Thursday, April 30, 2015

Project Love

The craft project I've been using to teach my granddaughter crafts, math, English, business, and some other more elusive skills such as problem-solving, organization, thinking ahead, and even empathy, is all over but the sale itself.  The car is packed and ready and the granbeanie herself will sleep at my house tomorrow night because we have an early start on Saturday.

I feel pretty good about it.  Her craftsmanship has improved, even if she did not completely master wheel throwing.  That can take time!  She understands how to use all four arithmetic operations in real-life situations. She's written extensively about the project and has mastered paragraph construction, complex sentences, the proper use of clauses, which preposition to choose and how to punctuate.  She understands the concepts of costs, revenues, profits, loss, and philanthropy.  I think that's rather a lot for a 9-year-old!

She's is excited about Saturday and it promises to be a sunny day.  Fingers crossed! This has been a lot of work for me but I keep thinking that long after my granbeanie is grown and I am long gone, she will remember everything I have taught her with all the love I have put into it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Brave New World

Like most people these days I belong to a number of groups online.  I have several pottery groups where we exchange information, ask for help, and so forth.  There are a couple of writing groups that do basically the same thing.  And then there's a group or two of virtual friends I've picked up along the way here and there.  I find these groups helpful, amusing, sometimes a little nuts and I always try to add whatever I can to the conversation to be helpful.

That's why I was so surprised to find myself at the center of a personal attack over the weekend when I expressed my opinion, in response to a post, that I believe writer's block exists only in our heads.  It is not a thing of itself and we do ourselves no favors by believing that if one is a writer, then this disorder exists outside of our control and can derail us indefinately.   No need for details here but no matter what I said to this one young girl, who took it very personally, she insisted that I was calling her a bad writer.  I wished her well and ended the conversation but it got me to thinking.

A few days before this, on another site, someone broke in and posted a pornographic image, for the second time in a week.  Thinking I was alerting the admins to it, I posted, "Where are the admins?" There are several and they piled on me saying I could have deleted the post and that are volunteers who don't work 24/7.  I said I had deleted it from my timeline but thought they would want to know. I was being very concilitory, but they seemed to feel very put out and just repeated that they don't work 24/7.

Ah, this brave new world where our every word is black and white and no soft voice or body language helps indicate our meaning.  I have to think, though, that perhaps our virtual reality has given us thin skins.  Are we all so coddled that an opposing opinion provokes such defensiveness? Personally, I choose to engage with people, mostly of like mind, but also with differing opinions. I try to take nothing personally, even when my name is attached it, because I know when one speaks in anger or frustration, it is usually a reflection of something happening in that person's life and has nothing to do with me.

So, I hope everyone has a lovely day without drama and tries to be as helpful as possible to our fellow travelers as we all journey forth.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I'm about halfway through the final edit of my novel.  It's been alternately grueling and engrossing.  It got me thinking about how difficult it is to edit not just one's own work, but also one's self.

Few of us are totally at ease with everything about ourselves.  I think I am more so than most, but I have been stymied in a few areas, one is exercise.  It's not that I hate it or don't want to do it; it's just that the relatively minor things wrong with my body result in more pain and possible damage with exercise.

So how do I edit this?  Walking, running and other exercises that require footwork is out due to a heel spur.  More than a mile or two and I have raging inflammation that I cannot treat with anti-inflammatories due to the lack of a kidney.  Weights are also out due to stenosis in my neck and even something like yoga or some other class is impossible because I am prone to vertigo with changes in position or sudden movements.

Yet as I age, I know I need to solve this riddle.  I have tried just sucking it up and exercising anyway only to find myself unable to walk, or with nerve pain and numbness, or nauseated.  I've asked my doctor, physical therapists, and personal trainers.  I've tried alternating exercises, just doing a little, and doing it just a few times a week.

I know there are some problems without solutions and this may be one of them.  Sometimes I think I am fortunate to have arrived at this age without major health issues but this array of minor issues has created this frustrating problem for me.  And that could result in major issues, such as weight gain, heart issues and high blood pressure.

So I go back to my book and edit what I can.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Doing the hard stuff

When I started teaching my granbeanie she was in the second grade and my lessons were hit and miss.  I was still working a job and didn't have much time.  This year, her third grade, we've done much better.  I thought about this child, how smart she is and how unwilling she is to fail, and as a consequence of that, how unwilling she is to try new and difficult things. So I set about two tasks for her first half of the year: She would type every day and she would learn to actually throw a pot on the potter's wheel.  My goal was not so much for her to become a speedy typist or a practicing potter, but to teach her that with repeated practice and work she can do hard things.

In the second half of the year, I let both these go in order to teach her the more usual things a third-grader must learn: long division, sentence structure, American history, spelling.  I tried to put things in context for her and it struck me that she needed a project that would tie together many of the things she has learned.

She decided on having a crafts booth at our local farmers market.  At first she wanted to knit things for it.  So I showed her how to knit.  I encouraged her to use what we already own, to cut down on the costs of production.  She made some slab pots and painted rocks.  We made some potholders. She made bracelets and charms.  We even have a hamburger paperweight!

What did she learn? How did I teach?

She learned that one has to have capital or existing resources to begin an entrepreneurial project. She learned that the first money earned goes toward paying expenses and that profit begins when expenses are repaid.  She learned that craftsmanship matters. She learned to produce stuff efficiently. She has learned that one must provide a variety of items at different price points.  She has learned to price her work by a) what she has in it (materials, time, skill) and b) by what the market will bear. She also learned how to write out a spreadsheet with costs and projected income.  She knows the break-even point.  The most important thing she has learned is that all of this is within her power to control.  Simply put, that she can do this.

I taught her some craft skills, a little math and how to round numbers and perform calculations in her head, a little about business, a little about marketing, and a bit about English.  I made her write at every stage of this project about what we were doing.  I had a silent laugh when I read her final essay where she said, "Knitting takes too long!"

Now, here's what I learned:  That I could homeschool this child, so precious to me.  I learned I could pass on skills I know she'll need along with the subjects she has to have. I learned that everyone learns better when skills are put into proper context. I guess you could say that we both learned that we could do the hard stuff!

Friday, April 24, 2015


My granbeanie is homeschooled, partly by her parents and partly by me.  I take it very seriously.  I want her to grow up smart and prepared for whatever life may hand her.  Sometimes I don't feel up to the job.  After all, how does one crack open a little head and pour in everything they need to know?

The tasks I set for myself are to teach her how to use language well and to understand history in the context of the times in which it occurred.

To do the former, I have made her write, and write, and write some more.  I take each story, each poem, each essay and mark it up for grammar, spelling, use of language and content.  I've taught her how to construct a paragraph, how to write a topic sentence and how to choose the right word.  I've challenged her to write about everything from fiction to book reports.  And it shows.

The granbeanie likes to talk to adults and I like to talk to kids.  So, we talk about history and how so much of it revolves around war, getting resources, religion and how it is always written by the victors.  We watch documentaries and read and again I challenge her with questions:  What would you do?  Which side would you be on?  What would that mean?

What I don't do is drill her on dates or the names of generals or rulers.  I have encouraged her to read biographies of people important but not necessarily the movers and shakers.  She read a biography of Clara Barton and is now reading Louis Pasteur's biography.  I have encouraged her to think about those who have made life better for everyone and I think these two qualify.

Most of all, I try to have fun with her.  Here's one of her trinket plates with a bracelet she made.  Her crafts project has been a lot of work for me but she has enjoyed it and is looking forward to her booth next week.

Someday I'll be gone and my granbeanie will be all grown up.  She'll be able to write and speak and to critically analyze the events around her.  I hope she will grow up smart, empathetic, and will never lose her desire to create. She'll know I had a hand in that.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sweet Youth

So, today the granbeanie and I are doing a wrap-up of the final tasks for some of the craft booth items we've made.  We're varnishing some items, touching up paint on others, completing a few things.  Also, as this is a school project, I made her write an essay about the project, using good paragraph structure, complete thoughts, and complex sentences.

As I  set her up to write, I gave her my phone, set it to google and showed her how to ask it to spell words she has trouble with.  I had to chuckle as she went along because, as a result of missing front teeth, google gave her back nothing but plurals!

Finally, she completed the essay and I was pleased with the result.  However, she spelled "figured" as "fingered" and I laughed and said, "That's just creepy!"  as I lightly used my fingers to tickle her arms. We then ran around the living room fingering each other until we collapsed - my in laughter, her in hiccups!

I am so fortunate to be able to do this!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A way forward

Now that I am partially retired I am constantly busy.  I homeschool one of my granddaughters, I make pottery and I write, in addition to my work for America's Warrior Partnership.

As a way to teach crafts, math, economics and a bit of business to my granbeanie, as I call her, I let her create an end of term project.She chose to make items for a crafts booth.  I've made her track costs, estimate time and figure potential profit.  We will rent a booth at a local market and sell her item on May 2.  I've explained that while we will probably make back our actual costs, we are unlikely to cover all costs.  We are not considering the cost of anything I already owned or our time for this purpose.  So we need to make $28 to turn a profit for our purposes or $104 to make a full profit.

I was a reluctant homeschooler.  The decision was made by my daughter and her husband last year. I said I would help with English and art but when my daughter gave birth to a little boy with a rare genetic disorder last fall, I had to step up and take on more of the homeschooling.  It is a lot of work and I have a great deal of respect for those families who willingly take this on.  My granddaughter is not homeschooled out of any kind of religious motive.  Rather it happened because so much of her time at school was spent waiting for the rest of the class to settle down.

I feel privileged to have this second chance to influence another generation.  We get to talk a lot, my granbeanie and I, as we progress through her studies.  I have taught her more than crafts: I have taught her how to write, which, in essence, is really how to think. I have taught her to care about craftsmanship and how to do a thing well, not just sufficiently.  I have impressed on her how history is presented according to the author and I have encouraged her to view events from all perspectives. And I hope I have presented an empathetic world view and a sense that she can do anything.

My goal with my granbeanie is to make her an aware, competent and kind young woman.  If, along the way she can punctuate and spell, do math and throw pots, it's all good.

On Writing

The following was published a short time ago in a writing group to which I belong.  I thought it might be helpful to others as well.

So many here have posted various questions about how to start writing, how to get beyond a block, or how to get inspiration, that I thought I would share my experience. I realize that each person has his or her own way of doing things, and I am not trying to change anyone with this, but for those of you who are starting out, I will share my experience. 

Let me say at the start that I am 64 and have written and been paid for writing since I was 18. I’ve written for newspapers and magazines. I’ve written for companies and nonprofits. I’ve written speeches and grants. Only in the last decade have I begun to write books. That said, writing is writing and the lessons translate well from genre to genre.

When I was a cub reporter, decades ago, I remember sitting in front of my typewriter in the newsroom with panic. What do I write? How do I start? It occurred to me then that a) I had a deadline I had to meet and b) it was my JOB to write. So I wrote. This was my first lesson in discipline and there has not been a month since that I haven’t said to myself, “It’s your job. Just do it.”

In 2005 I was laid off from a job I loved (writing) and I decided to follow a different path. I have always done pottery, but as a hobby, and my skills were rusty and out-of-date. So I enrolled in a concentrated course of study for pottery. The instructor had all of us - newbie to experienced - throw nothing but small cylinders (the easiest form) for weeks. Many of us grumbled. “We know this. We want the good stuff.” Suffice it to say that perfecting the basics IS the good stuff and makes everything that follows easier. For me, it also taught me that to make pottery I had to sit at my wheel and actually throw something.

Then, a few years ago, I decided to enter National Novel Writing Month - 50,000 words in a month! I already had an idea for a novel and I thought, “How hard can it be?” What I learned in that month was that I had to give up something or more than one something. I did not watch TV. I passed on invitations from friends. I turned down favors people asked of me. I did no pottery. I even took a day of vacation time. But what I really did was sit down and write. Every day. I worked a fulltime job and came home and wrote. I did not edit. I did only a little research. Those things I did after that month. The lesson here was that my writing had to take precedence over the time-eaters in my life.

So, my writing friends, especially those of you who have not established a routine that works, those of you who are stuck, my advice is simply this: write. Do what you have to do. But perfect your basics as you go. Just as I had to throw cylinder after cylinder to get uniform walls, a flat floor, a rounded rim, you must use good grammar, proper spelling, and decent punctuation. Don’t sweat the small stuff – the titles, the spacing, the non de plumes, the exact adjective. Just write. As you write one of two things will happen: either you will polish your skills and turn out readable stuff or you won’t. But find out.

Nothing gets done, nothing is created, and nothing is finished until one actually does it. If you want to build a house, you measure, pour a foundation, hammer nails. If you want to write a novel, start with turning off the phone, the iPad, the TV and sitting down and writing. If you are a writer, it is your job. Just do it. And don’t be so sensitive. Your words are just words. They are not your spleen. Let others point out where they are awful as well as where they are good. Take criticism graciously, as the gift it is. In pottery, I make my students cut their precious pots in half, vertically, so they can see their uneven walls and thick floors. It is what my editors did with me as a young writer and I am the better for it. You will be, too. Don’t be afraid to change, to dump passages, to rewrite. Just do it. Write. No one will hold your hand. Writing is a solitary craft. Hone it on your own. Just write. Or don’t.

My birthday post

When The Beatles sang “When I’m 64” I was a child and the very idea that I would ever be 64 years OLD was as foreign to me as any I might have entertained.  But today that day has arrived and I thought I’d share all the reasons I am delighted to be 64.

I am happy in a way no one who still has most of life before them could understand.  I am satisfied with what I have accomplished in life, even though as I look back, I see how I might have done more, been better, avoided some of the potholes of life.  I raised two daughters, mostly on my own.  My goal was simply to raise competent women, and that they are, but they are so much more: accomplished, informed, aware, kind, successful.  And, they like me! They share their children with me, allowing me that second chance to be better and do more. And though I was unable to give them much materially, they are still grateful to me and have acknowledged my sacrifices for them. What more could a parent want? They are my best work.

As a child I wanted to be a writer and a potter.  And I am both.  I am satisfied with that and find joy and great satisfaction in making my pots and writing my stories. Somehow, I, too, have become competent.  When I recently painted a canvas, my oldest granddaughter gasped and said it was beautiful and I should sell it for $500.  Though I am no painter, I was pleased I impressed her and I encouraged her to reach beyond what she is comfortable doing.

I am not, in fact, losing my hair, as Paul intoned but instead have let my grey hair grow longer than at any time in my life - because I can.  In my younger years, long hair took too much time from working and parenting.  I worried that it would have frizz or dents.  Now I catch it up with a clip to work at my wheel or brush it out and tuck it carelessly behind my ears. I no longer lust after new clothes or fashionable shoes. I live in my collection of jeans and men’s shirts.  I am comfortable in my own skin.

I have enjoyed great love, friendships that run as deep as family, and the companionship of any number of pets - all strays - that I have saved and who have saved me in return.  I have stood on snowy mountain tops and also gazed into the depths of the Grand Canyon.  I have lived in big cities and rural towns so small the Fourth of July parade went by twice. I’ve run on beaches on both coasts, drunk wine in vineyards, marched on Washington and camped in the mud at Woodstock.  I have lived. There’s more life left and I know now how to get the most out of it.
I am satisfied, comfortable, content.  I am 64.