Wednesday, October 30, 2013


i don't think curiosity kills cats, as the old saying goes.  what if the cat discovered something truly remarkable!?  curiosity.  a word i'm seeing a lot lately, in everything from common core (keep curiosity at the heart of education) and novels to ted talks and creative enterprises.  i read, or should i say devoured, steven p. kiernan's novel "the curiosity" this last weekend.  it's about scientists who discover a man frozen in ice and bring him back to life amid ethical debates of the 21st century and the study of cryogenics.  i happened to see the author's note at the learn that he happened to be inspired with the idea for the novel back in 1992...when he happened to hear james taylor's song "frozen man"...i happened to be at friend's house...who happened to have the song on her iTunes well as (what are the chances here!?) the nonfiction book of a real mummy discovered in northern italy in 1991...that happened to inspire the james taylor song...curious?  you bet i am!  and hoping to stay that way for life...

Saturday, October 26, 2013


i am inducting wendell berry into my personal poets hall of fame (music, please). he joins gerard manley hopkins and mary oliver as the wordsmiths and nature lovers i would most like to meet in heaven.  i discovered berry's (who--like mary oliver-- is very much alive, by the way) collection "leavings" at powell's and thought i had put it on hold at the library.  what i got was "new collected poems" which i'm so glad for!  hugging it to my chest i immediately began to read at dinner (the kind where the hostess says "just one?" or "dining alone?" or "will anyone be joining you?"  the kind where i'm tempted to pull up a chair for the author of the book that i'm having dinner with).  as the vineyards spread their golden locks over the hills and blueberry bushes are ablaze with vermillion, wendell berry's verses join in like a psalm.  as i'm appreciating every change in color and every ray of sun that graces us, one morning i heard birds singing.  later when i went for a walk, i heard birds again, like bookends to the day.  that's when i discovered wendell's "a song sparrow singing in the fall", as if on cue, which i have marked with a pressed leaf.

somehow it has all
added up to song--
earth, air, rain and light,
the labor and the heat,
the mortality of the young.
i will go free of other
singing, i will go
into the silence
of my songs, to hear
this song clearly.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

between bitter and sweet

author jamie ford is coming to powell's tomorrow night!  i just started reading his novel "hotel on the corner of bitter and sweet", which is set in both the 1940's and 80's as it traces the main character, henry (chinese) and his friendship with keiko (japanese) during the war.  on the heels of hearing a Holocaust survivor speak last week, i realized anew what was going on here in the Pacific Northwest in '42 and was grateful for our bountiful lives.  i hadn't realized the full extend of the internment camps.  even though i'm not finished with the book, i stay up a bit too late each night reading because it's just that good...and i'd like to have jamie sign it for me if he's not too busy signing copies of his newest book.  see more at

title 9 enough

i do love getting my Title 9 catalog in the mail...and i had an epiphany this week: i don't have to carry a whole change of clothes when i bike to work.  leggings, boots, dress & scarf, sling a messenger bag with lunch packed inside across your shoulder and voila!  ready to pedal AND look professional in the classroom.  Title 9 models have such interesting descriptors by them. "genetic physicist, mother of two" (photo of fit woman with glossy hair rock climbing) or "guide dog volunteer, firefighter" (photo of woman in little black dress laughing at a coffee stand).  then, there's me, "after school art teacher, bike commuter" (photo of me with paint on my clothes, grease on my legs making dinner in pj's and looking none too glamorous).  i must confess it tempts me to try to be all things:  the wonder woman who makes her own homemade organic ravioli AND sends long snail mail birthday greetings to all her friends and family AND volunteers at the local library AND manages her finances AND practices yoga regularly AND hosts parties in a clean house while grading papers AND
eats homegrown pesticide-free carrots (while posing next to a farmer's market stand in that little black dress). even typing that makes me tired.  so one week i might really focus on special projects at school but maybe not exercise as much as i'd like.  another week my house is spic and span but maybe i didn't get to my pile of books to read.  still other weeks maybe i host a party but fall asleep in the middle of doing the dishes.  and then i think, "go easy on yourself, you ARE a Title 9 woman, you're REAL!" it's about a life well lived, people well loved and time well spent; an overall life balance, not perfect days or weeks.  for all my trying, i will never be one of those people who always have all ten fingernails at the same time--art is too demanding on the hands--or who never have to have a single hair picked off of their  shoulder (human or feline), you know, the people whose sweaters never seem to get fuzz balls?!  yes, i will probably spill coffee on my new i want to find out, thinking of yourself and all the amazingly REAL women you know, the ones who sometimes lose their temper or forget to go to the bank or who--God forbid--make a frozen meal from time to time, who would you nominate to be a Title 9 woman and why?  

Friday, October 11, 2013

the lost art of RSVP

it's fun to know the origin of some of our modern abbreviations.  for example, i didn't know--until my grandfather told me--that a tip, or "TIPS" that we pay after a meal originally was done beforehand:  To Insure Prompt Service.  and then there's the art of RSVP, from French "Repondez S'il Vous Plait" or respond if you please.  so it's funny that tips evolved to become evaluative of service and i'm wondering why we as a generation tend to rsvp less and less.  i guess people assume that showing up or not IS their RSVP, which means that responding beforehand--like handwritten invitations--is a dying art. or maybe, as i heard recently about this generation and the advent of texting, "they're just waiting for something better to come along" so are hesitant to commit one way or the other to social engagements.  do you know of any other abbreviation origins?   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

driving Alter home

today i got to spend time with 87 year old Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener.  a local speaker for the Oregon Holocaust Resource Center, Alter came to our school to present his story and book, "64735:  From a Name to a Number" to middle schoolers. for the last couple of years i have used portions of his YouTube videos and book during the 7th grade unit on Holocaust Literature but didn't dream i'd actually get to meet him.  not only that, but  through a turn of events, i was given the honor of driving him home to Hillsboro after the assembly.  after all that he has been through, from losing 123 members of his family to the Nazi regime and having all of his teeth kicked out by a guard, to working in 5 different camps and narrowly escaping the gas chambers himself, he tucked his small frame into the front seat of my car and said, "positivity.  life is all about positivity."  as he put his seatbelt on, i asked how he felt after his presentations.  "it's not easy emotionally or physically,"  he said, "you know, i've had some rounds of cancer, too.  i'm an 87 year old ordinary man who's had an extraordinary life experience.  are you a religious person?"  to which i answered, "i do believe in God and Love, if that's what you mean" and he said, "well, i'm still here, and it makes me wonder if He just wants me to keep telling my story.  my oncologist thinks i'm a miracle twice-over, for surviving the concentration camps and for still being alive without chemotherapy."  his mind is quick, no doubt from his avid reading of the New York Times and Scrabble playing.  he went on, and i soaked up every word, "have you read Victor Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning'? i myself have read it three times. Victor survived Auschwitz and the one thing they could not take away from any of us in the camps was right here" he said, pointing to his mind,  "here is our imagination, our memories, our perspective. we were able to still create meaning here, even though we lacked the means to enjoy life.  now when i look around society, i see how much people have, they have all the means, but they don't seem to enjoy it...everywhere is meaninglessness, depression and anxiety.  i think the key to a meaningful life is positivity and appreciation, being grateful for even the smallest things." i agreed and asked which exit to take from highway 26, "oh, don't worry," he said, "we're not going all the way to the beach" to which i said, "why not?!" and we both laughed.  i took his box of books and birthday cake (yesterday being his birthday we celebrated with him) into the first floor apartment where he showed me a boquet of flowers, "from the father of a girl who said my story saved her life" and then motioned me toward a photo of him taken while he was a prisoner.  "i look at this photo every day.  and every day i am grateful.  when i look up at the shower head and the water comes out hot i am grateful.  do you play Scrabble?"  to which i said, "you just may have yourself a new Scrabble partner." i shook his hand, "i'll leave you to rest now, thank you so much for sharing your life with us."  "we will see each other again.  have a life filled with meaning and beauty" he closed.  I couldn't help thinking it was more of a blessing than a goodbye.  for more about Alter, please visit

rant of the bookish nature

entry disclaimer:  i try only to use this blog to encourage, promote beauty, share the calm...just for today, i need to rant.  (i teach middle school, afterall, so maybe you can humor me by alowing me, oh, say one rant per thousand entries or so to preserve my sanity?)  so this is a rant about trying to check out a book at my library that you already know i LOVE...the clerk notices my address does not match the library county.  sends me to my local library to get a card to bring back so i can enroll in a 'passport' program.  ok.  only the city i live in doesn't HAVE a library.  so i go three miles to the nearest one, happily peruse the aisles, pick three books, fill out my library card registration form and wait in line.  they send me upstairs.  that desk sends me downstairs.  they send me back upstairs.  they send me back downstairs.  i get in line again only to be told that if i want a card i will have to pay double digits $$ per year and only check out one of my books and then go back upstairs to get the expensive little sticker on my card to take back to the very first library.  i try to always be kind.  i was kind.  so i kindly put all three of my books in the return slot, recycled my application and left.  i'll figure something out, but being stuck in the demographical, political crossfire wasn't what i'd had planned for my evening.  maybe a cup of tea and said book.  i understand libraries need support and finally someone was kind enough to explain to me the process of library funding, local taxes and geographical boundary lines.  but it had been a long day at school multitasking and, among other things, encouraging small children to READ.  ahem. so i called the first library and they said that because i work in a nearby city, i can get yet another set of ID and go to a fourth library to see if i can get something called a courtesy pass.  by this point i'm tired.  i guess i didn't realize how lucky i've been all these 31 years of having a free library card tucked in my purse, going happily whenever i want since 3rd grade and checking out as many books as i like.  no kidding, it felt a little bit like the Spanish Inquisition.  so, dear readers, i'm done with my rant now.  in the scheme of things, i know it's really not a big deal. but you know the verse, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also?" well, i got a sneak peak into my heart and realized that i don't care about riches, fame, fortune or material possessions.  try to take my library card away, however, and you just might see a grown woman cry.   

Monday, October 7, 2013

autumnal sustenance

i've been throwing fall parties now since 2005 to celebrate the most bountiful--garden-wise--time of year.  other parts of the year are bountiful in their own ways, but this is the time when fresh food is most readily available (which i would notice a lot more if we didn't have most everything available 12 months of the year at the grocery store).  i like to think of joining in ancient traditions: from the feasts of the early Israelites to more recent Native American examples of hospitality:  sharing produce with our neighbors.  i'm just old-fashioned enough to still believe in baking from scratch and inviting people over to relax on the back porch, so to speak.  at any rate, our tomatoes were pretty well rent asunder by last weekend's storms, but the apples were more than fine and made for great bobbing, sauce and pies!  i enjoyed the process of getting ready for the party:  inviting people, working in the garden, baking, stuffing tomatoes and peppers with risotto, mulling the much so that before people were to arrive, i went for a nice, long walk to notice what had turned into the consummately ideal fall day:  intricate spider webs shining in the sun, fuzzy caterpillars crossing the road, merlot colored leaves falling before my feet, geese flying over in an azure sky...i'm so glad i didn't miss the day and i hope that the beauty of autumn got all over my guests as well.  lots of space, inwardly and outwardly, to host people who hopefully left better than they came!