Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.



Yesterday a young father spoke about the pass/fail system in his daughter’s school, replacing grades as a measure of learning.  He also spoke about what he perceived as a need for supporting home values in the school setting.

Later in the morning, I asked the daughter about school.  She talked about red, yellow and green days and how she didn’t get enough green days and how she might not get to first grade if she kept getting red days.  My mental visual was a car moving towards traffic lights and a red day was full stop.  The child’s perception was the punishment of repeating kindergarten because she didn’t ‘do good’  with the colors.

Recently, I toured a prospective kindergarten with my daughter-in-law as she made decisions about placement for the fall.  When I asked the teacher to talk about her philosophy of discipline, she responded:  “Oh, you must mean Class Room Management.”  Then she talked about charts, symbols to move for inappropriate behavior, a series of token rewards handed out after a week of non-disruptive behavior.  No.  I did not mean Class Room Management.  I meant Philosophy of Discipline.

Years ago, several colleagues and I stood against many of the self-esteem ‘innovations’ bombarding the classroom.   The idea of always  praising did not match our philosophy of discipline:  Teach a child to love doing what is right, rational, truthful and what matches the definition of good.  For the very young child, the classroom rules were:  Do Your Best,  Tell The Truth,   Be Kind.

At the continued behest of a friend I finally watched a weekly television program designed for high school students.  Whoa.   High school is not this granny’s high school any more.

A local NPR radio program scheduled for today will be a discussion of the media.  Is the media a Pied Piper (my concept) or is the media a mirror reflecting the reality of day-to-day life?

Tying this rant together takes a web, but there is a sticky connection.

The young father’s conservative values hold fast to a very basic conservative tenet–a flawed tenet–the assumption that everyone in the classroom shares a core of values.   He reads Bible stories to his children and that same Bible has no purchase in the lives of  other kids in the class.  Even if the teacher shares the same beliefs as the young father, the teacher can never overtly teach those values unless the setting is a private school based on shared beliefs.

Classroom Management evolved when punishment became a negative.  Punishment could no longer be a consequence of personal behavior.  Self esteem had to be saved at all cost.  No child could be made to feel bad, but still the classroom had to be managed.  Behavior charts ran rampant.

My classroom rules had the same fatal flaw.  Not everyone shared the idea that teaching kids to love doing right would keep them from doing wrong.  Not all family values matched the concept of respect for self and others.

The high school focused TV program bursts with beautiful and talented  actors pretending to be teens, singing and dancing in tune with thousands of dollars spent on years of lessons.  The wardrobe alone would break the bank of many families.   That being said, one of the clear and precise messages was acceptance of diversity.  Perhaps that message is well worth my discomfort at the vehicle of the message.

Pied Piper implies that the media is not a reflection but rather a shove, a lure, a force ever searching for more…more glitz, more sensation, more entertainment value to capture an audience for the advertisers.   Louder, longer, more outrageous, ratcheting against the boundaries, doing whatever it takes to get the viewer to buy the product while convincing the audience that the good life comes along with the product.


Revenge Of The Clicker

Shoulder replacement a few years ago necessitated a cushy recliner so Bob could handle the recovery period.  A large wall clock, one of three time-collectors in the room, faced his chair.  Railroading seemed to require at least three clocks in every room.  Retirement didn’t soften that compulsion to be on the minute precise.

On October 21, the large clock stopped.  It stopped at the time of Bob’s death—on-the-minute-precise.  Bob died and a measure of time stopped.

As I sort through years of saved detritus, the measure of Bob is like opening the Sesame cave of wonders.  My John Wayne minimalist of conversation communicated through what he saved.

Bob loved us all, me, Mark, Elizabeth, Paul, Dan, Chris, Kaiya, Ida, Kristi, Cain Molly, Frank, Sam and Henry.   He loved us.  If Bob is in a place of awareness now, he is marveling at how they love him back in the way they are taking care what he loved.

Two-Names offered words of friendship, “Find My Queendom”.   I have lived in my Queendom.  There were too many times that I failed to treasure it, but I lived it.  My amazing family is preserving the Queendom by the depth of their caring.  No Queen has ever had more.

Unless, of course, she controlled the clicker, the remote, the quick change magic that flashed through the TV menu responding to only one viewers ideas of interesting.  Bob The Tyrant ruled the clicker, handing off the decision only when nothing sparked him.  Our taste in entertainment did not often mesh but I did learn a great deal about his favorites— animals, weather, maps,  history———-and the history of animals, maps and weather——–and the effect of weather on animals, maps and history.  Good thing he never found a program on the mapping of animals, weather and history.  I might have gotten really mad!

After a late evening run to the recyle bins, I needed a break.  Quick shower, beverage in hand, I reclaimed the clicker to discover the magic of that quick run-through the channels.

For five minutes, it would not respond.  Nothing.  No clicks.  No quick changes.  Nothing.  “This isn’t funny, Bob.  We can watch together, but the clicker is mine.”  It worked.  I clicked.  I saw.  I watched some animal show.

Smiling at my nonsense.  Bob didn’t say hello by an intervention with the remote.  It doesn’t happen like that.  It was a moment away from the hurt of missing him, the loneliness following the death of a piece of the Queendom.  He made me laugh.  The Queen will grow to become whole again.

Wii Wondering

A mother of a five-year old boy believes in trikes and Big Wheels and I shout ‘Bravo’. She follows that with the belief that Wii promotes exercise and I revisit my memory of two young nephews playing with a gift, the  Wii. Following that experience, I saw two older relatives using the same activities. Both experiences took me right to that place where I store all my rationalizations from my children’s growing years.

My relatives used the game for baseball, tennis, bowling and more play after I left the room. Their arms got a nice waving workout and they moved a bit from the waist. The activities lacked the impact of muscle with racket, bat, whatever.

Contrast Wii activities with the fresh air, sunshine and actual running on a tennis court. Consider hitting a baseball and all-out focus on rounding the bases, being part of a team. Feel the power of pounding a serve across the volleyball net. The bend and stretch of bowling coupled with handling the weight of the ball just does not balance with holding the Wii control and watching a TV screen.

Granted, it was fun to watch the kids enjoy yet another electronic toy. And each of these relatives is very active in age appropriate sports plus enjoying the trikes and bikes for the sheer exhilaration of challenging their own abilities. The sport exercise came long before the electronic board game called Wii.

My doubts extend to the belief that playing a game on Wii will carry a child into the actual sport by creating interest through the TV game. Wii is couch potato compared to smacking a ball across the net or racing to make that third out catch.

There is a place for Wii and the laughter and fun associated with it is good for family and friends. But the benefits of real exercises are so much more than laughter and fun. Perhaps every hour spent on Wii should be matched with an hour of true physical exercise and at least one hour a day with a book. That would approach balance.

Empathy Quotient

The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.

The far side of this coin probably results in making excuses for and generally taking behavior outside the realm of personal responsibility. We have all done it. Blamed the coach, the teacher, the neighborhood, even friends for our child’s participation in a negative. That side of the coin spins a very long way.

But where is the other side? Lost in the self needs…the I-want…the so called self-actualization process? Have we become so focused on meeting each of our personal goals/needs that we have lost our grip on empathy?

There are times when I believe that we have created a monster of self-esteem, a monster that chews up our gentler interactions with one another. Of course, I am not negating the value of self-worth, the worth that comes for honest successes.

I am negating the cheering section that praises every crayon mark, insists on trophies for every member of every team, excuses each childhood blunder, and  perpetuates the nonsense of overdone expensive birthday parties.

Empathy requires a putting aside of self in the interest of  ‘caring for and feeling with’ the needs of others. Empathy once softened some of  the bullying of middle school years and I struggle to find that softening. In fact, I struggle to find empathy in many areas of our society.

We laugh at television programs that depict painful harm to others.  Movies and television programs vie for top violence and gore.  Teens can react with astonishment when asked to consider family good before self.  Even some adult conversations become ‘boring’ if not focused on the ME.  It has taken specific legal action to offer mental health care to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

This ramble is not a support of censorship of TV and movies.  What to view is a choice.  It is not a lament of that hell-in-a-handbasket-society thing.  We reap what we have been sowing for a very long time.

Rather this ramble ends with a tribute to those organizations that reach into the worst of situations and attempt understanding and offer care. The list is long and the people involved are courageous and committed.

What is so strange, so out of balance, is the polarization of these concepts.  The vast gulf between ME and those who care for THEM grows wider.

Oprah’s Last Chance

Oprah is probably the most powerful women in this country.  And she has given notice.  In two years she will give up her daily seat of power and move into a different phase.

She overwhelmed the emotions with her role in The Color Purple. She has a glitzy magazine, interviews celebrities daily and could sell ice cubes to Eskimos.

Oprah is beautiful, talented and speaks to the age groups controlling most of the disposable income.

But there is something Oprah has yet to do.

We are out here.  Four Ordinary Women, Seven Locks Press is waiting for the invitation to sit on Oprah’s couch and explain why ordinary speaks to extraordinary…why woman to woman on every level is vital communication.  We are not kidding.  We are ready.   Anyone from Harpo…just give us a click…