he was sleeping. I've never heard that particular "riff" before. (Is that series of notes technically called a riff?)

I hear a lot of things I never expected these days. I can tell the difference between the buzzing of an insect I could smash if I felt like it and the buzz of an insect that will sting me if it gets any closer. I find that I listen for the sounds of a car coming up the driveway, which sounds differently from a car at the bottom of the driveway where there's a pull out. (Would it stop folks from so much pulling over in that spot if I posted the information that we can hear them talking as clearly as if they were calling up to the house through a pipe?)

The goats yell at us all day - but their yells sound different if their horns are stuck in the fence again. I listen (without realizing I'm doing it) for the pump in the basement to turn off - if it goes too long it burns itself out. That's bad, by the way. That means using water out of the icky well, one icky, smelly, hand-pulled bucket at a time. And yesterday (was it the day before?) there was an extremely odd sound that was reminiscent of a very splashy rainstorm coming through the windows - or ... did the cat have a rodent cornered in the dining room? Neither one. It was the sound of plops of roof moss, and the cracking of the house and popping noises were the guys on the roof. (Usually I hear them going up there and am then not confused by the strange sounds that follow. And of course, I try and try not to listen for the sound of "aaaaah!" followed by a dull thud.)

It's apparently a theme that covers ages and continents -- the town mouse and the country mouse. There are several versions of the story here. My favorite is the one from Norway - where it's not "country" to live in a "house"!

The House Mouse and the Country Mouse


Once upon a time a house mouse met a country mouse on the outskirts of a wood. The country mouse was sitting under a hazel thicket plucking nuts.

"Busy harvesting, I see," said the house mouse. "Who would think of our meeting in this out-of-the-way part of the world?"

"Just so," said the country mouse.

"You are gathering nuts for your winter store?" asked the house mouse.

"I am obliged to do so if we intend having anything to live upon during the winter," said the country mouse.

"The husk is big and the nut full this year, enough to satisfy any hungry body," said the house mouse.

"Yes, you are right there," said the country mouse. And then she related how well she lived and how comfortable she was at home.

The house mouse maintained that she was the better off, but the country mouse said that nowhere could one be so well off as in the woods and hills. The house mouse, however, declared she was best off. And as they could not agree on this point they promised to visit one another at Christmas, then they could see for themselves which was really the most comfortable.

The first visit was to be paid by the house mouse.

Now, although the country mouse had moved down form the mountains for the winter, the road was long and tiring, and one had to travel up hill and down dale. The snow lay thick and deep, so the house mouse found it hard work to get on, and she became both tired and hungry before she reached the end of her journey.

"How nice it will be to get some food," she thought.

The country mouse had scraped together the best she had. There were nut kernels, polypoly and other sorts of roots, and many other good things which grow in woods and fields. She kept it all in a hole far under the ground, so the frost could not reach it, and close by was a running spring, open all the winter, so she could drink as much water as she liked. There was an abundance of all she had, and they ate both well and heartily. But the house mouse thought it was very poor fare indeed.

"One can, of course, keep body and soul together on this," said she, "but I don't think much of it. Now you must be good enough to visit me and taste what we have."

Yes, that she would, and before long she set out. The house mouse had gathered together all the scraps from the Christmas fare which the woman of the house had dropped on the floor during the holidays -- bits of cheese, butter and tallow ends, cake crumbs, pastry, and many other good things. In the dish under the ale tap she had drink enough. In fact, the place was full of all kinds of dainties.

They ate and fared well. The country mouse seemed never to have had enough. She had never tasted such delicacies. But then she became thirsty, for she found the food both strong and rich, and now she wanted something to drink.

"We haven't far to go for the beer we shall drink," said the house mouse, and jumped upon the edge of the dish and drank until she was no longer thirsty. She did not drink too much, for she knew the Christmas beer was strong. The country mouse, however, thought the beer a splendid drink. She had never tasted anything but water, so she took one sip after another, but as she could not stand strong drink she became tipsy before she left the dish.

The drink got into her head and down into her toes, and she began running and jumping about from one beer barrel to the other, and to dance and tumble about on the shelves among the cups and mugs. She squeaked and screeched as if she were both drunk and mad. About her being drunk there was very little doubt.

"You must not carry on as if you had just come from the backwoods and make such a row and noise," said the house mouse. "The master of the house is a bailiff, and he is very strict indeed," she added.

The country mouse said she didn't care either for bailiffs or beggars. But the cat sat at the top of the cellar steps, lying in wait, and heard all the chatter and noise. When the woman of the house went down to draw some beer and lifted the trapdoor, the cat slipped by into the cellar and struck its claws into the country mouse. Then there was quite another sort of dance.

The house mouse slid back into her hole and sat in safety looking on, while the country mouse suddenly became sober, when she felt the claws of the cat in her back.

"Oh, my dear bailiff, oh dearest bailiff, be merciful and spare my life, and I will tell you a fairy tale," she said.

"Well, go on," said the cat.

"Once upon a time there were two little mice," said the country mouse, squeaking slowly and pitifully, for she wanted to make the story last as long as she could.

"Then they were not lonely," said the cat dryly and curtly.

"And they had a steak which they were going to fry."

"Then they could not starve," said the cat.

"And they put it out on the roof to cool," said the country mouse.

"Then they did not burn themselves," said the cat.

"But there came a fox and a crow and ate it all up," said the country mouse.

"Then I'll eat you," said the cat.

But just at that moment the woman shut the trapdoor with a slam, which so startled the cat that she let go her hold of the mouse. One bound and the country mouse found herself in the hole with the house mouse. From there a passage led out into the snow, and you may be sure the country mouse did not wait long before she set out homeward.

"And this is what you call living well and being best off," she said to the house mouse. "Heaven preserve me from having such a fine place and such a master! Why I only just got away with my life!"

(Clever Norwegians live in the country, apparently.)


The last Friday before

So ... if I haven't stopped doing this by the age of nearly 48, it's possible that I've done it for so long that now I can't help it. When there's a big day coming up, I say things inside my head like, "This is the last Friday before I start school." Because - well - because this is the last Friday before I start school.

This is!


Next Friday, I'll have an assignment to work on.

Because I will have been to school.

Next week.

On Wednesday.

It's not just a dream. It's not just an idea. It's a decided deal with a paid tuition, and now an email from my TEACHER. She emailed the class yesterday with a couple of instructions. We have to take our pre-assignments with us, you see. Pre-assignments. For class. Starting next Wednesday.

It's hard to sing a Hallelujah Chorus while sighing contentedly AND doing a little happy dance. But I'm working on it.


Portion size, serving size, and the size of most Americans

Ever wonder why pictures and film of Americans today are so very (vastly!) different from 20 years ago? Are you old enough to remember "the fat kid" in your class - and not "the skinny kids" who were so few?

Go here.

Then here:

Look at this:

Two Slices of Pizza

Twenty years ago 500 calories

Today 850 calories

Those extra 350 calories, if eaten a two times a month, would put on two extra pounds a year, or forty pounds in the next two decades.

Cup of Coffee

Twenty years ago
8 ounces Coffee with milk and sugar 45 calories


16 ounces Grande café mocha with whip, 2% milk 330 calories


Stronger love

Break a vase,
and the love that reassembles the fragments
is stronger than that love
which took its symmetry for granted
when it was whole.

Derek Wolcott

Mob Allergy

There's a whiff of the lynch mob or the lemming migration about any overlarge concentration of like-thinking individuals, no matter how virtuous their cause.
P.J. O'Rourke

Someone introduced me

I wonder ... do painters come up to the work of other artists and become completely enchanted, and then become aware of a particular brush stroke of genius?

I've started a new book. It's a novel. I rarely start new novels these days. It feels like meeting new people, and like Bertie Wooster and education, I usually feel that "I was full up years ago." I am attached already. I am spoken for. New authors with new characters are asking me to take new people into my heart. It's a big decision.

But then, they say that the best way to find a date is to have a friend introduce you, and a friend has introduced me to the work of Diane Setterfield. The book is called The Thirteenth Tale. If we go on as we have begun, I shall be friends with Margaret Lea and Vida Winter for the rest of my life.

Click on the book cover or on Setterfield's name for more information if you want it, and the link behind the title leads to the book's website with some good audio. In the meantime, though ... c'mere a minute. Look at this. It's just part of just one of all the exquisite and elegantly formed paragraphs in this book. The main character, Margaret Lea, has been reading the odd letter that starts the whole of the plot. These two little masterstrokes - these two sentences - they are so perfectly crafted I want to read them over and over and carry them with me all day. Listen ...
I shivered on the stairs, yawned and stretched. Returning to myself, I found that my thoughts had been rearranged in my absence.
And the woman herself? The author? She says that for many years she felt unable to write fiction at all. "I thought authors had to be orphans, or have a drug problem, or be out having lots of sex – and none of those things were me! Once I realized that the only difference between everyone else and writers is that they write, I felt I had cracked it."
addendum: Do NOT read this book late at night, or if you don't like really creepy things, or if references to deviant behavior will bother you over much. It's too well written to shake off very easily!



This is exactly how my son and husband feel when they're talking to ME about computers! I saw this on Susan's blog and had to post it here - to see some hilarious clips of Susan herself, go to her blog. Funny stuff!

Sun River

(use the Moon River tune)

Sunriver, wider than a mile,
We've sneaked away awhile
To play.

Twenty-five years ago - about a month before our wedding. I'm not exactly sure what wild hair overtook us, but my whole family, my almost-husband, and another whole family all took a vacation together twenty-five years ago in Sunriver, Oregon.

We rented a house in the pine trees and scanty vegetation, and I think my man and I took a ride on a tandem bike at some point ... but unlike a lot of other vacations, I can barely remember anything at all from this one. There were other people there. I remember that. I was getting unbelievably tired of other people. I remember that too.

And I remember the fishing. More accurately, I remember them fishing. Their fishing. The other people. Family and friends and a boat I didn't get into. We didn't get into. In order to keep an eye out for other people, we stayed where we could see them, but we headed into the woods, up the slope, and well-camouflaged in the underbrush. And we didn't invite any other people to come with us.

It's funny how, after all this time, just remembering it brings back all the tension and the seemingly permanent sensation of pressing into the moments to try to make them speed up. Go on. Go on. One more month. One more. Can't we fast-forward the tape? Can't we find some way to make this last month - the very last one in the whole long span of all eighteen of them - can't we make it go faster? In a mood like that, it's a relief to find something to do. A thousand wedding details at least seem like doing something. But we weren't even where we could do that - and it's not like we could pay proper attention to much. Except each other. And the continuing problem of all those other people.

The List so far

Okay ... for the year 2008, I'm compiling a list. We're about halfway through the year, and so far, these are the suggestions for the CUT IT OUT List of things people say. Figures of speech that need to be drawn, quartered, tarred and feathered, and ridden out of town on a rail. We're going to need a lot of rails by the end of the year.

Why, why, why has the term "24/7" not died already? This weekend I heard someone get the sleeve of this one turned wrong side out. He said he was an entrepreneur "7/24, 365," and it was a relief to hear it said in such a disorganized way.

After this Election "Year" Marathon has lasted for its entire two years, could we also eliminate the phrase "day one"? Please? Just make it go away. And while we're at it, the word "change" needs a vacation as well.

Awesome is one of those words that needs resuscitation rather than elimination. It means "inspiring awe." And awe is not a synonym for "wow, man." Awe is about fear, not fascination, and has to do with being stunned into silence - not overtaken by a sudden adrenaline rush.

Another one for the category of resuscitation is the poor, sad word, impact. It's a noun!!! You have an impact. This one is probably a lost cause, and I know it. I found proof at Dictionary.com that I'm fighting a losing battle.
It is unclear why this usage provokes such a strong response, but it cannot be because of novelty. Impact has been used as a verb since 1601, when it meant "to fix or pack in," and its modern, figurative use dates from 1935. It may be that its frequent appearance in the jargon-riddled remarks of politicians, military officials, and financial analysts continues to make people suspicious. Nevertheless, the verbal use of impact has become so common in the working language of corporations and institutions that many speakers have begun to regard it as standard. It seems likely, then, that the verb will eventually become as unobjectionable as contact is now, since it will no longer betray any particular pretentiousness on the part of those who use it.
But ... impactful? Cut that out! That is NOT a word!

And lastly, let's require correct pronunciation of just a few things, as a high school graduation prerequisite. Everyone together ... ready?

Real estate -- not rela-state. It's "real." See the space between the two words?

And, jewelry. It's jew-el-ree. Not jew-la-ree.

After this year's November, is there some small chance of fixing this one? Nuclear. Say, "new-clee-er." It's easy. The word clear is in it. New. Clear. Not new-cue-ler. Not.

I know, I know. In this vast world of real problems like famine and genocide and drought and flood, it doesn't really matter if we have an awesome and impactful experience on day one, but people keep talking about flipping relastate and shopping for jewlary on QVC 24/7, and I mean, like, really, man, I'm about to go nuculer.


Phoenix Music

Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.
(J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Last weekend was a time of heaviness pressing in, and a stubborn battle raging inside my chest. I'd been to the doctor on Friday. It was supposed to be routine. But our modern technology makes it possible for medical professionals to see and to find things that would, in another age, have been impossible to see - impossible that is, until those things had killed the patient. "Early detection" has become a modern byword and blood tests have become standard and routine.

But it's still also true that ignorance is bliss, and I did not have a blissful weekend. Between an appointment on Friday and a phone call on Monday, the weight on my chest and the echo in my head carried and repeated the ominous word, cancer.

With that chorus as the background in every thought, there isn't really any way to completely avoid visions of things like hair loss or weakness or physical wasting away. The doctor says it, and the word begins to play its sick game in the imagination. The scenes rise up, unbidden, unwelcome, and completely impervious to interruptions or distractions. And very, very quickly - immediately - the world becomes both clearer and further away.
On Saturday, I didn't do much. I tried to breathe properly, and remembered hearing that people who are in pain or in fear don't do that. They don't breathe deeply enough because they are trying to avoid feeling the pain or the fear. But shallow breathing will weaken a person. So I tried to remember to breathe deeply - and tried not to become completely unglued. I researched. I imagined scenarios. I looked over the things I've recently found about bio-identical hormones. I tried to breathe. "Thy will be done," and "into Thy hands," over and over and over. Experience has taught me to be quiet and to trust. It's not usually quite so nerve-wracking, but I'm not a beginner at it either. Saturday felt like a tightrope walk. By the end of that day, I was tired, but I was okay.

And when I woke the next morning, I had not dreamed of anything worried or frightened. I was okay. (A bit like the process of checking bruises to see if they still hurt or if they've changed color.)

But the thing about being a religious Christian is that Sunday mornings are for church. And where I go to church, there is music. And the music on Sunday includes hymns. Often, in the course of my ordinary life, the singing of the best hymns can necessitate the use of the Kleenex I make sure to carry with me - but this Sunday packed an extra wallop. This Sunday included three things that had been played at our wedding twenty-five years ago.

It is always music that undoes me. I hear it in my bones and in my chest, and it vibrates in my fingernails and across my back between my shoulder blades, and the tones and meanings and harmonies rise up into my head and I cannot stand against the power. This Sunday, all I could think about was how very much I am in love with the man I want to grow old with. He used to call it "leaking" - I've cried over this fact of my life for awhile now. Music, I now begin to think, must hold Love within it.I don't have cancer. I do have some very good friends who waited with me to find that out. They didn't need to say anything - they just waited with me. And I have a husband to whom everything happens that happens to me. And today I realized, I also have a vessel for that kind of love. We have a vessel - we humans do, I mean. Music is Love's vessel. Don't you think so?

Little children can be heard crooning to their pets or toys, or chanting the same little tune over and over, or singing at the tops of their lungs ... it comes naturally to us. People make music. Tribes across the globe ... all cultures, all nations ... there is music for grieving, and music for triumph, and music for putting babies to sleep. There is music for worship and there is music for the courage needed for battle. We dance to music. We bury our dead to music. Last Sunday, in the music of the ancient service of the Mass, Love held me and let me cry.


On the off chance ...

On the off chance that I'm not the only one who needs to remember this today, I'm reposting from last summer. This isn't a poem. It's Lewis's inimitable prose. But I broke up the lines because it feels like poetry to me.

Lewis On Love

To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung
and possibly be broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact,
you must give your heart to no one,
not even to an animal.
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies
and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglement;
lock it up safe in the casket
or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket
--safe, dark, motionless, airless--
it will change.
It will not be broken;
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable,
The only place outside Heaven
where you can be perfectly safe
from all the dangers of love
is Hell.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

Danger, Will Robinson

This is a message for anyone who thinks it might work out okay if they go to a school unaccredited by any board anyone else might recognize. Don't do it! Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Don't go over there! You'll be sorry. Listen to me.

I know, I know. You think it only matters what you know - what you can do - what you can prove by showing it to other people. Right? Seems like a good idea. Just go where they can teach you. It's all about the learning, right? Who cares where you got it?

Well, I'll tell you who cares.

Every school that IS accredited cares.

And the FAFSA people care. (Are there actually any people processing those forms? I have serious doubts on the matter. Will Robinson, meet Jeltz. And good luck with the whole "reasoning" and "logic" and "current situation" lines of conversation.)

If you get your "degree" from a place without transferable credits, it is not going to matter one little bit what you learned or how hard you worked to learn it. Not one bit. You will not be able to get into grad school - because academia cannot recognize this degree of yours. You cannot transfer in any of your work to work on a new undergrad degree. None. Your credits are not worth the paper they're printed on.

So ... it's like you don't have a degree at all, right? Wrong.

The FAFSA people think you DO have a degree. So, although you might be "qualified" for the educational loans anyone can get, you do not have access to any of the grants. The "degree" you've got disqualifies you as a person going for your first degree - because you have one already - the schools don't think you do, but you do - according to the FAFSA form. You didn't use any of the federal student money the first time around (because the places without transferable credits don't "accept" such tainted money, and it isn't offered to them), and you won't get any the next time either. Take an unaccredited degree, and that's the one you get.

So, let's review. What do you end up with if you get an unaccredited degree? You end up with no credits and no access to significant federal student aid.

Thinking of attending a college like that for your degree? Think again. And again. Keep thinking until you realize that this is going to matter to you someday. It's going to matter a lot when you decide to join the rest of the world. You'll want those credits you worked for. Trust me on this.


A long way, Baby

Anyone else remember the ads? In the somewhat self-satisfied, still also somewhat defensive, waning-Women's-Lib days of the late 70's, back before we were all convinced that the fact of second-hand smoke existing somewhere in the universe would be the death of us all, there were these Virginia Slims ads. (What I remember most about this ad campaign was the billboard on the way home from school - and how amazed I was that it could still be there, day after day, with my mother aiming such ... uh ... hostile "vibes" at it every time we drove by.)

At the time, I was too young (and too privileged) to understand the concept that women were ever really paid less money for equal work - it was like hearing tales from the days of slavery or prohibition whenever I heard about it, even though it was still happening everywhere. But it hadn't happened to me. I was too young. What we had then were the fading sounds of a very bitter fight dying away (not that people on both sides aren't still holding grudges), and the assumption - a kind of "well, duh - who doesn't know that?" - that equal meant equal. Like I said - I was young.

The other thing I thought back then - back before the Pleasure Police worried us out of wine consumption and the Health Monitors worried us back into it - was that "all" I would ever want for my life would be to get married and have babies. Everything else was just consolation prizes to me.

It's an oddity of the female psyche perhaps, but that's precisely how the narrative went in my head. Get married and have babies. It lived in the same place in my brain as the romantic kiss, which always faded safely to black before "the next thing" could seriously threaten its romantic haze. (I know - hard to believe anyone ever grew up that clueless. But I did.)

Then I went to college. And then I got married. And then I had babies. And then, you know what happened after that? (Well, first of all, there WAS an "after that." That was the first surprising thing. The romantic kisses stopped fading to black after I'd met the man.) Anyway, after that, the babies grew up and turned into people with lives and ideas and plans and imagined scenes of their own. (The nerve of them!) It's amusing that such a thing can happen with all my help, my energies, and my focus making it happen, and it still ends up being a surprise.

Now, during all of this, there was this husband person in my house, not fading away at all. He is a little older than I am, and he's a lot more of a Women's Libber. He has never wavered from his position that women, even wives and mothers - perhaps especially wives and mothers - are people in their own rights, and ought to have interests and pursuits of their own, and ought to use their talents and skills in as many ways as it pleases them to do so. He EVEN thought they could be "employed outside the home" without giving up their stake in the family! What can I say? The dude's crazy, all right? He has introduced me to Monty Python, and to foreign films of all languages and genres, and ... well ... I gotta say it. He even introduced me to wine drinking. He's a madman, I tell you.

He's also a writer. Not professionally - just naturally. And he reads all the time - really fun stuff - like ... the entire set of Durant's History of Civilization in one summer ("for a break"), or England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, by Bartlett, or The Siege of Mecca:The forgotten uprising in Islam's holiest shrine and the birth of Al Qaeda, by Yaroslav Trofimov. Stuff like that. The man always has his hands on a little light, bedtime reading right before he falls asleep - while I'm all curled up with weightier matters. Harry Potter - or the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The really intellectually challenging things.

To be fair, the contrast between his heavy hardbacks and my nighttime reading isn't always so stark. I do read non-fiction, and the fiction I read is generally really "about something" - and he's been known to pick up a novel once in awhile. (But it has to be a really good one, and most modern ones make him want to take a red pen to the pages and send them back for revisions.)

But here's my point. For the whole of this marriage - 25 years and counting - I've owned the title Reader of Pulp, and I've ceded to him the elevated position of He Who Knows. He's taught college level writing, and I've taught the ABC's. He has been reading the books I have used for pressing flowers. Stuff comes on the news, and he (joined now by our son) launches into the historical precedent or the logical fallacies, and I listen while I do the day's Sudoku out of the newspaper.

All in all, I haven't taken my own level of expertise or literary prowess or knowledge of a larger perspective (or my ability to articulate these things) very seriously. In my head, I've just been a passenger in the car, on the way home from school, with someone else at the wheel opining about the billboards - I never realized that somewhere along the way, I have been forming my own opinions about the world - and learning to articulate them.

Yep, apparently, after all this time, I've come a long way, Baby. It's not that the husband ever thought of me as The Little Woman. He's pretty allergic to the clinging vines among the females of the species. And he doesn't believe himself to have married a stupid person. He is the feminist around here, remember - he's always believed more in my powers than I have. So I'm not going to tell you that I've finally learned to overcome the ways in which my man has held me back - because he doesn't do that sort of thing.

What I'm going to tell you is that in another 25 or 30 years, I'll think what I'll be saying is this.

Back when I was young, (I'll say, when I am old) I read a lot of books. Then, when I was a teenager, I got a journal for my birthday. When I was a girl, I did a lot of reading, and I did a lot of writing.

Then I got married, and I wrote about it in my journal, and I had a baby, and I sent off a children's story to a magazine, but they didn't want it - and I was too stupid to realize that the handwritten note from an editor was good news. So I just wrote in my journal after that. And I read a lot of books to my children.

Equal turned out to be a good idea - and so did Monty Python, wine drinking, and a husband who still reads impossibly heavy books right before he falls asleep at night - those were all good ideas.

And when my babies grew up and went away into their own lives, I went back to school, and that time is wasn't just as a stop on the way to a romantic kiss. And I wrote some more. And not just in my journal.

That's what I think I'll be saying someday. Now I know what happens after the scene fades to black.


The dizzying effects of an unexpected landscape

Yesterday, talking to friends about one more thing in my life lately that would never have occurred to me to anticipate or prepare for, I said something to the effect that I'd thought my life would be a Norman Rockwell, but I've ended up with M. Night Shyamalan. It's not terrible. Once you realize that the dead people are just trying to tell you something important, the village is an attempt to stay in an enclosure and comes with risks of its own, and the lady in the water could use a little help, it can even be a deeply satisfying and ultimately beautiful life ... but it takes some getting used to.

It seems as if life is a journey, and the middle of it is like the crest of the curve, and it's the place of a bit of perspective and awareness. You get up here, and you straighten up after your concentrated effort of the climb, and you catch your breath and try to stand all the way up, leaning into the wind. You shield your eyes a bit, wipe the sweat off your forehead, and you take a look around. All the way around. The view will take your breath away. Then, after you adjust to the light and the wind and the altitude, you can start to see a few details. You can turn around, and you can see where you once were. For me, it's a path strewn with all kinds of beautiful, orderly, sweet, dear Rockwell painting type things. I didn't have a childhood of neglect, so I was not thirsty when I crossed that landscape. I didn't have a young adulthood of anger or pain, so I had the wonderful freedom to choose a climbing partner who would both challenge and comfort me. The stuff back there is mostly very good. And I have the good sense now to be grateful.Behind me now are a thousand moments, pressed forever into the universe because they happened to me. Three babies in just under four years, for instance. That happened. With that, came the lesson that being happy and healthy is not the same thing as not being tired. Tired and happy can happen at the same time. Healthy and exhausted coexist nicely when you're pregnant and have toddlers. (Note the baggy eyes a couple of days before that kid was born. And note that the shawl-covered cedar chest is at a ninety degree angle from the couch - kid able to be only on one side, blocked from the open front door, if I remember right.) Really surprising Christmases happened. Really scary nights with really ill children happened. Deeply shattering anger between the couple who never fights - that happened too. Life is like that. There's no such thing as perpetual spring.

And there's no such thing as predictable midlife. Maybe that's why people call the reaction a "crisis" when this part of life has arrived. It can feel very much like a crisis. It's just so utterly different from anything you can anticipate on your way to get here.

And here we are, my courageous man and me, twenty-five years into climbing with each other, and ready to finish launching our hilarious, baffling, exhausting, absorbing, enchanting, frustrating, irritating, energetic, curious brood out into the world. And none of it makes sense in the way I thought it would.

The "gor baby" (that's toddler for "girl baby") doesn't wear pink ruffles anymore - she wears "BDU's" and boots most of the time. But she scoffs at calling the other options "civilian clothes" - instead, she says, "civilian clothes - or, as I call them, clothes." Somehow I don't think we've got a career military person here.

The little brothers are just as unexpected. Taller, curlier young giant has declared a double major of art and music. (Okay, that's not entirely unexpected. All those years of "stop drawing and do your math" were probably always leading to this moment.) But you could knock us over with a feather - or ... make that a fuzz! The younger, less curly bearded young giant used to be genuinely terrified of them - of fuzzes. His siblings could chase him around with just their fingers pinched together, claiming to have a fuzz they didn't even have, and the poor child was tortured with anxiety! We never did figure out what made wuzzes so terrifying, but he hated them. And he hated any physical pain of any kind, and never, never, never had to learn twice that something might hurt. So ... what's he done with his life? Or ... more specifically, his arm? I present, The Artist Formerly Frightened of Fuzzes. He didn't just endure the pain of learning to play - and then the discipline of learning to play well - he's also got these other indicators that pain isn't really his worst thing anymore. Sloppy work or disrespect for the honor in any creative effort ... yeah, that'll set him off. But pain? Meh. Not so's you'd notice.

So, what's a mom to do? What's a mom who thought Rockwell would be able to illustrate her life supposed to do with the obvious facts? The girl turned into a soldier, the boys into musicians and artists. The three each took different, and all unconventional, paths through the K-12 years, despite the fact that my journals confirm my expectations of being a classroom teacher - the counterpart to my professor husband - and any kids we'd have would be in "my" school for those years. (They were in my school, all right! The school of Maths, fold the clothes, and Bill Nye the Science Guy.)

We've changed from being the kids ourselves, to being the grownups with the babies and the grandparents held simultaneously in our lives - for a little while, anyway. We've changed churches, changed addresses, changed income levels, and changed china patterns. All that change seems to have brought a few unexpected (unexpected by me, anyway) adults into the world, and for better or worse, it's a done deal.

So I'm up here. I already did my "hills are alive" song, and already nearly fell over in a faint from the altitude. Now my pulse is returning to normal, and I'm looking around.
Behind me, there's a lot of texture and sound and flavor and there are a lot of scenes. All different kinds.

The season is about to change again, and the contrast is more clear. Where I was, Where I am, and Where I'm headed -- the shadows and the light make lines on the ground like the divisions of a number line. I love the number line. It's not a line segment, even if there are segments on it. It's made of segments, maybe. But life's line doesn't end at points. It has arrows at the ends, and it keeps going on forever.