The Science Fair and Hope

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“Hope is a verb with its shirtsleeves rolled up.” ~ David Orr

But these young scientists and engineers teach us something beyond the specific topics that they’re exploring.  They teach us how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better.  And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine — and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new. ~ President Obama*

Today I served as a judge for the Science Fair at my grandson Zeb’s elementary school. My undergraduate nursing program demanded biology and chemistry. My degree in psychology and English, with professors who taught picking apart and focusing on one or two variables at a time, supposedly “qualifies” me in the social sciences. Mostly I qualify to review the children’s presentations with rubric in hand, because my son Matt serves as the parent volunteer coordinator for the Fair.

We judges love the process of reviewing the presentations of a few children in first through third grade, and over 100 4th and 5th graders who must submit a project. Each child or pair of children, prepare hypotheses and set-out to experiment, and/or research their idea. As each class comes into the gym the children are given a long white lab coat, have a group picture taken and then stand in front of their exhibit for an interview with a judge. We ask questions and offer verbal and written comments. After their interview the kids review their classmates’ projects with paper and pencil in hand for note taking.

The young scientists I interviewed included a boy measuring the speed of his Labrador retriever running for a tennis ball, a stuffed hedgehog and another toy. The dog was trained as a “drug sniffing” dog with a tennis ball so J. was certain he would run faster for the ball – and he did. Another boy tested dumping a Lego action figure down the stairs from a variety of containers to see if it broke apart. We talked about gravity and force. A girl made lava lamps with different oils and the fizzy candy Mentos. She made a light box so we could see the bubbles.She wasn’t sure about the idea of viscosity. A younger girl researched “what is the wood in trees?” After a large tree in her yard was felled by a windstorm she wondered…so she and her mom went to the library and borrowed 3 books. They used celery in colored water to to demonstrate sap rising in the wood. She labeled each layer of the tree in her own handwriting. Twirling my bracelet and distracted by her mates, she tried hard to focus to explain the project to me.

Kids’ experiments are messy. Eggs soaked in vinegar stink; exploding coke with Mentos candy is sticky. Presenting a project poster can be a challenge. Young children’s handwriting is special, and computer generated auto-spellings are hit and miss. My favorites were, “first we built a Lego bride,” or, “my concussion was…” Whoops.

scinece fair 007Zeb and a friend, both 4th graders, powered a car with soda pop and Mentos. Friction of the board they placed the “car” on prevented it from traveling.

scinece fair 005.JPGLater in the day all the judges walk through the exhibit discussing each project, awarding ribbons for participation and a few special ribbons for outstanding projects – the hardest task. We talked about the beauty of a simple ah-ha turned to question and drawn to a clear conclusion.

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One hundred and fifty children from 5 to 11 years old, encouraged by teachers and parents to question and explore, give me hope for our world.

scinece fair 010.JPGMatt and Fiona, Marine Biologists, work hard with the lead teacher to assure the success of the fair.




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Books or People?

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 “How fun is it to read a fantastic book if you can’t tell others about it, talk about it, and quote from it constantly?”

Yes! Just minutes before I read this sentence I’d refilled my coffee cup and sent a picture of the cover of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend * to my sister and my daughter, announcing, “good book!”

The story begins with the youngish bookseller Sara, who traveled from Sweden to a small Iowa town to stay with Amy who hasn’t shown up at the bus station to drive her to her home. Sara “who has never been anywhere,” and Amy became friends through their correspondence about books.

Books or people? The question, discussed in the friends’ letters, is central to the story of Broken Wheel.  “They’re meant to be better than reality… bigger, funnier, more beautiful, more tragic, more romantic.”

Sunday night at our family gathering for Keith’s birthday  friends announced “We are reading a fabulous book to each other.A rambling conversation followed about The Little Paris Bookshop and about how we share the practice of bibliotherapy –  ‘I know the perfect book for you’ with friends or even a stranger.

Fork in the road: Last summer I was walking with my foster dog when a man walked toward us excitedly waving a book.As soon as I said hello he shouted, “Have you read this book?”  I recognized the red cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and said ‘yes, I really liked it.’ He proceeded to tell me why he thinks Mark Hadden is one of the best living writers today! We introduced ourselves – Bob – and I chatted about writing and the bugs all around us. I learned that he’s a transplant from California where he taught entomology, and that he’s a published poet, and I learned about the delightful writing group at the Senior Center, which I sporadically attend with a table-full of new friends.

I’m back: Yesterday at our Tai Chi class, a woman I like very much who laughs easily, said “there is someone I’d like to bring over to meet you. She’s new in town and thinks it’s very hard to make friends here. She’s an artist, and I think the two of you could be friends.” Of course I said yes, and immediately thought of books about being the new person in town that I might share with her, including Broken Wheel.

We need opportunity to reveal our vulnerability. Our human hearts are full and we need others to whom we can reveal ourselves. Books give us mirrors and the best part is sharing who we discover. She or he comes out when they claim Oh, I read the best book, and we respond, tell me about it.




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Beginners Mind

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I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?  Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman

I love to write. No. I don’t love to write; I write. You wouldn’t know it in the gap between my last blog and this, but while life and death and thinking about life and death intervened I wrote.

Most days I start my morning dithering about on paper, maybe about a dream, or nothing in particular – maybe a note about something I want to remember to tell my daily correspondent friend or a grandchild. Sometimes writing devolves to lists – my intention today is… or damn it’s raining too hard to work in the garden.

That’s my real love. Gardens.

Writers read about writing. Two months ago I borrowed Old Friend from Far Away, an old paperback library book  about writing memoir by Natalie Goldberg. Two weeks ago I got the finger shaking message “the following book is overdue!” Bring it back lady.

 I told a library lady that I knew I’d returned that book with a pile of others.

This morning I knelt down to retrieve my glasses that had fallen beside my bed which led to retrieving some books from under the bed – you guessed it. Old Friend was there.

I settled in with my coffee and began reading while the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other tittered back and forth, “It’s an old book,” “but it’s not yours.” I was absorbed in Goldberg’s question, What do you think your passions are?  I thought I’ll write about the gardens I’ve left behind. Then in Goldberg fashion she questions, What are your obsessions? I thought, I’ll write about the gardens I’ve left behind. Then she writes, Tell me, what’s the difference between an obsession and a passion? Hint: Obsession is linked to suffering.

With that happy conundrum I’m back with a list of topics to write about.

One more thought. A participant in the group I’ve encouraged for seven months to write their spiritual autobiography or memoir, held up her well-worn notebook and told us, “I’ve filled my notebook with questions. Just questions. Hundreds of questions.”

Isn’t that wonderful? For seven months she’s written nothing but questions. She ended her confession. “And, I’m no longer afraid to fail.”


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Living in Community

Living in Community


If you remember a few years ago I was searching for a community of women. After long consideration I moved to Bellingham Washington because I have family here and “nearby” in Oregon.

This morning I’m writing while listening to Angell: Music of Angels, Ensemble Project Arts Nova, and II Adagio Cello Sonata in G Minor. The selections of music are from Audio Divina, a music assisted contemplative prayer CD* compiled by Mary Terry Rankin. Mary is an active participant in Stillpoint at Beckside the contemplative community that feeds me.

When I chose to move into a little house owned by my kids’ father – my ex-husband and family friend from childhood, I had no idea what was “in store.” We were 18 and 19 when Sally, our first of 4 children was born. It was not an easy marriage. We’ve been divorced for over 30 years but have remained family for better or for worst. We admit we can still push each others buttons but together we celebrate our children, their partners and our grandchildren.


The day after Thanksgiving Ross went to the emergency room in pain. Our family began a ride of worry and concern as he began a slide toward the unknown. Six weeks later he will move from rehab into a nearby retirement community where he’ll have more choices for assistance when he needs it. Yesterday I was in his condominium and on the phone with him making to do lists to help facilitate him moving.

This morning as I listen to the music I am so grateful for my prayer-full, laughter-full community. I did not need to go into detail with the 2 women I work most closely with; I only sent a brief email and asked for prayers for Ross and my family. I knew that they, and others in our community, would also pray for me in this unusual situation – an ex-wife caring deeply for the father of her children. When we make the promise, ‘til death us do part, we have no idea what that means.  Stay tuned…


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This morning I sat in the dark listening to a CD of chants praising the coming Light. My thoughts kept wandering to my promise to host two “strangers” for the week after Christmas.

My daughter Sally’s Buddhist Center is sponsoring a week-long retreat for 30 people. They were scurrying to find housing for their guests so she asked if I’d host someone. That some one turned into two women billeting* here – an artist from Vancouver BC and a woman from Portland Oregon.

As I sat my thoughts wandered to seeing my home through the eyes of a stranger – the dust on the globe, the spatters on the kitchen widow. What will they think about me and my trailings – my tell-tale signs?

Sally had suggested that I don’t spend preparing for Christmas in a frenzy of deep cleaning. I laughed when she said “many of the places where we stay at retreat centers have a trail of mouse poo.” (So far I haven’t seen signs the local mice know that my cat died.)

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Finally it struck me. This isn’t about me!

Christmas is about inviting the stranger in!

christmas blog 014 inside my front door

I began to wonder about Buddhism and hospitality and found chapter 11 from the book Hosting the Stranger:Between Religions. by Andy Rotman titled “Expecting the Unexpected and Acting Virtously.”

“Accounts in these materials of Buddhist laymen and laywomen interacting with Buddhist monks, who all too often arrive unexpectedly and at what seems to be the wrong time, form a template for Buddhist hospitality more generally. Even today, among Indians of all faiths, there is a common saying, atithi devo bhavah, meaning “the atihi- the guest- is god.”  One author, about the practice of Hindu worship, writes “the entire sequence… has one overall purpose: to make the god or goddess feel like a welcome guest.” ~Lawrence Babb

This is the Christmas Story!christ mas blog 004

Merry Christmas and may we all be blessed to entertain goddesses and gods, angels unaware, in the New Year!

*billet (v.)

1590s, “to assign quarters to,” earlier, as a noun, “official record or register” (Middle English), from Anglo-French billette “list, schedule,” diminutive of bille (see bill (n.1)) with -let. Related: Billeted; billeting.


  • Gaulish *bilia tree trunk; compare Old Irish bile landmark tree) + -ette -ette
  • Anglo-French, Middle French billette, equivalent. to bille log, tree trunk (
  • late Middle English bylet, bel(l)et 1400–50
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Giving thanks

Giving thanks II

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“In trailing the jumble of threads that are created from our choices we weave our identity. These same labyrinths become the keys to our advancement, and the locked doors that keep us from it.” (from Raised by Wolves, a Circus Automatic, 2012 )

Needing some inspiration before I meditated this morning I opened one of my favorite books, Fingerpainting on the Moon, by Peter Levitt.  He finds that reading poetry, literature and spiritual teaching awakens his intuition. “Working in this way was a bit like weaving a tapestry where the next thread just appears in your hand, which is what happens when your intuition and imagination become fully alive. You don’t know how the new thread is going to fit into the design …. but more often than not it does.”

Pausing for a moment I looked up and saw the old, outdated World map hanging in my living room. This old map has red lines stretching from continent to continent relating the miles from one major city to another across the world.

I saw a succession of peoples continually moving across these miles however they could – poets, artists, writers, bakers, peace makers, iron workers, craftsmen – men and women carrying their children and a few meager possessions to places they’d heard provided safety and or a living wage.

I imagined my ancestors planning to leave Prussia on a journey to Canada to save their sons from fighting in the Franco Prussian war, or my ex- husband’s Jewish family escaping Stalin and then Hitler, or my daughters-in-love families leaving Scotland or Italy just one generation ago for better lives for their families. Looking at the map I see a constantly moving trail of people believing that on the other side of fear lies freedom.

I’ve just returned from the weekend retreat with Matthew Wright about interspirituality. As we were ending he read the following email from Kabir Helminski, founder of the Threshold Society.*

1. Stand with those free of bias, superstition; the mystics and Gnostics.
2. Keep your spirits up – the light is growing. Keep a sense of humor and keep your heart open.
3. Be humble in your belief. Our own understanding is limited.
4. There is only us. If we blame them, we weep for us.

One of our participants told us about a Youtube Ted Talk titled How to Occupy the Noosphere: Ian MacKenzie at TEDxVictoria 2013, well worth listening to.

We are interdependent. Sending love bombs and mind bombs.  M


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giving thanks

Giving Thanks

Three friends and I are preparing to travel to Canada this weekend for a retreat with Matthew Wright, theologian, The price was right; the presenter is young, and brilliantly energetic. The topic is relevant to our retreat center, where we teach and support contemplative prayer practices, spiritual direction/companionship and mentoring.

When the announcement arrived for the retreat there was a small map showing a lake and the camp where the retreat will be held. We live in Bellingham, Washington a few miles as the crow flies to the U.S. Canadian border, so think nothing of driving back and forth. No problem. We’ll figure it out.

The directions arrived via email with a long list of things to bring like sleeping bags, pillows, warm clothes and water bottle, ear plugs and flash lights. We laughed about getting a bit old for bunk beds, but gamely assigned Linda as driver and me to figure out the route. I read directions to the site – the first from the Victoria B.C. airport, and then directions from three ferry docks to the site. Hmm. Interesting. No directions from the border. But we’ll figure it out.

Those of us who live in Salish Sea territory are familiar with taking “the ferry” to the many island cities along the Washington and British Columbia coast. Still it took another minute to dawn on me that we were signed up to travel to Victoria, the large island off the coast of B.C.! I sent an email to Linda saying this isn’t a quick trip across the border, and, “save your pennies, it’s getting expensive.”

Even though Stillpoint has a small budget, $5,000 this year, personally many of us live on the edge. Another $100 for the ferry, plus gas for the car was really pushing our individual pocket limits. We wouldn’t have committed to the retreat had we known this extra cost was involved.

I wrote to one of my guardian angels and asked “for a donation of $100 for ferry travel.” He responded immediately, “sure, but it’s going to cost more than $100 for 2 people.” Yes. He was right. It was $103 each way for 2 people and the car. Our angel paid for our reservation.

A third friend recently signed up to join us for the retreat so we’re sharing the “another person in the car,” cost. We agreed to use “the truck crossing” closer to her home. I’m urging us to leave a little earlier because sometimes in early morning there are longer waits at the border…

Which brings me to the point of this Thanksgiving story…



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