Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ah, Summer

Each morning, in the days since the weather has warmed and the flowers have sprouted up and begun their blooming, I walk around my gardens with my first cup of coffee in hand to see what surprise will greet me.

I learned long ago that one really has no control over a garden. You can plant, transplant, cut back, remove, and solicitously feed your favorites with the intention that they will grow giant and stand out, only to have them not show up the following spring. (Countless delphiniums, let's say!) That's okay though, nature nudges me to let go of control and that makes perfect sense when it comes to gardening. (Just look at what has happened in the farming industry as we demonstrate brutal human force over nature with toxic chemicals and genetically modified plants.)

Yet, we can steer things on the garden path a little, paint in some of our dreams. We can fill our garden with the things we love, and decide not to tolerate what doesn't feel like it should be there. (How many times have I  put in a hosta only to remove it, deciding it was too heavyset for the space? And plenty of times I have plucked out all of the yellow flowers because it is my least favorite color.) Still, each year brown-eyed Susans stealthily poke their slender necks out amongst the pinks and blues, and I have learned to let them dance right along with their counterparts, how can I not?

Nature has already gifted me with some big garden surprises in this, the fourth day of summer.


This green frog has taken up home for several days under the bird nest spruce, she even created a little nest in the mulch....


And this planter is chock full of my favorites, all returning on their own, and in perfectly spaced sequence, mind you: pint catmint and delicate blue campanula, both perennials, and plenty of annual snap dragons, whose colors I eagerly await--nothing is yet in bloom, but they are just about ready! (I'll be sure to post another picture when it is in full bloom.)


For years I moved around these periwinkle pincushion flowers, gangly as they are, I couldn't give them up. Now I look at them and realize they have found a symbiotic relationship amongst the golden huechera and knock-out pink rose bush!


Last year I swore that this swath of lambsear was all coming out, and now the beebalm and mallow have mixed themselves in shielding it, creating a lovely vignette that I can only be excited about.

Ah summer, that blissful time when nature takes over and there is not a damn thing you can do about it except enjoy every minute.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Where to Be Happiest...

Wild Phlox
Tiny Pink Wild Rosebuds
Black-winged Damselfly
Common Toad
 
“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest. The only thing that could spoil a day was people and if you could keep from making engagements, each day had no limits. People were always the limiters of happiness except for the very few that were as good as spring itself.”  
{Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast}

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Homage, Mother

 
 
 
The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom.
{Henry Ward Beecher}
 
Happy Mother' Day to my Mom, who has a gem of a heart and has taught me so very much.
I am forever grateful~*
My Mother's Heart
 
 
 


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Homage, Om

 
 
om

(n.) In Hinduism and other Indian religions, a sacred syllable considered the greatest of all mantras. The syllable om is composed of the three sounds a-u-m (in the Sanskrit, the vowels a and u join to become o), which represent three important triads: earth, atmosphere, and heaven; the major Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; and the sacred Vedic scriptures, Rig, Yajur, and Sama. Thus om mystically embodies the essence of the universe. It is uttered at the beginning and end of Hindu prayers, chants, and meditation and is also freely used in Buddhist and Jain rituals.
Concise Encyclopedia
 

Triad of Trees



Monday, April 14, 2014

Tremendous Power

"As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized." {Haim Ginott}

Today I cleaned out my art room. I had plans to dump a whole bunch of things, but as I sifted through materials, I realized I needed only to let go of the dried markers and a few other miscellaneous items that had been around too long.  Mostly, I took the time to examine much of what I had saved over time. (I was even happy to find a couple of items I thought I had tossed.)

Amongst the items I examined were a half dozen laminated quotes I had hung in my classroom when I was a teacher. I was struck by the acumen of Haim Ginott's words. It is so on-target and I have such awareness of this even now when I visit classrooms. I shuddered a little to think of the tremendous power teachers hold.

I went about my cleaning, organizing deliberately torn paper for collages, sorting through broken pieces of pottery, lining up odd-sized and rough-cut boards that may one day become the backdrop for an art piece. Then I came across a journal of my son's I had saved. He was about six when he started it. It included several stories about how he had spent his days. Some fiction, others nonfiction, invented spellings. He had a journal entry or two. And I recalled, in detail, the time he was in first grade and  his new reading teacher had called me. He had just moved to a higher reading level; he was motivated and doing well. The call caught me completely off-guard. The teacher was actually offended that my son had "scared the class," as she put it. How so? She explained that he felt like he needed to throw up during a spelling test and asked to go to the nurse. The teacher felt he should finish his spelling test first. He scared the class when he asked the teacher if he was going to die. It sounded like he actually had a panic attack about the possibility of vomiting in the classroom.  She admitted to feeling annoyed by his reaction. The struggle went on long enough that his old reading teacher next door came in and took over. I don't remember if he got to see the nurse. The teacher was shocked when I told her he had vomited the night before. She told me it would have been helpful for her to know, but I hadn't given it a second thought, he had been having fun rolling down a hill in our backyard, and went to school feeling fine. I also vividly remember  telling the teacher that my son and I read every night since he had been born, and he loved to write and kept his own journals. I told her that day I was afraid his motivation would not last in that climate. I have revisited this conversation in my head countless times in the nine years since it took place. It had been so jarring. But I had not visited the journals very often at all. I had begun to think I had made them up, especially since my son has no interest in writing now.

I then came across another journal, a 'manual' my son had written. It was a verbatim script teachers read when administering a standardized test as he remembered it. It was two, full, college-ruled pages with correct spellings. It was almost identical to what they actually say; I have administered these tests many times. I was blown away by the attention to detail and by the fact that he had retained it all and managed to write it so succinctly. It was his manual for playing school, he had labeled the cover. He was probably no older than eight or nine when he wrote it and in second or third grade. By fourth grade he stopped playing school and stopped writing for fun.

I reflected on words of this smart, creative child, the academic world was his oyster  when he wrote in those journals. And then I reflected on the self-made manual he used to emulate his teachers. It was very telling of what his education would become, a world of tests. School has been a antipathetic road for him. Most of the time he has been unhappy  there, though each day he puts his best foot forward and tries his hardest. He is taking two advanced placement and three honors classes right now, his own doing, goals he has sets for himself. He struggles to keep up with the work load and to learn in the lecture and notes format that is so counterintuitive to him, and always has been. He has largely had his individuality and creativity cast aside in favor of conformity and standardization. A line from his own manual grabs me: "We will now move on but together. The first one is hard so listen close and do what I say."

This RSA animation on a Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson about changing the paradigms of education shows and explains what happens to children in our public education system better than I ever could. I mostly become paralyzed when I try to convey what I have witnessed, still witness. SO WORTH A WATCH:

Here is Sir Ken Robinson's full TED Talk:  http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

It is painful to reflect back on what has happened in the name of education for my son. All I can do is trust that his he is smart, guided, protected and will turn out all right in spite of it all. All I can do is work with the children who  I receive for tutoring "as a last resort" and do my best to make sure they are humanized in this very mechanized educational system they are subject to. Just today, as I was writing this, I received an email from the director of tutoring asking me to work with a child who is experiencing mental illness. These are conversations I have with friends all the times. Attuned educators, parents and even a few lawmakers are speaking out about the state of education in America today We all have to keep speaking up about what we know to be right in our hearts and hope that the voice of reason will reach the right ears with the momentum that is needed to make a change. Just like attuned educators, Melanie Sirof, Diane Ravitch are trying to do right now, with their presentation, "In Defense of Teaching: An Educator's Letter to the State About the State of Education," worth another watch, I couldn't paste the video here, but here is the link:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1rJXTtDBPA&noredirect=1 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Homage, Soul's Whole Truth

 
 

The Soul's Whole Truth
Here, with no audience but trees,
let your heart speak freely.
Where the elders once gathered
to pass an eagle feather
round their sacred circle,
hand to hand,
find your life's bold path
and let it call you forward.

Take the feather when it comes to you,
and dare to be transformed.
As wings spread wide,
rise above the tree tops,
open sky inviting you into

the soul's whole truth.

           {Danna Faulds}

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Leaving a Trail

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
{Ralph Waldo Emerson}

 
Quite a while ago now I wrote a post about not wanting to go back to work--at least not in the context that work seemed to drum up any time I thought about it too long--which really wasn't very long to be truthful. I had, after all, experienced one of the most fulfilling jobs I could ever have imagined during my career hiatus, the role of a work at home mom. My son has really begun to branch out on his own now, (he just got his license last week) and I can see that it was every minute a worthwhile job to be at home, a job I was very fortunate to have. He is making some good decisions and involved in some healthy activities with some terrific friends.
 
But, I love my new job. I have returned to my role as a teacher, now tutoring students one on one. It pays pretty well, though it will never be more than part time--which is actually beautiful to me! I still like being home. I am happy not to rush out the door in the morning, I like being able to run all the errands and do all the chores without feeling overwhelmed. I like being able to walk everyday--that feels like a job in and of itself. I don't get paid to walk of course, but the pay off I get for trekking daily through the forest makes me rich, believe me. And the tutoring job, well that's just icing on my life cake.
 
Everyday I report to the local elementary school that my son attended to help a young boy, who is ten. Though I am hired as a tutor for him, and other students, I am not really tutoring in the sense one would think. By the time the students in our school system get a tutor, they have been through the academic and emotional wringer. When I come in, it is no easy problem that can be fixed. Often when I am called, the director of tutoring tells me tutoring is being tried as a last resort. Sometimes he tells me it is to "keep the student in school." I cannot, in the hour I am allotted with the students, change their habits drastically, bring them up to grade level in the subjects they are behind in (I am teaching my current student three subjects in less than an hour, as we always spend a good 5 minutes locating a spot to work in.) However, what I can do for this student (and the others) is give him something he rarely gets in his school day, sustained individual attention. I can listen while he talks to me for much of the hour, and, if I am lucky enough, we both come away learning a thing or two.

Every single day my job is unpredictable, every single day brings with it immense challenges, some days we literally bounce off the walls (for real, we found that the art room was free on Fridays and the teacher keeps 2 large balls with handles in there!) And this is where I know I do my very best work, the work I was meant to do. Because, the road to learning is not straightforward, it is windy and bumpy and, well,  bouncy. The path is often strewn with obstacles, that, if we take the actual time to examine them, piece by marked up, messy piece, we find truth and meaning, beyond our expectations. You see when I wrote the post about not wanting to work I did not imagine getting paid to bounce around in a room full of art on a Friday was an option. (Don't worry, we study best this way. Last Friday we got metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary rocks down.) Ah, but being an observer of dreams I should have known that this job existed and was waiting for me all along. I could not love it more. The challenge is simply to make sure each day I blaze the trail! In a way, work is like a walk.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Homage, Weal

weal
(n.) : a sound, healthy, or prosperous state

weal·thy

 
"I sometimes teach classes on writing, during which I tell my students every single thing I know about the craft and habit. This takes approximately 45 minutes. I begin with my core belief—and the foundation of almost all wisdom traditions—that there is nothing you can buy, achieve, own, or rent that can fill up that hunger inside for a sense of fulfillment and wonder. But the good news is that creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.
                                
Then I bring up the bad news: You have to make time to do this."

{Anne Lamott}

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Happy 80th Birthday Gloria Steinem, Drinking the Elixir

Today Gloria Steinem turns eighty. But truth be told she looks like she is fifty. I know, I met her a few weeks ago. I was with my sister at out alma mater, MCLA, and Gloria was speaking. The setting was laid back, maybe a few hundred people, and Colleen and I were first in line to take our seats. (We even got in a little early to 'test' the stage before anyone had arrived.)

Listening to Gloria was every bit the exhilarating experience one would expect as a baby boomer, born in the very age that Gloria had taken a strong hold of the women's liberation movement. She propelled women's rights forward in only the way someone as smart, (a Smith College grad, right here in our backyard) passionate, and honest as Gloria could. She admits to realizing her beginning in the feminist movement was when she was speaking out about abortion, it all clicked then, she says. She had one in her early twenties. She would later coin the phrase, "reproductive freedom" meant to describe a women's right to have a child, or not. She says her abortion meant she was directing her own life and taking responsibility for it.

Ms. Steinem had lots of terrific things to say about women and motherhood the night I heard her speak. My favorite was she acknowledged women who stay home to raise their children as a third of our nation's workforce. She also said there should be tax laws to support stay at home parents, assigning their work an economic value that they could then make tax deductible when filing taxes. I got a chance to thank her personally for this, and she said to me, "Of course, I mean c'mon."

It was an exciting night. On our way back from talking with Gloria we, again, stopped by the podium we had visited earlier and my sister spontaneously grabbed the last of Gloria's tea.

That night, after being with an icon who lead women up out of the trenches of oppression with sheer determination and keen insight, right in the very age we were born, (we would have been about five and six when Gloria began her mission) we felt invigorated! And guess what? We each took a sip of tea, an elixir we felt, something that would confirm that she, Gloria Steinem, feminist leader of the twentieth, and twenty-first century, was a part of us! Of course, I mean what else could we do, c'mon.


elix·ir (n.)                                              

: a magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life           
:  a substance held capable of changing base metals into gold

                                       

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Homage, Figment

fig·ment                                              

(n.) : something produced by the imagination : something that does not really exist