Peace and Understanding

I just finished reading a book titled Children of Paradise:The Struggle for the Soul of Iran written by Laura Secor. I found this book to be stunningly eyeopening. Frequently I am amazed at how poorly informed we are as American citizens but after reading this account51wi73entBL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ of the years from the revolution, overthrow of the Shah and the years of struggle and conflict that followed in Iran I feel like a mushroom kept in the dark and fed manure. Secor paints a picture of a significant number of the population of Iran  struggling mightily for a country that has a secular political base. According to Secor the Islamic Republic party has held control through fear, intimidation, censorship and election fraud during the years that followed. Their government style is an authoritarian theocracy.

Secor explains this government rules the country with their narrow, fundamental interpretation of Islam and rejects all opposition even from more moderate clerics. Anyone who opposes them has been imprisoned, threatened and tortured or their families threatened until they confess to trumped up charges designed to humiliate, discredit and dishonor them. They are certain that Western countries and the CIA are behind the opposition and this may very well be true since it seems we have a chronic need to meddle in the affairs of other countries in the name of human rights but only countries we have an economic interest in such as middle eastern oil.

The invasion by American troops of Iraq had a devastating impact on Iran which was also at war with Iraq. The population of Iran suffered tremendous human and economic losses.  Secor gives a detailed account of the horror and atrocities the people suffered. If the US was involved in the actions of the rebels we did nothing to protect and ease the suffering of the people. Our need to spread democracy around the world has created untold suffering of the populations of those countries we allegedly were helping. Thousands have been executed or have died in prisons. The situation is similar to life under Stalin or Hitler where a relatively small number of zealots determined to force their principles and values on a population come to power through fear and intimidation.

This book is a must read for all those concerned about the continuing middle eastern conflicts and the thousands of displaced people of these countries. A truth seeking for the cause or causes of the conflicts is called for from the people of the world and particularly in this country where we are so isolated and deprived of real factual information about world news.

 

Moving Forward in Hope and Gratitude

It’s been a month since this country was dealt a shocking blow. Over half of America was devastated and another number were celebrating. Within those devastated are a large number who are fearful for their lives, families, livelihood and civil rights. Another segment is afraid we will destroy our planet with detrimental development plans or destroy lives in an ill conceived war.

As a result of their fear students and others have been protesting the election results, marching in the streets and exercising their right to free speech. Whether this will be helpful or healthy is not mine to say.

Unfortunately there are a crop of less than gracious “winners” on the other side. They characterize the protesters as whiners sitting in bars to drown their sorrows. Even worse we have teachers who are telling their immigrant students they will be gone pretty soon.(AP Arizona Public School in Mesa) Facebook has been loaded with insults and ugly remarks on both sides. Social media has become a forum to vent and not always in a productive way.

This is a time for families to gather to celebrate our blessings in the most enjoyed holiday season of the year and many families are afraid they may not even be able to stay together after the inauguration.

Many Americans of non-white ethnicity have been verbally and physically assaulted . A Muslim woman had her hijab torn off on a subway in NYC, a Japanese American woman was called a “Chink” in an airport in a large metropolitan city and told to go home.

These behaviors are unacceptable in a civilized world and especially in a country that espouses equality under the law for all citizens regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual identity. We celebrate diversity. Is this a false persona?

It’s time for the “winners” to show some compassion and understanding of the pain and fear felt by many of their fellow citizens. And it’s time for the “losers” to seek constructive means  to voice their concerns and take action to insure the safety and protect the vulnerable among us who are being threatened. Real action must be taken to insure that illegal acts are not permitted such as a return to tortures that violate the Geneva conventions and discriminating against individuals who are protected by our constitution.

As we are inundated with information about the president-elect’s appointments with no ability to control them, anxiety has increased for those opposed to the issues supported by the appointees.  I have decided to refrain from reading the speculative articles in favor of my personal peace and mental health. That doesn’t mean Im giving up. On the contrary, I am determined to be more vigilant than ever and form close relationships with legislators who support my point of view.

My views were succinctly portrayed in an article in the Albuquerque Journal on November 28th in which Anne Miller clearly states:abq-journal-1128, (Click to read the entire article) We are a people of compassion and integrity. We accept our moral obligation to fight like hell for those who have not been as fortunate or privileged as we are.

Please be comforted and encouraged by my words or put on notice that we will be a formidable adversary over the next four years.

Gratitude

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” Max Planck

Sounds pretty simplistic doesn’t it? But would you rather live in a world full of positive attitudes or immerse yourself in negativity? Scientific studies done at the University of Texas and University of California Davis are showing that your attitude can have an impact on your health, either good or bad. Your attitude can change your behavior and your life. An organization affiliated with the University of California Berkley, Greater Good, the Science of a Meaningful Life, focuses its teaching and research on changing people and their lives, one at a time, to a more positive perspective. Their mission statement includes “The Greater Good Science Center studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.”

Our country and our world are full of conflict, violence, strife and stress today. Everywhere we look we see people in pain and acting out in reaction to their hurt. I want to make a change in myself and those I love. I want to live a joyful life and I want happiness for every person in the world. Sound Crazy? Well maybe, but no crazier than thinking another war will finally bring us world peace.

The research has shown that if I change my attitude and the way I look at my experiences my outlook will change and my health both mental and physical will improve.(www.greatergood.berkeley.edu) I decided to give it a try. My life was full of conflict and stress. It was the common ones of today, loved ones suffering from depression and addiction, loved ones in pain due to difficulties with finances, relationships, jobs and not knowing where to go with their lives. Fortunately my own life is in a pretty good space, I’m retired from my first career and can live comfortably but not lavishly on my income but it hasn’t always been that way.

I started the practice of thinking about one thing I was grateful for as soon as I woke up in the morning a few IMG_0036months after I got the news that my husband was MIA. It was a survival mechanism in order to get myself out of bed and moving each day.  At first I focused on the easy ones. I was grateful for my children and the beautiful world we live in. I thought about them, what beautiful human beings they were and how many positive things they have contributed to the lives around them, then I would have to fight thoughts of the things they were struggling with like the loss of their dad and gently move my thoughts back to the good in their lives. Pretty soon it started becoming a habit. I’d wake up and with out any effort, my mind would flood with all the beautiful things I had to be grateful for in my life. Over time I noticed I was more enthusiastic about my day, not every day, I’m just like everyone else,  some days I just wanted to pull the covers over my head but I’d force myself to think of something good to get up for. It wasn’t easy but it definitely had a positive impact on my day.

My mantra had always been Attitude is Everything throughout my work life. I started out with a high school education and a family to look out for. This first thing I tackled was going back to school and getting a degree.  Juggling the family and classes not to mention homework was challenging. I soon learned that I had to keep positive and focus on the goal not the day to day pitfalls. When I finished I started my work life teaching Language Arts and Social Studies at the secondary level but soon realized it wasn’t going to work over the long haul. The schedule was great but the pay just didn’t cut it. I started my search the summer after my first year.

Life has been a steady progression of two steps forward and one back but the movement has always been forward. I credit my successes to my positivity. It isn’t always easy to keep looking up but it beats the alternative. It’s kept me healthy and happy most of the time.

This year has been one of the most difficult I’ve faced. The future is looking pretty grim. There is so much fear and violence generated by that fear. In this country we are still able to focus or propensity toward worry on purity of our food air and water and the protection of the environment. In other places people worry about their homes still being there in the morning and their loved ones still being among the living.

We are being besieged with rhetoric in the various media and by public personalities that increases our fear in order to gain our support for their agenda. As brothers and sisters in humanity we must see and embrace our sameness and not our differences. We cannot ignore evil but we also cannot paint all people of any group who are different from ourselves as being less human, less loving, less needy, less hungry than ourselves. We are on the verges of self destruction unless we change our mindset. Wars have never gained peace. Wars have created more division and mistrust. Wake up America and find the beautiful generous soul of this country that I believe is at our core.

Italy, the Agony and Ecstasy

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Last fall my thirteen year old grandson surprised me with a reminder that I had given his sister a trip anywhere she wanted to go with a friend for an eighth grade graduation gift before she started high school in the fall. Alexis and her friend Haley had chosen a trip to Ft Lauderdale for the week before school started in August. Giuliano would graduate from eighth grade the next May and join his sister in high school so it was his turn.

“Oh that’s right,” I said,  never dreaming what would come next. “Where would you like to go ?”

“Italy,” he quickly replied.IMG_3621

I was stunned. My mind awhirl, I swallowed hard. As the shock began to wear off I warmed to the idea. I had been thinking about another Italy trip for the last couple of years since mom had died. Why not one with the kids?

“Sounds great!” I said , “but we’ll have to include your sister.”  I had told her about her trip gift in June when she graduated and she never thought of anything outside the US. Neither did I. It would only be fair to include her now.

“Sure,” he said. He and his sister had always been as close as a brother and sister could be.

So it began. I had seven months to put it together. I knew I wanted the trip to be long enough to make it worthwhile and allow them to truly experience the beauty and depth of Italy.

A few weeks later I was talking with, Joan, my sister in law and told her what I was planning. She was excited and wanted all the details. The more I told her about my tentative itinerary, the more involved she became.

“Would you like to go with us.” I asked, “how long could you be away from your work?”

“I’d love to, I could probably be gone for three weeks,” She said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Padova. You know St Anthony  is from there and has been my patron saint for a long time. I remembered how over the years Joan had always called on St. Anthony whenever she needed or lost something. “Have you been to Venezia or Roma,” I asked. “No, neither one, but I’d like to.” I cautioned her and asked her to give it some serious thought on what it would be like traveling with a 14 and 16 year old. She had always been great with my kids and grandkids one on one but this would be an intense three weeks living intimately together. “That will be okay,” she said. “We can share some of the expenses and it will be fun.”

It was settled, we would leave as soon as the kids got out of school in May 2016.  I dug out all my old Italy travel books and took them to the kids to peruse and choose things they wanted to be sure and see.

The first thing I discovered was that airfares went up dramatically after May 15th. The prices started over $2300 apiece. I was shocked. I hadn’t dreamed it would be that expensive. When I had gone the last time it was $8-900. roundtrip to Milano. I’d definitely have to work on my budget with three tickets to buy. I had always traveled off season in the past.  I started checking all the angles including fares from major cities. I could save a couple of hundred per ticket going from NYC, Phoenix or even Denver. Phoenix would be the most practical since it was only a 6 hour drive and I wouldn’t have the second airfare leg. These flights were all on foreign airlines and I checked their safety ratings online but install left me feeling a little nervous. I decided to wait to book anything until we got closer to May. We still had six months.

I started thinking about an itinerary and accommodations. I wanted to move as infrequently a possible. Packing and unpacking are my least favorite activities when I travel. Joan agreed and I began looking for central locations to areas we wanted to visit. If we stayed in Padova we could do day trips to Venezia, Verona and. Bologna.

My previous trips in Italy with my youngest son when he had graduated from high school and later with my daughter when she finished her Masters degree  had been road trips. Thanks to my son who was adamant that he wouldn’t go on an organized tour I learned how to plan and organize  an itinerary that suited our interests and allowed for flexibility for when we wanted to linger and when we wanted to move on quickly.

Hotels were costly and only included breakfast. With two teenagers meals would be my biggest expense after airfare. I started looking for timeshare trades through RCI, a timeshare organization I am a member of through my timeshare ownership. Although I’d had friends who had done these types of trades I had no luck. Then I thought of extended stay apartments like we have here that include a small  kitchen and living area. I found a website, http://www.Booking.com  that had a filter for apartments and quickly found just what I was looking for. There were numerous ratings to read from other travelers that were very helpful. I searched for ones that had no complaints about the things really important to us. For the grand teens WIFI was number one since they wouldn’t be able to use their cell data while we were gone. We had to have parking for a rental car and I was also hoping for availability to laundry facilities at our later locations. We would be packing light in order to fit the four of us and luggage into a reasonable sized rental car and a laundry would be essential at least once in three weeks and preferably twice.

I checked the school calendar and saw the last day would be May 25th. My airfare searches revealed that the cheapest day to leave would be Sunday, May 29th and that would give everyone a chance to get packed and see friends after school let out without unnecessary pressure.

The first accommodations I booked was Apartmento Rosa in Padova for May 30-June 4.  It was a two bedroom with a kitchen. I was a little nervous but the website advertised no charges in advance and no cancellation fees if cancelled a week before our scheduled arrival. I scheduled it for five nights since we had several places we wanted to visit nearby.

At this point I decided to check in with the kids to see if they had found any “must see” places. It was like pulling teeth. The only thing I could get out of them was that they wanted to attend an opera and they wanted to see the leaning tower in Pisa. My work was cut out for me.

I started checking opera seasons near the areas we would be visiting and  places to stay. It looked like Rome would be our best bet and we would be there the longest since there was so much to see in the vicinity. The next challenge was to find a place close enough for a day trip to both Pisa and Firenze.

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Our trip would begin at Malpensa Airport near Milano. Most flights I’d found would arrive in the morning so we’d have plenty of time to pick up a rental car and head to our first stop in Padova. From there in the days that followed we’d be able to take a day trip to Venezia after exploring Padova and Verona nearby.

With our first stay booked and the next stop near Pisa and Firenze planned I chose a wonderful location on the west coast in Castiglioncello. It was a short walk to the beach and had a swimming pool. The kids will love this. I thought. Villagio Mietta was a complex of duplex style apartments and we found out when we arrived, it even included a garage for the car! It was a two bedroom like Apartmento Rosa and, of course, wifi was included.

I was on a roll and decided to move ahead and make the reservation for  our stay in Roma. There was a lovely apartment building near the transportation terminal that looked , in the pictures online, like a great location and included parking. This was a real premium since parking could be as much as $25+ a day in Roma and of course,it had wifi. With the the booking completed I decided to email their office and ask about proximity to the opera theater. Laura replied “you’re so fortunate, La Traviata is being performed NOW! I’m sending the online ticket link.” I jumped on it and immediately went to the site. There were some excellent seats still available in the sixth row from the orchestra at a great price. June 5th was the last performance until July and I snapped them up. This was going to be such an incredible trip. I sent the confirmations and opera ticket news to Joan in California.

The tickets were sent UPS and arrived in THREE DAYS. I was blown away and re-ignited to finish up all the reservations. I wanted to make a stop in Ravenna to see the Mosaics again. I remembered how amazing they were when my son and I had visited twenty years earlier. When I went online to research what else was in that area that we might like to see and do I discovered that the Ferrari Museum, track and factory  was less than a hour away. The kids would love that. There was even a driving simulator available!  One of the resorts was a short drive outside Ravenna on east side of the peninsula on the beach. After a week in Roma it would be great to get away from city life and be near a beach again. This stay would be at Lido Adriano, Aurora Residences,  also a nice two bedroom, kitchen, parking, laundry facilities and wifi.

That left one last booking. I wanted to be close to the airport to keep our last day as stress free as possible. In searching Booking.com I found an Agriturismo site just 15 minutes from the Malpensa airport.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, small scale farming in Italy became less profitable, and, as one might predict, farmers abandoned many farms to search for work in larger towns. But Italians value highly the traditions and produce of small scale production of food, and by 1985 a law defined Agriturismo, and many abandoned buildings and estates were restored, some for vacation homes, and many for agritourismo.  These aren’t just B&B’s or rural restored accommodations. They are active farms of many varieties. The one I booked near Oleggio, Cascina Aguzza, is a working farm that grows all sorts of berries and other produce as well as chickens for fresh eggs. It had wonderful reviews and I decided to book it for two nights and allow for a possible day visit to Milano before our trip home.IMG_5563

The snow covered Alps could be seen in the north in photos of the farm. It looked like the perfect end to our trip that would allow us to relax and breathe before the long plane trip home.

About two months before the trip I finally booked our air reservations. It totally took me by surprise when I discovered the ticket prices had dropped to just under $1400 apiece on American Airlines. No need to drive to Phoenix or fly with a little foreign airline. I was really delighted and relieved with the news and immediately booked our flight for May 29th returning on June 21st. I also booked the car on rentalcars.com and chose one that was advertised to hold 5 passengers and one large and one small bag. It was $357 for the three weeks and a day including  unlimited miles. For four of us that was a bargain as opposed to train fares. Of course we’d have to add gas to that.

The anticipation was delicious over the next two months. Finally the day came for us to go. We had an early morning flight to Dallas, a connection to Miami and then the flight to Milano to arrive at 9:30 AM on the 30th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pacific Northwest by Trains, Planes and Automobiles

After a short one hour flight San Diego complete with a free drink on Southwest Airlines due to the St. Parrick’s Day holiday, I changes planes to a flight to Seattle. All was going very well, I was pleased. With a 20 minute layover the gate for the second leg was half of a city block away. There was time for a pit stop in the ladies room and a few minutes before the boarding call. As I stood there waiting to board I considered my drink options. You’d think I was a real boozer but the truth of the matter is I’m a frugal bargain hunter working to get the biggest bang for my buck.
I decided on a Rum-Rita, a delicious concoction of Rum and margarita mix the had a nice kick and a delicious tango citrus. After the drink, some peanuts and a cracker/pretzel snack pack I stretched back as much as the tight seating afforded and took a short nap. I’d been up since 5:30 AM in order to get my almost 4 mile daily walk in, finish up the last minute prep for the trip and await my youngest son’s arrival to ferry me to the airport. I was definitely due for some z’s before landing and the 140+ mile drive to Vancouver BC.

I had booked a rental car so I’d have transportation available to do some sight seeing while there and the care and air fare to Seattle were a better bargain that air to Vancouver.
We landed to a brilliant sunny day, blue skies unheard of in March on the coast of BC. I was really lucking out. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The car pick up went smoothly. They gave me “pick of the litter” in my price category after trying to talk me into an upgrade and adding additional insurance. I chose a nice shiny black, freshly washed Nissan Sentra and headed out toward I5 North to Vancouver. After two hours on the road I had only traveled as far as Burlington . Traffic had been bumper to bumper on I-5 at no more than 25 mph. I could’t imagine where all the traffic was going or where it was coming from and by then it was after 4 PM. The GPS was predicting another two and a half hours to Vancouver. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to move the seat back into a less than perpendicular position and my hip joints and back were screaming in protest. I couldn’t pull over due to the heavy traffic and difficulty with making a lane change.IMG_4132
Finally traffic thinned out and I kicked it up to 65 or 100 kpm as the sign indicated once I crossed over into Canada.
I finally arrived at the apartment I’d be staying in for the week and after unpacking and a few moments to regroup I set out to a grocery for some provisions for the evening and breakfast. After a day of nothing but airline peanuts, crackers and a hard boiled egg and cheese stick I’d packed I was famished.

I checked with the front desk and found an IGA grocery only four blocks away. It felt good to get out and stretch my legs and breathe the moist crisp air. The sidewalk was filled with other walkers and I noticed there was a true bicycle lane with separating curbing from the motorized traffic. Many cyclists passed by as I strode toward my destination. I opened the door to a complete deli and produce department with a great variety of fruits and vegetables. Prices were a bit steep but I had to do a quick mental gyration to convert Canadian dollars to US currency. The exchanges rate was about $1.28 Canadian to $1.00 US. I selected some berries, avocado, romaine and zucchini. They had an extensive baked goods area that included multigrain breads and rolls of all kinds as well as muffins and pastries. I chose a lovely warm loaf of seeded multigrain bread. Across from the breads I discovered an escalator to an upper level where there were all sorts of dairy, meat and canned offerings. I decided on a box of linguini and a jar of sauce, a container of Greek yogurt, some butter for the bread, a nice dark roast, fair-trade coffee and some lemon curd for a treat.

After paying for my choices, I headed back to our room. The day had been a sunny one. The sidewalks were dry and there was still a slight bit of sunlight peeping through the clouds at the horizon. I loved the room we had gotten. It was on the 21st floor and on the southeast corner of the building with a view down the street to the waterfront. The dining table sat in an alcove with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and breathtaking views of the city lights.

View at dinner

View at dinner

My companion on the trip had a full itinerary of things she wanted to do and see. Since I had been to Vancouver before I was willing to have chose our activities for each day. I’d met her about three years earlier but had only seen her on an occasional basis. I felt confident that we would travel well together.

When I got back I started a supper of sautéed zucchini in marinara sauce over the linguini. Delizioso! We sampled some of the bread toasted and it was outstanding too. It was a perfect end to the day. We decided to light the gas fireplace and curl up on the cozy chairs to read and listen to music for a little while before retiring.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny and we headed out to the University of British Columbia camp to visit the Anthropology Museum and the Nitobe Japanese tea gardens.

The museum was amazing. I highly recommend the docent tour. It was rich with information about the Pacific Northwest native peoples, their art and culture.

Traveling to new places can be very relaxing and mind expanding at the same time. I’ve always loved to travel and see new places and people. When I’m away I can really let go of all the day to day responsibilities. When I’m home I can’t sit still. There’s always some chore calling me. This trip will be just what I needed.

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Indigenous Peoples Map

Fathers

It was Christmas eve and I knelt in the pew facing the candle lit wreath behind the altar. There was a warm glow surrounding everything and the nativity display was in place. The church was filled for the first time since Easter.
The warmth of families and love radiated from every direction. After the infant Jesus was placed in the manger we all stood for the opening prayer. There was a family of four in front of me, soon to be five from the looks of the mom.
The mass proceeded on track and after listening intently to the readings, there was a beautiful homily about family. My mind started to drift to my own family and the tremendous gratitude I felt for this blessing in my life. The ritual of the mass allowed me to drift into thoughts of the years of small children filling our home and many past Christmases.
The young boy in front of me snuggled up to his father and reached his small arm across his back, barely reaching halfway. All of a sudden I as filled with the awareness of the comfort and love this boy felt for his dad. There was a sense of security and constancy in his gesture.

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I reflected on my four children’s childhood without a father and what that loss had meant in their lives. I could only be aware of the outer manifestations and not how their inner thoughts and feelings were affected. They had said very little even when I brought it up. My own father had been emotionally absent and that absence gave me some idea of that lack in the lives of Nicky, Arlynn, Tony and Eddie.
A sense of grief and longing filled my heart with pain and my eyes with tears for what that absence had meant in my own life. Never feeling loved unconditionally or good enough as a person, not being worthwhile.
My relationship with my faith and Jesus grew in my early teens and gave me the comfort and security that had been lacking in my heart. Later I was blessed with a husband who gave me the total acceptance I had longed for that filled me and allowed me to find my gift and the confidence to become all I was intended to be.
Soon I would become a single parent after my beloved husband was lost in the war in Vietnam and our beautiful children would experience life without a father.
No matter how much I wanted to fill that emptiness for them, it just wasn’t possible. I was the mom and that was all there was to it. I had my own personality and character traits and their dad had his. We were a good balance of introvert and extrovert, quiet and noisy. My children needed that balance and difference of characteristics to bounce off. They also needed an emotionally present parent full time. I couldn’t always be there for them with a home and job to manage. The many responsibilities of parenting are too much for one person and the perspective of a dad is critical to forming a well rounded child.
Sometimes this void can be filled by grandfather, uncle or other caring male family member but that isn’t always possible. Somehow my boys knew internally what was needed and are wonderful fathers to their children. It gives me great joy to watch the play and spend learning and quiet times with their children, both boys and girls.
Fathers are a blessing to their children that we must always recognize and value.

Sleep

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We all need it, sometimes long for it, delight in it and relish the sweetness of it. Some need eight hours or more and some people get by on six. There are medical studies devoted to sleep now. Doctors have realized how important sleep is for all of us and even the impact it has on weight management and the functioning of our endocrine system. I’m more interested on what it does for me and how it makes me feel.

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Sleep has been many things to me. It’s my escape when life overwhelms me. I can sleep eight to ten hours at night and then nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon when life becomes more than I want to face. It can also be a delicious end to a long physically challenging day. Sliding between the soft embrace of the 800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets I indulged in a year ago is the next best thing to a real hug from a dear friend.  Those sheets are as soft as velvet, smooth against my skin, like the skin of a newborn. The sensuality of sleep is only one of its delights.

Dreams are also a big part of sleep. Some nights I’m not aware of dreaming and at other times my dreams help me sort out the myriad problems and decisions of everyday life with friends and a large extended family. My dreams even sort out how I feel about what I should be doing with my life. When I wake, my first thoughts are thoughts of gratitude. First I voice my gratitude for my health and a good night’s sleep, next my thoughts turn to family, those who are doing well and those who are facing a variety issues, I offer prayers for them and all of those in the world who are alone, hungry, cold, without a warm bed and roof over their head. I’m overwhelmed with awareness of how fortunate I am.

Some nights when there are too many things roiling around in my mind, but not enough to keep me awake, I sleep for a few hours, 4-5, and then get up to go to the  bathroom and sometimes read the scripture readings for the coming day that arrive in my e-mail overnight.. The readings calm my mind and substitute meaningful thoughts for the worldly shallowness that were stressing me out. Afterward I go back to sleep for a couple more hours and wake up at peace. The worries of the world have taken a back seat and seem much less important than they did a few hours ago.

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I remember my dad and his struggles with insomnia. We didn’t dare make a sound after he retired in the evening or we’d really hear about it and suffer the consequences, usually some onerous chore like sweeping out the overheated garage filled with moth carcasses or washing out trash cans, stinky with the residue of leaky garbage bags. I often wondered why he struggled so much with steep, both getting to sleep and staying there.

I’ve watched my children when they were small just drop into a deep sleep anytime and anywhere. Sometimes they were in the most uncomfortable looking positions possible for their tiny bodies and I was sure they would have aches and pains when they awoke but they never did.gallery-thumbnails-2.php

Now I have to have the right place, the right temperature and a peaceful mind and an empty belly. I’m at an age when I can’t eat a full meal within a couple of hours or going to bed. It has to be dark and it can’t be too warm or I toss and turn trying to get comfortable. I’ve seen mattress pads to warm a bed but I need something to cool it surface of the sheets and have the ceiling fan running all summer.

gallery-thumbnails.phpI needed black out drapes in order to sleep when I visited anchorage in May and I had to pay attention to the time or I would just keeping and going as long as it was light even twilight. The nice thing about my light affliction is that if I follow the daylight and go to bed after sunset wherever I travel I never get jet lag. My body automatically adapts to the light cycle.

Our bodies are amazing creations, each different from others and if we make it a point to know ourselves intimately and accommodate our individual needs we can be optimally happy and healthy. The challenge is to make our accommodation fit in a life within our living community.

Finding a Life Partner

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Most of us hope to find a partner for life to share experiences, good and bad.  My friends and I have shared these efforts and strategies for years. Back in my teens and as a young adult the process consisted primarily of hanging out where we thought the boys were. We learned to enjoy sports, learned about cars, and all sorts of activities traditionally the prevue of young men. As we got older we learned to talk business, politics and world affairs and learned we liked it and had ideas and opinions of our own. Many of us found our soul mates and some were fortunate enough to form lifelong relationships but some of us lost that first love through accidents or war and went on alone hoping we wouldn’t spend the rest of our life alone.

With the advent of the proliferation of the internet and social media the whole picture changed. We no longer limited ourselves to the boy next door. We have access to the whole world. this can be seen as a good thing or not. Many of the things that help make relationships work come from mutual social, geographical and cultural backgrounds. That mutuality helps each of us to understand our partner’s point of view and provides some degree of safety through mutual acquaintances. But the world is getting to be a smaller and smaller place and with that comes new risks and some danger. Single adults are bombarded with innovations to join a plethora of dating sites that portray themselves as the ultimate way to find the perfect match. There is a specialized site for Christians, Jews, Catholics, Seniors and on and on.

Meanwhile relationship satisfaction doesn’t seem to be flourishing. Marriages are at a all time low and schemes to get your partner to commit are everywhere. For under fifty dollars you can be guaranteed a plan to land your dream man and it all hinges on a secret method of getting inside his head, learning how men think and saying the  “right” thing and avoiding the “wrong” words or phrases. In the introduction hype the promoter, a man, explains that many women lose out to “the bimbo across the room” because he longs for respect and admiration. He goes on to say that men value respect over love in surveys conducted to find out what men want and frequently express that they’re the same thing.

That was my Ah ha moment. Okay, I get it, men want respect but what’s a girl going to do when the men who are available are really hard to respect. From insecure, arrogant types to Poor me, I need a caretaker types it’s been a real challenge.

 

Plough, Something Wonderful to Share

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I can’t remember how I encountered this quarterly journal but I am filled with gratitude. The winter 2015 issue is packed with articles and essays about topics that have been on my mind and in my heart for some time. The first half is devoted to articles about our children, their education and their upbringing. I have been concerned about the public education trend away from educators to government oversight for the last decade. I’ve supported Catholic education and homeschooling because of my concern for the children who are being mechanized and homogenized by the educational trends beginning with No Child Left Behind and the Common Core. Although these concepts appear to have an admirable goal, they address children as machines to be developed and uniformly released into society as productive automatons. Where is the humanity in this endeavor? What is happening to dreaming and creativity? Children are the future we will never see. A young child learns at their own pace by experiencing the world and people around him or her. They learn language, to use the toilet, social behaviors through experience and need. Yes, they share  milestones that can be expected but not set in stone as spelled out in these prescribed expectations. Today many children are exposed to technology for a large part of their day. They rely on machines for their daily interaction, tablets, phones and televisions are their companions. Where is the thinking, touching, smelling experiencing life in this? To dictate at what age each child must learn a particular concept or be labeled a failure is absurd. We are individual human beings. To measure a teacher’s effectiveness by how he or she trains these little minds is not only absurd it is cruel to the teacher and child.

In his article Discovering Reverence, Johann Christoph Arnold  reminds us of the awesomeness of the life of each child. He reminds me of the innocent delight each child experiences in encountering his or her world. Do we really want to squash this with our rules and regimentation of how he or she learns and when? Arnold reminds us  that our children aren’t objects to be wedged in prescribed slots in our world. He stresses the importance of revering each child’s unique mind, soul and body and by doing so we teach children to respect and treat each other with reverence. What a beautiful thought, how relevant to our world of violence and competition for some worldly material prize and not the joy in living and doing. Our world needs all of them and their uniqueness. Experiencing each child with reverence teaches them not only to respect each other but to love themselves for their unique gifts that only they can offer to the world.

If you are a person of faith you know that each child is a unique thought of God and has a role to fill and gifts to share with the world. Eberhart Arnold says in his words at the dedication of a newborn in 1934 “we can only teach a child when we “‘understand the thought of God for each child, a thought that God has had in eternity and still has and will always have just for this child. God knows what each child is intended to become.”  This concept hardly meshes with standardized testing and measuring each child as a commodity to reach each level of education at a prescribed time or be considered a failure and prevented from moving on in his or her education until that particular milestone is achieved and his teacher effectiveness is graded based on this accomplishment as well.Are you beginning to get the sense as I am that the eduction system is not in the best interest of the child but designed to create a person who will be a contributor to the economy of the country?

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Joan Almon is also a contributor to this topic with her article Kindergartners are Human Beings,and Other Facts in the Age of Common Core. She has been an early childhood educator for over thirty years. She tells us that standards are necessary when we want to create a uniform product but children aren’t to fit a common mold. Each child is a unique individual and although there are commonalities among children of a certain age they cannot be calibrated according to our sense of timing. Almon says “If a child today fails to develop at the pace prescribed by the standards, there are apt to be serious consequences-the child may repeat a grade or enter special education classes, or her teacher may be penalized or even fired. It’s hard to see how an education based on fixed standards and high stakes testing can help children achieve their full humanity.”   Common Core standards for kindergarten aged children are particularly poorly matched to a child’s development. Long periods of classroom instruction and testing as well as worksheets that dress specific skill leave little time for creativity and exploration when a child’s mind is at its greatest potential for development. Many schools are providing tablets for these children to use in the classroom to further develop their ability to take computerized tests. This emphasis on mechanized teaching and technology sends a message minimizing the individuality of the child. Unconsciously he or she loses confidence is his or her own imagination and creativity when it comes to experiencing and learning about the world. Our teachers need to be compassionate thinking people who can give a child enough guidance and freedom to learn and create at their own pace while keeping them safe in their world. Children have an internal sense of their need for learning, development and growth of their minds and bodies. We need to be able to give them the freedom and the guidance as well as exposure to materials to do what they need to do. It is time to be grateful and awed by each life that comes before us for our support and guidance and support as adults in their world whether we are teachers or parents. Protect these tender, vulnerable gifts we’ve received and allow them to fulfill their life not as mechanized beings chasing after outer things and material goods but seeking their own passions and satisfaction in following their dreams.

Learning to Read

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This morning I read an article written by the Secretary of Education designate, Hanna Skandera of the New Mexico Department of Education about the efficacy of the practice of social promotion.

On the surface I agree with what is said in the article because I believe that purely social promotion does a disservice to the student as well as teachers and classmates. However, none of the pertinent variables in learning, practices in the school district or programs available and offered to students are addressed or even mentioned. In the article she faults lawmakers and schools for not stopping the practice of promoting students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade. She tells a story about a second grader when recognizes the importance of learning to read to his future and implies that even a second grader is more astute than the lawmakers and educators in this state. She asks what would happen if we all work together to benefit our children and again I ask the same question.

It’s at this point I move away from her direction. It is simplistic to think that by retaining students in the third grade until they read we will produce children who will achieve their dreams.

I am the mother of four children who graduated from the Albuquerque Public Schools and passed the literacy/competency exams in the eleventh grade. I also happen to have a Bachelors Degree in education and have taught remedial reading and writing and am licensed to teach English to non-English first language speakers. Each of my children were individuals when it came to learning. One of them was reading at college level at the end of fifth grade another excelled in science and math as well as writing and language skills. One of my children read well but struggled with spelling and was an exceptionally hard worker who holds a masters degree today. My youngest child is bright and incredibly creative. He was a good student and none of his teachers ever complained to me about his behavior. His first grade teacher was concerned that he didn’t like to pretend in the make believe kitchen in the classroom but she didn’t know that since he was the youngest child he had already been participating in actual cooking and baking at home ad found the pretending uninteresting. In spite of being very bright he struggled learning to read and even his teachers didn’t realize he wasn’t actually reading the texts in class because he had found ways to compensate by carefully listening and using cues in the pictures for understanding.

When I discovered that he wasn’t actually reading at the end of third grade I started taking him to private tutoring and learning centers. The only alternative offered by the schools was “special ed” and he already expressed concern about being thought of as dumb. I was determined to support his abilities and help him overcome his different learning style. Like the child in Ms. Skandera’s story he understood the importance of reading but the process in the classroom didn’t work for him. It would have made no difference to retain him that year of for several years using that same methodology. After five years of working weekly with private reading specialist using a variety of methodologies he achieved a level that enabled him to read at his classroom level. His reading was proficient but slow. As he discovered more and more challenging books he was interested in reading, like Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, he would sit for hours reading just a few pages.

The Title One reading programs in the public schools come closest to what is needed to help those students with reading learning differences. To defeat a child at an early age by retaining them and sending the message that they are not equal to other students in their class is harmful. What is needed are reading programs to address different learning styles. This cannot be addressed in the regular classroom due to class size. These differences must be addressed by a teacher who has no more than 6 children at a time and ideally no more that 3 or 4, meeting for an hour or so two to three times a week.

What I was able to do for my child is not available to every parent for a variety of reasons and shouldn’t be necessary in a country that is committed to providing an equal education for all children. Retention of all students who fail to read at grade level in third grade is not the answer. It is necessary to adequately fund and provide programs to address the educational needs of each child or provide funding to parents out of their tax dollars to provide that education themselves.