With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Response to Dan Brown

I picked up Dan Brown's Inferno yesterday in the Akron/Canton airport and blazed through 440 pages of it between the airport waiting area and the plane ride home. Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, wrote another puzzling action/mystery, its pages full of art history, crime, mysterious organizations, and an astounding amount of action that takes place in a sleepless 36-hour period. I can't imagine how the protagonist, Robert Langdon, can solve anything after being concussed, stitched, drugged and deprived of sleep for that amount of time, but apparently his brainpower far exceeds mine.

In this current 24-style epic, Langdon is fighting the work of a scientist who believes that population growth is at the root of all the planet's evils, and that to preserve the species he needs to eradicate half of the 8+ billion souls on earth.  There is a great deal of scientific evidence and logic contained to support his theory, and it took me back to my year in the Environmental Studies program at San Jose State. At that time I seriously pondered a question that lies in the pages of this book, "why have children when the earth they inherit may be failing?" I discussed the question with my professor and mentor, Frank Schiavo, when Rob and I were trying to decide when (and whether or not) to get pregnant. His reply was this: children give us hope, they provide us with motivation to do better, to try for solutions, and to think outside of ourselves.

Frank's words echoed in my mind as I put the book down on my seat-tray and faded momentarily into half-sleep. In my own life, my children provided the motivation to get through the worst days of my illness, and they keep me moving and hopeful even now as my recovery continues in fits and starts. I believe that the answers to our dilemmas may lie in the open hearts and the intelligent minds of our children, and that as long as they exist, hope exists. To Dan Brown's mad scientist and to Brown himself I would say that our people are valuable resources, not just numbers and negatives on the balance sheet. The answers will come for our children or from our children, not in their absence.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial

1me·mo·ri·al

 adjective \mə-ˈmr-ē-əl\
: created or done to honor a person who has died or to remind people of an event in which many people died

Full Definition of MEMORIAL

1
:  serving to preserve remembrance :  commemorative
2
:  of or relating to memory

Yesterday we went to the cemetery here in Ashland to visit the grave of Rob's grandfather, Elza. He passed away in 1993 and left a legacy in the TV sales and repair store that he founded, as well as a loving wife, four children and eleven grandchildren. We paused at the granite stone that reads "Dravenstott" and talked to the kids about Elza, and then we walked the shady paths for a little while, pausing to comment on a couple with 64 years of marriage, people who had lived for 94 and 95 years through the turn of the twentieth century. We marveled at the changes they must have seen, from horse-drawn carriages to the moon landing and space shuttles. Our children don't have a lot of experience with cemeteries and almost none with death and dying, so they were somewhat perturbed and had a few questions for us, varying from "is the skeleton down there?" to "how long will we live?" and "where is your stone going to be, Mom?" We talked about death as a natural process - and I emphasized to Rob that I want to be cremated, though I could really see the beauty of having a place to come and remember a loved one.
It was a wonderful opportunity to remember Elza and to wonder about the lives of others buried here in Ashland. We noted all the veterans, with their American flags flying, and thanked them for their service in the various armed forces, as we thank those who are alive today. Bill and Connie remembered other folks who were members of the church, or founding fathers of the town. It was a beautiful part of the day, and afterward we visited Rob's 87-year-old grandmother, Mae, who still lives on her own and helps out with the shop.
One of the reasons we came to Ohio at this time was Rob's vivid memory of fishing on Lake Erie with his dad and his uncles and cousins. He told the children about waking up at 4am and sleeping on the drive north to the lake, then fishing and eating throughout the morning. So he and the children are off with Bill and Ron right now, having stumbled out of bed at 4 themselves. We're hoping that a few wall-eye find their way into the boat and that we have a fish-fry for dinner tonight. In a weekend based on memory, forming new memories is a precious endeavor, a kind of experiential sharing that provides a window into the children's heritage, their communal memories.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Right on, George Eliot

"But my strong egoism has caused me so much melancholy, which is traceable simply to a fastidious yet hungry ambition, that I am relieved by the comparative quietude of personal cravings which age is bringing."
- George Eliot to Mrs. Congreve, as quoted in My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead

I apologize for the absence of new postings on this blog. I seem to have lost hold of the whip's tail this month and simply run in circles to avoid the stinging end. I did manage to send my application to the Regis University MA program and I'm crossing my fingers that my essays came together. I typed them willy - nilly whenever I had twenty minutes in front of the sax lesson, the water polo game, or a baseball practice. When one pursues an MA in writing one should submit well-written essays, after all. If only the schedule would cooperate!

Yesterday I had time for coffee with a dear friend who is searching for her "encore career." She's reading a book about our stage of life and the author recommends evaluating past professional and personal experience to determine what pursuits continue to resonate decade after decade. We are experts after 10,000 hours of practice (this fact also courtesy of Malcolm Gladwell), so it seems logical that we would pursue a career in the field where we have accumulated that amount of time. Hopefully we like that field and have chosen to pour the time in; if we hate it and were forced into the hours then perhaps the encore might diverge from a previous path.

For me, swimming and reading/writing are definitely continuous ribbons in my life. I may not change the world, cure a deadly disease or solve the global warming crisis by teaching swimming or writing, but I'm certainly "on my thread" and using my thousands of hours of practice to the fullest degree. When I was reading Rebecca Mead's book, My Life in Middlemarch, during Aden's water polo practice I was startled by Eliot's quote about her ambition. She could easily have been speaking for me. It's lovely to move from desiring an Olympic gold medal to seeking a job as a swim instructor, and helpful to be free of wanting to write the great American novel, instead focusing on writing only short bursts that fit my time and my current thoughts. This "comparative quietude of personal cravings" is not a perfect state but it is a pleasant one. I hope the encore lasts a good long time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Swim Geek

I got a job at SwimLabs, and after a morning of training I knew I'd found my people.
I've been swimming for three decades but in that time the sport has evolved and expanded past my knowledge base.  A lot of thinking has gone into new stroke technique and the best ways to teach both kids and adults, so it was awesome to go learn the latest ideas and how to teach them.We alternated between watching video of Michael Phelps and other stars, practicing technique ourselves, and taking notes on how to teach the new, improved thinking. It's difficult to take notes while you're literally sitting in a pool - pages get wet and the ink runs - but I had to get the new ideas down. After we were done, our master teacher burned a CD of us going through the training, with his notes included on the video clip. Aside from the faint horror of seeing myself in a bathing suit on the monitor, I was completely captivated.

Over the last twelve years I've done thousands of menial tasks for which I will never be compensated and tens of important tasks that will hopefully have immense pay-off - which I won't see for several decades. I have had jobs and volunteer commitments and I have enjoyed all of them, but it's the cherry on top to choose a job doing something I really love, with people that feel the same. Our trade publications are "Splash!" and "Swimming World" magazines, our uniform a bathing suit and goggles, and it's exactly my thing. With summer coming (and summer swim team for the three kids) I can't take on many hours, but the excitement of a pending summer of watching, teaching, and hopefully doing some swimming makes me feel like a coffee addict in Starbucks at breakfast. Oh, the joy!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Green Again

The sun has liberated our flowering trees from their loads of wet snow and allowed the bunnies to resume their nibbling after two days of hungry confusion. Though we're missing a few tree limbs, tulip petals and water pipes, we have emerged from May's midwinter. To add bubbles to my champagne glass, I was excused from jury duty this morning when the civil case I was assigned to was dropped or settled. The judge who came to relieve us of our duty assured us that our presence in the courtroom had been useful because the mere thought of a jury drove the participants to settle rather than to go to trial. The forty of us who scrambled out of the assembly room were too jubilant to be worried about utility; we modestly hustled out the door with our eyes lowered, only giving vent to fist pumps, guilty chuckles and broad smiles after the door slammed shut behind us. I spent the morning catching up on my poetry class and my emails, and I want to share the following, strangely appropriate poem:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

- Wallace Stevens

Monday, May 12, 2014

Snowing

Turns out I didn't need to worry about schedule conflicts on the first day of swim practice as we have six inches of snow on the ground. The heavy, wet, white stuff started falling yesterday at 10 am and somehow it's still going. We resurrected winter coats and boots so the kids could get to school and I brought the emergency snow shovel from the back of the car since the rest of our shovels are put away for the "summer." Baseball cancelled, swim team cancelled, and the heat kicked back on.  No planting on Mother's Day, though the lawn will benefit. I feel 'off' somehow, like I landed in a parallel universe or that time temporarily rolled back a month.  Surely in a week, when it's 70 and sunny again, we'll feel more normal. For now, I'll accept life's little reminder that as I am not in control, there's no point in worrying about the future.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Book-Lovers Unite

My kindle is useful for reading in hotel rooms when the kids are sleeping, for keeping the piles of books from encroaching further into my living space, and for saving the life of trees. On the negative side, they can't be underlined, you can't flip back to find out who belongs to what family, or where that miraculous quote was that you want to copy. Also, online books have an irritating habit of announcing how far along you are in a book by percentage, pages, and reading time. I feel like I'm under the gun to finish in the allotted time. A friend of mine confessed at lunch that she had kept track of how many pages were left in her book and was shocked and horrified when it ended forty pages early! Turns out the additional forty pages were acknowledgments and the chapter from the author's next book. The unexpected ending became unsatisfying and anticlimactic even though it happened exactly as the author intended. My best solution so far has been to read both types . . .which has really just meant spending money in two places versus just one!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Hazards

Lots of hazards in our neighborhood today, with workmen in orange jackhammering the sides of major streets and the curbs and driveways over A. a broken watermain, B. immense potholes, or C. burrows of large alien beings. There is a massive hole right behind our driveway, which sits at a fairly busy corner. Backing out has become a life-or-death maneuver and no one can turn into our street until I have moved into the middle of the intersection to play a game of chicken with oncoming traffic. It's all fun and games until someone gets hit by a backhoe.

The orange cones and beeping trucks made me more aware of how hazardous driving can be any time other people are involved. People jaywalk (slowly) across busy streets without troubling their heads about the risks of a sudden halt in traffic. Folks in cars poke their headlights way out into the street to see if it's safe to make a right or a left turn, so intrusive that vehicles innocently cruising along have to make a startled swing out into the middle of the road to avoid them.

If my kids could learn to drive on empty streets I would happily look forward to the day when they got their license. Since they have to share the road with construction vehicles, looky-loos, passive pedestrians and aggressive turners I feel much more reluctant to ever let their hands grip a steering wheel. I'll need to work on my zen attitude a lot over the next four years - either that or move to Antarctica. (Speaking of Antarctica, you must read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Absolutely fantastic book, one that I hated to finish. Mom, you get my copy next!)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Campus Magic

There's something about being on a university campus that makes me stand straighter, walk faster, and look around with greater interest. After many years spent off-campus, that atmosphere of learning instills me with a sense of energy and purpose no different than what I felt as a prospective freshman out looking at colleges. Well, no different except that I can't see all the way across the quad without glasses, need an umbrella to shade me from the sun, and am twice as old as most of the students. When I apply for my Masters I'm sure the transcript services people at all my former institutions of higher learning will do a double-take at the year of graduation.

I spent a few hours at Regis University this morning, talking with lovely people in the MA program. The two professors that I met with helped me to outline a Creative Writing / Writing program that sounds ideal, with so much flexibility that I am left grasping for rules and regulations. I could take some courses online and could take others at weekends on campus, which sounds fun at the moment. Even the bathrooms on campus have a higher degree of intelligence: they have their own newsletter called "The Stall Street Journal." How clever is that? I'd better up my writing skills before applying so that the bathroom stalls don't out - do me.

Since I'm flush with collegiate energy today I'm going to submit some poetry for publication. Every Day Poets isn't accepting any more submissions so I'll have to branch out and try something new. If I can't find any takers perhaps I'll get in touch with the Stall Street Journal . . .



Monday, May 5, 2014

Skullcandy for Dad

We had a wonderful visit with my folks this weekend and celebrated both of their birthdays. The visit and celebration kicked off a landslide of technological innovation as my amazingly talented husband introduced Dad to Chromecast, Netflix and a new iPad. All I know about our Chromecast and Netflix is that I can watch House of Cards off my phone, but Dad caught on quick and the next day mom and I caught him watching Breaking Bad on his phone. When he mentioned a need for ear buds, I knew what to do - I summoned our eight-year-old to get the blue tooth headphones and explain them to Papa.

The next day Mom and I took the kids on an Old Navy shopping spree and decided while we were out to visit Best Buy and get some new headphones for Dad. It was fun getting the kids' input and we finally picked out a neon green and black set of SkullCandy headphones. I am chuckling now at the thought of mom and dad trying to share their headphones as they watch a downloaded movie on the flight back to Billings. Of course they're watching the movie on a new iPad because Mom decided that Dad needed one of those, as well! Please note that iPads are hard to set up when your list of related passwords resides in notebook in Polson, Montana, and the set-up process takes place in a kitchen in Denver. Yet the two men persevered and got the iPad going with the new accounts and accessories in place.

It was a great visit and I had to head off into the hills on my bike when I got back from the airport this morning; it's always hard to say good bye. But what a gift of four wonderful days, and now the promise of seeing the whole fan-damily in Montana this July. Have technology, will travel.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Breakfast and Birthdays

Mom and Dad / Nana and Papa are in town and in their honor the wind stopped and the sun came out. We kicked off this day of their joint birthday celebration by consuming vast quantities of gluten-free pancakes and eggs at The Pancake House. William ordered a plate with seven pieces of bacon, which he kindly shared. As my brother, James, says, "bacon is the candy of meat," and our family consumes it the same way.

Last night we watched lip-syncing battles from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and nearly rolled off the couch laughing at Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and Emma Stone. Paul Rudd's take on Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now" (Jimmy Fallon Paul Rudd lip sync) became an instant classic and so inspired my sister, Karen, that she had her fourth-grade class do a rendition of the same song during a long, rainy-day lunch. I have hopes of staging a  family lip-syncing competition this evening in honor of Nana and Papa's birthdays. Daniel has already picked "Counting Stars" by One Republic and he's rehearsing in the family room now.

In other news, The Denver Post has published several letters from SPEAK for Cherry Creek parents this week. The letter that I wrote several days ago was published yesterday under this link: Opposing School Reform Isn't Hysteria. I hope the legislators are paying attention to the Op-Ed pages!