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If I haven’t been diligent about pursuing this topic, it’s not for lack of love of Montessori education. It’s probably more because I don’t have to worry about my daughter’s schooling that allows me to not focus on the topic.  But I’ll try to expand a bit on why I still love Montessori…

Focus is one reason.  My daughter’s ability to focus, that is.  Her classrooms have always been hives of quiet (usually) activity with many bodies around her diligently working away on their individual activities. That is much like many of the workplaces I’ve been in over the years.  The most successful people in those environments are those who can focus on the task at hand even with alot of things going on around them.  I feel that her ability to work, despite distractions, is going to be a real gift as she gets older and distractions increase.

Admittedly, a room full of people trying to focus on a speaker at the front of the room could describe a traditional classroom or a business meeting. Maybe that’s why the meeting is so entrenched in business culture; it feels familiar to everyone who sat in a classroom for years. But how many of us find we do our best work–or are at our most productive–in a meeting? Maybe my daughter will hate meetings because she hasn’t had to sit for hours. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. But I digress.

From what I read about the cutting edge tech companies, they reward for performance and encourage creative solutions and new ideas.  In the Montessori classroom, the children have certain works which must be completed each day or week. When those things are completed, there is free time to work on things the students choose. Art or reading, games or other quiet activities. There may be additional options offered which reward the students for finishing the less compelling subjects; printmaking or specific games, for example.  This structuring strikes me as being like the Google campus or Netflix corporate environment. Clearly, these companies feel that high-productivity is fostered in this way.

The goal of early childhood education is to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.–Maria Montessori

Isn’t that what we want for our kids?  Lots of learning? Also the good work habits that create that productivity?  I want my daughter prepped for whatever work environment lies ahead in whatever field she chooses.  While Montessori isn’t for every child, I feel strongly that the Montessori classroom is giving my child that preparation better than any other model of education I’ve seen.

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This is powerful. I felt it should go viral.

The MENding Monologues

Ever since Rolling Stimagesone magazine botched their article about rape on college campus, distractors and rape minimizers have plenty of fuel to point out that false rape accusations happen and happen frequently. Therefore, in their minds, we need to protect all those potentially innocent men out there from being falsely accused by vindictive women.

Yes, false allegations do happen, but it’s estimated to be only about 7 percent of the total reported rapes in United States. Let’s put that into perspective:

Only 32 percent all rapes are ever reported and that 98 percent of all rapists get away with it. In an related story, Bill Cosby wants to us to believe he is victim of a rash of false allegations against him.

I am going to leave it actor and writer Kurt Kalbfleisch to enlighten us by crunching some numbers in piece he wrote for 2015 Inner Mission production of…

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I grew up a Navy Brat.  If you did not grow up as a military dependent, you really can’t understand how this has impacted my life.  One small way this affects me is that Memorial Day really means something; my father’s chosen profession is honored.

My grandfather, father, uncle, sister, and three cousins are all veterans.  My father’s favorite cousin was killed on the beach at Omaha.  Those are the kinds of sacrifices previous generations made to maintain our freedom.  The military is so small now, few of us are touched by the ongoing conflicts.  For that we should be grateful.  But for those who fight and to those who send their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers  into harm’s way, we should be doubly grateful.

When I see a person wearing a veteran’s ballcap, or a veteran is identified to me, I often thank them for their service.  They are surprised and pleased by this acknowledgement.  I frequently say to parents of soldiers and sailors oversees or newly recruited, “God bless them.  And God bless you.”  They appreciate the gesture. 

Our citizenry made the mistake of not welcoming our Vietnam War veterans home as the war-weary warriors they were.  Instead, we treated them as criminals or pariahs although all they did was follow the orders of those we elected to power.  Hopefully, we learned that lesson. 

War is a far-away nuisance for most Americans; not a life or death struggle.  Let us not forget that even Afghanistan and Iraq are fought in our name.  Thank them.  They deserve so much more, but acknowledgement will go a long way.

September 16, 2011

I followed a vintage Volksawagen micro-bus up the mountain to work this morning.  It was a beauty; red and white paint job all shiny and well-loved; a matching vintage trailer; the dignity of a tortoise as it wound it’s way slowly, but surely, up the road.  I began to get frustrated.  I needed to arrive at work on time; not Volkswagen time.  I was not feeling farfegnugen.
As we made our way around the first hairpin turn on the 8% grade at 20 miles per hour I remembered: that used to be me. I took 10,000+ miles of road trips in a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon–Wolfsburg edition, oohhh–at an average speed of 50 miles per hour.  I will admit that 50 may be a bit of an exaggeration.  In the days at the end of the first engine, we dropped as low as 10 miles per hour on a 9% grade in Colorado once.  I offered to get out and push. But we could hit 70 on a downhill with a tail wind.  It happened! Once or twice.
So here I am behind me on a mountain road.  It is a beautiful day.  The boss is out of town–and besides, very understanding about being slowed down by unavoidable obstacles.– The guy in the van is headed up to the Volkswagen festival. Of this, I am certain.  He’s not in any hurry…
And then I remember what that felt like.  Early on in our adventures, I realized that if I focused on the destination and timeliness, my head would explode.  I realized that being on the road in a Vanagon is very different from life as I knew it. Being away from the daily grind; looking at the scenery and really seeing it; no dishes in the sink; no bills coming in… That is a kind of freedom most Americans never get to experience. Time changes from a chain of linked events, each with a deadline, to a silver thread weaving it’s way down a two-lane highway of extraordinary beauty. Maybe that’s what they mean by “farfegnugen.”
So I let off the gas and eased off his bumper.  We crept up the grade.  I smiled and enjoyed the view.  The VW driver kindly slipped into a wide spot and gave me and the dozen cars behind us a chance to pass.  I yelled, “I love ya’ man!” as I went by.  I hope he heard me.
I lost the van in the divorce.  But if I lose the farfenugen, I’ve lost much more than transportation.  I don’t want to own my own microbus because I don’t want to become an auto mechanic.  And I don’t think an impeder on my Ford is going to have the desired effect.  I guess I just have to keep a shiny, beautiful microbus in my heart.

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The heat being HOT, Miranda and I met up with Anne and Connor for our Wednesday swimming hole run around 1 p.m. We hadn’t been to the Verde yet this year and Anne had a kid-sized kayak that Connor was testing out, so the Verde River was our destination.

Hauling kayaks is always a work-out for a woman my size. Luckily, Anne is a power-lifter so the biggest problem is that she tends to go too fast for me to keep the back end at pace.  In addition, we hauled the summer gear: a floatation ring–“floatie”–; life vests for kayaking; cooler; lunch bags; towels for all; water toys; small net for catching minnows or insects; sunscreen. Pretty much, the works. By the time we reached the water, the kids were ready to get in. So were the grown-ups.

Now, I will confess that I am a cold-water-wimp. The Verde is relatively warm though, so I was in, up to my knees rather quickly–for me. But Anne, Connor and Miranda were all swimming before my toe hit the water. They cooled off for a few minutes and then Connor climbed out and hopped on his kayak. Anne followed and coached him a bit. He was doing remarkably well (having learned to kayak myself several times, I know that it is not always as easy as it looks). They went up river a ways and came back. Connor jumped out and Miranda asked if she could try it.

I was a little worried because I didn’t want to have to ask Anne to swim to the far side of the river (50 feet, a wide spot on the Verde) to rescue her from the reeds. And yes, I am also a swimming wimp, truth be told. But I helped her climb in and helped her with the paddling motion a few times and off she went. In about ten minutes, she had mastered the paddling to a degree that she was making wider and wider circles around the river. Then I suggested backwards. That was comical. I tried a number of different ways of describing the necessary change in the stroke to go backwards, none of which she grasped. At one point, she put the paddle behind her head. I let it go and when she returned to shore, I helped her make the motion a few times. She figured it out after a few minutes though, “master” is not a word I would apply here.

The wind was windy on this day. Gusts of forty-five-miles-per-hour was the prediction. I’d say we got that. And the wind was blowing in opposition to the river with a tendency to the south. For the kayakers, this meant at times sitting nearly still on the water with a slight drift to the far shore. Occasionally, a gust would drive you to backwards and into the reeds if you did not paddle strongly. At one point, Miranda was stuck on the reeds on the far side and attempting to extricate herself by unsuccessfully paddling backwards. She didn’t seem too frustrated until I tried to coach her out of the spot so I let her figure it out. Figuring it out meant being pulled out and pushed into the middle of the river by a nice man swimming in the deep channel.

After a while, Connor wanted to go back up river and he and Anne took off and were gone for over a half hour. Miranda swam around in her life vest and played with some other swimmers on a boogie board. I finally went in up to my shoulders. At one point, her lips were blue and I made her get out and warm up for a while. The kayaks came back and Miranda asked Anne if she would go up the river with her. I was glad when Anne said that she was tired but maybe mom…

We launched and headed up river. Quickly the sounds of the swimmers were behind us and the sounds of red-winged black birds darting in the reeds filled the air. Miranda started out ahead but I caught up and pulled out front. Not showing off, just enjoying the feeling of strength pulling on a river to propel myself forward gives me.  The river bends ever-so-slightly and we were out of eye-shot of the swimmers.  We practiced a little backwards  and turning and reached the Tuzigoot bridge, a good 50 feet above us.  Only a few yards past it the river narrows considerably.  Miranda didn’t like the look of it and wanted to turn around.

The way back is with the current so the going was easier, at least when the wind didn’t gust. I encouraged Miranda to stay near the middle of the river as this tended to be deep and there was less chance of being blown into the reeds. We glide along and I ask her if she likes kayaking.  She tells me that she does and I tell her that I love kayaking.  She says, “I love kayaking too!” with much enthusiasm.

She begins to tire and rests for a moment. Once again, I am out front. A hundred yards or so from the swimmers, I notice in my peripheral vision a not-small animal entering the river on the right bank.  Looking directly, I see a large snake. Trying not to freak Miranda out and thinking that there are no venomous water snakes in Arizona, I calmly announce to her  that a snake has entered the river and we need to stop and let it pass.  She doesn’t hear me and keeps paddling asking what I said.  I repeat myself louder and she gets excited, paddling faster I think, asking where the snake is.  I point with my paddle and she catches up with me, she sees it too.

Around this time, I can see the snake’s back clearly as it glides powerfully across the river: diamonds.  Definitely diamonds.  The tone of my voice shifts into that ‘someone is on fire or bleeding’ tone that moms get sometimes.  She passes me on the left and I begin to insist that she back up.  She’s still paddling forward and I see the snake pass in front of me.  “Back up!  Back up!” I am yelling now.  The swimmers apparently hear me about this time and start watching us.  “BACK UP! BACK UP!” I am screaming.  She keeps trying but she can’t do it.  She can’t remember how and keeps paddling forward.  In a bizarre twist of body memory, I try to paddle forward, thinking I’ll push the water with my paddle and push the snake away and I keep paddling backwards.  The snake, by this time, has figured out that it is not alone.  As it nears Miranda’s kayak, sitting about 5 inches out of the water, the snake raises itself out of the water as much as it can, in what might have been a truly funny imitation of the Loch Ness monster under other circumstances.

There are over two inches of rattle on the tail. “BACK UP!” I repeat. Miranda is crying now and scooting around on the top of her kayak in a way that might have landed her in the water on any less-stable craft.  It somehow gets turned around backwards, though still moving forward.  It is not possible to steer it this way and the snake is looking like it might try to board if there is any contact made.  “Turn around, get your feet the other way!” I am paddling two strokes forward and one back.  The snake is between 2 and 3 feet away from the little yellow kayak.  Suddenly, he drops back down into the water and makes a beeline for the left bank.  I give thanks and praise to the gods and goddesses of rivers, kayaks, children and even snakes. I encourage Miranda to get back to the swimming area as quickly as possible so she can have the coming meltdown on shore.

“What kind of snake was that?!” everyone on shore wants to know.

“DID YOU KNOW RATTLESNAKES COULD SWIM?”  I scream.  They are silent for a moment as this information sinks in.  I suspect they would not have believed me, had they not seen the size of the snake themselves.  We arrive on the bank and they help us pull up.  I go quickly to Miranda and wrap my arms around her. “Wow! What an adventure you just had!” I tell her.

“What do you mean?” she asks between tears.

“When something scary happens and you live to tell the story, that’s an adventure!” and utter a prayer that this will not be our last kayaking trip. Sadly, there are not photos or video of all the excitement.  I suspect however, had I had any sort of camera in the kayak with me, it would have been at the bottom of the Verde River by the time it was all over.

Last year,  I introduced the concept of  “April Fools” to Miranda.  Now, she has a great sense of humor, if not terribly sophisticated.  But trying to explain the difference between joking and lying is tricky.

Realizing we were in dicey territory here, I quickly determined that an April Fools’ Day joke must not be unkind.  Jokes about not liking someone are just too cruel.

I gave up trying to explain what is funny; it’s just too relative.  I tried to offer examples but as I listened to them spin out of control in a five-year-old brain, I determined that her non-sequiters were really more funny than anything I was likely to come up with.

At five-years-old, her sense of time is still developing so when I suggested that she tell her teacher that she was leaving kindergarten to attend college next week, it came out, “I went to college last week!”  I thought it was hilarious.  Not sure if Miss Karen will recognize the April Fools Day joke within.

There was a time when I worked really hard at developing April Fools’ Day jokes–once I created an entire company newsletter as a spoof–but, given the demands of mothering, it’s more fun to enjoy those created by my daughter.  I guess that makes me her biggest April Fool!

My life has been filling up with pets and angels. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Mostly.

Miranda had a lizard jump onto her arm while she sat on the couch reading with her dad at his house. Apparently, it didn’t want to leave. She brought it home to me and I found myself wrangling crickets ($1.75 for +/-30 at the local pet store. Who knew?), moistening a tiny bit of sponge in a bottle lid twice daily and carefully adding and removing scraps of lettuce and apple cores every day. I had no idea a lizard would be so labor-intensive. That was October.

In November, Miranda’s dad said he’d get her a Betta for her birthday. I

He's the little guy inside the big fish.

agreed that if she wanted to keep it here, it could live here IF she helped care for it. She feeds it most days so she is upholding her part of the bargain. But it is the changing of the water that is a bit burdensome. Not that I want her to do that…

In December, a kitten appeared at the edge of my consciousness–which is a vague way of saying that a sign on the bulletin board at the local healthfood store caught my eye–. Since Miranda and I lost our wonderful cat and in-house comedian, Chiquita, last spring, I had been pestered about a new cat for several months. It seemed like a good time. Now, for years I’ve said I wouldn’t get a kitten, only rescued cats. But this one needed a bit of rescuing. We met her and fell in love. She seemed like a good match for my high-energy girl.

Sable enjoys the afternoon sun

The kitten meant the lizard needed to move back to M’s dad so that reduced my pet quotient back down to manageable. Oddly,   I miss the lizard, ever-so-slightly.  Although I don’t miss the crickets.  Caring for such a tiny animal caused me to feel deep compassion and a strange power; this animal relied on me to survive.  No one has needed me that much since my daughter was an infant.

As I type, the Betta, named Rainbeau (my spelling) by Miranda, hangs in his tank and waves at me.  He comes to the kitchen side when I’m cooking.  He never complains and always looks lovely.  The kitten, named Sable for her fur, sits by my monitor and purrs loudly without provocation.  It is a bit like being surrounded by angels.

My take on Raphael's angels

I finally finished a project I’ve been envisioning for about 3 years…maybe the pets inspired me.

I feed one small child everyday. It’s alot of work. But there are few things more pitiful than a hungry child. That’s why I’m posting here a link to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign. Their goal is that there no longer be any children going hungry in America by 2015. That should be achievable. If you help. There is enough food. So, sign the pledge and browse around the site and see how you can help. Miranda and I are going to make a monthly donation together. She wants to help Native American children. She can relate to hungry children.

http://nokidhungry.org/

I decided that today (September 20) would be a good day to shop for a Halloween costume: greater selection than when I wait till October 20; costumes still in relative order at Wal-Mart; possibly more which would appeal to my girl at the lower price.  I discussed this shopping trip with her and we agreed.  Then, over the course of the day it dawned on me; more choices might not be a good thing.

I stopped at the local children’s consignment shop to drop off some things and noticed she had her costumes out already.  I perused and found a few possible witch costumes which might work…for less than Wally World.  New plan:  stop there first.

I picked Miranda up from school and discussed the new strategy.  Thrift store, consignment store, then Wal-Mart, if necessary.  She agreed.  We launched.  I explained “power shopping” on our way to the first stop.  She vaguely grasped the concept of focusing on the goal items and getting out as quickly as possible.

First stop, I find size 1 Lands’ End maryjanes in new condition (which will fit in about 2-3 years) for $1.  Gotta have ’em.  Search for costumes comes up empty but casual perusal of neck ties nets 6 which would work for a project I’ve been contemplating…so much for power shopping.

Next store is the consignment shop where I know there are costumes.  She power shops the rack like a pro and finds…a bunny costume!  Complete with little paw flaps over the hands and very stiff  ears on the hood.  She tries it on and I cannot believe how cute it is.  Store owner loves it.  Fellow shopper loves it.  Yyyyes!  I get another year of cute at Halloween. (As opposed to scary and possibly a little too grown up)

She reconsiders.  She informs me that she really wants to be a witch.  I am ready to cry.  I even offer to get the bunny costume for Halloween and she can spend her $3 and I’ll make up the difference and she can have the witch costume for dress-up.  No go.  I remember that it’s her costume and she is who has to wear it…I relent.  Witch it is.

She asks if there is a hat.  Owner has one.  It’s perfect.  She asks for a broom.  Wrong store.  I picture a twig-style, short broom with a handle light enough to not cause injury during the inevitable frenzy that trick-or-treating is.  I suggest we stop at one more thrift store.

We enter a crowded room filled with mostly out-of-date women’s clothing.  I ask for Halloween costumes and am pointed to a rack with a few weak offerings.  She asks the women if they have a witch’s broom.  Without hesitation the woman says, “Yes,” and points behind a rack…she hesitates…she rushes forward.

The perfect broom.  Perfect.  I’m not kidding.  Short, bamboo handle with the natural twig broom.  Miranda asks if it can be painted black.  I’m on a roll, “Of course.”  She asks if it can have swirls on the handle.  “No problem.”  In glitter paint?  “Oh yeah!”  To top it off, I offer some glow-in-the-dark swirls too.  I am the ultimate mom in that moment.  I only hope it will continue to be this easy.

The hat and broom which made me a hero for the day.

I heard a radio reporter say, “…the most moderate Republican in the House.”  Can someone be the “most moderate?”  Is that an oxymoronic phrase?  Does being the “most moderate” make you an extremist?