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Posts Tagged ‘My Life’

I went to the first open house of the year at my grandson’s elementary school last night. We all gathered in the courtyard in the center of the school to hear a brief talk from the principle. It was a warm humid evening, but the kids were running around having fun behind us and the PTA had set up water jugs and chocolate chip cookies, so it was a relaxed and celebratory atmosphere.

Lots of parents came, and lots volunteer to do stuff for the school. This is a magnet school which uses a lottery system to admit kids outside the neighborhood boundaries, and it’s highly desired. I didn’t see too many other grandparents, and I’m grateful that my daughter in law is engaging me in my grandson’s educational life. As with most other grandparental experiences, I get to enjoy my grandson’s enthusiasm for school without worrying too much about occasional problems or challenges. He loves his school, and that’s what I can focus on.

The principal started by giving us a report on the school’s status with the “No Child Left Behind” act. When she said the school failed on reading, I was shocked. But she went on to explain that the NCLB reading tests are given in 3rd grade. And until this current year, the school didn’t even offer third grade, was only a K through 2nd grade school.

What happens is the kids leave after second grade and feed into their neighborhood, charter or other magnet schools. And if one of those schools fail in reading, any school that feeds kids into it also fails.

I’m not sure how this really identifies where the problems are. I strongly doubt many of kids who left my grandson’s school would fail at reading. But now his school must offer “intervention” classes to address the failure. If that helps even one child read better, that’s great. It just seems a wacky system, and maybe diverts funding from schools that really need more.

I also learned that the arts and P.E. programs exist at our school because of donations. It’s sad, no, it’s neglectful, that so many kids around the country don’t get to discover their talent or love for art, music, dance, or athletics in elementary school. We visited the art teacher last night. She had given her first class this week. She asked the kids what “art” is, and wrote their responses on big white paper.

“Art is music on paper.” “Art is like my heart.”

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Oh, the joy of discovery just when you’re turning circles on the straight road of reason. I’ve been pondering In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider.

His essay explores what we lose as our physical book collections, gathered by mind, heart and soul, are replaced with millions of restless individual books digitized mainly by google and amazon.

“Memory theater”comes from Frances Yate’s book The Art of Memory. I did not know that from the classical period through the Renaissance era people used mnemonic techniques to  retain, and thus pass along, “vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page.”

Schneider writes: “In those millennia between the advent of knowledge worth clinging to and the invention of the printed word, the Western mind had a desperate obsession with memory—or, one could say, a sensible concern. The art of memory made possible the health of one’s soul, the possession of one’s culture, and the means of reaching God.”

He continues:

“In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelf’s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?”

And for me: “How would one feel?”

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I admire people who can write about tragedy in their lives, especially when it’s fresh. Famous people like Joan Didion writing about her husband’s death, even while losing her daughter. Christopher Hitchens while most likely dying of cancer. Regular people who manage to privately journal through their grief and anger. I’ve never been able to. Death in the family, serious illness…the writing part of my brain screams “abort abort!” and slinks behind a television shoveling mindless trash into the void.

Three weeks ago I didn’t suffer a tragedy. No one died or got sick. No one was injured physically. I just got robbed. Some creep came in through my front window, took my tv, laptops, camera, jewelry, and many small items that  had value only to me. My grandmother’s broken watch. A cedar box from my great grandparents. A small gift for a friend not yet given. Paper shillings from a dream trip to Kenya…

I lost video of my grandson’s preschool graduation ceremony, gone with my digital camera. A gold necklace from my mother. Bracelets my niece made. Most of my jewelry were gifts. Every piece, gone.

And some creep went through my dresser drawers, my closet.  Dumped trash on my bed.

I haven’t been able to write a word.

I should have written about the surreal episode with the police, sweat dripping from their noses onto my dresser, my window, as they tried to get fingerprints and instead left their shoe prints on my carpet. About how I could not remember the color of my laptop or the brand of my television as they stared at me with their little notepads open. Or about the cold insurance claims man who determined replacement value of my stuff by shopping on the internet but couldn’t manage to type in a URL so I could prove how much I spent on something I really needed to replace.

Or how I scrutinize every person who walks past my house and decide on looks alone that they’re a thief.

Or how my home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Today I decided I had try to write. Am I feeling better? Not really. Some days. Nights, not so much. I race out of my bedroom when I hear a noise. Lay awake wondering. But today I’ll try to write.

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This is a video I took at the 2006 International Assembly of Nonviolent Peaceforce in Nairobi Kenya. Nobel Peace Laureate  & NP supporter Mairead Maguire led us in a tree planting ceremony at the end of the gathering. (Sorry for the big flickr label, just click play.)

Mairead is a warm, generous and wise woman. I was thrilled she took time to chat with me, and she offered advice which I’ve taken to heart and action. She knew I was going to be carrying responsibility on an international level, and told me to “remember, family comes first, then  your local work, and then doing  international work.”  And so for me, for now, it’s back to family because I’m needed. And while I’m sad to lose the Peaceforce community, I feel good about my choice to turn toward home.

I’ve also come to realize how important my friends are. Friends from school, from my peace and nonviolence work, from my day job, friends who are also family, neighbors…whatever work I do, in the end, as Mairead says, it’s about the friends I’ve walked with.  My deepest gratitude to all of you.

truth, love and friends

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I found another quote, this time written in a black and white faux marbled mini-notebook that I bought at Walgreen’s a few years ago, three for a dollar.

I almost remember watching a c-span show about Willa Cather and scrambling to find something to write the quote in. Found a page in the middle of “things to pack” and a Christmas shopping list.

“That is happiness, to be dissolved into something complete and great.”

I often lose exact words between hearing and writing, so I questioned… Did she say dissolved? Not absorbed? But of course a web search says dissolved. Dissolve to be happy.

How many of us manage to find that kind of happiness? Perhaps we all do, in brief consuming moments after which we reconstitute into our normal solidified selves.

Can we learn to stay longer in that dissolving completeness?

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flip flopping

Ready for work, opened door to leave.

Cat ran in.
Debated: Make cat run out?

Grabbed purse and bag of tomatoes from garden. Too many.
Debated: Beg whom?

Gave up on cat.

Drove. Made good time. Parked.

Walked toward office
Walking felt soft.

Looked down.

At flip flops kept by back door
for quick trips into the yard.

Not at shoes lined up in closet
for long days sitting at work.

Boss on vacation. Relief. Except. I remembered before.

When I wore
bare feet
even for
slow trips
into the yard.

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Last night I ate the first ears of corn from my garden. Remember, I’ve never grown any vegetables so having ears of corn appear, plump up, and six weeks later signal they’re ripe and ready is pretty exciting. I picked five ears and rushed home from the community garden to cook them immediately.

One method of cooling your house in the desert southwest is using an evaporative cooler, more commonly known as a “swamp cooler.” Not sure why it’s called that because it would never ever work in a swamp. The cooler works by pumping water over pads usually made with excelsior (often of aspen wood fiber.) Evaporation changes the dry warm air to cool air, and a fan blows, really blows, the air into your house through vents. Dry air is the critical ingredient.  A swamp cooler works great until the  summer thunderstorms bring humidity, at which point it makes your life hell unless you’re lucky enough to also have a regular air conditioner.

This is important for you to know because I have a honkin’ big swamp cooler that makes certain areas in the house feel like a wind tunnel. One of these is in my kitchen, specifically by my stove.

Have you ever boiled water in a wind tunnel? But I’d only cooked corn with boiling water, which would mean  either eating dinner at midnight or eating raw corn. I considered that, eating it raw. I ate a couple kernels, pondered eating two ears’ worth, then hopped on the internet.

I bow to whoever figured this out. Dampen a paper towel, lay the corn complete with husks and silk, microwave about 1 1/2 minutes per ear, turning the ears over at the mid-point. You let the corn sit for  five minutes, undress it with the silk dropping easily, and enjoy tender glorious sweet corn. WOW! My favorite vegetable is the easiest one to cook!

Oh, the sister part. Some Native peoples use an agricultural technique called the Three Sisters. Corn supports beans, which convert nitrogen into a form corn can use, and squash shades the soil and helps keep out insects. They are also nutritionally complementary. Next summer I’m doing full Three Sisters, a garden of corn and beans with squash interspersed. Let the wind blow while I gratefully harvest.

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