09 August 2010

it's in the numbers

I am a closet math nerd.  Yup.  There it is...I'm admitting to my secret.  But it wasn't always so.  When I was young, math was a frustrating subject.  Some of the concepts "worked" for me, while the majority were elusive number sequences for which my mnemonic devices or word association didn't work.  It also didn't help that my high school math teacher didn't quite grasp the concepts himself, being first and foremost the football coach.  The "good" math teachers were reserved for the pre-calculus and above classes.  Then in college, I had the good fortune of hearing about an amazing math professor.  It took me two semesters to wiggle into her class.  She was extraordinary, using pictures and objects to explain concepts.  I was hooked.  Three more classes with three other outstanding teachers followed.  The infamous math "lightbulb" had been turned on in my head.

Now I see numbers and mathematics everywhere.  Of course there are well-known days of the year such as Pi Day (a widely popular day filled with calculator fun, measuring tape chanllenges, circles, and pie) and the link between shell construction and flower petals in nature with the Fibonacci numbers.  But there are so many moments throughout each day that jump out at me as unique presentations of numbers.

Take today:  it is the eighth month of the year, the ninth day of the month, and the year ends in "ten".  Ahhh, now for some geeky reason, this knowledge gives me great pleasure and brings a huge grin to my face!

Now if classes were in session for the elementary, I would task small groups of children to look during their lifetime of years (for me sixth grade is generally eleven or twelve years), and come up with how many more times this mathematical phenomenon has popped up.  No, it's not on a standard, but this exercise does do something that I believe is more valuable than just "hit a standard for the test".  It excites children about numbers and the world around them, has them noticing details in their surroundings, and teaches them organization as well as group skills.

19 July 2010

a bit of kindness

I had thought to chatter a bit about the marvelous Carole King and James Taylor concert one evening in Oakland--and it was wicked indeed...the memories that the songs evoked (my oh my), the energy of a live performance, the quick dry humor of James Taylor, the genuine care and friendship that could clearly be seen between two people who are each in their own right quite accomplished song writers and composers, as well as performers--but other moments leading up to that night are just as pronounced in my mind and bear sharing.

I must begin by saying that I don't know how or why people (strangers) happen on me, how they know to talk to me and know that I will talk to them in kind (because I don't want to appear rude).  It just seems to happen.  I can have my nose buried in a book or in knitting, my back to them, my body language saying "I'm on quiet time with myself"--it doesn't seem to phase some people.  And although many friends will shake their head with a firm "I don't believe you", I am a shy person, one who finds it difficult to talk to strangers and is uncomfortable in large crowds.  Having said that, I met two people on Monday.  Two people who needed some conversation, some contact at that time in their lives.  One, a twenty-one year old woman who, with her grandfather's support and love, is going to college, despite the wreck her parents made of their family (her words not mine).  I closed my computer, put aside my notebook, and we talked about life, struggles, and perseverance.  The other was a middle-aged man, fresh out of prison and living on the streets.  His face had been badly sunburned a few days before but was starting to heal.  He asked to share the shade under a tree where I was reading.  We talked about choices in life and possibilities of new chances.  He asked for a hug as I left--I declined--but shook his hand and told him it was good to have meet him.  I tell you about these two encounters because it helped shape my thoughts and attention throughout the rest of the day and into the evening.

Later that evening, after we had been driving around looking for a spot to have some dinner in Oakland, without luck (one choice was closed, another was too long of a wait), we chose Denny's (I know...it's very much not my "thing" but I wasn't going to the concert without something half way fresh and fulfilling inside my body, and the choices later would be pizza and fried foods, so Denny's it was).  They were quite busy with both the concert and an A's baseball game the same night, and they were short-staffed.  Despite these issues, the waitress was courteous, good-natured, and warm, sharing her warm smile with everyone.  As we left, I handed her a tip much beyond the standard.  She stopped, tears in her eyes, and gave me a hug--the kind of hug that is reserved for long-time friends or beloved relatives.

Yes, the concert was brilliant, but it was the "topper" to an entire day with bits of human connections.  I think sometimes we run through our days, link with our circle of people, and forget that there are so many moments of kindness we could give to others, to strangers.  Usually it's the small gestures that can turn a person's day around, like Anna's encounter at the grocery market.

09 July 2010

mindful of the moments

"There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below her as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she just takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly. Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life; it might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life." 
~~Pema Chodron

::  Breathe.  We live in times where technology is both friend and foe.  I often wonder what I would do without the internet or cell phone.  How life would be different without instant (or near instant) links and connections to information or people!  I use these snappy technologies to plan trips, to connect with friends old and new, to find a recipe, to research just about anything, to send a quick note.  But this constant link to everyone and everything can be draining.  A friend I communicate with and know only through technology (and an occasional package of lemons to her home from mine) has recently made a decision to slow down her connection with technology, returning to more elemental and grounded pursuits.  I have to applaud her true grit in committing to this change.  There is indeed something to be said for infusing her days with family first, taking time to breathe in life, savoring moments in a quiet personal way.  Others are choosing to disengage completely from all technology.  Yes, certainly, there is need to separate when each day is consumed with being linked, when moments go unnoticed, when one can't breathe.

::  Listen.  When our daughter was young (she's an adult now, even though that smacks both my mind and hers with a resounding thump followed by a "wow"), we lived quite a distance from her school.  That travel time, both morning and evening, gave her a one-on-one captive audience for connecting and listening.  Whether she was traveling with Papa or Mama, great conversations (sometimes prompted by NPR, sometimes prompted by her day at school), dreams, problems, and plans were explored.  We listened to her in a way that would not have taken place had we been at home, distracted by those daily chores and routines.  Because we developed this dialogue exchange as part of our everyday family pattern, there was, and continues to be, trust and a deep bond in our relationship.  There were other, maybe more typical moments each day, each week, when we shared, like gathering at the kitchen/dining table at meal time or traveling to/from swimming meets on weekends.  Whatever the primary purpose, the best outcome was to connect, to listen, to enjoy each other.

::  Observe.  Having my camera has been my best tool for noticing details.  It has reminded me of how children observe the world, especially small children.  If one crunches down on eye level of a two year old, the view looks so different.  There's a richness, an intensity, we tend to miss as adults because we are always looking at the big picture, the horizon.  Starting when she was wee, our daughter would collect seed pods and rocks, little gifts of nature she would happen upon on walks.  The rock obsession continued well into her teen years, spotting a color, a shape, a texture, to add to her treasury.  Using the camera reminds me to stop and consider attributes of what appears to be simple everyday items and occurrences in that adult eye, to regard with a different perspective.  With a release of the shutter, a moment is seized, held captive, observed.
**  The rock collection?--some were deemed unworthy as time went on, but many remain in boxes or have found their way to my own shelves, tabletops, containers.

21 June 2010

it's going to be a long, wonderful day

A rousing welcome to the first day of summer--the Summer Solstice--for those in the Northern Hemisphere!  We have had such a incredible spring this year, with cooler-than-average days, higher-than-average moisture, and outstanding displays of wild flowers.  It's sure to be a bumper crop of elderberries, gooseberries, and chokecherries in the mountains this summer!

Our planned celebration--

::  hot coffee, pancakes, raspberries, pure Vermont maple syrup

::  fresh greens from the garden topped with roasted beets, Boursin cheese, citrus-balsamic glaze, and almonds.

::  a bicycle ride along nature trails

::  spending time together (holding hands, laughing, sharing...a nap may be included)

20 June 2010

a day for papas

To my husband:

::  My heart skips a beat with love and pride when I hear you converse with our daughter, who now lives her own life over 2000 miles away.  You treat her with such respect and care.

::  I admire how you can be a force, yet have such a gentle heart and hand.

::  happy Papa's day!

12 June 2010

hello there from the great canyon of life

June finds us with worn-through-the-finger-tips leather gloves from stone work and yard work.  It's a good thing, and our terrace is coming along nicely.  There are silly things like accidentally cutting the electrical line that links to the drip irrigation system (oops), which have slowed us down a bit.  And don't even go there about the rain that seemed to never end this spring--not that I'm complaining because we quite needed the moisture and it has lead to some amazing wild flowers.  I have yet to find a fountain that calls to me in such a way that I have to have it, that it was destined to be in that spot on the terrace, allowing the water to dance along its edge and splash at its base.  The hunt continues.

Local farmer's markets are in full swing.  Sweet tree-ripened peaches (from up by the Feather River), bright red raspberries, mouth-watering strawberries, beets, green beans, and green bok choy are now added to the menu for our trip to the natural hot springs where early morning yoga, many soaks in the springs, and card playing into the wee hours with a sister and brother-in-law are on the schedule for this week.

12 May 2010

and just like that, a new season begins

The nasty affair, the wet business of unpredictable fickle spring weather is largely past.  There was a last hrumph of dark grey clouds, a wee bit more of snow in the mountains, before Persephone emerged to kiss the growing warm season a start.

Our tomatoes are blooming, herbs are flourishing, but some re-seeding and re-planting may be needed here and there.  Snails, in their prime element of rainy cool weather, have stripped the marigolds down to stems.  Lettuce and peas took huge hits as well.  Oh, the joys of spring planting and organic growing.

There's the most delicious cloud of sweetness hanging around the lemon trees, as well as a constant low hum of honey bees.  Looking at the number of blossoms and the business of pollination in full swing, I dare say we'll have a nice crop this winter.  Yum!

08 March 2010

nine on cloud nine

There's a change in the light and temperature of each day.  I don't need a calendar to tell me this.  Flowering pear and plum trees are exploding in whites and pinks.  Herbs in the garden are sprouting up as are the spring vegetables (yes!).  What a delightful start to spring.

Refreshing and exciting things right now:

::  In yoga I am finding strength, quiet, peace, a center.  Very good.

::  Oh, the sunshine!  That spring sun which draws the face upward, brings work to a stop, and beckons a walk down the garden path.  Hello!  Welcome!

::  Seed catalogs are being inspected.  Lists are forming.  Plans are developing.

::  Roots in pots are divided and fresh soil from the compost added.  The dark brown compost from last fall's harvest and canning is looking quite rich.

::  Scraps of yarn strategically placed in the trees and mesh bags are starting to disappear.  I'm sure they are adding just the right color scheme to some bird's nest.

::  The twitters and warbles of the birds has increased ten fold (and so has the volume of bird feed being consumed).  Wild turkeys are visiting, as are doves.  The volume of activity has, in turn, attracted hawks, who circle or land on a post nearby, patiently waiting for the perfect moment.

::  I have been reading "My Life in France", a memoir by Julia Child.  (Can I just say that Google Translate, for all the French terms,is my new best friend?)  I am inspired by her zest for adventure, her spunk, her sassiness.

::  Snails and ants.  They come with the territory and climate.  With snails it's just a daily patrol of picking.  They're an interesting creature but can eliminate gardens and flowers in just a few days.  Ants are a constant issue.  I detest using chemicals that can be harmful to the environment, people, and animals, and frankly I don't believe one can ever purge ants completely.  There was an interesting piece on NPR about such a topic the day I was spotting ant scouts about the kitchen.  Yes, I do believe it's highly likely these little guys are here, lurking by my kitchen.  Somehow, between this new knowledge and the sun beams teasing me, these two creatures are quite do-able.

::  My knitting mojo is back in spades.  Two unfinished projects near completion, and this little number is in my radar for summer wear.  This top just sings out spring and a trip up the coast.  Yup, I'm ready to knit for myself.

04 January 2010

go forward with no fear of the new year

One of a dozen+ sets of slippers knitted for the holidays--this pair for my mother-in-law so that she can seek, gather, contemplate and go in her wheelchair, all while keeping her feet warm.

As a bee seeks nectar from all kind of flowers, seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered. Like a madman beyond all limits, go wherever you please and live like a lion completely free of all fear.”

-- Ancient Tibetan text

01 January 2010

cheers two thousand ten

The clouds and drizzle last night prevented me seeing the blue moon.  The overcast today prevents me from seeing a blue sky.  Neither take away from the excitement of a new year--a fresh, clear beginning.  Our planet, with her axis tipped oh so slightly to one side as if to say "huh, so this is what it's all about", has carried us safely through another year's journey around the sun.

Last year was a labyrinth of boxes, both physical and metaphorical.  Some of them continue to linger in alleyways, in shadows, in corners, stirring chaos and turbulence.  I am not one to put down resolutions.  They are so finite, constricting,...and, well, yes, boxing.  I believe Ali Edwards is onto something, choosing one little word for the year.  One word that is really not a little word at all, but is charged with intent.  One word that is, in its simplicity, irrefutable and authentic.

The boxes must go, my life simplified, streamlined.  The one word that comes to me over and over is:  clear.  It's such a multi-faceted word; it's a verb, an adjective, and an adverb.  Yes, this one little five letter word is perfect for my boxes.  CLEAR it is!