Monday, August 31, 2009

Open Apology to Every Parent I have ever known....

Dear Parents (mine, those I have worked with and for, and those who are expecting):

Today I realized that I am not, nor will I ever be an organized parent. I'm some other stuff, but not that. I bought school supplies two months ago in a bid to start fresh this year. It went something like this:

Trip to Target with two supply lists for Grade One and Three--think it will be fun to take the kids and "get them involved and excited about school". Spend first 5 minutes in store arguing about the quality of the Hannah Montana lunchboxes with youngest....spend second 5 minutes arguing about how much paper can fit into a notebook with eldest. Decide my kids do not need to be involved in this process one bit. Leave Target with partial supplies.

Trip to Staples to augment supplies without kids--Eldest needs an orange folder (per teacher request). Staples has every color, including polka dots and striped but no orange. Leave Staples with partial supplies.

Trip to Building 19 to pick up supplies for the students I work with--Building 19 has 0range folders. I feel so accomplished and proud of this school supply miracle, I forget the supplies I need for work. Leave Building 19 with partial supplies.

Now, pressure is on....places are starting to run low on supplies. I take out my lists and realize that I have the wrong list for youngest...each school has a different list and I have made the egregious assumption that each school grade would have the same supplies. Not so. Now, I am short 12 skinny markers and I have 8 little glue sticks instead of 4 fat glue sticks. Additionally, I do not have marble composition books and I have an extra binder. How hard can this be?

Eldest tells me that he has read his assigned summer reading but did it so long ago he has forgotten "every little bit". We take a trip to the library to find a required reading book....shockingly, a week before school, they are nowhere to be found. Trip to Borders to buy book. Eldest declares he doesn't really like the required reading, now that he thinks about it. Could we go back to Borders for a different book? Eldest finishes original book. I proudly sign off on the summer reading list form.

Now, finally, with one day to supplies are packed, form signed. One final check of the teacher's letter home Please have your child bring signed forms to school the first day.

Forms? More than one? Quick call to friend who is organized (which is a great parenting tip, always have friends that are more capable than you...they keep you from looking negligent). Yes, as a point of order, there is more than one form and this one is a graphic organizer that your child fills out, complete with making text to life connections.

For ever judgment I made as a young childless person, I apologize. For every unrealistic classroom demand I made on parents of my early students, I apologize. Most of all, I applaud the sublime grins my parents now wear a good portion of the time. You earned it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Peace to you, Senator Kennedy

I was reading a blog the other day (wish I could reference it but that is the whirlwind nature of my blog reading these days so I humbly apologize for not giving proper credit) and the woman talked about how annoying it was at work when her co-workers would say something like "that is not very Zen of you" or "Why would a Buddhist do that?" We have hundreds of labels like Buddhist or Republican and we can sink underneath the weight of them.

Senator Kennedy carried the burdens of his labels within the public arena. His family was the closest Americans had to royalty and much was expected of them all. He failed early and often but many of us did while we were trying to figure out who to be. I can't imagine, as a family therapist, the dynamics in play in that powerful family...I'm not sure they were to his advantage. And yet, he stepped up as the father figure and patriarch when he was the one left. His legacy is so complicated that even his parish priest had a difficult time capturing all his dimensions when he spoke of Kennedy at the funeral. I think, simply, his legacy is that he didn't quit. He did not succumb to the tragedies that swirled around him, some of his own making.

As a feminist (one of my labels) I struggle with where to place Chappaquiddick. I place it under the realm of addictions which runs throughout the Kennedy family. In my own middle age, I don't think one act, even an atrocious one, defines a person. A lifetime defines us. We get to choose which labels fit, and which labels we have to cast off to survive.

Senator Kennedy was a spiritual man, a family man, and a man who loved nature. I think those things offer redemption to him, and to us all. I hope his soul moves onward with peace.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Apparently, my thoughts turn to spiritual guidance of some sort when I am faced with the daunting task of returning to middle school:)

Here is a favorite poem by Mary Oliver:


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Radical Acceptance

So this llama has my utmost respect. Every summer we visit a local farm and they do this to him. I know that it is hot and I know that it is probably for his own good but I can't help but think this cuts down on his llama cred. Still, and I hope you can tell this from the picture, he holds his head up high and will spit on you if given the opportunity. He is my poster llama for today's little chat about radical acceptance.

This is my last purely contemplative week for awhile since I return as a school adjustment counselor to a middle school on Monday. One of the gifts of the summer is going to conferences, buying into the illusion that more training will allow you to stick another finger in the holes that are springing up in our communities. I work part-time because of funding and because I have small children but I can't begin to get it all done at work. Not. Even. Close. So how do I pick what to focus on? Luckily, it seems to pick me. Next week, the students who are in crisis will find me...the following week, I will find them when they have been kicked out of class for a variety of really creative endeavors.

This summer's training was on Dialectical Behavior Therapy....pioneered by Marsha Linehan to work with chronically suicidal patients. The philosophy behind DBT is this: we are doing the best we can but need better skills to be more effective and we have not caused all our problems but have to solve them anyway. The model uses strategies and a strength-based perspective that asks us to hold in balance things that seem to be contradictory or in direct competition with each other. I think a universal dialectic is that we don't want to be in pain and we don't want to change the way we do things...Dialectics are all the ironies and paradoxes in life. Good place to start, really.

Radical Acceptance is one of the strategies I liked the most. You identify what you have control over, what you don't have control over and accept what as I am listening to this in training, it sounds a lot like the serenity prayer and I'm thinking what is the radical part of this? As I thought about it over the summer, it came to me that the radical part of acceptance of tragedy..which we will all dance with at some point, is acceptance without passivity.

My first teaching job twenty years ago, one of my favorite students was a young boy from a big city. He was studious and quiet but had a seething anger that erupted in a stunning fashion from time to time. I wasn't a clinician then but I worried that his anger was going to keep him out of balance in his life. My sister was getting married that spring and I took some time off for her wedding in Texas. The day my plane left, this young man got in an argument with his older brother and stabbed him to death. I have thought of him over the years but even more so, his dad who worked tirelessly to keep his boys safe. Bad, horrible things happen...with intent, by sheer accident, and all levels in between. When they happen, radical acceptance is one possibility, I think.

Peace to you all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prayer for a Monk

In checking this blog I found out that Thich Nhat Hanh is hospitalized with a lung infection. He is expected to make a full recovery but will remain in the hospital for the next couple of weeks.

Two years ago this August, I attended a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh entitled "Mindfulness, Fearlessness, Togetherness" and it changed my life. I learned a bit in no particular order:

* much of what I say is not necessary
* monks are hilarious
* spiritual practice is filled with joy and humor (most of the time)
*Vegetarian food fixed by good cooks is far better than any meat dish I prepare
*Hanging out with spiritually evolved folks gives you such a buzz it lasts for months
*Thay is worth emulating and it is OK to have spiritual teachers that bring out the best in us

So, I got attached to him and to my practice and now....well, now I offer my small voice to the millions that are thinking about him, praying for him, and wishing him much peace.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Living Philosophies

For those of us who work in the schools, summer break provides an opportunity to fixate on some esoteric ideal and actually read a book or two about it. This is usually in lieu of staining the fence, painting the porch, or dividing the sweet pea plant that is in mortal combat with the pumpkin vines. Last summer it was reading about transcendentalism which is defined as a spiritual ideal that transcends just the scientific or empirical and is knowable through intuition. The thing that struck me, in an overwhelming way, was that Ralph Waldo Emerson was a professional reader more than anything else. He read Goethe in German and the early philosophers in Greek and Latin. He did not want to miss the nuances of what they were saying in their original languages. He then built his own living philosophy based on studying what had come before and applying it to his own unique time in history. I think we all have an obligation to craft our own living philosophy: Where did we come from, why are we here, and what is sacred?

This summer (just in the nick of time as school starts next week) I finished reading a lovely book entitled Living Philosophies: The Reflections of some eminent men and women of our time. The book was originally published in 1931 and Albert Einstein was the lead essayist:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art
and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

Each essayist ponders the meaning of life and many talk about the increasing threat of global warming, the inexplicable horrors of wars and holocausts, and the gulf between science and religion. John Hersey, author and war journalist, says this:

From such frigid immensities I come home to my heart. My deepest conviction is that one's love for a very small circle of family and friends is what matters most in life. Far beyond the satisfaction of work is that intimacy, one with one, face to face.

I could quote at length from each remarkable essay but I will end with this one from Daniel Boorstin:

Probably no one of us has the True Religion. But all of us together-if we are allowed to be free
are discovering ways of conversing about the great mysteries. The pretense to know all the answers to the deepest mysteries, is, of course, the greatest fraud....I see religion as only a way of asking unanswerable questions, of sharing the joy of a community of quest, and solacing one another in our ignorance.

My own living philosophy, at this moment in time, is to stand in awe of the mysteries of the universe, explore what I can through the foundation of Buddhist beliefs and shout with joy that I have the love of a few good people. As summer winds down, take a moment to ask a few unanswerable questions. It puts getting school supplies in complete perspective:)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Soccer with the Brits

Take a close look at this bunch. They look clean-cut, friendly, and enthused about teaching young kids the basics of soccer, from an English perspective. Now I don't want to over-analyze what happened on the pitch today (oh yeah, we Americans are coming right along with our soccer vocabulary) but I think there was a little retribution in New England for what 13 colonies decided to do back in the day.
Let me set the scene: 90 degrees, parent/camper soccer match, 75 campers who were told if the parents won a single game, they would get all the party food, and 20 parents in the match of their middle-aged "I think I can still play soccer and not end up in the ER" glory. To boot, we had to let the kids, in theory, I am all for this self-esteem building model but to have your 6 year old talk smack to you all afternoon about "being too old to beat a bunch of 6 year olds"? Score one for the British coaches.

The action was fast and furious....hello, the coaches periodically inserted themselves onto the field of play to steal your perfect goal. What, have these guys been playing since they were in nappies? You weren't going to beat the kids, for God's sake, but scoring a goal or two makes it more realistic. Wait, your teammate just scored a goal. It is your winded sorry self that can't get the ball in the net. Score two for the British coaches.

Finally, one last opportunity for glory. The coaches have taken pity on the parents and have decided to join the field of play for the parents. Yeah! The keeper throws the ball down field....I break away with one of my new British teammates....he gets the ball and makes the perfect cross...which I boot over the goal....he smiles with great sympathy and makes the sign of having missed it by "that much". In truth, it went flying 6 feet over the top. Score three for the British coaches.

So, soccer with the Brits was humbling at best but if your kids ever get the opportunity to enroll in a playsoccer camp.., I can't say enough wonderful things about it. True, it is hard on the parents but I have never met a nicer young group of coaches. Thanks to you all for a great week. And if you think that all of us parents aren't going to train for next year, then you don't know American football. See you on the pitch:)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Zen death poem

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going
Two simple happenings
That got entangled

Kozan Ichi Kyo

The Zen master conveyed accumulated knowledge by composing a death poem as he was leaving....I hope I share some tea with him in one of my lifetimes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Color

I've been thinking a lot about family and the debt we owe to our clan. This song by Jamey Johnson says it much more poetically than I do. Give it a listen and then make a commitment to get your elders talking...even though we can't see it in color, black and white will have to do. Here is one of my favorites:

My west Texas grandad came to preaching after a rowdy early life. Let's just say he still had a little rowdy in him. My dad tells the story of one of his Sunday sermons in a small Texas town. Apparently, my grandmother's brothers were sitting in the back pew, heckling him. After church, he turned to my dad and said, "Son, hold my bible, I've got to go give your Uncles a whipping.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Wide, Wide World

This blogging world can pull you right out of your present life and into a world teeming with other people's thoughts, feelings, projects, and ideas. On the surface, that seems like a good thing but I am experiencing vertigo. Here is a small example: M emails me this site about midlife and authenticity. Scroll down and watch the video on the wedding dance. That video reminds me that I need to check this site She has the brilliant idea to write a thank you card to someone each day and I stop blogging to make a list of whom I would write to and what I would say. That lasts for a few minutes and I realize that I am experiencing gratitude to my spiritual teachers. I better go check this site to see what the latest is in Buddhist happenings. Of course, this guy wrote a book called Saltwater Buddha: A sufer's quest to find Zen and I need to buy it, immediately. Is that what the buddhist sites are going for? Hard to say:) Finally, on the sidebar on his blog is this blog I dare you not to take a look. While all this blog reading is happening, the kids are engaged in a complicated role play in the other room of the Harry Potter variety. They have gotten used to my nightly ritual and don't ask me to join. So the wide, wide world of blogging has swept me out of the intimate world of my family. Here is my thank you card for today:

Dear Children: Thank you, yet again, for reminding me that it is not the exotic ideas of other people that matter but the learning we are engaged in together in this moment. Let's get to it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

College Bound

So this gal is headed off to college in a couple of weeks and I feel compelled to give her some Auntie Advice a la Kurt Vonnegut (funny thing is, he didn't write nor deliver that famous commencement speech so the first piece of advice I have is don't believe everything you read on the Internet:)

1. Find the friends whom you trust to carry your history. Twenty years from now, they will remind you of the beginning of such a glorious journey. One of my history holders is your godfather.
2. College is a protected time....a time to try out Japanese Art and micro-economics. Get heady with all the knowledge that is yours for the taking.
3. Be passionate and fierce but have the guts to do it without booze or drugs...they water down the best that is in us.
4. Find time for contemplative practice...hike the hills, meditate, or catch an exhibit at the local art museum.
5. Be kind to lost will always be our turn at some point to give compassion or to receive it.
6. Attend a bunch of rallies, poetry readings, and try and get chained to a building on campus. When this happens, be very, very polite to the police.
7. Trust your inner have always been an intuitive caretaker. Please put yourself at the top of the list of folks to take care of!
8. Look people in the eye when you shake their hand, do right, and fear no one. This one is straight from the mouth of your great grandfather, Oscar Lee.
9. Know that you are standing on the shoulders of farmers, carpenters, quilt makers, firemen, teachers, bankers, lawyers, ranchers, and nurses. They are so, so proud of you.
10. Know that you are loved all over this country and that we are all a phone call away. Humor us, stay in touch.

I love you muchly
Auntie K

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brown Bread in a Can?

One of the great joys of having out of town visitors is the fresh perspective they bring to your everyday experiences. Our buddies from New Mexico joined us at the beginning of the summer and they wanted to see our local lake...hmmmm, that's right, we have a local lake and it is 20 minutes from our house. They also wanted to know what shape the boats were in that sit in our back driveway.....hmmmmm, that's right, we have a couple of kayaks that sit in our back driveway. We had a great day kayaking on this lake (despite my little ones pleas that she was going to drown because she was on a boat with me and not her dad.) We have since gone to that lake every other week, thank you New Mexico. It figures that desert folks would lead the way:)

When H returned to New Mexico, she offered me a trade: Could I pick up some brown bread in a can for her dad? Her dad had fond memories of this delicacy. In exchange, I would get precious green chilies from her neck of the woods. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity. I can't tell you who got the better deal because, as of this writing, I am still too chicken to pop the bread out of the can and try it. I love living in New England, but your food choices are bold!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bend it like Beckham

Every summer there is one quintessential moment when you sigh deeply and say to yourself "this is what summer is all about." We had our moment last night when the family went to a New England Revolution game. Some would say that our family is obsessed with soccer. We all play, each parent coaches, and we have been known to watch games on cable in the wee hours of the morning. We picked up a friend who plays on my son's team and headed out. I was anticipating seeing the Revs and the LA Galaxy and we would be seeing David Beckham and Landon Donovan play. As we walked into the stadium, the boys were excited:

"Hey, did you bring a marker and paper so we can get autographs?"

"No, but that's OK, they can just sign the back of our shirts."

"Did you bring a marker?"

"NO....when we go to England to see the Premier League play, we need to remember the marker"

Our youngest was a bit apprehensive about the size of the venue and the noise walking in but somehow the wildly painted fans beating bass drums and shouting "You suck" every time the opposing goalie cleared the ball settled her right down. "Mom, what are they saying?" This led to a teachable moment about sportsmanship, disconnecting behaviors, and respect for good play on the opposing team. "Yeah, but what are they saying?"

Our seats were great and the first goal of the game by Donovan was a beautiful thing. The boys were transfixed. Then the talk turned to David Beckham. He plays under duress amazing well. Because he is the most well known soccer player in this country, he draws a lot of attention. Most of the insulting comments by the fans were directed at him. The boys think he is old (at 34) and my husband agrees. Granted, his passes were very efficient but they were spot on every single time. Maybe his best years are behind him but I'm grateful that his presence on an MLS team has raised American consciousness about this graceful and global sport. We have a new generation in this country who have no idea that Americans are supposed to take a backseat to European players. Game on! (as my friend Maribeth says) So, if you want to catch a recap of the game, visit I am grateful to all the players, especially the old guys, for providing my family with our perfect summer moment.

As we were leaving the stadium, my son pointed to the small practice field beside the stadium and asked "Is that where the Patriots play?"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

I have to admit that I'm not much of a cook and things go downhill even faster in the housecleaning department. I have tried to embrace Thich Nhat Hanh's perspective in finding the holy in all things. He put together a beautiful set of cards entitled "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment" that remind us each moment is sacred. He encourages us not to wish a moment away but to view tasks, even unpleasant ones, as our spiritual work.

Above are the cards and here is the text for three of my favorite ones:

27. Washing Vegetables
In these fresh vegetables I see a green sun. All dharmas join together to make life possible.

43. Cleaning the Bathroom
How wonderful it is to scrub and clean. Day by day, the heart and mind grow clearer.

51. Recycling
In the garbage I see a rose. In the rose, I see the garbage. Everything is in transformation. Even permanence is impermanent.

So when I feel seeds of resentment that I have the only set of eyes in my house that recognize a toilet that is in dire need of attention; or when I feel overwhelmed that the house is cluttered and filled with too much stuff...I rejoice that I have such an abundant opportunity to do my spiritual work. Blogging about doing housework is also a nice way to make sure that you have the conceptual and theoretical components of the job well in hand before you actually pick up a broom.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Staying on the Ground

As climbers, my husband and I started our collection of disaster literature many years ago with the classic "Touching the Void" by Joe Simpson. This is the tale of two climbers. One fell into a crevasse and the other had to cut the rope and leave him alone on the mountain. This almost always ends poorly but this tale is one of survival. We later expanded our repertoire to include sea disasters and epic tales. The best of that genre is the story of The Endurance and Ernest Shackleton's voyage to the Antarctic. Their ship was trapped and crushed on the frozen ocean and all the men survived...a feat that sailors still discuss today, nearly 100 years later. Read Alfred Lansing's version, if you can find it.

My husband and I each have found ourselves in situations that required making the right decisions to survive. His usually occurred on multi-pitch climbs in the mountains and I must say, he is pretty calm under adverse situations 800 feet up. Mine have occurred on back-country treks, usually in winter on skis. I have a particular bull-headedness that allows me to dance right into trouble.....usually starting with the phrase "We are starting to lose light so let's push hard for the next hour."

So we survived, separately, found each other and started a different adventure-kids. Now, I think of Sir Edmund Hillary's wife as he left her and his family to summit Everest. The real heroes in these stories were the women who managed everything back home while their husbands were following the age old desire to conquer the mountains, the sea, and ultimately, themselves. Fast forward to 1995 when Alison Hargreaves, an accomplished British mountaineer and mother of two small children, died while descending a climb on K2 (arguably a more difficult climb than Everest, which she had summited without oxygen). There has been much written about her decision as a mother to continue to summit mountains. There has been much less written about fathers and their decision to continue to climb.

I love the epic tales of the high mountains and the tumultuous seas. I think the partners of these adventurers have an equally compelling tale to tell. One of Hargreaves favorite quotes was the Tibetan saying "It is better to have lived one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep." Each day, we get to define what it means to be a tiger, especially when we are the ones staying on the ground.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Skirt to wear with Red Cowboy Boots

One of the great things about the blogging world is that whatever idea one comes up with, someone else has probably done the hard work first. This artist at with a tutorial entitled "Easy Peasy Tshirt to skirt" had a great idea for turning oversize tshirts into skirts. To find the tute, just search the is the second one that comes up.

I made the following modifications:

1. I cut both sleeves and sewed them to the smallest bottom piece of the shirt to make the ruffle. I also stiched the ruffle on the outside to give the skirt an industrial, punk feel.... a look you need to stay acquainted with even if you never wear it outside your home:)
2. I used the top part of the shirt for the waistband and stiched it to the main body of the skirt. I hemmed the top but wear it rolled down, as it is a bit daughter has hidden my tape measure and so I decided to wing it. I think I might add a drawstring at some point.

One quick sewing project and a great way to use up some XL shirts. Do look up the original tutorial as it provides clear diagrams about each part of the skirt.

Tea Party

Same Moment

In Time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

There we go....

Over the years at flea markets, antique stores, and galleries I have developed my discerning eye for the most nuanced pieces the venues have to offer. My friends say that I have an uncanny ability to pick out the most depressing pieces they have ever seen. I continue to strongly protest but as I look around the house at the artwork, I do see strong shades of blue and black and a lot of dead vegetation.
This piece is my latest purchase (Brimfield, see a previous post about the joys of this place) and it gives me such hope. I was walking with a friend and saw this painting. I immediately saw my husband and I in 30 years. Granted, I am quite a bit taller than he is and I will definitely be the one with the cane...also, our chances of owning a Swiss Chalet are looking slimmer as the years pass. Still, it is us. My friend tried to be optimistic about the purchase but the dead tree seemed to give her pause. She then asked what my husband would think of it. I said that he would think that it was a typical purchase for me. But when I got it home, he looked at it and said, "That's us."
Now, the question remains is my husband a lover of art who saw what I saw or a man who knows his wife so well that he could predict what she would hardly matters, because that is us.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Should you read a magazine where you have to goggle the title? Here is a small blurb found on the inside page of this magazine:

A Parabola is one of the most elegant forms in nature. Every path made by a thrown ball, every spout of water from a fountain, and every graceful arch of steel cables in a suspension bridge is a is a curving line that sails outward and returns with a new expansion-and perhaps a new content, like the flung net of a Japanese fisherman. It is the metaphorical journey to a particular point, and then back home, along a similar path....after which the traveler is essentially, irrevocably changed.

OK, this magazine takes itself seriously but shouldn't we sometimes take ourselves and our world seriously? Plus, you can read People in the same day and balance yourself out. I am addicted to magazines, all kinds and all quality. I have found the addiction to be heartbreaking, at times, because I get attached to quirky mags, like Parabola, and they promptly cease publication. I currently subscribe to Tricycle ( a Buddhist publication), Family Fun (children's craft/food magazine), Cloth, Paper, Scissors ( a collage, fiber artist mag ), and SewNews (sewing).

What do our magazine subscriptions say about us? Which magazines do we admit to reading and which are strictly on the down-low? I have tried for years to read The Economist because all my "wicked smart" friends recommend it. I am sorry to admit that I would rather see which celebrities have beach-ready bodies than what the trading in Hong Kong is doing to the global economy. On the other hand, each article in the New Yorker holds my interest but if I subscribed, I would be pulled away from family and friends much too often.

Well, thumbing through Parabola for this post, I realize it is subscription-worthy, so I'm adding it to the list. Each issue features a theme and the summer issue is entitled "Water."

Check out it out:

Here is the ending quote from the article "A Sense of Wonder":

The beginning of philosophy is to feel a sense of wonder. Plato

I wonder if I am journeying to or coming back, irrevocably changed?