June 19th, 2006

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Good Morning!!

Steve and I were married 35 years ago today, though it was a Saturday, so that is odd, or maybe not.  Monday, a new beginning.  We are gentle with this day, each a little time with our computers, and then, time together.  I need this morning computer massage.  That is my instigation.   It seems many "special" restaurants are closed on Monday, so we will try The Melting Pot,  a restaurant in an old brick kiln at Larkspur Landing.  It feels like a good day to melt together by sharing fondue, one of our all-time favorite meals.  We were married in the year of the fondue pot, and received two as gifts.  I find it amazing that fondue is so firmly back, and grateful, too.

Jane and I went back into the beginning of January this morning.  We were with bowls.  I was feeling my bowl had broken open and my world was expanded, so much so that I was climbing out of the sea onto land on my stubby, soft legs.  I am always so impressed with those first critters from the sea, pulling themselves out onto land.  That is in our genes.   (Not Bush's genes, of course, which is why he flounders so.   He does not believe he came from the sea.  He was molded and placed here, plopped from outer space.)

I bought  a bowl last week, an empty bowl. I love the emptiness of it, the space, the womb.  I love looking into it.  I seem to be entranced with looking into bowls right now, with noticing their shape and how they hold the air.  I am also entranced with color.  The colors of this year seem extraordinarily appealing to me.  I don't know if it is my noticing, or they are chosen this year to softly massage our psyches and eyes.  I am with massage this morning, feeling deeply touched.

We spent a great deal of time yesterday watching Mandu breathe.  He lay in the center of everything, our special blessing.  This cat always knew who needed him most each day, and slept there.  Now, he chooses to sleep alone in the chair.  I woke in the night, and lay on the couch for awhile watching him sleep.  I know he is teaching me how to breathe, and how, when it is my time, to leave.

He continues to look like it is his last day and then to revive.  We are learning resilience from him, acceptance and peace.  

May your teachers come today in gentle forms, as gentle, sweet, and dear, as the ever-wondrous, majestic, and hugely heart-filled  CAT MANDU!!
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It's Summer! Let children play, and read on their own!

Op-Ed Contributor

No More Teachers, Lots of Books

Published: June 19, 2006

SCHOOL is letting out for the summer, the final bell signaling the precious, unadulterated joy that comes with months of freedom stretching out ahead. But for many students that feeling will never come. Instead, summer these days often means more textbook reading, papers, exams and projects. It's called "vacation homework," an oxymoron that overburdens our children and sends many back to school burnt out and sick of learning.

Last summer, for example, students at one charter school in the Bronx were assigned 10 book reports, a thick math packet, a report on China including a written essay and a handmade doll in authentic costume and a daily log of their activities and the weather. Their parents say they are hoping this summer will be different, but who knows what drudgery will be assigned now that they've finished second grade?

An anomaly? Hardly.

Fifth and sixth graders in a Golden, Colo., public middle school are required to keep a journal on a different math topic each week this summer, read three books and complete a written and artistic report on two of them.

And what about high schoolers — just a little light reading to ease teenage angst? One ninth grader we know was assigned a packet of materials on the Holocaust. Another must read a 656-page book on genocide, on top of three chapters of a science textbook followed by a 15-page take-home exam, prepare a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation and complete an English assignment involving three books and essays.

All parents want their children to be happy, healthy and competitive in a highly competitive world. But is year-round homework — or the nightly homework marathons during the school year, for that matter — the way to achieve it?

As adults know, a break from work is a necessary antidote for stress. We need what psychologists call "consolidation," the time away from a problem when newly learned material is absorbed. Often we return from a break to discover that the pieces have fallen into place. Too many of our children today are denied that consolidation time. And when parents are told that their children's skills will slip without summer homework, we have to wonder: if those skills are so fragile, what kind of education are they really getting?

In fact, there's serious doubt about whether homework has any benefit at all. Most studies have found little or no correlation between homework and achievement (meaning grades and test scores) in elementary school or middle school. According to Harris Cooper of Duke University, the nation's leading researcher on the subject, there is a clear correlation among high school students, but he warns that "overloading them with homework is not associated with higher grades."

Yet very few teachers have ever taken a course on homework or know what the research shows, and many told us homework assignments are an "afterthought."

Another claimed benefit of homework — instilling responsibility and self-discipline — is undermined when homework is so overwhelming that parents routinely have to help their children every step of the way.

In fact, most experts believe reading is the most important educational activity. Yet a poll released last week by Scholastic and Yankelovich found that the amount of time youngsters spend reading for fun declines sharply after age 8. The No. 1 reason given by parents: too much homework.

So, what's a parent to do? While it might be too late to challenge this summer's assignments, it's not too early to gather like-minded parents and get a head start on changing next year's policy. If your children just can't bear taking that Holocaust folder on vacation, give them permission not to read it and promise you'll take it up with teachers or school administrators in the fall. Encourage your children to read, play games, write stories and even experience a little boredom. It might just bring out their innate creativity.

In 2000, parents in Arlington, Va., banded together and took complaints about summer homework to the school board, spurring an overhaul of the district's policy. More parents around the country should stop complaining to each other and let school officials know that they won't stand by as large parts of our sons and daughters' childhoods are stolen for no good reason. Our children will grow up happier and healthier — and perhaps even have time to read a good book.

Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish are the authors of the forthcoming book "The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It."

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Protecting our forests, the refuge within -


Fire Sale in the Forests

Published: June 19, 2006

The Bush administration has been having a tough time selling the nation's governors on its misguided decision to stop protecting nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest from new logging and development. Thanks to the administration's own missteps, that task just got tougher.

Rescinding the "roadless rule" imposed by President Bill Clinton in 2001 was the centerpiece of a broader administration strategy to make things easier for the timber industry by rolling back an array of environmental protections. Claiming that the governors had not been properly consulted in 2001, the Forest Service proposed a new rule that invited states to make recommendations about which roadless areas should be protected but left the final determination to Washington.

The administration also promised — including in a letter to The Times last year from Mark Rey, the new policy's main architect — that it would provide "interim protection" to all roadless areas until the governors had submitted their plans.

The administration broke that promise earlier this month when it took bids on a logging project in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, despite Gov. Theodore Kulongoski's repeated and urgent pleas to leave the forest alone. Mr. Rey's underlings defend the sale as a necessary salvage and cleanup operation in a forest badly damaged by wildfire in 2002. Leaving aside the question of whether burned forests should be logged or allowed to regenerate — a matter of scientific dispute — this was a highhanded gesture that can only generate ill will.

Which is the last thing Mr. Rey needs. California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington State have gone to court to restore the Clinton plan, arguing that the Bush rule gives lip service to states' rights while opening the door to excessive logging and destruction of important watersheds. Several other states have told Washington that they want all their roadless acreage protected, as it was by the Clinton rule.

Mr. Rey, a wily veteran of the timber wars not previously known for shooting himself in the foot, would be well advised to reconsider his strategy, beginning with a cancellation of the Oregon sale.

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Blessings -

Blessings are flowing in today, on this the most reverent and spiritual of days.  35 years, and yes, there have been hills, valleys, troughs, landslides, earthquakes and volcanoes, and yet, through it all, connection, trust, and truth hold dear.

I am going to a reunion gathering today of people who have studied Essential Motion with Karen Roeper.  Pat Samples will be here from Minneapolis.  I have not met her, but I have read her book, Body Odyssey, Lessons from the Bones and Belly.  I am perusing it this morning. 

I place a paragraph from the book here.

    "Buddhists speak of mindfulness, bringing, full, detached attention to our every experience.  From this perspective, every act, every physical engagement - from washing dishes to listening to the phone ring - holds the promise of a revelation and an enjoyment of the numinous.  Even without action, simple awareness and appreciation of the physical world, our own body included, can become an encounter with the sublime.  The respected Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, in Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living, speaks of consciously noticing our eyes, blessing them and marveling at the miracle of sight.  He talks of attentively appreciating and caring for each of our bodys' organs: "Our eyes are us. Our heart is us.  Our liver is us.  If we cannot love our own heart and our own liver, how can we love another person?"  One of the early New Thought teachers, Myrtle Fillmore, describes in her writing how she cured herself of tuberculosis by spending extended periods of time each day blessing specific parts of her body and thanking them for their wonderful work.  Loving attention to our physical form changes it, and changes how we live.  As Hanh says, "We do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  In fact we have to be fully alive.  When we breathe in and out and hug a beautiful tree, we are in Heaven.  When we take one conscious breath, aware of our eyes, our heart, our liver, and our non-toothache, we are transported to Paradise right away."

So, here you and I are, in Paradise together, and, as I look out, on this wondrous day,  I must admit it doesn't take much imagination to know where I live.
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Poem by Amy Gerstler -


Miracle mongers. Bedwetters. Hair-shirted wonder
workers. Shirkers of the soggy soggy earth. A bit touched,
or wholly untouched living among us? They shrug their
bodies off and waft with clouds of celestial perfume. No
smooching for this crew, except for hems, and pictures of
their mothers…their lips trespass only the very edges of
succor. Swarms of pious bees precede her. One young girl
wakes up with a ring on her finger and a hole in her throat.
Another bled milk when her white thigh was punctured.
All over the world, a few humans are born each decade
with a great talent for suffering. They have gifts that enable
them to sleep through their mistreatment: the sleep of the
uncomplaining just, the sleep of the incomplete. Our
relationship to them is the same as our relationship to
trees: what they exhale, we breathe.

   Amy Gerstler