No Excuses – A Lesson an Intern Learned from Public Radio

by barbara mcveigh

“Thank you for your service to public radio” Michael Krasny of KQED’s Forum Radio Show penned into his book Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life for me when I met him last year.

Public service. It made me look at my experience at KQED as an intern fifteen years ago in a completely different way. Public service. And, here I always thought the studio did me a big favor. It changed the way I look at the world and how I move in it.

To begin with, I couldn’t believe I got that six month internship which turned into a two year experience. All the interns in my group seemed smarter, came from better schools, or powerful families, were gifted writers, or so it all seemed to me. As interns we’d be given the task to book guests for panel discussions about major events locally or in the world. We’d schedule poets, film directors, writers and community leaders who were moving culture, challenging society with political, educational, religious or sexual ideas.

Aside from scheduling guests and preparing shows, we’d have to greet the guests and lead them to the studio for their morning interview with Michael. And, if we were lucky, we’d have a few morsels of time to talk to the guests alone. After a month or so, I was beginning to enjoy this new license of asking questions besides whether guests wanted a cup of coffee. It took time, as I learned people like to talk about themselves. Still I’d often feel the guests were merely being polite to me, the proverbial pig tailed intern. But, there were a few exceptions and those are the ones who left their mark on me.

Waiting for the studio’s cue, I waited with the Film Director Mike Leigh soon after Secrets and Lies hit it big in theaters. It was a gorgeous film about an English white birth mother meeting her adult black daughter years after the mum had put her up for adoption as a baby. The mother has to reconcile the truth of a choice she once made. After denial and conflict, a beautiful relationship emerges.

I tried asking Mike questions about the film to kill the time we had before his interview with Michael, but he was too busy asking ME questions, ones mixed with sincere interest. One of the first questions he asked was whether I was a writer. It just so happened I was writing a lot. I was attending writers’ groups with Tamim Ansary and Joe Quirk, who have since gone on to be excellent writers. The children’s book author Bryna Stevens at age 72 was one my best friends – and an unlikely mentor. I’d hang for hours in her tiny San Francisco studio which was filled with crocheted purses, dust and yellow music sheets of piano music. We talked writing.

So, I told Mike I was trying to write, but I struggled. I wrote about so many different things, but everything was mediocre and most stories never got finished. Each was disconnected from the other. Mike was thoughtfully quiet for a moment. Then as he was being pulled into the studio to begin his interview with Michael, he turned to me to finish his thought, “They are all connected, if they all came from you.”

He should have just walloped me over the head. It would have been gentler inspiration.

After interning with Michael for a year I moved to the news room where I got to work with reporters Kevin Guillery, David Wright and Jason Beaubien who towered over me like lords of journalism, or so I felt. They were my heroes who could get in front of Nancy Pelosi, Quentin Kopp or Willie Brown and shoot hard questions at them and then, with a snap of their fingers, craft balanced news stories weaving together ambient sounds with important truths and perspectives. They were kind to me as I tagged along, helping them with recordings. They were unlike my editor Cy Musiker who was not kind. How he pushed me, yanked me and made me polish  stories laboriously for hours. Writing news did not come easy for me.

When I finally had my first decent piece, Cy, along with opinionated Executive Director Raul Ramirez and the strict engineer locked me up in the sound room to record it for a one minute spot to air the next day. My heart thumped out of my throat. I was not made for this, I reassured myself. Some people glide into this profession. Not me. I didn’t want it, but why did I stay?

For two hours I remained in a closed room that lacked oxygen to work on my radio voice so I could produce a story and share my mediocrity with the masses.

I began to read my story. “Stop. Do it again,” they coached. So, I did, “Deeper this time. Slower.” Then, “Again. Say it like you mean it.” After about the 50th try of  “lower,” “higher”, “slower,” “faster” and so on. I looked at the three of them behind the glass with such built up hatred and vengeance. I was tired of being pushed. Under my breath, I spit out every expletive I’ve ever learned, combined with some new ones. I wanted to kill them. And, I swore I would before storming out of the studio while screaming “I quit!” It’d be dramatic.

I repeated my story, slowly, with strong hatred flowing between syllables, intentional words wrapped with evil thoughts. Then I finished my piece, “. . . and for KQED Radio News, this is Barbara McVeigh”.

All three looked at me in silence. I think it was Cy who said it first with a hint of a smile. “That’s it! That’s the voice!”

His horns began to disappear. My writing improved.

The Academy Awards had just been announced, and Cy sent me to Berkeley to interview a guy named Mark O’Brien who was the subject of a film that had just won Best Documentary. All I knew was this guy was handicapped and had an iron lung, whatever that meant, and his film was called Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work by Mark O’Brien by Jessica Woo. I’d wing the interview, I figured. I was not going to lose this spot. Be reminded, this was all before internet days, and information was difficult to find.

I arrived at a small bottom studio in the middle of Berkeley. I had checked my sound equipment thoroughly to record the interview. My pen and pad were ready to go. I felt completely prepared wearing my professional journalism hat. That’s when I lost it.

Inside a body lay horizontal on a guerney-like bed with a large cylindrical tube encircling the body, arms and legs. A head stuck out with drool running down the lips. The head had a voice, “Come in!.”

I stood before a “brain in a jar” human specimen. I had never before met anyone so severely handicapped.

“Hey, there, do you have a boyfriend, because I’m looking for a girlfriend.” Mark O’Brien said to me. “You’re kinda cute. What’s your name?” I had to laugh. It became clear he know how to put people at ease. He had had polio as a four year old child, leaving his body paralyzed, and this “iron lung” contraption that encased his body had been giving him breath for 40 years. Otherwise, he would be dead.

We talked. I had so many questions for him. He read his poetry to me. He shared pictures, writings and his dreams. He asked for me to put a stick in his mouth which he used to turn pages in a book of poetry or tap his keyboard letter by letter to write stories, articles and more. He told me the wonder of being touched once by a surrogate sex therapist, as he had never before been touched intimately. It had made him cry. He laughed about silly things and told jokes. He was more actively alive and living a fuller life than most people I know who have an entire, healthy body. How can anyone complain or make an excuse about not doing what they want to do? There are no such excuses.

I eventually went on to do other things in my life, though I continue to listen to Michael’s shows and the journalists reportings from around the world. I loved reading Michael’s book about so many inspirational people. Mark died just a couple years ago. And, though I try to live my life asking hard questions, seeking truths and understanding perspectives, I cast aside my own writing.

Recently while cleaning the garage, a box seemingly emerged from the deep dark corner. Inside I found a recording of that interview with Mark O’Brien. It’s like being confronted by an unfortunate decision I made long ago, a truth, an uncomfortable truth that I’ve been denying. And, now it’s facing me again.

Mike Leigh was right. The connections are all there.

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Rock Climbing Spirit

I overheard two moms recently talk about how children separate from their mother’s etheric body or aura at age seven, as they develop their own spiritual sphere. “Poetic”, I thought. But, “get real”, my cynical side kicked in.

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Photo by Mark Miglio

This conversation echoes in my mind as I watch my seven year old daughter Maia climb suddenly and quickly out of reach up a near vertical 70 foot stone precipice. Rock crumbles beneath her feet and hands. It’d be a long, dangerous fall. I resist words of worry or suggestions that could make her lose confidence or simply distract her. She is halfway up. There is nothing I can do but watch and hope she’ll reach the top cliff safely.

Time becomes still for me, yet wind goes on rustling tall pines and sprouting yarrow. The ocean murmurs nearby, reminding me the history of the rock my daughter climbs. Together we learned of chert, a layered deep brown shiny rock made of billions of dead plankton that collected on the floor of an ancient sea. Then, forces of nature and time thrust the formed layers upward from the ocean body to create new mountains and pinnacles.

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Photo by Mark Miglio

Maia continues up, losing her footing more than once. She clings with fingers and then continues, not once saying a word, not even looking down. I can no longer protect her, as I once could. She is on her own. With each breath I take I fear a gasp or scream will follow.

Near me is a forgotten military bunker built for a war before my birth. It’s quiet enough to almost imagine conversations between scared soldiers, young heroic boys, really, with mothers worrying somewhere in homes left behind.  And, here I am bound to a fear of danger and loss, standing on the edge of this continent,
this very moment, time that’s insignificant compared to the creation of mountains or human history.

She’s near the top, oh, so close! I run up the path to greet her, to congratulate her. Wrap my arms around her. Tell her how scared I was, but how proud I am. But, I stop.

Maia avoids my eyes when I try to connect. Quietly, she removes her shirt and stands bare chested on the edge of the cliff toward the open ocean.

She radiates.

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Covet the Temporal, Simply Click.

I’ve always been drawn to Andy Goldsworthy‘s artwork. It embodies so much of what I believe, too, not just the value of nature’s wonders, but the idea of enjoying a moment, art or an object like a season. And, then saying goodbye.DSCN7996

My friend Gianna Marino reminded me of this when she painted my child’s room complete with wistful sunflowers, flying kits and ladybugs crawling up the wall. The room was a delight and made the perfect nursery. But, I openly expressed my worry to her how sad it will be one day when the children grow and the walls will be painted over.   After hours of laborious painting, Gianna said nonchallantly, “It’s just a season. You can always create something else later.” And, she was right. When you know you are creative and believe in the temporal value, you don’t  have to hold tightly. You can let go and be content with rich memories the season produces.

I run a nature program where I feel I’ve got an absolute blessing. No fixed agenda, but the gift of opportunity to discover what is before us and how it comes and how it goes. These last weeks the children and I walked along the trail to discover the growing Forget Me Nots. The flower buds are swelling and eagerly each week the kids would run out to find the soon to be blossoms. They have not come yet, but when they do they will be treasured. And, then we will eventually say goodbye, coveting the rich memory. The excitement is so simple yet so rich!

WDSCN7983e looked at a collection of pictures the photographer Karen Berman gave to me. They are a vibrant study of nature’s patterns, textures and colors. It’s easy to marvel at the golden hues of a rocky river or the bright blues and reds of a sea anemone captured by film.

We get creative. We cut spirals – how the rocky patterned image looks to resemble the texture of a snake! Another child snips little pieces, creating an egg shaped mosaic  (a spring egg pattern!) and frames it with sticks covered with lichen. Still another decides to cut out a fish shape to hang on her fishing pole, a stick with some string is complete with a dangling tropical fish or blues, reds and yellows!

 

The children hold tightly to many photographs. But, I tell them just take two, later it becomes four. But, the act of trying to decide is hard . . . as it is for many. I believe it’s a skill you can learn, not to covet all, but to be content with a choice or two and value that well.

We roam the woods afterwards looking for patterns ourselves. The flow of algae in the river looks like flowing hair swishing in the wind. Spontaneously it made me think of a story of a maiden and I share it – a story of a young girl who kept coming to the woods to take stones and flowers home to keep. All along the animals asked her to leave nature alone otherwise they wouldl have no home themselves. When one day she returns, the river decides to keep her. So, now she stays with the river to remind us to be kind to nature and enjoy what is there, being content with the beauty and life you see.

 

We see a collection of roots of a large Laurel – it’s fringe along the creekside shore. We look at the ground where we stand and notice finger like roots all around us, gripping the ground to grow strong. That strength is all around us, giving us strength. We just have to look.The children discover “Rock Island”. This is their space. And, even I don’t dare tread upon the space. The idea belongs to them, to discover, overcome fear as they clamor over the mossy boulders or get their feet wet crossing the creek. I listen to them as they work together finding rocks to build a bridge across the creek. Fingers get dirty. Cool splashes abound.  A. takes notice of the different rock shapes – one looks like an eel, another is a jigsaw piece. Meanwhile the river babbles and a one can hear the cry of a hawk faraway. Little K. notices a pattern in the water, how a submerged rock changes the surface water texture, creating a distinct living artwork of ripples gliding in a spiral. And, she tells the others, gleefully.

I’m reminded of a talk Rebekkah Ladyne gave at a recent Spirit Rock program contemplating the thought of “abundunce” – and how there is plenty for all. She tells the story about children clamoring for cookies on a dish. Each child desperately trying to get one. But, if we gently tell everyone – “Don’t worry. There is enough, there is enough for all,” how quietly the children settle down.

Indeed there is plenty for all, if we can each stop, look and simply admire, and only take what we can absolutely value.  It’s a lesson most of us have not learned in childhood and it’s causing too many consequences for us all – we’re becoming buried in excess collections and unfortunate living standards that our children will one inherit. If we can stop coveting . . . and appreciate the temporal value, we’d all be able to enjoy the richness of it all.

 

 

 

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David – The Natural Hero

A modern day hero – David Herlocker with Marin Open Space is one of my favorites. He takes charge in  maintaining the health of our surrounding hills and teaches  incredible the values of stewardship. We have been inspired to volunteer pulling invasive broom and to learn about our treasured but fragile open space that contains history, science, botany, wildlife and so much more.

My six year old daughter stood in our yard with a hissing long snake in her hands.

“Mom, look what I found!” She gently held its head to her face, gazing into its eyes. The snake’s tongue darted wildly.

“Ah, is it a boy or a girl?” I asked with interest.

She looked where one should. “Boy, and it pooped all over me!”

“Be sure to put him back where you found him, honey,” I said.

“I know, I know,” she answered with some attitude. “David taught me that.”

David Herlocker of Marin Open Space

David Herlocker, Interpretive Naturalist and Program Director with Marin County Open Space District, has taught our family many things, not just how to identify snakes, handle them gently and have deep regard for them. Before we met David our family hikes had a goal – to reach the top of a mountain or the end of a trailhead. Now, we don’t get far at all, and happily so. David empowers us and as many as 400 other children and families a year to slow down, discover, connect and learn to protect the wondrous nature in Marin County.

David’s approach is brilliantly simple, completely inclusive and accessible to the entire community, free and overall profound. Families with children of all ages join him and his exceptional assistant Shannon Burke on a scheduled date at a predetermined trailhead, such as Cascade Canyon or Deer Island, twice a month. Then the meandering, adventure and discovery begin. David leads the group and may find the first stages of life cycles – tree frog pollywogs or eggs of western toads or newts. Defense systems and hunting habits are revealed – trap door spiders hide inside mossy cliffs waiting for prey. Symbiotic relationships are highlighted – the empty carcass of a Jerusulem cricket floats in a creek. “Ah! the consequences of its parasitic worm!” David tells the group, with child-like enthusiasm infecting everyone.

David can spontaneously catch a moment – or a flying wasp, native bee or butterfly – and share with people how marvelously the insects, animals and plants live, feed, thrive and die in our very own surrounding hills.

After a few hours of exploration, the families eat together perhaps in a meadow, along a trail or a hillside. Then the children have time to work on their own – they romp together through the grasses or climb scraggly rocks and trees. They find lizards, preying mantids and beetles. With each new find the children collectively come rushing to David to learn more. And, they want to learn more! David patiently answers questions, continuing to inflict his earnest and genuine curiosity.

There are no scripts, no homework assignments, text books or scientific gadgets.

David doesn’t ramble on with statistics or even raise woes of environmental issues. His objective and success is one to share the here and now, the unusual and the exquisite creatures and plants that we have virtually next to our own backyards. And, by doing so, families are building a deeper relationship with nature and changing their habits. Clearly a relationship one values is one which will be protected and honored. David is virtually instilling a sense of stewardship and most certainly inspiring a new generation of biologist, etymologists and conservationists.

Such play by children in meadows and trees may not seem unusual to those of past generations. But, this generation is facing overscheduled lives, media saturated culture and unbalanced pressure from schools for quick academic results. It’s a challenge to allow children to slow down and engage in real time, rich experiential wonder. Yet these types of experiences and knowledge, like David imparts, are the ones children will embrace all their lives.

David does even more than lead family hikes. He has an adult hiking program servicing 1620 people a year. I’ve seen grown men put their nose to the earth to capture the scent of a native vanilla plantain.

David conducts training sessions for educators of the Audubon Canyon Ranch, Point Bonita YMCA, Slide Ranch, The Bay Institute and other groups, which, in turn, his teachings reach even more children who can connect to the magic of our local nature.

David conducts programs for the Canal Childcare Center and other school groups, those who may not be able to join hikes in the Marin hills.

David is a unique, genuine and passionate educator and leader. Other teachers, families and adults can learn tremendously from and be inspired by him. He is an immense asset to this community and his teachings are a gift that should not go unrecognized. And, it’s because of Marin Open Space these very programs and immense learning opportunities are accessible to everyone.

My daughter released the snake and it slithered away. We talked about how fortunate it is to share our home with such a fine creature. We hoped others who encounter him will be as kind and marvel how extraordinary he is. And, if not, they surely need to go on a hike with David Herlocker.

Help us look to the future and preserve one of our most treasured assets, one that is in our proverbial backyards. Our children will thank you.

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Celebrations

The festive season begins. Some say these traditions are so paramount to humanity – they provide moments of uplifted consciousness, inspire and transform us, while filling us with joy.

I thought of this as I stood in a snake of a line, surrounded by piles of stuff screaming “buy me, you need me!”, gagging on artificial cinnamon smelly pine cones while holding a plastic bag filled with bright red shredded paper thinking it’d make a present pretty.

A lady nearby on her cell phone beat me to my own thoughts, “God, I hate Christmas.”

What has happened to this time of reverence? As companies accelerate their marketing machines to forge into the financial black, have we allowed ourselves to get lost in the noise? Why do I feel shredded bits of paper from an assembly line will make a gift more meaningful?

I put the bag down and walk out. I also manage to smile big, because I’ve got a secret, one that even feels clandestine. Oh, the joy of that! It’s a ritual that’s so precious and meaningful, and it’s wrapped like a fanciful gift in simplicity and reverence.  What we hold sacred we try to protect!

Imagine, walking in the black darkness with an unlit candle, surrounded by friends and subdued by the harmony of a violin or flute. While friends and family watch, alone you enter and walk a large evergreen spiral until you reach the center. Someone waits for you there and extends an illuminated candle. In silence, you light yours. Then, you retrace your steps with a flickering flame shining on your face and warming your hands.  You choose a place along the spiral to set the candle. One by one the spiral illuminates as each takes a turn.

It’s simple, and yet so powerful. And, the children are the most remarkable. They are so patient. Each watches the other quietly until it’s their turn. They are captivated by the reverence just like everyone else.

We are preparing for The Spiral, and the children are excited! And, it’s amazing to recognize it’s not about opening gifts and talking about what they want or what they think they are going to get.

We’ll collect the branches of trees that are discarded at our local tree farm to form The Spiral. Someone will carve apples to hold the candles. A friend will play the violin and flute. And, we’ll all gather when the darkness comes with everyone contributing to a celebratory feast. And, what’s more, everyone brings  their own plates and cutlery, so there’s neither waste nor burden for the host!

There, the secret is out.

I hope others discover for themselves that forging into the black can still be incredibly uplifting and transforming. And, what’s most amazing about this simple ritual is that it’s created by individuals who were inspired not by marketing, advertisements or other media persuasions. There is no money involved other than sharing the costs of the minimal supplies and space. And, although this ritual may have Christian roots, it can be created to embrace all.

The Spiral is simply yet richly honoring individuals and taking pleasure in them as they find their light during darkest days of the year.

Happy Holidays!

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Homage to a Simple Leaf

When I watch children play quietly in a forest with a rushing stream, I wonder why we adults spend so much energy creating spaces for them.

In nature children experience it all – textures, colors, scents, sounds and, most importantly, they find  opportunity to discover nature’s treasures – a hopping frog, a dancing water glider, pure white snow berries and fallen bay nuts ready for roasting. These kind of discoveries not only enrich a child’s play, but they build important life long knowledge, skill and respect  that sustains them not only individually but for all of us who dwell on this amazing planet of ours.

Fall is my favorite season. But, I have a right to change my mind when the other seasons come. For now, we cherish the rich patchwork of fallen leaves and the cool earthy smell. It’s like all the forest is repositioning itself under a golden quilt, readying for a good long nap.

The children made  clay prints from maple leaves, which they carefully formed into bowls. After drying, they painted them with green acrylic paint, dabbing them with reds and golds to create a proper seasonal piece. But, that was not all – there’s are so many things one can do with a simple leaf! There was more tracing and painting, and we bundled up sprays of leaves and dried grasses, while learning about the evergreens and deciduous ones. We found leaves decomposing on the dark earth, reminiscent of lace on a fine old fashion dress. We floated them down the stream and one made a composition of colors and textures Andy Goldsworthy would likely approve.

How simple it all can be. And, yet, what they are learning is not so simple, after all – it’s richer and deeper than any contrived playground or entertaining complexity could ever offer.

Small Frog Delight

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Spring Hunt

Creative inspiration comes and goes. This year’s painted eggs don’t match last year’s beauties. Though our decorated birdhouses and handcrafted gnomes fit the delightful season properly.

Birds and Gnomes

In fact, at Nature Day last week, a typical Spring Hunt was simple but magical. The children had learned about magnetic compasses a few weeks back (we even made one with a needle and cork!), so a hunt seemed like a perfect opportunity to put their orienting skills to task.  After getting directional bearings, verbal riddles led them to  treasures hidden in the blooming forget-me-nots, tree hollows and groves:

“Go southward, across the bridge to four laurels in a circle. There a magical stick you’ll find,” I told them.

The magical sticks were pencils tucked in a hollow.

Another one went like this: “Go westward 20 steps. Then turn eastward 25 steps”. This instruction actually took them a few minutes to figure out they’d end up where they started! Other treasures included crystals and animal shaped bath beads, which families contributed and the children took further delight in giving out after the respective finds.

We took time to listen to the creek and hear the birds in the forest. We spotted a hummingbird and junko in the trees, along with a banana slug under a log. When children begin looking for treasures they open their eyes to all of nature’s treasures, too.

Finally, I had the children find a fork in a road:  “Take the north fork, until you hear the babbling voice.” There they discovered, next to the babbling creek, birdhouses and homemade gnomes hanging in a grove of conifers.

Last Year's Eggs

After the children decorated the birdhouses. I had hoped they’d use only natural finds – brown leaves for shingles, twigs, moss and lichen. But, some parents had brought markers and ribbon. Nonetheless, the children loved decorating their new birdhouses.

The gnomes can be made easily with shaped pipe cleaners, felt or fabric, acorn or eucalyptus caps and beads for heads. The birdhouses were a great find (though I do dislike purchasing things!) for $1.00 each at JoAnne’s Fabrics.

Watercolor and Paper - Homemade Baskets

No fancy Easter Eggs for us this year. We simply blew eggs (or rather Kai did!) and the kids painted with tempera paints. And, it looks like I’m not getting around to homemade panettone either. But, I’m posting the pictures of last year’s creations, – paper baskets and decorated eggs – because the memory still lives in our hearts!

Happy Spring and Happy Easter.

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Zen Heaven

Pure silence followed the ringing  of the gong. “It feels like heaven,” a five year girl said smiling to a group of thirty children and adults sitting quietly cross-legged. And, she was right. The zendo, a meditation room filled with Buddhist statues, incense and calm, did have a near supernal quality. In fact, the whole day could not have been more divine.

Harvesting Nasturtiums

There was the surprise sighting of wild turkeys in the cypresses above the sprouting purslane. Children and parents plucked with spirited delight calendula, arugula blossoms, nasturtiums and borage for a sorrel wrapped burrito. In the nursery, we admired a swath of textures and colors – young arugula, chard and radicchio -reminiscent of fine tapestry.

Sorrel Flower "Burrito"

But, surely epiphany was experienced while children ran with barefoot abandon across soft, dewy chamomile under apple blossoms.

How is it that moments like these touch us as parents so much?

Green Gulch in Mill Valley, a Buddhist working farm, did offer us a bit of heaven and gave the children an  experience of a farm like no other. But, more importantly and longer lasting for us as parents, it again confirmed that simplicity is magical.

And, yet why do we as parents constantly fall into the conventional trap of  “buying” stuff or leaning on short-lived, commercial entertainment for our children, when nature, barefeet and a field of flowers can build the quintessential moments we dream of having in our lives? We know it’s healthy for all of us, and yet we don’t allow ourselves to practice the habit of simplicity more often.

And, just so you know, flower burritos are to die for . . . and fortunately they can be found quite readily in this temporal word. You just have to plant seeds.

Serenity

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Birds, Mice and Rats – A Literary, Artfilled & Historic Journey

A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole was a serendipitous find, and the only reason I took the book from the library shelf for Maia was because the protagonist (Celeste is a mouse) resonated in our lives – our neighborhood had been infested with rats and mice!

A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

Generally I don’t mind these furry little critters, but when they terrorize your house, nibble on car engine tubes, and steal nesting material from the leather seat interior, semantics quickly change to “vermin”.  Our cat had brought home a fat rat (dead, thank you) last week, and we even caught one in our trap.

However, I didn’t want my daughter to be jaded by our rodent killing rampage. A child should like mice, and the beautifully sketched illustrations in the book seemed to anthropomorphize a mouse to a proper creative proportion, or so it seemed by my quick flip of the book. Honestly I was not familiar with the story.

She had planned to study Island of the Blue Dolphins (another gorgeous read and she read the book in three days), but as I got familiar with A Nest for Celeste I realized what a golden gem we had. The story is not only about a cute little mouse, but it also has rich historical and artful appeal. Written like good historical fiction, John James Audubon (you know, the bird guy) and his young apprentice Joseph are characters in the book as well. The story takes place on a Louisiana plantation near 1821, and it gives a vivid sense of what life was like at the time of Audobon’s quest to study, draw and catalogue birds of North America.

So, we are switching gears – with the titmouse (that’s a bird, mind you) nesting in our lemon tree and mice running the neighborhood, a study of A Nest for Celeste is contextually more appropriate and prevalent to our lives. That’s the best part of homeschooling, you can make the plan and change the plan! So, after a book report, she’ll get to delve into the biography of Audubon, see more books from the library (can’t wait to see the illustrated collections) and likely we’ll head to Richardson Bay Audubon or the Audubon Canyon Ranch by Stinson Beach to see for real life the legacy of John James Audobon.

And, as more luck will have it, on our drive to the Exploratorium last week, NPR’s Science Friday aired a great segment on the power of rats’ whiskers.  I love it when life serves me the science curriculum – we had just been talking about biomimicry inspired by the children’s version of Harmony by The Prince of Wales (yes, I’ll be a sucker for this upcoming royal wedding!).

I’ll begin reading Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, a new find for me, as well. Prince Charles speaks to the “disharmony with nature, presenting a compelling case that the solution lies in our ability to regain a balance with the world around us”. His most compelling message to me is that we will leave a legacy for our children.  I hope it’s one demonstrating to them that we can call pave a way for harmony to give rise.

And, then, of course, we’ll continue chasing the mice at home, though after the emotional literary ties with Celeste, we may opt to a catch and release method – a release far from here, mind you.

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Spring at Home, Nesting

It’s spring! And, today truly marked the first day of experiencing the season’s spirit. We discovered a gift in our lemon tree –  five white jellybean-sized eggs are nestled in the children’s hand painted bird house hanging on a limb, warm in the sun.

Childrens Nests

We didn’t mean to sneak a peak and upset the nearby mama finch. We were simply looking for last year’s abandoned nest to show kids at Nature Day. Luckily enough, today the kids were making their own nests with clay, sticks, feathers and other forest finds and filling them with felted eggs handcrafted with roving wool and scented with lavender oil.

And, not just birds are enjoying the spring’s fresh warmth. Our abandoned beehive is getting active. Nearby bees, or “robber bees” as we call them, have discovered a hive of honey and they’re coming for it! Likely we’ll get a swarm with a new queen like last year to take over and live in the hive. And, we will surely welcome them with open doors – the beehive’s doors, of course!


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