Thursday, June 29, 2017


A zibaldone much older than mine.

Not even sure how to label this one.

I've tried all sorts of organizational tools in my lifetime--planners and notetaking systems and project trackers of a variety of styles and designs--paper, web-based, apps, you name it. I've never found one that really and truly and completely works with all the parts together in one place--monthly, weekly and daily schedules, to-do lists, worship planning helps, journaling,prayer lists and contact information all in one--oh, and commonplace booklinks between them. It probably can't exist.

I've managed to create a system, though, that works for me, and actually, it is better this way. My journaling and prayer lists remain private because they are separate--so no one but me sees those prayer needs (mine or anyone else's) or my less-than-elegant attempts at poetry. I can actually carry it (my last stab at combining as much of this as I could ended up weighing more than my laptop--and was not available as an app for said laptop, or for its replacement tablet).

The catalyst for my epiphany was an article on a renaissance book called a "zibaldone," or commonplace book. These were carried about by renaissance writers and artists who used them to record, well, pretty much everything. Journals, yes, but also their expenses, the names of new people they met, the details of a deal they'd struck, a drawing of a architectural detail they liked, a flower that struck them, poetry, notes from a meeting, a sermon--anything they wanted to record. They were the smartphones of their day, without the separate Pinterest, cameras, Evernote, recorders, and spreadsheet apps. Always available, never need charging, can't get lost in the cloud... I started using one (I like Moleskine, but I just like their size and price and feel). I put everything in there--my journaling, notes from team and Board meetings, from community group meetings, from phone calls, anything I am likely to want to remember. Bonus--I can index them! I can write a word or phrase in the blank space at the top of the page to remind myself what I'm talking about on that page: "Food closet;" "Pentecost planning,"Worship team meeting," "Bonnie," and so on.

And then I found Moleskine's 18-month weekly datebooks. I've used daily planners for years and years--one side for appointments and to-dos, the other for notes and planning. It worked for a long time, until life started getting more complicated. As a full-time pastor, I am juggling way more projects and needs and things than ever before. I was continually transferring things from day to day to day. Even when I tried assigning tasks to days within the week (task A to Tuesday, task B to Wednesday, etc.) invariably task A did not get done, or not completely, and had to be moved to Wednesday, and then something came up and then of course I had tasks C, D, and E...all of which had to fit in Wednesday and Thursday...). But the weekly worked great--the days of the week on the left-hand page with their appointments and meetings, the right-hand page blank ruled for that to-do list. I rarely have more than two or three appointments in  a day, and there's plenty of room for that.

So. My zibaldone for journaling and notes, the datebook for planning (I do keep the dates in my phone, too--it's an extra step, but I do always have my phone with me, even when I am not "at work"), a prayer app for keeping track of prayers (so I can record prayer requests on the run and not only pray then but include it in my daily prayers and also
in the prayers of the people on Sundays), and contacts in my phone (which does link with the calendar in my phone).

Worship planning... well, I have several calendars in my phone which let me know Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Sikh, Jain and Hindu holidays. But that's not really something, I have discovered, that I can do in a planner or journal anyway. It's more of a "need to be aware of when setting dates" than anything else. Worship planning takes place over weeks, not days or hours; it's not something you really need in a planner, except to note the holidays/observances and make time for thinking about/working with the planning team.

Anyway, this system has been working for me for about four-five months, and I think it is going to stick. It has worked well with a seminar, with travel, with planning I am currently doing for a big capitol fundraiser for the church.

A journal/zabaldone, a datebook, a smartphone. Oh, and they all fit in my bag without hurting my shoulder too. Bonus!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Random Friday Five on a Saturday....

1. Health Care
So I am in that doughnut hole. Too old and with too many pre-existing conditions to get low premiums but not old enough for Medicare; make too much for Medicaid, but not really enough to easily cover my premiums, co-pays, and deductibles on my own. As a pastor, yes, I pay my own insurance. The current health care bills in Congress are pretty disastrous, not only for the severely disabled, for the folks we saw on the news protesting on the Hill and being dragged away by the Capitol Police, but for millions of people. I have several pre-existing conditions: cancer, migraines, a bleeding disorder (in my childhood, never had a problem in several operations since), a pregnancy complicated by a cesarean section (I'm of an age to never have children again), a couple of sprained ankles, a sprained wrist, arthritis, a brain cyst (completely benign, I was born with it). Only the arthritis and the migraines are a current, ongoing concern, and my neurologist and I have the migraines under control; my primary and I are doing all we can about the arthritis. Yes, the cancer could return, I grant that. The rest are unlikely or no more likely for me than for anyone else. And yet my premiums are pretty high--about 12%  of my yearly income, not including deductibles and co-pays--and that's for a bronze plan. I could skip it, living on pain meds when the migraines or arthritis flare up, praying the cancer doesn't return...but what if it does?  Here's my point--I am not the only one doing this calculus, trying to decide whether to roll the dice. Not get the insurance (possibly paying a penalty, if that's part of the final bill) and pray I stay healthy; or get the bare minimum plan I can afford that will cover cancer care, just in case, and scrimp by somewhere else (but what else can I cut back)? Catch 22. And I am not alone.

2. Family!
OK, this one's much happier! My son (AKA Tall One to readers of an earlier incarnation of this blog) was married last month, and I could not be happier. He married a wonderful woman, who is smart and kind and independent and gives him a run for his money and loves him--as he loves her. It was a beautiful wedding n Washington DC, officiated by a former mentor and friend. The whole weekend was wonderful (well, aside from the flight there and back--but that was only three or four hours out of the weekend). I got to see my mom, and my sisters and some of their significant others, and friends I had not actually seen in years, catch up with people I used to count as family--and who still are, really. What a warm and loving time to share with people who mean so much to me!

3. Chores
Why am I so reluctant to do them, even though I like having done them? Scrubbing the bathroom, doing laundry, mopping the floor....ugh. But I love having clean clothes, clean floors, etc. Human nature. Go figure.

4. Reading books
"And of the reading of books there shall be no end."
I have several books that I am stuck in the middle of, not because I am finding them boring, but quite the opposite--they are pulling on my emotions so strongly that I dread reading further. Underground Railroad, All the Light We Cannot See, and Barkskins are calling me back but I am dreading the emotional rack they will put me on. So I am reading other books, good books, but books that do not threaten my emotions, coward that I am. I should have checked them out of the library, then I would have had to get them read.

5.  Pride!
June is Pride month; June 28th marks the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in New York in 1969 that is the traditional start of the LGBTIQ rights movement. There were sit-ins and riots before that, but the Pride parade the next year was the first. As other civil rights and human rights movements took shape in the 60s, members of the LGBTIQ community (which had not really coalesced as such yet) began to take note and began to deman our civil rights too. The rainbow flag was created in San Francisco to represent the values of the LGBTIQ community; in some communities, a black stripe and a brown stripe have added to include people of color, which has roused some controversy. Still, the rainbow has come to symbolize inclusion, diversity, and welcome around the world. When attending a Pride event, the proper greeting is "Happy Pride!"

Monday, February 06, 2017

Public Education

I took a couple of teaching classes, even a field experience. I was very involved with my son's grade school and middle school. Education's been an interest of mine. But I am not an educator. I'm not even an educator lite. I don't think I'm even qualified to run for the local school board.

One of the Cabinet nominees who has been receiving a lot of resistance has been Betsy DuVos, the nominee for Education Secretary. While she has a demonstrated interest in education, she doesn't seem to have the expertise or training needed to oversee the many programs run by the DoEd. They run from higher education grants and loans, to standardized testing of grade schoolers, to voucher programs for charter schools (one of her favorites) to university campus safety programs, to name a very few. The Secretary of Education obviously can't be an expert in all these areas, but should understand and be conversant with basic educational concepts, know the pros and cons of standardized testing (regardless of their own opinion), know what laws and regulations govern education nationwide and how they are applied, and so forth. They should understand that these regulations and laws apply to all students equally, not only the ones the Secretary (or the Department) feels comfortable with (that is, not only students attending certain schools, or of certain religions, or in certain states, etc.). 

There's a couple of reasons public schools were instituted in the US, and they are intertwined. One was because only some parents could afford to send their children to private schools, others could only afford cheap, low-quality schools, and some could not afford any schools. So we ended up with the same stratified society as Europe had, and that the US was, at least in part, formed to escape. Those with education were the ones who owned all the land, the banks, the stores; those without education were labor. I'm talking about the late 1800's, by the way--before then, there was no public education, or very little. But with the rise of industrialization, those very industrialists began to realize it worked--at least somewhat--in their favor to have an educated workforce. Workers who could read and calculate, who knew how to figure a right angle and write a coherent paragraph--these were what they needed. And so public schools were born. The added value was that everyone got the education--child of the bricklayer, child of the electrician, child of the grocer, child of the senator, child of the steelworker--every child in the public school got the same education. At least theoretically. 

An employer could require a high diploma as part of her hiring requirements and assume that the person could read, write, knew the four basic functions of arithmetic, had a passing acquaintance with algebra and maybe even calculus, had had some civics and maybe some rhetoric. Perhaps they had had some shop or home ec; they had some music and art classes. They certainly had had gym class. 

So those two reasons--equality of education and accessibility to education--were intertwined. Whether it was a bit of an unholy alliance is another question. The goals were laudable, certainly. 

It's gotten harder over time. When I went to high school, we weren't required to take gym--and in retrospect, we should have been. We didn't have rhetoric, and I think it would have useful. Shop I had in middle school. But we did have a richness of art classes, of music, including jazz and marching band; a full roster of home ec, of advanced placement science, language, English, history, and math classes. And the changes have only gotten more complex. When my son graduated from high school ten years ago, he didn't have rhetoric either. But he started using Powerpoint in middle school for class projects; he graduated from high school using Excel, Word, and the Internet as a matter of course. He had art classes, he had home ec, had music and gym. 

I recognize fully that we were both fortunate in that we went to well-funded schools--we had access to music and art and gym and advanced placement classes and computers. 

But my point is more about the changes in curriculum and the philosophy of education--why do we educate, why have a public education system? 

When I lived in Canada, I learned they actually had three school boards. There was the public school, the Catholic school, and the French school. The debates about the degree of autonomy each should have and what each should be required to do were sometimes quite heated (all received government money). The debates generally narrowed down to this: the schools saying "We are independent for a reason, parents want us to teach their children in a specific way, and that is our charter;" and the government saying, "You receive government funding, therefore you must follow government rules." Generally the French board followed the rules. The return salvo was usually the Catholic board saying, "But religion!" Whether the topic was hiring, teaching sex ed, gay-straight alliances, or how many vacation days to offer. 

To me, the solution seemed straightforward. If you want to make your own rules, don't use government funds. If you don't have enough financial support without government funds, then there isn't enough demand for your services. Now, in Canada, there is a bilingualism law, so the French school option may be required--I am not sure. 

Here's the point I'm trying to make: Public schools exist to educate the public--equitably and well. The Department of Education exists to ensure that not only public schools but all schools--public and private, the latter of whatever designation--are also educating students well. In order to do that, the Department of Education needs to be headed by someone who understands what education is, who has a thorough grounding in education, who is able to understand what works and what does not, who will recognize fads and false quick fixes for what they are, who has hands-on experience working in the classroom at some level with students, who has taught, who is an educator. Betsy DuVos is not such a person.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Random Frday Five...

It’s a midwinter Friday and I have many things I could/should be doing for the church and at home and my energy is nowhere to be found. So I am going to blog a bit and try to get a start on the sermon and call it a day. There’s tomorrow for the rest of it. 

A Random Friday Five!
1. What's the weather like where you are?

Meh. Grey and overcast. We had a little snow, enough to show on the grass, but not enough to even make people turn on windshield wipers. 

2. What is your dream vacation spot and/or activity?

At the moment, either of two scenarios. One would be a cabin in the woods with a deck overlooking a lake. I would alternate reading in a hammock/deck chair with walking in the woods and canoeing. In the evening, after something grilled, I would watch a good movie, then read again then fall asleep to the song of the loons on the lake. Alternatively, I would follow the same schedule at a secluded beach in Hawai’i substituting the Pacific, the beach, and beach-combing for the lake, woods and canoeing; there would be no loons. 

3. What book are you currently reading? (Just pick one. I know how you people are)

Just one? You’re no fun. OK, the one I just started is Annie Proulx’s latest, Barkskins, a multigenerational saga about Canada’s European timber/fur dynasties and the First Nations they displaced—at least, that’s what I understand from the jacket copy, the online discussions I’ve seen and what I have read so far. Having lived in Canada recently and learned about this first hand (both First Nation and European friends), it’s of great interest to me. Annie Proulx is a gifted writer; to have a topic that fascinates me written by one of my favorite authors makes for a bit of heaven. 

4. Name a household chore you don't mind doing.

I don’t mind washing dishes. There’s just me, so there aren’t a lot of them, for one thing. It warms up my hands, which warms the rest of me (I’m on a new medication that messes up my internal thermostat and I am always chilly now). And it’s an easy way to feel like I have gotten something done!

5. You have an unexpectedly free afternoon. What do you do? (This is only a hypothetical, sorry. I can't be going around handing out vacation time).

There’s a couple of thrift shops I’ve been meaning to visit, and since this is a hypothetical free afternoon, it’s hypothetically spring, too, so I will also go to one of the local parks for a walk. 

Thanks, Monica, that was fun!

Clarence Darrow--Beyond Scopes and Leopold & Loeb

Personalities fascinate me--people do. One way I try to understand history and places is through people--which is why I love good histor...