Life Hack from My Subconscious

Last night, I dreamed that I hit someone’s old truck—but then I took a second look, and wasn’t so sure it happened. So my solution was to get the owner, show him his truck, and say, “Do you notice anything different about your bumper?” Remember this next time you run into someone’s vehicle in the parking lot and are not sure what to do.

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‘K’ is for Water Buffalo (Part One)

I stood looking down at a pair of new Mary Jane’s, black with yellow linings. My sister and I were to go to Thai school, now that we had moved to town from the village, and we were both to be enrolled in Kindergarten 2. The first thing my mother saw to was our uniforms: crisp, white button-up shirts with our names embroidered in blue on the pockets, blue pleated skirts, and the prescribed footwear. My sister’s shoes, lined up neatly next to mine, were smaller. Of course they were. I was older than she–older and probably wiser than Missy and most kids in the class, since I was seven, and Missy only five.

We’d driven past the campus before, Missy and I noting a playground that we would surely be lucky enough to play on every day. Then school began. And as we lined up, sang songs, learned the alphabet, and went to assemblies, we found out that school was a lot more than shoes and playgrounds and choosing a name for one’s pocket that would be easy to pronounce in Thai. That, having known so far only home education with my mom, there were a lot of things we hadn’t considered. We were about to be schooled in not only the rudiments of Thai, but of life as well.... [Read More]

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D.C. and Other Adventures, Part Three

[Scroll down for Part One and Part Two.]

As we pulled out of the college complex and its air-conditioned world of elevators and babies, my sister cried. She had bonded with one of the young married ladies whose card-playing circle had been so friendly to us. I internally rolled my eyes, not happy to have it end, but ready to move on without emotional displays. The next stage, whatever it was, did not promise fun summer memories. For one thing, the back section of the station wagon, where my older brother had applied his spatial skills to creating a luxurious nest, was now packed nearly full with my dad’s display table materials for church visits. There remained a four-by-two strip back there for one weary traveler at a time to lie down and rest, sans seatbelt.... [Read More]

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D.C. and Other Adventures, Part Two

(Scroll down for Part One)

Arizona and the swimming pool far behind us, ensconced in our plush burgundy interior, we pressed on toward our vague summer destination in D.C. as the American landscape flashed past our windows. Long trips can mean being entertained by small things, such as the trick of the eye where, if you fix your gaze on the telephone poles, your vision will slide up the pole and down the drooping wires in a repetitive, undulating motion.... [Read More]

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D.C. and Other Adventures, Part One

An older post with newly completed Parts Two and Three to follow.

My parents had different approaches when it came to preparing for long trips. My mother was neat and efficient. My dad, while a believer in Tetris-style precision packing, had an offbeat sense of time. It was no wonder then that close to midnight on the day we were to leave on a cross-country trip, my mother was frustrated. She and the four of us kids had been ready for ages, while he was still finishing up this and that. Mom would have preferred to hit the road a few hours sooner–maybe 8 a.m.... [Read More]

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Five Old-Fashioned Values We Rightly Reject

After a steady diet of period films, literature, and historical nonfiction, I’ve realized that in some ways, our culture has changed dramatically in the last 250 years or so. If you or I were transported to say, 1820, and we mingled with Americans then, we would struggle to fit in. We often grouse about the loss of shared values over time, and it is true that some of the beliefs that strengthened family units and held our culture together have been eroded. However, a few of those entrenched traditional attitudes were harmful and encumbered our progress. Some of them were held in opposition to the self-evident truths proclaimed in our founding documents, or worked against the family unit–and I say good riddance. Here are some examples:

Marrying Advantageously: One is probably wise to consider a prospective mate’s financial situation (especially to the degree that they reflect work ethic). However, novelists such as Jane Austen–who were contemporaneous to rank-and riches-conscious cultures–detail for us a milieu of shameless social climbing and gold-digging. Behaviors that would today be considered tacky seemed to be somewhat acceptable then, even expected: discussing openly how many pounds a year one was given as an allowance, or whether there was an inheritance to be had. One’s spouse needed to be of the right social class, and (as one biographer argued was true of George Washington’s marriage) even calculated to move one up the social ladder. We might argue that today’s criteria for marriage–a sense of romantic connection, for example–are even flimsier than they were in the past. Even so, we ordinarily do recognize today that character, kindness, and work ethic come into play in choosing of a good spouse and likelihood of a productive future together.... [Read More]

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The Best Stage of Parenting

There’s a scene in Father of the Bride that I relate to these days, as a parent of two young adult daughters. In the scene, Steve Martin’s character gapes as his grown daughter morphs into a tiny girl in braids who pipes up at the dinner table to announce her upcoming nuptials. My girls aren’t getting married yet, I’m happy to say. But I get the spirit of the movie scene when I watch all the little ways my daughters behave like grownups when I clearly remember bringing them home as helpless infants and then muddling through years of thwarted attempts to train them in basic responsibility and focus. It has dawned on me that somewhere in the last few years, something took, and now I can only drink in each delicious moment as these kids confidently lead their lives and reveal their depth.

Several little ways they have of showing ownership and wisdom have me not gaping, but wondering warmly at where my reluctant, fairy-obsessed, teacher-vexing progeny of lax parentage went, and who replaced them with these delightful grownups. Moms and dads struggling through the frustration and fog of various childhood stages, take hope:... [Read More]

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What’s Cooking at Our House

Since I’ve been laid off my afternoon job, and I’m at home with family, I’ve been taking my turn cooking several nights a week. We like variety here, so we use the Instant Pot some nights with results that are good to great. Tacos or some variation on that theme are often served. Thai food is popular, too. Here is a sampling of the menu from the last couple of months, with a bonus picture from last September. What are you cooking?

... [Read More]

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The Great Disconnect

Imagine being part of an organization in which the coordinators expected you and your colleagues to produce, meaningfully and with increasing depth. If you didn’t, you would face consequences.

Now let’s turn up the pressure. You and your fellows number in the hundreds per group leader.  And as if to heighten the lack of warmth, organizers have you meet throughout the day in large random groupings, so it’s impossible to get acquainted with more than a few people.  The maze-like building, in a place where promptness is paramount,  makes the setting more impersonal.

Yet it’s profoundly personal, too.  You are surrounded by hostile souls who for whom the idea of constructive output seems alien, and they do what they can to impede the production process.  They invest their energies into treating you and one another maliciously–creating salacious rumors, calling names, excluding.  Their conversation and writings fixate on the obscene.... [Read More]

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Try Your Hand: Book Review Roulette

Spin the big Kindle library wheel for a bargain book review and see if you’ve landed a nod, a dud, or a blank. This is a low-stakes game that might yield some good leads or fun screeds. It won’t hurt your wallet or leave you with life regrets. Here is how to play:

1.) LOOK: Examine the two grids of Kindle books below. These twenty-four books have been randomly assigned a number.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand on Pedals

Thirty-five years ago, before helmets were ubiquitous and when bicycle passengers were the norm, a summons from my mother to ride with her to the market brought my own agenda to an end. I could be languishing in the shade, in my cool summer togs laying brick pathways in the dirt behind the flower beds. Or, we were entertaining friends, racing around the cement slab out back and trying not to stub our toes on a harsh metal pipe emerging from the middle of the patio. I might be reading when the call came, lying on my stomach on a wooden bench, sheltered from the sun by the overhanging roof and re-living a Narnia volume or one of the many cheap Scholastic books we owned.

But I would drop everything when I heard the call. I’d trot into the garage, where my petite mom steadied the bike so I could clamber up onto the cushioned bench behind the seat. Then a couple of steadying pushoffs with her foot, a moment of balancing, and we’d sail out of the garage and down our driveway, navigating an unpaved road flanked by cinder block walls.... [Read More]

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How One School Pivoted After Campus Closure

I’ve been working long-distance for a small K-12 California school since 2006, and I’ve always appreciated the leadership–but wow, have the principal and faculty outdone themselves since school campuses were closed weeks ago, due to the virus. I could sense in the days preceding the closure that he felt some stress, and I was told that developments with the virus were weighing on him. It concerned me–none of us could predict what was coming and what it might mean for our school.

Then the principal’s letters to parents and staff started coming in: campus is closed until thus and such a date–no, it’s actually closed longer. Here’s the plan–no, here’s the new plan. There was a first phase of online learning with teacher training to buy time, and then everyone settled into a second phase with clear, uniform procedures. All of this was accomplished via positive e-mails and a weekly parent letter; sandwiched between a paragraph of encouragement and links to resources, each parent communication carefully explained any new developments so there were no misunderstandings. Regular social media photos feature young students beaming from their computers at home, seniors posing with certificates, teachers handing out weekly packets to families in cars. Anyone would think it was the best thing that ever happened to the school, and in spite of the uncertainties, extra pressures all around, and financial stress (I actually don’t know how much longer they can keep me on), there have been some upsides to it.... [Read More]

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Getting Around in Thailand on Two Wheels

I’m sitting behind my dad on the motorcycle at night, squeezing my eyes shut as we zoom through the dark and hoping, hoping, hoping. We’re approaching our little side road, our soi, and I’m willing the engine to accelerate, to not slow down and not swing right, in the direction of home and what was sure to be immediate bedtime. Yes! We keep going. When I’m chosen to go along on these evening jaunts, I never know where we’ll alight, which of my dad’s friends we’re going to visit, what movies will be playing on TV. Or even when we’ll arrive back home to settle in for the night. I don’t think my dad really knows, either.

We show up at a motorcyle shop, metal folding doors across its front pushed back enough for our Vietnamese friend to stand in the opening, chatting with my dad. Usually, I stand in the background tuning out the long conversation, looking around, studying the seat of the motorcycle. Tonight, we walk through the shop to living quarters upstairs, where family members are ranged on the floor around a color TV watching an American movie. And what a strange one it is. A repulsive little brown creature, with uncannily communicative big eyes, makes friends with a little boy. At the end, a space ship lands in the woods to pick up the creature. The dark, lonely wooded landscape and the swelling music add to the eeriness. Then the creature and the little boy hug in an emotional parting. A loud Eww! escapes me. My dad laughs.... [Read More]

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A Virtual World of Possibilities

My husband and daughter have been playing the video game “Elder Scrolls” for a few years now (yes, they take breaks to eat, go to school, go to work, etc.) This virtual world is stunning in its detail and sprawl. When the weather is bleak outdoors, the digital forests with sun filtering through trees, birds singing, and wildflowers blooming give me a lift. Sometimes–although I would never publicize this on an online forum–when weather doesn’t permit walking, I jog in place in front of the screen, pretending to “run with” my daughter’s screen character. It is cheering, if there are no nightmarish beings attacking, to imagine I’m taking some air on cobbled paths winding through woods, or on a beach, or over a boardwalk. As my daughter works her way through the game, with its stiff storylines and stilted dialogue, we are building our own family lore around it, which to me is more amusing than what the Tolkien wannabe script writers offer. Here are some absurdities you can only get from the blending of real and programmed worlds:

Virtual Clutter: In Elder Scrolls, players constantly acquire objects and carry them around in their packs or whatever their digital conveyance is. If I understand it right, these items come in handy later, or give the player an edge in fighting, or extra food for recipes, or clothes. At times, it gets to be too much, so you can sell off items to people in the game, or you can dump them somewhere. Apparently, my husband has taken to dumping. My daughter discovered this after she spent some time buying herself a house and furnishing it how she liked. It was tidy and cozy, a calm retreat from battling mutants. One day, unsuspecting, she selected that area on the map to visit her home. My husband had been there before her. He had been busy cleaning out his gear, leaving items strewn around the medieval dwelling. And in the middle of the floor was a sacrificial heart.... [Read More]

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The Most Potent Voices in Education

I started getting my education reading fix years ago with E.D. Hirsch, with an article my mom had pointed me to.  It turned out that “You Can Always Look It Up–Or Can You?” served as a gateway essay to reams of mind-altering substance offered by writers steeped in the field. Most education writers claim that their work is research-based in some way. But I now have an entrenched habit of seeking out a particular cohort of educational thinkers, who all seem to approach their recommendations from a similar, principled foundation that appeals to both the mind and the intuition with its pure common sense.

Eager for more after my first experience, I went on to Hirsch’s explanation of how Romanticism has shaped education. Then I developed an affinity for Robert Pondiscio, a contributor to Hirsch’s Core Knowledge blog. It was not long after when I discovered the grounded insights of Daniel Willingham, whose artful application of cognitive science to education helps teachers to foster their students’ potential.... [Read More]

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