Mio Dolce Vita

Three recent slices of my sweet life:

  • I drove up to the library early in the evening to pick up some items that were on hold for me. On my way in, I passed a former student, there with her younger siblings. We smiled and exchanged greetings–very pleasant. As she left, I heard her praising me to the small children. I got the books and movies I’d been looking forward to, then went across the street to 7-11 to get a large Slurpee, which I’d been craving. As I drove home, the setting sun lowered the temperature just enough to make the breeze comfortable with the windows down. I thought everything was about as perfect as it could get. Then “Paradise City” came on the radio.
  • My family went up to the mountain after I got home from work one afternoon, and set up in one of the  picnic areas. We made quite a meal of it, running my big propane stove, the charcoal grill, and the open fire pit with some food over it. My daughter climbed onto a rock in the shade and started reading. My son taught a friend who’d come with us how to set up and take down a tent. The smallest children sat by the fire, staring. As everything cooked, I sat at the table, enjoying the bristlecone pines everywhere, and thought about how enjoyable a way this was to spend an afternoon and evening. A ranger came by and told us we were lucky–with a dry season under way, orders had just come down from the bosses that all sites on this mountain would ban all fires–even smoking–for the rest of the summer, starting at midnight. We picked the best and last day for our picnic.
  • Today’s the last day of summer school. It’s been the easiest, most pleasant summer of my career; my class only has ten kids, all of them juniors and seniors, all of them truly decent people. The only problem we had to deal with all summer was a bit of boredom. On my way in this morning, I stopped at Del Taco to pick up some nachos (which I do about once a month–man, I love nachos). I also got an order of hash brown sticks for each of the students–they’ve been great, and they deserve it. I want them to know what a great summer they’ve given me. We’ll each snack while we start the day with our regular half hour of reading whatever books we bring in each day (students with no book can borrow from my set of Catcher in the Rye). Driving in to school (with the windows down), I thought about how life doesn’t get much more sweet than this. Then “Come Sail Away” came on the radio.

Bookworm Adventures

I’m not a big video game guy, but I really love Bookworm Adventures. It’s a cartoony, Scarbble-esque game where you combat literary-themed enemies (Cyclops, Dracula, etc.) by making words out of random letters. The better the word, the more powerful the attack.

A few nights ago I played a bit with some of my kids gathered around me, and we made quite a team. Fun fr the whole family!

There’s plenty of humor in the game, and there’s even a sequel that’s heavy on science fiction.

Totally worth it, especially if you live around here, where the library has it for free!

The Best Sports Story You’ve Never Read

Sports Illustrated ran this feature about 15 years ago, and posted it online last year. It’s an amazing true story of heart and community. I can’t believe there still hasn’t been a movie made of it yet. In a sleepy little Ohio community of old-fashioned Mennonites, the new high school basketball coach was, as they put it, “an unmarried black Catholic loser.” Just try reading it through to the end without choking up.

Twin Lakes Memories: Mr. Bass

This is the first in an occasional series of memories about my elementary school in the 1980’s. 

Mr. Bass was principal for all but the last of my elementary school years. He was a wonderful man: friendly to us kids, committed to the positive environment of the school.

I say he “was” wonderful because as I look him up for details now, I find that he died in 1999. Reading there about how race was a major factor in his life reminds me of a comment my 4th grade teacher once made about him to our class. She said that when she first met him she was surprised to see that he was black. When she’d spoken to him on the phone before, she’d assumed he was white. She told us this as a compliment about his speaking. Nobody thought anything of it. This was in the mid 1980’s. I don’t suppose such a comment would pass innocently today.

My main memory of him now is from one random day during recess. All the kids were running around and I was in the big sandy area with the swings and monkey bars. Suddenly a girl screamed. She had fallen off the monkey bars and gotten hurt–it turned out later that she had broken her arm. As she wailed and cried, someone went to the office for help.

Mr. Bass came running out and went right to that girl. Quickly and calmly, he took off his suit coat and wrapped her in it, then gently picked her up to carry her to the nurse. It’s not just what he did that day, but how confidently and caringly he did it–that was a lesson in real leadership.

An elementary school named after him opened here in 2001. That’s also wonderful.

“It All Matters”

          It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing.

          What is most beautiful is least acknowledged.

          What is worth dying for is barely noticed.

–Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise

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Two Great Quotes About Grit and Passion

Being a grinning fool who jumps up and down on a sofa proclaiming his passion for the world is not enough. Passion demands suffering. Freely accepted suffering. And the endurance of that freely accepted suffering until the end. If you cannot deal with that side of passion, you are not truly passionate. Of course, most people opt out of passion when they begin to suffer. It’s understandable, especially in our pleasure-pumped world. In fact, it’s perfectly reasonable; after all, reason is the nemesis of passion. Say your marriage has become dull or boring and efforts to bring the passion, the desire, and enthusiasm back have gone nowhere. Reason will tell you to call a divorce lawyer and find your happiness elsewhere whereas passion will demand you stay and endure. The same goes for writing or anything for that matter. Real passion starts where suffering starts. Be strong enough to endure and you will understand the meaning of passion. The mystery will be solved; the hidden truth, revealed.

Francis Berger, 2013

That’s the problem with Grit—it’s a bourgeois, modern American attempt to connect to a concept that is raw, ancient, and dangerous. What modern American parent wants to tell their kid to go forth and suffer? This is why we have a generation of special snowflakes who collapse at the slightest criticism. They can accept grit as a social construct, a skill to work on between yoga class and studying for finals. But the suggestion that they find something they are truly passionate about, be it forming a band, writing a novel or chasing an impossible love—something that would involve risks that might send them off their chosen career path? The response from them—and from Angela Duckworth herself, no doubt—would be that kind of grit is a bridge too far.

Mark Judge, 2016

Vegas Skies

Some more recent local sky views:

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Sunrise just started touching the mountains to the west.

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Sunset 4.11.16 part 1 of 5. Thomas Cole could have painted this.

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2 of 5

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3 of 5

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4 of 5

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5 of 5

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A sunset last week, by Aliante Station

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Heading east on Cheyenne, late afternoon sun catches one small mountain.

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Darn you, Savers sign! This was almost epic.

Continue reading

Middle Age

Middle age is the time of life when you yearn for the memory of the fierce passions you had a few decades in the past, but at the same time you yearn for the quiet peace you hope to have a few decades in the future.

(Inspired by reading Dana Gioia’s poem, “Meditation on a Line From Novalis”)

On Having 7 Children

Back in my 20s, when I had three children, I knew a fellow teacher who had five children. I thought that was a lot, and wasn’t sure how he or I anybody could handle it.

But now, my seven children seem like no big deal.

Part of that is because they’re mine and familiar–we always get acclimated to the changes in our lives, and whatever the status quo is becomes normal. My family doesn’t even seem large to me–it’s just what it is, so that’s average.

Part of it is how well I know them. Obviously, I’ve known them their whole lives. I’ve seen their personalities develop and change, so I don’t and can’t see them as mere burdens or responsibilities–they’re just seven smaller, younger people who I happen to know and love. Don’t you know and love a bunch of people? It’s no big deal.

One part of my lifestyle that I never get fully acclimated to, though, is just how much love a big family creates. It surprises me every day. Since the kids all have different ages and personalities themselves, having seven children isn’t just having the same family member seven times, it’s seven different loves. I’m blessed with a life that truly fills up a whole heart.

Two Views of This Morning’s Sunrise

Our usual air pollution, plus some extra dust courtesy of strong winds lately, have produced some especially great celestial views around here.

I just finished Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction classic Rendezvous With Rama, and chapter one concerns an asteroid strike that destroys the Mediterranean Sea but, the story says, the whole world enjoyed the most beautiful sunrises ever for the next six months.

I really like how the rays not only leap out from behind clouds here, but clearly shoot down in front of the mountains.

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This Week at the Valley of Fire

On the pro side, our family camp out Monday and Tuesday provided lots of great scenery, sun, and exercise. We all climbed and hiked like crazy, including the baby. The temperature was perfect. The landscapes were majestic. The together time was fun.

On the con, a huge wind storm blew dirt in our faces and broke my biggest tent. The fabric ripped, half the poles snapped, and the metal hardware that connects the poles to the tent fabric was actually broken in half! Never seen anything like it. And we got orange sand all over our stuff. Guess Anakin Skywalker was right about that junk after all.

On balance, a great experience, though!

We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and Titanic features….We need to witness our own limits transgressed.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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The Pool of Fire in Boys’ Life Magazine

8412My post a couple of weeks ago about the Just For Boys book club reminded me of something else I loved in Boys’ Life as a kid–the Pool of Fire comic.

I wasn’t old enough to have read the serial adaptations of the first two books in the trilogy, which ran earlier, but I came into the story during the run of this third book in the mid 80s. It was one of the first comics I ever read, and I loved it: action, adventure, Big Ideas!

Today I’m most impressed that a science fiction series was broken down and doled out in such small parts over the course of several years. Where does anything like that happen anymore? And do any kids still get introduced to great stuff like this in comic form? I know I only ended up reading the original books in this series because of the comics.

Some swell fella has collected all of the original comics here.

Apparently, all the old issues of the magazine itself are on Google. Perhaps it’s not too late to build the robot from the February 1987 issue?