Monday, December 21, 2009

Four Walls vs. The Elements

Today my husband and dog and I went for a ski in the woods. We chose the "red" trail, which was new to us and a bit challenging in terms of curves and hills. At one point as I stopped to rest on a little, wooden bridge over a dark and cold stream, I just stood and breathed. I could hear the softness of a light snow on the trail, the sounds of Tansy splashing into the creek, and the flutter of wings in the lower branches of nearby bushes and trees. My cheeks were cold and the rest of me beat in time with my heart and was toasty warm. I felt like lying down on that snow-covered bridge and just becoming part of everything around me.

The interruption of Doug's cell phone was a text message from his youngest daughter who was "getting to go bowling". Instantly my mind was transported to one of those places and I felt like shuddering the image away. No wonder bowling is an activity I have always abhorred. For me, the dim, smoky, airless room filled with the smell of fried food, cheap beer, and people's socks is one of my worst nightmares. To be trapped without a window or light, beneath ceilings that feel as if they are closing in on me... I pushed the mental image away and let the white light of the woods enter me again, and I knew then that I will not spend a minute of my life in places that make me unhappy unless I am forced to do so. My soul feeds on the movement and stillness of my body through places that have plants, earth, water and air.

The older I become and the more often I find myself contrasting places that I love with places I avoid, the more I realize what is essentially me. Even in my own home, during the hours I spend between walls, I choose to have living plants draping over my arm-chair, ivy crawling up my curtain, photographs of Lake Michigan and tree tops, and when there is light to be had, my curtains are flung wide to capture as much as possible. There are no artificial scents to be found, and so my nose can smell the earth of my plants, the coming of snow, and the scent of my own skin, so that I know myself to be non-artificial and whether clean or unclean, I am real.

These things which grow and die, and are silent in their purposes, though their purposes are obvious, are where I find myself and my spirit. I am ever more convinced that this is the critical connection for all people, but I can only make this choice for myself, and watch as my loved ones struggle with all that is between four walls.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Hummingbird and Labor Day

I sit on my porch avoiding real work, doing only virtual work, and the hummingbird is back again. Her hum is not the content sweetness of summer, but is somewhat puzzled and bordering on angry. She chirps at me, demanding to know why the feeder is not filled. I tell her that soon it will be Labor Day and therefore, time for her to go. She won't hear of it, and she gestures at the blue sky and sunny yard full of blooms. "Why should I go on your schedule?" she wants to know.
Are the rules about wearing white, putting in and taking out docks, and providing hummingbird food hard and fast ones? Do we get any leeway? I think the wearing-white rule is now defunct. The hummingbird would like me to put in a word for her as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Sunshiny Morning with Mushrooms

Normally I take pride in being able to find beauty on a gloomy, rainy day. I enjoy going out in my color-splashed rain boots and rhino coat to do things around the yard or take a walk in the dripping woods. Yesterday I went for a run in those woods, with rain loaded leaves drooping into my path. I was able to delight in the mushroom celebration that is going on at this moment in the dark of the woods, but I wasn't able to translate that delight into written words. Some days are just dark, and yesterday was one of them.

Today I woke, finally, to the sun and blue sky. I confess, despite my disdain for people's inability to enjoy anything but "sunny and 70", there are times when it is all I long for. This moment, with sun shining through my filthy windows and polishing up my dark hair, warming my arms, I am miles happier than I was yesterday or the many rainy days prior.

Now I am able to bring the mushrooms into the sun. They don't like it, which is why they are all out there joyously (for mushrooms) mucking about in the black wetness of the undisturbed woods. I have never in my life seen so many nor such a variety. For all that I know about my local nature, I know next to nothing about mushrooms. It is good for my brain to wonder about new things.

Along and sometimes in the path are fungi literally springing to life before my eyes. Wet, black dirt one moment, and at the next glance, tiny, electric yellow caps, elongated and surely poisonous. Further on my way I am halted by the appearance of a literal forest of what seem to be sea coral sponges! Pale, yellow-ish orange, with all the intricacies of coral, and they carpet the forest floor in multitudes. Most common are the flat mushrooms, capping the ends of longish stems, and with varying degrees of white and cream, they often have what appear to be bites out of them. I imagine some small elf trotting along munching one bite out of each mushroom, as we might out of a box of chocolates. To my hungry imagination, the next batch looks temptingly like large, whole wheat pancakes. I run by with syrup in mind. Sprinkled throughout the woods are startlingly beautiful red fungi, with curled lips and thick bases. They are the red of fall; the deepest red of maples and dusky apples. The most obviously poisonous, (though they may not be, for all I know), are what I think of as toadstools. They conjure what Disney mimics in its rendition of movies like Alice in Wonderland. Egg-yolk yellow with bumps and spots all over, perfectly shaped little umbrellas. I am without a doubt that fairy-folk dance 'round these each night while I sleep.

Later I will take my camera into the woods and try for a mushroom photo gallery. I suspect they will hide from me then, not wishing to be exposed to the world in the midst of their fungus revelry. I shall have to be very sneaky.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Not Ready to Make Nice

"When fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing."
-Anatole France

I guess I'm not going to be very good at blogging beautiful, positive thoughts. When I am stirred up and hurt or furious, that is when I want to write, unless it is springtime and then I can wax poetic about nature. Right now I'm still smarting from only one small sting on top of many others built up over 8 years.

It seems that the characters we love best in books and movies are characters who are unique individuals with a dream to realize and a fight to win. "Dreams" and "fighting" translate into reality somtimes in ways that aren't appreciated. Here in the false safety of my adopted hometown, these sorts of characters are not beloved. They are, at best, ignored, and at worst, persecuted. A dream, or a fight, after all, has to be realized through effort. One would think effort against the odds might sometimes triumph, but in the face of odds, people would rather swim with the tide and stay in their little school of identical fish. Phrases like, "pick your battles" and "its not worth the hassle or the fight" seem to mean something else to me. They feel defeatist. I want to say, "When IS it worth the fight? Which battles am I allowed to pick? If it means enough to me, but not to the majority, does that mean I should give in gracefully and bleat along with the other sheep? Why don't I get to decide what I want to fight for? Teamwork and cohesiveness has its place, but not when my core passions and beliefs are the payment." People don't want to fight for anything these days, at least around here. Because it might upset someone. It might make someone uncomfortable. Worst of all, something might change! (Gasp!)

Wondering if I'll ever get around to the point? What's got Tahlia all fired up this time? Let's start at basic needs. Yep; Maslow's Hierarchy. Food. Safety. Build on these, and you get to do the things that look good on paper, the testing and the pretty crafts that show what we've learned. Wait though! We don't quite have those basic needs met here. Not just any food will do! If those little bodies aren't getting what they need, how can we be sure that the bricks of learning that we pile on throughout the day, the month, the year are not going to slide right off with no foundation beneath? Yes, I'm talking about food... eating... nutrition. Let's pay attention to it for a moment. It underlies everything in our day and our lives. but we ignore it and abuse it, ourselves, and our children. We wouldn't think of injecting our children with cancer cells, but we feed them, in great quantities, the very substances that could well be contributing to cancer, as well as attention and learning problems, among others. Even if the proof that is out there isn't enough for you, what about common sense? Does it make sense to put genetically altered and man-made chemicals into our children's bodies on a daily basis through foods, drinks, and body products? There ARE options. Nature is here, and no matter what you believe about how it got here or what its purpose is in our lives, it just makes SENSE to only use what we know we can trust.

I'm really getting off topic here. It is easier for them to do what has always been done, to feed children high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and hydrogenated oils that come in a nice little package called "Graham Crackers" with no preparation necessary. Don't dare question this, and don't look for alternatives. I am expected to convince parents of something I not only don't believe in, but I vehemently oppose? How can I do that? Would you of faith be comfortable denying your most deeply held beliefs in the name of what is easy and consistent? I think not.

Maslow's Hierarchy. I mentioned safety too. Safety comes in learning about ourselves, our history, our human weaknesses and mistakes. It comes with learning about bullying- how to manage as targets and bystanders. I think it's all linked to acceptance and tolerance. It's linked to protecting our planet from ourselves, the biggest bullies of all. But we spend weeks educating our children about Valentines, apples, and pumpkins, and only one day on Martin Luther King, and none on Earth Day or Arbor Day. I tried a year ago to implement an anti-bullying lunch club, but it was not supported. I spent 3 years working with our district diversity committee to create a cross cultural curriculum that fit beautifully into our present curriculum. Now the district can claim it has this in place... except it's sitting somewhere unused and unwanted.

By all means, let us keep things easy and comfortable. Let's ignore what we know is right because it's too difficult. Let's all look the same, dress the same, worship the same, and act the same. Be sweet, nice, and non-confrontational and you will have many friends. They won't know you and you won't really know them, but you can collect them on Facebook and invite them to parties.

Be careful, Tahlia, don't alienate anyone. Don't ruffle any feathers. Don't let them see how much you care. Be diplomatic; agree with everyone; smile and look pretty. It matters more that we are all in line doing the wrong thing, than to have a few people out of line, doing the right thing.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rainy Day Tides and Ramblings

It's raining this morning. A steady, heavy, stay-inside sort of rain. As if I wasn't unmotivated enough. In the ebb and flow, up and down of my time, this is a low and an ebb. I dislike these times, though perhaps I should learn to embrace them along with the ups and the flows.

I try to analyze the sources of my discontent. So many things from which to choose, yet a week or two ago, there were as many joys and delights as there are now frets and anxieties. What were they? The sun was out. My husband still had summer left to spend with me. No family tensions had made an appearance, and I was able to put my issues with our neighbor in their proper place, which is to say, not giving him or his ego the time of day, spending no power, time, or gifts on him.

This week I am both overwhelmed and undermotivated. Bad combination. I need to run and no one will make me. My classroom needs work and I have a new curriculum to learn, but I would rather read my book and drink tea. Friends are coming to camp tomorrow and I have made no preparations whatsoever for this event.

Tansy has been throwing up every other day or so, repeatedly. Our new fridge is making sounds like a dying cow. We have to hire a lawyer to deal with our unreasonable and freakishly property-obsessed neighbor. Our house is filthy and full of pet hair in all of the corners. Laundry needs doing, though I would just as soon wear the same thing every day, my recently tie-dyed pants and my Brian Vander Ark t-shirt. Certain friends lives seem to be changing, or they are changing, or maybe I am changing... these shifts always frighten me. We owe an outrageous sum of money due to a 2 year accident on our tax forms. There is a pair of $300 boots that want me to take them home this fall...

So make an effort! Look on the bright side! Think positively! Count your blessings! ... right. So, the bright side is... these conditions are not permanent. And thinking positively and counting my blessings? At least I have a new fridge when my other broke. I have friends who want to come hang out and camp with me. I have a wonderful, albeit filthy, home. The pet hair is a price I pay for the priceless love of my furry friends. My clothes that need washing are cute and plentiful. We may owe money, but we have jobs. My neighbor provides me with constant testing of my patience and my ability to find serenity despite conflict. I CAN run, though I don't feel like it. My legs operate well. My new classroom and curriculum means that I was able to remove myself from an untenable situation. And at least I have a husband worth missing when he's gone.

It's still raining.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Letter to Barbara Kingsolver

Dear Barbara Kingsolver,

It didn't quite take a growing season, but I finally finished your book that I've been meaning to read for some time now, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I read many books, and this summer I would estimate I've already read about 15 of them, but only yours has made the impact of a lifetime. Only yours bears page after page of underlining, exclamation points, and comments. Only yours required my patient husband, friends, and parents to have to drop whatever they were doing and listen to me read aloud to them, page after page. I do not want to loan out my copy; I want everyone I love to OWN it themselves!

Typically, I fly through books, devouring them in huge bites, hungry for the story, the nurturing they provide, and the next book after that. (usually while overeating and dripping olive oil and getting green smudges on my book pages). Your beautiful and original writing does not normally slow me down... but THIS book... aaah. I savored it in small bites, and as I read, I found green tendrils curling upwards inside of me, blossoming, and bearing fruit that I hope will last for the rest of my life. I felt the seasons move through me, bringing to life memories of my childhood in a garden and at the table of two people who believed in Good Food. I smelled and felt the dirt that held our vegetables until they were picked by our bare hands. The scent of tomato plants, the zucchini overflow, the fresh asparagus- it was all as familiar as could be. So why would your book be such a fresh wonder to me?

I don't think I recognized my relationship with food before in quite the same way. Oddly enough, as I began your book, I was struggling with some eating issues. I was using food to nurture myself when I really needed other kinds of self-reinforcement. Between your book and a great therapist, I am changing my nurturing habits, but falling more in love than ever with the food I was so lucky enough to have been brought up on.

I can't thank my parents enough for having the background, the sense, and the belief system that resulted in my love of sweet, purple beets, garlic-sauteed zucchini, steamed buttery yellow squash, warm sweet juicy tomatoes, fresh whole wheat, home-made bread, and lumpy carrots, pulled straight from the earth, wiped on my Osh-Kosh B'Gosh overalls and munched right there in the garden. I never questioned how we ate, or what we ate, with the exception of what we didn't eat, when I noticed other kids' lunches. (You couldn't pay me to eat a Twinkie, now!) We had our own chickens, and the eggs had deep yellow yolks with a taste unheard of from any grocery store egg since. I had zero appreciation for it then; it was just the Way Food Was. Now, as I look around me at my peers, I realize I am saved in ways they may never be. I have, running through my blood, the greens, purples, reds, oranges, and yellows of plants that grew only yards from my front door. I have an advantage that was not my doing, but for which I am thankful nonetheless. Without even consciously realizing it, I've always known what foods were "in season" and what could have grown here in Michigan. But that is where my knowledge and instinct of my childhood left off, and your book filled in the missing pieces.

I knew, vaguely, that CAFOs were out there, that they were cruel and unhealthy for both the livestock and the public who eats them. But I have my eyes wide open now, and there is no going back, no compromising for any reason from here on out. I was reassured by your information on humans needing meat, but not meat that was inhumanely raised to be completely, and utterly unnatural. I don't want to eat an animal that suffered, ate food that hurt it, and was given antibiotics to fight diseases caused by the inhumanity in the first place. I don't want to put into my body any hormones that are not mine. My own are trouble enough, thank you!

I knew that buying local produce was healthy, but I never thought of the fuels consumed to get non-local foods here in the store in their little, plastic packages. It was not a mystery to me that high fructose corn syrup was in nearly everything, but until I started really perusing the ingredients lists, did I realize how very pervasive it is, and how many ingredients I cannot pronounce, identify, or find reason to have in my body.

In the week after beginning your book, we planned our next year's veggie garden (this year didn't yield much), bought a modest freezer, stocked up at the local farmer's market (asking questions about where and how food was raised), purchased cage free and un-injected meats from local farms at a local butcher, and cooked and froze things to fill our freezer for winter.

I looked up from your chapter on zucchini the other day to see a cookbook from a food-conscious friend on my bookshelf. I'd not really seen this book for the treasure that it is. I pulled it off of the shelf and opened it up. Inside, it was separated into sections for early season, mid season, late season, extended season, and planning season (winter). Seasonal, local vegetables filled the pages, with storage, handling, and recipes following each. Typically cookbooks intimidate me with all of their ingredients that I don't have or wouldn't buy. This cookbook, Farmer John's Cookbook, The Real Dirt on Vegetables, Seasonal Recipes and Stories from a Community Supported Farm, included recipes that made sense to me for the first time. And of course they did! They included only the ingredients I'd grown up knowing and having in each season without even realizing it. The book supported your book 100%, including many of the same resources, such as Slow Food.

I haven't, and probably won't, follow exactly in my parents' path. I do not see a rototiller in my near future, nor the sizable garden they labored over each summer. We will not raise our own chickens, (at least until we retire) and we will choose to buy some pastas, cereals, beer, and the occasional artichoke or avocado at the supermarket. But we will commit to the farmer's market, to questioning our local stores, restaurants, and schools about their food, and we will be awake when we shop!

I am part-time step-mother to three girls brought up on boxed food, refined sugar, and the "have it NOW" mentality. So far, I have coaxed them to eat the occasional green bean, pea, cucumber, lettuce, and even a bag of frozen edamame. They observe with deep suspicion and great interest as I rinse, chop, and saute vegetables they've never seen or heard of. They peer warily into my pans on the stovetop and I encourage them to sniff the cilantro, basil, unprocessed, hard cheese, and crushed garlic. These separate ingredients are mysterious to them, and not at all tempting... yet. They survive largely on macaroni & cheese, hot dogs, pop tarts, candy, and Lunchables in their own home. But here, I can only hope that each time they enter my kitchen and sniff the garlic, tomato, and cheese scented air, or each year that they see me triumphantly pull a cucumber from its vine in our garden and emerge disheveled, happy, and stained from beneath the raspberry bushes, I hope that they will feel the urge to just try it... again and again.

Though you may well be the 74th most dangerous person in America, you have enriched my life and put wind back into the sails of my childhood, reaffirming the debt of gratitude I owe my parents for feeding me well.

Thank you, from the bottom of my garden, where the fireflies and fairies gather in abundance, the cabbages swell greenly, and the raspberries fall directly into my open mouth.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Professional Parents

It occurred to me this week, via some frustrations within my own family, that parenting is often done by the seat of our pants and off the tops of our heads. If we have good instincts and were well brought up ourselves, this can be effective. However, as I compare parenting to teaching, something puzzles me. As a teacher, (or any professional), we have objectives; we work hard to meet them. We don't go about it haphazardly, hoping for the best ending, but we make a Plan, or many Plans, often with a colleague to back us up or lead the way. We study and learn what is research-based best practice. We wouldn't dream of slacking off for more than one bad day here and there, and we truly give it our best effort most days. We go about our jobs with deliberation and care, for the most part, and often use up our emotional energy in doing so.

What I'm puzzling over, as I observe parents in the grocery store, in the news, around the school, at the mall, in the library, or in my own home, is why we don't apply ourselves similarly to our far more important job as Parents? We are we even allowed to be parents without some kind of a test to pass or a license to dole out consequences, pile on the encouragement, and give our children the tools to go out into that big world? I'm sure you've all seen the parents who make you wonder that. And on some days, we ARE those parents... after all, no one is perfect and dealing with our own kids is quite different than anything else that we do. But I can't help thinking, shouldn't we have a Plan? Shouldn't we have planning sessions weekly with our back-up, our leader, or our partners in parenting? Shouldn't every parent belong to some kind of a support group where we can regularly learn research-based best practice in how to cope with our kids? After all, we cannot assume, and most of us do not, that the way WE were parented is what we intend for our own children. In fact, more often than not, we go into parenting with all kinds of determination to do it differently, and we seek therapy to figure out how our own parents impacted us. Otherwise, we do it all over again, whatever it was. Of course, this does not apply to everyone, but it certainly seems to be the norm.

But we love our children, right? I love my job too. Unfortunately, love is NOT all that it takes. It is NOT enough. I can't just love teaching in order to be a good teacher. I can't just love kids and depend on that to shape them, teach them, and support them. What about knowledge and deliberation to do it well, if we're going to do it? It's hard work; there is no doubt about that. But the information is out there, and ignorance of what is best for our kids is not going to save them or excuse them when they are grown.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Possibly Random Thoughts from 5 a.m.

I read something recently that struck me and stuck with me, at least, for the last 2 days or so. It wasn't anything original or that I probably haven't heard before.
It was something like this, "Look at everything as if you were seeing it for the first time or the last time."
I guess that goes along with "live each day as if it were your last", but that absolutely does NOT work for me. After all, if it were my last day, my husband wouldn't be golfing and I wouldn't be sitting on my porch alternating between reading, facebooking, and eating cherries. Not that this isn't a perfectly nice day, but I think I'd behave quite differently. And each day can't be lived as if it were my last, because I'd never go to work, I'd tell off certain people, and I'd spend all of my money and then have none for the next last day... anyway, it doesn't hold up in court.
But looking at things as if I'd just seen them for the first time, or am seeing them for the last time, that is something I can make use of.
Running yesterday through the hot, mosquitoey woods, I looked more carefully at the green, veined, sun-dappled leaves above me. I actually smiled at them. Watching my husband putting plants back on the deck yesterday after waterproofing it, I looked at him in this new way, and being unsure whether he was more tempting to me the first time I saw him, or if it were the last, I still found myself giving him a rare kiss and smile that is usually reserved for less ordinary moments than that one. And it made him happy. This morning I am being guarded by a barn swallow which sits above me on the hummingbird feeder whistling softly to its mate as they take turns feeding the babies. It is a joy and a wonder to me to see this small, wild thing trusting me so close. I see it every day, and every day it is amazing to me.
At 5 in the morning I had so many thoughts and ideas tumbling about and even flowing nicely and I knew I should get up and write, but when sleep is elusive, I chase it doggedly rather than let it go.
I remember appreciating the feel of our sheets and the smell of the cool, summer air through the open window.
It is probable that I will not hold onto this new perspective; it's not my nature to be so dreamily and simplistically pleased. But if I can do it even once a day, that would be satisfying. I am certain to return to my sarcasm, anxiety, endless worrying, and general angst that I can't fix everything and everyone.
Which reminds me of an epiphany I had in the 5 o'clock hour. I am aware that my friends and foe alike probably think I am "too opinionated" or that I want them to change and be like me, using natural products, recycling, turning off unnecessary electric items, spending more time in nature, turning off the tv and videos, reading intelligent books, exercising, freeing themselves from the guilt and control of organized religion, eating healthy... all the activites and labels that I've had applied to me, whether I actually am a poster child or not for this lifestyle. Here is what I think. I DO want people to experience these things. Everyone, not just people I love. But it's definitely NOT out of a need for control or a lack of appreciation or respect for who they already choose to be. It's because I have always found that the joys in my life are multiplied when I can share them with others. I am not a loner; I am not content with just enjoying something by myself. Rarely can I just experience a beautiful full moon, or a fabulous wild animal encounter, or even a good meal, without looking about for someone with whom I can share it. My own experiences do not seem to have the merit they deserve without a witness, and are best when said witness can also enjoy them. I want everyone else to experience what I have so, quite simply, they will be happier than they are. There is a quote in my friendship book that says something like, "To have the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with." That's why I probably seem to "push" my experiences on others, though I have never viewed it that way. I have never encountered a friend and wished her to be different than she is, or not loved her for who she is entirely. There is no disapproval, only the wish to share the gifts I have been given with others.
Could this could be compared to people who have experienced spiritual joy and want to share it? But then, I DO feel it pushed on me, and I dig in my heels most emphatically and turn away. Those I respect most for their need to share their joy are the ones who just live it, or try to, without talking about it all the time.
Perhaps I need to take a lesson from this, and just live my joys and hope that someone will want to share them with me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Use it While You've Got It

I could rant about video games and how very much I despise their existence at any given time. I can quote all kinds of statistics and research, and I can point to the evils of how it affects children so detrimentally. I don't really have anything new to add to that, but today I saw something that made part of my thoughts on this topic explode with frustration all over again.

We were at a backyard concert on a beautiful, sunny, 65-70 degree June day. There was a plethora of kids available, and a climber, swing set, and foam thingies with which many boys were busily whacking each other, which is What Boys Do. Better yet, in my opinion, there was an inviting green hill, away from the boring grown ups, but still in safe sight. The hill had tempting trees all around and nearby it, and the mystery of what was on the other side of the hill as well. There was an enormous and beautiful evergreen tree, which just begged to be inspected, and the entire front yard which was also a grown up free zone. I heard tell there was a lake nearby as well.

As I stood up to stretch my sore, cramped, out of shape legs, and shake out my joints which cannot be in one position for too long, I turned around and my How Things Should Be temper flared. Sitting, or rather, growing, in two camp chairs, were two young boys. Their bodies were folded forward and their eyes were glued to the cute, portable, plastic video games in their hands. The only moving parts were their fingertips and possibly they blinked. I was outraged. I wanted to hunt down their parents and lecture them. I wanted to march up there and take those damn games and chuck them in the lake.

I wanted to shout, "WAKE UP BECAUSE YOU ARE MISSING YOUR CHILDHOOD!!!! Your body can still move and jump and run and heal with ease and beauty! Get your ass out of those chairs and go PLAY! Make trouble, climb a tree, have a sword fight with dangerous sticks and get your ankles scratched and mosquito bitten! Go breathe deeply from running hard, and just WONDER what is over that hill! Notice that the sky is clouding up and that the air is changing. Know the difference between the different birds and bugs that fly by you. You have who-knows-how-much of your life left and you are spending this precious time in a virtual world that means nothing and will not benefit you emotionally, socially, or academically. You will be old someday and all you WILL be able to move are your fingertips and your eyeballs! Use your legs and arms and muscles while you can! Go tame Nature or let it tame you. Or at the very least, TALK to each other! Giggle and laugh and find out what other people are doing or thinking. BE a child."

But I settled for staring and making one or two disgusted comments, which probably earned me some more "negative hateful" reputational perspectives.

Now, I have to get my ass out of this chair and my eyes and fingertips away from this computer, and go talk to my husband and watch my bird feeder.



People like to talk about things like their "legacy" or what they will leave behind when they are gone. They mention how they will be remembered and how they will "live on" in their children and grandchildren. I admire this. I got to thinking about it this morning as I was lying in bed staring up at the beautiful, black and white photos of milkweed that my dad took and developed when I was a baby. (There IS a connection here, I promise.)
Recently I was reading a book with a series of essays by women and all of the issues that women have in today's American culture and society. One thing I noticed is that they all, every one of them, had or expected to have children. This is not only acceptable, it is the Norm. What Is Done. I squirmed a little, knowing that the explanations I have given for why I not only don't have any of these offspring, but why I truly don't want any, are not getting any easier.
I get Looks from people. I get the puzzled, sympathetic, the disgusted. I get the attempted explanations that are meant to excuse me for my abnormal behavior and choices. Even a dearest friend has tried explaining this anomaly in a way that puts me in a nicer, though slightly screwed up, light.
I find myself thinking about legacies because in this book, several women mentioned how they will live on in their children. That their DNA will continue in their grandchildren and how important this feels to them.
This morning, gazing up at the pure, silk-white seeds of the milkweed in my dad's photographs, I thought, "Now THAT is beautiful." Nature makes me so very happy and content. Truly; not because it's a label someone stuck on my forehead, and not because it's one of the popular and accepted niches to which I could belong, but because it feels like everything important to me. It resonates, pounds, whispers, and drifts through every fiber of me. It will go on. It strikes me as the only Perfection I have ever witnessed. What I plant and what I grow will continue, even after I am gone. If my body itself can be composted and give back to the earth, then I will live on.
But I don't even feel the need for "living on" in anything other than a memory. I would rather my life be the brief and amazing thing that it is, and know that the Earth will continue and will live, whether I am here to see it or pass it on or not.
This feels true. It isn't the Earth you see in satellite photos or Disney movies, or the Earth on coffee mugs and t-shirts. It's the dirt in my driveway, the trees where I grew up rambling around in the maple woods, the rocks along Lake Superior, the purple irises in my garden, the tomatoes from my parents' garden, the dune grass and Lake Michigan. The rolling hills of the farm on Pettis drive, and the young horses on the corner of old 131 and Hersey road. It's the earth that sings like a cicada or a spring peeper. The earth that collects 4 feet of snow in shimmering layers, and the earth that grows the whispering grasses of our field. The earth that produces amazing looking stones and which balances all ecosystems except the human one, perfectly.
So, somehow, this is part of the explanation to those sympathetic looks I get. I'm really happy; content, not incomplete, or rather, incomplete, but not in that way. I feel like I have it all, even on my worst days.
I do not feel the need to live on in anyone. Maybe some day I will. Right now, I hope that Nature can live on in me.

Monday, June 1, 2009


YOU-others, handed me labels and handles, definitions of Who I Am. Somehow, I have spent a lifetime constantly redefining myself using your words.
I'm oversensitive? Oh... okay. I guess I am then.
I'm opinionated? um, if you say so.
strong-willed? ... really? are you sure?
unafraid? ... have you been watching?
granola?'s a cereal. Yes, I like it.
nature girl? ... I do love nature. I also love shopping.
negative? ... about negative things...yes.
hateful? ... I don't hide it well, eh?
The list goes on, depending on who is offering up their opinion that day of that facet of me.

But, wait... AM I who they see? Who they say I am? Do I believe in those labels?
We decide about people, but what about asking them first, "How do you see yourself? Is the
mirror-self the same as the others-self?
Do I have to fit myself, my entire self, into one of those or all of those descriptions simply because someone or someones have indicated that is what they see in me? What if those labels are not at all what I see of myself? What if those labels are only a little bit of me, and there are other parts that are quite opposite of the labels? If I admit to being a Nature Girl/Granola type, does that mean I can't buy something that comes in a plastic container or throw away something that should have been recycled once in a while? Does it mean my clothes have to be earthy, organic, and shapeless? Can't I still wear high heels, lacy undies, and sequins sometimes? And if I admit to being negative, can I also be positive and optimistic, believing in fairies and teaching kids to be thankful and look on the bright side?
I don't like being defined. Instead of, "You're so -----------", how about, "I like you the way you are." or "How do you see yourself right now?" Or the old favorite, if you don't have anything NICE to say...
Or maybe it's me. Insecure enough to LET, to allow, the labels to stick, rather than shaking them off. I don't have to prove which ones apply. I don't have to wear them all at once, or at all, if I don't want to....



Yes, I may be opinionated, but at least I care; at least I'm thoughtful enough to have formed my OWN opinion... and okay, I can be hateful, but not easily or without cause, and in balance to that, I am ferociously loyal to my friends and those I love. I will admit I expect a commitment from the people who love me, but I also give my commitment fully and strongly. I can definitely hold a grudge, but with very little effort, a person can gain my forgiveness and affection again, grudge-free.
And I DO feel things strongly- passionate about what matters to me. I DO have my causes, and I'm learning when and where is the place for them. But the majority has their causes too, and they don't seem to have to hide them...
But I won't be pigeonholed; I won't accept all of this criticism, because I would much rather be me, with all of my faults, than anyone else, because, mingled with my grudges, opinions, hatreds and expectations, woven intricately and inseparably is my passion, loyalty, ability to think for myself, willingness to forgive when asked, and my commitment to those who love me for all of who I am.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I love to mow the lawn. I do! I never thought I would say such a thing, especially knowing it is on a riding mower that I experience this, but I admit it.

Now, before you go imagining me on a smooth, new, shining, John Deere mower, back up! It's, um, I don't know what color it is, but it's OLD! Really old. One wheel is bent off in a different direction, and the thing has to be jump-started from our car. After jump-starting, I have to sit on it and pull out and push in the choke about 20 times before it will stay running. The entire time it's belching exhaust, and making me cringe with the waste, the noise pollution, and the sheer ugliness of the entire affair. The seat is cracked and cut open in several places, which causes the foam inside to absorb moisture, which is then released against my rear, making it appear that I've wet my pants. The plastic also pokes into me, so I have to wear sturdy material. The steering is iffy; it gets quite temperamental about which way it wants to go, and there is no such thing as a tight turn. Shifting from one "gear" to another is funny too. The numbers go from 1-7, but they all seem about the same for the first 7 seconds or so, and then it will slowly begin to recognize that I've asked it to change speed. Reverse works... sometimes.

Today the blades were making a sound that indicated a loose bolt somewhere. I turned up my i-pod and kept mowing, just hoping and pushing for just one more loop around the yard, and then another, and another.

This is the sort of mechanical object that would have sent my dad into paroxysms of cursing. He can swear like nobody's business at inanimate objects, and this one would have been a prime target. I'm a lot like my dad, ordinarily, but with a few exceptions, this mower has earned nothing but my affection. When it quits half way through (and it does; repeatedly) I just climb off and leave it there and find something else to do, completely unruffled by its sudden refusal to operate. Doug will fix it. I am serene about this.

I won't drive a car that has a hole in the exhaust, a broken mirror, a smashed fender, or a cracked windshield. I shudder to think I could be seen in a "junker", the likes of which an ex-boyfriend from high school might have driven. But I love that mower.

Mowing, for me, is this: I wear what pleases me. Some days a bathing suit top and shorts, with grass-stained running shoes. Other days rain boots and cargo pants with a sweatshirt. Cowboy hat, or floppy beach hat. Later afternoon mowing includes a bottle of my favorite beer between my knees. Add my i-pod and headphones, turned up louder than the mower, destroying my eardrums. The mower bounces around on our bumpy, mole-ridden yard, and I bounce with it. I clench my stomach muscles to avoid back problems, per Dad's warning. My mower kicks up bugs, and behind me, the barn swallows swoop and dive, their backs flashing iridescent blue in the sunlight, while the hawks watch from above. I slow to a stop for a plump and fuzzy bumblebee, waiting for it to move on from its dandelion. I mourn each wildflower/weed that falls to my blades. I challenge myself to get as close to our little trees as possible, so that Doug will be impressed when he goes to use the edger/weed whacker.

I see neighbors drive by and their heads turn. I wave, or pretend not to see them. But I do wonder, what are they thinking of me? I'm usually grinning in the sun or singing out of tune (due to the headphones) at the tops of my lungs. I even have a "mowing mix" on my i-pod. Certain songs are good for running, and others are good for mowing.

Sometimes I have conversations in my head with people who badly need to hear what I have to say. It can be very satisfying.

Mowing is a time entirely to myself. I cannot hear anyone else, and no one tries to communicate with me, short of Tansy, who keeps her distance, with a mournful look to say she wishes I'd stop the awful noise... because, did I mention how incredibly LOUD this mower is?

The entire time I am out there I am thinking how silly mowing is in the first place, and how much happier I would be to let it all grow in naturally, or to plant wildflowers, but I do the mowing because it is What Is Done. The Thing To Do. Every year I try to shrink the yard by a few feet though, and every year I add more flower gardens to the land around me.

The yard is still ridiculously and embarrassingly large. Totally unnecessary, but if it needs to be mowed, I will do the mowing. I am the mower. Hear me roar.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

Look Up, Look Down, Lock On

Today my students played a game of "Lock On". This is meant to practice eye contact, and it's fun as well. The way you play is to stand in a circle, and the leader says, "Look up, look down, lock on." and you all look up, look down, and then lock your eyes on someone in the circle. If they happen to be looking back at you, then you sit down with them. Otherwise, the game continues until all but 2 are sitting. I like to vary it by altering whether I say, "look up" or "look down" first.
Tonight in the ever-greening spring woods, I felt like I was playing a version of "Lock On" that kept me looking up, looking down, and locking on constantly! I couldn't make up my mind which direction to look. There were rewards either way, but if I looked up to see which bird was making that amazing sound, then I missed the frogs leaping from my toes to the swamp. When I looked down and saw that garter snake, I missed the flash of red wings that flew by my head. While I was gazing upward at the vine-choked trees, I didn't see all of the fresh wintergreen at my feet.
I felt like Owl at Home, when he can't make up his mind about whether to be upstairs or downstairs, and finally sits on the middle step. Except, on a beautiful spring night in the woods, there is no middle step. There are sticks to be thrown for Tansy, foam peanuts to get out of the swamp, logs to be walked on, moss to be patted, flowers to admire, mushrooms to examine, peepers to stalk, fiddle-heads to photograph... I cannot look only up; I cannot look only down. I need eyes in the back of my head and under my feet and in all of my finger tips! I want to lock-on with each of these, without missing the others.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Live It

Yesterday as I was attempting to leave the library, weaving my way through families with wayward children, I spotted a little spark of life who made me grin. Her mother was pushing a stroller, and 2 other young children dutifully trailed after her. But this one- this one suddenly stopped in the middle of the library lobby to execute a beautiful flip into a back bend, followed by a delighted wriggle and collapsing on the floor with her dress flipped over her shoulders. Mom turns around and gives an exasperated sigh of the little one's name. As she scrambles to her feet, I notice that while the other children, and their mother, are wearing sensible Saturday clothes, the object of my amusement is wearing a shimmering, ruffled dress complete with mismatched, print tights and fancy shoes. I recognized a kindred spirit in that instant, and I know from experience, that she wasn't going out of the house in anything less than her finest. We, as a group now, headed for the first set of doors, the other two children followed their mother to where I held open the door clearly marked, "exit". My little friend marched up to the door on the left and pushed as hard as she could, her little feet braced out behind her and all of her might aimed at that entrance door. Her brother, who couldn't have been more than a year older, turned and exclaimed her name, bringing her into line with the rest of the family. Only after trying the door thoroughly, was she willing to follow the beaten path.
Everything about her suggested that she is and always will be, emphatically, her own person. She will not be a trend follower, nor, even, a trend setter, but her own unquenched person.

When do we become so grown up and responsible that we bury the urge to do a flip in the middle of the library? Or jump to hit things hanging from the ceiling? Or just wiggle while we walk down the hall? When did we start avoiding puddles instead of stomping in them, and start worrying that our socks match our shirts and our outfits don't stand out any more than they should? When did we stop wearing the clothes that REALLY delight us and help define who we are?

That age differs for everyone, I'd imagine, but what if we started making the effort to recapture that personal style? Imagine us in our painfully adult bodies, complete with aching joints, stiff necks, push up bras, pointed shoes, tight ties, constricting suit jackets, and coiffed hair... imagine us coming to work one day wearing our favorite things, whether they match or not, and doing headstands or cartwheels down the hallway, instead of rushing to where we have to be. Imagine us with our hair in pigtails or just as it was when we rolled out of bed, as we trail down the hallways running our fingers over the texture of the walls, or jumping to whack leaves under which we walk, and using our faces to show our every emotion, rather than hiding it in polite smiles and shifted eyes.

Take it even farther. We sing the songs that are running through our heads, and we abandon tasks that bore us. We kick off our shoes and sit on the grass, regardless of grass stains. We jump in that drifted snow instead of avoiding it, and rather than worrying about how we look when we walk, we return to the joys of skipping, sliding, hopping, or galloping as we go about our day.

Wouldn't that be something? I may be a teacher, but I sure have a lot to learn from a 4 year old in a shimmery, ruffled dress doing flips in the library.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Running Away

Every woman knows the days that make you want to run away. All it took for me, today, was a single moment, a single line of letters, and that was all. Somewhere in the midst of considering how this could be accomplished, I found myself on the phone with a friend-who-knows-how-to-be-friends and I was complaining of how I don't run enough anymore. We ended the call and I began my ritual, exhausted, eating, and reading. But this time the book I was beginning was focused on the societal anger of women in general, and it hit me, I am not alone, and I CAN run away sometimes.
So, with only 2 pages, in, I laced up my new purple and silver running shoes and off I went. Tansy was only too happy to lead the way, her sassy rear end showing every bit of happiness that a dog can muster when her best friend has gotten her 36 year old, cellulite-ridden ass off the couch and put on those delightfully smelly running clothes.
Spring was waiting for me. She was even more beautiful than I remembered her from years past. It seems this way each April, when the willows cascade over themselves with greeny-yellow leaf drops, and the creeks dance along in the sunshine. Running away brought me to the edge of a swamp, filled to bursting with deafening spring peepers.
It was there in the woods that I found myself again. I found myself in the curls of the fiddleheads, the floating green duckweed, the smell of the change from oak forest to pine woods, and the white puddle of swan tucked away on her nest waiting for life beneath her.
I was no longer running away. I was found again. I could stay in that lovely woods or I could continue home, and either one was going to be just fine, because the woods and the springtime would stay with me, the packed dirt beneath my feet, the green and the frogs and the buds all sprouting away inside of me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

First Blog

"Blogging" sounds like a rude and private ritual, but I supposed it's got some meaning I've missed. So here I am, blogging, when all I ever wanted to learn to do was clogging. It's not the same and not very good exercise.
A sunny, 70, blue-sky, lily-white-way day like this one feels wasted unless I've accomplished something. Today's something was a woods wander with the girls. My sense of accomplishment was heightened when I was able to hold a tiny spring peeper in the palm of my hand, followed by picking up a "disgusting" object the girls were frightened of in the swamp. My pride swelled to joyous proportions when one of the girls said, "You'll touch anything!" in a tone of both disgust and admiration.
We engaged in some pre-earth day activities by collecting polystyrene packing peanuts that someone had carelessly allowed to blow into the wetland, providing possible turtle chokers. We waded out in rain boots, (I in my bare feet!) into the black, swamp muck and collected the offensive articles. Madeline made a text to self connection when she recalled a book she has been reading about a girl who solves animal mistreatment problems. She suggested we make a sign like the book character did, reminding people not to dump their trash in or near the water.

A hawk, a spring peeper, 2 nesting swans, and my doggy's sweet smile. These are the accomplishments of my day.