Sunday, June 19, 2011


Father's Day is a time for honoring those fathers who are with us and remembering those who have passed on. My dad died in 1990 at the age of 90, and he taught me many important lessons.

Although born in Chicago, and a true city slicker, he pioneered his way with my mother to Lynden, Washington and raised a family of seven by holding down two jobs. From my earliest memory he was both a farmer and a state highway department employee. I remember feeling sorry for how hard he worked, and seeds of the importance of having empathy towards others were sown in my heart.

Although he had been up since 5:00 a.m. to milk cows, I woke up at 7:00 a.m. to the sound of "Cowboy Capers" on the radio and the aroma of frying bacon and percolated coffee emanating from the adjacent kitchen. His breakfast always consisted of eggs, bacon, cereal, toast, and coffee which he drank from a china cup. Cholesterol was as yet an unknown word. My mother hovered nearby to take care of his every need, but conversation was limited. In thinking back, they were probably both dog-tired at the start of their day. He then headed off to his highway department job, only to return home at 5:00 p.m. for dinner, cow milking, plowing, working the land, or whatever else was necessary to keep bread on the table. Certainly the old days in Chicago must have been a source of nostalgia as they plodded through their daily lives.

As soon as I was able, probably around seven or eight years of age, I brought the cows to the barn, learned how to milk them, and did an increasing amount of other farm related work, feeling happy to help out. Without realizing it, my father was giving me a gift - a lifelong work ethic that has served me in good stead.

My mother contributed by telling me to go out to the barn and help my father, rather than to help her in the kitchen. As a result, cooking was not my forte, but I could handle anything in the barn, drive a tractor like a pro, take care of chickens, plant and care for crops, bring in the hay, help dynamite stumps, put out peat fires, mow lawns, pick strawberries and beans in neighboring fields to earn money for school, and more. By today's standards it seems like a lot of work, but at the time, and in hindsight, it was both rewarding and fun. It was the way life was for most of us farm children.

My dad had high expectations for himself and for his children, six girls and one boy. One of those expectations was getting a good education although he personally had to leave school at ninth grade. His education came from the school of hard knocks and reading when he had time. To his immense gratification his children did well in school. When the first daughters graduated as valedictorians or salutatorians, he put pressure on those remaining to do the same. Five of six brought that honor home, while our brother left school early to serve as a marine during WWII.

A member of the local Grange, he was grange master more than once, and during his watch I observed him taking care of grange business, promoting exciting social activities and participating in the local fair. During his time as master the gavel was stored in a kitchen cupboard, and my younger sister and I played with it often. Understanding its power in the grown up world, our imaginary scenarios provided us with lessons in leadership

A sense of family pride was instilled by constant reminders of our family name, and that we were "a cut above everyone else." This belief kept my feet on a straight and narrow path. A Fjellman girl would not fail her classes, sneak out at night, be disrespectful, lie or steal. Many years later, as a single parent of three, a Fjellman girl would not go on welfare, but simply take on two or more jobs to survive.

Generosity was part of life, as our door was open to others, whether for a day or a month. The coffee pot was always on and the house was warm and welcoming. Although I guess we were poor, we always had plenty to eat and dressed nicely thanks to my mom's sewing skill on an old treadle Singer, and bargain shopping. But her story can be told another time.

A powerful memory, and one that makes us all smile, was the china cup I alluded to earlier. My father would only drink coffee from his favorite china cup. This affectation lasted until his dying day, and probably held a clue to how he viewed life. No matter what hardships or disappointments he may have endured, the china cup was a symbol of his success and self importance. He was not a warm and fuzzy dad, and he kept tight control over the family, but we all grew up to be responsible, proud, generous, hard working, well educated, leaders and decision makers in our various jobs and communities.

Way to go, Dad. Thank you and happy Father's Day wherever you may be.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


"College is like a fountain of knowledge - and the students are there to drink” anonymous

Back in college after fifty years - what an eye opener! Two months ago, on April 10 to be exact, I shared with you my first impressions about returning to college where I was taking ten credits of Spanish and piano. Why go? I did this because I'd procrastinated in renewing my teaching credential and needed fifteen credits by early next year. I decided to bite the bullet and get them out of the way as quickly as possible - thus I became an Edmonds Community College daytime student.

Much has changed since 1959, especially regarding technology, but one thing remains constant: Student behavior and study habits. As it was then, it is now. Grade books will tells us that a small percentage of students will get A, more will get B, most will get C, and going down the curve, fewer will get D or F.

I think I am heading for an "A " in Spanish. My classmate, Cathleen, is doing likewise. We had some thoughts as to why:

1. The Big One: If the teacher tells you to do something a certain way, DO IT!!! It matters not if you think you have a better or easier way. If he or she gives you a sample or model to follow, do so.

2. Take complete notes. BE SURE YOU CAN READ YOUR OWN HANDWRITING. If necessary, bring a tape recorder and tape the lecture. This is particularly helpful if you can't write as fast as the instructor speaks.

3. Participate in the classroom by raising your hand and contributing. It shows you are listening.

4. Do not be afraid to ask questions. This also shows you are listening.

5. Attend on a regular basis. If you must be absent, inform the teacher ahead of time verbally or by e-mail and find someone in the class to take notes for you.

6. Study as you go. Forget cramming. It is neither useful nor helpful in the long term. We had so much thrown at us in Spanish that, by necessity I had to cram. I have to go back and re-learn a lot if I want Spanish to be useful to me.

7. If the instructor offers you optional extra credit opportunities to add to your grade, do not "blow them off" but take advantage of this gift. In our case we would get 15 points for engaging in three cultural opportunities followed by brief written reports: (a) Eating in a bona fide Mexican, Central American, Caribbean or Spanish restaurant , (b) watching a Spanish speaking movie (with English subtitles), and (c) attending one multicultural event.

· Our family dined at the Buenos Aires restaurant in downtown Seattle.

· I attended the Cinco De Mayo celebration on campus.

· I saw the Spanish movie "Volver" with Penelope Cruz, also on campus, in the Black Box Theater.

Not only did I get 15 points towards my grade, I learned a lot and had a great time doing it. I would have done none of those things without the strong suggestion of the teacher. I might add here, though, that his strong suggestion made "optional" feel like "mandatory" .

8. Do NOT cheat. If the teacher doesn't notice it, you can be sure your classmates will. Someone is sure to "narc" on you to your extreme detriment.

9. DO NOT FALL ASLEEP IN CLASS. If a father of three, who has worked a graveyard shift can come to class, participate, take notes, and look alive, then certainly a younger student whose only excuse is too much partying, TV or gaming can do the same.

10. Study a little every day, do all work, hand it in on time, and be accountable. You will get your A.

To put it all in perspective, remember why you are in school. If your parents are paying for your education you can show respect by doing your best while you try to figure what you want to do with your life. If you are paying for your education, it stands to reason that you will want to do well. We often value more that which we pay for, whether a toy, car, house or our education.

Remember also that how you do in each class has a cumulative effect on your transcript, and how easy or difficult it will be to transfer to a school with stringent entry requirements. A couple of students in my class want to go to the U.W. nursing school. Grades matter and you won't get in without good ones.

Don't just take up space because you can't think of anything else to do. It's not really fair to those who want entry, but can't get in because classes are full. That happened in our class. Several were on the waiting list, but the deadline passed and by then it was too late. In the meantime, several students dropped out because it got too hard. Too bad they weren't motivated to keep going, and didn't have the study habits to make it happen.

Cathleen and I spent a few minutes thinking about our mutual work ethic and why getting an "A" in class was important to us. It undoubtedly has to do with the way we were raised and the experiences we had that drive our desire to do well. But we both agreed on this: Anyone can do well in class if they follow a few simple guidelines. Try it. You might like the results.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


If you never change your mind, why have one? By Edward De Bono

My husband and I were watching Piers Morgan as he interviewed Jerry Springer the other night. The jury’s still out on Piers, but both of us stood in agreement about Jerry Springer. We saw him on TV in a London airport l5 years ago, and were embarrassed by a show that displayed what seemed like the lowest common denominator of human interaction in America.

Imagine our surprise, then, as we heard an intelligent, well spoken individual discussing his views on a variety of today’s topics with sensitivity, and insight. This could not be the same man we saw in London, who seemed to whip his guests into a frenzy of bad behavior, even to the point of physical fighting, much to the audience’s amusement, amazement and entertainment, could it?

We changed our mind about Jerry Springer. Actually our opinion about Piers was also evolving in a positive direction.

This was a “flip flop” for us, and I found myself thinking about the whole notion of flip-flops, especially those that pertain to politics. Specifically, President Obama, and how opponents accuse him of this flip or that flop.

The notion of flip flopping in politics is a negative one, and dates back to 1851 when an article in the New York Times archives cited the “earliest unequivocal mention of ‘flip flop’ as a change in someone’s opinion,”, and in this case, had to do with John W. Goff, a candidate for District Attorney at that time. As time went by, the term was frequently used in political races. In the 2004 US presidential campaign, for example, John Kerry, was accused of flip flopping on several issues to his detriment. Other countries have similar terminology – the UK calls it a U-turn, while Australia and New Zealand call it backflipping.

Whatever the case, to me it seems unfortunate that a political candidate, or anyone for that matter, can’t change their minds on issues, opinions or beliefs without being called to task for the change, and the decidedly negative connotation that flip flopping now implies.

I personally like the idea of being able to change my mind as I gain more information, without some kind of accusation. That ability is what contributes to growing in maturity, and wisdom. I love that my husband and I can sit watching a program on TV, turn to each other, and say, “Wow, that Springer guy has a lot on the ball.” I love that we are not so stuck in our positions that we can’t grow and change, and see things differently. On every level it is important that we all be able to change views without embarrassment or rancor. It’s what brought about the election of Barack Obama, for goodness sake. A lot of people changed their minds about the ability of an African American to hold our nation’s highest office. The possibilities for future enlightenment are exciting to ponder.

So listen with an appreciative ear, and watch with an appreciative eye, as you question your previously held beliefs and do some flip flopping of your own. It doesn’t have to be a negative experience.