Rhymes with Bucket

I watched the president’’s Correspondence Dinner speech last night and my favorite part started with this:

I am determined to make the most of every moment I have left. After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me “”Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?”” And I said, “”Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.””

Afterwards, for the first time in my life, I started to think about Bucket Lists and whether I had one . . . . . . . . . . (long pause) . . . . . . ?

Apparently not.

Seriously. I couldn’’t think of a single thing I desperately wanted to do before I die. That seemed a little sad, so I started googling for ideas. I found the website “bucketlist.org” and started going through the most popular wishes:

“Visit Rome.” Been there.
“Ride a Cable Car in San Francisco.” Done that.
“Swim with sharks.” No way.
“Visit a castle.” Done that.
“Run a marathon.” Not in a million years.
“Visit Paris.” Been there.
“Learn to cook.” No interest.
“Go to Africa.” Been there.
“Witness a solar eclipse.” Done that . . . and so on and so on.

What I can imagine in my future is living where I am living now basically forever. Working where I work until I retire. Sharing my life with my husband, talking to my daughters and walking my dogs daily. What does this say about me -– that I have no goals? You always hear: You have to have goals in life!!  Then again, the same people who say this, turn around and say you should live in the moment, – be in the here and now and really enjoy it – and not obsess about all the cool things you could be doing somewhere else.

So, . . . bucket.

Things are going to happen and changes will come whether I like it or not. A lot of it will be good. When it is not, I can either live in dissatisfaction and disappointment or I can accept it, make the best of it, go on. Some roads will not be taken and some things will never get done. The ironing, for instance. C’est la vie.


Circumstance’’s “Bucket” List

#1 – Keep living the way I am living until I’’m no longer living.

#2 – See what happens.


My downtime1blog went away for the weekend. Two days in the lap(top) of luxury. Unplugged. Such a treat. Almost hate to admit it after 15 years of saying “”all hotel rooms are alike””, but that fifth star and fourth lily apparently do mean something . . .

Weird Kid Married

Today is my husband’’s birthday. After he went to bed last night, I made the preparations for our breakfast celebration: cleaning the kitchen, setting the breakfast table, wrapping his present, defrosting the store-bought cake . . .

And then I went to my laptop, planning to make a card. I started thinking about how he is going to be 54. And a few months from now we will have our 26th wedding anniversary. Wow. 26 is almost half of 54 – but not quite. Then I thought about how there will be a day, a moment, when he has been married to me for exactly half of his life. My mind started working on the calculations . . .

I have always been this way, by which I mean sort of weird – even as a child. I’’ve admitted that already. There were the months I spent trying to envision a new color. (Why should we be limited to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet? Maybe there is another color out there, something completely different to those, I thought. Maybe I can dream one up?) There were also the years I spent devising a whole new mathematical system -– a “twecimal” system based on groups of twelve instead of groups of ten. My original questions were these: what if humans had 6 fingers on each hand instead of 5? Would we see 12 as the basic grouping of things instead of 10? And wouldn’t this be better somehow? Where does the concept of “a dozen” come from anyway? Or, why do we say “eleven” and “twelve” instead of “tenty-one” and “tenty-two” (or “oneteen” and “twoteen”)?

So you see -– weirdness substantiated.

And unabated.

I actually worked out to the day when both I and my husband can say we have been married for half our lives. For me it will be next year – November 13th, 2016. My husband will have to wait a bit longer for this momentous event: September 22nd, 2017. Then again – the whole point could be moot because, legally speaking, I think this blog entry could be used effectively as evidence in divorce proceedings.

Happy Birthday, Honey!

Whiskey Tango and The Haunted Castle

I spent a good part of today getting reacquainted with my dad.

It began when I had the idea to write a blog entry about the first thing I ever wrote -– or at least the earliest piece of writing in my possession. I dug through my memorabilia boxes and came up with a story written when I was eight years old.


I looked at the date and realized I had written it after my dad’’s death. I wanted to know just how long afterward, so I dug around in all my family stuff and re-discovered a booklet my mom had made for all us kids years ago. It was filled with documents and letters and pictures -– even a short recording of his voice. Of course, most of the booklet’s contents were familiar to me – but there was one detail I had missed on the first reading. Apparently when he was flying planes in the Air Force and radioing with ground control, his code name was “”Whiskey Tango””. I liked that. I liked the feeling of learning something new about him.

How many things can most people remember from their early childhoods? For me there are only a few scattered, vague memories of my dad. One is walking next to him on our way down to the Dime Store. I really only remember his legs – from the thigh downward. He had such long legs and I had to take several steps for each one of his. Two steps were not enough, three were too many. So we were out of sync, back in, out of sync, back in . . . I remember games of triple solitaire with him and my sister and how we creamed her every time because she was always trying to keep her cards in neat straight rows. I remember his body being carried down the stairs by two EMTs and my mother trying briefly to stop me from looking. I suspect that the rest of my “memories” are actually snapshots – I am remembering the pictures and not the moments.

What I don’’t remember is mourning. I suppose, being eight, I had an easier time of rolling with the punches than my older siblings, yet it strikes me as a bit strange how fast I seemed to do it.

I wrote this story just four weeks after he died.


What follows is Little Miss Efficiency’’s Checklist for Dealing with Tragedy.

Point #1: express your greatest fear.



Point#2: come up with a plan in case that happens (don’’t want to be caught off-guard a second time).



Point #3: figure out why it happened and who is to blame.



Point #4: deal with it and move on.



Now, 45 years later, I wonder about the quickness of my “moving on” and find there are things I would still like to know about him. What did he think of me? What were his hopes for all of us? Did he give good hugs? Would he have liked my husband? Played golf with him? How would he have reacted to meeting his granddaughters? . . . And if he were alive today -– a man in his eighties -– would I talk to him in a slightly patronizing way?


Hummingbirds – (MYoM – Part 6)

There are several alternative schools similar to mine scattered across the region and all of them have . . . whimsical . . . names: The Chickpeas, The Rainbow School, The Volcano Land School, the Stork’’s Nest, etc. We are the “Hummingbirds”. Other than the unusual names, I’’m not sure all these schools have many common characteristics beyond the desire of the parents to spare their kids the experience of the established school system (possibly due to their own childhood traumas). Some of the schools are inspired by Maria Montessori, some by Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf); some have adopted elements of the Wilds or Piaget or Birkenbihl or Freinet; some use the Glocksee curriculum (or profess to) and some the Jena Plan . . . All of them, I suspect, are improvised and constantly changing, based on the people who are currently active in the school – both teachers and parents. I also suspect that most of them exist on a financial precipice, only surviving thanks to idealists and creative bookkeeping.

I’’ve been learning a lot lately about the history of my own school. How it started about 16 years ago with just 6 families joining together in a sort of collective home-schooling scenario. These original parents shared a vision of a totally free learning environment that would represent the antithesis of “”Rules Schools””. A few years into the project, these parents decided that it might also be good if their kids learned to read and write. From there, the “school” went through a long process of adaptation, expansion, crisis, reconstitution, crisis, relocation, accommodation, crisis, accreditation, crisis, establishment, more expansion, internal conflict, crisis . . . and at about that point, I joined in.

One of the things that had never worked in the school was English. In retrospect, it is clear to me why that was so. In an environment where children have freedom to choose what they will learn that day, they need some connection, some reason, for deciding to participate in an educational offering. When English was offered by one of their trusted teachers -– with whom they otherwise spoke in their native language -– it must have been completely artificial. I know from raising bilingual kids that authenticity is crucial. For a while, my husband thought he could promote our kids’ bilingualism by speaking English to them too and their response was an immediate and complete rejection: “Papa! Bitte! Sprich Deutsch!”

So the school needed a native speaker. The chairman at that time had a wife who had a job at the practice of a veterinarian who had a dog patient who had an owner who was an American who was an English teacher. A call was made.

We are a school that is steered by the particular constellation of people who are currently involved. My arrival set off a few debates about the difference between a “fresh breeze” and a “tornado”. Being by nature more direct and less sensitive than all my new colleagues, I disrupted a lot of conventions without realizing it -– but those qualities also gave me a small advantage when I walked into the classroom of our 13 and 14 year old wildlings. Some of them had been in the school almost from the start and it showed -– in both good and not so great ways. They were fine towards me but sometimes just awful to one another. Eleven individualists with no sense of group cohesion. After three weeks I introduced them to my “group dynamics” box.

Sitting on the floor in a circle, I explained to them that sometimes I wanted to send them a message, but didn’’t want to do it in a lecturing way. So everything in the box was a symbol and a message. The first object was a “Stop” sign but with some words added underneath: “”Breathe” – ““Think””.  It meant things were getting too rowdy. Time for them to collect themselves. The second object was a little music box that played the melody ““If I Only Had a Brain” -” – that one was sort of self-explanatory for them.  They were, after all, 13 and 14 year olds and they inherently understood the concept of momentary brainlessness. The third objects were for the cases when a student was disinterested in everything -– the idea that something is “”Boorrrinngg!”” can be so contagious in a classroom. I said, ““I don’t expect you to find every topic interesting, but if everything is boring to you, then you are not really living. You might as well start building that coffin.”” I put some big nails on the floor. “”Here are some coffin nails. You can get started.”” Also in the box was a Socrates doll (teacher/student relationships / listening goes in both directions), my replica of the Bill of Rights (the classroom is a democratic space), and a little stuffed bird. This last one referred to a German expression “”You have a bird!”” which is actually an insult and means “”You are crazy.”” I told the kids that in our class, “having a bird” was a compliment – like thinking outside the box” or “being original”.

I’’m not sure what Montessori, Steiner, Wild, & Co would think of this method, but the kids loved that box and it worked like a charm. The few times I did use it, there was always some laughter and then a course correction. They showed it off proudly and explained it to their parents on “Hummingbird Day” (– the one special day a year when the students exhibit their work to their parents at interactive stations set up all over the school.) Since then I have started teaching more subjects and taken on the role of homeroom teacher for the oldest group. And my box of objects has gone through three adaptations based on the group dynamics and personalities in the class each year.

Yesterday was my fourth “Hummingbird Day” since joining the school. I couldn’’t help but reflect on how much has changed over these four years. All of the kids had put a lot of effort into making their stations and the parents spent a lot of time talking to them about their work. They loved the original play put on by the theater kids and played along with the younger kids as they sang ““Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”” in 6 different languages. Almost everyone took time to watch the slideshow of the school year and then expressed their amazement about the sheer amount and variety of activities offered. One father’’s reaction was “”These kids are all so happy!”  In the whole crowd I only saw one father who was unaffected. He stood by the kitchen door, impatiently waiting for the buffet to open, making it very evident that he had better things to do than spend a Friday afternoon in the school. Meanwhile, his lovely 9 year old daughter was manning her station in the Primary 2 room and challenging the visiting parents to a game of ““Spot It!”” in English. I almost felt sorry for the takers. Little did they know at the start that they had no chance of winning.

Master Whacker

Not to blow my own horn, but I really am quite skilled at the art of killing houseplants. I don’’t even have to try –- it just comes to me naturally. The whole trick lies in absent-mindedness. Once every two months or so, I actually notice a houseplant as I am walking by and I think to myself – “”Boy! That’’s a sorry looking thing. I really should water it.”” Sometimes I even go in search of a watering can, but that always ends five minutes later with me standing somewhere in the house wondering what I am doing there or what I was looking for.

My career as florassassin has had its highs and lows. The absolute peak came in a gardening center when I succeeded in killing a plant on the way to the cashier. The thing took one look at me as I was placing it in my shopping cart and just gave up the ghost. It was all wilty looking by the time I put it on the check-out counter. I bought it anyway out of a sense of guilt. The biggest challenge of my career has been a certain Yucca palm who shall remain nameless. Three years ago, I declared victory, dragged the thing outside and deposited it near the compost bin. In spring, I needed the pot it had been in, so I started to dig out the stem and roots of the presumed dead yucca . . . and there they were: two little green leaves sprouting out just below the soil line. Over the summer, outside, it resurrected itself into a respectable little plant. I brought it inside in the fall and restarted it on the long process of deprivation.

Every year in spring, I have a sudden, short-lived fit of repentance gardening. I drag all my suffering houseplants outside to a spot where some future rainfall might give them a fighting chance at survival. Then I go clean up and weed my flowerbeds. For years I have had the sneaking suspicion that a lot of the stuff I was ripping out was actually supposed to be there. This year, those suspicions were confirmed.

Because this spring has been so cold, today was the first time I toured the flower beds –- trowel and fork in hand, just in case I got the sudden urge to take a few whacks at things. I discovered all sorts of perennials coming up that I didn’’t know I had. For a few of them, I do have a faint, vague memory of planting them way back when, but I don’’t remember actually seeing them in my garden over the years. I am looking forward to finding out what they all are.

I never actually got around to starting the weeding. I came back inside to write about it all instead. It’s probably better this way.

Demographically Symbolic

There are a few people on this planet who have almost succeeded in making me believe in the devil. One of them spoke out yesterday to his gun-totin,’ liberty lovin’ crowd about the apocalypse to come in a future United States of Hillary. His exact quote: “”eight years of one demographically symbolic president is enough.””

Where to start?

How about with the dictionary.

The definition of “demographically” is: of or pertaining to the study of changes in human populations. The definition of “symbolic” is: of or pertaining to the expression or representation of an idea or quality without using words. That makes a “demographically symbolic president” someone who physically and characteristically represents the changes in the population.

So how does President Obama stack up compared to the preceding 43 – who were all White, Old(-ish), Rich, and Male (I will call them “WORMs” for short) – in terms of being representative of the people . . .

Well let’’s check that out with a bit of creative math and some Wikipedia statistics:

Racial identity of population: White – 64%, Black – 13%

So Obama starts with 77 points and the Worms with 64.

Average Age of Population: 37 years

Here, Obama loses 10 points and the Worms 18.

Average Height: 5’’ 10’’”

At 6’’ 1″”, Obama loses 3 more points and the Worms only 1.

Average net worth: $45,000

So subtract another 12 (million) points from Obama’’s score and 50 (million) from the Worms.

I could go on with this, but I think the point has been made.

Of course, all of this is not what Pierrpe LePewayne really meant with ““demographically symbolic””. (Heaven forbid, the President should be a symbol of/for the people!) What he was saying is that we Americans have had our fun, but now it is time to go back to business as usual. We have had our token black president; we don’’t need a token female one.

Baking Paper and Tommy’s Nostril – (MYoM – Part 5)

I taught early American History today to my 11-14 year olds as part of our (North and South) America project and it was a hoot. The kids have been working in groups and researching a whole variety of topics for a few weeks now, so I hoped to be able to bring in what they had learned so far, making the whole lesson more of an exchange than a lecture. I started by writing ““1492″” down and asking who could tell me what it meant. The Christopher Columbus group piped up and we were off. As soon as the word “”discover”” was used, the Aztec/Inca/Maya group protested and said that the Columbus group was wrong. A discussion followed about all the people who were living on the continent before Columbus, and that is when the North American Native group joined in. I interrupted to ask what happened to all these natives after Columbus showed up and then got to hear about small pox and guns and reservations.

Wait, we were getting ahead of ourselves here. Reservations were a long way off – what happened between Columbus and the reservations? There was a lull in the discussion. Someone in the Slave Trade group then said ““Didn’’t a lot of people start sailing over and bringing slaves with them?”” After cleaning up the chronology a bit, we talked about all the plants future sailors found and brought back to Europe. It came as quite a surprise to them that their local delicacy, pumpkin seed oil, is actually American food. Then we went on to the Tobacco-Rum- Slave triangle of trade.

But there was another big thing in between that we had missed. I wrote down “1620” and asked what that meant.

““Oh, I know that!”” said Lea from the Settlement/Migration group. ““It was the May . . . , the May . . ., the Maysomething carrying the Pilgrimagers.””

“”Close!”” I said and pretty soon, other kids came up with “Mayflower” and “Pilgrims”. We talked about who they were (and I didn’’t use the term “”obnoxious religious fanatics”” however much I would have liked to.) At this point I whipped out my own genealogy and pointed out the line leading directly from my mother all the way back to the Pilgrims. ““See this guy? He was on the Mayflower. And he is my great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather.”” The kids who had been drifting off were back. Once we covered why the Pilgrims came, what they wanted and what bad packers they were, the Native American group chimed in again and said that “the Indians helped them survive.” We talked about how many of the Pilgrims died in that first winter anyway.

This is when little Tommy asked if my relative on the Mayflower died. Lea pointed out how dumb that question was – because if he had died, I would be dead too. All hell broke loose as the kids argued about the logic of that conclusion.

Then I wrote down “1776” and asked if any one knew why that year was important. This part was a bit rough, because most of the kids weren’’t all that familiar with the terms “colony, country, government, monarchy, democracy, independence.” Little Tommy, in particular, was getting rambunctious and sassy. I took out my souvenir replica of the Declaration of Independence and was trying to explain it to the kids. Tommy grabbed it from me, felt the parchment and said,

““Why did they write on baking paper?””

“”And not only baking paper,”” added Niles, “”used baking paper -– it’s all brown!” ” Another lively discussion erupted about paper in the 18th Century. It seemed like every kid in the group took his/her turn feeling and examining the parchment.

I was losing them again. How could I make them understand what the Declaration was? In front of me on the floor was a map of the United States. I asked them to point out to me how much of continent had white people on it and we identified the first 13 colonies. I then looked around the classroom and judged where and what England would be,– relatively speaking. Destiny smiled on me.

““So look here. These are the colonies. And by now a lot of the people living there were born there. And they had an idea of how big the continent was.” I swept my hand over the rest of the map. “And over there,” “ I said, pointing at Tommy, “”was England. About the size of Tommy’’s nose. No, not even his nose, his nostril. And the Americans thought, ‘why should this huge continent be ruled by Tommy’’s nostril?’ Inside that nostril somewhere, was King George III. Let’’s write him a letter and tell him we will make our own decisions from now on, Thank you.””

Tommy, and all the rest of them, were back on board.

“”So, Tommy, you get this letter. What are you going to do?””
““I’’m going to chop all their heads off.””
“”You are going to do that yourself?””
““No, I’’ll send other people.””

And we were off to the Revolutionary War. By then, I knew I only had about 5 more minutes of attention span time for my replicas of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I spent three of them on the concepts of democracy and self-rule and the last two on rights. “”What rights do we have?”” I asked. One of the older kids came up with “freedom of speech” quickly, but there was only cluelessness after that. So I prompted, ““What do people do on Sundays?””

““I go swimming at the hot springs,”” said Tommy.

The older kids – who all realized that I was trying to get at “freedom of religion” – – pretty much lost it and I could tell the lesson was over for today.

They had some free learning time after that. Two of the girls came to me and asked if they could hang up the three document replicas on the wall of their classroom. A few others suggested we write something like a Constitution or Bill of Rights for our school. They asked if we could write it on baking paper and then put it in the oven until it gets brown.

Material Girls

A few days ago, my favorite news show guy quoted some famous, fabulously wealthy person of middle-class background (I wish I knew who) as saying,

“The first rich kids I ever met were my own.”

That line has stuck in my head.– I’’ve been wondering ever since if that statement is true of me too. Today my fourteen year-old came home with her new Vespa. I believe the answer is yes.

I’’ve tried to raise my girls with the same ethics and values that I grew up with, – but I am not sure it is even possible to raise non-materialistic kids anymore. They’’ve got cell phones and Ipods, an Ipad and a laptop and a Kindle; they’’ve got bikes and scooters and ski equipment and a trampoline and a swimming pool. They could have a really neat dollhouse and teepee. They have a keyboard and a grand piano and two guitars. They’’ve got their own rooms with overflowing closets. They wear Converse shoes.

I wanted Converse shoes so badly in Grade School. All the girls had them and they wrote the initials of the boy they liked on rubber toe part. My mom wasn’’t about to throw away good money for a brand name, so I had ugly Gilligan sneakers and had to write the initials on the rubber along the side at the bottom. It just wasn’’t the same. At first I couldn’’t decide which initials to write. I finally decided on “M.K.” Less than a week later, I scratched away the “K” and made it a “C”. Two days after that “M.C.” had to go, so I scribbled over them till they couldn’’t be seen and then wrote “P.L.” next to the big blotch. That blotch on the side of my sneakers instead of on the toe was proof that my life sucked. I was brown-paper-lunch-bag instead of cool-metal-lunchbox-with-matching-thermos girl. My clothes had all been worn by someone else before. No Avon lady ever came to our house. There were no potato chips in the kitchen cupboards and no Coke in the fridge. The only thing we had in our house was books. Books, books, and more books. Who needed a complete 20-volume encyclopedia, or the entire set of Time/Life geography books, or the whole “Journey Through Bookland” series? We also had a rec room full of games in the basement but my four brothers and sisters and I usually just created our own games to play. And then there was a neighborhood full of kids always ready for some Kick the Can or Statue-maker. We also had the coolest backyard on the block –with secret hiding places and rare wild flowers. Every year I waited for the white Trilliums to bloom and then visited them daily . . .

I figured out pretty quickly that journeying through bookland, or kicking the can or visiting the Trilliums would not have been any better with Converse shoes on. By the time the next fashion trend came along -– I think it was Alligator shirts -– I couldn’’t have cared less.

So I am not sure how I feel about the new Vespa standing in the carport. It helps a little that my daughter bought it herself with her song contest winnings and that she got 95% on her moped license test. That she has good study habits and helps around the house, doing chores and walking the dogs. That when she is bored, she goes to the piano to work on her songs or start composing a new one. And that I trust her never to just take off on it without telling me first where she’’s going and when she’’ll be back.


I’’m not sure, but I don’’t think I have ever had an idol. Maybe because, as a heathen, I don’t really understand the concepts of “worship” or “devotion”. But if I ever were to have an idol, it would be someone like this man – doing a great thing in a small way and reaffirming my faith in humankind in the process.