Mag #242

Magpie Tales is a blog “dedicated to the enjoyment of poets and writers, for the purpose of honing their craft, sharing it with like-minded bloggers, and keeping their muses alive and well.” Each week, it offers an image as a writing prompt.

Go here to read what other writers have written in response to this prompt.

mother

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,

Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.

But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
trapped in the tangle
of a cord never cut.

There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

adventures in living in a home/school

Most people have a general idea of what home schooling is. What they don’t realize that there are infinite variations of how to go about teaching your kids at home.

My 12 year old grandson is home schooled and has always been. I live with him and his family, and so I am usually right in the middle of it all. My daughter is the facilitator — and that’s what she is, more than a traditional “teacher,” (although sometimes she does play that role). She has chosen not to work at an outside job, so home schooling has become her passion, and she is involved in the regional home schooling community.

Learning here is part of living, and most of the time my grandson learns all of the basic skills, as well as research, communication, ethics, history, civic responsibility etc. etc. as part of some interdisciplinary project in which he becomes involved because he has expressed an interest in it.

The computer is right next to the dining table, and when some question comes up in conversation at a meal, he can turn around and research the answer. He has become very proficient at using the computer to further his learning, either by using actual programs that my daughter has downloaded or by researching and creating his own base of information.

Television also plays a big part in his learning. From Mythbusters to Pawn Stars to documentaries on the History and National Geographic channels, he absorbs information like a sponge.

As an involved observer, there is so much I can write about the processes and the products of home schooling. But what prompts me today is his latest project: pygmy goats and can we have them here as pets.

This interdisciplinary project has just begun and will last until spring, when we will make a decision whether or not we can and will actually get a goat or two. Or three.

In the meanwhile, he has been emailing back and forth with the local zoning office and reading online abut the care and use of goats and how they might be used as a source of income (weeding vacant lots in place of having them mowed). He has ordered a book about the care and feeding of pygmy goats. Over the next several months, there will be visits to places that sell pygmy goats and conversations with the folks who raise them. There will be exercises in figuring out how much land they would need and how to provide for their shelter. These exercises will include a lot of math for measuring as well as for finances.

My role as “grandmother-in-residence” is to listen, encourage, ask questions, and share in the excitement of discovery and adventure. Not at all a bad way to spend part of my retirement time and energy. And, actually, pygmy goats, as their popularity on youtube has proven, are fun to have around. I wouldn’t mind that at all.

slowly growing garden bounty

This year, the family planted an almond tree and a cherry tree. The fruit trees planted in previous years are becoming laden with young edibles. One tomato has shown up, and the bird house is filled to capacity. A little bit of paradise, here.

gardenbounty

columnar apples












peaches











first tomato












occupied bird house.






We don’t have an extra big yard; it’s just a regular house lot. But the family makes the most of it. Such is suburban farming.

The Stubborn Roots of God-ism

OK. This is a rant. Not about religious fanatics or extremists. It’s about reasonably intelligent and educated people who don’t take the time or make the effort to examine and understand the difference between freedom to practice a religion (or not) and the separation of church and state.

It’s all there, folks, in the Bill of Rights and Constitution. There’s no mention of god. There is only the First Amendment, which prohibits the establishment of a national religion.

How much more clear can that be.

But there’s something about people who are devoted to their religion and their version of god that makes them want to insist that it’s a universal truth. It seems to have something to do with the brain and the stubborn roots of god-ism.

Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania has consistently demonstrated that God is part of our consciousness and that the more you think about God, the more you will alter the neural circuitry in specific parts of your brain.

But that’s a rant for another time.

Even those many who believe in the freedom to practice the religion of your choice only seem to go along with that as long as that all-powerful god is part of the equation.

As a secular humanist, all of that is irrelevant to me until they insist that, somehow, America belongs to that god, that in god we must trust, that god blesses America.

I don’t know how to educate such folks. I think the roots of god-ism that religions infuse into the brains of thinking people take such a strong hold in the temporal lobe that it can’t be budged by logic or facts.

The wonderful thing about the internet, and the dangerous thing about the internet, is that once you have put something out there, it pretty much stays there (unless, of course, you cite some researched document that gets eventually pulled from its server.)

A FaceBook discourse that I have been having with my religious family members is out there but is not being accessed in my timeline. From their end, there is a lot of “one nation, under God,” and “In God We Trust”, and offers to send me reading material. They obviously don’t read what I have written in my comments. (“Don’t confuse me with facts; I know what I believe.”)

From my end is what, I think, are cogent explanations the position of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, along with links to more highly developed sources than I.

Since they are not being shared on FaceBook, I am sharing them here. Because I can. Because this is a crucial educational discussion. Because I’m scared to death that such well-meaning (but un-informed) folks will rise to the majority and destroy the foundations of My Blue America.

So, I am herewith repeating my comments to their god-ist urgings. Because I can and because I don’t want to lose my links and arguments. You can tell from my responses what they must have commented. These are my responses to a jpg of “One Nation Under God”:

— We need to go BACK to being one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, regardless of religious or secular beliefs. What matters is The Golden Rule.

— No, if I meant the commandments, I would have said so. The “under god” was inserted into the pledge in 1954 during the Cold War with Russia by a Congress afraid of “godless” communism. This country was founded on a separation of church and state by the wise men who thought it all out originally. I documented it all here, in a history lesson worth knowing about:

— Hey, whatever works for you, I get inspiration from my hummingbirds. But that has nothing to do with the way this country functions; it’s totally an individual thing, and American history informs how that is supposed to work. If you google “The Golden Rule” you will find that just about all religions have that as a basis, as does secular humanism. That gives us a common ground that does not require a belief in god to be good. And I respect your PERSONAL beliefs and lifestyle, but I think you do need a lesson in American history so that you don’t try to impose your version on the rest of this country — which pretty much is the definition of the kind of Sharia Law practiced in some Islamic countries.

— Absolutely. Informed discourse is crucial to the maintenance of a democracy. The problem arises, however, when an “opinion” gets legislated by those who have the power to impose that “opinion” on others who do not share that “opinion.”

— Christine, read my historical documentation. Religion/God and our government were separated right from the beginning. They were never meant to be combined, as they are in Muslim countries. It’s a historical FACT. And it is documented over and over again in what our founding fathers wrote and signed. The Pilgrims did not create the documents that are the laws of our land. And the Pilgrims are hardly good examples living by the Golden Rule. Again, read my researched piece — even though some of the links are so old that they have disappeared, but googling will unearth similar factual documentation.

The Mayflower Compact was a PRECURSOR to what became our Constitution. Because it stressed the “civic values of justice, equality, and responsibility,” the founding fathers built on those values BUT also recognized that the religious part of the document was not a good thing to impose. So they purposely did not include any of that in our Constitution of Bill of Rights. Nowhere in those documents is god mentioned, and I will link to that info in the next comment.

— Excellent piece by PBS:
God In America – People – God and the Constitution

— Ladies, it’s never to late to learn the truth: Quote from the above piece: With Madison’s guidance, the First Congress approved the First Amendment to the Constitution that begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The amendment applied only to the federal government, not to the states. Some states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, continued to use taxpayer money to support established churches. In 1833, Massachusetts became the last state to end such support. [I guess, according to the law, maybe you could establish your own state and have your own state religion. And I guess that would apply to Buddhists, Muslims, etc. But then, that's not what America is about, is it?]

— Well, then, you you really don’t understand what this country is about. And let me clarify my position on religion, in general. If it works for you to help you be a good person, fine. It doesn’t work for everyone. Some of us can be good without god. That’s a different issue from separation of church and state in America. America is not a country founded on “god” or his/her laws. It’s a country founded on secular human values (which, in truth, are shared by all religions). So, Trust in God all you want if that helps get you through the day. But that trust and belief is irrelevant to the laws of our land, despite what you would like to believe.

I am frustrated by the refusal of smart people to accept that they might be wrong about separation of church and state in America. It has to be the result of those stubborn roots of god-ism and the way the brain works. Science will tell.

Suburban Farming on a Shoestring

With all of the concern over GMO foods and pesticide contamination, suburban farming has become a big deal these days. Our family has been growing veggies in a small plot of backyard land for several years now. This year I decided to extend our planting areas to other spots around the house. Instead of flowers, I have planted veggies.

tomatopatchHere is my tomato strip, which runs along the fence that separates us from one of our neighbors. I am experimenting with this red plastic mulch which is supposed to make the tomatoes grow faster and better. It sounds a bit like sympathetic magic to me, but there also seems to be some scientific connection, based on light waves and such.

I have planted beefsteak, Paul Rebeson, yellow grape, and green zebra tomatoes, as well as one that will be a surprise because I lost the marker and can’t remember what kind it was. If all goes well, we should be in tomato heaven.
sidetomatovinewatercress garden
This is a small spot at the front corner of our house that gets nice afternoon sun. Before I took it over for a cherry tomato vine and assorted other edibles (basil, kale, mesclun, dill) it was a patch of useless grass. I threw in some marigold seeds around the tomato plant. Bugs and other critters don’t like marigolds.

A raised bed space alongside the back stairs to my rooms gets sun all morning, and so I planted watercress, purselane, parsley, and cilantro. I never heard of purseland before I went to the Farmers’ Market this afternoon and saw a plant on sale. I like to try a new edible every year, and this is it for this year. Last year’s ground cherries didn’t fare very well.

rosemarywelcomeAn old chiminea that wound up on the front lawn and then lost it’s chimney seemed to be a good place to plant some rosemary and hang a fuschia plant. I put the chimney section aside and will probably plant some kind of vine it by the divider my daughter erected to block the part of the driveway where she puts a table and umbrella.

Folks in our neighborhood never use their front lawns, never sit on their front steps. We do. But then, again, we do a lot of things that the other folks in our neighborhood don’t do, including home-schooling.

And, for me, the best part of our front yard is this, where I often sit late in the afternoon and read, knit, listen to a book on tape, or just snooze. And from this vantage point, I can watch the hummingbirds visit my little hummingbird garden (more on that another time). In another month, the long branches of the willow and the tall grasses planted behind the swing will seclude it from the driveway and the road. This is my little piece of heaven.
readyswing

My Annual Mother’s Day Tribute to My Kids

(I first posted this in 2006.)

Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had been a single mom or not. But because I was, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates.

Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books and taught him how to throw a ball.

But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, they were OK just the way they were/are. (Me and that dear now dead Mr. Rogers.) Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.

So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me young, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.

Never in a million years could I have foretold where my kids would be today.

My daughter home schools my grandson, now 11. This is her bliss, and he is all the better for it. She sometime writes about her experiences as a parent who home schools on her blog walkinglabyrinth.com, as well as on Facebook. I live in the home she makes for the four of us. That’s a surprise, too.

My son, currently between jobs, lives in Portland OR and is the co-owner of and social media manager for nonprofit The Belmont Goats. As always, he maintains a strong internet presence.

Whatever they learned from me over all of those years, I am still learning from them and enjoying having them in my life.

“Common Living Dirt”

We were all out digging and clearing today.

I come from a family of Polish farmers on my mother’s side. (My father’s side of the family were more educated and tended to be white collar workers in old Poland.)

I love digging in the dirt. It has to be in my genes. And that’s also probably why my son is now part owner of a herd of urban goats and just loves taking care of them.

And that’s why this poem by Marge Piercy is one of my favorites:

The Common Living Dirt
by Marge Piercy

The small ears prick on the bushes,
furry buds, shoots tender and pale.
The swamp maples blow scarlet.
Color teases the corner of the eye,
delicate gold, chartreuse, crimson,
mauve speckled, just dashed on.

The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

You can live thousands of years
undressing in the spring your black
body, your red body, your brown body
penetrated by the rain. Here
is the goddess unveiled,
the earth opening her strong thighs.

Yet you grow exhausted with bearing
too much, too soon, too often, just
as a woman wears through like an old rug.
We have contempt for what we spring
from. Dirt, we say, you’re dirt
as if we were not all your children.

We have lost the simplest gratitude.
We lack the knowledge we sowed ten
thousand years past, that you live
a goddess but mortal, that what we take
must be returned; that the poison we drop
In you will stunt our children’s growth.

Tending a plot of your flesh binds
me as nothing ever could to the seasons,
to the will of the plants, clamorous
in their green tenderness. What
calls louder than the cry of a field
of corn ready, or trees of ripe peaches?

I worship on my knees, laying
the seeds in you, that worship rooted
in need, in hunger, in kinship,
flesh of the planet with my own flesh,
a ritual of compost, a litany of manure.
My garden’s a chapel, but a meadow

gone wild in grass and flower
is a cathedral. How you seethe
with little quick ones, vole, field
mouse, shrew and mole in their thousands,
rabbit and woodchuck. In you rest
the jewels of the genes wrapped in seed.

Power warps because it involves joy
in domination; also because it means
forgetting how we too starve, break,
like a corn stalk in the wind, how we
die like the spinach of drought,
how what slays the vole slays us.

Because you can die of overwork, because
you can die of the fire that melts
rock, because you can die of the poison
that kills the beetle and the slug,
we must come again to worship you
on our knees, the common living dirt.

A Day of Memories

aweddingSix years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.

We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.

Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.

Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.

We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.

I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.

Change Happens

Today, in her blog Time Goes By, my blogger friend Ronni Bennett posted about “Making Friends in Old Age” that prompted me to leave her a comment, which I share here.

Until recently, I always considered myself an extrovert — never had any trouble meeting new people and making friends. I joined groups and often even facilitated them. I had no problem walking into a room where I knew no one and striking up a conversation with a stranger. But I’ve changed; life changed me, I guess. Bad knees keep me from doing the dancing I always loved to do, and I no longer like to drive at night.

After living with and taking care of my mother until she passed away, I moved in with my daughter and family, 90 miles from where I used to live. That was about five years ago. Even though I’ve joined some groups, I haven’t clicked with anyone as a friend, even though they and I have made some effort. And I have decided that it’s not a problem.

I thoroughly enjoy doing the things that I love to do and, while it would be nice to share my interests, in person, with some others, it’s no longer necessary the way it used to be. Of course, I have family right on the other side of my door if I feel lonely, and we spend as much time together as I want or need. I also periodically visit with a group of close women friends where I used to live, and we keep in touch online as well. And yes, over the years online I have made new “virtual” friends and also connected with old friends from my past lives.

I have gotten back to writing poetry — which is a solitary endeavor — and I play around with designing and making the kinds of knitwear that stores don’t sell and I like to wear. If Spring ever shows its lovely face, I will garden. I watch shows via Netflix that no one I know watches, like “Crossing Lines” and “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”

It is said that “happiness is not having what you want; it’s wanting what you have.” At my college reunion, an old friend asked me if I am happy. What I told him was that I was content. I want what I have, so, I suppose, I am happy.

I am certainly happy that I have two poems published in this issue of “Mused.”