Taking Root


Sunday morning at the beginning of spring break.

K brought me this sprig of pussy willow from a trip to Bellingham; there was a wild bush growing near the ocean bluffs and she tucked a stem of it in a buttonhole. Two days later, I put it in a vase and when I went to change the water, I saw that it wanted to take root with us. Two weeks later, and it’s about ready to transplant to a pot!

My seniors are in the middle of an existentialism unit and are halfway through Camus’ The Plague. They recently finished reading Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things for our post-colonial unit and I see both works influencing their thoughts in their belief statements about language, communication, and literature:



A few weeks ago, K and I attended a poetry retreat with David Whyte.



K’s notebook page during the first hour of the three days.


The stage at Islandwood is set up for “the lads”, musicians Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin. The entire experience was extraordinarily moving, thought-provoking, and intense. The genius of David Whyte is the way his poetry calls forth the listener to meet it halfway; one’s own wisdom surfaces in response to his stories and poetry.

Winter weather

Up until last week, this Seattle winter has been quite mild. For instance, my fava beans were blooming on January 19th, and the kale was giving me a healthy harvest every week:

And then, on Sunday, Feb 3: Snow, magical snow!
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The school week included a snow day, a late start, and an early release.

By Saturday, Feb 9: Snowfall and icy road conditions made driving inadvisable; the good doctor made his way into town to visit a patient.

Sunday, Feb 10: Skiing around town.

Monday, Feb 11, 4:30 p.m.: 13 inches of accumulation. Schools were closed, grocery stores intermittently out of bananas, bread, and hot cocoa, power outages all over the island (gratitude for power at our house), sledding and igloo building down every side street. It felt like evening all afternoon; the perfect day for one of my favorite poems: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”.

Tuesday, Feb 12: Rain and temperatures above freezing started to melt the snow into densely wet drifts and banks. Walked to barre class in the slush, spent most of the day cozied up with the dog and a fascinating book: Why We Sleep. Family movie: Mister Rogers documentary.

Wednesday, Feb 13: We have a late start for school today, and thereafter we’ll hopefully resume a normal schedule.

Both magical and treacherous, interludes like this remove some pressures and introduce others. We are impelled to start at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and consider how we will stay warm, how and what we will eat, etc. For many of us, these lower-tier needs have long gone largely unconsidered; in fact, they are called “deficiency needs” since we generally only become anxious about them when they aren’t being met.

There is a paradoxical aspect to snow: when it’s been falling for long enough, it muffles the world and swathes it in blank quietness–and at the same time, it amplifies tragedies (weather-related deaths) and kindness (people going out to tow strangers out of ditches, offering their warm houses, etc).


Winter Recommendations

I highly recommend Lauren Gunderson’s play Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberly; it’s one that’s likely to come around from time to time during the holiday season (The Washington Post reviewed it here). We laughed so hard our sides hurt; the ending is massively moving. Seattle’s Taproot Theatre is a really lovely, intimate space; since the kiddos were on the front row, they had to watch their posture so they didn’t become part of the play.

All three together again!

Also, the SAM’s exhibit Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India. Perusing their really well-done site gives a good idea of the actual exhibit. http://peacock.site.seattleartmuseum.org

The detail in the paintings is astounding.


ca 1725, by artist Dalchand. My hand is covering the maharaja (Abhai Singh) but he’s not the most interesting part of the scene; the women’s faces are individualized to an unusual degree in this painting.

Four book recommendations:

Outline, by Rachel Cusk. Image result for outline cusk

“Your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of” (41)

“It seems success takes you away from what you know, he said, while failure condemns you to it” (65).

The characters show a very compelling openness to conversations with strangers; there’s an undercurrent of possible danger, of decisions perhaps not entirely prudent, and of not quite getting the whole story, that gives this book its edge of mystery.

Idea worth contemplating in light of Buddhist non-grasping: “I had come to believe more and more in the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible. One could make almost anything happen, if one tried hard enough, but the trying –it seemed to me– was almost always a sign that one was crossing the currents, was forcing events in a direction they did not naturally want to go, and though you might argue that nothing could ever be accomplished without going against nature to some extent, the artificiality of that vision and its consequences had become –to put it bluntly– anathema to me. There was a great difference, I said, between the things I wanted and the things I could apparently have, and until I had finally and forever made my peace with that fact, I had decided to want nothing at all” (170-171).

The Gift of Failure, by Jessica Lahey

This book is especially useful for parents and teachers in assessing our approach to guiding young people through adolescence and encouraging responsible, independent ownership of both failures and successes. For anyone who is helping a kid with executive function deficits, I think the book is best paired with resources specifically tailored to that end (see Harvard’s guide here).

Lahey reminds us that “…pain, whether it’s experienced as frustration, disappointment, sadness, or anger, is what prompts change and growth” (155).

Teach, Breathe, Learn, by Meena Srinivasan Image result for teach breathe learn

I really like her suggestions for verbal adjustments that have deep implications for how we treat ourselves and others. For instance, replacing the words “good” and “bad” with “helpful” and “unhelpful” in the context of our positive and negative qualities or actions immediately changes the focus from judgment and shame to honest evaluation.

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life, by Massimo PigliucciImage result for how to be stoic

I find this book to be a very accessible history of ideas, philosophy, and practical application of stoic principles for living with more discipline and tranquility of mind.




Early December


S’s Scottish adventures on November 30 into the early morning of December 1 included St Andrews Day. S was delighted to send me pictures of folkways like Pin the Kilt on the Haggis. This mythical creature has a variety of funny features, including fangs (apparently, the cartoon version here doesn’t tell the whole story). They tell children that it roams the Scottish highlands and can only run on hills, the left legs being shorter than the right. It’s also where haggis meat comes from.

The street ceilidh:

St Andrews student carolers–they sound so good!

And back here, at Henry’s Tree Farm:


Now into the winter break, I have two weeks off from teaching. Last year I was working on National Boards (passed!); this year feels like a real holiday. I’ve got a lovely long reading list, events on the calendar, and all my chickies will be home!


November Milestones

Three November 2018 milestones: A. turned 15, K won 1st place in classical Avocational 1 at  Puget Sound NATS, and S had her first Thanksgiving away from home. Here’s a taste of her St. Andrews Thanksgiving feast with friends on Saturday (when the halls aren’t catering meals).





And back here at home:


My choice for this year’s Thanksgiving poem: Alberto Rios’ When Giving Is All We Have


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Earlier this autumn:

IMG-2243The Cornelian cherry tree in our front yard is an ornamental, but it was so heavy with fruit this year that I looked up information on whether the cherries are edible–they are! They aren’t true cherries, and they’re quite sour–perfect for combining with sugar for jam.



Camping at Fay Bainbridge netted a sleepless night (loud Barred Owls, passing vessels) but also some really delicious apples that I juiced.

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2018-09-29 09.38.49The Bloedel Reserve is a great place to see just how gorgeous this autumn is.

2018-09-23 12.03.52And we’ve been keeping up with S in Scotland–here she is at the opening ball at St. Andrews:



Finally, it’s pumpkin time!







Settling S at St Andrews

Our fledgling is spreading her wings under Scottish skies now, and it’s a very good feeling to have left her happy, safe, and ready to fly.


2018-09-08 11.19.59-1Being fitted for a gown and shown how to wear it 1st year (all the way on but never buttoned), 2nd year (one shoulder off), 3rd year (mid-way down one’s upper arms), and 4th year (by then, around the elbows).


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IMG-2117I was so excited to walk along the pier!



2018-09-07 12.41.14St. Andrews Cathedral, built in 1158. It compels quite a powerful sense of awe even in ruins.



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2018-09-07 12.51.202018-09-07 19.17.15-12018-09-07 19.23.412018-09-08 10.52.03-1This is the view out of S’s roomy room.






IMG-2137Blackfriars Chapel, built in the 1520s.

img-2217.jpgLow tide at East Sands beach.

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2018-09-08 19.39.28On the other side of St Andrews lies West Sands Beach, the Chariots of Fire beach. S was there a couple of days ago with the Ultimate Frisbee team, sharing the strand with a couple practicing ballroom dancing and a group playing cricket.