The universe seems to have forgotten that we had a deal. The deal was, I would go through winter - even with tons and tons of snowfall in the most inconvenient schedule possible - and that I would do it with a nice face and good mood. And then the universe would make it to be springtime at my house. That was the deal. Here are some flowers I cut from next to the wellhouse yesterday - proof of my expectation of springtime. That's the season after winter. Because winter is not supposed to last for five months. Okay? That's the deal. Universe! That's the deal! .... Please?


Made for This

When I was young, I knew that some things made me happier than other things. Some activities satisfied me deeply (music-making, reading, babysitting); other activities were, variously, either diversions (like birthday parties), or semi-interesting chores (folding laundry), or loathed activities forced upon me (vigorous sweaty exercise done in teams or groups or classes, which is most certainly the most horrid use of time ever invented). When I was young, I knew my likes and dislikes.

What I did not yet know, because I had not yet found the full measure of my own self, was the experience of that deepest, most permeating, most rooted and transcendent moment which has this name: I Was Made for This. Yesterday, I had such a moment.

There have been a few of these over time. When I had the whole running of the classroom for the first time as a student teacher, I knew. I was made for this. I was not in control of it; the phenomenon which is teaching and learning and education is much larger than anything any one person can (or should try to) control. I did not make it; I had entered it. And I knew that I was home. As surely as if I had entered a house with all the cupboards exactly where I would put them, full of precisely the right things, and windows, doors, stairs, and roof lines arranged in elegant proportion, I knew that I was home.

The day my husband proposed to me - that was another day when I knew that I was home.
"If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me ye women if you can."
(Anne Bradstreet, "To My Dear and Loving Husband")

That was a day when I knew for sure that I stepped into my future with the first steps I took after he got up off his knee so we could kiss each other, and walk together out of the park near the Rose Gardens. In him, I found my home - and in me, he found his.

Cradling my tiny newborns - those moments too were moments when I knew, I was made for this. With each new baby, something inside of me shifted, came together, met. Whatever it takes, whatever I need to do or be or cease from, while this child is in my care, this is a life I want. Some people take to it easily and calmly, and whether it's a matter of personality, genetics, or the years of babysitting combined with the fact that my older sister conveniently had her children while I was still a girl, I took to mothering as easily and calmly as if I were popping a sweatshirt over my head on a chilly day -- (and as totally and stubbornly and fiercely as a mother lion). Instinctively, I knew, I was made for this.

Made for this. For classrooms, teaching, learning, education ... and now a return to school. For marriage, and for this man, come hell or high water, feast or famine, kids here or not, when it's funny and when it shreds our souls. Made for writing too. Impassioned journal entries, and earnest "notes" to friends and sweethearts when I was so relentlessly, earnestly, hopelessly young. Lesson plans and catechism and poetry and letters. Blog entries and school assignments and love letters to my husband even now. Always made for writing. And yesterday - yesterday I knew the moment again, with a kind of mild and laughable surprise.

Yesterday, I sat in my pew at church with two tiny little girls, one on either side. Kids from my class - their daddies serving at the altar - their mommies home for family reasons. Yesterday, in church, the two little girls were mine. They stood and followed the words in the hymnal with only a few (loudly) whispered "where are we?" times, and they sang with gusto. They knelt beside me until they couldn't quite stand any more nose-to-pew contact, and then sat back. They sat beside me ... and in a quiet moment, when both little girls were trying with all their might to hold still and pay attention, it came to me again.

Lately, my life has been expanding so quickly in every direction simultaneously. My own children grew up and got lives of their own. I have gone back to school, and my brain is opening from the inside so enormously that it feels like some kind of bursting out into the open even though it is all interior and invisible. The tectonic shifts and cataclysms and seasons and tidal waves have all seemed so huge that I thought the tiny little girls and boys in my life might be moving out of range and disappearing from my view. I do not recognize anything around me anymore, and I do not recognize even my own self these days. The small children, I thought, are probably gone too - or will be soon.

But no. Yesterday, I looked down and saw those petite little hands folded together in perfect imitation of my grown up hands. In that (brief) moment of stillness, I realized, I was made for this. These two little girls, and all the goofy, worried, clueless, squirmy, serious, silly, random, hilarious little girls and boys who ever cross my path, or sit in one of my classrooms, or participate in one of my programs (every one of which is an echo of the "plays" we used to inflict on our parents when we were young and goofy and random) -- all of the boys and girls who are ever near me -- they are all mine, and I am theirs, and I was made for this. And I am very glad to know it.

(the clipart is from here -- isn't it good? Makes me think of Farrell's Ice Cream)


Buckminster Beauty

At our house, the members of the family are variously and randomly referred to as: Frank, Cyril, Bob, Buckwheat, Johann, Young Man, Young Lady, and Buckminster. Some of those names refer to a specific family member, and some are interchangeable. It seems -- although I am not the source of this multi-name, semi-feline system -- that the names often denote the mood of the speaker. And Buckminster is generally a name coming from someone in a good mood, who refers to someone doing something - or someone who should be doing something. And sometimes, rarely, the person gets called the whole of that name: Buckminster Fuller.

Ever heard of Buckminster Fuller?

Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller (July 12, 1895 – July 1, 1983) was an American architect, author, designer, futurist, inventor, and visionary. He was the second president of Mensa.

'aaaat's right. The second president of Mensa had the nickname "Bucky." I wonder what mood the speaker was in when little Bucky got that name. Was it a jealous or hateful classmate? Was it a loving uncle who couldn't help commenting on the enormous front teeth kids always end up with right after their "baby teeth" go away?

Whatever you call him, though, the man was amazing. From his list of "roles," I would guess that I would have loved to have him to dinner at my house. He would have been less likely to notice random dust or peeling paint or unfinished wallboard than conversation, and it would have been very interesting to have a conversation with such a man.

Fuller wrote more than thirty books, coining and popularizing terms such as "Spaceship Earth", ephemeralization, and synergetics. He also worked in the development of numerous inventions, chiefly in the fields of design and architecture, the best known of which is the geodesic dome. Carbon molecules known as fullerenes or buckyballs were named for their resemblance to geodesic spheres.
Would he have built such shapes from napkins at the table, I wonder? I do not think he would have worried much about social niceties - probably wouldn't have much tasted the food either, which I would find disappointing. I like to cook good food, and I like the eaters to realize what they're eating.

He was the subject of my morning's brief little research moment today because of this quote:
When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

Me too. That's the dead giveaway. If the solution to a complicated problem is ugly, inelegant, cruel, or deliberately blind to obvious factors, then that is not the right solution. If the solution does not actually work, then that is not the real solution. Those domes of Bucky's -- they did stand up. They functioned. And they were beautiful.

Beauty. A guy with the mind of a mad scientist, the heart of a philanthropist, the social habits of a radical (he got kicked out of Harvard ... twice!), and a name that both jangles the nerves and sits like a lump, was a guy who demanded beauty in solutions. He had to factor in things like gravity and inflexible mathematics, and he had to be ready to discard the bits and pieces of a thing if those things did not fit into the design. Beauty has design - in fact, beauty flows from design. That is what Bucky saw. Workable design produces beauty; beauty is functional. And yes, it is possible for one guy to make something truly beautiful.

Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Mary -- the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there's a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab.

It's a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab. Society thinks it's going right by you, that it's left you altogether. But if you're doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.

So I said, call me Trim Tab.

Thanks for that, Bucky -- er ... Trim Tab.


Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project Blog

Gretchen Rubin has a project going. "THE HAPPINESS PROJECT--a memoir about the year I spent test-driving every principle, tip, theory, and scientific study I could find, whether from Aristotle or St. Therese or Martin Seligman or Oprah."

Her blog always has something interesting, and her "one-minute movies" are definitely worth watching. But this series was really great - well-reasoned, pleasantly written, questioning in all the right places. Check her out. You won't regret it.

Ten Myths about Happiness -- Which Do You Believe?

Loch-ness-monsterEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 10 widespread myths about happiness.

Each day for two weeks, I posted about Ten Happiness Myths. Today, for your reading convenience, I’m posting the entire list, with links.

No. 1: Happy people are annoying and stupid.

No. 2: Nothing changes a person’s happiness level much.

No. 3: Venting anger relieves it.

No. 4: You’ll be happier if you insist on “the best.”

No. 5: A “treat” will cheer you up.

No. 6: Money can’t buy happiness.

No. 7: Doing “random acts of kindness” brings happiness.

No. 8: You’ll be happy as soon as you…

No. 9: Spending some time alone will make you feel better.

No. 10: The biggest myth: It’s selfish to try to be happier.

Agree? Disagree? Am I missing an important myth?


Unsinkable Architect

In another part of the world, an unbreakable architect would be good. Or, perhaps, the people might want to find an unflappable one. But in Seattle, unsinkable is a good kind of anything to find. It doesn't rain as much there as it does at my house, but it rains a lot. And there are a lot of miles of waterfront property up there too. There is a lot of water.

So, in Seattle, there's this guy. He's an architect. He remembers Lucy, of Peanuts fame, setting up her booth and offering advice for 5 cents. Advice for 5 cents is what this architect sells at the open air market. This kind of unsinkable optimism and entrepreneurial buoyancy makes me laugh out loud with delight - and it's somehow even more juicy and delicious that it's happening in unflappable, stoic, Norse and straight-faced Ballard. Listen to the NPR story here, and find out what he does with these nickel conversations. I say, Go, John! Go!


That "Threads of Destiny" exercise

At the weekend class "The Psychology of Transformational Narrative" I took in January, we did a very interesting exercise at the end of the weekend. Each of us had a section of the blackboard on which we wrote as comprehensive a list as we could, naming each of the "roles" we've played in life. From this list, with everyone in the class looking at all the lists, it was then possible to find very obvious "threads of destiny." In other words, what you tend to do repeatedly across the years can tell you a lot about yourself. These roles are like threads that draw you into your right life - your authentic self.

It was a really interesting thing to do, and it was as personally clarifying as washing the extra cement from around the aggregate in a newly poured path. Have you ever watched the process? They pour rocks and cement together, and then they wash out the cement so as to expose the tops of the rocks. It's a decorative thing ... but exposed aggregate is also functional. A walker gets better traction on a rougher surface.

Well, if you list all your roles, and then draw circles around similarities, you find themes like "Organizer," or "Outside the system," or "Sage," or "Innovator." Those things probably aren't on the list -- the list shows the various ways in which your life has shown these themes.

Ever since that weekend in January, the idea of "roles" and life's "themes" has been rattling around in the back of my brain. What is this called? What is this called? I keep finding the question repeating. The motto to "do few things well" has joined the question. To be recollected is the opposite of being scattered; and the chief job of midlife is to choose one's major in life. Specialize. After decades of trials and errors and more trials, during which one ought to have been paying attention, now it is time to declare those few themes that make for a good obituary. I'm not kidding! What was her life about? What did he do with his time? In his time? Midlife is when we ought to choose our own answers to this question.

Now, if you look to the Labels on this blog, you will find Roles - but I had to leave "Return to School" as is --- it's linked elsewhere. The list is not a mandate or a proscriptive wall around my life. It is an attempt to clarify and focus. So ... what are your roles? Who are you? I'm not much of a picker or a grinner, and as for lovin' on the run ... well, yeah, but monogamously. I'm a walker. I'm a reader. I'm a midnight writer. And I do my shoppin' on the run. If you can get your roles down to a few, and find your themes, you can get some good traction.


Great thoughts

Project: Simplify this blog. Make fewer categories. Expunge the redundant, supercilious and distracting; make room for more focus in fewer areas.

Step One: This quote from Nietzsche (with fresh thanks that I did not have to learn to spell that name when I was a child!) - and the first clarifying category: Walking.

"All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking."

Reason for the quote? Well, when I started this blog, I wanted to go back to school and I wanted my old sub job at the library back again. Now I have those things. So ... if I start a "Walker" category, maybe that will help me remember to go do take a walk before the end of the day, when I invariably think to myself, "I really need to go for a walk tomorrow."


Proof of spring

The calendar says that the spring of 2009 has arrived. I have proof that this is so.

5. Sometimes there are dry places on the ground around my house.

4. Sometimes puddles the size and depth of small lakes form in the space of about a half an hour in my driveway.

3. The creek I can hear from inside the house is suddenly in a very busy hurry and is telling the woods and rocks that there is a lot to do.

2. The window up here in my office is open again - and it's time to sleep with the windows in the bedroom open a little.

1. The Great Husband and his co-conspiratorial brother are in the living room on a Saturday morning once again, discussing ways to use the heavy machinery for what, to the untrained ear, sounds like a lot of purposeful and efficient labor. I, however, know that this is a prelude to the upcoming months of frustrating, persistent, exuberant, exasperating, and eventually successful spring and summer of mud, sweat, rain soakings, machine fluids of various viscosities (and olfactory offensiveness), gallons of iced tea and "what's for lunch, woman?" ... and maybe, just maybe, some logging and some house-leveling to be accomplished at last.

There's this sort of thing too, of course.But the conversation is a dead giveaway.

Yay, shelves!

Shelves are good
Shelves are happy
Shelves are wonderful to see

Shelves are full
Shelves are snappy
Shelves are filled quite soon by me

Yaaaaaay, shelves!

(Subtitle: Woman at Desk Decides to Ignore Crack in Wallboard)


With thanks for the $, the teachers and the tunes

This just in from LiveScience:

Musicians Read Emotions Better
New research shows that people with musical training are better at reading emotion in sound. In fact, the more years of musical experience people have, and the younger they began their music training, the better their nervous system is at processing emotions in sound.
I think I was five or six when that sort of oddball, rumpled looking man first came to our house to teach me to play the piano. For years after that, through many teachers, lots of lesson money from my parents, and my quitting and starting up again, over and over, the lessons piled up. I have two questions. First, what are those on the table? It looks like the top of a pair of boots, and I know my mother would not have allowed boots on the dining room table. And second, if in her late 40's, the woman is the girl who learned at that piano and still plays it, was it also inevitable that she have the same haircut? I'm just askin.


My writing sample essay

Okay ... this it really long for a blog post. It was supposed to be this long for the assignment, though. As part of LAC (which stands for Liberal Arts Core) 301 (which everyone is supposed to take sometime in the first two terms of attendance at Marylhurst), the students submit a writing sample. From this, the writing faculty assesses the student's need (or lack thereof) for taking a writing course at the lower division level. If you meet the "outcome" requirement, you don't have to take Writing 101 (or anything like it). You prove you can already do that stuff.

I'm pleased to say ... I proved it. Here's my writing sample essay -- and my apologies to my blog readers for going over the same "agh! my unaccredited degree is making me spit nails" recurring theme again. (going over ... the same ... recurring ... again ...grrr!)

Stephanie Lillegard

LAC 301

January 31, 2009


In 1983, I graduated from Pensacola Christian College with an unaccredited degree in Elementary Education. It had taken me four years to earn this degree, and I worked hard for it. The school was three thousand miles from my home, contextualized within a culture which felt very un-American to me, and set in a hot, humid climate I found to be both smothering and enflaming. The education I got at this small “Bible Belt” college was in every way the opposite of a liberal education.

In the twenty-five years since then, everything about my life has called to me to go further, dig deeper, and spread wider. The great expanse of human history and experience has always seemed just outside my view. Little by little, through a strong marriage with a liberally educated and intelligent man, through the rearing of our children and our educating them at home, and through the reading of libraries full of books, watching film of all genres from all cultures, and hearing more music, viewing more artwork, and having conversations with a wider and wider variety of people, I have been getting closer to my own entry into the great conversation of humankind. I am now ready for my own formalized, accredited, acknowledged degree in the Liberal Arts.

Getting to this place in my life has been a deliberate and conscious journey. Because the man I married had so much more formal education and so much wider an experience of the world than I brought into the marriage with me, and because we took on the task of educating our own children at home, the nature of education itself has been an ongoing topic of conversation in this house. I have been hammering out my own answers to the question, what is education when it is the best it can be? Without a full answer to where this train of thought might be headed, I decided to take on the job of getting my own children ready to encounter as much of the world as they might someday wish to. I began the process of their liberal educations before I could say that I had defined or earned my own.

It is true that many homeschoolers keep their children at home because of fear. These mothers and fathers evidently wish that they too could hide from society and make a kind of house-sized utopia, and so they set about doing the next best thing. They make one for their children. Its confines are narrow, its rules are rigid, and its curriculum is very carefully monitored. These are the homeschoolers who do not allow books into their homes unless the parents have read them first and approved of them. The naughty bits of famous artwork are covered with paper or colored over with pen, and all music must meet the utopian idea the parents are trying to produce in their homes.

Escape from the wider world was not our notion. Instead, we decided that we would ground our children in the kind of childhood that is steeped in long hours of imaginative invention and well versed in the delights of a good story as authors like A.A. Milne and E. Nesbit knew how to make it. We wanted them to have personal experiences with the natural world and enough freedom to experiment indoors and out. We deliberately trained and nurtured their ability to pay attention, follow an argument, see other people as people instead of reacting to them as functionaries of a system or representatives from various groups or subcultures, and we encouraged our children to practice the noble arts of self-control and humility in the face of large ideas. We wanted them to be able to see and to solve problems. In short, we wanted to introduce them to the rest of the world and get them ready for their own relationships with it.

Personal experience of my own college education had taught me that a narrow education is too small to be of much use in the wider world. On the other hand, observation and conversations with my husband taught me the many values of a liberal education. Teaching my own children then gave me some answers to my questions about education in general, and a liberal college education in particular. What I have learned through my own life’s experience has verified the ideas in the William Cronon essay, “Qualities of the Liberally Educated Person.” (Association of American Colleges and Universities, 2008)

In his essay, Cronon asserts that the qualities of liberally educated persons are these: (1) They know how to listen and hear; (2) They read and they understand; (3) They can talk with anyone; (4) They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly; (5) They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems; (6) Educated people respect rigor, not so much for its own sake, but as a way of seeking truth; (7) They practice respect and humility, tolerance, and self-criticism; (8) They understand how to get things done in the world; (9) They nurture and empower the people around them; (10) They follow E.M. Forster’s injunction: “Only connect.”

Cronon’s idea is that all of the various qualities of a liberally educated person culminate in and are demonstrated by Forster’s motto. Connection to the world is, to his mind, both motivation and reward, means and end. This idea was worked out on a daily basis during our years of homeschooling. It turned out to be enough that we kept one eye on the wider world while the smaller people in the family grew into adults. It was enough to grant those people their own introductions and then allow them to form their own relationships. Without having the specific goal of higher education in mind during those early years, we made an atmosphere of confidence and curiosity that did finally spur all three of our adult offspring to pursue college educations of their own.

But I still had the remains of my earlier questions, if not for my children, then for myself. I still wanted to know if a genuine liberal education be acquired outside the world of academia. If it could, I wondered if I had done it by means of providing education for my own children. And if I had done it, then why did a nagging idea of returning to school for my own degree persist?

I grew up after the modern feminists had fought fierce battles, and I grew up on the West Coast of the USA, where women wear jeans and expect to be treated fairly and respectfully. My assumptions about my own intelligence and academic ability, and about my equality with all humans – male and female, were, I thought, as fully a part of my psyche and self-concept as my height, ethnic heritage, and ability to play the piano. When I went to college the first time, I did not believe there was any shred of girlish reluctance to take my place in the world. I was wrong.

The 1977 speech by Adrienne Rich, delivered at the convocation of Douglass College contains the answers to my confusion and my long-held hesitation in the face of my own Liberal Arts degree. I was not able to articulate this vague sense of restlessness and frustration until I read Rich’s speech. It is true that I still retain a strong gender-neutral bias in academic matters and do not honestly believe that history, science, or anything else in the academic world has been given to us any more falsely by men than it would have been by women, but I do have to admit to myself that I have been guilty of accepting the idea that my own formal higher education is something I might someday be allowed to “receive” and not something I must “claim.” Adrienne Rich rightly points out that there is a vast gulf between those two ideas, and that the “difference is that between acting and being acted upon.”

Adrienne Rich was born in 1929. (Poets.org, the website of the Academy of American Poets) She was an adult long before I formed my ideas about women, education, academia, and the equality of the sexes. She fought the gender-bias battles I never had to see, and she stands in the position of emissary and elder stateswoman for me. According to Poets.org, “It was in 1973, in the midst of the feminist and civil rights movements, the Vietnam War, and her own personal distress that Rich wrote Diving into the Wreck, a collection of exploratory and often angry poems, which garnered her the National Book Award in 1974.” In 1974, I was in the eighth grade. I do not remember the battles of those days, but I am old enough to remember the anger.

The angry conversations women were having in the 1970’s happened while I was turning into a woman myself, and I rejected their anger. It did not seem to apply to me or to my situation. However, I am older and wiser now. I have realized how much I inherited from those women, and I have raised a fierce and energetic daughter I know would have had a far different life if she had grown up either in Rich’s day or in my own. Rich and her peers paved the way so that my daughter’s generation does not need to be told, at least not as much as I do, that “responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” (Rich) This is another thing I taught my kids before I knew that I had learned it myself. My daughter does not hold herself in contempt, belittle herself, or assume that her education will be something she might receive unless she herself claims it.

In 1983, I graduated from an unaccredited institution, where I had received an education carefully structured to be of use within a very limited world. I then married a man who brought to me the conversation of history, philosophy, literature, and film, and I was eager to join in. I was determined to make such an education possible for my children, and with an eye to their futures, I prepared them to take part in as much of the wide world as they might decide to claim for themselves. Now, twenty-five years later, I am finally ready to claim my own education. My degree this time will be accredited, in the Liberal Arts tradition of participation in the wider world of Arts and Ideas. What I propose to do now, in pursuit of a Liberal Arts degree is to live an answer to William Cronon’s call. “Only connect. It’s the core project. Without it, all else fails.” I might add that with it, all things are possible.

“Adrienne Rich.” Poets.org. January 30, 2008. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/49>

Cronon, William. “Qualities of the Liberally Educated Person.” Learning for Our Common Health: How an Academic Focus on HIV/AIDS Will Improve Education and Health, Ed. Wm. David Burns. Washington, D.C: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 1999.

Rich, Adrienne. 1977. Speech delivered at the convocation of Douglass College.


Your amazing brain

This was mesmerizing to listen to this morning.
Dr. V.S. Ramachandran's innovative studies plumb many of the uncharted depths in our understanding of how our bodies and our brains relate to each other, often revealing unexpectedly complex processes for recognizing our physical selves.

In one breakthrough example, Ramachandran, a researcher at the University of California, San Diego, devised a seemingly simple experiment to explore a puzzle that has confounded doctors since at least the 16th century: the sensation that a ghostly limb remains after the amputation of a body part.

I highly recommend that you listen to the story rather than read the column here. Listening to it in the voice of the researching doctor - a man who so obviously feels both the zeal of discovery and the frustration and pain of the suffering patient - is well worth your investment in time.

(And I can't help but wonder ... what else could I do with a mirror and a cardboard box?)


aaaannnd ..... DIVE!

I just totaled up my credits so far. Well, not so far. I just totaled up my potential credits by the end of this academic year, and I'm not "behind" at all! Because of PLA, I'm earning credits (okay, potential credits) really fast this year.

So far, there has been a one-credit investigative class last summer to find out about Prior Learning Assessment ...

then a six-credit PLA instruction class in the fall (which goes with 9 credits of courses I wrote for, so that makes 15 altogether for that quarter)...

then winter quarter just now finished, with a 3-credit mostamazingclassintheworld one weekend and a 3-credit online introduction to Marylhurst course (I'm glad that one is out of the way) ...

and now I've registered for spring. This is going to be fun! First, there's a really intriguing Lit course. "Nineteenth Century Literature and Culture: Secrets and Lies."
This course focuses on nineteenth-century British literature using the theme of secrets as a focal point in order to understand Victorian cultural attitudes towards topics such as spying, surveillance, domesticity, and cultural others. At the same time, we will consider how writers keep secrets from readers or provide unreliable information as a narrative or dramatic technique. We will read works by Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and E.M. Forster. A Period Studies course.
What's not to love?

Then, I'll brush off my PLA writing skills and try to get as many papers as possible done before summer. The next PLA instruction course is only 2 credits though. They figure the student who has already learned the stuff should only need tutoring now - 2 credits instead of 6. That leaves an oddball credit hanging out there -- so I'm taking a one day course called "Problem Solving."
You should bring certain materials to class with you:
[ ] A few sheets of paper plus a pencil or a pen
[ ] one pair of scissors – for cutting newspaper
[ ] one dark crayon of any size; it does not have to be new; a loan from your little brother/sister or your child is authorized; instead of buying a new set of crayons, borrow one from your instructor or another student
[ ] one old towel having length shorter than from your nose to your outstretched wrist
[ ] one piece of old cardboard; it may be of circular or rectangular shape and it should be large enough to cover a garbage can; please do not buy a new posterboard; boxes available just outside any state liquor store will do after being broken apart.
When I was a kid, we took swimming lessons at the Y. This did not go very well for me. Chlorine and I are incompatible, for one thing. But I nearly figured out the breathing thing. I got very brave there for awhile. I dove once. I plunged in and pushed the water away from myself with one huge sweep of my arms, feeling the flow of water across my perfectly flipper-cupped hands in a great arc. I kicked hard. And then I skinned my nose on the bottom of the pool. I never tried to dive again.

I also went to school when I was young. I got pretty good at the breathing thing. But I overestimated the depth of the pool. I never tried to go to school again. Until now.

Deep breath ...


The sound you hear

...is the sound of a deeply resigned sigh emanating from my house.

Today, on March 16 (sixteenth!!), ditto this.


I'm just wondering

Yesterday, in the middle of a conversation, it dawned on me that I remember my life by way of scenes, and that the scenes always have the caption, "This is where I learned ____." My filing system works that way, apparently. So, in order to remember when something happened, or who was there, or what was going on, I look for files about what I learned and then I study the scene to see what I learned there. And then I can place the whole thing in linear time and geographic space, and I can usually remember all the players in the scene.

So I got to wondering.

How do YOU remember things?

Leave me a comment and tell me. Are there as many ways to remember things as there are people? Or ... are there approximately 16 ways (because there are that many personality types) or approximately 8 ways (because there are that many dominant functions) ... or is it completely random? (Just saying that makes me twitchy. I doubt that it's random.)

Give five minutes ... Get a sweet explanation

My brain, ordinarily quite sufficient for any task at hand, is a brain that simply will not, will not, understand money stuff. I would not, could not, in a box or with a fox or anywhere else with any other creature for company. I swear. I've tried. The things that have money amounts attached to them are the set of things that slip off the surface of my skull-encased thinking organ and slide into oblivion ...

... until now.

Here, at last, is a way to explain finances that makes sense to me. Invest five minutes of your time today - listen to this. You can read it if you want, but it's a very good listen. It's not only a good explanation, it's really funny - because ...well ... haven't you ever traded away bits of your school lunch?

Sweet Memories Of A Snack Food Financial Scheme

Morning Edition, March 13, 2009 · Today, Josh Bearman has gone straight. He's a successful writer in Los Angeles. But he was briefly a criminal mastermind — in 1980 — when he transferred to a new school in Minneapolis and joined the third grade.



"Why do writers write?
Because it isn't there."
Thomas Berger

That sounds about right. Mountaineers climb mountains because the mountains are there to climb. Writers first make mountains of molehills, then devise ways to climb them, and then hope it's a climb someone else will have thought worth the effort -- and writers do this whilst living always with one ear out for the person who looks at the entire project and then cries, "Molehill! Molehill!"

(Can you tell I'm facing a real writing project at the moment? This is not like pushing rope - it's like BEING rope, and trying to coax, cajole, induce, force, and otherwise move one's own strong yet stringy SELF up a hill.)

Wow. I really DO think better with a pen in my hand

Doodling -- messing about with your writing implement -- during "boring" times -- like meetings and speeches (and college chapel, and phone conversations) -- it's a way for the brain to stay more awake! It helps the doodler pay attention!

Bored? Try Doodling To Keep The Brain On Task

Listen Now [5 min 21 sec]

Then there's this. A new book.

'Presidential Doodles:' Oval Office Artists

All Things Considered, September 21, 2006 · The hand on the rudder of the ship of state, the finger on the nuclear button, has its frivolous, extra-constitutional moments, too. From the hands of presidents have come a wealth of improvised drawings on White House stationery, memos and Cabinet agendas.

They have been collected by the creators of Cabinet magazine and writer David Greenberg, in a new book called, Presidential Doodles: Two Centuries of Scribbles, Scratches, Squiggles and Scrawls from the Oval Office. Greenberg is a professor of history and journalism at Rutgers University.

The doodle at the top of the page is Herbert Hoover's doodle. Okay, yeah, I get that. But check out Ulysses S. Grant's idea of a way to keep his brain busy.


I just heard someone say

"The theme we've chosen for our wedding is ..."

Not colors. Not location. Not date.


As in ... this room is decorated in an Elvis theme. The theme of the season's gala is Louis XIV. The children are having a zoo theme for their birthday - each child will dress up as a zoo animal. The wedding theme is ...

I think it's happened.

As of today, I am officially a dinosaur.

Don't get more than thirty minutes worth of nervous

Now, that's some good advice. Pace yourself. If the curtain goes up in a half an hour, then don't get more than thirty minutes worth of nervous.

You've heard of this strings program in New York, right? If you haven't, then watch this. These kids, and their amazing teacher Roberta Guaspari-Tzavaras at the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music, work hard to contribute something to the music of the spheres. They contribute beauty. If you can, contribute money to them so they can keep it up. (The Meryl Streep movie about Roberta is called Music of the Heart. That's how I found out about these people. I cry every time I watch it, because the heroism of people who believe in the courage of children always makes me cry.)


For Pity's Sake!

Stop! Enough! Today is the NINTH day of the the month of March. In this part of the country we simply do not have SNOW on this date!

Yes, yes, we have done. I know that. And people have also belched loudly at dinner parties, and elbowed old people out of the way, and worn utterly inappropriate clothing to weddings. But these are things we simply do not do.

And snow is the thing we do not do when it is supposed to be 60 degrees by the end of the week. Inappropriate - that's what I call this silly weather. Utterly inappropriate to the season. Do you hear me, clouds? Cut. It. Out.

Addendum: Since writing the above, I talked to my mother. She informed me that it snowed on my first Easter, which was April 2, 1961. Apparently, it does sometimes snow in the spring, but that particular Easter was momentous for another reason. That was my husband's sixth birthday. (He says he does have a vague memory of a birthday cake shaped like a bunny.) So ... is this the first Easter season of the next part of my life then? Hmmm!


In Search of Silence

"In Search of Silence." Click on the path in the forest. Read the article.

Tangled Laundry

Isn't that a smile-making illustration? I found it at the homepage of the UA Robotics Team from 2006.

I was looking for a picture of "wet laundry" because the picture in my head today is of a great heaping pile of cold, damp, hopelessly tangled wet laundry. Someone has put my life -- my thoughts and all the things that have happened in the last year or two -- into a top-loading, agitating, tangling washing machine, and then that someone has pushed the button. (Did I do that? Is that what happens when we don't process the process as it happens to us? In us? By us? --- See? All tangled up!)

All my strings have tied themselves into wet knots. I can see the loops of color. There are the white and pink ribbons from my nightgowns made into a crazy braid with the windbreaker's blue cinch string. All of that is woven and knotted and tangled around the smaller stuff - the cleaning cloths and underwear and socks. The massive ratty tangle has grabbed the loops of my bluejeans and attached wads of color to the wrists of my blouses so that the sleeves are ballooned out and festooned with wrist corsages wrapped way too tightly. It makes me twitchy to look at them.

And, yes, I know that one simply does not load all those disparate things into the washer at once. One separates one's laundry into cloth weights and washing temperatures and similar colors. But there it is. And apparently someone has poked the "spin" button. I don't know where to start to untangle it all so that I can "drip dry" or "lay flat" or do some ironing and get things put away in drawers and closets. I can lift out the cold, damp lump of knots and colors and ribbons and strings and buttons and sleeves and pant legs. I have done that. Here it sits - needing detangling.

The robotics team was supposed to make a robot to do the laundry. But in life, when all our stuff is tangled and stuck together, there is no machine for the work of sorting feelings and experiences and reactions and opinions and questions and awareness. We have to do it ourselves, slowly, painstakingly, and with great attention. If you don't pay attention, you make knots instead of releasing them. This is hand work. And it is not easy.

I think that's what I want from Lent this year. By the end of Lent, I want to have untangled the grief from the victories. I want to open the knots and release the shock from the affection and shake out the freshly washed fabric of my days to hang my life to dry in the sunny, hay-scented air. Slowly, using my own slightly numb fingers to work at the great pile of cold, damp knots, I want it all separated into its pieces so that I can press out the creases, and fold and put away the pieces of my life. It's all clean - thank God for that. It smells sweet. There is no sour smell of bitterness here. But what a mess!

The "Laundry" bag in the picture here is from MaryJane'sFarm, where many such things may be found. She sells apron patterns and organic cotton towels and garlic and iris rhizomes. She's tough. She bakes and digs in the garden and sews and works hard. She hangs out her wash to flap and sweeten in the sun.

Spring cleaning. Laundry sorting. Lent.


Sometimes you're the bug

On the way home night before last, in the dark, on Highway 14 near the Columbia River, I hit a moth.

A moth.

This is the winter that started early, dumped absurd amounts of snow all over us during the Christmas holidays, never quite goes away, and keeps dropping below freezing over and over (would someone please tell the weather angel that this is the temperate zone?) ... and now I can believe that spring just might come again after all. This week I hit a big, fat, juicy moth with my windshield.


Sometimes your new Lenten discipline comes to you

It doesn't look laundered or dried ...

So I'm thinkin' maybe Mr. Fuzzy here
has brought a message of
Empty the Laundry Basket
at least once a week?

(I just hate finding wildlife in the bottom
of laundry piles or inside things laundry
or otherwise.)

The fascinating James Pennebaker, validated

In my inbox, by way of Utne Reader, this just in from Very Short List. The findings of the author of the book I used in the Psychology of Transformational Narrative course, James Pennebaker, are validated again.
Twenty years ago, University of Texas psychologist James Pennebaker concluded that students who wrote about their most meaningful personal experiences for 15 minutes a day several days in a row felt better, had healthier blood work, and got higher grades in school. But a new study from the University of Missouri shows that a few minutes of writing will also suffice.
So go write for awhile! It's good for you!

Hope: How my kids' generation is going to save the day (and maybe the universe)

Here it is again! Over and over, I have seen that the generation of my children - the generation just now at the beginning of their adulthood - has among its number some of the most practical, cheerfully pragmatic, caring, amazing people ever born into the world.

I first began to see it when our daughter was working for Northwest Youth Corps.

I and my peers grew up in an era of "ecology." We spawned the most narrow-minded zealots interested only in keeping human hands off the "natural" environment -- and we spawned their narrow-minded counterparts, eager to deplete every resource as an intrinsic right as long as they've got money. But neither side won my generation's battle -- we came to a stalemate -- we got stuck at vilification.

Enter Northwest Youth Corps: a modern revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, where the employees are kids and teens and young adults who learn not only environmental conservation, but also the science and ethics of the thing, and the leadership skills necessary for seeing and dealing with reality. They aren't afraid to cut down trees - they're unwilling to do it without thinking.

It was breathtaking for us as parents to see it - to hear them talking - to realize what they were doing out there in the woods, building trails, trimming trees, pulling blackberry briars and obnoxious scotch broom by hand, fueling their youth and vigor with peanut butter sandwiches, and circling up at the end of the day to air their daily concerns - especially their safety concerns. It was a big deal to get "chainsaw certified" and an even bigger deal when our own corps member stepped into her naturally fitted leadership roles. (Click on the pics to go to NYC's site. Get involved. Donate. Send your youth to the programs. It's life-changing.)

More recently, I saw this phenomenon in our youngest child's high school peers as well. Our boy liked to work out with the girls' soccer team. The coach allowed this as long as the boy wouldn't knock anyone down - and since social aggression was never interesting to this boy of ours (or the other one, for that matter), he preferred working out with the girls team.

So ... one day a couple of girls were standing in the kitchen waiting for the boy to run upstairs and change into some soccer clothes, and they watched me stirring things at the stove while I made dinner. One of the girls sighed, and said very wistfully, "I wish my mom knew how to make dinner. If dinner gets made at our house it's because Katy made it." (Her name wasn't Katy - but I can't remember what it was. I only remember that she referred to herself by her own name.)

And that sizes it up very nicely. She bore her parents (and various step-parents) no ill will, and there was no bitterness in her voice. Just longing -- and that oddly competent, cheerfully pragmatic attitude so apparent in that generation of kids. It needed to be done, so she figured out how. She had entirely and completely and without anger given up on her parents and simply shouldered the burden and gotten on with the work. I wanted to hug her. Instead, I asked what she likes to cook.

And now I hear it in the news!!! This is just so inspiring and happy making!

Mark Rembert, 24, was set to go to Ecuador with the Peace Corps when the largest employer in his hometown of Wilmington, Ohio, made a decision that left thousands without jobs. He decided to return home instead.

Taylor Stuckert, 23, who spent time with the Peace Corps in Bolivia, says he hopes he and Rembert can help bring lasting economic change to their hometown.
Rembert and Stuckert like to talk things over a lot. And they began to think that maybe some of the Peace Corps philosophy, of helping communities help themselves, might be just what Wilmington and surrounding Clinton County needed — that this might be a chance for some real economic change. Something, Stuckert says, that would last.

"We think of development as building homes and putting people to work. But if the home doesn't stand up throughout the years and if the job doesn't stay, then the development wasn't really development because it wasn't sustainable," Stuckert says. "And that was something the Peace Corps really taught, and that it's not about going in and doing these huge projects."

Do we have to prove that "green living" will determine the global temperature before we can begin the pragmatic efforts of building communities? Take sides? Win debates? Nope. We just have to roll up our sleeves and get busy. Creative thinking is needed - cheerful pragmatism - acknowledgment of reality and a willingness to shoulder the burden, and without rancor or recrimination get the work done! I really do admire the generation my kids are part of. I really do. It's okay with me that they think uniforms are usually stupid - because they also seem to know when uniforms ought to be honored. The kids are getting the work done, and they think they can do the work without clobbering everyone else. So I say, Have at it! Go, kids, go!


Non nobis

Here was a royal fellowship of death.
Go we in procession to the village,
and be it death proclaimed through our host
to boast of this.

Non nobis, Domine, Domine, non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini tuo da gloriam.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to your Name give glory.