Saturday, December 31, 2011


Annual checkup indicates that I gained 24 pounds in the last 18 months.
 I'm not surprised.
Besides belly dance and sometimes Zumba, I rarely exercise.
It's generally dark when I get home from work.
Plus, between work and school, I've spent an intolerable amount of time hunched over the computer.
I've relied more than usual on take out food....never as healthy as home cooked.
Other excuses: stress, stress, and stress.
Well, enough with the excuses.

I like my body right now. My stomach is firm and muscled.  I have no flabby parts, though few parts are  as toned as I prefer them to be (ego ego ego).  If I could go to work naked.....ah, but that's not in the stars.

Anyway, It's time to shed a few pounds....
Not as a New Year resolution, just to get my edge back.
I want to be more mindful of what I eat, and how I live in general.

It's time to initiate new patterns of behavior: more vegetables and
 neighborhood walks.....Fewer meals over the computer.
What goes on can also come off.
Starting now,  my clothes will fit better each week.
My energy and focus will grow.
I'll need all three to accomplish my goals for this year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving break

Thanksgiving vacation always comes at the right time, just when I feel that I'm about to break.  I look forward to a chance to sleep, and to read a week's worth of old newspapers on the train to NYC.
It will be fun to cook a turkey, do Madlibs with Tzippi, and maybe catch up on housecleaning.

I turned in a paper last night, one minute before it was due.  I didn't think that I had procrastinated, but the paper wasn't finished when I submitted it.  It is disorganized, light on evidence in several places, and oh, I just wish that I had had three more hours to tie things up.  It's not a great feeling working that hard and turning in something that doesn't come together. Considering my recent schedule; however, I think that I did the best that I could with the given time.

Where to get the time that I need? What is it about me that requires such a saturated schedule of responsibilities and other events?  I've been thinking about how I could better manage time so that I don't feel crazy-overscheduled all the time.  What could I cut?  What would I cut?  And an even better question: If I had all the time that I need, would I use it wisely? 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


  I resisted owning a computer for many years.  Now my shiny ( recertified) Macbook pro is the possession I most value.  I don't mind schlepping the children to endless birthday parties if I can connect to the universe and get some work done.

Recently,  our other computer, the family PC, crashed exactly at the moment when I was saving a document.  Ever since Hurricane Irene blew through, the machine has been out of sorts; I think that this latest crash signifies the end.  The machine has become unreliable, so I ordered a recertified one from  Newegg.  I don't want to spend the money or utilize more conflict metals, but it will be nice to have a shiny new (or at least new to me) portal through which to enter many aspects of my life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Standard Pronunciation

I've been talking and reading about accents and pronunciation a lot lately.  The really cool thing to know is that everybody has an accent. Even those folks who talk on NPR, even  members of the British royal family have accents.

I just spent two hours playing around with the International English dialects on this site and on this one too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Happy days

The thing is in motion now.  The students are back and the journey is on! 
This year I am also a student, my favorite thing to be.  The program is mostly online, but I'll go to NYC in the summers. There are students from all over the world, and already the community is emerging.  I am happy.  A beautiful classroom with a lotus outside of the door, and  grad school at night. Will be a lot of juggling this year--as always--but I am happy and ever so lucky to be right where I am.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy New Year!!

All teachers know that the year begins when school does.   Newly sharpened pencils, uncluttered supply closets, curriculum still uncomplicated by personal interactions with students: these are the shiny artifacts of hopeful anticipation.   Each year, I make resolutions that celebrate new ideas, and proactive approaches.  Never am I as open to possibility as during the Teacher's New Year.

I have been at this long enough to know that situations will emerge to test new resolutions.  A parent might insist that her child is royalty.  A student may balk, or rage. Some Tuesday morning, everyone in class including me might wake up on the wrong side of bed.  Furthermore, it is probable that at some point I become overwhelmed; a project---- so simple to plan in July, might devour October evenings.

Things will get messy; they always do.  I still celebrate the New Year with positive thoughts, new pencils, and a shining new slate.  Happy New Years to those of you lucky enough to still be in school!!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

White southern woman & beyond

I first became aware that I was a Southerner in college.  A girl on the track team from New York thought that I had a southern accent; the others agreed with her.  It was an odd thing to hear, because I thought that I had a "normal" accent.  Sure, at age ten I'd come home from living with my dad in Arkansas saying things like warsh instead of wash, and July with an emphasis on the first syllable, but those days were long gone. I was sure that a couple of weeks in my mother's house had eradicated my paternal grandmother's accent.

I was born in New Orleans, and by college had also lived in Texas, Arkansas, and Virginia.
  I  had often seen my grandad enjoying the delicacy of cornbread crumbled into pot liquor and buttermilk,  knew that my highschool wasn't integrated until 1965, and grew up hearing Waylon and Willie in the house. Still,  I had never thought of myself as being "the other" simply because I was born beneath the Mason Dixon line.  On my junior high/ high school team, I was the white one.  Being a racial minority was a different way of being "the other", and one that challenged my thinking on racial issues.  Likewise, after living in the South for 17 years, it took being surrounded by Northerners to feel my "otherness" as a Southerner. I began to think about what being Southern meant to me both individually and culturally.  A small taste of "otherness" made me more aware of who I am, both as a white Southern woman and beyond demographic lines.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moondance therapy

Once I danced with the sun. It scalded my spinal chord, fried the white fat that keeps eyeballs tight in their brain space, and furrowed delirium into my thought process. The sun gifted me with newly invented colors and starry nights, but also cursed me, letting stars stomp me into flat grey mud whenever colors accelerated into high speeds.

Now I dance with the moon.  Same bittersweet solar rhythms, but the moon doesn't rip away my opposable thumbs or stereoscopic vision.  What experience from childhood do you most recreate in hopes of resolution?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Camp Opequon 2

We've been home from camp for a few days and I think I'm finally getting back into the usual groove. Haven't mowed the lawn yet, but I did catch up on reading the newspapers.  London burning, but there was no indication of this from camp.  One day, a visitor told us that congress raised the debt ceiling.  That's all the news that I heard from outside.

Each summer I cook at camp to help pay Joni's camp tuition.  For the last two summers, Joni has cooked with the rest of us, helping to pay her own way.   I always have a good time at camp.

I  resented going to camp this summer.  Even good memories of  camp cooking didn't put me into a more positive frame of mind.   I wanted to keep enjoying my lazy summer schedule at home.  I wanted to finish setting up the new classroom, work on the Spanish curriculum, but mostly I wanted to vegetate with a few good books and iced coffee. This last school year was the most stressful and taxing in recent memory.  When it was over, I didn't want to do anything else.

I didn't want to pack. I didn't want to drive almost all the way to West Virginia.  I definitely didn't want to set up the tent, sleep in the tent, or wake up in a tent.  But I did these things, and yes, I had a good time.  Camp magic smooths those real world hard edges out quickly.After the first few twitchy days and nights,detoxing from technology, I felt mightily at peace. I even had time to read a couple of books, make rough curriculum plans,and to relax with fabulous people. Observing Joni's competence, maturity, and great attitude in the kitchen was a bonus.

This is Joni's last year as a camper. She is not grown, but she is well on her way towards adulthood.  Tzippi won't start at camp for two more years. At some point in the summer it hit me that as soon as Joni makes it through adolescence,  Tzippi will be beginning a similar joyful and challenging journey.  Thinking about doing it all over again overwhelms me. Eight more years of cooking at camp, Bat mitzvah preparations, driving lessons, hormones activating,  the inevitable scrapes and emotions: Daunting to think about, but I'm here for the duration, and will take it one day at a time.

Back from camp, and summer is dwindling.  Soon the pears will be ripe and school will begin. Again and again and again.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Halos and angels at 3:03 AM

 Sometimes I wake at 3:03 am

leaving a very thin halo where my head was on the pillow, 
and  wish that I could share my idiosyncratic mental unravelings with you.  
I'm scared, fear colored by dreams and weather: the dream where a cute man sees me pick my nose,  the one where I can't find the baby, or maybe hail storming against the window inside lashing winds, the snap when a branch falls from the crepe myrtle.  
I send silent questions to whoever is out there. Sometimes an answer, also wordless, enters the huge space around me, but tonight, I'm on my own. I have heard that it is better to pray with angels than to sleep.  Well, here I am: wide awake, open to messages from any with messages to deliver. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Helpful space

This week I went to bellydancing class in an unfocused, and cranky funk.  I had bothersome things on my mind.  Our teacher was talking, but she seemed  far away. She tried to correct an erratic movement that I kept repeating. I panicked a little because I wasn't focused enough to listen.  I knew that she would keep trying to explain, but I wasn't in a place to hear. I have had it happen before.  Someone tries earnestly to explain a task, and naturally expects me to perform, but my brain is not having it.  The panic comes because I want the teacher to be successful; I don't want her help to go unappreciated, but at the same time I am not capable of receiving help.  At times like that, I need space. Perfecting the angle of my elbows will just have to wait.

 I told the instructor that I just needed to move incorrectly for a little while. I was grateful that she listened, and left me alone.   Class progressed; after I shimmied away the day I'd come in with, I was open to helpful corrections.

   Sometimes the best way to help another person is to respect his ability to figure things out.  Go away, give  time and space.  Let him founder, fail, and cultivate his own rhythms.  I'm grateful that my instructor knew this.  I try to remember.....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gloucester, Virginia

I live in a county that recently cut the public school year by 20 days rather than institute a minimal personal property tax raise.  The biggest media event this year was when  Chick Filet opened.  People camped out!  Last month, the public library backed down from a controversy and removed it's extremely low key exhibit of Gay Pride books.   These are some trends that I dislike about this county. Republican, right wing, dogmatically religious, conservative Gloucester county...An area not historically known for racial tolerance, or tolerance in general.  These are widely accepted stereotypes about our county, however, there is an increasing diversity of perspective here.  Gloucester didn't vote for Obama; however, after the the Lehman brothers crisis, and especially after McCain chose Sarah Palin,  previously closed doors started opening for those of us who were working to get then Senator Obama elected as president.

The area has many positives. It's a beautiful, rural area within an hour of either Richmond, Newport News, Williamsburg, or Norfolk. Local universities? William and Mary, Hampton, VIMS, CNU.....and  DC is only three hours away.  People garden, hunt, and fish.  There is even a food co-op.  Few people know it, but Gloucester was the location of the think tank where strategies used in the fight for Civil Rights were developed.  "Come to Cappahosic!" was Dr. Robert Russo Moton's invitation to his home, now being restored as  The Moton Center.   Martin Luther King Jr. allegedly wrote his, "I have a dream" speech while looking out at the York River from Dr. Moton's home.  Another mover and shaker from Gloucester was, Irene Morgan Kilkaldy . Before Rosa Parks, and laying the ground work for the Freedom Riders, Mrs. Kilkaldy took the historic stand  that led to a Supreme court decision to outlaw segregation on interstate bus lines.

  My mother married a Gloucester man, and my sister  married a Kilmarnock man.  I moved midway between my mother and sister when Joni was five months old.  I never thought that I'd stay here as long as I have.  I have never lived anywhere that was perfect, but I do find what I need wherever I go.  I always meet amazing people, make friends, and find insight and purpose.  Gloucester is no exception.  I am, however, making small preparations so that I can leave in two years, as soon as Joni goes to college.   I don't know where I'll go, though I have a short list and tentative plans. Maybe I won't do it, but I think that it would be good for my emotional health if I do.

There is a difference between getting along and deeply connecting.  I'm not sure that I will ever really feel connected to this area. Maybe it's just the grass is greener syndrome, or maybe garden-variety wanderlust, but I don't think so.  I have  lived in places that felt right. I don't want to get old  living somewhere I don't deeply want to be just because I have a "make it work" attitude.  Now.  I'm going to eat  leftover cous cous and go to bed early.  Tomorrow I get to pick up Joni from camp!!! I can not wait to see that girl!!!!!! Goodnight.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cooking, eating, lazing

Company of women, waiting for steam to rise the second time from the cous cous.  Talking, sort of dancing in the kitchen.  Now throw in the turnips: red and golden. Later, zucchini goes into the pot.  The daughter teases the mother, "you need a boyfriend," and the widowed mother retorts, "no. no. I married one time. one time." She shows me a photograph of him, and of their wedding day. When she asks I say, "divorced." They say as one, "Oh no. In our family, marry one time. No divorce."  Then they laugh.  Cous cous and vegetables are arranged on  a lovely red tray with the plump saffron chicken in the center.

My fingers greasy, flecked with cous cous, no, I really can't eat one more carrot.  But we talk more, and I eat more.  Until finally we stagger out to the pool so the daughter can smoke.  The children  swim again, and the sky is quite bluer than usual.  Not sure how I manage to repeatedly make such wonderful friends. 
Home again with leftovers, striking embroidered tunic,  new words in arabic, and sunburnt nose.  Days like this, it's easy to feel that life will work out just fine. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Far away street festivals

I do not and  have never lived in Ghana, but I do follow several Ghanaian blogs.  In fact, blogs from Ghana  first made me aware that the blogosphere exists.  Two years ago, my  upper elementary students represented Ghana at the Montessori Model UN . Before they could begin researching to write their position papers, they studied Ghanaian geography, history, and culture for many months.   I tried to bring in some aspects of Ghanaian culture as well.  Students at a Ghanaian  Montessori school became our pen-pals (and almost our guests, but that is another story).  We cooked groundnut soup,  tried carving adinkra symbols (inauthentically, out of balsa wood), and listened to a learning Twi CD each day at lunch (The only language I could find).  While researching indigenous/women's/children's rights, and carbon emissions the boys found a riveting blog about coffins shaped like fish, cell phones, and other things (sorry, don't know the name of that blog..).   Let me just tell you that the CIA World Fact book did not come close to generating as much enthusiasm.  I encouraged the boys to read more Ghana related blogs for different insight than what they got from academic papers.  And, I started following blogs too.

Sometimes a controversial subject hits the blogosphere.  One blogger's response to a street festival in Jamestown  created a small storm recently.    I don't usually share my opinion, because I am an outsider, more than 5000 miles away from the action.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is impossible, impossible, to really get a place without living there for several years, maybe longer. All humans share fundamental needs, yes, but  many jokes, social conventions, and political nuances don't translate cross-culturally.  Sometimes it is better to listen.  But,  I'm in the mood to write tonight.

Chale Wote:   From the descriptions that I read it seemed like the type of interactive, and creative situation that I can believe in. Anyway, one blogger dissed the festival.   She suggests that the money spent on this festival could have been better used to buy food.    She asks, "What is art when you are hungry?"

It is a good question.  What is art when you are hungry?  Another question that I like is: What is food when you are spiritually starved?    Would resources be better used  for bulk foodstuffs?   Or would  the food have been enjoyed, and forgotten?

I will not say that food is not important, or that hunger cannot undermine an individual's desire to create.  It just seems opaque to suggest that a community should not celebrate art until all sewage and hunger issues have been resolved.  Surely, helping people find an opportunity to demonstrate their strength and creativity, will have a positive effect on the community.  Rich or poor, we have the same fundamental needs.  We need food, shelter, water....but aren't abstract needs such as spirituality, communication, and art also important?  I hope there is increased presence of  festivals like Chale Wote.  I always like a good street festival.  And I hope that Chale Wote keeps going.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What I need

I need a place to sit, a route to walk, food, shelter, love, water, an idea, a purpose.  All the rest is meretricious hype.  I've lived in both squalid, and beautiful surroundings.  I prefer beautiful, but have found that I can be happy anywhere.  I can also be miserable anywhere.  My emotions are often in flux; I have good days, but sometimes sink low. However, as long as I have a niche, a question to answer, a book---- I'm home.  If I'm home, peace is nearby and will prevail.  

  I hope that I've moved on from poverty, loss, and depression, but I can't predict that they are through with me.  Through surviving life's inevitable ups and downs, I do know that I am flexible; my sense of well-being does not depend on a static circumstance, person, place, or thing.  Whatever comes my way, I'll survive.  Knowing that I  have what I need is one beautiful gift of getting older.   How sweet it is to have that understanding! 

Open heart

Joni's biological father just called.  He is doing okay. He wrote Joni a letter at camp, so he's getting over his own issues enough to reach out to her.  I hope that he can understand that her anger is partly a response to his actions, and that he keeps trying even when she does not respond.  Over the years, I have been angry at him, hurt, bitter, and really I can't think of any more good adjectives, but there has been a great deal of pain stemming from our relationship.  Still, I want him to do well.  It's more than ten years since I've had romantic feelings for him; I can't imagine wanting that kind of relationship now.  I don't think of him often, but I do wish good life things for him with an open heart.  I may limit my exposure to people who tax me, but how can I judge?  I don't like everything that has transpired, but.....personally, I am at peace.

I wish that I were more vindictive sometimes. I would cleanly and decisively divide people into good and evil.  But that would not be me.  Even the most negative emotions merge too easily into acceptance.  My default way of looking at people is to understand them, which really means, to love them.  I'm not a people person, nor do I want to converse at length with many.  But I do love humanity,  individual by individual, in my somewhat aloof way.  And Joni's father....bless him.  It's out of my hands.

Monday, July 11, 2011


 One sheet of rice paper. The postmark is too smudged to read;  there is no return address.  I scrutinize the blank page; words appear just to fade, and change into something else.  At the cusp between meaning and nonsense, an apophenia induced alphabet leads me deep.  All day, the sun reveals a parade of fresh permutations. By nighttime, I know even less.  If ink words were less ambiguous than these, I would consider my time wasted.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Transition time television

I do not have to go to work this week.  I still wake automatically before 5:30, but summer vacation is officially on.  There's a deep pile of work to do before August, but first it's time to vegetate.  After working two jobs this year: days/ nights/weekends, plus driving children to play practice, band practice, Hebrew school--- the free time throws off my balance.  I was actually pacing the floor yesterday, restless and cagey. To make the transition between work and summer easier, I've been watching a lot of 30 Rock.

Last night, I betrayed Joni and watched the second season of 30 Rock on Netflix.  We always watch it together, but she's away at camp. I feel zero guilt.  I wouldn't cheat with Mad Men which occupies a slightly more elevated status in our family culture. But I feel okay about sneaking the Tina Fey.  

Digression:  We don't have cable or television, but we watch movies (also Madmen and 30 Rock on Netflix!).  We tend toward documentaries, and drama. Lately, however, we have been into old movies.   Movies made half a century or more ago, are super for family viewing.  All the grownup themes are present, but introduced in such a way that your curious six year old won't notice. No explicit sexual activity for example, but it's there if you know how to recognize it.  I like the subtlety.  I  like to see men wearing undershirts under crisp button up shirts.  I also love the clothes worn by women, especially in the forties. I love that the hallucinated temptress/floozy played by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch never screws up pronoun case, noun/ verb agreement, or other fundamental aspects of civilized discourse.  If I could speak with such precision and at the same time wear that amazing white dress that whooshes up when the train goes by.....ah, that would be a perfect day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hypothetical exodus

For a brief time, twenty years ago, I lived in squalor with a friend and her boyfriend.  Oh, so naive I was.  For forty bucks a month, I crashed there until his alcohol fueled violent tendencies verged out of control.   The friend and I had about five minutes to get out of the apartment.  I didn't have much stuff there; clothes and a cardboard box filled with personal items.  In the panic, here is what I took:  a carved quartz rock that I found on the street in Valencia, Spain (fits into my hand perfectly), a piece of cloth that I used to be able to wear as a dress, my journal.  Those were my impulse choices.  What would you take if you had to suddenly leave?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Properly fitted

 My daughter made me watch a video on finding proper bra fit.  It turned out that I was wearing the wrong size. I went shopping to rectify the situation. Now, with bras that fit, I am  stronger, taller, and much better looking.  Never underestimate the power of great fitting undergarments. Most women are not wearing the correct bra size.  Here is information on how to find a proper size.

I don't have mainstream breasts, apparently.  I can't walk into the Maidenform outlet and find my size.  Two stores that I recommend if you are not a "normal" size: Nordstrom's and Figleaves. I don't ever use this space to hawk merchandise, but I consider today's blog to be more of a Public Service Announcement.

Nordstrom's is expensive, but they have a great range of sizes.  Also, the staff is amazingly helpful. is even better than Nordstroms.  They sell bathing suits by cup size.  This is great for women (not me, other women) who have skinny butts and legs, but big boobs.  No more baggy bathing suit bottoms.  They have decent bra sales, too.  Recently Joni and I went to about ten stores unsuccessfully looking for a bathing suit to fit her.  The experience was frustrating enough to bring her to tears.  Not one bathing suit could we find. We went home from the mall and found satisfaction on the internet. had  pages of cute suits. We bought a one piece and a bikini. Neither looked like matron wear, and they arrived within a week.  Both fit perfectly!  Happy daughter= Happy mom.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Countless petals

The lotus in the fishpond outside of my classroom bloomed today.  A mythical bloom, straight out of Vishnu's belly button and into the new world unfolding from and around me.

I cannot resist.  I'm going to share a picture of our local lotus.

Say not, "I have found the truth," but rather, "I have found a truth." 
Say not, "I have found the path of the soul." Say rather, " I have met the soul walking upon my path." 
For the soul walks upon all paths....

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

Kahlil Gibran (1883 - 1931)

Three cheers for the village

I drive Joni to camp tomorrow.  For three weeks, she'll bike with other unwashed adolescents through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  They'll carry clothes, sleeping bags,and food on bikes as they trek through the wilderness. She's been counting the days until she meets her friends at Common Ground, where I shall drop her off.  I predict that Joni will grow stronger and more capable in the next three weeks.  Through her biking community-- peers and counselors--she will learn things that I couldn't begin to teach at home.  I am  grateful that I don't have to try!

Next summer, Joni wants to be a counselor; this is her last year as a camper.
 Since age nine she has been involved with BYM camps (Click here to see Joni at nine with a pink cloth on her head). I dropped her off the first year, and that was that.  No backward looks toward mom, certainly no tears...She was ready.  Seven years later, Joni has strong roots in the Baltimore Yearly Meeting camp community.  Through camp she has become involved in BYM youth conferences as well. She has friends in high school, but the people who really get her--- and vice-versa---are camp friends. Those are the peers who most support and challenge my daughter.

Joni will come back from camp with an awesome attitude. She will be helpful, cheerful, confident, even glowing.  The post-camp glow will fade somewhat in time; however, the character building skills have taken root and are permanently part of my daughter.   Someone told me that they couldn't do what I do: raise children alone.   I don't think that I do.  The village is definitely doing much of the work.  Montessori school, extended friends and family, religious community, and camp all play an active role in raising my children. I couldn't do it half as well by myself.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Yesterday's storm knocked some trees over.  The parkway was blocked by branches; all Gloucester/ Yorktown bound traffic had to take an alternative route home.  I recalibrated to I-64 E where traffic consistently moved at 5 miles per hour.   Midway across the Coleman Bridge, sirens sounded: Emergency!  All vehicles moved aside to let the ambulance pass.  Except for one silver car, license plate:  ?DP 7225 ( I kindly exclude the first digit) whose driver took advantage of the now free lane to speed to the front of the queue. Such nerve!  I laughed and settled in for the remainder of the hot, humid crawl home.

 At least the girls were at grandma's house, and not waiting on me.  I stopped to get a rehumanizing pedicure, and almost fell asleep in the chair massage.  Then home where I fell asleep for real, at an unprecedented 8:30.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snake moves

  A child bit away my fingerprints; now I take refuge in snake moves.  I have at least two hands, sometimes thousands, all anonymous but open. Arm movements are my most accessible identity.  Villagers approach on tiptoe.  They can't remember whether round eyes mean poison, or if slit eyes do.  Venom is not in my bag of tricks, but I appreciate their caution.  I synchronize two arms, a thousand, in a cold-blooded trance. Then the show is over. The villagers go back to their shopping carts.  I'm okay walking home.  The moon understands.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Solar cooking

Building useful contraptions is not my strong suit, but I can make a solar cooker.  I made my first solar oven, because it was the right thing to do.  My class was studying the electromagnetic spectrum; a solar cooking experience clearly belonged in the unit. I began to gather information out of a sense of duty, but quickly became enthusiastic about the project.  Since then, I have made solar ovens with students and neighbors.  Steve Jones, physics professor of BYU, designed the solar cooker that I make.  For directions, click here.

The cooker is easy to make and works great.    I usually cook soups, but next Thursday the kids at solar camp will make gingerbread.  Here is more information about cooking with your solar cooker.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diverse classroom

My  class last year was only white, middle/upper-middle class American children , but their diversity tested my limits.  What looks homogeneous is not always so.

Multi-culturalism is valued by most liberal educators.  We want our classrooms and curricula to reinforce a global perspective.  With teachers from Poland, Trinidad, Italy...and children from many countries and religions, my new school is diverse in this way.  I'm happy about the diversity because, well, I am a liberal educator. It is, however, interesting to me that when we talk about diversity we are usually talking about ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Rarely do we consider socio economic diversity as important to our community.  Even less common is the acknowledgement that diverse political perspectives can create a valuable learning context.

 When parents contemplate enrolling a child in our school, I am clear about the controversial topics which will be explored during the school year.  Parents may decide that lessons like human evolution or sex education undermine family beliefs, but at least they have clear information with which to make decisions. Once parents know that I will respect family values, they are usually comfortable enrolling their child.

I've had students who have no place for God.  I've had students who have no place for science.
For the last two years I had two students from families with strong Tea Party leanings.   The different opinions that they brought to the table went beyond God vs. Science.  These boys loved Glenn Beck, Fox News, and Ronald Reagan.  I started reading Glenn Beck's blog just to apprise myself of what I consider to be the man's mad irresponsibility. From my point of view, Beck has a few reasonable moments. Overwhelmingly; however, he is a huckster, a rabble rouser trying to cash in on people's lack of critical thinking skills. Sadly, he's playing with just the kind of idiot fire that may burn down our barn. The boys are inspired by Glenn Beck. To them Beck speaks only truth.  I walked by many heated diatribes in the classroom and on the playground.  The kids were not just saying things that I disagreed with.  They were saying things that hit me on a  visceral level. I had nights of soul searching on how to respond to some of the more hateful opinions in class.

Because I had to respond.  When one is a leader--- and a teacher is a leader---and part of your population makes hateful and repeated generalizations about a group (immigrants, Muslims...whatever), how does one not respond?  At the same time, I didn't want to humiliate two children.  I also did not want to undermine the children's parents.  It was a balancing act.

I learned from these boys.  The tension that they brought led to many valuable conversations and lessons.  When we talk about diversity, it is easy to forget to bring political difference to the table.  Different ethnicities, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations may have an important dialog.  But bridging the gap between two conflicting political viewpoints is also valuable, and should not be neglected.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Empty bottles

This week is my first  at a new job.  It is nice to be  in a relatively sane environment.  I like the koi pond off of the back porch of my classroom.  I like being part of a dynamic (not going out of business) workplace.  It's fun getting to know new children.  I'm doing a solar energy camp for a couple of weeks, a good way to become familiar with new people, and protocols.

Right now I'm trying to figure out what to do with 30 wine jugs, gallon sized, donated by a friend of the school.  The philanthropist who donated them thought that they would make great solar night lights, and that's my favorite option. I haven't found a good recipe for making said nightlights with young children.  I have found some really neat ideas, though.  Go to this site if you want to make beer bottle Christmas trees, chandeliers, or monastery.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monkey mind

 Only my feet are planted firmly on June 22, 2011.  My time traveling brain does her usual mental archaeology; she digs up archive files piecemeal.  I scan files while making decisions about June 22, 2011. I can't put the damn past down.  Everything I do on June 22, 2011, I do  while  reading  files, these outdated archive files, that my brain excavates.

Monday, June 20, 2011


It's so nice to be able to hear a favorite poet read What happens to a dream deferred.
And here is Hughes collaborating with Charles Mingus.

I remember searching the Little Rock public library unsuccessfully for such recordings 20 years ago.  The internet makes everything too easy, but anyway:                  

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Anaerobic, subterranean prokaryotes are what one smells most here. I watch Escher draw birds landing and leaving  until I can take the methane smell no more. It's time to boogie. Out of here. Am I wasteful to drop half empty glass, and muddy clothes in the marsh?  I ask the artist to draw me naked, flying away.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Flat tire

I have a flat tire, and I am not totally sure about how to change it.  I can drive myself, but can I change my own tire?  The unpleasant side of liberation...


Friday, June 17, 2011

I will drive myself

Joni is washing dishes and Tzippi is either asleep or very quietly reading Harry Potter under the covers.
Lately much has been in the news about women driving in Saudi Arabia.  I had decided that in solidarity with our Saudi sisters, it would be a good day to take Joni out to practice driving.  But after a long day packing, and meeting with ESL students, I fell asleep on the couch.  So, we'll drive tomorrow.

Joni can fix things, and put things together.  She sets up tents intuitively.  Somehow I thought that this would mean that she would get into a car for the first time and just drive.  After more observation, it may be a while before she is able to incorporate blind spots, turn signals, and other traffic out on the open road.

I'm glad that she is learning, but also scared.  With a car, Joni will be more independent.  She will drive herself to summer camp, her sister to ballet. She may also have opportunities to get into trouble.  Freedom always brings choices.   She might drink and drive.  She might meet boys when she is supposed to be going to band practice.  Whatever guidelines I give her, please believe there will be a way around them.  Joni is an excellent daughter.  I trust her.  But this is planet Earth, I am a mother, and I worry.

All of this is just to say,  I understand the desire to limit other people's freedoms.  If minimizing Joni's choices gives me control, or at least a delusion of control...I sort of like the idea.   However, I also understand how futile, petty, and dehumanizing the act of limiting other peoples freedoms can be.. I do not want my daughter to get into trouble, but I want her to become independent. I want her to realize that her choices inform the quality and direction of her life.   I will drive myself is a good slogan for the women trying to bring about change in Saudi, and also a good metaphor.  No matter how much we need one another, it is wise to drive your own car and to direct your own life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Good man

 We met almost twenty years ago,  both of us negotiating with a ticket taker for admittance into a sold out Alan Ginsburg reading.   We have been friends ever since.  We know little about each others' depths, but at the same time give mutual emotional support.  We may not be in touch for months, a year, but our bond remains.   Since Joni was born,  he has been lifting weights to intimidate potential suitors someday ( when she was nine he could do pull-ups with her hanging on to his bicep). He has been there for both daughters. Not a day to day presence, but always present.

 His mother recently told him that he doesn't know what it's like to be a black man, and what can I know or say about that?  I think he's a good man, one of the best.  He gets mad when his mother talks crazy. He leaves her house for a while, but eventually returns.  He calls me to vent, then returns to do yard work, housework, whatever his mother needs.  My friend used to travel: Cuba, London, Mexico. Now he works all the time.  He likes to listen to jazz on Sunday afternoons, and has been engaged too long to a man who doesn't like jazz.  He has no biological children, but he's getting Father's Day love from my daughters.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Man waits

While his mother and I work in the cool, he spreads mulch.  He does odd jobs and waits for things set in motion to move more definitively. He waits for the hiring freeze to end.  He waits to talk to a lawyer, and for child protective services to do their job.  Mostly, he waits to get custody of his son.   A scattered, sarcastic kid, he has risen to the challenges of fatherhood thus far; Sunday will only be his first, maybe second, Father's Day.  I hope that he gets his son soon, and that they lock the child's mother up for a long time. That would be justice.  And that would bring his mother, my friend, peace.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Horse bones

Mother made us carry the sun-bleached horse bones back to the truck. We were at a picnic, somewhere in Texas.  One of my old step-dad's distant relatives had killed and was roasting a pig.   My mother happened upon horse bones, scattered in a field; for her this was hitting the jackpot. I didn't want to help haul the bones, but what choice did I have?

Today I put the bones, labeled so that a child can reconstruct the leg, and skull in a box.  When my mother retired from teaching, she passed them on to me. I also have her fossils, writing rubrics, rock collections, 24 cards, and seedpods. Works that I have made also go into the boxes.  I pack homemade lung model, polydensity bottle, toy bicycles made of trash, and other treasures collected for the classroom .  Things that I've collected, and things that my mother collected fill box after box.

Last year

A year ago today, Joni and I walked down the airplane steps into a muggy, hot night.  A lit up Akwaaba sign directed us across the tarmac into the airport.   It was not a mundane thing to us, standing in Accra.  It was real because we saw the signs, but it was also unbelievable. We had no holy, or important reason to visit, just an invitation, and the desire to go.  I felt lucky and happy to live for the short time with Madame and her family; their hospitality will stay with me.  To be able to take my daughter along was pure pleasure. 

We went to school most days.   To give teachers a chance to mark papers, I rotated from class to class.By teaching whatever lessons were needed, I got to know teachers and students better.  Joni had class with people her age.  Of course we visited Cape Coast Castle, Elmina, Kakum Natl. Park (all we could hear in the rainforest were vuvuzuelas and people screaming for Ghana vs. Australia game).   However, the things that made me happiest  were simple: going to Makola Market with Madame to buy cafeteria trays, hugging/screaming/singing/spilling out into the street when Ghana beat USA in World Cup (I am happy to be an American, but the Black Stars are the only football team that I follow)....eating (okro stew, shitto, banku, plantains prepared many ways, pineapple, etc. etc.), meeting people, walking through Tema and also Accra simply absorbing the energy.  It was especially wonderful to experience these things with Joni.  I hope we'll have another chance soon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Today is the first official day of summer vacation.  It  feels wonderful to be officially through.  I slept late, and have had a lazy day. I'll maintain inertia for another couple of days if I can stand it.

I said two days ago that I would try to post something here every day for a month. My hope is that this self-inflicted task will force me out of habitual lethargy, and lead me closer to my voice. Have you ever walked through a giant labyrinth?  Walking and meditating the elaborate turns of a labyrinth is supposed to help answers emerge for whatever question is at hand; in my limited experience, the process does inspire personal revelation.  Writing is my labyrinth.  I begin with an idea, or maybe a string of provocative words.  At the end (if I can ever stop editing), I always walk away with new insight.  So, I'm hoping for new insight and direction this month.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Universal health

  Occasionally I stalk someone's public online romance, sort of like watching a train wreck.   I'm horrified.  I'm fascinated. I think it's a bad idea, but I'm also humbled.  Maybe it's healthy to pour the syrupy love crush into public waters.

  I talk a lot, tell way too much, but I'm too shy to throw hopes and dreams into the public forum. Reading various aspects of  people's romantic drama on social networking pages induces spiritual nausea.  At the same time, I am in awe of these lovers.  With vulnerable, corn-sweetened, and often--on the flip side--furiously incriminating posts, they assume great risk. To publicly admit to infatuation, jealousy, anger, lust, or need to be loved is to make the bold statement: I am human. Why let wants and needs limp from subconscious spaces in a distorted form?  Just tell all in a clean, forthright manner.

I don't think that I'll ever describe my feelings for anyone---including my children---in much detail  on a Facebook page.  It's not the way I was raised; it's not within my comfort level.  Too Much Information makes me instinctively cringe, but perhaps public disclosure gone amuck is good for universal mental health.  Widespread revelation might be the revolution to bring down world peace.  Once every Homo sapiens-sapiens has disclosed all, once the crazy ensuing chaos quiets, won't we recognize ourselves more easily in one another?  Won't there be more acceptance and love?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


 I have written two novels: both were absolute crap: good beginnings that disintegrated into navel gazing.   I see the world differently than storytellers do.  I don't intuit plot and structure in an epic way.  I'm closer to a universal sieve. As experiences, and voices enter, I struggle to maintain a few boundaries. I can record the forest, but  trees exist only as representation of abstract relationships.  Not a story teller, but I do like to write.  I collect fragments; writing them down keeps me sane.

  I write, I always have written.  Poems, journals, emails......I write to figure out what I want to say.  Sometimes I can see your past, and often I can read the future.  Writing is powerful, even at small unpopulated crossroads.  I have wanted to try something new with writing; now that life things are a bit less chaotic, I can.  I shall try to write something in this blog every day for a month. Just to see where that takes me....  Omphalos: doorway to the mighty ocean? Or bodypart that has outlived its use?  We shall see! Please read!  Please comment!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sun and Rain

 Approximately 3.8 billion years ago, young sun went mano a mano with volcanic gases, beat their molecules down into atoms. From the one-global ocean floor, I watched these carbon atoms hydrogen and oxygen atoms nitrogen atoms rain down,  forge chains, replicate, reorganize, mutate, and god knows what else was needed to incite life.  I would guess that our current arrangement of molecules is also transient. So have patience. Whatever ails you will be chemically changed, redirected, resurrected in due time.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Morale was bad in the elementary classroom.  All week children had been picky and nasty towards each other, so I decided that we'd do a simple exercise in appreciation.  I had the children make a circle; each child took a turn sitting in the center of the circle.  The people on the circumference said nice things about the child in the center.  What do you like about this person? When did this person make you laugh?  When has this person made you feel better?  Most children like to share in this context.   Some people aren't comfortable spilling their guts in public, so I don't force anyone to speak.

One boy didn't say anything nice about anyone.  When it was his turn to be center he jammed a finger into each ear; however, as students began saying sweet things about him, he removed both fingers.  A few more children shared (more sunshine and love), and my boy smiled wide.  Quickly he laid his head in his lap so that nobody would see his pleasure.

This is smart, funny, thoughtful, but also difficult student.  He's learned to protect himself, to shield his heart from anticipated rejection. He keeps the fortress walls locked most of the time.  To witness his self-conscious acceptance of love was one of those pure joy moments that represent the best of teaching.  I still get teary eyed when I recall his face.

This challenging year has had many long days where I have not liked my job.  I have questioned whether teaching is a good fit for me, or I for it.  But moments like this.....I know that I'm home.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I breathe small love on a sunflower seed; it sprouts in my open hand.  Although lacking the usual sun and rain, its growth is phenomenal.  Soon the plant outgrows the kitchen ceiling, moves out the closest window into outer space.  Soon---- and I am not making this up----- the neighborhood streets fill with birdsong and clean, golden smell of petals drifting down.


Sunday, May 22, 2011


If I told you, I'd expose a friend.  If I told, I would intensify pain.

I will gossip, say too much, sometimes bring trouble....But, I won't tell secrets.  Why break my own heart by betraying a friend?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Eyes bandaged, incognito, I get a waiver for smacking into things.  I make it down the road, holding close each crippled insect and shiny stone encountered.  At journey's end, fuschia moonlight passes around steaming platter after platter of parrilladas.   Even through my improvised caul, I taste the familiar constellations thick with barbecue sauce.  I fall asleep wondering: Am I teaching my beautiful daughter the things a woman needs to know? Not just to survive, but also to flourish?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thank you

Slowly, clouds disperse, revealing solid land.

I still don't know when (or if) the Ghanaian students will visit. When their original date fell through, I was acutely depressed.   Their visit was one of few events inspiring me to move forward during this turbulent year, but things simply didn't work out as planned.  Hopefully, my friends will resolve their visa issues soon. If so, I shall do my best to reorganize host families, and logistics.   I want to see the students, and Madame again!  I hope fiercely that they can make it, but I don't know what will happen.
I also have personal issues, yet to be resolved.  More clouds drifting through.  But guess what?
I finally found a job for next year. I'll be working at another Montessori School, teaching elementary. Hurrah!
Of all the jobs that I applied for in recent months, this is the one that I want. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Having employment in my future makes ambiguous areas easier to tolerate.

Wash me in the water

Today I took the girls on a traditional family outing to the ballet.  Over the years we have seen several: Swan Lake, Appalachian Spring, Firebird…today we saw the Alvin Ailey National Dance Theatre at Chrysler Hall, in Norfolk.  

The ballet thing started with Joni.  When she was five she wanted to become a ballerina.  She read every ballet book in the children’s section of our library.  She also wrote books detailing important aspects of the ballerina’s life.  How to put elastics in your shoes.  What does fifth position look like?   Thinking that it would be a good idea to take her to an actual ballet,  I got tickets to The Grigorovich Ballet production of Swan Lake.  I did this out of duty.  I had no interest in the ballet, but wanted to encourage Joni. At that time, I was afraid to drive to Norfolk so I bought three tickets.  One for Joni, one for me, one for a guest doubling as driver.
Ten years later, I’m okay about driving to Norfolk.  I still get lost easily.  Joni and I had a major fight on the way over.  Ostensibly about directions, but something had been boiling between us for days.  The ballet was balm soothing over  mangled feelings.  We left Chrysler Hall joyfully having been washed in the water , rare and spiritually cleansing dance.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


It has been a while since I have written here.    So many things have been up in the air.  Things that will define the quality of my life, insurance, and children's well-being. Oh, yeah...It's limbo season.

Took a long walk today.  I focused on my footsteps, and my heart beat. I put myself into perspective, saw my earthly anxieties from outer space. It helped.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring cleaning

     Tonight I'm alternating time between cleaning, schoolwork, and Facebook.  I think about how Facebook, and other social media, are being used in Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, etc. etc., as I post a comment about how I cleaned out the refrigerator today.  I guess it's all relative.  Get rid of outdated miso and rancid refried beans, get rid of Mubarak: either way we're purging, right?

     Now, while people in Morocco call for political reform, while Quaddafi's green book still smoulders,
 I purge my bedroom closet.  Unbelievable the number of bags filled with perfectly good clothing, and thrown into the back of our van.  The thrift store won't  blink when it sees my surplus; just add it to the pile, chalk it up to Manifest Destiny (I'm sure that the parallel works, so humor me).

    Humans are hard wired to clean periodically.  We may tidy our nests, or subvert a political situation.  The universe, however, favors entropy; no clean house, or  revolution sparkles for long.  Keeping my closet clean will  only be slightly easier than sustaining the promise of a political movement. Still, there is hope.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Way Closes

   The water is anoxic; gasping koi stir up mud as they swim laps through excessive phytoplankton. I am a fish, completely at home here.  When the gnarled hand lowers to lift me from the pond, I defy my biological destiny, and  pursue new ways of respiration. Wonder where I'll land?

Friday, February 18, 2011


My neighbor called as I was leaving work. Some guy driving through the neighborhood tried to take a thirteen year old girl. The girl ran away. The man drove on.  He's still out there looking....

At twenty two I didn't drive; I walked everywhere. Walking ten, fifteen miles was nothing to me at the time.   Every day, while minding my own business, at least one creepy guy would offer me a ride, reveal himself to me, or  both.  It started to wear on me.  You can react in different ways to these people: scream, run, look away....but their ugliness starts to cover you like slime.   Today if I walk down the same streets, nobody harasses me.   I'm less vulnerable, less of a mark, however, I'm sure that the sharks still circle.

During those walking years, only one, ONE, woman ever stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride.  I said no, but  months later I heard someone running behind me, and it was she.   We ended up becoming good friends, like family.   She was Nicaraguan, and hung out with many people from Central America and Mexico. We went many places, parties, dances (cumbias!!!), apartments where people spoke Spanish.   It would have been a great opportunity to become more fluent in Spanish, but I was too self-conscious and weary to risk speaking out.  I often think about this when I'm with my ESOL class.  My students are gutsy.  They want to learn, so they take risks, and make mistakes.  They ask questions; they are golden.

As for the creepers, they are out there.  They feed only on the small and powerless.  In my neighborhood, and in yours. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

We're just babies, ya'll

Here are forty living things far are older than I am.....but just babies in the wide expanse of space and time:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good Neighbors

Our neighbors came over tonight: Sania, Haira, Rukhsana, and Rukhsana's children.  They brought us a plate of  subtle, spicy rice with chicken, and the news that they are moving.

Before I taught ESL at  RCC,  we had English lessons at  their house. Now that lessons are at school; my friends still bring the children.  The sisters speak and write Urdu, Arabic, and some English; their goal is to improve English skills.  Rukhsana wants to speak English well enough to become a United States citizen, and for her children to be American.  Haira wants to learn to drive.  Joni and I work with the adults; Tzippi and Sara play.  Fasil, the baby either eats, sleeps, or cries. We have become friends. We talk about dreams, family, loneliness,  how it feels to have your covered head constantly criticized, or ridiculed.  Our neighbors like America, but miss friends, customs, and family in Pakistan.

Sometimes the sisters go to the brother-in law's house, and we cancel class.  No class during Eid Al Fitr, or Eid Al Adha, either.  During Ramadan the ladies brought us food  most evenings:  puddings, rice, samosas, many yummy things.  We took small gifts to the little girls at Eid Al Fitr. To break the Yom Kippur fast, they brought us a steaming platter of rice and lamb.  

One day, Rukhsana, came over with a scrap of purple. She wanted to know if I could I dye a large piece of silk the same shade?  The day we planned to dye was also her daughter's second birthday. Sara had never experienced an American birthday party, so my daughters got busy baking sparkly pink cake, to be served with pink lemonade.  While the beautiful ladies, as Tzippi calls them, and I dyed yards of silk in the front yard, the little girls had a birthday party. It was one of my favorite days in America.

Good neighbors.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Present moment

Slush melts, and with it the Gregorian year, 2010.

Tonight, I watched movies with Joni: Hairspray and Storm.  She built three solar ovens for a science project;  I strung waist beads. We had a long, deep,and excellent mother/daughter talk. Slightly febrile, Tzippi woke long enough to inform us that she doesn't like our silly quips, or noise. 

  We are cozy, relaxed, semi-productive.  Our house is tidy enough, and good food's on the horizon.  This is enough: one pure moment of well-being.  One snowflake rushing toward the gutter, but still beautiful.

Happy New Years!!!!