Sunday, December 25, 2011


Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice. ~Author Unknown

Two of my granddaughters and their mom came from Bellingham to Edmonds for their annual holiday dress shopping spree last Tuesday. In the past we parked at Seattle Center, checked out the latest displays there, rode the monorail, walked the streets of Seattle, enjoyed a horse driven carriage ride, viewed the marvelous gingerbread houses at the Sheraton Hotel, and soaked up all the street activity – musicians, homeless panhandlers, store windows filled with animated displays, and the pulsating crowds of last minute shoppers and gawkers.

But this year, Lily was a 13-year old and the game plan was different. It was a “shop ‘til you drop” kind of day, and we started from Edmonds at noon, driving through stop and go freeway traffic, finally paying $l5.00 to park in a garage on Pike street. Thus we began a marathon of looking for a particular black dress to be worn to a friend’s December 31 Bat Mitzvah. The dress in question had been spotted on an internet site and was currently only available out of Canada according to our new teenager. Surely we would be able to find its counterpart in the big city of Seattle. Her sister, ten year old Kacey, was tagging unhappily along, visions of fish throwing at the market, another horse carriage ride, or an IMAX movie dancing in her head. The latter was not to be as we gamely went from one store to another in search of the perfect dress. By the time we had checked out American Eagle Outfitters, Express, Urban Outfitters, H & M, and Forever 21, to name only a few, it was 5:00 p.m. and we were hungry and discouraged. I suggested we head north to Alderwood Mall, meet their Auntie Nelle at Claim Jumper for some sustenance, and to continue our quest at Nordstrom and Macy’s. As we walked back to the car the girls were somewhat scandalized by the blatant pot smoker who stood near us as we waited to cross the street. We all “tsked, tsked,” and Kacey held her nose in disgust. It was probably a little more fascinating than the street scene in Bellingham.

We fought rush hour traffic heading north on I-5, but because we were eligible for the carpool lane, made the trip in record time. After regaining our strength at the restaurant we headed to Nordstrom but had no luck. Macy’s was next. They had a large selection, but none matched the envisioned dress. It must have a certain bodice, a twirly skirt and skinny shoulder straps. By this time, close to 8:00 p.m., like Rosa Parks, I just had to sit down. I told them they could find me at the outside Starbucks when they were finished shopping. During the 90-minute wait I had a skinny peppermint mocha and a very long phone conversation with my sister, Judy. I was considering a nap when suddenly they appeared, laughing hysterically, and filled with the need to tell about the “miracle” that had happened to them in one of the stores.

Apparently Kacey had spotted Santa and had taken off after him to tell him about her sister’s dilemma. One minute he was there and then he simply vanished. It seemed strange and impossible, and perhaps some kind of omen. In the meantime, Lily had found a dress that would have to do, and was standing in line to pay with her aunt, mother and Kacey, who was babbling about her Santa experience. They were telling the sales clerk their long, sad story, when suddenly she said a dress had just been returned and maybe they should look at it. Would you believe it was the VERY dress they had been looking for all along, in the exact right size, and here it was before their very eyes?

Of course they were full of this miracle, and Kacey just knew Santa had something to do with it. And who can argue?

Now the 2011 shopping trip to Seattle is just a memory. Lily will no doubt always remember her search for and finding the perfect dress, Kacey will always remember how much she hated all the shopping, the stinky pot smoker and Santa’s amazing disappearance, their mom made sure we would all remember everything, by taking many pictures to commemorate the miracle, and I will always remember the year that a little girl crossed over into young womanhood, when shopping became more important than anything else that downtown Seattle at Christmas had to offer.

I close by wishing you a very wonderful holiday, no matter how you celebrate, and a hope that you can look back on the year with a degree of peace and contentment. Here are some Christmas gift suggestions made by Oren Arnold: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


A couple of days ago two professional women, each top in her field, came to our house for what could have been a difficult business meeting. They did not know each other or have full knowledge of the other's expertise. In working together one of them would have to change direction. My husband was uncomfortable. Although a trained diplomat, mediator, and facilitator he did not look forward to a possible confrontation between two high powered women. He misunderstood one very important thing - the power of the purse as ice breaker and relationship builder.

They arrived within minutes of each other. The last to arrive walked into the family room where coffee was available, and the women were introduced. Both still had their purses draped over their arms. Suddenly, eyes locked on each others' purses, they nearly swooned over the two bags, one plain black and the other a colorful fabric.

The ensuing conversation went something like this:

"Your bag is fabulous!"

"I got it at the Vera Bradley store in Bellevue."

"I love it!"

" Yours is amazing too!"

"Look at these pockets!"

"I know, aren't they wonderful, and look at this perfect place for my cell phone!"

The conversation continued unabated for several minutes. By this time they were enthusiastically checking out each other's bags, oohing and aahing over all the pockets, big and small, that held the accoutrements of a typical high powered business woman.

My husband stood by trying, without success, to suggest they all go into the living room to begin their meeting. The ladies weren't the least bit interested as they continued to extol the virtues of their particular handbags and how much they loved the Vera Bradley line. I, on the other hand, stood by in amusement as I watched him watching them, speechless and thunderstruck.

Eventually they moved to a table where they began to address the issues at hand. By this time they were in such accord that any possible conflict was averted, decisions were made amiably and a new relationship was forged.

This happened Thursday. Today, I am still chuckling to myself at the memory of my husband's bewilderment and the look on his face. I think almost any man watching this scenario would have reacted similarly. Not so a woman. We understand the importance of shared experiences and the enjoyment found in the little things in life. When we find common ground in something as mundane as a purse it creates a bond and allows us to hear each other on a deeper level.

Watching the incident unfold made me realize how much I enjoy being a woman, and how sorry I am for men who probably think a discussion about purses is shallow and meaningless. Sadly they don't realize that important relationships can begin with something seemingly insignificant only to be forged into a powerful experience.

We have long heard about dressing for success in a power suit. I would suggest that adding a power purse is a "must". It can even be a pretty fabric handbag, designed by Vera Bradley, which holds a computer, a cell phone and other "office on the go" items. Perhaps even Vera doesn't realize the secret weapon her purses hold - that of ice breaker and relationship builder.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Last year I blogged about inventing an advent calendar for kids while also sharing the religious meaning of advent. It included 25 activities children could enjoy as they counted off the days until Christmas. In looking back I think it is worth revisiting, and you can do that by going to my article of November 28, 2010 called "The advent calendar for kids - secular vs. Christian."

This year I suggest trying something different. How about if we adults mark off the days until Christmas by giving something back to others in twenty-five different ways. You can think of it as your own personal advent calendar of giving. Here are some ideas.

1. A favorite expression in the last decade is called "paying it forward". Give a small amount of money at the next drive-through food or coffee house, and tell the window attendant to apply it towards the purchase of the person behind you. You can suggest that he tell the lucky recipient to pass it on if he or she is able.

2. Buy a poinsettia and put it on the doorstep of a family you know has little money and few bright spots. Include a card that says "Happy Holidays."

3. Visit a nearby assisted living or nursing home and offer to be a personal shopper for residents who might find it difficult or impossible to buy holiday presents for their family members.

4. Do the same thing at a similar home for the elderly, only let the task be helping with choosing and sending out Christmas cards to their loved ones.

5. Buy or make a cake to celebrate December birthdays at a nursing home. In fact, commit to doing it monthly starting in January. My mother and her friend Stella arranged monthly birthday parties for a Bellingham facility, providing goodwill and caring for all concerned.

6. If you have a neighbor with young children, offer to baby sit while the mother does some errands.

7. For young couples with little money "date nights" are sometimes non-existent. Provide babysitting for a date night. If you have some extra money throw in a couple of tickets at a nearby movie theater.

8. If you have a truck or large SUV offer to bring home a Christmas tree from a lot or farm for a family whose car is too small to accomplish the task. Such a truck could also be used for hauling junk to a dump so that a vehicle does not need to be rented.

9. Offer to clean house for someone who has been ill or has been going through a stressful time.

10. Call a friend with whom you have not been in contact and renew the friendship.

11. Any activity that brings excitement or pleasure to others can be considered a good deed in my book. Inviting friends in for a popcorn and video night generates well being and caring. The same can be said for ideas #12-#16.

12. Have a white elephant party where people bring unwanted beautifully wrapped gifts to exchange. The old saying that one person's white elephant can be another person's prize applies.

13. Have a book exchange party where the invited guests bring beautifully wrapped books to share with others. Wanting others to know about a book you have enjoyed is a thoughtful gesture.

14. Cookie baking and decorating can be a reminder of simpler days. Have guests bring their favorite cookies for exchanging with each other. Even more fun is when the guests actually make and bake the cookies that night. Have plenty of milk on hand. Milk and! Hosting such an evening takes time and talent, and can certainly qualify as a good deed if guests leave with a warm memory.

15. Think about days gone by. Decide you will make root beer this year. See the youtube indicated here for directions as to how.

16. If your root beer has been made early in December, plan to make ice cream later in the month. The site here shows how to make ice cream several different ways. You can even have a homemade root beer float party.

17. Apply the adage "Charity begins at home." If you are a husband, put some zest in your love life by forgoing your favorite TV program and taking your wife/significant other out on the town. An inexpensive date could be a movie followed by appetizers and wine at a romantic cocktail lounge. Tell your "date" to dress up, then make sure to tell her how terrific she looks.

18. If you are a wife/significant other, tell your man you are taking him out to a place he will enjoy. Depending on the venue, tell him how to dress. Whether it is a wrestling match, football game, or billiards, make it special for HIM. Tell him how wonderful he is and how much you appreciate him.

19. Hugs and kisses are free. If they are in short supply at your house, decide to show more affection every day to your loved ones, adults and kids alike.

20. Leave loving notes in unexpected places in the house. Such notes found in places like often used drawers, medicine cabinets, cupboards or lunch boxes are morale and love boosters.

21. If you have been estranged from a family member, decide to show forgiveness by making contact and ending the estrangement. Food is a great way to break the ice, and you can make arrangements to drop by with some kind of special treat, and the words "I'm sorry" ready to be spoken.

22. Either on your own or with others decide how you can make the holidays more joyful for service men and women who are far from home and loved ones. Go to a site such as "Care package and equipment suggesetions for deployed military," for ideas and directions.

23. Go through your cupboards and put together a bag of food items that are still useable. Deliver them to your local food bank. These banks can be found on line simply by typing in the words "food banks in Seattle" for example.

24. Helping the needy anytime is a good thing, but helping the needy during the holidays is particularly satisfying. Go to a site listed here under that heading, and you will find many useful ideas.

25. Attending a church Christmas Eve service, with its candles and music would be a wonderful way to complete your holiday activities. Bring along someone who no longer drives to make it especially meaningful.

These are just a few ways to bring pleasure and add meaning to your life and the lives of others. I close with a quote by William James. "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Next Thanksgiving I am running away, hopefully with my husband, and possibly with a few others who might like a different kind of holiday celebration. What has prompted this shocking view of what has always been a favorite holiday of mine? Simple. For the second year in a row I have planned a traditional meal for up to 25 guests only to be sabotaged by such mundane occurrences as illness, family drama or the weather.

I get it, I really do. One doesn’t schedule sickness or the weather, and “stuff” happens. But when it happens the “day of” after the 22 lb. turkey is dressed and in the oven, the green bean, sweet potato, squash and onion casseroles assembled, potatoes peeled for cooking and mashing, two kinds of stuffing, homemade cranberry dressing ready to go, and specialty rolls for twenty plus people purchased, the cost in toil and treasure mounts up. For the same cost a group of several could easily go to a nice restaurant or other venue and enjoy a hearty meal.

Getting back to Thursday’s dinner. Two of Murphy’s laws played a role.

1. If anything can go wrong, it will.

2. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the first one to go wrong.

Lots of things went wrong, starting with the one causing the most damage - the legitimate cancellations by various invitees. Wanting all sixteen guests to sit at the same table I had put two tables together and, along with my daughter, set the table with the best china, crystal goblets and silverware, placing specially purchased holiday décor on every surface. This, of course, meant six table settings needed to be removed because of the cancellations.

The 22 lb. turkey was in the oven at the appointed time, but did not comply with the cooking directions or the meat thermometer. Scheduled for a 5:00 p.m. dinner, it was far from done, and was finally served at 6:30 p.m. - the inner part still looking too red for me. All side dishes, ready for 5:00 p.m., spent an undue amount of time being kept warm, and getting a bit dry in the process. With all the turmoil several appetizers were forgotten as was the homemade cranberry sauce.

Three of the guests were a 4-month old, a 17 month old and a two-year old. They were amazingly good all in all, the latter two discovering each other and getting along well. But their stomachs were geared to 5:00 p.m., so anyone understanding children, will also understand a certain amount of unhappiness with the revised schedule. It was not my finest hour in the kitchen, but everyone ate their fill and expressed appreciation. Probably I am my worst critic.

Adding to the confusion was a drenching rain causing flooding and damage in a room where my daughter was staying temporarily. Since weather, namely snow, played a huge role with our 2010 Thanksgiving meal and its cancellations, it seems like a sign that I should give up mega dinners and do something different.

Looking ahead to next year, here is a thought. A short drive to picture pretty Leavenworth will surely get us in the mood for the holidays. I checked online for a good restaurant and this is what I found at J.J. Hill’s restaurant in Icicle Inn. My taste buds are already getting prepared for 2012. Does anyone want to join us? Start planning today.

Our Thanksgiving Day dinner next year could look like the one below for this year!

Start with sun-dried tomato and basil crostini with smoked Gouda cheese,
fresh fruit and fresh baked breads with creamy butter.

Enjoy a crisp fresh salad with our special recipe dressings from our salad assortment along with our apple slaw, holiday pasta salad, fruited gelatin or
Warm up with a bowl of winter squash soup.

For the main course: J J Hills Fresh Grill special roasted turkey or cranberry glazed slow cooked ham, apple and cranberry cornbread stuffing sautéed seasoned green beans with bacon and onions, pineapple baked sweet potatoes, creamy mashed red potatoes with chef made turkey gravy, and sweet roasted winter squash

Wonderful desserts include pumpkin dessert with fresh whipped cream, chocolate decadent cake with raspberry Melba sauce, streusel topped berry pie, apple bread pudding with rum sauce, and more selections

Coffee and tea service, soda, or milk.

Pricing per person:
Adults: 27.95, Children six to ten 15.95, three to five 9.95, two and under are free
sales tax and gratuity not included.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


"The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving." ~H.U. Westermayer

It's that time of year - a time of thanksgiving.

A time for communing. A time of forgiving.
Of starting the dinner with a heartfelt blessing
Then gorging on turkey, and gravy and dressing

Adding cranberries, 'tatoes, and two kinds of pie
It's a feast, beyond measure, that none can deny.
Start dieting now so you can eat what you will
forgetting remorse as you eat to your fill.

And if there are those with no place to go
make room at your table letting everyone know
that your home is a place of compassion and caring
on this day of conversing, well being and sharing.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


The news is shocking – the rape of a ten year old in a football locker room at Penn State, as witnessed by a coaching assistant. That this abuse took place a dozen years ago, and is apparently only one of many other instances of unreported sexual abuse in following years, adds to the disbelief and horror. That the alleged perpetrator was a highly respected coach is even more difficult to stomach. It’s the hot topic on every news program.

Perhaps the only one who gains is Rick Perry, whose recent embarrassing debate performance is temporarily on the back burner at CNN, MSNBC and FOX. Millions of people are transfixed by events unfolding at this prestigious university and involving its equally prestigious coaching staff. Arrests have been made and high level heads have rolled, from a nationally famous head football coach to a well respected college president. There is endless chatter about how the football program should be penalized, that the season be ended and that no possible post-bowl game be allowed. The latter I have a hard time understanding. This has nothing to do with the young men who have worked hard on the field, and hopefully in the academic arena. They should not be punished for the behavior of individuals long before their time. On the other hand, this should be used as an object lesson for all of us on the importance of getting involved when we see wrong doing.

In the meantime we ask ourselves "How could this have happened?" Criticism of the football assistant who saw, but did nothing to stop the abuse, is rampant. That he didn’t call the police immediately has added to public ire. That folks reporting the incident up the chain of command, and somehow never following up, is beyond understanding. That rumors have circulated for years about the abuser, but no serious investigation was ever made is even more galling to those of us who value children and their need to be protected from danger.

As a teacher the whole scenario is particularly troublesome and hard to comprehend. Our country has very specific laws to protect children and they are clearly spelled out state by state on the Child Welfare Information Gateway web site. Do the smart people at Penn State not know their resonsibilities and their options? If the young man was fearful for his job, it would have been a simple matter to call the Child Welfare department and report what happened. The burden is then on them to investigate and let the authorities know the nature of the problem or crime. I myself once had to report a case of suspected physical abuse to Child Protective Services (CPS) even though it was scary and I was worried about possible reprisals from hostile parents. I knew what I had to do, and I knew whom to call. In Washington CPS is found under the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

In discussing this with a teacher friend today, we agreed that protecting children, even beyond the school grounds, is important. She told me that one day when coming down I-90 from Snoqualmie Pass she observed a small child running along side a slow moving car. Fearing that something was seriously wrong she pulled in front of the other car forcing it to stop. The parents were in the car, with the child outside trying to get back in. The mother was very angry at my friend for butting in. She was “teaching her child a lesson” and this was the punishment meted out. My friend told her there were better ways to handle the situation and that the parents were risking their child’s life. Afterwards she followed their car, got the license number, and called first the police who said they could do nothing, and then CPS who also was unable to assist without more information. She called the police again, and finally they agreed to go to the address indicated by the license number to see what they could do. My friend was indeed taking seriously the need to report this child abuse. If only the young teaching assistant had had the courage to do the same! For it does take courage as well as a strong moral conviction.

Mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect include health care workers, school personnel, child care providers, mental health workers, persons connected to the court, law enforcement officers, members of the clergy, government employees connected with families, employees of orgnizations that receive federal funding, and more. The CWIG has a complete list of each state's requirements. Another site that has valuable information is the Child Welfare League of America . I say that each of us should be mandatory reporters of child abuse, and if you see such a thing happening, you must act. If you cannot physically do so in the moment, you can at least report the transgression to your local child protective service.

We all know the somewhat trite saying that "It takes a village to raise a child." Never is it more important than when our children are at risk. As members of our national village we must step in to right these wrongs!

Sunday, November 6, 2011


"One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating; and, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends." Laurie Colwin "Home Cooking"

Yesterday was special. We were meeting the parents of a delightful young woman who our son greatly fancies. Her family was visiting from California and we jointly decided on a get acquainted dinner at our cabin, literally a stone's throw away from the high tide line on the Strait of Georgia. This particular young man has waited all of his 40+ years for Ms. Right, and we have stood by, hands clenched and mouths firmly shut as some nice but unsuitable girlfriends joined us at various dinner tables. This one was a "keeper" according to all who had met her on Labor Day weekend and we set about to do our part in planning a great evening.

Since good food helps with a good impression, and sparing no cost, we decided on a menu of prime rib roast, twice baked potatoes, mixed veggies, French bread, and green salad. Marsala mushrooms, sauteed onions, sour cream and chives would be available for toppings. Blueberry cream cheese pie would be the finishing touch. We prayed that no one was a vegetarian.

Since my stepsons are all chef wanabees, they usually take charge in the kitchen when in town. In their absence we needed to step up and get the job done well. After determining we would go for "medium" we consulted our memories, cook books and the internet. Vaughn set off to buy the roast, a better roasting pan and a meat thermometer. When he returned we talked about how to best prepare an 8 pound roast (at $9.00 per pound), and Vaughn decided he was going to go by internet instructions and the new meat thermometer. I, Mrs. Worrywart, wanted to also check the meat market personnel at Haggen's and QFC. Therein lay the rub. The instructions were different. One meat expert said to take the roast out when the thermometer reached l35 degrees and let it sit for ten minutes to continue cooking. A meat lady at another store said to let the thermometer reach 160 then take it out for half an hour. These instructions were based on a 4-6 pound roast. Ours, at 8 pounds, was in the 6-8 pound range. Internet instructions varied. So this is what we did:

We preheated the oven to 450 degrees and put the salted and peppered roast in our new roasting pan for 15 minutes. We turned the temperature down to 325 degrees and continued to roast the meat for about three hours total. When Vaughn removed the roast from the oven the thermometer said l55 degrees. He covered it and let it continue to "cook" on the cutting board for another half hour. My tender heart rebelled at the sight of blood (juice, my husband called it) trickling over the edge of the cutting board and landing on the floor. In the best of times I have to have my meat VERY well done and liberally doused with catsup. The rest of my family likes the meat walked though a warm room. Ugh!

In the meantime, our guests arrived with smiles of delight, commenting on all the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen, and bearing a homemade pecan pie. Wine was served, appetizers were consumed, and conversation was spirited. I had set the table with the remaining roses from a bedraggled garden. Candles lit every corner, and a cheery fire blazed in the fireplace. Perfect ambience for a perfect dinner. And it was a perfect dinner. Absolutely everything went according to plan, and the roast could not have tasted better anywhere, even at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.

As a new social connection was formed I thought about the importance of eating and entertaining in building relationships. Would this one become permanent? Only time will tell, but we love our son's lady friend and her parents are charming and friendly. We even discovered that most likely a study of our various family trees will show a blood connection between this family and one of our other daughters-in-law. We smile at the thought. This really goes beyond 6 degrees of separation!

After our guests left we continued to bask in candle glow, the dying embers of the fire, and a sense of hope for the future of this couple and those of us, who stand by in support. This is family at its best. A blended family at that. For this I thank my husband who cheerfully makes all things possible and continues to be a role model for greatness as a person and as a parent and step parent.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Every year at this time I find myself thinking back to when my children were young and filled with the delicious spooky anticipation of Halloween. One early memory was of a nearby haunted house created by neighborhood children, and located in an abandoned, dilapidated garage. Converted for one night into an authentic spooky shack, it was the perfect venue; and thirty-five years later the garage yet stands, in even greater disrepair, still bearing a sign reading DANGER in red on an old wooden plank.

One vivid memory was of my five year old son who pleaded with us to take him inside, then buried his head in his dad’s shoulder the entire time, too afraid to look at the headless creatures, spooks, witches, and ghouls playacting inside.

It was also during this time that he learned a song in pre-school about a “lippy chilly” and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what a lippy chilly was. With mounting frustration he tried to make me understand but I just didn’t get it. Imagine my surprise when, years later, as an elementary school teacher, I heard the children singing a song in music class called The Ghost of John.”

Have you seen the ghost of John?
Long white bones with the skin all gone.
Oooh Oooh Ooh.
Wouldn’t it be chilly with no skin on?

One Lippy Chilly became “Wouldn’t it be chilly”, and it all now made sense. By this time my son was grown and we had a good laugh over his perspective and articulation of the lyrics. The song lives on, and Youtube has many examples. Enjoy this particular rendition of The Ghost of John”.

Somehow Halloween seemed less contrived back in the day. Costumes were homemade and simple, and the night was mainly for kids. Now adults have gotten into the act, holding onto their childhood with ghoulish fervor, as they enjoy elaborate costume parties and dressing up for work. Even the checkers at our local supermarket are decked out. Downtown Edmonds is cordoned off and children come away with bags of candy and treats, as they go from one store to another. Mega haunted houses sponsored by various organizations, and commanding a healthy entrance fee, abound. They make that little old garage look insignificant by comparison, but no one will ever convince my children that theirs was anything but the best spooky experience ever. Hopefully one thing will live on for generations to come and that's the "lippy chilly" in "The Ghost of John"

For now, a happy Halloween to you all. May your treats be many, your tricks be few, and your costumes be adding to our economy during these financially strapped times.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I just read an article in the NY Times this morning entitled “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute”. I feel driven to respond.

My credentials: I’m a public school teacher. The bulk of my career was in an inner city elementary school whose student population was predominantly African American. Over 80% were on free or reduced lunches, and many came from single parent households. My own children went through the Mercer Island public school system, and received good educations. Much of that time I was a single parent myself with all the financial constraints that implies.

The article states that employees of several major Silicon Valley high tech firms send their children to the Waldorf school in Los Altos, largely because of its century-old method of experiential learning, creative thinking, human interaction, movement and the teaching tools from yesteryear. Tools include blackboards, colored chalk, encyclopedias, wooden desks, workbooks, and number 2 pencils. Tools do NOT include computers, ipads or smart phones. In fact, they are not allowed in the classrooms, and students are even discouraged from using them at home. The article claimed that a study between 1994 and 2004 showed that a remarkable 95% of Waldorf graduates attended college.

For those enamoured with the Waldorf teaching approach, engagement of the students in the process seems to be the key to learning. Use of technology is seen as distracting from that engagement. One student talked about how frustrating it was to hang out with his cousins who were all wired into their various gadgets. They were not paying attention to each other or to him. It was technology vs. socializing with socializing the loser.

The picture painted in the article is compelling, but disquieting.

With an annual tuition ranging from $17,750 to $24,400, I think it is clear that unless there is a scholarship involved, most students come from high achieving families who value education. These families have undoubtedly read to their children, taken them on trips and exposed them to all kinds of cultural experiences which contribute to their knowledge base. They were probably dandled on their parents' laps, in front of a computer, from an early age.

Compare them with students of low income homes, many with single parents just eking out a living, who find that TV, with its seductive programming, is their stepparent. Often their real parents have no time, desire or energy to fully parent their children to be competitive in the school or workplace.

In this article, students come from homes where the family’s financial success is tied to one of several technology companies located in the Silicon Valley. Many of these parents want their children to have experiential learning and look for schools that will provide it. They are not concerned with Waldorf’s ban against technology as they undoubtedly provide for that within their own homes.

However, the low income student might have no opportunity to learn computer skills unless it is at school. At the same time, those of us in the public school arena know that there isn’t nearly enough quality computer instruction, computers are often not working properly, and technicians to repair them are not readily available. The result is a widening group of technology “haves and have nots.”

Sadder yet is that realization that with so much stress on academic accountability, public school teachers often are forced to sacrifice what little experiential learning they can offer to the all important test scores.

Personally I love experiential learning. I liked teaching about Ancient Egypt by turning my classroom into a pyramid, finding artifacts in an archeological dig made with cat litter, piecing together bits of broken pottery, designing a sarcophagus, making scarab necklaces, AND to visit a hieroglyphics translator site on the internet in order to transform our names.

I would not want a classroom devoid of computers and the internet. There is so much information to be learned and no one teacher can know it all. It is how teachers use the technology that makes the difference. I am happy if a computer free classroom works for the Waldorf students, but I was thrilled that the world was but a click away for mine.


The following is an experience based lesson plan I designed for use in my various primary classrooms. This plan includes using the internet for activities and research. When the students have completed their learning, they put on teacher hats and invite students from other classrooms into their room for an armchair field trip.

LESSON PLAN: Ancient Egyptian Holiday

Objective: The students will learn about an ancient culture through “hands on” experiences relating to that culture. These experiences will expose the learners to a deep understanding of the concepts taught and a rich vocabulary pertaining to the concepts.

Method used: Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences

Room 103 first graders (junior archeologists) will pass on their own learning and understanding of an ancient Egyptian culture to kindergarten through second graders (junior archeologists-in- training) via classroom centers. Egyptian music will be played. Student teachers (junior archeologists) will be wearing appropriate costumes.

Vocabulary: archeologist, a dig, map, Africa, Egypt, Nile River, Pharaoh, pyramid, tomb, cartouche, papyrus, picture writing, hieroglyphics, scarab, mummy, sarcophagus, burial box, burial jar, sun god, tomb,


1. Archeological Dig (kinesthetic) Find artifacts such as jewels and broken dishes buried in sand,

understand their importance, and attempt to reconstruct them.

2. Map Work and Pyramid Making (logical-mathematical) Find Egypt on a map of Africa. Locate and trace the Nile River. Build a paper pyramid to place on the map.

3. Make a cartouche with hieroglyphics (Verbal-Linguistic) and (Intrapersonal) Students will learn how to make their own names in hieroglyphics and find out how to check for accuracy on a special computer site.

4. Make a Scarab Necklace (visual-spatial) Learn what a scarab is and its significance. Be able to make a necklace with a scarab and several beads to show artistic balance.

5. Learn about the ancient belief that for a pharaoh to pass to his next life he wants the same body and his belongings. Learn the importance of the mummy process. Learn about the ornate coffin called a sarcophacus. (Interpersonal)

Note: Authentic background music will provide the musical intelligence.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Today was beautiful in the way that a Pacific Northwest day in October can be picture perfect. Crisp, brilliant sun taking away the chill, the smell of wood smoke on the air, a last chance to be strolling outdoors without a coat.

"It's too beautiful to work indoors," my husband said, "What do you want to do today?" He suggested a walk on the beach followed by a game of cribbage and an early dinner. "How about a Sunday drive?" I asked, fully aware that he would know exactly what I had in mind. Ever up for any good idea, he acquiesced, and we set forth in my little red Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder.

For our generation, Sunday drives were frequent weekend outings, with everyone piled in the car, and no particular destination in mind. Just a chance to be together, scoping out other houses, yards, people and lifestyles. Cheap entertainment in those days, with gas at $.29 per gallon. My mom would throw together a lunch usually consisting of fried chicken, potato salad, rolls, pickles, chocolate cake, and any other tasty addition for an impromptu picnic at an exciting location like Birch Bay, Mount Baker, Wiser Lake or Donavan Park. While our parents gossiped, gawked and oohed over the scenery we played invented games in the back seat. Games like twenty questions, counting silos, and checking out the license plates of passing cars. The latter was particularly exciting if a car bore a California plate or some other faraway state - almost as if seeing the car meant we somehow had a connection to that distant land.

In between games, as the world passed by outside our windows, we gained a sense of our community, an understanding of local geography, and a feeling of belonging as we participated in these family field trips. Unbeknownst to our parents, they were providing us with educational gifts. Our imaginations, observation and thinking skills were being honed, and they helped us pass the miles and hours, contributing to the nostalgia I feel when looking back.

I think few of today's children will have memories like mine as they listen to their ipods, focus on their game boys, or watch movies on a backseat television screen. It is unlikely they will see the pheasant startled from its hiding place, the deer in the woods, or the eagle soaring in the sky. Intent on their toys, they will probably miss the spectacular wild flowers growing alongside the road, or catch the scent of newly mown grass.

According to Wikipedia the Sunday drive came out of the 1920s and 30s, when the idea was put forth that the car was to be used for pleasure as well as commuting and errands. The practice continued through the 20th century and seems almost passe in these early years of the 21st century. Sadly, rising gas prices have dealt a death knell to this truly American pastime. That and the need to fill our children's lives with structured play, sports, and activities that do not promote learning about our surroundings, expand our powers of observation or promote family togetherness.

I find myself wondering what children fifty years from now will be remembering with nostalgia. They will undoubtedly know a lot about the world because of technology, but will they have taken time to smell the roses, guess the answer to "twenty questions", or sit in the back seat of the family car making memories that will last a lifetime? Without lower gas prices and serious effort on the part of parents, probably not. I, however, remain thankful that Sunday drives were part of my childhood. By the way, for those of you unfamiliar with farming lingo, silos are storage structures for storing livestock feed. Click on the word to learn more and see pictures of what we used to count.

With one foot in the past, and one in the future, I "surfed the net" and found a wonderful tune called "Sunday Drive" by Dean Brody. Enjoy his youtube offering about a wonderful experience that is now part of the good old days.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


For most older adults problems kids have are often "out of sight, out of mind" when one's own are grown and gone. We often forget how baffling, frustrating, and even guilt inducing parenting was, especially in the teenage years. Add the burden of single parenting and looking back is often just too painful.

Lately the world inhabited by children has been on my mind, probably because I am back to subbing in the afternoons. It forces me to view them differently, and to think about all the "woulda-coulda-shouldas" and "if onlys" in my own parenting. Since I became a teacher long after I became a parent, one of the big ones was If only I had children after I had taught for a while I would have made better parenting decisons. When my husband left our young family, with little warning, there were dozens of "if onlys".

Instead of allowing grief to consume me, if only I had insisted that we work together with chores and daily routines, we would have learned to cooperate and care more about each other, which in turn would have lessened our shared sorrow.

If only I hadn't allowed my creative juices to be squelched because of my own heartache we would have gotten through our family crisis with a modicum of ease and even fun.

If only I hadn't stopped at McDonalds many times each week because I was too tired to cook (fast food that was often eaten while watching TV) my children would have learned more about each other, as well as better table manners.

If only I had taught my kids to plan menus, shop carefully for groceries, and take turns cooking, my children would have learned lifelong culinary and household skills.

Kids love to help out from their youngest years. If only I had made chores fun, my children would have learned the importance of and taken pride in cleaning their rooms, setting the table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry, taken out the trash, help with yard work. These are important skills that parents need to teach their children in order that they become responsible, effective adults and good future mates. I have since realized children can find chores to be rewarding and fulfilling, allowing a chance to grow.

Instead of wallowing in my own grief, if only I had paid attention to and taken to heart the lyrics of Johnny Nash's song "I Can See Clearly Now" I would have faced our family's crisis differently, and my children would have come through the rain with greater confidence, self esteem, and happier memories.

Now, in every classroom in which I substitute I see examples of suffering children whose parents are going through their own rainy days. If only I could reach out in some meaningful way to each of them, then possibly they would be able to feel a little better, and know that a bright sunshiny day will come their way.

Yes, looking back if only I knew then what I know now, my own children would have had a happier and easier life. But the problem with if onlys is that they're in the past and nothing can be done to change them. If we want to make a difference we must do it NOW. And now that is my commitment to children with whom I come in contact, in my family, in the classroom, and in the world at large.

So, last week, for the little Somalian boy who wanted to show how high he could kick in class, I made time to watch him on the playground at recess. He really could kick high. His beaming face was thanks enough. I gave a child who was told "no" by a classroom teacher, when he wanted to look more closely at a read-aloud book, an opportunity to read the book later during silent reading time. When a child was sharply rebuked by a recess supervisor, I took a minute to crouch down by the young offender to determine what had happened. Once his side of the story came out, and he felt heard, he went off happily to play.

These are small but important differences we can make in the lives of kids whose parents are too consumed by their own pain to think about the hurts of their children. For the coming week, why don't you see how many obstacles you can help people overcome, even if it's only listening with empathy. Help them to realize that tomorrow CAN be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day

Lyrics for "I Can See Clearly Now" as sung by Johnny Nash

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin?for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there’s nothin?but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin?but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


First Kindle, then I-Pad, now Kindle Fire reader tablets. What is happening to good old fashioned books? And what do futurists say about books and book stores? Scary as it sounds, some predict the end of book stores as we know them and that e-books are the wave of the future. Already cozy little bookstores run by "mom and pop" are biting the economic dust. Big ones too, if you count Borders.

This phenomena has even invaded my own home as my husband, at first resistant, has joined the Kindle cheer leading team. A victim of beginning cataracts he loves the ease of reading his tablet, not to mention that buying a new book is but a few clicks away. Hey! He knows intellectually that he should be walking down to our little local book store to support it and get a dose of daily exercise, but the pull of instant gratification and a tad bit of laziness play into his love affair with his electronic tablet.

I am a hold out, and hope to remain that way for as long as possible. My love of books began before grade school even started. Later, as a proud member of the top Brownie reading group in my first grade class I was filled with awe as I followed the antics of Dick, Jane, and Spot, followed by Grimm's Fairy Tales, Nancy Drew, Nurse Cheryl Ames, and every Zane Grey western novel written. As a farm girl I sat perched high in a cedar tree, lost for hours in one story or another, with the Bookmobile my weekly supplier of new adventures. The school library was my favorite room at school, replaced only by the Bellingham city library when I was older.

I loved all the trappings of the classroom, the smell of crayons, the colorful posters, finger painting, and the three R's. Well, maybe not 'rithmetic. But everything else. And above all , books and reading. Even at night, after the lights were supposed to be out and I was tucked in my bed, I would sneak a book and a flashlight under the covers in order to read a little bit more. And I was not alone. Many of us at my small country school found escape in reading, then play acting out the stories at recess. I still remember the deliciously suspenseful story of Blue Beard and the locked room that no one could enter. Books were a window on a world filled with fantasy, realism and dreams. They helped to shape what we became and promoted human interaction as well.

Now, as an elementary school teacher, I watch children still finding joy in reading the old fashioned way and discussing their favorite stories. The book mobile is gone, but the virtual classroom is not a reality yet, thank goodness. I hope the futurists have it wrong, and that books will be there for future generations.

Yes, technology is changing how we read, but even more how we relate to each other. Besides ordering books from our homes, we can shop, bank, buy food, play games, talk to others all over the world, even have intimate conversations with total strangers. With telecommuting some folks don't even have to leave the comfort of their homes during any given day. Even going to church becomes a passive experience. I believe that creativity is one of our national strengths, but I fear it will be harmed without the excitement of sharing ideas with one another face to face.

And while I am mourning the change in our nation's reading habits, let me also mourn the gradual passing away of the newspaper world. Luckily I can still sit with my now skinny Seattle Times and a cup of coffee while I read about the day's events. But I can see the handwriting creeping slowly up the wall. Classifieds tell the sad story. Want to rent an apartment, get a job or find a garage sale? Forget the Times and go to Craig's List. It's free and comprehensive. I know I'm guilty of having advertised a rental home there, and what's more, I got results quickly and for free. FREE. Sadly, newspapers can't compete with that. As the romantic and slower paced day of horses and buggies have passed into history, so too may newspapers, books and book stores. Will I soon be reading about the good old days on a Kindle Fire? In this crazy world, probably.

I guess I just have to accept a future with technology invading every aspect of my daily life. Let's face it. I love my computer, my cell phone, looking up stuff on the internet, and yes, I confess it, texting. I just want the world to slow down a bit so that little kids in the future can climb trees with books and not worry about the battery dying.