Gearing Up for Iceland

I’ve already purchased the most important parts of my gear for my upcoming trip to Iceland…hiking boots, socks, and my geologic field book. I’ll wear the boots every day, hiking around volcanos, geothermal pools, and fault lines. The socks are also key. I got the best, warm socks with no seams which are knit to conform to your foot. The notebook was prescribed…a waterproof, bound book with geologic references in the back. Next up? Layers.

I bought my boots at REI. I don’t know what it is about them that drew me there, but I couldn’t even think of another place to go. Once there, I was surprised to learn that they are a co-op and that membership of $20 (which goes to local trails) gives you entrée to discounts and more. In my first trip, I got my boots, socks, and water shoes. The water shoes will be nice for the hostel shower, but I really bought them for fording streams (don’t you just love the adventure in those words?).

My second trip, I was in search of rain gear…my outer layer. The weather will be between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I will need to go out for the day with clothing that protects me from rain and snow and sun. I could head out in a snow squall, spend hours making observations in the rain, and then find myself at a geothermal pool ready to swim. The sun will be up for 20 hours and in twilight-mode for the other four hours. What to wear, what to wear!

The helpful folks at REI helped me find a rain jacket and rain pants. For some reason, the woman helping me thought I was going to Iceland with my husband, despite my correcting her multiple times. I told her I was traveling there with a class. Finally, she got it and apologized. Then she told the next associate that “the teacher” needed help finding a waterproof pen. I let that one slide. Yes, I am a 52 year old student…being mistaken for a teacher is an honor!

In the end, I chose the low-end products for my outer layer. You can spend a fortune on this stuff, but I’ll only need it for a couple of weeks. I need to buy bigger sizes so that I can wear a light jacket and pants over at least two other layers for warmth. When the associates tried to get me to buy other layers, I demurred. I have tons of running gear and I’m pretty sure that I can fill my suitcase with my winter running tights, running jackets and long-sleeved T’s. I don’t need backpacking-specific clothes when I already have similar gear for running.Buff

I did succumb to something called a “Buff”. This turned out to be $20 for $5 dollar worth of fabric. I bought into the concept of a lightweight loop of fabric that I could wear around my neck and use to warm my neck, face, and/or head just by shifting the fabric.

In the end, it’s not about fashion. It’s about flexibility. I’m not ready to pack yet, but I am thinking ahead to when I will. I need a few new things…hopefully things I can continue to use after my trip. In the meantime…

Find the Joy in the Journey…and remember, you can’t go wrong with layers!




First High School, Then Empty Nest

It is time to apply to high school. Yes, I know, only 10% of American children go to private school…and of those only 10% go to an independent school. For my third child, it is a given that she will go to a Catholic school, just like her older brother and sister. Her brother went to an independent Jesuit school. I fell in love with the whole Jesuit philosophy while he was there; the theme of the Jesuits is “men and women for others”…right in my heart to focus on stewardship. They focus, also, on education, and that steals my heart away too. The only Jesuit high school in the area is all-boys, so my older daughter went to a school run by the Sisters of Mercy. She got such a fabulous education that she finds college “easy”. She goes to a Jesuit university, so you know it’s not particularly easy.

My younger daughter long ago decided she wanted to go to the same high school as her big sister. On the one hand, I’m thrilled…it’s a great, college-prep school. It’s an all-girls school, which doesn’t necessarily appeal to most girls, but allows the students to focus on academics, sports, and student politics without the distraction of boys. For girls this can be huge…the difference between letting yourself shine and hiding your light under a bushel. I also love that in their first year they are referred to as Freshwomen. The downside is that it is not easy to get to from where we live. I live close to my work and the school is 30 minutes away in moderate traffic. If I drive her to school, I suddenly face rush hour traffic back to our town where I work…and when I pick her up, I face rush hour traffic on the way, if an easy ride home. It can take me an hour and a half for each roundtrip when the traffic is bad.

I had this same dilemma when I decided to send my older daughter there…but I took a leap of faith that it would all work out some how. It did work out, more or less. She found a ride the first two years. The first year worked pretty well. I’d drop her off at the other girl’s house before work and the other girl would drop her off at home after school. The second year, the other girl was a Senior and things got less reliable. We muddled through anyway, with the occasional unplanned trip to either take my daughter to school or pick her up. When she was a Junior, we had a new dilemma. I had a car for her, but she was only 15. She had a friend who had her license, but no car. We made a deal. Meanwhile, my daughter got her license on her 16th birthday and drove herself from there on out.

I have thought of sending my younger daughter to the local parochial high school. It would be a bit shorter drive for me than I have now taking her to school. It would be slightly less expensive. She’d have just as much opportunity to play sports. On the other hand, it’s bigger and co-ed. I know she’d do well there, but I’d prefer she go to an all-girls high school. I also know that she would be very unhappy if I made her go there. She has been set on her older sister’s alma mater for years and has convinced many of her friends to go there too. Some are already there, former classmates from her current school which teaches in multi-age classes.

So, what I’ve done for her siblings, I will do for my younger daughter. May she have a joyful journey through high school!

Find the Joy in the Journey…sacrifices joyfully made turn into blessings!

My Top Five Reasons for Volunteering

It is better to give than to receive

There is no shame in needing help and asking for it…but I seem to be incapacitated when it comes to asking for help. I do it, and then I feel horribly guilty the whole time. I don’t usually give back to the same people I ask to help me. I think that’s where the guilt comes in…but I love the concept of “paying it forward” and I often help out in many different ways and I believe that in the end, we are all supposed to ask for help humbly and give help generously.

Even though I’m completely out of shape physically, I can still rake leaves or wield a paint brush

Through team-building exercises at work, I can spend two workdays a year volunteering in my community with my coworkers. Usually this ends up being physical labor. I’ve raked leaves out of the pedestrian areas at the zoo, I’ve painted over graffiti in a gang-challenged neighborhood, and I’ve washed windows at a historic landmark. All of these ways of giving back to my community are purely physical…they are the time element of time/treasure/talent…

Using my business experience adds real value to a small non-profit

Hey, I’ve worked for 23 years at a top corporation and, believe me, accolades and kudos are hard to come-by no matter how good you are or how hard you try. But when you sit on the board of a non-profit, you find many people burning with passion for the mission, but with not a clear idea how to translate that into a viable business model. Often you find the false concept that a non-profit is not a business…but of course it is; the financials must be in proper order to protect the integrity of the organization and ensure it has the funds to pursue its mission.

To raise money for a worthy cause

I recently put out an appeal to my friends and family to support an organization that provides tutoring and writing support for children…and I was so happy to find a ground-swell of support to join me in raising funds. I had to put myself out in front of a crowd at a local bar, wearing a fake mustache and attempting to spell impossible (and, might I add, mis-pronounced!) words. I totally failed at the spelling! I totally succeeded in the fundraising. Please keep in mind that your donations, most of them in the $25 range, are incredibly important to small, non-profit organizations.

To support an idea that I am passionate about

I have many, many passions, and I have only scratched the surface on the number of organizations that I would love to support with time, treasure, and/or talent. I’ve been on the boards of two wonderful organizations, both involving children’s education. The first is a private school that dedicates itself to the talented, creative, and gifted children of the community. I live a bit too far to have sent my own children to the school, but I have and continue to struggle to find appropriate educational opportunities for my children. I found it immensely gratifying to see this organization through its infancy and past normal and not-so-normal financial hurdles to self-sufficiency.

The second organization, where I am in my last year before I’ll be term-limited, supports creative and expository writing for children 6-18 and provides support to teachers in the classroom and after school tutoring, among other things. This place engages, even mesmerizes children. Kids who have given up on society have found a voice and a way to express it through this non-profit. I am inspired by the kids and I am inspired by my fellow board members, some of whom are published authors (yes, this blog-writer has wanted to be a “real” writer since I was 6…this association is heaven to me!)

So, I suppose I could go on and on about stewardship, but this much I know to be true…if you give of yourself, your time, treasure and your talent, you will find…

The Joy in the Journey!

Creativity and Conformity

Funny how inspiration can come from where I least expect it and I’m off on a tear to tell another story. This time it was the blog of a friend of mine who is the Head of School of a small, independent school for gifted, creative, and talented children. It was about creativity and conformity. I started looking for some research on the subject, but found nothing that I hadn’t already read and that was already 20, 30, or even 50 years old! One article mentioned that a particular “study” would have been more effective if the children had been tested for creativity first…so much for the scientific method or the proper use of statistics! But, popular wisdom does hold, and some research supports, that children lose creativity as they get older. Now, why that is would have to be the subject of a properly conducted test…but some believe that it’s due to the conforming nature of the school environment.

Well, I’m not here to conduct such an experiment, but only to add to the empirical data by sharing my experience with raising three very creative children and how well or poorly they conformed to school norms. As parents, my husband and I struggled in some situations and knew what to do in others, to support our children’s creativity. I must admit, though, that it’s often a craps shoot and you just pray you get some of it right!

My son is an incredibly creative thinker, but that is most often hidden by the fact that he is a very critical thinker. I can’t tell you the number of debates, I mean discussions, we’ve had where I’ve just given up because I simply can’t keep up with him. When he was younger, he’d come up with these incredible schemes and, not wanting to dampen his enthusiasm but also wanting him to be somewhat grounded in reality, I tended to respond that he ought to take a physics course, economics course, statistics course, etc. depending on the issue at hand. Eventually he did. He still has lots of crazy ideas, but maybe not so crazy anymore. But there’s more to conformity than learning how much more there is to learn.

My son never was much for homework. Now, this was a conformity that my husband and I, not to mention his teachers, advisors, counselors, and principals, insisted upon. It didn’t help. We tried carrots…ok, I don’t think we actually did that. We tried sticks…Game Boy will be banished for a week! I learned a lot about my son over the Game Boy banishing…this really, really bothered him,  but he acted as if it didn’t…that’s how determined he was not to conform to society’s expectations (much less those of his parents). We tried therapy…this worked somewhat. We learned to be the opposite of the helicopter parent (not that we were ever in danger of that) by insisting he sit at the dining room table with his homework in front of him and nothing else to do. One day he had a box of cereal on the table and he was doing the math problems on the box that were above his level while ignoring the math homework in front of him. Sigh. This was consistent with feedback from his homeroom teacher that he always did the math challenge of the week, and he always got it right even if it was something he’d never learned formally. But he wouldn’t do his homework for her.

In high school, he aced every test he ever took, but he had mediocre grades because…he didn’t do his homework. I was constantly frustrated by this, but I think I do “get” it. There is a supreme logic in not doing what doesn’t need to be done. Why do homework when you already know the material inside and out? The final repercussion was not getting into the elite colleges to which he applied.

My older daughter has an artistic streak in her a mile wide. It has been our job to help her get to the mile-deep stage. For my husband, a creative guy himself, this has been accomplished by sharing his love of play and art with her. Of teaching her that solitary play can be very imaginative play especially when there are no formal toys involved…toilet paper tubes, tape, scissors, paper and crayons are much more fun, don’t you think? My method has been more pragmatic. I’ve made sure that she has had enrichment programs to nurture her love of art. She’s had automotive design, architecture, graphic design, ceramics, and photography classes. I made sure that she went to a high school with a strong visual arts program and been supportive of her choice to take 8 semesters of art in high school.

This same artistic soul is also an empathetic soul. She has conformed to all social norms, including (yeah!) doing her homework. She’s a compliant student, for the most part (she has been known to get the giggles in class when too wrapped up in the social scene than the classroom scene, but she outgrew that in middle school). She is the most compliant of my children when it comes to social situations. I think this is partly due to being a girl, girls are socialized much harder than boys to “fit in”, and yet, I think that girls are also more naturally inclined to try to fit in and make peace than boys.

And then there is my younger daughter. Conformity is not in her DNA. She’s the only extrovert amongst my children. I had her in a parochial school through 3rd grade and she had more than her fair share of clashes with teachers. It wasn’t that she misbehaved; it’s that she was too eager to answer all the questions and she did have something to contribute to every conversation. I learned this from the teachers that enjoyed her enthusiasm. From the others, I heard it all cast in a negative way. Moving her to a Montessori school has made all the difference in the world. There the teachers let the students guide each other through normal social interactions to learn what is “okay” and what’s not. She has learned when to curb her enthusiasm and when to take the lead. She has had to learn how to conform socially, but in a real world way and not in a top-down, hierarchical, because-I-say-so way.

So, what does this all mean? Well, for one, every child is different and treating them all the same disadvantages the most creative children. It also means that both the school environment and the family environment play huge roles in fostering creativity rather than letting it be squashed by a need for conformity. Some children will never fully conform. Their road is a hard one and many don’t make it through. For the children who conform readily, it can mean losing some or all of their creativity, but it doesn’t have to.

Find the Joy in the Journey and revel in the creativity of children…for there is fostered the great innovations of the future.

The Art of Beauty; The Beauty of Art

I have been thinking about art and beauty the last few days; of music and dance, sculpture and paintings, films and poetry. Art is never something I have associated with myself, enjoying it, but not creating it. Even though I quit everything I ever tried along those lines, my mother kept signing me up for things throughout my childhood…tap, ballet, piano…I am grateful for that. She is also behind the family trips we made to the museum. I was blessed by growing up in a time when public schools still valued art and music and fieldtrips to the theater.

My paternal grandfather was an artist. He repaired furniture for a living, but he decorated furniture and painted as a sideline. The art gene skipped me right-on-by, but my love of art grew the more I was exposed to it in a variety of forms. I don’t think it’s any wonder that I fell in love with an architecture student, who matched my visual-spacial style of thinking (I as an engineering student), but was quite a bit more right-brained than me.

Our children all have some artistic talent, and we’ve encouraged them all equally up to the point when their own true passions took over, then we ran with that. My older daughter, however, has art in her blood and turns just about everything she works on into some expression of her creativity. My son wasn’t willing to put the work into his art that my daughter has, but he has a deep appreciation for opera, theater, art, and music that I like to think is because we exposed him to it all as much as we could. My younger daughter is only 11 and the world is her oyster. She loves theater and is blessed to have a friend’s father offer a professional theater program after school. Meanwhile, in summer camp at her school, she made this self-portrait in the style of Modigliani.

It has been one of my deepest values as a parent to provide the best education I can afford to my children. I know for some, far more patient and talented than me, parents do this through home schooling, but that was never a viable option for me. Instead, we were lucky to find schools that fit our children individually and were within reach financially. Sometimes, this has meant three children in three different schools which often led to episodes of me tearing my hair out trying to manage it all, but it has been worth it. When I’ve put one or more of them in a school that was not the best fit for them, but fit a suddenly reduced budget, I’ve learned how easily the fire can be put out in a young mind and juggled the budget and made other sacrifices to get them back where they needed to be.

I grew up with music and art classes in school, and so have my children. It’s a travesty that some public school boards do not value the arts, nor seem to have any understanding of the life-long value of arts education. My children have also had language classes at school, starting in Kindergarten for my older daughter, first grade for my son, and fourth grade for my younger daughter. I started language in high school, after my brain was so hardwired for English that picking up a new language was a struggle.

When I traveled with my family to a niece’s graduation near Washington DC a few years ago, we traveled to Mount Vernon for a tour, we toured the monuments in DC, we stood in a long line to view the Declaration of Independence (and marveled at one of the original copies of the Magna Carta being totally ignored by the hoards waiting to see the Declaration of Independence), and we ate in a tapas restaurant to try something new.

When my boss asked me about my trip, he declared that his kids would never put up with a trip like that, they would call it a field trip and say they wanted a vacation. He said something similar when I mentioned taking my family to the opera. To each their own, I guess, but I think his family missed out on something special.

So, as I work on my 50 by 50, one thing I’m trying to do is surround myself with more beauty. De-cluttering, ironically, is one of those things that help, although it’s discouraging in how difficult it is to keep up with the clutter and create oases of calm. It’s in choosing the music I listen to and the pictures I have around me. It’s in the places I choose to visit and the events I choose to attend. I am trying to nurture myself on beauty and art and willfully trying to push away negativity. It’s not an easy journey, but it is one that builds on itself. I feel less negative than I did when I started this journey and I hope to be in some sort of nirvana by the end, and I’m only slightly kidding! This is why, of all my recent projects, I most appreciate the butler’s pantry project…the lack of clutter, and the lovely piece of art made by my older daughter give me such peace…I’ve sneaked a peak of it two or three times a day since!

Now, this is not to say that I want to turn a blind eye to suffering and pain in the world, it’s just that in my down time, I need to nurture myself so that I am able to deal with the ugly part of life. I want to be a calming influence to friends in distress, a stoic when faced with adversity in the world…and I can’t do that if I burn myself out on the ugliness in ordinary life.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and absorb the beauty of humanity so that you can deal with anything.