C's bookshelf: read

The Peculiar
Maggot Moon
The City and the City
The Road
A Certain Slant of Light
The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Brown Girl in the Ring
Well Wished
The Innkeeper's Song
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
American Indian Myths and Legends
The Left Hand of Darkness
The Return of the King
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers

C S Peterson's favorite books »

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day Four - Winter Break

By the fourth day of vacation the novelty has worn off.  It snows heavily in the morning so things start out well:
“As soon as your room is picked up, you’ve brought your laundry down, you’ve emptied your bit of the dishwasher, dressed and eaten, THEN you may go out and play in the snow.”
Fresh snow is a great motivator.  Young children can be persuaded to accomplish a lot in short order for the treat of making the first marks in a new and uncharted wonderland.  One would think they were making the first footprints on the moon.

It lasts about ten minutes. Then that novelty is gone.  I have banned all electronic media till sundown.  My husband, after a traumatic early morning dental appointment, hides under covers till 4pm when the media restriction is lifted.  My oldest has barricaded herself in her room to finish college applications.  Second oldest has taken up knitting and threatens anyone who approaches her with knitting needles and a replica of Dr. Who’s sonic screwdriver.  The two younger boys are literally bouncing off the walls and reciting their favorite bits of profane standup comedy routines over and over at top volume.  
Having eaten a nutritious lunch of carmel nut clusters and fruit jellies I pile the boys into the car and go to the  rec-center.  I take a class that leaves me feeling half dead but virtuous while the boys play air hockey.  Then we all go swimming.  Playing in water, splashing each other, racing down the water slide - the stress is literally washed away. Before we go I run them around the indoor track until I can tag them from behind, just for good measure.  This takes about a quarter mile to accomplish.
We return home to the smell of vegetable soup, and I silently bless the name of the inventor of the crockpot.  Fairy lights have taken over the living room.  We light candles, the kids work a puzzle.  We eat soup and after dinner we gather round the computer to watch clips of our favorite stand up comedians on youtube.  As I tuck in the boys I hear them reciting their favorite bits and that will be funny until about 10am tomorrow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Patterns in the Air

It's the patterns in the air.

The jugglers at the Boulder juggling club are world-class, better than I can ever hope to be, but playfully focused and welcoming. Every Sunday night our family goes to juggle. Then I catch myself at some point, standing with my back to the mirror, entranced by the activity in the room.  Patterns of balls arc up into the air and float down, caught in a waterfall.  Rings buoy up and hang just at the top, bubbles caught up in a foam. Clubs twirl and sparkle in the midst of a circle of friends.

Last week, a friend, my husband and I kept eleven clubs in the air for brief bits of time.  I reveled in the euphoria of success, the clam of deep focus and a sense of wonder. The beautiful pattern appears in the air between our hands.  White clubs, wrapped in glittering gilt, twirl and spin in a smooth dance of arcs in the space that separates us.  The pattern pops into existence for a few moments, then falls apart, like everything that ever was alive.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Digital Utopia

In the beginning was word.  In Ascii’s fancy code for on and off.  And then the word became image and there was youtube.  And there was nothing that was made with out word and the word became digitized and dwelt among us almost instantaneously everywhere at once and all (well, almost all) people beheld it.  And took it and created themselves in the image of media on facebook. And twitter. And doing stopped except for the sake of image. And image shaped doing and image grew into a world of Kodachrome perfection shaping perception and giving us a measure to value our souls by the look of our digital lives.

Recently I found myself enthusiastically telling a friend of mine about blogging.  At the risk of coming off as just another narcissist, I expounded on the benefits of blogging for a hesitant writer. She had been telling me she wanted to write more and I was encouraging her to give blogging a try.  A few weeks later I spoke with my friend again.  She had read my blog and had some fun exploring a few others as well.
            “But,” she continued, “After a while I started to feel badly because everyone’s life seems so much more exciting and together than mine is right now.”
            This from a woman who has traveled the world as a street performer and who tackles every challenge life presents her with go-getter confidence.  One who has ridden through life storms, holding on to flotsam by the skin of her teeth and lived to tell the tale!

Utopias always fall apart, abandoning truth for an image of perfection.  Truth is hard and risky to write.  Whenever I edit, I create something not quite real, often a bit more like the world I wish there was.  I’m only human. 

I hope my friend does eventually write something she’ll let me read.  It can’t help but be a gripping tale!

Friday, October 7, 2011

An October Sestina: Garden

A sestina I wrote when our youngest was five months old...


An October blue-sky golden walk in my garden
Bare feet, cooling ground, warm sun on my skin,
Snapping basil stems, overflowing armloads crush up into my face.
The scent overwhelms.  Perfect tomatoes fill my hands
With sun soaked heat.  I rub off the crust
Of honest dirt and carry all inside dreaming of olive oil

The jar is empty.  I pad down cool stairs for more oil.
The kitchen table overflows with garden
Treasure.  Visions dance – something with a golden crust
Of cheese.  On the counter dough rises in a mound smooth as baby skin.
Curving it out of the bowl, I pull and stretch.  Husband puts his hands
On my shoulders.  I brush my eye and trace my face

With flour.  I wipe my hands and turn to face
Him with a kiss.  “If you want to help sit and oil
The pans.”  So he sits and works.  I shape and stretch.  He hands
Me oiled pans.  I slip in the loaves and go back out to the garden
for the eggplant I just saw from the window, purple skin
Gleaming.  Grilled, I think, with a little parmesan, to give it a nice crust.

The kids made sugared grapes – luscious rounds coated with a crust
Of sparkling hoarfrost.  I slice warm bread, drizzle garlic butter on the face
Of each piece and set it on the table.  Husband peels the wax skin
Off the cheese. I scrub the cast iron skillet then wipe it with oil
Till it gleams.  Husband opens the door to call the kids in from the garden.
They spill in with the slanting sun.  I tell them to wash their hands.

At my chair the sleeping cradled baby’s hands
Curl open like petals.  The sunlight halos his head and a crust
Of milk has dried on his cheek.  We look ‘round the table at our garden,
Full of impatient life, the evening sun glowing on each face.
Suddenly I see I live with heedless saints who, all unknowing, pour the oil
Of their spirits over my rough heart and salve my chaffed skin.

I take out the garbage and freezing rain pierces my shocked skin.
Husband clears the dishes while upstairs I fill my hands
With washrag and soapy child.  Husband creeps up and daubs my neck with bath oil.
Inside we thickly mulch each child with blankets, outside ice forms a crust
On muddy puddles.  In the warm bed Husband’s beard tickles my face.
Ice rain scatters and pebbles against the window.  I dream of the garden.

In my dream a new garden breaks through the crust
Of a bare earth.  Fresh oil like sunlight drenches my skin
And I lay the curves of my face in warm and tender hands

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rated AAA Risk Free

It is Wednesday and I am going to write for 15 minutes. . . I had thoughts in the car, listening on the radio. Yes, today I am going to do it.  Sit down and write. I am.

My dear husband has Wednesday afternoons handled.  He picks up all four of our offspring from their respective institutions of learning and trundles them all off to circus arts classes at the Boulder Circus Center. Then he feeds them junky American fast food on the way home (if I were a good mother I would pack them a nutritious dinner the night before and leave it in the fridge…but…sigh).  I guess the exercise offsets the fried chicken sandwiches.

So back to my point, Wednesdays I can write.  I will come home, sit down and write.  I had thoughts -  in the car - listening to the radio.  Two bright young women were talking about the European Debit Crisis and I was feeling October 2008 déjà vu all over again.  So I will write. 

I walk in the door and I see that my blessed husband has cleaned the kitchen and folded last night’s laundry.  Still, my house starts screaming at me: another load of laundry! Sort through that box of stuff! Bake a few of those little somethings so you won’t be tempted to buy them at the coffee shop tomorrow! You’ve not watered those plants in a while! The bathrooms could use some attention! For the love of God woman – CLEAN SOMETHING!

But TODAY I WILL WRITE!  I had thoughts of my own, about risk, in the car.  The two women were talking about how ratings of AAA were taken to be essentially without risk and that this is the second time this has happened recently.  The mortgage backed securities were rated AAA, so were treasuries issued by Italy and Greece – AAA – risk free.  Yet…

I put a load in the washer, mix up a yeast dough and let it stand in the warm oven and run upstairs to write while the washer runs the first cycle and the bread rises.  My husband and the children will be home soon.  Nothing is without risk.  They could get hit in the head with juggling clubs, fall off their unicycles or eat tainted chicken and cantaloupe.  The washer could leak, the bread could fail to rise, a meteor could crash into the planet and send us all reeling into a dystopic nightmare.  As I kneed the bread I spin out possible futures: Greece and Germany dance in a mirror, reversing roles in 1919 demands for reparations from the Great War.  Europe deftly shoots itself in the foot, again.

The garage door opens and my family is home:

“Mom! Mom! I was juggling on a unicycle and I was swinging the poi but the they collided and then I dropped them and I fell off but I’m all right then I went on the bola-bola and tried the diablo but the string was too short so I could just toss it but I didn’t quite catch it.  I did do a pinwheel though! Two of us on unicycles held hands and went around in a circle and Quarto (the youngest, who is eight) was riding on the teacher’s shoulders!”

Nothing is risk free.

Just ask Dr. Who

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Alien Life

By the time I was in fourth grade I had decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, an exobiologist.  I was elated by this decision.  I felt that the great question of my purpose in life had finally been settled.  It didn’t occur to me that it might be less than obvious to the other people in my world why this was such an obvious choice for my vocation, much less that others might not even know what exobiology was.  I told my two best friends and received only blank expressions.  I gave my most enthusiastic explanation, still blank faces. I thought my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Bannock, would provide a better reaction.  I told her, she was very enthusiastic and I was delighted.
            “Dinosaurs are one of my favorite things to study as well!” she said.
            I was crushed.  In desperation I even told my father, who pointed out that there wasn’t anything, actually, to study yet and probably wouldn’t be for some time.  I saw the sense in what he said and ran away to join the circus.  So ended my brief career as an exobiologist.

Now days we call the field Astrobiology and NASA has a whole institute devoted to the study of alien life.  O.K. we haven’t actually found any yet, BUT in the last twenty years we have found liquid water in the most unexpected places in our solar system and we have found life in some very unexpected places on our planet.  Now my eleven-year-old son has got the astrobiology bug (so to speak) and we recently went to listen to a current astrobiologist, Dr. Benner, give a lecture at the museum in Denver.

On the drive there my son and I talked about what life is, exactly, and tried to hammer out a simple definition.  To my delight Dr. Benner spent much of the first half of his lecture talking about the philosophy of science and the difficulty of constructing a theory of life without bias.  He handed out a number of rocks and asked the audience to determine which ones showed evidence of life.  He talked about the human propensity to look for patterns – and see patterns, even if no patterns really exist.  He talked about constructive belief and how that influences the design of experiments meant to look for life.  He talked about theories that operated under the assumptions that life must: metabolize oxygen or carbon dioxide, fix carbon, be a cell, have our kind of DNA, make protein, have a minimum volume.

Good scientists, he warned, must continually check themselves and each other, examining the sources of assumptions.  Thinking outside the box with integrity is very hard work.

The rest of the lecture was filled with wonders.  We have made so many amazing discoveries about life just on our own planet, past and present.  The quest of astrobiologists has spawned whole new fields: paleogenetics, synthetic biology, computational bioinformatics and the intense study of extreamophiles.  Experiments related to the search for life are on board many of the missions we plan to send off into space over the next fifty years.  Mars is exciting, of course, but so are moons I had never heard of in my fourth grade enthusiasm: Europa, Enceladus and Titan.  What a great time to be alive!

On the car ride home I was waxing philosophical, relating Plato’s parable of the cave and connecting it to the thoughts on the philosophy of science Dr. Brenner had shared.  I was really on a roll when my son interrupted me.
            “Mom,” he said, “I really like synthetic biology.  I think you should help me learn organic chemistry next.”
            I didn’t have the heart to tell him that organic chemistry was the only class I ever had to drop in college because I just couldn’t hack it.  Isn’t life ironic? I heard my mother’s voice: “I hope you have four just like you!”   

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writer's Pit

Writing prompt from WFMAD (Write Fifteen Minutes a Day – Laurie Halse Anderson):

“What would it feel like if you weren’t dogged by this poisonous sense of inadequacy and failure?”

I am always so surprised when anyone shows interest or connection to my writing.  I reconnected with an old college professor a few years ago.  I went to college in the early 80’s.  I really admired this professor and always felt that my writing must be a chore for her to read.  All the other students were so effortlessly brilliant and witty.  I often felt slightly breathless at the end of a class, as if I had been running madly to keep up.  Now, thirty years later, my professor tells me that she kept a play I had written back then.  Not only that, but she had reread it the other day because it made her laugh (with me, not at me, you understand).  You could have knocked me over with a feather. 

I think if I had an iron clad guarantee that the writing would eventually come right, the screaming critic in my head would die.  I would be living each writing moment with faith in my own creative energy.  I would believe that ideas, words, the shape and flow would grow out of the initial muck.  Fear would be gone.  I would not feel the need to control the writing path with an iron will so that only well planned perfection flows from my pen – which means, in reality, that it never ends up touching the paper.

I’m the one who built this internal critic, this screaming banshee.  I built her out of fear and doubt.  So surely I have the power to banish her for fifteen minutes so I can scoop up some muck and spill it out onto paper.  Begone shrew!  Out I say!  I will write from a place of faith! Perhaps if I pan through it later I will find some flecks of gold, or not, no matter.  There is always more muck where that came from.  Writing, like laws and sausages, is not pretty to watch when it is being made.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Facebook and the Dead

I’m going to write about death and social networking.  Within the last year I’ve lost three friends to cancer.  This really sucks.  I know death is inevitable, but I don’t have to like any aspect of it.  Since they saw death coming they all “made a good end” as Ophelia says.  They had bucket lists and the ability to do most of the things on them.  They had parties to celebrate their lives, their friends, families and their children.  There was music, art and poetry.  One chose assisted suicide, the other two had access to good hospice drugs so, as far as we can tell from the outside, physical suffering wasn’t an issue at the end.  This, of course, is different from the profound and horrific suffering that has accompanied death through most of time and place on our planet.  Despite these good ends, I still hate the huge gaping hole that is left when they are gone, not to mention the stunning reminder of my own mortality and the fragility of all the lives around me that I love. 

So I turn to facebook. 

I notice an interesting thing begins to happen.  The facebook page of a dead person seems to go through a consistent transformation.  First it becomes a digital gathering place for people to leave condolences for the bereaved.  After some time has passed, posts transition to statements of praise and appreciation for the person who has passed.  After still more time passes posts begin to be addressed directly to the dead: “found a picture of us…,” “went to such a place where we…,” “was singing a song and thought of you…”  Five months after one friend had passed he had accepted the friend requests of over forty new people!  Finally, I have noticed that people are posting as if the dead person were still in communication – birthday greetings, events “Visiting the coast. Wish you were here.” “Hope things are going well for you in your new life.  Bet you are putting on quite a show up there!” 

The way we communicate has changed radically in the last ten years, but we are still tribal creatures.  We sit at computer screens in the gathering dark of an awesome, terrifying universe.  As a globe we each huddled around our flame in this digital community fire, while an invisible host of the living and the dead sits at our elbow.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Missing Piece

I am deep cleaning my house this summer.  We moved to Colorado from Connecticut four years ago.  We packed in a hurry, scooping up whatever came to hand and filling box after box.  Although we gave away a lot of stuff I remember marveling, as I packed, at the amount of junk we still had: clothes that were no longer worn, papers that were probably not that important, a favorite puzzle with a missing piece.  We unpacked in a hurry as well, and dove into our new lives.  

New house, new job, new schools and end of life care for my parents all eclipsed house cleaning in priority.  This means that at the start of this summer the boy’s room, whose youngest occupant is now eight, still had shelves filled with the favorite toys of a four year old.   Alphabet blocks and electronic Lego kits competed for space.  The floor was ankle deep in school papers and hot wheel cars.  The boys went to camp the third week in June and I plunged in with a large shovel, determined to create order out of chaos.  I became a whirlwind of organization.  Papers were shredded and recycled, toys given to friends with younger children. After I had vacuumed I sat still and quiet on their little couch for a long time just relishing the calm and the order.   I ran my fingers absentmindedly back and forth along the edge of the clean rug when my forefinger detected one last piece of junk.  I yanked it out from under the rug with a shout of disgust and then stopped as I beheld a marvel.  I held one small jigsaw piece belonging to a detailed puzzle of the solar system.  I, of course, knew where the puzzle was now but this piece had gone missing about ten years ago, when my eldest was eight!  It had moved in the ebb and flow of small pieces of junk, from one child’s toy box to another’s drawer.  It had survived the babyhood of two inquisitive toddlers, a move halfway across the country and my recent take no prisoners vacuum job.  I don’t know if it is a metaphor for something profound or just a sign of my insanity in letting all these little drawers full of odds and ends remain in our lives.  But Oh!  What a feeling of satisfaction when I put that piece back in its puzzle.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


The Walk from the Pool to the Bike

Kisses my chilled skin
Crisp with chlorine
Legs swing and melt
Into each gravel crunch

Seeps in deep
Soaks the very marrow
Breaths come so full and smooth
One more and I could fly

Slips through my hair
Flutters the skirt
Loose around my knees

Drenches slanting shadows
Lilies soused with gold
Overarch my path

Bakes into cricket’s trills
Into the Cicadian waves
That break on my ears
Like the sea

Pulls out the languid lilt
Of the sunset robin

A moon is rising
Rich as cream and
Full to bursting

This perfect summer moment is brought to you in memory of Spalding Gray and his never-ending search for perfect moments.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Settling into Summer

            Summer has started and every year I wrestle with finding the rhythm of that particular summer.  I always have a list of millions of things I’m anxious to do; tasks, projects and even celebrations put off during the all-consuming school year.  Every year I worry whether I’ll be able to discipline myself into a workable routine and stick to it flexibly enough to have plenty of spontaneous fun but also accomplish at least some of my goals.

In the old movie “So Dear to My Heart” a boy is wondering how to find wild honey so he can sell some to the local shopkeeper.  The shopkeeper tells him “Just find a bee and follow it to its hive.”  The boy leaves and the shopkeeper’s friend chides him “You just don’t care how you waste that boy’s time.”  To which the shopkeeper replies, “What is time to a boy?”  I miss that feeling from childhood, that summer was endless and full of possibilities for quest and triumph.  But as I get older I am more and more conscious of the urgency of time pressing in on me.  The more I fret, the less gets done.  So, to the first task of the summer: Saturday I took my oldest daughter to take her SAT tests. On the drive there we saw an enormous bird fly low across the road just ahead.  It was a raptor, the largest I had ever seen flying in the wild.  It was being ‘dive-bombed’ by three or four small dark birds, but as it passed us it soared away, easily out flying its tormentors.  I thought it must be a golden eagle, but its wings were mottled with white.  I had never seen a golden eagle in flight before, just perched in captivity, where they are a smooth golden brown.  At home I looked it up in the bird book.  I think it really was a golden eagle. 
            That evening I took a bike ride to a local lake with my eleven-year-old son.  We live in such a beautiful place.  We saw avocets and egrets, white pelicans and killdeers, prairie dogs and even a beaver swimming across the far side of the lake with a branch in its mouth.  As we were standing by the lake, I looked to my left and saw a large grey brown mottled mass on the branch just next to me.  I wondered for a moment if it was an odd-looking hornets nest when it turned its head and I found myself looking into the yellow gold eyes of a great horned owl.  I quietly tapped my son on the shoulder and we both looked at the owl till it silently left the branch and glided out across the lake.  I am hopeful it will be a good summer.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

School's Out

School finished yesterday.  All my reports are done and I left my room and desk spotless.  Now the summer stretches before me full of potential and here I sit, at a bright yellow table in a hip independent coffee shop.  My daughter is taking the SAT and I am waiting for her.  I thought I’d write a bit.  First I clean out my iPhoto; all the photos from a school year’s worth of adventures with remarkable students.  I think about writing something meaningful, wrapping up the school year and getting literary closure. I am overwhelmed by the thought.  I finish a chocolate croissant - forty minutes have passed.  I clean out the e-mail – another thirty minutes taken care of.  I finish my tea.  TEDx Denver has finally posted the April talks on Youtube.  I learn how to post Libby’s talk (the amazing woman from the S.A.M.E. Café) on my facebook wall – twenty minutes.  It is simply wonderful how easy it is to distract myself with worthy online chores when I sit down to write.  I have two goals this summer: write everyday and clean my house to a depth. Well, in truth, I have many goals, many, many, many; too many to accomplish in ten weeks.  But my main goal is to reign in my scattered self and really accomplish these two. I know the writing is possible because I did write everyday in March. The house – well, I’ll let you know.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Wandering Planets

Today I worked with students studying the mythology of ancient Greece and then with a student studying astrobiology.  You wouldn’t think there would be much of a connection, aside from the names of the planets, would you?  Now I do admit that I have a bit of a predilection for threading topics together with connections as thin as spider’s filament, but don’t you think these coincidences would make good openers for some science fiction stories?

Venus, the goddess of love and beauty was married to Vulcan, the god of smiths and volcanoes, though she was always in love with Mars, the god of war.  Beneath the shining clouds of the morning star the planet Venus hides masses of active volcanoes on its hellishly hot surface.

Jupiter was well known for his amorous affairs and his jealous wife, Juno.  One of them was Io.  Poor Io.  Jupiter changed her into a sweet white calf to hide her from his wife, but Juno wasn’t fooled and spent several legends torturing the poor girl.  Io, the moon of Jupiter, is so stressed and heated by the tidal forces of it’s parent planet that the whole moon has literally been turned inside out over years of volcanic activity.  And this poor little moon is so small it can’t even keep hold of the atmosphere the volcanoes produce.  I suppose Io, the tortured little cow, could commiserate.

Europa was another of Jupiter’s loves.  Jupiter changed himself into a beautiful white bull, the legend says.  Europa, playing with her maidens on a North African beach, was so entranced that she jumped on the animal’s back, at which point the bull charged into the sea.  They crossed the Mediterranean and emerged from the ocean onto the continent that bears her name – thus the lady on the bull gracing the Belgian Euro in 2004.  Europa, the Jovian moon, is completely covered by a liquid ocean, possibly more ocean water, by volume than exists on Earth, encrusted completely with a miles thick layer of ice.

O.K. here is just one more, perhaps a bit of a stretch.  Pluto, the god of the underworld, was essentially god of his own mirror image world of the dead.  Pluto is miniscule, not even fully designated a planet anymore.  However, I just learned that this little body has it’s own system of three moons orbiting around it.  For some reason I had no trouble absorbing Jupiter’s system of sixty some odd moons, or any of the other gas giants' large collections of satellites.  But somehow Pluto, so far away and cold, barely bigger than a moon itself, just didn’t seem they type.  And yet there it is, locked in a tidal dance with Charon, a moon half Pluto’s size, the two bodies face each other and whirl around an invisible center.  Outside of their self-absorbed gaze, two other little moons flit around them, like cold ghostly fairies shades.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cleaning the Yard on Palm Sunday

Lenten time is altogether spare
Long ago the pre-spring cupboard bare
Fasting till the greens popped up
And the chickens started laying

In the garden now I dig out winter’s must
Last year’s dead dissolved to naught but dust
Fat worms dark earth heedless sup
While robins trill a joyfully praising

I cast my eyes o’re wasted winter spent
Further back, through time that I’ve been lent
Spring sun warms my dissolute dust
Sublimates a soul exposed and bare

Sunday, April 10, 2011

S.A.M.E. Cafe

On Thursday I went to the Denver TED event with my oldest daughter and some friends from work.
TED is a conference where amazing brilliant people get up on stage and have eighteen minutes to talk about their best idea.  Then TED posts video of these presentations on the Internet for the world to see.  We all knew one of the presenters.  She was a teacher at our school, but left to open a restaurant with her husband.  I was so excited for her.  And I was star struck too!  I couldn't help telling anyone I was sitting next to, or chatting with during the breaks, that I knew her and that she, her husband and their restaurant really are as amazing as they sound.  Here is what they do:  People come and eat and pay what they think is fair or what they can.  People are welcome to volunteer to help with the cooking and washing up.  They have built a community in and around this restaurant where everyone is treated with dignity.  People from the neighborhood, people who are homeless, business people, all sit down and eat a delicious, healthy organic lunch together in a beautiful environment.  It is a miracle they have all worked very hard to make together.  Her name is Libby Birkey and the name of the restaurant is the S.A.M.E. Cafe (Stands for: So All May Eat).  I can't wait to see her video on the TED website!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Helping the Kids with Homework

3^2 is 9 not 6
Radulae are tongues with teeth
Tall taller small smaller
D’Aulaires’ Myths
2^3 is 8 not 6
If you have more than one you have octopodes
Because Roman’s tried to learn Greek
Inside Outside Upside Down
Concave up and concave down
2^4 is 16 and so is 4^2
Grill chill spill fill
Say cephalopod five times fast
Now say teuthologist
Points of inflection are beautiful
Mr. Brown is out of town
Why was Kierkegaard so sore at church?
I have no teeth on my tongue
They are stuck to my jaw with gum
Snack pack silk milk
Brush your radula
Cuddled on the couch
Riddles in the dark on the way to hunt Smaug
Kiss, tuck, pray
That’s it for today

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Buzz and My Dad

I’ve been watching and listening, online, to people speaking about education.  I’m hearing this buzz:

The public education system we have, essentially worldwide thanks to 19th century colonialism, was designed to educate children to be adults who could function productively in a world that was in the midst of rapid change from agrarian to industrialized.  The world is again changing rapidly because of the current Cambrian explosion of technology, but the school system is still educating for the 19th century.  This inability of the current educational system to evolve is structural and entrenched, the buzz says, and those that don’t get this, and respond by finding ways to evolve intelligently into a system that does educate for the now that actually is, will watch their economies and their power dwindle.

I wonder if others are hearing the same buzz?  What do you think?

            My father, who passed away recently, was an educational visionary.  In 1965 he was working at Stanford on “computer assisted instruction.”  I used to visit him at work. I enjoyed tagging along with the man who constantly moved about the computer rooms with his shopping cart full of cathode ray tubes.  It was very loud.  But the best thing was when my dad sat me down at the computer.  He put earphones on my head.  They were so large that they covered the entire side of my face.  Then a lady’s voice:
            “Draw a line from the boy to the bicycle,” she instructed.
            I took the white stylus, with a cord attached to its end, and placed it on the flickering green cartoon of a boy.  I drew an imaginary line from him to the flickering green cartoon of the bicycle. Oh!  The boy walked to the bicycle, got on, and rode it off the screen!  I did the same with the girl and the ice cream cone. I could have sat there for hours.  My dad thought that computers might be a powerful way to enhance education, but he met with a lot of resistance in 1965.
            In the last months of his life my dad became confused about time.  One day he woke up from his nap, ready to work again on the problem of making computers effective learning tools.  It was just he and I in the house for the afternoon.  We talked for quite a while, and I tried to keep up with when we were, as he discussed the problems he and his team were having with getting enough computing memory and the challenges of designing a program that could be instantaneously individualized for millions.  Eventually we made our way into his study and got on the Internet on my parent’s computer.  I showed him the interactive games I use with my math students. We played a few and he was delighted.  We poked around on wikipedia and I tried to explain how people all over the world could write articles.  I even showed him how to translate an article on Bach, written in German, instantly into English.  He was amazed.  Finally I showed him his book on Amazon, and the reviews people had written.  He was very surprised.
            “But that book was written for another world,” he exclaimed, “It’s so out of date!”
            We surfed some more, but I could tell he was getting tired.
            “Those mathematics games we were working with, did you write those?”
            “No dad, I just use them in class.”
            “Are they expensive?”
            “No dad, they’re free.  They are on the Internet and anyone with a computer can use them.”
            He leaned back comfortably in his chair with a contented sigh.
            “Well that is good,” he said, as he began to drift off. “Now teachers can be freed from all the paperwork of drilling and testing and available to nurture their student’s souls.” 

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Writing a Poem Before Breakfast

A poem before breakfast
            Check the e-mail
            Write a quick note
            And another
A poem before breakfast
            Check facebook for birthdays
            Oops I’m late on a couple
A poem before breakfast
            Everyone else is still asleep
            Make some tea before I sit down
A poem before breakfast
            A half hour gone! Already!
            Like an old dog turning circles
            Before it lies down on the pillow
            I am finally settled to write
A poem before breakfast

Friday, April 1, 2011


Cleaning and packing, moving and shaking
I used to clean to avoid writing, but now I am writing to avoid cleaning
My parent's house grows emptier with each box

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On walking from the gym to my car at dawn

Dawn washed pearl grey
We have finally settled into spring
A robin’s lilting song


Wow!  What a wonderful thing this slice of life challenge has been!  I began with great trepidation, thinking “How am I going to fit in time to write every day?  I’m such a slow writer and I have no time as it is! And who would want to read anything I write anyway?”  But with encouragement from my friend, Linda, who showed me how to set up a blog, I started.  And now it’s finished!  And  I  am going to miss this community of writers and reading the daily snapshot of life on our planet that we create together.  What an antidote to the news you all have been; what a revelation, what a joy and a wonder it has been to read what you have written. Thank you!  Thank you!

 I think now I have a writing habit – and I will still sit here, in the pearl grey dawn of the mornings, writing.  I have new hope - maybe I will finish that novel! :-) Linda tells me that there is a Tuesday slice of life through the year, so we can wave at each other once a week.  I hope to see you all there!

And since today is the first day of poetry month, I would like to share one of my favorite poems:

By Tony Hoagland

I feel as if we opened a book about great ocean voyages
And found ourselves on a great ocean voyage:
Sailing through December, around the horn of Christmas
and into the January Sea, and sailing on and on

in a novel without a moral but one in which
all the characters who died in the middle chapters
make the sunsets near the book's end more beautiful.

and someone is hanging a lantern from the stern,
and someone else says, "I'm only sorry
that I forgot my blue parka; It's turning cold."

Sunset like a burning wagon train
Sunrise like a dish of cantaloupe
Clouds like two armies clashing in the sky;
Icebergs and tropical storms,
That's the kind of thing that happens on our ocean voyage —

And in one of the chapters I was blinded by love
And in another, anger made us sick like swallowed glass
& I lay in my bunk and slept for so long,

I forgot about the ocean,
Which all the time was going by, right there, outside my cabin window.

And the sides of the ship were green as money,
and the water made a sound like memory when we sailed.
Then it was summer. Under the constellation of the swan,
under the constellation of the horse.

At night we consoled ourselves
By discussing the meaning of homesickness.
But there was no home to go home to.
There was no getting around the ocean.
We had to go on finding out the story
                                                by pushing into it —

The sea was no longer a metaphor.
The book was no longer a book.
That was the plot.
That was our marvelous punishment.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Overactive Imagination

An homáge to Harold Monro and my Grandmother, Ruth

Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
                                    I am eight years old living between
                                    Manhattan and mountains
Green glass, goblin.  Why do you stare at them?
                                    By all appearance an ordinary
                                    schoolgirl but I frighten my little friends
                                    ‘cause I know
Give them me.
                                    How to find real fairies in the garden
                                    flowers, how to find signs proving the
                                    frost witch has touched the maple leaves
                                    My Grandmother reads me poems
                                    while I draw or comb my fingers through
Give them me. Give them me.
                                    My secret treasure box containing frosted
                                    bits of sea glass, green and blue, broken
                                    rhinestones and nuggets of gold and quartz
                                    my grandfather dug from the mountain’s heart                                            
                                    Any small thing catches my eye –
                                    this could be it: the strange nickel that grants
                                    wishes, or the pebble from space that is really a
                                    telephone to the next galaxy, but no
Than I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
                                    I build goblins into the murky reeds of a drainage
                                    ditch and frighten myself while I search for
                                    young dragons                                                                     
Goblin, why do you love them so?
                                    I find a crack in the rocks by the trail and believe it
                                    a door into another world.  Isn’t that how the stories
                                    always start?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man’s fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
                                    How can this compare to reruns of Leave it to
                                    Beaver? Or Mayberry? My friends running home
                                    to canned laughter and TV trays
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
                                    I’ll trade these any day for a journey to the moon,
                                    fishing with Winken Blinken and Nod, with
                                    Captain Kirk and Bilbo Baggins
Give me your beads, I want them.
                                    My Grandmother reads me poems,
                                    I hunger for them
                                    Why do you plague me with grammar and spelling
I will howl in the deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.
                                    My Grandmother reads me poems
Give them me.  Give them.
                                    Why do you burden me with
                                    the five-paragraph essay
                                    My Grandmother reads me poems

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

April Ice

Another three minute poem:

On the pre-dawn drive to the gym I determine not to complain
Friday is April but ice crackles and I walk with duck like care
Ah! It will melt by noon and I won’t have to water the yard!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pirate Lightning

            We took our four kiddos to a truly amazing exhibit about the pirate ship Whydah.  My youngest son, who is seven, awoke this morning, dressed himself in his pirate costume (a bit small – it was Halloween from two years ago) and fed himself, all before the rest of us even knew the sun was up.  He woke his oldest sister, face painting kit in hand, asking her to paint a mustache, beard and gold earring on him – “quick, ‘cause we’re leaving any minute!”

            The exhibit exceeded every expectation.  We tied knots, walked through a life size model of the ship, raised the pirate flag, looked at real cannon and REAL pirate treasure, last touched by REAL pirates, whose names we now knew.  There were costumed interpreters as well: a period pirate with attitude and a proper Boston matron.  After talking with them about Boston in 1717 the matron asked my sons about where they lived.  The boys then spent a full fifteen minutes trying to explain the wonders of modern technology to the matron.  My ten-year-old son tried explaining electricity:
            “It’s like lightning, traveling along wires.  And we hold the wires up in the air on big wooden poles.”
            “Heavens above!” cried the Matron, “That sounds terribly dangerous!”
            My seven year old walked away shaking his head in wonder, “I guess they really didn’t have cars or electricity back then,” he said.
            There was a healthy dose of serious history as well.  The Whydah had left Britain as a merchant marine with money and goods used to buy slaves in Africa.  From Africa it went to the Caribbean to trade slaves for sugar and tobacco.  Then back to Britain to sell the new world goods and start the circle all over again.  But then pirates captured her!  We found that pirate ships were run as a democracy, albeit a violent one, with men of all colors and cultures elected to positions of authority by their peers.  British navel vessels at the time were strictly hierarchical based on class; the lower classes usually treated like dirt. 
            We got to the room where we saw the ship capsize in a fateful storm and sink to its 300-year resting place.  My seven year old sat next to me on a bench.  The light was blue, dim and flickering; we might well have been sitting quietly at the bottom of the sea.
            “Mom,” he said, “I think that the pirates actually got all their money from stealing.”
            “Yup,” I answered.
            “Stealing is not a very good thing to do.”
            “You’re right,” I said.
            “But the other guys were selling people to be slaves.”
            “Yup,” I answered again.
            “That’s not a very good thing to do either.”
            “You’re certainly right about that,” I said.
            He sat silently for a minute, then turned and looked at me.  His face was so solemn I felt my heart twinge.
            “Mom, now I’m not sure who were the good guys.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

And After They'd Killed the Dragon...

It is spring break and, inspired by the fact that I have found time to write my slice each day, I have decided to commit an hour a day to writing for the week.  This morning it turned into an hour and a half, more if you count this slice writing now.  I am writing a book and trying hard to ignore all the reasons shouting in my head that I shouldn’t bother.  It is becoming a secret indulgence.  I get so excited about the story; I have the plot all mapped out and have written most of my favorite bits a few times over.  But now there are these parts that I approach with dread.  How do I get my characters from important fun bit number one to important fun bit number two.  They are a bunch of heros on a quest, but sometimes there just seems to be a lot of hiking involved between monsters and storms.  Well today I found out that my characters really like just hanging out with each other and they are just as much fun when they are not in a pinch.  Writing every day is teaching me to trust that when I sit down to write something will come out – I don’t have to have it all planned out ahead of time.  Oops – my youngest is throwing up in the bathroom – writing is done for today.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Break, first day

Well, spring is in the air.  And today is the first day of spring break, beautiful, awash in warm sunshine and potential.  My family is up and excited by the prospect of a week off.  What to do, what to do… I’ve gone swimming and three loads of laundry are in progress.  I noticed a lot of garden chores that need doing when I came home from swimming.  I am sitting upstairs trying to think what to write.  The kids are downstairs singing “I’m blue, da ba dee da ba dye da  ba dee da  ba dye, if I were green I would sigh da  ba dee  da  ba  dye!”  They have made blueberry pancakes and cleaned the kitchen.  I am overjoyed and grateful but now I don’t know where all those important papers are that were piled on the center island.  My husband has finally gotten into the shower and is singing, at the top of his lungs, little ditties of his own creation. I sit here still trying to think what to write for slice of life post.  My eldest daughter comes in and starts telling me a story of the complicated relationship shiftings in her high school.  I try not to let my eyes glaze over.  My second eldest daughter comes in to tell me we are out of toothpaste.  I tell her to start a list.  The boys are in the backyard now screaming with glee and chasing wild bunnies in the bushes.  Perhaps I will quietly close the door and take a nap.

Friday, March 25, 2011

14 Cows for America

This Thursday and Friday are conferences here at our school.  The parent’s organization has set up a book fair in the lobby of the school and I got caught by a book as I walked through this morning.  It was a deceptively sweet looking picture book with a slightly kooky title: 15 Cows for America.  I walked past the table and saw that our admissions director was weeping as she read it.  So of course I picked up one of the copies.  It was a straightforward story, told in clear, simple prose.  A young Masi man returns home after studying medicine in the United States.  The events of 9/11 are in recent past and the young man tells the Masi what happened.  They are moved and make a gift to the people of the United States.  The line at the end of the book brought tears to my eyes:

“Because there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded.
Nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”
-from 14 cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy and Wilson Kimeli Naiyomh

We are so connected to each other, even without the Internet, here on our violent blue jewel.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Looking through Hubble in 3D

Three Three-line Three-Minute Poems:

Romantic inspirations twinkling above
Tight Embraces fusing elemental compounds
Weight increasing to an explosive iron nova

Dervish whirlpools in the swift dance of eons
Sucking stars into their crushing chocolate centers
Spread along the bubbled edges of sea foam

Chaos theory miracle of spontaneous appearance, or seeded, or created,
A mystery floating through nets of space and time
Encased in the violent beauty of our blue jewel

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Slice of Mild Insanity

There is something so cozy about being snuggled up in warm blankets and listening to the wind roar and howl around the house corners outside.  I sit in bed; my knees have a pillow underneath and Ziploc bags full of ice on top. As long as I ice the complaining bits right away after a run the muscles maintain only a low level grumpiness.  If I forget, it turns into flaming rebellion and outright refusal. I’m trying to run a marathon before I turn 50.  This is, I fully admit, a mild insanity brought on by a midlife crisis.  With my parents passing last year I was deluged by helpful reading material, dropped off by well meaning friends and hospice volunteers, about the grieving process.  Grief is, to say the least, not pleasant.  Death sucks.  But I was, despite literate preparation, blindsided by the same emotions I had experienced when I left home as a young adult.  As these were slamming away in my brain I started watching, on the Internet, a man my age, who had never run seriously, run 43 marathons in a row around the UK.  I thought, “If he can do that, I can at least run a mile!”  I was staying at my parent’s house, at 9000 feet.  I went outside, ran ten steps and had to spend twenty minutes catching my breath.  Now I’m up to ten miles, as long as I ice my knees.  So here I sit in bed, wind outside, cozily ignoring mortality and denying age.