Family, 2015

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Drawing I did of Veronica as a child.

 

Family is an interesting thing.  We’re all aware that it’s not just who’s married to whom, and who shared bloodlines.  It’s far more complex–and, simultaneously, simple-than that.

I’m adopted, first of all.  When I was two-and-a-half years old, in the fall of 1968, I was adopted from foster care into the Olson home.  I was Leonard and Leone’s only child (they’d lost a baby at birth nine years before I was born), and they were in their middle forties, and both professionals.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson.  September, 1969.

Church photo a week after my adoption: Leone, Karla, Leonard Olson. September, 1969.

I hit the jackpot on families!  No one could ask for more loving, more dedicated parents. I am grateful, daily, for my upbringing.

Also, I’ve been married twice.

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First husband and me, 1994, St. Cloud, MN

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Justin and me, 2007, Clear Lake, MN

My first marriage was ill-advised, but I deeply loved my husband, and altogether we were together ten years. Shortly after he and I began dating i n 1988, he found out he was going to be a father.  The child’s mother was a high school friend of his, Beth, with whom he’d kept up a friendship, and they’d celebrated his birthday that year, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy. To make a long, long, story short, he has not been the world’s best father but I lucked out in our divorce, in 1998, and got to “keep” the kid–well, Veronica, his daughter, lived with her mother, obviously, but Beth was wonderful enough to allow me to remain in Veronica’s life.  As Beth aptly put it–I still remember what she said, and how I cried for happiness–“You love her, she loves you.”

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Veronica at Aunt Geeney’s house, 1992

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Veronica at her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1995

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Veronica and her father’s and my house, St. Cloud, circa 1996.

 

 

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Veronica at Twin Cities Gay Pride with her father and me, circa 1996.

There were a few family reunions–my ex-husband’s family, mind you–that were non-traditional.  I’ve stayed in contact with my former in-laws, and they’ve accepted my current husband without any problem. I do distinctly recall one summer gathering, at my in-law’s family homestead farm, where sitting together in a row on a picnic table were Veronica, Beth, me, and my now-current husband, Justin.  A few distant relatives, not knowing all the ins and outs, asked how we were family; this led to very interesting answers.  “Well, I used to be married to your cousin, see, and this wonderful girl is his daughter and this is her mother and his old friend.  Oh, and this is my boyfriend…”

Beth, Veronica, Justin, and I have vacationed together (Yay, Duluth!).  When asked, simply saying “family” supplies all the information anyone really needs.

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Brighton Beach, north of Duluth, 2006

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Veronica, Park Point (Duluth), 2006

Skip forward several more years, and Veronica’s now nearly 26 years old.  She lives in Sacramento, holds a Master’s Degree in public policy, and is doing great work on behalf of many people in the capital city of California.  She’s brilliant, funny, creative, and everyone’s dream of a daughter, stepdaughter, or former stepdaughter. I’m honored to have her in my life, and further honored to be friends (family?) with her mother.

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Veronica in Germany, 2006ish.

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Veronica and friend Angela, St. Cloud Java Joint, early 2000s.

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Veronica at Mills, freshman year.

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Veronica and proud mother Beth, Graduation from St. Paul Open School, 2007.

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A favorite picture of Veronica.

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Veronica at Mills. (I’ve edited the wall message for public consumption…)

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Trivia Party, 2007, St. Cloud

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Veronica’s going-off-to-college party, George Street, St. Paul, August 2007.

All this to say that while Veronica was still in junior high and high school in St. Paul, and Justin and I lived in Marshall, MN (four hours from them), our gatherings were looked forward to, and we always had the best of times with hilarious and scholarly discussions on pop culture, literature, current events, politics, childrearing, education, music, and, well, anything.  Games would be played (Wizard of Bees!). We’d eat good food (well, if we visited St. Paul, that is, rather than they visiting Marshall).  Libations would occur.  We’d go home with our bellies hurting from the laughter.

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Veronica, Beth, Justin

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Justin, Bindu, Veronica: St. Paul, circa 2008

 

Additionally, there was the annual KVSC Trivia Contest.  Veronica has played on our team (Those Meddling Kids, then WWSD) via phone when she was young, then in person from adolescence onward.  Beth now plays with us, too, though a latecomer compared with Veronica.

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Trivia nap…circa maybe 2008?

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Trivia, circa 2006

 

Since Veronica left to go to college in California in 2007, our group gatherings have been limited to summers (when she still came home, which ended a while back) and, currently, at Christmas, when Veronica still makes the trek home to Minnesota to see friends and family (and likely organize everything in sight, as she’s wont to do).  While we can connect on facebook and via email and twitter all year, Justin and I very much look forward to when the four of us (now five, as Beth is partnered with Aaron, who’s a terrific addition!) can get together.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Veronica and Beth, Milaca, MN, January 2012 or 2013.

Which we did this past Friday.  In the Twin Cities.

Theses were written on the implications of Breaking Bad and Fight Club.  Second wave feminism butted against third wave, as it normally does in our gatherings.  We spent a good forty-five minutes discussing whether “mansplaining” was appropriate or obsfucating.  Knitting occurred.  There were liters and liters of coffee drunk. Snacking and eating in interesting establishments happened (Longfellow Grill, Peace Cafe, Riverview Cafe and Wine Bar) . There was disagreement on The Decemberists (Veronica votes Nay, Karla votes Yay) and The Shins (Karla votes Yay, Veronica votes Meh).  Presents were exchanged.  Dogs were fed (and pigdogs carried…). There were hugs.

And, my God, the laughter.  Open-mouthed, head back, full-throated laughter.  The absolute best part of being with these people.

I love my family. And how I look forward to these Christmas get-togethers!

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Veronica and Justin, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

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Beth and Veronica, Peace Coffee, Jan. 2015

 

Gratitude 2014

I wrote a couple of years ago about being grateful, but it’s high time I revisited this destination. It’s imperative for happiness, for perspective.

In the intervening time since that blog post, I’ve lost my mother to Alzheimer’s, my father’s moved into Assisted Living, two of our cats have passed on (Muffin and Frodo), and we’re in the middle of a fight to keep our house (legal battle with the County over Medicaid assistance for Dad).

I painted Mom's nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

I painted Mom’s nails the day before she died; she always had impeccable nails.

 

 

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

Frodo, near the end of his illness.

 

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Muffin, my mother’s cat

 

Additionally, I’ve had surgery this year on my foot, keeping me immobile for a long time, then in a walking cast and on a scooter. Health concerns continue, unabated. Financial issues, as with everyone, seem to only worsen.  Justin and I have often thought that 2014 has *not* been our year.

Ouch

Ouch

 

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

Steve, the Scooter, and Rufus, the Cast

 However, attitude is everything.

While I miss my mother terribly, and Alzheimer’s is the worst disease in the world, as far as I’m concerned (I once heard it described on NPR as a disease in which the victim watches as her own brain is eaten away), she was more than ready to go, and I was fortunate enough to be able to be by her side, holding her hand, as she took her last breath.  She lived a full and happy and interesting life, and left a massive legacy through her teaching.

Dad seems very happy in Assisted Living, and is getting healthier in some ways even as his age is slowly taking away other things.  He’s ninety-one, now, but still enjoying living.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad, winning at cards, as usual, at his apartment.

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

Dad at Thanksgiving, 2014

 

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad, Sept. 2014

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

Dad at Assisted Living at a music concert (his favorite: Stonybrook Band).

 

Dad this week on Christmas.

Dad this week on Christmas.

We miss Muffin and Frodo immensely, yet we’ve acquired both Pixel and Hershel in the last several months. Part of owning cats is acknowledging that lives are finite, and grief is inevitable.  We do it because the pain is worth it.

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Pixel

 

Hershel

Hershel

 

Our legal fight is hugely stressful, and we still don’t have final results, yet for the time being we have a roof over our heads and are enjoying our property.  And as Justin and I keep saying, “You, me, and the kitties; that’s all we need.  We can face anything else.” We don’t want to have to, but we can if we need to. Us and the kitties: that’s home.

While the surgery and recovery were problematic, I’m walking and living without the daily excruciating pain that I’d had in my foot for over three years due to arthritis and bone spurs shredding tendons.  Every month, I’m walking easier and easier!

And finances?  Well, hell…that’s just the human condition (unless you’re one of the 1%). We’re both employed. We have a place to live (at least for now, LOL). We have plenty to eat. Everything else is gravy, when you really think about it!

Hershel’s story (written elsewhere) has done a lot to restore my faith in mankind, and to bring back smiles and hope.

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

Justin and I at a Twins game, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

My husband is the best person on the planet, in my opinion, and I’m grateful daily to share my life with him. And while we didn’t have snow for Christmas, we did get some the next day…it’s beautiful outside.

 

 

 

Snowblowing.

Snowblowing.

 

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin, at dinner before an Ike Reilly show in Minneapolis

Justin likes coffee.

Justin likes coffee.

 

I love my husband.

I love my husband.

 

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

Justin with Wednesday Cat.

 

Here’s to seeing 2014 out–perhaps none too soon, but maybe I’m giving it a bad rap–and ushering a bright, beautiful, bountiful 2015 in.  

May we all have plenty to be grateful for in the coming year.

 

Outside our front door just now.

Outside our front door just now.

 

 

 

Justin’s Blog, and Why We Do This (But No Answers).

My husband has started blogging again.  Here’s my initial response:

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He writes, in his Christening piece, the following:

So, here’s the first thing; I’m not very good at this. Oh, I can navel-gaze and wool-gather with the very best of them.  If worry was a super power I could be an X-Man.  It’s just that I have not, up til the present day, been very good at keeping a record of it.  I have more than a couple of paper bound journals lying around the house with three entries in them. Digital culture and social media have been very helpful with this– I have moved through all of the platforms as they have come and gone.  I have a Myspace out there (watch out for squatters nobody’s been there in a while), Facebook, and Twitter. Of these Twitter has been most useful because it appeals to my lack of attention span.  So, while I have every good intention of keeping this going–I have to tell you this is not my first blog.

This makes me ponder the nature the navel gazing, why we do this. Even when no one is reading (or when lots of people are).  Are we justifying ourselves?  Are we marking time?  Are we reminding ourselves that time passes? Are we connecting with others?  Are we sending our brainwaves out into the universe to bounce off planets and nebulae billions of light-years away?

Are we selfish? Self-absorbed?

Are we too uncommitted to publish “real” literature?  🙂

In any case, it’s probably all the above. So what the Hell.

Happy 2015. Ours is likely going to be a blogging household.  I have three blogs (my others, besides this one, include my school blog as I blog with my kids, and our new Hershel the Christmas Cat blog).  One desktop, two iPads, two smartphones…no waiting.

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My husband, always so very serious. He needs to lighten up.

 

Philae and the Rosetta Mission

Since I’m a baseball fan, I’m used to hearing the adage about how hard it is, actually, for a moving ball and a moving cylinder to make contact.  From a physics’ point of view, that is.  We should be surprised that it happens at all, let alone well enough to produce, say, a grand slam.

Europe’s Rosetta Mission, however, managed something a million times more precise and precarious this week, when they maneuvered a spaceship–Philae–to land on a moving comet, 317 million miles from Earth.

 

According to the New York Times, there were a few glitches, but the mission is considered a success. I, too, would be hugging my colleagues if I managed to be part of this team!  What a phenomenal feat!

Success! The Rosette Mission Team.

While I’m not sure I’d ever be brave enough to travel off-planet and to new locations in space, I’m more than intrigued and fascinated.  I hope that I live to see the day when we make First Contact, or manage to establish living quarters on another planet.  Like the Golden Age science-fiction writers, I’m antsy to explore new worlds, even if I would do so vicariously though the pages of periodicals.

And who knows…maybe I would have the guts to go myself.  As long as there were coffee, I suppose…

Coffee, Nectar of the Gods

 

Chang, Kenneth.  “Landing on a Comet, a European Space Agency Mission Aims to Unlock the Mysteries of Earth.” The New York Times 12 Nov. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014. 

This blog originally published as a sample for students on my school blog.

 

 

Alternate Universe: He Walked Around the Horses

Napoleon

 

I’ve decided to use a second story with time travel as a plot part in my Science Fiction class, so I asked all my geeky friends on facebook what they’d suggest.  And I have a LOT of geeky friends.  One of the titles thrown my way was “He Walked Around the Horses” by Henry Beam Piper (thanks, Sabrina!).  While I won’t be using it in class–more to do with alternate universe theory and less to do with time travel, per se, and requires far too much Enlightenment European history for me to try to explain–I absolutely LOVED the story.

While it was first published in 1948, the story is set in 1809 and the language conforms to this.  I’m fine with that; bring on the esoteric vocabulary, please. The story is rather epistolary, as well, set up as a series of letters and police reports sent among a small group of police and government officials in Prussia and London, as well as the statements of a saloon keeper, a couple of peasant workers, and the central mysterious figure of Benjamin Bathurst.

Benjamin Bathurst

I don’t want to give anything away, but I loved how the reader gets more information with each report, with things seen from a different perspective.  As a love of mystery novels and detective fiction, this is right in my wheelhouse.

For anyone who loves history (American Revolution, the subsequent French Revolution, the rise of NapoleonWellington, etc.), this is the story for you.  Wonderfully written, great character touches, and a lovely sardonic ending line all waiting just for you!

You can read it online for free from Project Gutenberg!

CITATION: Piper, Henry Beam. “He Walked Around the Horses.” Astounding Science Fiction, April 1948. Project Gutenberg. Web. 3 Oct. 2014. 

This blog entry originally posted on my school blog as a sample for students. 

Not Unintended

I often wake up with opinion pieces on my mind.  I suspect I dream rhetoric and filter and remix in my head, and if the waking up is done correctly–and coffee is waiting–I don’t forget everything.  This happened the other day after a snowday, and I posted the following on facebook.  I decided that I’d crosspost here, not least of which it’s searchable (and I post far more on facebook than any one person should ever be allowed to).

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For those of you not in education right now, I’d like to try to explain something to you about new standards (any new standards, not just all the talk of Common Core):

When new standards come along–and in my 12 years’ teaching this is my *third* set–we must change how we teach, what we teach. That stands to reason. Whether or not the standards are valid or not, grounded in pedagogy or not (and despite CCSS’s pitfalls, which are numerous, I still maintain they rock over the previous set of Minnesota standards, but that’s a discussion for another time).

Here’s what happens on the ground, however.

On my own time, unpaid, I redesign my units to cover the new standards. Fine. Whatever.

I then do my best to implement them all in a school year (always impossible, no matter what anyone says, but again, not my main point here) and do my best with my raw material: kids of vastly different backgrounds and support systems all with different learning styles and abilities.

That would be difficult enough, obviously, without the *new* trend toward punishment. I mean to say, if standards were simply *goals* as you might think, fine. Lofty goals are good things to have.

But that’s not what’s happening.

Beginning with Bush’s NCLB and continuing (even worse) with Obama’s RttT, here’s what happens, especially under the new set of standards which, like Minnesota’s previous set, is cumulative and grade-leveled:

I teach 9th grade. Meaning, new standards tell me what I need to teach in 9th grade, but that’s assuming that the kids got the previous standards met in K-8 under the new set. That’s obviously not the case (we had to implement the new standards last year), so we’re then playing catch up. NONE OF THE KIDS I TEACH FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL YEARS WILL HAVE HAD THE GRADE-LEVELED STANDARDS GROWING UP, no matter what. That’s just fact.

But–and check this out, folks–these kids are TESTED ON THE NEW STANDARDS THEY’VE NOT HAD.

And, when they fail–as has happened across the country last spring, as you’ve read–it means schools lose funding, teachers and administrators are fired, and kids are branded as “failures.”

For not being completely successful at something they never had.

For my 9th graders to even have a chance at being successful, mind you, I’d have to not only teach all the 9th grade standards completely, but catch up on everything they hadn’t been taught to the new standards in the previous eight years.

I cannot do that. No one can do that.

And those making the tests and calling for the tests to mean so much, from the Right and Left, KNOW THIS.

They. Know. This.

This is NOT a surprise, nor is this failure an UNintended effect.

So, the next time you read an article in a newspaper about failing teachers and failing schools, and you’re wanting to go post on facebook or carp around a water cooler about those “lousy overpaid teachers” and “crappy American schools,” don’t be a pawn. Know that you’re being recruited into continuing a ruse, a horrible, planned piece of public theatre, that is hurting kids.

Testing is big business. School “reform” is big business. People are getting rich over privatization.

Your kids, OUR kids, are the ones who lose.

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Life After Life

CHOC

Me, age four.

My birthday was last week.  I turned 48, and I’m still trying to figure out where my thirties went, let alone what I’m supposed to do with nearing the half-century.  I’ve always had a difficult time with time passage–even as a young adolescent, child, really, I was obsessed with the passage of time and the waves of nostalgia.  As a control freak, I suspect much of this has to do with my need, always, to be in control of my environment.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to let go far more than I ever could as a youth–thank Gods–but, alas, this skill isn’t applying to the passage of time.

Like Shakespeare, the older I get the more I’m horrified, haunted by time gone by and wanting to slow things down:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate 
That Time will come and take my love away. 
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

(Sonnet LXIV)

9780552776639For my birthday, appropriately enough, my husband bought me a copy of a book by my new favorite author, Kate Atkinson.  The book isn’t one of her Jackson Brodie mystery series (of which I’ve devoured all, in a week, she’s so good), but an award-winning novel that’s fairly new on the market, called Life After Life.  It is at once haunting and heartbreaking, witty and life-affirming. It is a masterpiece.

And it’s obsessed with time and lost chances, the cyclical nature of time (rather than linear), the ability to touch the world around you as you’re drifting through events beyond your control.  Perfection.

So intense is this book that I actually had to put it aside for two days while reading (something that’s unheard of when I’m into a book as much as I was this one) because I’m already having a very difficult time with, well, time (see how that word shows up?). I did pick it up and finish it today, and while my obsession isn’t abated, and I’m not more in control than I was previously, I’m able to focus my fears into the world of Ursula Todd, the protagonist who lives several lives in this novel, each folding back on the other, bumping into each other as in dark alleys, holding hands with each other as close friends.

Science Fiction fans are often enamored of the alternate universe theory; this novel takes a similar idea and both expands it and focuses it.  What would happen if one both dies repeatedly and, simultaneously, never dies?  What if events could be altered by following déjà vu?

What if time were, as stated by the protagonist in the novel, a palimpsest?

What if you could do something to alter the events of World War II for millions of people?

As always, Atkinson creates characters that you want to keep spending time with, faults and all.  So real you can touch them, even these set in 1910 to 1967. Like Shakespeare, Atkinson is an astute observer of how people think, how voices from our loved ones accompany our daily tasks, how nuggets of wisdom can become self-fulfilling prophecies. She is also in complete understanding of how relationships change, evolve, over decades.

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Image Source: Linda Arthurs Backstrap Weaving

And, as in all her novels, she is a master weaver, creating tapestries of words, characters, perspectives, missed chances, met chances like no author I’ve ever read.  The results are always far different from what you expect as the weaving is happening, even as you think you’re looking over her shoulder and are “in” on her pattern.

I’m no better at dealing with my fear of time passing.  I have no idea how to reconcile the age on my driver’s license with my mental picture of myself (somewhere around thirty, I believe).  I am, however, gratified to know I’m not alone, and I’m also quite pleased to have shared the first half of the 20th century with the Todd family; I can visit them whenever I wish.

 

 

 

It’s NaNoWriMo Time!

image: http://cdn.nanowrimo.org/assets/crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb.png

It’s nearly November…and that can mean only one thing!  No, not turkey dinners, and no, not snow…

NaNoWriMo!

Otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, it’s when hundreds of thousands of people get together (literally and figuratively) to each write a 50,000 work novel!  This event has been around for fifteen years, now, and has grown each year.  Here’s a look at its history: Click Me.

I’ve participated for several years, but because of directing the school musicals I’ve missed the last two years.  I’m thrilled to be back participating, and once again, inviting students to volunteer to join me in the quest for the written novel.  At this writing, I have about six students from Panthers of the Pen (our school’s creative writing club)  signed on to join in the fun!

In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit, sadly, that I’ve never won the challenge (i.e. finished a novel), but I’ve had fun nonetheless.  And this year I’m going to do it.  No, seriously.  I am.  Talk to me November 30th at midnight…

I believe I will be writing a Young Adult novel that’s also a murder mystery.  I’m thinking some magical realism, as well, just for fun. We’ll see.

 

image: http://cfiles.nanowrimo.org/nano-2013/files/2013/09/2013-Participant-Facebook-Cover.png

 

 

Grateful

(Crossposted from my School Blog, 11-20-12)

I love Thanksgiving. Not because of the old stories about pilgrims and Natives sitting down together, although that’s a nice story, but because I love that we set aside a day of the year to really take stock of what we have, how lucky we are, and how some of our (my?!?) complaining is, well, overdone. I think it’s a wonderful day to notice all the good things that surround us, and to tell the people in our lives how grateful we are.

First and foremost, I’m grateful for my husband. He’s also my best friend, the one person I want to share everything with, the person who always manages to make me laugh, the guy who takes care of me, my partner in all things, and the person I trust most in the world. I cannot even imagine my life without him, and I hope I never have to find out. Over fourteen years together, and it only gets better.

Wedding!

I’m grateful that despite their health problems, both my parents are still alive, at age 88 and 89. I’ve been blessed to have been adopted and raised by such loving people, such generous and demanding and wonderful people. I was adopted at age two-and-a half, from foster care, and again, I hit the jackpot.

Just adopted

I’m grateful for extended family…much of which might not be traditional. I’m thankful for Veronica, my stepdaughter from my first marriage, who’s the most awesome nearly-24-year-old I know. She’s going to run the world one day, starting with California.

Veronica

My family also includes my cats, present and past. I’m grateful for Ella, Frodo, Litha, Wednesday, and Muffin, and all the cuddles, scratches, surprise dead mice, and purrs they provide me.

I’m thoroughly thankful for my job, which I love. Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done–and continues to be–but also the best thing I’ve ever done. It was a career change in my 30s that brought me here, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I may tear my hair out at times, I may cry over things I cannot change, I may hate the long hours and the grading, but how lucky am I that I get paid to discuss literature? To laugh every day at the wonderful things kids say, and do? To see the world, daily, through young people’s eyes? To be part of learning, and books, and writing, and reading, and poetry, and all the things I love, for a living? Wow. I’m so very lucky. And lucky to be able to teach in an interesting place with great diversity, lots of personality, and some of the best people I’ve ever met!

While I have a host of health problems that make daily life…difficult, let’s say, I have to remember that it could always be worse. I’m alive. I’m mobile. I have good doctors, and the ability to see them and get the medications I need. As a former doctor said, I must have nine lives…and I intend to live all of them, fully. I’m thankful to be here and as healthy as I am, in spite of it all.

I’m grateful for all the good friends I have, and have had, in my life. What a wide variety of characters they are: creative, idiosyncratic, imaginative, humorous, intense, driven, aggravating, interesting, and provocative. I love this motley crew!

I’m grateful to have a nice place to live, in a nice town, with more than enough. Compared to most of the world, I live like Royalty. I’m grateful to have moved to a part of the world that agrees with me, and I’m grateful for my hundreds of trees, my backyard wildlife, and a place to call “home.”

I’m a terrifically lucky person, and I think I need more than one day a year to stand up and say “Thank you!” to all of this!

Schooled by Malala

(Crossposted from my School Blog, Oct. 18, 2012)

My thoughts on Malala Yousafzai and Education

By now, everyone in the West must know about Malala Yousefzai, the incredibly brave and well-spoken teenage girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan–a region that’s become, in recent years, a terrorists’ playground for the Taliban–who was shot in a barbaric attempt to silence her outspoken support for girls’ education. By now, everyone’s shed tears looking into those eyes of hers, seeing that smile of hers shine from the documentary made when she was but 11 years old. Her courage. Her father’s love, and dreams, for her.

And by now, we’ve all been schooled in what it means to be brave and resolute. By a girl.

By a girl. Yes.

My students are reading some news stories about Malala (in more than once class), and here in English we’re all blogging about her and our reactions, thoughts, hopes, and fears. But I want to write about how I’ve just been schooled by a little girl.

Like most other people, I suspect, I like to complain about things. My health isn’t great. My parents’ health is worse, and I’m currently dealing with a ton of stress about their care. Bills mount up. Machines break down. I don’t have time to get the laundry done. We all have dozens of these things, of varying degrees of severity.

But you know what I do have?

I have a place to live that isn’t under daily attack from mortar, military, and Taliban thugs. I, as a woman in American society, can not only leave my home and shop, go to school, go to football games, go for a walk along the river, just go, without being arrested. I can speak out against what my political leaders are doing (or speak out in support of them).

And, mostly, I have an education. A free and public education for 12 years, in a good building, with many resources. Then, beyond that, two more degrees (and a third half-finished) in public Universities. Not free, but accessible, as long as I was willing to work at it. All of that–the entire world’s knowledge and access to it–at my fingertips.

And I had the audacity to complain at times about it. “Stupid alarm…I don’t want to get out of bed.” “I haven’t prepared well enough for that quiz; I don’t want to go.” “I *hate* chemistry–I wish I didn’t have to take it.” “That teacher drives me crazy.”

I’ve said all these things, and more, and repeatedly. As I bet you have, most of you. And yet, all of this was at my fingertips, easy to attain, while an adolescent girl in Pakistan is willing to stand up to grown men in masked faces and carrying guns, to demand she get an education.

She’s willing to die to get an education.

I’ve been schooled. And I thank her for it.