Friday, August 31, 2007

Labor Day is coming up and I want to think of it as more than a Monday off from school and work so I started looking up labor quotes. There are many and it is late - so I will just share two. The first is essence to me - my Grandma Anna's lesson. All our little tasks, the quality with which we accomplish them, do cout for something. The second quote strikes my sense of iron.

Helen Keller:
I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.

John W Gardner

The society which scorns excellence in plumbing because plumbing is a humble activity, and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because philosophy is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I feel more or less caught up on cleaning and correspondence - quiet inside - loving my work week and the clients I see. I am pleased to hear that the grand kids continue to enjoy their first week of school. I am getting more and more eager to see them on Saturday and hear for myself. Bob, though tired every night, is getting a great start on parent conferences and seems to be building good strong patterns in his class and rapport with the kids. He reported something today that made me happy - a spontaneous game of tag during recess in which the boy who uses a wheel chair was able to participate completely and joyfully. The group just worked around his strengths and limitations like it did around everyone else's - the way children at their best do in play.

I saw my neurologist today for my annual check in and I want to acknowledge him as one of the heroes in my life - for figuring out the interaction of visual vertigo, muscle tension, and vascular headache that used to give me so much pain -and for finding a fix. I am sometimes doubtful about medical care and medical providers, but this man has been a life changing person for me. I have told him so more than once and felt like writing it here.

I'm reading Terry Brooks Running with the Demon and am really caught - don't want to put it down. The interface between the seen and the unseen in this book is chillingly real. I haven't read much science fiction or fantasy in recent years- but this one reminds me both of the dark, post apocalyptic The Road and of some of the more light hearted fantasy series I have read in the past - interesting blend. And it will keep my post short tonight. I want to get back between its covers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I am completely tired out. The bus ride home last night was odd. All the way from Corpus to San Antonio a child cried, and then, in the packed bus from San Antonio to Austin the large young man behind me LOUDLY and profanely informed all and sundry about getting drunk in Mexico and his job as a bouncer at a strip club and his family's connection with the Russian Mafia.. He threw in comments about English literature - smart, well informed comments - but expressed a totally jaded attitude "I don't care about anybody because bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people all the time and I just want to get rich and have a hot wife." I was distressed and embarrassed by the continuing crudeness - didn't know if he was drunk or on a drug or having a manic episode or if he just is like that all the time. He really seemed so far out there I wouldn't have found him believable in fiction.

Today I went back to work and it was a good day with clients - people growing and healing and learning. I also saw Ruth for the first time since she and Chris very successfully started their school years. Hearing about the kids in her life skills class brings back lots of good memories of my own time working in special education classes. I also heard, through Ruth, that Danny, KK, and Zach all had good first days of school - Zachary's FIRST first day. He, especially, was full of words and stories about his teacher and his new friends. I' eager to see the kids this school year.

Monday, August 27, 2007

This is really just a placeholder post - in case anyone is waiting eagerly to read about the beginning of school for Bob and the grand kids. The truth is I missed out on the grand kids' first day and haven't gotten a report yet. I just - after midnight - got off the Greyhound from Corpus . I had planned to go down and help Bob with the last minute touches on his room and hear the first day stories, but Thursday I got a phone call that shifted plans. Bob had to suddenly move downstairs to accommodate a new student who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheel chair. I was really fortunate to have no clients scheduled Friday (two cancellations) and so I got on the bus late Thursday and joined Bob in the rapid creation of a really cool classroom. We got lots of help from teachers, students, and teachers' kids and grand kids in the endless carrying of stuff down stairs. Thank goodness two of the high school students who helped were tireless and STRONG. The ambiance at Menger is supportive and Bob had a good first day. I will write lots more later - but will be responsible and go to bed now. Tomorrow is a work day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My book group inspires me to read all kinds of books I would probably never pick up without the other women's suggestions. I have just started a very fat and intriguing biography of Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein His Life and Universe) by Walter Isaacson, who also wrote a major biography of Benjamin Franklin. The focus in the book I think is on the combination of freedom and creativity in Einstein's way of framing the universe. I've barely started but I already have a couple of cool Einstein quotes on education.

"Critical comments by students should be taken with a friendly spirit."

"Accumulation of material should not stifle the student's independence."

"In teaching history there should be extensive discussion of personalities who benefited mankind through independence of character and judgement."

On another note (thinking about multiple intelligences) Einstein told a psychologist that he did not usually think in words, but had to apply words after having the thought to communicate with other people. I think my Dad was like that too. Joanna says the words are not the thoughts for her either. For me thoughts come in words - images flash in my mind, but I think of the thoughts as actually BEING the words, though illustrated by images. Interesting how different we all are.

Monday, August 20, 2007

End of Summer

Green shelter of summer
trees, vivid crepe myrtle
canopy, hot afternoons
warm damp firefly nights
toad song loud in green pond
Seems it could go on forever
Sun sets minutes earlier
each night. Summer, past
solstice, fades imperceptibly.
No season goes on forever.

Victoria Hendricks

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The mix of maturity and vulnerability that coexist in KK during the summer of her eleventh year manifested in a sweet new to me way this morning. KK got contact lenses to correct nearsightedness - got them last Wednesday. At first I was surprised that she would use contacts in addition to glasses so young, but her Daddy explained that glasses are a big pain at ballet - which is where KK is going to be spending many of her waking hours. That makes sense.

So, this morning in our bathroom KK was struggling to get her contacts in before church - and she was really STRUGGLING. Eyelashes kept getting in the way. She was emotional, frustrated, roaring at times like a wounded lion cub - but she persisted. I told her she could quit - but she said no she couldn't- she wanted to see well today and she had to learn to do this anyway - and she persisted. She called Ruth on the phone and asked for instructions (Ruth having seen her get through the contact insertion procedure successfully once before) - and she persisted . I wanted to cuddle her and rock her like a little bitty girl but instead just reminded her to breathe. She persisted, trying every suggestion Ruth or I made until she achieved success. Then she neatly packed up her contact lens kit and put it away.

I really don't worry much about this kid!
I posted in my progressive women's online discussion group about being impressed by the discussion of No End In Sight on Charlie Rose's show. A friend wrote back that The New Yorker has recently reviewed the film. Getting the hang - finally - of part of the Internet's potential for checking things out - I found the review and am further aspiring to see this film. The last line of that review says so much. "The bitterest revelation of “No End in Sight” is that the people who got it right are in agony, whereas the people who got it wrong are practically serene. " The whole review was worth reading for me though. The URL for the review - (No End in Sight is discussed in the second half) is

Two books about the Bush administration's mistakes are mentioned in the review, “Fiasco,” by Thomas E. Ricks, and “The Assassins’ Gate,” by the New Yorker writer George Packer. I haven't read either one yet and plan to now.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Odd, good, quiet day. I expected to have the children with me most of the day and I did not - so I got all kinds of neglected little tasks done - everything from dusting, to letter writing to paying bills to filing addresses correctly. I also let the television educate me, playing back several Charlie Rose interview shows Bob had taped. I was most intrigued by the interview of Charles Fergueson, a scholar and businessman in high tech, who has gone into film making and produced a documentary about how the US got into the situation we are in in the war in Iraq. The film is called "No End In Sight" I think it sounds like a disturbing but important film. The summary on the film's website is at

Besides Charlie Rose and Bill Moyers, I have been watching dance shows - competitions and movies about dance. Dance - ballroom dancing in particular is BACK. This is a significant development for me because I grew up on my parents stories of the dances they attended in college - dorm dances every Saturday night, the crowd stopping dancing and circling to watch an especially skilled couple, silver shoes, pink chiffon, blue velvet, big bands. It never occurred to me that dancing of that sort wouldn't be in fashion when I was in college. It absolutely wasn't. So though I went to Cotillion for three years like a good girl and learned my waltz and fox trot, I haven't used them much - sure didn't back in 1969 when I started college and the dances we did at parties didn't involve touching your partner and were done in bright colored minidresses - no trailing chiffon. Now I love to watch dancers do updated versions of the dances my parents talked about, and danced in the living room on Friday nights. Watching the dancing produces sweet memories in me and I find myself wishing I could watch these shows with my parents, who would really appreciate what they were seeing.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

I have enjoyed reading during these last weeks of summer. One must read was the last book int the Harry Potter series - which pleased me. It bothered me a little that there were no visionary women in the series. Women and girls responded bravely and with passion and intelligence when their friends and family were attacked, but men and boys saw the big picture and came up with the world saving strategies. I don't think its true in real life that men are more likely to be visionary than women. But I didn't let my feminist pique ruin this creative take on one of my favorite themes "the boy who would be king". I liked the triumph of good over evil in the end, and the way it happened with the willingness to sacrifice so marked.

Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picault's recent novel about a school shooting really shook me. Not so much the shooting and its aftermath, which which were horrible but predictably so. What bothered me was the extreme caste system based on "popularity: described in the high school. I hope this (and the level of bullying described) are not realistic. If this degree of stratification is really active in most schools, I want to pull my grand kids out and run. But of course we can only be part of the solution if we stay in the mix. I honestly don't think popularity was a big issue for me in high school or that I had a sense of who or what group was "most popular". There were some impressively talented and brilliant individuals in academia and the arts, some unusually physically striking people, a few people who were obnoxious - mostly because of lout conservative politics. I definitely likes some people better than others, but I don't think social order was so defined. I do remember a set of twins who never really seemed to have friends or really fit in anywhere. I wonder what they would say about caste systems in our high school.

The brilliant - truly great - though disturbing book I read was Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Whew! This is a post apocalyptic tale - a man and a boy struggling to walk to the sea along a car less Interstate Highway in a destroyed world. The conditions are horrible - and all the more horrible for being man made, two things kept me reading - the visceral beauty of the language and the purity of the love between man and boy. That love glowed like moonlight for me - a strong silver filament against the starkness of the destroyed world. I loved the repetitive cadences in which the man and the boy spoke to each other, the ritualized conversation that kept them connected and alive.

If I considered the man and the boy symbols, as in classic allegory, the man would be Tenacity and the boy Possibility. Tenacity hung in long enough to give Possibility a chance. One of the most disturbing images to me was that the beach, when they finally reached it, was "birdless". The man spoke metaphorically to the boy of how they were "good guys" and "carried the fire" . I think the fire he was talking about was love - and that love held me fast. This was the first book in a long time that I couldn't put down, not because I needed to know what happened but because I was just totally riveted by the flow of the words.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I'm not feeling profound tonight, but want to write something to stay in the habit. It feels good to be in the middle of an ordinary work week and to know that Bob's school life and classroom are shaping up. He is working with such a good group of people and seems genuinely happy to be seeing his teacher friends. Tropical Storm Erin is supposed to hit Corpus tomorrow, but at this point they are just expecting wind and rain, not horrors, and workshops will go on as usual. I'm looking forward to going down to Corpus weekend after next to finish setting up the classroom - then being present to have dinner with Bob after the first day of school and hear the stories.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Today is a life cycle day - beginning of Zachary's years as a school boy. Joanna took him to school to register and when they came back Danny - sweetheart that he is, called down the stairs "Welcome home kindergarten Blue Jay!" The Blue Jays are the mascot at the elementary school all three kids attend. This is the only year they will all be in school together since middle schools start with sixth grade now. I still think sixth graders should be at the top of the elementary school heap like when I was a kid.

Another life cycle event. I looked into a shopping bag on Joanna's table today and found two brand new royal blue leotards. At KK's dance school, as at the one I attended, color of leotard indicates level of dancer. The little bitties wear pink, (pinkies KK calls the, or more typically "cute little pinkies" , preballet students wear pale blue, and youth division ballet dancers wear lavender as they emerge into real dancers. KK has been in lavender three years and now has graduated to the preprofessional division. She feels nostalgic about the lavender leotards but is excited because this is the year she graduates to point shoes.

Also, this is Bob's first night back in Corpus after a day with his faculty at Menger. It sounds like it was a good day with good friends, despite sad news that one teacher's husband has terminal cancer. It is too hot in his apartment and we are missing each other, but there is always an excitement around beginnings and this is a beginning on many fronts.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Beach week with the grand kids - Bob has brought so many opportunities to our family, in this case the idea of vacation traditions and the two condo weeks in Port Aransas he bought on the used market. All of us have come to love the Mustang Island Beach Club - now a little the worse for wear and in process of major restoration. It is both familiar and exciting to us, and a great home base for sunset excursions to the beach at Padre Island, visits to the Texas State Aquarium, birding trips, rides on the carousel - and, these days, stops to help out with the set up of Bob's classroom.

This year beach conditions were perfect, especially the last two evenings we were down there. The gulf was blue and bathtub warm, hardly any waves. We could walk out far, from sand bar to sand bar. KK and Danny were able to feel safe enough to swim in the gentle surf. Zach, who seems happiest in any kind of water, just squatted down in the shallows and sat - when he wasn't building or destroying sand castles. KK gathered shells, including a beautiful moon snail shell. Danny didn't want to leave the beach, ever. I can't say I disagreed with him.

The Texas State Aquarium is improving every year - best new addition is a wild bird show in which a variety of birds from around the world display their natural behaviors in careful planned and amusing routines. The mixture of education and entertainment struck each of us five just right. Zachary even got to participate in one of the shows (we loved it so much we went three times on two different days). He threw a grape way up in the air for an African flycatcher to pluck. Zachary was just thrilled with having been chosen. Danny was equally thrilled when, during the diving show, he was chosen to place his hands on the tank surface atop the diver's hands so that we could see that our view of the fish was not distorted.

On our way home we took a back road and visited the mission at Goliad, where Zachary took great interest in the cannon. Our second stop, at Palmetto State Park, provided a surprising treat. For the second time this summer we were caught by a sudden storm and drenched - to everyone's delight. The rain caught us on the trail through palmetto lined marshland and cooled us off on the very hot afternoon. The children showered at the campers' showers and changed into their nightwear for the trip home. KK finished this year's Newberry Award winner, Kira Kira on the ride back home, and I read it later that night - a deserving book about a Japanese American family in the fifties in Georgia - about love, family, grief, and creativity.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A highway bridge in Minneapolis collapsed last night sending cars and people crashing into the Mississippi River last night at rush hour. This horror, more than other recent horrors I've read and heard bout, freaks me out. Bridges aren't supposed to collapse - so many things that happen in the world shouldn't happen - but bridges crumbling under cars and cars tumbling into river disturbs me in some out of proportion way. Maybe its partly because during the recent family road trip KK called me twice on big bridges, excitedly proclaiming that they were crossing the M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I river, a river whose crossing always impresses me. I didn't cross it myself until I was thirty.

. I keep imagining terrified kids strapped into car seats, plummeting into churning waters, and frantic parents struggling to rescue their children. I worry that I would not be able to do the right things fast enough in an emergency like that and that children would die because of my ineptitude.

There are only seven dead at this point, fewer than in many incidents of violence here and especially in other parts of the world - but this particular image of horror has me shaken. Partly, I don't understand it the way I understand it the way I understand damage from tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. Also, bridges aren't supposed to collapse, bridges connect.

Bridges connect.
I take them for granted.
Bridges of promises,
terms of endearment,
shared experience,
steel girders, concrete.
Can't take them for granted.
Bridges collapse.

I need to muster the discipline to go to bead - avoiding bridge collapse dreams, I think.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I've been thinking lately about perfectionism and the concept of challenge. I truly believe perfectionism is a trap and "Perfection equals paralysis," Perfection is the enemy of excellence," and "Real is better than perfect" are true and valid statements. I also believe most people don't challenge themselves nearly enough most of the time and that taking the easy way because other people do it is wrong.

Bob and his brother Bill have been talking about perfectionism while playing with the Frisbee on vacation -- and how Zachary, at five, hit himself in the head and railed when he missed or made a bad throw. Clearly there is excess perfectionism there. And I know that wanting to do well so badly will keep Zachary trying harder than others might and that success is likely to result.

We had a free form challenge in writers' group this week and I chose to write variations on the concept of "challenge" to try to sort out some of my feelings on this topic.

1Challenge (message from childhood)

Challenge yourself.
Don't take the easy road.
Do more than is requested, always.
Stretch. Reject the illusion of limits.
No excuses. No comparisons.
Don't take the easy road.
Challenge yourself.

2 Challenge - (fear speaks back)

Is enough never enough?
Why not choose the easy road?
What if I can't improve, expand?
What if I don't want to?
What if limits are real as air?
Why not choose the easy road?
Is enough never enough?

3 Challenge - Wise woman's intervention

Challenge yourself.
Examine roads. Choose the best fit.
Do what is important, what matters.
Stretch. Reach. Accept limits.
No excuses. No comparisons. Self knowledge.
Examine roads. Choose the best fit.
Challenge yourself.
Tonight after work Bob invited James and the kids over to give them his personally created trip souvenirs. He spent several evenings last weekend designing cool personalized trip T shirts for himself and his fellow travelers. His design includes pictures (harvested online) of a whale shark, the actual baby and mama pandas they saw at the Atlanta zoo, and Whoppy the giant alligator who is king of the Honey Island Swap tour. The words "Atlanta Trip, 2007" tie the shirts to time and place. KK thanked Bob profusely, and commented several times that these five shirts are the only ones like them in the world. Danny - sweet heart that he is, expressed concern that I didn't have a shirt, but accepted that they are only for people who went on the trip.

After dinner Bob got the idea to go down to Town Lake and watch the largest urban bat colony come out to feed. Conditions seemed perfect, some cloud cover to simulate an early darkfall, and August, when the baby bats start coming out to feed. However, the bats were disappointing - not many surfacing before it got too dark. Walking by Town Lake - seeing parent swans with three gawky adolescent cygnets, hearing Danny correctly name great blue herons, watching snowy egrets play in the marsh and seeing them later overhead - all of this on a lovely summer evening with the kids was great.

I'm looking forward to the beach next week. The kids are a great age for adventures - still interested in us and what we have to offer and old enough to help out and understand instruction.

I'm not looking forward to the start of the new school year - too soon. After the beach week Bob has to go back down for a Monday start - but he will have two weeks before the kids come. Summer has been too short. On the other hand, I do look forward to the adventure of this school year.