Love Songs

Writing songs this month has been awesome. It has been freeing to put my thoughts and words into a tune. I’ve needed to share some of these thoughts for a very long time and they have been leaping out into existence in unexpectedly lovely ways. I have a few snarky songs, a metaphysical song, some poetry, and a perky one I’m working on for Breast Cancer Awareness month. That one is going to be fun, hee hee!

However, I’ve been avoiding the classic, much done and much revered love song. Yep, I’ll admit it. Avoiding.

If you asked me a year ago why I’ve never written a love song, I would have said that the abundance of romantic love songs that exist as compared to other songs has raises my hackles. I would say, Yes, romantic love is a huge part of the human experience, but really, aren’t there enough of them out there?  I would say, There need to be more songs about food, or nature, or taking a long hike. There need to be more songs about telling someone to take a hike. I would say there needs to be more artists sharing goltrai, geantrai and suantrai, the Celtic tradition of a bardic performance – songs to make you laugh, songs to make you cry, and songs to make you fall asleep. Bring ’em back, I’d say. (I still say that.)

I would say, there need to be more great artists like Weird Al Yankovic and Spike Jones who were able to make a musical career out of basically NO romantic love songs at all. Those guys are/were GENIUSES!

Love songs? Piffle!

But, since last year, I have been doing some major work on being authentic and telling my insecurities to go jump in a lake.

The truth is, while it is true that I love every sort of song, I am a die hard romantic. I am someone who is a sucker for the schmaltz. I cry ALL the time at movies, even movies where I already know my emotions are being manipulated (any Disney film). I love Shakesperean comic romance and awkward nerdmance. I love big sweeping Austenesque stories or a Nicholas Sparks novel. I love horribly depressing Celtic slow airs and coquettish Italian art songs. I love Leonard Cohen, The Smiths and Edith Piaf.

Come on! It would be foolish of me not to write love songs because it would be refusing to share a big part of who I am.

I realized the other day that part of the reason I was avoiding writing love songs wasn’t so much because I don’t want to write them, its just that I am realizing that often writing them will be rather painful. Or a pain in the patoot. Likely both.

I think that to actually be able to access the spirit necessary to write a great romantic love song, there must be some drama to write about. However, it is a challenge to draw on those memories because the dramatic times in our lives are often fraught with feelings of being overwhelmed. Its tough to recall a big baffle of images all tumbled together in a pile of egads. It is the landing, the end of the turmoil, that is easier to remember as things don’t happen so quickly and painfully.

Also, that stuff is so personal and it feels weird to share it openly.

I think therein lies the gift of an genuine love song. The song writer is unearthing some mighty touchy stuff to come to light with a whole heap of strangers. But aren’t you glad that that artist wrote that song for you to sing along to in the car, to help you emote when you are tired, or to remind you of a good memory? I am!

Here is one of my favorites these days, The Book of Love by the Magnetic Fields:

So, here’s to taking writing genuine love songs for a spin.

It might be a train wreck a few times but I know it will be worth it.

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Paradise

I am grateful and blessed to accompany my husband on a conference to Hawaii. I get to relax, ponder, pontificate, putz and bum around to my heart’s content for a whole 10 days with no children.

Lie back and watch the palms as I do nothing at all

Lie back and watch the palms as I do nothing at all

It is awesome.

I’ve been looking forward to going for months. I put the excitement a little at arms reach up until last week so that I could concentrate on the every day. And now I am here.

Hawaii.

Hawaii at sunrise, beach near resort

Hawaii at sunrise, beach near resort

I’ve seen advertisements for it in the background, so much that it is a part of our American culture, for years. I’ve seen photos and people have talked of their vacations. I thought it would be a flashy tourist spot full of night clubs, crowded together by the ocean. I expected to see billion dollar homes near the resorts and opulence frosted with handsome surfers on the waves 24/7.

It is not at all what I expected. First minute off of the plane and I was starting to get the idea of the appeal of Hawaii.

It is a place that feels like home. It feels as though it was just waiting here, out in the middle of the ocean, just for people to come in and cultivate it and make it home.

The Kona airport is like no other. It is an outdoor airport. There is no air conditioning. There are no windows. There are no walls. There is a runway and several large canopies (though modern large and substantial brick canopies) over baggage belts. It blends into the land. You are certainly not separated from the land in Hawaii. You are very much a part of it.

Now, while I believe that the earth was not designed for the sole purpose of humanity, (see Douglass Adams quote:)

This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”

it is certainly difficult not to see it that way here in Hawaii. It really feels like this place was made “just for me”!

Coral and volcanic rock in a tide pool

Coral and volcanic rock in a tide pool

The weather is perfect, the same every day, all year round. It is just a little humid, but not too much. The water is warm. The sand is soft. There is a freaking volcano here, so things are certainly not boring. The flowers are gorgeous. The scent of Plumeria if heavenly.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Morning Glory on the beach!

Morning Glory on the beach!

There are colorful birds tweeting all around. Every time I step out of the hotel I feel like the island is giving me a sweet embrace. It is paradise.

A Volcano! Kiluea!

A Volcano! Kiluea!

Sand castle with black sand from volcanic rock

Sand castle with black sand from volcanic rock

Me saying "Hello!" on the black sand beach

Me saying “Hello!” on the black sand beach

I feel some parallels between Tucson and Hawaii. They are both resort communities surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. They are both places people go to when they want to relax and take stock. They are both places of peace.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

They are also both places of isolation, for good and bad. There is a lot of wealth that runs through both but also those that live there must fight hard for a life if it is not connected to tourism. They are both places where children often leave to make their way in the world rather than stay to make their fortunes as young adults because of this fact.

So I feel a some kinship with Hawaii.

But, though I feel that it very much feels like home here, it is not my home. Hawaii reminds me that both our communities both need our TLC if they are going to survive, that as its caretakers, we must truly love the land and think of what we can give back to it. We are not the tourists in our own paradise, but stewards. We can’t just lay around drying up in the sun.

Art's fairy house made out of coral

Art’s fairy house made out of coral

Though I do not want to abandon Tucson for the “greener pastures” (think Parker Ranch, ha ha) of Hawaii, I think I see it through the slightly different shade of tourist glasses. I am going to enjoy it in its homey way, drink up the natural beauty as much as I can, not go too overboard on the partying or shopping that is in all travel advertisements. I am going to freaking max out on all of the staring at the ocean – all of the beautiful blue water that I never see in the desert. You would not believe the volume of all of the pictures I have taken of waves, water and beaches so far.

Volcanic rock and beach

Volcanic rock and beach

In all of the places I’ve traveled, I can honestly say, this is one of my favorites. What a wonderful surprise. I knew I would like it but I absolutely love it. I hope we can come again someday, though there is certainly no guarantee.

 

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Design & Build

Having kids grows you up for sure. They teach us so many lessons about ourselves when we introduce them to things we love and explore just by having the advantage of being able to watch them figure things out for the first time. I just had this happen with my son, his best friend and the design & build process.

In January I started a DIY.org club in Tucson. A friend of mine has two boys and she was considering an alternative to the scouts and was wondering if I’d be interested in DIY.org. I took a look at the site and was immediately a fan, set up a calendar and partnered up with some close friends and started the club.

DIY.org is a site to introduce kids age 8 – 18 to the Maker movement. The site offers challenges in certain skills to earn badges, similar to the scouts. Apart from buying the badges, the site is free. Skills include the scienc-y, such as Physicist and Chemist, artsy crafty such as Cardboarder and Potter, and just plain fun, such as Summerologist and Lego Master.

We have a meeting every month and do something different every time. Our club name is Tucson DIY and here are our sites:

TucsonDIY.org

www.facebook.com/TucsonDIY

This last week’s meeting was a group challenge. From looking at the DIY.org site it looked to me like the site creators encourage team building. I will be honest, I was a little nervous about team building. I mean, it is volatile as you are practically guaranteed that there will be a ton of arguing and (hopefully) compromise and I don’t have any team building tricks up my sleeve other than life experiences like school teams, work teams and other clubs. And truthfully, I am NO expert. Though I always try.

But I thought – this time, let’s jump in! Team building lessons have to start sometime.

Our challenge to our club: Make a costume out of cardboard for two or more people. Work together!

So, I knew this would be tough, for the parents as well as the kids. The thing about watching your kids do this type of thing is that it is very hard NOT to take over and tell your little one how to do stuff. In general, parents have a hard time seeing their kids struggle. But if you want your kid to experience the joy of figuring stuff out, discovery, and making stuff, you have to back the heck off.

It has indeed taken me 7 years to get that through my thick skull. I am a believer but it sure is tough to watch sometimes.

This experience did not disappoint.

It truly reminded me of every design – build experience I’ve had as an adult!

So, the boys both knew the challenge ahead of time. As typical, my son threw out an idea about two minutes after I’d described the challenge and that was that. He was very attached to it. He wanted to make a two person dragon.

When I got to CoLab, Max’s buddy excitedly talked about the two headed dragon he and my son would build. I thought, great, they are thinking along the same lines. Easy peasy! What was I so worried about?

So we went down to the meeting space with our huge pile of cardboard and I set up a huge pad of paper on the floor and gave the boys 5 minutes to talk about what they wanted to make. The boys decided they would draw sketches of their ideas on one half of the paper each, in a nice orderly fashion.

After the 5 minutes was up, I was surprised to find that Max’s idea hadn’t changed a bit while his buddy’s was 100% different, which was now a tall cardboard giant and a tiny cardboard person. Neither boy wanted to give up his design or compromise and do a combined design. We adults pointed out that the boys had to come up with a project that they both wanted to work on. We gave them 5 more minutes. They finally agreed on a dragon with a robot rider. They were reluctant at first at the compromise but I was impressed that they came up with one. In about 5 more minutes they LOVED their combined idea.

Then I gave them 5 minutes to draw a plan of the dragon robot rider. Now this is when it got really interesting. My son sat with pen to paper and drew out a plan. His buddy walked around the room and came up with about 10 more ideas of how to make the dragon. Neither of them looked at the cardboard to see what we brought. We adults strongly suggested they just look at stuff, feel it, touch it, get ideas. But they really resisted this! Both boys were quite married to their processes.

It took my hubby, who is the engineer with a TON of design-build experience and our friend’s mom, who is a lawyer, to talk the boys into actually looking and finding a big box to become the body of the dragon. The boys debated how to fit in the box.

Initially the boys wanted two leg holes each (so four leg holes total), which is very logical and literal planning. You can see where this would be an uncomfortable design though.

It was hard, but we did not interfere. And it was also HILARIOUS. The sight of them trying to walk around while not able to bend their knees in sort of a shuffle shuffle was too cute for words. They decided to make the leg holes bigger after that. They decided then they needed ONE leg hole each. Hooray!

The boys both had ideas for the wings using a particularly big mailing tube. My son’s buddy wanted to make a pulley crank mechanism to control the wings using the tube. My son wanted to use the tube as a skeleton for the the wings to fit over their arms. Neither explored how to make the wings. They just never got to it.

After that, the boys instinctively split up and one made the dragon head while the other made the robot rider. We helped them with box cutting and hot gluing but they got things to where they wanted. With dragon and robot attached, the boys debated the wing issue again.

My son’s best friend suddenly said, “Hey, let’s use the tube on our arms for the wings!” and of course my son said, “Hey!! That was MY idea!”

So I want to pause for a minute to reflect how very MANY times in my life I have had this happen in a creative group situation. I’ll have a really good idea early on, no one will listen to me, and then a lot later, the same idea will pop back up, and I will sigh in a frustrated exasperated way saying, “Hey!! That was MY idea!” and feel a bit put out. I have often wondered if I just put ideas out wrong or if my voice is annoying or if there was some reason people weren’t taking me seriously.

From this point of view though, I learned a few important things. I think that the process will happen when it happens. There seems to be that brainstorming time when no one really listens to each other and it is just darn frustrating. Then there seems to be a time when people take that info and think it through either by talking or drawing or modeling. Then there seems to be a time when everyone pokes at the real materials or environment. Then, the building. And it will come full circle to a lot of those first brainstorming ideas as things get tuned or the team changes their mind about what they want for the final product, etc. Though I’ve been through the process myself many times I never really saw it objectively, from the outside. My emotions always got in the way.

I think in the future I just won’t be so bent out of shape when no one listens at first. I think I will just ride out the brainstorming and try not to freak out as there is seemingly nothing getting accomplished. Because really, right there is where a whole lot gets accomplished.

I asked the boys, “Is it important whose idea it was?” And one boy said “No!” and the other said “Yes!”

I think both are right. As an outsider, I was just happy they built something. So perhaps it is not important whose ideas were whose. But then again, feelings get hurt if no one acknowledges one another’s contributions. And that doesn’t feel good or build a team closer. So perhaps it is very important to pay attention to whose ideas were whose if at all possible through the storm. By the same token, everyone should take a breath and realize that it is difficult to always remember whose idea was whose and just let it go from time to time.

My big personal take away lesson was that the process happens in steps and to be patient and to cheer on your teammates, tell them when they did something good.

Another cool thing was to see the amazing styles of design and creation our boys had. So different! But both vital. One with many many ideas, the other with a few very well developed idea. Broad versus deep, big picture versus detail. Ever have a dynamic like that in your workplace? I’ll bet you have. Even at age 7 we have a creation style.

At the very end the boys LOVED shuffling out their creation and they had a wonderful time. Enjoy our final video of the cardboard dragon robot!

 

 

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Up In the Air

Flying Solo

For the first time in 7 years, I am flying on a plane without a child.

If you have never flown with little kids before, let me assure you, the experience of flying with and flying without them is night-and-day. Flying with little kids requires a lot of physical strength and stamina as well as mental acuity and patience. For safety, tiny kids must fly with a carseat, which I must lug throughout the airport while I either carry my child or walk very slowly with them. During the flight, I must be aware of their comfort, make sure they have activities and snacks, and make sure they aren’t driving the people in the seats near them crazy with the kicking of the seats or the loud complaining. There isn’t much time to relax and enjoy the flight at this point.

Of course, the flights have gotten better and better as the kids have grown. But still, the opportunity to travel without them is really a treat. For example, we are going on a Hawaii trip next month as my husband is traveling for a conference. When we were debating whether we should make a vacation out of the conference and have me go along, the thing that put me over the edge to say YES was the dream of flying on a long flight next to my husband, with nothing to do but read a kindle book or tap tap tap on my laptop.

Visiting one of the most beautiful places on earth…sounds great! 12 hours next to hubby with no demands…sounds awesome!

Arizona Sky

The clear skies of Tucson make me think of flight quite often. When I first moved to Tucson, I felt like every day was the best summer day of the year. Growing up in the Midwest, a spate of clear days were something to be treasured. I often went a week or two with weather obscuring the sun, rain, snow, hail, or just pesky clouds determined to make Earth creatures a little more melancholy that day. Welcome to Sunny Tucson, as the postcards say, and it does still have quite an “up” effect on my overall mood, especially in February. The robin’s egg blue and shiny sun cannot be beat, at least for me.

The clear skies are also good for airplanes, in which we have so many. I live just a few miles from the Davis-Montham Air Force Base and also, the Boneyard, where many of our  retired Air Force planes reside.

I see so many Air Force jets practicing astounding fancy moves over the city. There is an annual Air Show where pilots show off their daring dos, and it really is inspiring to see five jets screaming throughout the sky straight up. I mean, what kind of a person DOES that? These guys are amazing! Both the crazy acts of flying and the character of the pilots gives my day even more of an “up”.

The songs, Learning to Fly by Pink Floyd and Learn to Fly by the Foo Fighters are constantly going through my mind during Air Show time.

Up In The Air

So many things around me are changing.

The House

I am heading to my parents’ home today in Milwaukee to help them move. For years they planned on moving from their north side ranch house in which they lived for over forty years to my mother’s inherited house from my grandmother in Mequon. The Mequon house is the home in which she grew up and just a few miles from the Milwaukee home.

I’m not sure why it took them so long to move from one house to the next. Their original plan was to move to the Mequon house after I graduated from high school twenty years ago. Maybe it is that moving from the Milwaukee house seems like such a big task; the Milwaukee house is the house that my mother and my father chose to buy together while the Mequon house is the house that chose them through an inheritance.

The Mequon house has been waiting a long time for their prodigal owners to return. It was built in the 1937 by my great grandparents. When my great grandfather passed away, my great grandmother asked my grandfather and his family to move in, else she sell the house. It was just after the second world war, and though jobs were hard to find, my grandfather sold their home in Indianapolis and moved the family. My mother was born just days after they moved into the Mequon house. Since my mother inherited the house, several families have rented it from them.

The house has been “up in the air” since the last family moved out over ten years ago. I am hoping it finds itself resting with the good company of my parents soon and that my visit to help with the move will make it so.

Second Grade

School’s out today for my son: the last day of 1st grade. He will be going to a different school next year. As an epilogue to an earlier post I wrote about choosing schools and commutes, I decided to send my son to a new charter school just up the road from my home. A friend of mine was on the planning committee for the school and suggested it. The philosophy behind the school is to promote critical thinking and learning through exploration while sticking to the typical Vail school system’s curriculum. I have a good feeling about it. The principal has a background in special education and has an excellent reputation after being a beloved principal at another Vail school. I think he might be an out of the box thinker. He is certainly interested in getting to know parents and is easy to talk to.

But it is a change. I am hoping my son will enjoy the change but we must wait until July to see how this new school works for him and for our family.

Pre-School

My daughter will be beginning pre-school in September and will be graduating from being “the baby” to being a little girl. She will be attending the co-op school that my son enjoyed and I know that it will be a good place for her. I look forward to seeing what she thinks of the new schedule of going to school and playing with friends and being away from me.

The co-op school is parent run and I volunteered to be on the board this year. I’m looking forward to serving on the board but a little nervous as sometimes the board must make difficult decisions.

Graduation

And then there is my brother. For the last six years he has worked so hard at getting his degree. He moved from Chicago to Tucson after the loss of a close friend to suicide. Wanting to move on with his life, he lived with us for two years and now lives on his own while studying at the University of Arizona. He has struggled here for years as his stay in Tucson has sometimes been a good one but has sometimes been particularly difficult for him. He is working so hard and quite determined.

He met a wonderful woman last year, or rather, re-connected with a friend from Chicago days and a lovely romance ensued. He is looking forward to the day when he moves to Florida, where she currently resides. We are all hoping and praying for him to finish the degree he has worked so hard to achieve this summer. I personally have a good feeling about where he is right now.

The End

But I want to end these stories in an authentic way in this article. All four stories, my parents and the house, my son and his school, my daughter and her school and my brother and his degree are all still authoring. The endings are still up in the air.

I have a good feeling about how they are going to end, but really, it is all up to them, the major players.

 

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Lorna’s 10 Rules for Living

I had one of those enlightening moments a few weeks ago after searching the web late at night for answers to unanswerable questions.

I was in the second week of our family’s cruise through a terrible virus that went through all four of us one by one, giving us high fevers, turning us into immobile congested blobs on the floor, causing me to lose my voice for two days, and eventually giving me and my son extremely painful ear infections near the end of its devastating life cycle. I still can’t hear well two weeks later and have tinnitus in both ears. Stupid virus.

As a side note, have you ever done that – used Google as a Magic-8 Ball?  I am a pray-er and I usually find the answer I am looking for to existential questions through deep meditation, relaxed thought or quiet listening over a few days. However, sleep deprivation, frustration and lack of patience sometimes gets the better of me and I look anywhere for some sort of answer.

If you ask Google questions like, “Why are the viruses out to get my family?” or “Where is my mind?” or, “What is the meaning of life, anyway?”, sometimes there are interesting search results. Sometimes an article will give me that bit of distraction that help me get to sleep finally, or, sometimes even a hint at an answer.

Anyway, it was during one of these searches that an article or two on Midlife Crisis came up. I realized, I am almost 40 and it looks like I am right on schedule for that. In my past posts you might have seen me struggle with motherhood verses starting a company, my trial over being authentic with my music, and a quest for peace of mind with gardening and fitness. So I think I’ve been going through it for a few years now.

I have heard it said that in your 40s, you become who you are meant to be. People often say the 40s are great, the pinnacle of your life, the best part of your career. They are a time you can enjoy your wealth as you are healthy, confident and vibrant.

But, for a woman, I think the 40s are a bit terrifying as they mark the end of our youth. We lose our fertility during these years and we see ourselves age in a way that can no longer be hidden. Our cultural beauty stock is starting to go little by little. The change of life is now something on our radar.

In short, we face our mortality at 40. Perhaps that is why we become who we need to be in this decade because many of us realize that our time on earth does have its limits. Make hay while the sun still shines. Quit putzing around and find our fate.

I am sure this realization of mortality happens for men too (at 40? at 50?) though I can only truly speak from my own feminine experience.

I think that though we human beings are amazing creatures with our immense brains, long history, and complex cultures, we have many limitations. The biggest I believe is memory.

We go about our days thinking through our many lists and responsibilities that we easily lose sight of the important things we have learned over the years. It is helpful to have a list to refer to when one is banging one’s head against the wall over a problem that seems all too familiar.

So, in the spirit of managing my midlife crises to become a stage of learning, rather than a tumultuous existence of questioning and complaining, here is a list of my personal rules for living, gathered by many, many, many embarrassing mistakes and blunders throughout the years. They are not universal, but I bet you will find some gems in here even if you don’t agree with all of them.

Lorna’s 10 Rules for Living, 2014

1. Stand up for your needs. People will complain when this inconveniences them. But through many hard lessons learned, I no longer care. Sucks to be them. If you don’t stand up for your needs, it will suck to be you but those same people really won’t care.

2. When trusting someone with something important, consider their track record. Even if this person is older than you or more charming than you are, if they have never done what you need them for, it is a bad call to put a lot of trust in them. I’m all for giving people chances, but there is a difference between giving someone a chance and trusting them to do something important. I’ve fallen into a bad habit all too often of acting like a daughter with my older friends only to find myself in a bad situation over and over. I know my older friends aren’t out to get me; but part of my responsibility is realizing that sometimes I actually know or have experienced more than my older friends in certain situations.

3. I am a very professional person when it comes to work. It is part of who I am and I cannot work any other way. I prefer contracts in writing over verbal agreements. I need due dates and schedules. Though this may seem obvious to my white collar friends, my friends in the arts are divided over how they work on their endeavors. After several music project disasters of trying to go with the flow and being laid back and being driven absolutely batty with my laid back counterparts, I realize I am from the straight arrow camp.

4. Get a good 8 hours of sleep. A 20 minute nap in the afternoon also does wonders. Stop staying up so late. Another reason why my posts take several days to complete.

5. Only work on one, maybe two big projects at a time. Those of you who know me well know that this is a huge pitfall of mine. I should probably review Rule #5 on a weekly basis.

6. Prioritize your energy and guard it like a pit bull. 1. Your sanity, 2. your family’s needs, 3. your friend’s needs, 4. be kind to everyone else. Say no to lots of new requests and projects. Only say yes to something that is new if you know you are ending or ready to end something else. A schedule gets just as cluttered as your house. Also, review #5 again.

7. Also similar to Rule #5, I am a scheduler by identity. I am very busy. It’s not that I think I am too important for you, but me and my family have a lot going on. The kids have extracurricular classes, we have family events, my husband does a lot of traveling and I am serious about my music projects. So if you constantly ask me to do stuff that is less than a week out, I won’t be able to do it. I still like you but just bring a calendar next time. If you don’t have a calendar, you should get one. You need a schedule, don’t you?

8. Never give up. Tomorrow is a fresh new day. I get knocked down, but I get up again…Simple, overdone rule. But vital to survival.

9. Don’t be greedy. You can take too much of anything, even good stuff (someone else’s time and patience for example). Be mindful and only take what you need.

10. Never ask anyone else if something (art, music, writing, your butt in those jeans, your latest and greatest idea for changing the world), is good enough. You already know. Of course your butt looks great.

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Are You a Winner?

For the past year I have regularly attending classes at a nice gym. I really enjoy it; I’ve never  worked out regularly before joining and now I wonder why I waited so long.

I thought it would be so much more painful than it is. I do push myself and sometimes I am uncomfortable, but not overly. I now like the feeling of a raised heart rate so often I go just to the point of nausea. I figure my nice classmates would not enjoy me throwing up next to them. As a side note, I think the most painful class I had all year was Pilates the Monday after Thanksgiving. 

The best thing about going to the classes is the moment I get in the car to go home. There is that nice adrenaline high going on and I drive home singing and smiling. Everything about the world is fiiiiiiiiine. It never fails.

Anyway, I wanted to share a story that happened in spin class and how it made me feel about being “a winner.”

Exercise instructors are amazing people. I do not think we give them enough accolades. Thinking of it from their perspective, they are doing a workout, shouting over loud music, and trying to inspire a bunch of cranky people in pain without causing anyone injury. Only a few very special people can do this I think.

One day in spin class and there was a guest instructor. Wow, was she fit! She was bouncy and beautiful with those Linda Hamilton arms that make me consider lifting weights every day (though at this point in my life I forget all about weights after class until I see another exercise instructor with Linda Hamilton arms).

She warmed us up and got our hearts racing a bit. Then she started us on an imaginary mountain climb. She said, “OK everyone! You are in a big race to the top of the mountain! Let’s go!!” And we biked and pedaled and sweat. People groaned a bit.

Then she said, “OK everyone! Now turn up the resistance really high! This is where half of the racers will fall away! Are you going to be with the winners or with the losers??”

About 5 people spoke up and said they were OK with being part of the losers. No one cheered. Grumpiness filled the room. We spun and spun.

But she went on and had us go up the mountain, a few more intervals. The general feel of crankiness in the room began to shift as we kept going. By the end we were cheering and happy (and goofy). It sure was nice to stop “climbing the mountain” at the end of the workout. “Wahoo!!” we all said. However, it was best being with the classmates all together and feeling the shift to optimism.

The experience made we wonder about my (and others) attitude about winning.

After spin class, it occurred to me that I witnessed something interesting. How do we really feel about winning? Do we really want to win? What does winning really mean?

When we first started going up the mountain and our instructor asked if we wanted to be winners, were we all thinking of Lance Armstrong? I was. The thought of him did not make me want to join his club, he just made me sad and angry. The thought made me cranky. He was not motivating.

Tucson is a place where many professional bike racers go to train in the winter and Lance Armstrong is a regular here. I am certain other people were thinking the same thing. Mixed emotions.

At first he was such a great hero and now the truth comes out that he was a cheater. What saddens me most is that if he hadn’t cheated and had continued to race through the cancer and after the cancer, I think people would have still loved him. Probably just as much. Less of us would know his story unless he had a win or two but it would still make an amazing story regardless of the wins.

We humans love a story of trial and tribulation and quite frankly, someone who beat cancer and still competed in the Tour de France is incredibly impressive. If he wouldn’t have cheated, we would have still cheered him on through losses, hoping that next time maybe he would win. And I’ll bet he would have won at some point. That win would have been a beautiful pinnacle because it would have been clear how hard this physical trial really was.

But I feel Lance didn’t understand what a winner really was in the first place. He was thinking being a winner actually meant winning a race, regardless of his authentic character. It meant being better than other people. To tell you the truth, after all of the wins he had, I sort of took for granted how amazing it must be to win the Tour de France.

He denied an authentic opportunity to be great, choosing rather to be recognized as close to god-like. But well, humans are just humans, even Lance Armstrong. Liar Liar.

Also, it reminds my of a fortune cookie a friend of mine got once that said, “No tree ever reaches the sun.” Our human condition is humbling and when we quest to prove that wrong, we find the emptiness of fame without friends and fortune with no values.

Anyway, when we finished a particularly grueling class, pretending that we made it through climbing some big mountain, we weren’t thinking about Lance Armstrong anymore. We weren’t thinking about trying to be better than our other classmates to the point were we were close to god-like. We were not trying to push our classmates out of the way to get to the top. Because being a winner does not mean being better than other people. It is personal.

In this class, we are all aging human beings with a multitude of fitness goals, and I think, or hope rather, that all of us understood that at the top of the mountain, we have just as much worth as someone like Lance. Because we won and all got through it authentically, pushing ourselves all the way. For me, my goal was to sweat and finish class without throwing up. And I did it, laughing by the end.

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Is it Worth it to Follow the Elementary School Holy Grail?

Parents, please weigh in.

Is it worth a long drive to give your kid the elementary school education that you dream of for him?

Right now, my son attends our neighborhood school. We live in the best school district in the state, so I figured I would not have to worry too much about where to send him to school. What is better than biking to and from a safe school every day? But now I am having misgivings about this district.

For one thing, “the best school district in the state” really just means the best test scores. Our district has a very strict curriculum, to which all schools closely adhere. But does that really mean that the schools are good schools? This is where I am having my questions.

I really like his teacher and the kids in the class. However, the kids have little time for discovery based learning. To me, it seems like for the teachers to keep up with the curriculum, they must teach by rote (kids at desks to learn a concept outlined by the teacher, then work with the concept in groups doing activities). It also seems to me that the teachers are out of practice when it comes to discovery based learning period, for the few times the kids were assigned large projects.

For example, there was a large research project about specific Arizona bats in which my son had to do a poster presentation. As background, my son is in first grade and learning to read and write. He does not know how to research yet. Well, OK! What a great opportunity to introduce the kids to the world of research! Teach them how to use the library. Teach them how to search on the internet (with parental supervision). Start them just starting to think about judging what a good resource is – a good book, a good website, etc.

So, I was expecting they would do some sort of teaching on the subject. Nope. I talked to several Arizona teachers, out of curiosity, about this and everyone said, “Mom, go look it up on the internet for your kid. Print stuff out. Have him read it and do the presentation.” My out of state teacher friends said “Whaaaat?? That is crazy!!”

To make matters less clear, the teachers did not explain to the children should make their poster. No discussion of “Have a Title” or “Have some pictures with captions.” There was no rubric for grading explained to kids or parents. Yes, it was graded. Parents and kids received a rubric after grading was complete.

What do you think happened with most of those projects? The parents did much of the work for their kids. Did I? I tried not to but yes, I did help, more than I was comfortable helping. I did show him the library and how to search a bit. But due to time constraints, I’m not sure how much he understood.

As you can see by my rant, I was bent out of shape about this. But then I thought, “Chill out, mommy.” Maybe the next project will be better. Well, it seems that is the way it is out here. No further research projects but several home based creative projects. All of these projects were assigned upon short notice, with little time for parents to purchase supplies. Anything that is not taught in a rote sort of way seems like it is an afterthought.

I’m disturbed by the lack of discovery based learning because when one discovers something, it really sticks with them. How many times has your mother told you something important and you didn’t listen? When you screw up that same thing enough times and discover she was right, it sticks with you. Would it have been easier to listen? Perhaps! But it didn’t make sense until you discovered the truth!

So I’ve put my son’s name on the waiting list for a number of charter schools out here. There is one very close by, one about 25 minutes away, and one 40 minutes away.

Guess which one I like the most? And which one he is most likely going to get into soon? Sigh. Yes, the one that is 40 minutes away.

Part of me thinks, stick to your neighborhood school. Your kid is happy. The people are nice, but they don’t understand active learning. This could build character for your son and for you, as long is you stay involved. A friend of mine, who is a veteran teacher, to which I hold the highest respect, said it probably doesn’t really matter until high school as long as he learns to read and write.

The other part of me is thinking, what is this teaching him about the world? I want him to have some good problem solving skills when he grows up. I don’t want him to get the idea that it is OK to be passive about his learning in this world, not one little bit! I don’t want him around passivity period.

With 7 billion people on the planet all getting more and more connected together, with all of their arguments and differences and an environment that will need our best minds to think of how to get everyone to care for it, we need all of the active, critical thinking young minds that we can get!

Early education means so much in the life of a child when it comes to developing a good attitude towards learning, so intuitively, does it really not matter?

But is it worth a 40 minute commute, which will mean I will have to seriously figure out how to spend my day (I cannot make a 40 minute commute 4 times a day)? Is it worth possibly moving?

Or possibly it is all an overreaction.

In the end, I think I need a month or two to just marinate in my thoughts. Maybe I will soften and it won’t seem like such a big deal. It’s my first parent trip through school with my kid and I just want him to have the best preparation for life that I can give him.

I hear that character is the highest predictor for success in life, not test scores. The schools I am looking at are all very discovery based learning in their approach. But which will give him the best character? Being surrounded by people who all want to discover what they learn, or by being surrounded by people who are taught to learn passively while having a mom and a dad whispering in his ear to discover, discover, discover?

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Space Month!

I meant to write just one more Santa post for 2013 but the snowball rolling down the mountain that is Christmas crushed me yet again. I will table my Santa stuff for next year with no worries. Christmas comes every year and seems to be more and more complicated for me as time goes on so there is no lack of material to fuel a future post.

As an epilogue though, I will mention that we did have a lovely Christmas and my nit-picking overly cerebral philosophizing of the holiday did not ruin my children’s enjoyment of the magic of the season. I did keep rather quiet about the subject and it seems my son has organically grown his own great joy concerning Santa and Christmas this year anyway. My daughter was still in awe of the entire experience as she is 2 1/2. I gave them many hugs and was glad to see their joy.

But now, January is here, and I am rejoicing!

For the last several years I have made January Space Month in our family. Because there is nothing but longstanding holiday traditions, decorations and activities in the kid/family world from October to December (three months is a LONG time), this stay at home mom is thrilled with a return to the everyday world. She celebrates with some good old hard science. A breath of fresh air!

This year we watched Into the Universe with Steven Hawking. For the first time, my son was simply riveted with an adult science show. Surprisingly, my daughter was as well. We found the first three episodes on Netflix streaming, Aliens, Time Travel and The Story of Everything; each held their interest throughout the entire show. It was wonderful to geek out with them for the first time. I just got the Cosmos series on Netflix snailmail, and I’m planning a few Saturday field trips to the Pima Air and Space museum, the UA Flandrau Science Center. Space Month!

Space stuff is still as interesting as it ever was to me though I feel the popular excitement over the subject has waned. Have many of us lost our patience waiting for the next big scientific discovery about the universe? I wonder if there will be, in my lifetime, a new movement of wonder about the cosmos like I felt there was in the ’80s, seen evident in series like Cosmos and movies like 2001, 2010, or for children, Space Camp, or the The Voyagers. I think we will always enjoy the entertainment of neato science fiction futures as seen in Star Trek, Star Wars, Farscape, and Babylon 5. But I suppose I am speaking more about the speculation stories that seemed like they could happen tomorrow right in one’s own backyard.

I remember when I and the children my age were so interested in becoming astronauts, wondering how to get into the space program, thinking it would be awesome to work for NASA; when so many of us looked for biographies Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong in our Scholastic Book catalogues. In the ’80s, it really seemed like in the next year or so the human race would figure out something big when it came to space. Not sure what, but something! I think that not-sure-what-ness was part of the intrigue as well.

It is unfolding slowly though, while other things are moving forward at breakneck speeds. Our popular attention is drawn elsewhere I suppose.

So perhaps I find Space Month rather relaxing after Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a time to reflect on the largeness and wonders of our universe without having to put up any decorations. It is a time to think about bigger scientific concepts rather than just the fast moving tech and gadget wonders when I want to get my geek on this month. January is when we just listen to Steven Hawking and Carl Sagan as they paint the amazing picture of the universe.

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My War with Santa: Part 2: The Nativity

I know I sounded grumpy in the last post. Now, just fresh from watching The Polar Express with my son this year, I feel a mite less grumpy.

OK, OK, I am beginning to see that the point of the Santa movies is about creating the Santa Story as a gift in itself to modern children. I think that “The Magic of Christmas” is the magic that adults create as a gift to their children for that one special day of pure awesomeness. They go so far as to create a complete fantasyland and really want children to “believe in Santa” but I understand that it is all done with good intent.

Opening a HUGE pile of presents on Christmas day is pretty magical. As a giver of the gifts, it is the best part to see someone’s reaction when you get just the right thing that they totally were not expecting. That is just wonderful.

But still. I want to get at the heart of things when I explain them, especially when it comes to my children. Unfortunately, explaining to a kid about the heart of Christmas like peeling an onion.

It is not all about the presents. I think it is an overblown layer of the holiday but I can’t deny that it is a fun part. I’m not that grumpy.

But let’s get honest. It is a Christian holiday that coincides with a whole bunch of even more ancient holidays, as well as the end of the year, hence its depth of memory and emotion.

Last year, after watching The Polar Express, I decided to tell my son about the birth of Jesus. You’d think this story would be simple for me to tell but it was not.

Now, if one goes to a Christian church regularly, one probably would not be wrestling with telling the Nativity story behind Christmas with one’s child much at all. Every year the child would go through the Christmas at church experience. This child would already know that Christmas had the birth of Christ as well as Santa. The child might not understand the connection between the two, but the child would know both stories well.

And I think just from exposure to the world, my son had a general idea of the story of the birth of Christ. But perhaps not the details. Details make the world magical in my opinion. So much of the nativity story has strong symbols of faith and courage and spiritual asylum, I didn’t want him to miss that.

We did not have the raised-in-Christian-church advantage last year as we had not settled on a spiritual community at that point. So it was up to us to figure it out. We decided to find a good book. I had a hard time finding a good book though.

At first I thought I could just read my trusty old Bible that I’ve had since I was eight and read the King James’s English and explain it to my son in modern English along the way. But the thing is, the story as we know it is in a few different places in the Bible. The nativity story I found first was in the book of Luke, and then I found another part of the story in Matthew. Both versions meandered around. They were interesting stories but not always appropriate for a six year old. I didn’t want to read to him about the virginal birth or about Massacre of the Innocents. Editing was required.

I realized this would be much easier if I knew how to tell a story well. As a side note, I think that good storytelling is one of those dying arts that is greatly needed in child rearing. You just don’t always have the right book at hand for life’s lessons. Your words are often all you have and a good story is such an effective way to make a good point.

Anyway.

After searching on Amazon.com, I found a great children’s book that told the story very well and included an amalgamation of BOTH Luke and Matthew stories with beautiful art to boot. The Christmas Story painted by Gennady Spirin, directly took verses from Luke and Matthew from the King James Bible and put them together in a a way that told the story as is generally understood.

It is pretty good. I’ve read it to my son this year for the last few days and he loves the artwork. The language is hard for him to understand of course. Some of the old words (thee, thou, behold, it came to pass, etc.) are fun for him to explore. Herod’s part in the book is very edited and not too scary. The angel announcing to Mary that the Holy Ghost would soon appear was very confusing to him.

In the end, I think I am introducing the story to my son passably well but I am still striving for better. There’s always next year!

Next: St. Nick

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My War With Santa: Part 1

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Santa Hits First

Last year I had a major battle with the dude in red and white. Now December is here again and I find I am still in the midst of battle. Will I win? No. But I will at least get my head together enough to be able to connect with my children better over the subject of Christmas.

Here is the story.

December 2012 came, our Christmas decorations came out, as did our Christmas books, Christmas movies, Christmas baking and all of my Christmas music. My son was six and understandably ecstatic about the entire affair.

While watching Polar Express with my son, it hit me how much the Christmas story has evolved over the years. This movie goes into great detail about how Santa’s Christmas Village appears, how the elves dress, the sleigh, the roads, the buildings, the street lamps. What a picture.

Part of me was thinking, ah, the magic of childhood. I am sure he thinks this is so wonderful as well.

I mean, the images of Santa’s operation was so big, so incredible. The images and design attached to the winter holidays in these movies are spectacular.  I love the crystal and ice, the rich red and green, the cookies, the hot chocolate, the shimmer of the snow and the sparkles and sweetness everywhere.

But at the heart of it, I feel this story is all about how Christmas gifts are brought to children who deserve gifts. About how stuff magically gets under the tree as a comfort for the cold season. The happy memories associated with that sparkling time of new stuff. The writers cleverly make me tear up at the end  as they explain only children who can hear Santa’s sleigh bell ringing still understand the magic of Christmas.

And that is the concept that threw me over the edge. I think children get excited at the anticipation of the holiday, the family gatherings, the food, the gifts. They get excited believing in the story of the Magic Santa. I can see how the writers would think that is the ringing of Santa’s sleigh bells.

But at the heart of it, in this film, I think kids the message Santa = Justice = Happy Christmas Memories = Love ==> New Stuff. So wait a minute…I’m not so sure I like this!

They make a movie true to the holiday as it is often celebrated today, all right. But we as the audience are missing so much by thinking that is all that there is to it. Is this all we should pass on to our children?

Christmas is a HUGE holiday. There is SO MUCH to it. We have such deep memories of it because so much time, religious and cultural tradition, strong emotion (good and bad), business and consumerism is wrapped up together.

It is an AMAZING holiday but it is also a CRAZY holiday.

I feel like this fairly new Magic Santa character is glossing over all of the cool stuff going on behind the scenes.

So the other part of me was thinking, new Magic Santa has replaced the true magic of Christmas. And this is how Polar Express rose my ire.

Now since Tom Hanks is a major voice actor in the film, I cannot hate the movie. Tom is one of my weaknesses, he is just so darn likable.

So it is really the entire genre of Magic Santa movies and products that are getting a Bah Humbug from Lorna: The Santa Clause (all 3 movies), Santa Buddies, Jack Frost, all of the Elf on the Shelf stuff. There is more, but that is what I can come up with off of the top of my head.

Do I overthink things in general and especially when it comes to my children? Yep!

But I feel I must because I want to give them my personal best. I know they need me to be there to do my best to help them start to understand the world, to give them a handhold at the very least.

So last year I set out to explain more about Christmas to my son. I found out in quick order that explaining the entire story is no easy feat! There is a reason that the movies that make me so mad are really the only ones out there in the mainstream.

But, regardless, tilting at windmills, this started my war with Santa. I guess “war” is too strong of a term. But it is a fight to bring the other parts of the story to light.

I feel it shouldn’t be that hard. But it is.

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