Friday, December 30, 2011

Colors of the Season

This time of year celebrates light and birth and promise. We burn the fires and sing the songs to chase away darkness and welcome back light.  The old mysteries linger in blood-red berries, flames like the sun, and boughs that stay evergreen, even in the hard cold truth of a northern winter.
2011 was a pissant year in so many ways, but I am caught by the demands for freedom from people across the world.  Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Syria. Wall Street and Oakland and Washington and Boston.  One generation passes, and we seek the next Vaclav Havel, the young Mandela, the leaders with heart and morals and the courage to do what is right for us all, not act just for the few, the rich, the lobbyists, the spoilers.

I'm disgusted by liars and false gods, guns and pepper spray, bullies and corrupted elections.  I want leaders -- real people -- who stand up and stop the violence that is done in the name of "national security", "public safety", "too-big-to-fail", and "family values".  

I want to hear truth.  Someone, say:
"There were no weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons were made here, at home, paid for by our taxes, and unleashed by our own sons and daughters.  Truth:  We cannot keep destroying peoples' jobs and then expect them to be the good consumers needed to fuel our economy.  Truth:  The emperor has no clothes, never has, never will, no matter how many tailors and handlers he/she employs."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

From One Year to the Next

Thanksgiving Snow
After many years of traveling for Thanksgiving, we stay home now.  It feels just right to be here in celebration of the harvest, the woods, the land, and our New Hampshire lives.  The twist for 2011 was a snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving.  Six inches of heavy, wet snow weighed down trees and took the power out for ten hours or so. Our teacher friends were delighted.  Our cooking friends wondered when they could get back to the preparations.  We carried on doing house chores by kerosene lamp.

The next morning, Thanksgiving Day, I took this photograph out the south window.  Then I baked anadama bread and finished canning the rest of the applesauce (16 pints).  I thought about past holidays -- Gram Dorrington's apple pies, big and small family gatherings over 60-plus years, awkward times, unhappy times, old and new traditions, the many warm and loving memories.

I thought about change -- how our landscapes change year by year.  Snow.  Misty, brown woods.  Frost, rain, a pale November sun.

The people change, too.  So many are gone.  Some have left-- geographically and otherwise.  The elders have died and the next generation moves into the places left empty at the table, the kitchen, the heart.

My joy comes when I pack the warm loaves of bread and walk up the road with Barry.  We pass the small graveyard, the huge bull pines, horses, deer track, woods that stretch on either side of us.  The skies are darkening, but the lights shine from Ellen's windows.  We join old and new friends and neighbors at a long table by the open fireplace where we share a feast and fellowship in a brave new world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Search for the Muse

The Writing Retreat
We are four intrepid writers on a weekend retreat at a local vacation spot near the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  This is our third retreat -- with more to come, we know.  We're encouraged by the freedom to write and the fearless stroke of pen on paper, fingers on keys.  There's a quiet, meditative quality in the room, broken by laughter, awe and appreciation when one of us reads what has appeared on the page.

Who knew the Muse sits among us, opening portals to heart and mind, singing us to write among our friends and colleagues!  No more solitary desk in the pristine setting -- we write amidst scraps of papers, books, words cut from magazines and pictures culled from everywhere.  We sit.  We write.  We share.  We have a respectful audience.   We have just what we need.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bittersweet Realities of Being Retired

This morning I listened to National Public Radio, checked the local news and read BBC News on my computer.  In my initial days of retirement, I make time to savor a cup of coffee and consider the state of the world.

Here's what I learned today:
  • A young man I knew as an elementary school student is now a felon
  • The Wall Street protests are not covered by our big mainstream media -- even after an officer approached a group of young women cordoned off by other officers and sprayed his can of pepper spray over the unarmed, unprotected women.  No one came to their aid with water or cloth or any kind of protest.  
  • In Mexico, decapitated heads were left outside a school
  • Coffee may be helpful in "preventing depression".
My cup of coffee does not have that power.  Even if it did, I don't want to be numbed or complacent or "cured" in the face of such human misery and abuse.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Time for Reflection

I have passed the 185 pennies to another teacher friend to be used "when she is ready" to consider retiring from public education.  As I learned over this past school year, retiring is a process that starts long before the decision, the announcement and the farewell party.

We laughed when I told her "the pennies worked".  But they did work for me -- transferring one penny a day, each workday, kept me focused and honest about what I was doing.  I was leaving my life work, colleagues, kids, parents, and that oh-so-familiar environment of school.

Since that last official day in June, I've taught in the National Writing Project in New Hampshire Summer Institute.  That was a great way for me to transition from special education testing to working and writing with teachers.  The National Writing Project's model is "teachers-teaching-teachers", and this work inspires thought and deep reflection.

That's where I am today, reflecting on education, rather than thinking about the daily school details.  I have left a specific job description.  I have left a climate of testing-is-teaching and public rants on teachers and schools.  I've left restrictive rules that make no sense in the "real world" of the classroom.  I've left budget cuts, bad policies, and animosity among communities who could be working together to support their future, their children, our world.

But I'm not going away.  I'm exploring and traveling through my writing, politics, cultural change, voice, telling my stories and owning my truths.   I feel rich beyond belief -- rich with books, arts, friends, ideas, curiosity, freedoms.  And, unlike the new barbarians who make war upon our country's principles and peoples,  I'm not afraid.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Field Office

When you call for me now, I'll be in the Field Office... in a room of my own... awash in memories of travels, dear friends, good books, and words, lots and lots of promising words.  I find myself studying pictures of older women, like the Inuit elders and a woman drinking coffee after finishing a solid morning's work.  No more collections of young hunter-women -- now, it's time for Recasting, Revisioning and Renewing the Vows to myself.
The stove is named Volcano -- really -- and it lives up to its name during the winter.
The window looks northwest to where the cold winds of winter blow.  I see sunsets, the garden, a pine and a cherry tree.  I hear birds, chipmunks, mice in the roof, and the contented beat of one human heart.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gloria Steinem said: "The truth sets you free, but first it pisses you off." I agree...

Politics --The Personal, Cultural, Environmental, and Global

Fund the Arts, 
the National Writing Project, 
programs for social change and justice.

Single payer health system.
Choice for Women's Reproductive Health.
Planned Parenthood and global family planning.

Free, public education funded as if it mattered.
Money and respect for libraries, museums, and PBS.
The Liberal Arts as a way of building a tolerant world.

Diversity.  Ecology.  Wilderness.
Respect our place within the Web of Life.
Sustaining.  Conserving.  Preserving.  
Act responsibly for the sake of the future. 


No Eminent Domain Extended to Private, for-Profit Companies -- None

No Corporations Allowed to Take Public Lands for Their Own Projects/Profits

No Corporations/ Anyone Allowed to Destroy or Interrupt Wildlife Habitat and Corridors
This is just a taste of what is at stake.  Get pissed off ----
and join us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Moments in May

Early May in New England
It was a cold, rainy start to May.  The sky stayed that flat, steely gray and then it rained for days on end.  We savored every green sprout and bud.  My grandfather always said it was time to plant when the leaves were "as big as a mouse's ear".  That took some powerful waiting this year.

Now, at the end of the month, we're awash in green.  The temperatures these last few days have been summery -- in the 80's F.  The garden yields lettuce, chives, mustard greens, garlic tops, rhubarb, asparagus -- and the best parsnips we've ever grown.

Memorial Day 2011: There's My Dad!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day 2011

Smithsonian Museum.  Washington, D.C. 
The National Museum of the American Indian reads like a holocaust, a genocide, a sweep of colonial powers across a ravaged land.  Yet, there is the powerful message that the Earth endures even as its people fight and die and destroy what should be revered.  

Now, over two hundred years later, our ancestors still speak the truth. What we must do is listen.  Heed the words.  Act from those "better places" in our heart.

My Prayer for Earth Day
"I am alone in the woods.  
I find solace, safety and beauty there.  
I rest in the knowledge that our ancestors were born here.  
I am grateful to be Home."

Monday, April 04, 2011

Storm Clouds over Washington

April 1, 2011 -- The Theatre of the Absurd
I wish it were an April Fool's joke, but it's not.  The young, spiky-haired legislative aide with the parochial school background couldn't be bothered to listen or take notes or do his damn job while we presented our impressive data on eighth grade reading gains and fourth graders' writing and a first grade's campaign that kept a neighborhood library open + alive.

He told us his boss, the new Representative, only comes to Washington to vote.  I'm disgusted -- that's not why he was elected, to sit home in New Hampshire.  He was elected, after all, not appointed by God or the King. I can only hope he gets fogged in and misses the key votes.

I'm in Washington, D.C. for my third Spring Meeting of the National Writing Project.  However on March 2, NWP joined the ever-growing list of educational programs cut from the federal budget.  NWP is the only professional development program for teachers of writing on a national scale.  It has been a 30-year investment by the federal government.  There are over 200 sites across the country.  There are a million reasons why this program works, but we are not in the world of reason any longer.

In meeting after meeting, in auditoriums and small offices, we heard how crazy, how difficult, how impossible it is to do the right thing.  This budget is a war where you and I and all those kids lose everything we need for a future.  It's Partisan Politics and no one seems willing to stand up and stop this reckless destruction of our society.

We also spoke with three thoughtful and interested young people who are legislative aides.  I think of them, too, as I offer this challenge.

Study the photograph of these Kindergarten-Grade 1 students. Consider that in twenty years, the boy in red is your tax accountant. How well-educated would you like him to be?

The little girl in pink wants to be your heart surgeon. The girl on her knees will teach your first grandchild to read and love books.  Maybe one of them will be your hospice worker or an automobile mechanic in the age of solar-electric-robot-driven cars.

This is not a frivolous exercise.  These kids are the future -- your future and my future.  I want them to be well-educated, compassionate, creative, and smart.   I'm willing to pay so these children have a quality, public education.
What about you?  

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Home from the Dominican Republic

A week ago, I was here on Playita, a small gem of a beach in the town of Las Galeras, in the northeast of the Dominican Republic.  The water was that warm, turquoise-blue of the Caribbean Ocean.  At one end of the beach, there were the European tourists, French and German. At the other end, a Dominican family celebrated 27 February, Independence Day.  And in the middle, under an almond tree, four American teachers marveled at their good fortune.  

We had walked a country road from the main street in Las Galeras.  We passed small farms and cows in the fields.  One family sold pan de coco and pina in a roadside stand.  We bought the warm bread and a pineapple, and the man gave us a tour of his farm.  We had admired his enormous pig the day before, and now we met the pig, the dog, the chickens.  He had a plot of land with bananas, pigeon peas, papaya, mango trees, and yucca.  Everywhere we looked, we saw small crops of fruits and vegetables for the family.  His daughter was doing homework on a table outside, and his wife cooked on an open air stove made of metal.  It was, after all, a Sunday afternoon.

We saw no Americans for the five days we stayed in Las Galeras.  We enjoyed the company of a Canadian family at the bed and breakfast, along with the Swiss proprietors and a French man and his wife.  We ate fried fish at the shack on the end of the beach and drank superbly cold Presidente beer with the local fisherman and taxi drivers.  Our traveling companion Jen speaks fluent Spanish and some Creole, so the language barrier was open for a rich and different kind of experience.

Las Galeras was pure vacation -- sunning, swimming, eating local foods, walking back roads, and generally enjoying the company of friends, old and new.  Karen and Jen found a frog in the shower and a big spider on the wall.  We were there long enough to recognize people as time passed.  We also saw the invisible division -- Dominicans on one end of the single main road, Europeans on the other.  The Dominicans always had more fun, and the music was distinctly better...

Now we are home and it's March in New Hampshire.  The skies have been gray for three days. Today, a Sunday, it's raining.  The snow is still several feet deep, but it rains and in the rain is the slight promise of Spring.  

On days such as these, I marvel at life.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Countdown Continues

99 days and counting

Midwinter.  We just passed the 100th day of school, a time full of counting and sharing 100 "things".  We use pennies, blocks, cubes, paper clips, shoes, books, pencils and crayons.  We make patterns of 5's and 10's.  We count all together in those big outdoor voices.  We put a fat red 100 on the number line that snakes around the classroom wall.  We mark what we have learned and what we have learned to love. 
It's all in the joy of learning... and for me, the joy of leaving.  

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sparks Fly

New Year's Eve

There was just enough snow for a bonfire on New Year's Eve.  It was cold and clear and quiet until someone lit fireworks on the lower road. We stood in the garden and celebrated the end of a decade. We burned pine logs and branches. We threw on rotten rafters from the shed and hunks of plywood ceiling. The fire burned brightly and snapped in the cold.

This year's ritual holds more weight for me.  2011 is a change year, a big marker, a time to leave one stage of life and enter another.  In June, I'll retire from my profession as an education testing specialist, work that has engaged me fully for all my adult life.  Working in schools with kids, teachers, parents and administrators hasn't been a "job"; it's been Who I Am, a definition of me down to the bones.

So, I've been preparing for this big transition and in the process, I'm stirring up all kinds of thoughts, memories, regrets, disappointments, anger and proud moments -- all the stuff of life.

For the bonfire, I hauled three boxes of files out of locked storage and fed them one by one to the flames.  There was nothing easy or light-hearted about this.  We read the names aloud and watched bits of educational history curl and burn and fly skyward in flurries of sparks.

There were notes from parents who couldn't make meetings, old pink telephone messages, a few complaints, and one or two 'thank you' notes.   This hoard of yellowing paper -- WISC's and diagnostic reading tests, VMIs and first grade screenings -- has no meaning now.  Yet I saved old files and reports.  I told myself, I might use them. Research? 
Study?  A Reminder of the glory days?

Whatever the wish or deception, it fades.  The important work was done years ago, face-to-face, when we were young and in a very different world and time.

There's a homily that says, the student always leaves the teacher. Well, this teacher is leaving, too.  The sparks are flying -- and I have other things to do.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

Today, January 1, 2011, I celebrate the special parts of my life.