You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2011.

….sometimes all I can say is that….

 

…we had fun eating Pokey.

And working on our sitting.

 

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Every once in awhile, we need a whole day in our pajamas. My daughter Katie is always excited when I declare a pajama day. She knows it means that I will slow down,  that I won’t be so preoccupied with tidying up or bustling off somewhere. Pajamas mean coziness. They mean there won’t be mom’s last minute push to get shoes on and out the door to be somewhere—anywhere—on time. Our jammies mean taking time to connect.

My husband Bill helped to set the tone for a relaxing day when, without being asked, he thoughtfully surprised me with a “sleep-in” morning. He took Eric out of his room before I even had a chance to hear him early this morning, and since Katie was sleeping in, too, I got some extra sleep and woke up more leisurely. Oh, how I used to take for granted sleeping in whenever I wanted… It is a rare treat these days, and exquisite pleasure.

When I got up, I felt refreshed enough to “play princesses” first thing. I cannot always do imagination play very well first thing in the morning, but today I could—and that in turn sent good ripples into Katie’s heart for the day.

By the time we got downstairs to make lemon poppyseed muffins, it almost qualified as “brunch” but they were tasty with tea. We indulged in watching Goonies, one of my favorite movies from childhood. I remember watching that for the first time with my dad long ago.

Then it was time for more reading and play in our fort. In the afternoon while Eric took a long nap, Katie helped me prepare dinner and then she rested (still awake, but restful) nearby while I watched Flower Drum Song and caught up a little on my scrapbooking.

I was thankful for a quiet, peaceful day, a day that felt more in balance as I got to have time with my family and time also for some experiences that help me to recharge. Jammies mean no pressure, no expectations on ourselves other than enjoyment. Thank goodness!

 

There are most definitely times in our house when we use sugar, butter, and other forms of deliciousness in all their rich and tasty glory; however, for the most part, we try to eat well with health in mind. We try to reduce the sugars, reduce the fats, reduce the salt when possible.

A few months ago, we discovered these tasty Honey Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies, a recipe created by nutritionist Ellie Krieger. We love the heartiness of the oats and almond butter and the sweetness from the honey. Each cookie is about 100 calories, according to the nutrition information. Bill, Katie, and I really love them. The kiddos and I made a batch today and then snacked on some warm ones in our fort while we had story time.

For those who might try the recipe (and I really recommend it!), Katie had the idea to add a few 60% cacao chips. Yes, it increases the caloric value some, yet the little bit of chocolate satisfies the chocolate need without being excessive.

Hope you all enjoy!

Every once in awhile, life requires a fort:

A place of games and toys and fun, a “time-in” space of laughter and happiness…

A place to hide away…we have a little front flap to put down as a door when we really want to get away… We used two sheets and some office clips (really handy for clipping sheets to chairs). Yesterday we played Chutes and Ladders and various card games (Old Maid and Go Fish).

Boppa and Katie help to clean the pond.

Eric loves the outdoors.

Hi there!

We like to leave our forts up for awhile when we build them, so if you are a friend or family member stopping by in the next couple of weeks, we will probably invite you in. We like to sing songs in our fort, so bring your favorites. Also books: we love to read and cuddle in there. Our next task is to find some operative flashlights to use in the fort when it is dark, right before bedtime!

A reader and a longtime friend (and also a colleague) of mine, LB, commented on yesterday’s post:

I am sure you cringe every time I write. I was never formally trained in college-level English …I break many rules and don’t even know it….I just write so it sounds good to me.

Thinking about you editing my writing sends chills down my spine!

LB is not alone: thinking about anyone editing my writing sends chills down my spine, too! Asking someone to be your second set of eyes is not easy; it is an act of faith and trust. We make ourselves vulnerable when we do that.

I truly believe that it is not ever very probable that anyone—myself included—will write a perfect draft of anything the first time. Is it possible? Sure. Likely? No. There is always something to fix, hone, improve, reword. The craft of writing never ends.

And just when we think we have it, there are new ways to push ourselves, new writing games we can play. A favorite teacher of mine in high school, Mrs. A, gave us a list of words we were not to use in some of our compositions. This list included common verbs such as “is” and “was” and “were”….plus several “helping words” like “there” and so forth. At first it took hours and hours to compose an essay around these rules. How do you write without the “to be” verbs?? Some students grumbled. Yet it remained our challenge, and we had to blossom creatively. I could feel myself stretching, and I loved that feeling as a student. Mrs. A will always be one of the truly great teachers in my life.

Our age of technology and quick written communication—blogs, e-mails, Facebook comments, text messages—seems to coincide with favoring efficiency and developing a more colloquial language. We do not read over our Facebook comments a dozen times before we post them, and we do not use our finest eye on our text messages. If we put these forms of writing through a rigorous and time-consuming editing/proofreading process every time we set out to communicate in this age, we might as well get out the ol’ fountain pen and stationery and make a trip to the post office. Sure, I am an advocate for writing as cleanly as possible so that you will be understood, but we must also understand that most blogs, for example, are first drafts, perhaps revised as we go.

That’s what editors are for: we can be the second eyes that take the piece through a clean-up time.

It is funny: ever since I declared English as my major at Stanford, and especially since I became an English teacher, many people—even my family! especially my family!—imagine that I am in “English teacher edit mode” all the time. I wish I could explain how much that is not the case. I majored in English because I love to read—to read others’ thoughts and to interface with those thoughts, to analyze and to learn from those thoughts, to have conversations across centuries. So most of the time, I read to savor and enjoy, to relax, to ponder. I read blogs and Facebook comments for these reasons…and also because I am just a plain old busybody. It takes an extra effort in my mind to switch into “edit mode.” Most of the time, I don’t push that switch because when we start pulling apart writing, we are looking at it in a mechanical way. Good writing often needs to be enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake.

I like what LB says about writing “so it sounds good to [her].” YES! An editor is no editor (and a teacher no teacher) if, at the end of instruction, the writer has lost her voice. And LB is right even further: we must begin writing by listening to the poetry and rhythms in our inner ear. Our own personal cadence. Grammar concerns arrive on the scene when a writer realizes that adhering to certain rules makes it more likely that readers will better understand her.

So no, I don’t cringe. Not unless I am asked to. 😉 The times I am most aware of cringing with respect to Facebook or blogs, for example, is when a poster uses words to spread negativity or discordance. Words are powerful, and my emotional responses to them tend to be permanent. Words should be used for the Good. I am a big believer in that.

And I am willing to receive the feedback in return. Another friend and reader of mine, Miss M, mentioned the other day that perhaps joy should not be “gathered” but rather something one “feels.” I have been pondering the difference in those verbs for days…and I thank her for drawing my attention to the nuance of it. Not only does it mean we are communicating in a purposeful way, but also it means that she is letting my writing take both of us to new places in our philosophical outlook. Isn’t that what writing is for?

Finally, one of the greatest challenges of my life (as a person who is often concerned about earning respect from my colleagues and fearing my weaknesses) also turned out to be one of the biggest blessings. Still a young teacher, I was surprised when a colleague of mine, SH, (now a dear dear friend) asked me to team-teach with her a couple sections of 9th graders in classes that would combine GATE clusters with the special ed clusters and still meet the old rule of 20:1 students with a 9th grade teacher. Those clusters never would have intersected otherwise in 9th grade English at the time. We had a total vision for the double class, and the school gave us a double room and an extra adult. We were able to do some mind-blowing, amazing things together with our students. It was a time of great learning for me, for all of us.

That first year, I had to learn to trust the feeling of my colleagues watching me hone my pedagogy, watching me in both glorious moments and red-faced moments. I had several single classes of my own, too, and I know well how much revision goes on in a single lesson plan from period to period. Imagine revising lesson plans and teaching strategies with another teacher, being honest about what worked and didn’t, where I did well and where I didn’t. It was the same for SH. We could see and hear everything about each other as professionals. We even got to the point where we could revise together by just a glance or few words in the middle of a period, in a split second. We got to know each others’ teaching rhythms. We helped each other reflect. There was no room for anything but total trust.

That experience, combined with how I tend to think about life generally, opened me to whole new ways of sharing and gathering knowledge, on reflecting with someone else about what goes well and what doesn’t. There is not a place for critique (good or bad) of others without a supportive, open-hearted attitude. We can’t go into it feeling that knowledge is a zero-sum game, or that it is anything less than a true sharing without judgment. If two people are really communicating, the learning is always bi-directional.

Joy in the sharing…

I very much enjoy reading my friend Sana’s blog. Working as her editor, I think especially carefully about her use of language, looking for not just the little corrections here and there but moreso looking for the beautiful tools that come naturally to her. As with my students, my goal is to point out everything well that she does and to teach her the pattern of her natural style, her own voice. As a teacher I believe it is much more important for a student to be able to explain what they know and what they are doing right—than it is for a student to see red marks and corrections all over the paper.

Only by knowing what we are doing right—and why—can we hope to build our skills. Sure, people who write do need to internalize grammar rules, and they would do equally well to learn the conventions, too— if only to know when to break them.

(By the way, one distinction: grammar rules are hard and fast, based on logic; conventions are aspects of style to which people have agreed but that may be broken with poetic license. For example: it will always be illogical to pair a singular noun with a plural pronoun—i.e. “Everyone needs their daily chocolate.” “Everyone” is singular, while “their” is plural. Never may one person suddenly BA-ZING! become two or more in a sentence—this will always be wrong, by logic. Conventions, on the other hand, might include the old English teacher mottoes “Never begin a sentence with and!” or “Don’t use colloquialisms!” or “No sentence fragments!” Well, we know of writers who break conventions all the time and do it with panache. Grammar vs. conventions).

So Sana hears quite a bit from me with respect to all that she does right. By now she knows that her strengths include her use of imagery and metaphor, as well as her precise use of diction to characterize the people she describes. She has a friendly, authoritative tone which she intersperses with wry humor. She has a natural ear for parallel structure (both within a single sentence and within paragraphs as a whole). Her organization of her writing never falters. She is structured and logical as well as empathetic and descriptive—everything you could want as a reader when looking to connect to a writer.

The other day she suggested that some of my positive feedback sometimes comes as a surprise to her. If I fulfill my job as a teacher, then there should come a joyful day when she is no longer surprised. Now, yes, some writers by their very nature will always be a bit surprised—it is hard to break a student totally of authentic humility, and who would want to? It is pleasing when a writer is not over-confident and still has a thrill at discovering her own ability to connect with people, as if by magic. But by “no longer surprised” what I really mean is this: there will come a day when she will be able to talk with me about the intention of her crafting and she will know that what she does is effective…and, most importantly (drum roll please) WHY.

Last night, Sana wrote a blog discussing some of the signs of domestic abuse. She wrote in the first paragraph:

Alexandria (Alex) was crying a lot.  She was trying to divorce her husband but he wouldn’t leave.  He wouldn’t speak.  He only yelled.  He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.  And he never spoke to her any more.  It’s been weeks since they spoke. When I asked her if she thought she was abused, she said, “No.  He’s never hit me.”

Check out the fifth sentence:

He yelled at her, alone, in front of their kids, in the morning, when he came home from work, he yelled.

This sentence is all Sana, and it is all good. Her syntax is brilliant—look how she bookends the sentence with “he yelled” to represent the constant presence of the husband’s loud berating. The structure of this sentence parallels Alexandria’s life: surrounded by yelling—whether alone, with her kids, in the morning, or when her husband comes home. In fact, it gets even better. If we were adhering to strict conventions, one imagines a period going in after “work.” The verb “yelled” has already been used in the first clause; the sentence does not require a second verb; it is not a compound sentence. The fact that Sana uses another verb (the power, the action of any sentence) at the end of the sentence—making it almost stream-of-consciousness or a run-on—achieves something amazing. She quite literally weighs the sentence down with the second verb, giving the sentence additional weight when we definitely expect it to have no more. By heavy-handedly giving us this second verb, Sana represents through syntax (sentence structure) the weight of the yelling on Alexandria, the crushing feeling, the heavy boxed-in-ness.

Yes, I love everything about this sentence. Did Sana craft it with this intention? Well, that is for her as the writer to know. Did Fitzgerald know the every possible interpretation of all his sentences when he wrote them? Did Hawthorne? Dickinson? The point is that she now knows for sure now how well that sentence works. It is one to write down and keep in a notebook where one writes down and keeps the best of the best for later use or as models or as inspirations for another day.

It is often helpful to have a second set of eyes on one’s writing…not just for the picky grammar stuff, but to tell you what you are doing well and why.

Gather joy in your strengths, and let others help you to know what those are.

Today there was dancing:

And playing:

And laughter at Toastmasters.

The first half of the 1978 Superman.

Time with my parents.

Snuggles and reading this morning.

Fresh air and sunshine.

And much more…

 

I am tired, yet thankful. Good night, friends. Thank you for stopping by to say hello!

Great teachers truly are found in all professions, not just in education. I am thankful that my dental hygienist Jan is such a teacher. Her patience and willingness to explain just enough of her process to Katie, as well as her ability to use terms Katie would understand, helped to make Katie’s first official dentist visit a success. Katie is the 3rd generation in our family to see Dr. P…, a small town dentist who has worked his way to a thriving practice.

I credit Jan—as well as my parents—for getting me back into the routine of seeing the dentist every six months. During a visit in college, the words “wisdom teeth” were once uttered to me. What many people do not know is that I am fairly terrified of anything having to do with examining my teeth, let alone the thought of operating on them. I did have one cavity in 7th grade, and the office did a great job with it… I want to be clear that my irrational fear of having my teeth examined has nothing to do with my dental office—in fact, Jan and Dr. P have helped tremendously the past few years in reducing my anxiety with their professionalism, care, and understanding. In fact, I trust them totally. But at 20 years old, I heard “wisdom teeth”….and I refused to see the dentist for five years because I couldn’t handle even the thought of having them removed.

My parents finally convinced me to work on overcoming that anxiety, and I started seeing Jan—whom I will always adore now because she helped me over many hurdles of my dental fear. I still have some anxiety, even in dreams, in the week or so leading up to my appointments, but I am a little better at compartmentalizing it now. A little. I was SURE I would have a cavity today (I am always sure, though I haven’t had one for 18 years).

I had to calm myself this morning by repeating over and over: “You bore two children without any pain meds; if you have a cavity, you can certainly deal with it.” But it seems to me that one of the hallmarks of irrational fear is that small things get blown way out of proportion.

Fortunately, I found out today that I am still cavity-free! Yay!

I knew when I had children that I had to do everything possible to suppress, squelch, and not pass on my dental fear. Katie or Eric might develop it regardless of what I do, but if they have that tendency, I do not want to inflame it by my own behaviors. I have to do work to hide the tension in my body and mind the day of an exam. Having children makes me a little braver, because I know I have to be…for them, so that they can make good decisions about seeing doctors and dentists later in life.

Because this was Katie’s first experience with the dentist, I wanted it to be all positive for her. We took one of our special stuffed doggy friends to watch, snapped several pictures, and made sure to talk about it as an exciting rite of passage, choosing words to celebrate the experience. She did beautifully.

Katie watched while I had my cleaning first. Jan let her help to polish my teeth and rinse them out.

Katie’s turn! Jan reviews the polishing tool and explains how she will use the suction device—“Mr. Thirsty”—to remove some of the rinsing water.

Katie has her teeth polished. She was good at holding still.

Say “ah!”

Because this was Katie’s first time, Jan thought she might only polish Katie’s teeth. Since Katie was enjoying her experience, though, Jan went ahead and took out one of the scrapers to clean out the “sugar bugs” (tartar). She would clean some out and show Katie what she got (the sugar bugs) on the end of the scraper. Part way through this, Katie wanted to be done—which was fine. Then she did a little more. Finally, she said she wanted to be finished. I hugged her and told her what a great job she had done letting Jan take out some of her sugar bugs. Jan agreed, and said, “We were able to get out about half the sugar bugs…and we can get the rest out next time!”

Katie thought about this for a moment and then grew very concerned that there were still some sugar bugs left in her mouth. “I want them out! I want them out!” she exclaimed, and climbed back into the chair. Jan was able to complete the cleaning! What a lovely teacher she was for Katie… I am so grateful that we have her as our hygienist.

After the appointment, Katie wanted to follow Jan around the office while I waited to see Dr. P for a moment so that he could tell me the result of my x-rays. At the end of the appointment, she gave Jan a big hug. Katie genuinely had a great time.

In fact tonight when we were talking about it again, she said, “When is our next appointment? I want to see the dentist everyday!”

I’ve been at odds with myself today, with Pride at the center. Pride—the chief cause of dissatisfaction. Pride—the shiny name for hubris, the cobblestones on the road of perfectionism. Pride—that which leads away from everything good.

I do not mean the type of “pride” that suggests being grateful or joyful for what life brings, or even being pleased in pleasing one’s family or friends, or the delight in a job well done for the effort we put in.

I mean the kind of pride that makes one inert and flat-feeling. It is a pride which squishes, by making us think we have the ability to do everything and perfectly and without experiencing consequences from thinking so. It is that pride which seeks constant recognition of itself.

In searching myself for my faults this past year, I find pride to be central…I have only just begun to study it and turn it around and round.

So Readers, I ask you: What is the nature of Pride? Does it have a use, and if so, what? Are there good types of pride, as distinct from bad types?

To gather true joy seems to require a state of gratitude…gratitude, for both the good and bad experiences which make us who we are, in turn requires a feeling of humility. Any room for pride, readers?

I celebrate and adore this picture of my mom, taken long long ago. I discovered it today while scanning dozens of our family photos in order to digitalize them. It will probably surprise her to find that I posted it (HI, MOM!) but I just love it.

So young, so full of life, and so free…I love it.

This looks like joy, to me. I want to go swing on a rope over a lake just like this… Why must we remain on the ground, be grounded, down-to-earth all the time? I want to be soaring and floating in the air, feeling the sky.

I am finding joyful treasures as I organize the family pictures. The stuff of legends and legacy.