Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Site redesign

I am thinking about redoing my website, but feel I don't want to devote my life to do it. I've dsicovered www.easysite.com. Don't know if it will work for me, But I love the concept. HMMM? Anybody with any experience here?

Soul Pancake

I was listening to an interview with Rainn Wilson of the office. He was talking about his Bahá'í Faith. This is a religion started in Persia in the 1800's and, at the risk of over-simplifying, has as a basic tenet, the unity of major world religions. I am somewhat familiar with people of this faith, as many of them, without a presence nearby, have chosen to worship at our church, Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster. You might correctly infer from the name of my church that unity is something I believe in too. The world is getting smaller. Multi-culturalism is the result. Unity makes sense to me. Domination of one culture over another or one religion over another--not so much. So you can bet that I was listening to the interview and nodding often.

Rainn said that Bahá'í has many names for God, but this is true in most churches. God the creator, God the redeemer, God the merciful. But Rainn mentioned one name in particular. God the fashioner. This is God as artist, designer. I have taken and taught a curriculum in my church which is called, You the Creator. It focuses on the creative process which is a mirror of God as creator. Rainn went further to describe creative work as prayer.

This isn't new. I studied a bit of the work of German Idealist Philosopher G.W.F Hegel who claimed that art, along with religion and philosophy was a primary means through which spirit was manifested.

Often when I write or paint, I am so "in the moment" that I cannot help but to think that I am a puppet of or a magnet to spirit energy, completely bypassing the intellectual and emotional realms. Call it what you want: prayer or meditation or lifeline. There is something to all these claims that creative work is sacred work. Rainn Wilson started a new website for dialogs of spirit and art--without the woo-woo factor. www.soulpancake.com Check it out.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Pink Side of the Mind

Have you heard about the book The Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink that Oprah gave to each member of the graduating class of Stanford? I heard an interview with him recently, and it made me want to run out and buy a copy of the book for each member of local school board. In this economy, I just bought a used copy for myself.

A description of the book from Daniel Pink's website ...
"Lawyers. Accountants. Computer programmers. That's what our parents encouraged us to become when we grew up. But Mom and Dad were wrong. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of "left brain" dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which "right brain" qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That's the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times."

In the interview I heard, Mr. Pink reasoned that any jobs that can be mapped out in logical sequential steps (such as technology, accounting and some forms of law practice) are the jobs that are being shipped to Asia. The U.S. of A. is entering a new economy in which a new set of skills will be necessary. He outlines the main skills (the six senses) in his book. These include play, empathy, big-picture thinking among other things.

Ironically, the traits that Pink espouses will be important for a healthy economy and successful job search of the future are exactly the kinds of skills taught in art classes, classes that are being cut out of school curricula at a faster rate than folks cutting out cereal coupons during Our current economic downfall.

I am not going to kick the accountants and other left-brained thinkers while they are down. They are not dinosaurs by any means. I have always advocated a whole mind approach. Though it may seem like I am a right-mind cheerleader--it is only because society has put down creative thinking with disempowering labels of flakiness and woo-woo. In order to achieve balance, I have had to stick up for the creative, non-verbal, non-linear hemisphere. Take back your woo-woos and give me an R!

I am still awaiting my copy Pink's book. I ordered it days ago. I am sure I will more to say when I actually read it. (I am anticipating a lot of AMEN, Brother Pink!) But for now, I wanted to personally go on record as saying: I think our country will soar if traditionally left-brained thinkers add some of these new skills to their repertoire, and if traditionally right-brained thinkers (who, out of survival, have already acquired left-brained skills) are valued for their gifts.

My son is entering the high school next year. With that comes a whole new focus on future careers. I am so glad that this book and the Johnny Bunko comic accompaniment have crossed my path at this time.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coffee, Tea and Me

I am precise in my coffee drinking. 16 oz a day. I need to do it that way so my caffeine is regulated--or I get headaches. At home I drink it black, but in the world I have been known to add cream. I like a dark roast mostly but I have been known to enjoy a few offbeat and limited number of flavors: coconut, blueberry, southern pecan, pumpkin. For the last 2 1/2 years I have been making coffee with my single cup Keurig machine, but now that I am getting into composting, I am trying to get over the waste of the cartridges. I am going to be using more of the individual filter and try my hand at making French Press coffee each morning.
I do seek out cafes for coffee. I love Dosie Dough in Lititz, Wyomissing, and Lancaster. Before my workshops at Radiance, I have been known to stop for coffee at Prince Street Cafe. I love their mugs. White and squared off. They fit in my hand. The outside rim is square, but inside is round. Somehow this is comfortable to my coffee-sipping mouth. At home, I have a menagerie of mugs. I tend to choose them for my mood or to match my pajamas. I especially like my lavender grid mug (gifted to me in 8th grade by my best friend) when I am wearing my lavender polka dot night shirt (gifted to me by my college roommate).
But this week, I found mugs at Ikea that are similar to the mugs at Prince Street Cafe. The only difference is that the lip is completely round. I tried them out this week and love them. Call me crazy, but I think the coffee tastes better in them. I am a girl who loves white dishes, so even though I will miss my dose of morning color, I like these. I guess my other mugs will be relegated for my decaf afternoon tea, Earl Grey or Lemon Ginger. For some reason I like a big chunky mug of tea, but prefer my coffee in a sleeker cup. But here is the thing. It feels a little like my religious life. Searching for the best possible experience before settling in and making it my ritual--a ritual to add meaning and launch me on my path.

Walk--on the Wild Side

Since getting my iPhone, I have renewed my walking practice, but just in the last two-three weeks, I have revved it into high gear. I used to vary my walks and runs. Lately, I have been walking the same 4 miles (which is actually 2 miles out and back) and doing it daily in an hour's time. It has become a meditation of sorts. The terrain is challenging and the views are wonderful. I don't always go at the same time of day, but I am really studying the route. I watch the way sunlight changes the view. I notice when the farmer tills the soils, bringing up the black bulging earth. I watch the way the green is trying to push its way into the landscape. I notice baby goats. The flow of the stream--or not-- in the case of ice. The smells, some good, some foul. I notice if I get tired at the same point in my walks or if I am getting stronger. I notice the litter. I have come to realize that if I stop and nod at a cow or sheep, they will nod back to me. Sometimes I take pictures of the cows. The birds are in pairs now--flitting around. I saw cardinals, blue birds, robins, morning doves, and something small like sparrows or finches--brownish.

Yesterday I looked out of the fields. They were yellow brown with just enough green trying to come through that the color seemed to pulse. Against this backdrop was the Amish schoolhouse. The children were playing and most of the girls were wearing bright purple windbreakers and lavender skirts which really popped against the wanna-be chartreuse of the fields. I wanted to take that pictures, but felt it a little disrespectful. I feel like poetry should follow, but I am still taking it all in.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Updates on my little bits of social action

I am coming to this place to keep myself accountable. I thank anyone who is reading for helping in that. Most of these things are items I said I would do. I just need to say, "I did them." Helps me to feel pride and move on to further action. Feel free to post your own ongoing action--nothing is too small. We need to inspire each other and keep each other going in this time of flux and opportunity.

*Still eliminating catalogs as I get new ones. As they come in, I go to catalogchoice.org. I have even been doing this for the catalogs I do like (Today I got Title Nine and DharmaCrafts--both of which I love) because I don't really need to be spending right now and if I have money to burn, they do have a presence online.

*Refurbished the dirt in my square foot garden (SFG). Put a grid in place over it. Strung my trellis. I am ready to go on this SFG project. Hubby took down the kids wooden swing set. I am going to convert the spot under it to a new SFG bed. Mark took the platform off the top of the playhouse. We are converting that into a stage for Maren, our actress.

*Started composting. Bought a kitchen composter with a carbon filter (for smells). Bought a 32 gallon round plastic garbage can (no wheels) with animal proof locking lid. Mark drilled small holes for air in a grid pattern. Each hole about 4"apart, on the sides. I am alternating my brown and green layers, watering to damp sponge wetness, and rolling the bin once a week. We shall see. Composting is what I promised to do for the "I pledge..." campaign.

*I have scheduled a paperdoll workshop with kids and their mothers at the local shelter to fulfill half of my Starbucks pledge to give 5 hours of service.

*Wrote letters to my PA congressmen and the PA Secretary of Education to ask them to support the reinstatement of PA Governor's Schools for Excellence. I couldn't be at the rally in Harrisburg today, but my heart is there.

Studio to-do

I put off cleaning and organizing my studio as long as possible, but I was inspired by a few things--the Clutterbugs on Oprah, The book View from the Studio Door, and Spring. Maybe something else, but I can't think what it might be right now. Anyway, I knew I wanted to get my supplies--especially my painting and workshop supplies in order. Here is a view of two of the walls. I am thinking of turning my closet into a sewing nook, but that has yet to happen--and might not for a while. Sewing just isn't a priority--though I did recently spend a couple of hours in a sewing store, for fun. But, I am coming out of a rut and this do over has really made me feel good. To think--it only took me a day to accomplish and according to the odd paperwork I found in piles on the floors, I'd been putting this off for over 6 months. I reconfigured my filing system and even cleaned out my email in-box. I am feeling pretty slick right now and that almost anything is possible.
You'll notice a pillow on the floor under the desk, next to files--bed for my pug. He doesn't like it. He'd rather be in the way of my rolling chair where he has a view of the door--but I tried.
You'll also notice that I left out the embarrassing before pictures. I do have enough room to now lay down a yoga mat and do yoga if I so desire. Also, in the corner directly behind my desk chair is the painting station. That is still not optimal yet. I need better lighting, a corkboard, to remove the clock, and get my table set up the way I want it. At the moment, it is just an easel and the end of my sewing table and a few taped up pictures. Hopefully it will be coming soon.
I am thinking about making every Friday, a clean and organize day. Maybe. It sure felt like a good way to start the weekend.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Demise of PA Governor's Schools of Excellence

Economic hardship. Budget cuts. I understand that we need to make hard choices. Our state education system just cut the leaders of tomorrow out of the budget. Gone are the Pennsylvania Governor's Schools for Excellence: five-week, boarding summers schools for students of promise. (High school students need to apply, audition, interview etc. to be accepted into these prestigious programs.) It cost about $2.7 million to run the 8 programs that make up the schools: Agricultural Sciences (PGSAS), Arts (PGSA), Global Entrepreneurship (PGSGE), Health Care (PGSHC), Information, Society & Technology (PGSIST), International Studies (PGSIS), The Sciences (PGSS), and Teaching (PGST). Once again, mediocrity rules.

This is devastating to an educational climate that is already prejudiced against achievers. No Child Left Behind has been great in getting kids who are just shy of the middle line to raise their scores--so necessary for schools to keep their funding. This is where teachers and administrators and school boards are concentrating their efforts (often at the expense of arts programming--another of my gripes). But kids who naturally do well on the tests are getting the shaft. Why concentrate on helping those kids fulfill their potential when they can be left on autopilot and meet expectations held by the state? If I haven't be vocal on this issue, it is because I am busy supplementing my own kids' education by taking them to museums, watching documentaries, reading to them (yes I still read to my kids, ages 11 and 14) and getting them involved in extra-cirricular activites.

Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones and herself a past student at PGSA says it this way:
"How, in a nation that idolizes its infants and children, can we find it acceptable to abandon them on the cusp of making their dreams - dreams that will be greater and more important than our own - become realities?"

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial 'Scandal for Schools' says this in : Why cut great programs for the best students?' published on 2/7/08, "America needs super-achievers to scale the heights as much as it needs underachievers to meet firm standards. Nothing is more important to a nation lagging in science and math and seeking to stay internationally competitive than to encourage a culture of high achievement among its youth."

I am biased. I spent two summers at the Pennsylvania Governor's School of Arts: one as a student going into my senior year and one as an assistant instructor just graduated from college. It is not an understatement to say that this program changed my life. In many cultures, youth are sent out on a vision quest. PGSA was mine. I spent the summer with other kids who were at the top of their game in the arts and teachers who were dedicated to catching my attention while they had it. No sweating for grades. We were in this for the pure experience. In my summers at PGSA, I made jewelry, sculpted, learned improv, saw my first independent film, learned to draw in a new way, wrote poetry, learned to knit, learned sign language while teaching deaf students, read some great new authors, attended dance and theater performances, learned about art history, took leadership training, and learned photography skills. And here's the kicker--only about half of that was part of the curriculum. The other half happened as a result of hanging around other creative kids who were blooming in this environment.

A year after I went to PGSA as a student we had a reunion where two alumni were given awards for their leadership over the past year. What had they done to take the arts and the experience of the school back into their communities? The competition was steep because these kids were on fire. I didn't win. Didn't even come close, though I had done much upon my return including helping young kids write, produce, and create a puppet show. In an era of arts funding cuts, this kind of leadership is a real boon to the community. And the loss of it, is devastating.

I am personally going to be writing letters to my PA state congressmen (Mike Brubaker and Tom Creighton) in the hopes that this program is one of the first to be reinstated when our economy gets up and running again. We cannot afford to ignore our brightest scholars. My kids are entering 9th and 7th grades next year. My hope is that these schools are back in time for them to strive to earn the title Govie.