Worms, Hairy Vetch, and Garlic

Last year, the hubs installed a small vegetable garden in our backyard. It made sense. He grew up at his farmer dad and granddad’s knee, growing and tending things. We want to be less dependent on the random fluctuations of the economy. We like fresh tomatoes.

He did pretty well, considering how busy he was with other things and how little we knew about soil building. The tomatoes were AMAZING. The strawberries were not too bad. The birds got more of the blueberries than we did, but the ones we got were little gems.

Then, I got into the “real food” blitz. It started by reading “Little Changes.” (btw I totally enthusiastically highly recommend this book to every thinking person). Kristi’s writing inspired me to look on Local Harvest for a CSA. I found one. The CSA farmer (henceforth Farmer J.R.) told us about Joel Salatin. I read “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer.” Then we watched “Food Inc.” and “Fresh.” Hey, when I jump on a bandwagon, I jump with both feet!

This summer John started volunteering out at the farm 3-4 days a week. I go out there when I can, and I have been learning what I like to call the mystical, arcane secrets of organic food production from Farmer J.R., who has become my personal vegetable-growing guru. My historical black thumb has finally met it’s match. (maybe? no, definitely. affirmation, folks!)

We did not plant anything this summer, because we were just starting to learn about effective composting – and because we were getting almost all our veggies from the CSA. But I did start laying the groundwork. Meet the Soil Minions:

One pound of red wiggler worms from The Urban Worm Girl

The Soil Minions – Red Wiggler Worms

We got these guys all set up in their new little happy home back in July, and last weekend we harvested our first haul of beautiful fertile black vermicompost. I love worms!!! You should too. Worms are AMAZING. Don’t believe me? Check out the Urban Worm Girl website. She’s my vermi-hero. Isn’t “Urban Worm Girl” kind of a super-hero name?

Next step in preparing for next spring’s planting – a ground cover for my two idle beds. I chose a mixture of winter rye and hairy vetch. Partly because it is nitrogen-fixing, grows quickly, and beats the pants off of most weeds. But honestly also partly because the name Hairy Vetch sounds like something I want to name a character in my next novel.

Did I mention “grows quickly?” I sowed cover crop seed less than 10 days ago in my front bed. Today, it looks like THIS:

Hairy Vetch

The foreground is the liriope that has always been in that bed. I like it. Pollinators like it, especially the bumbles. It can stay. And when I pulled out all the weeds I let the clover stay. It seemed silly to pull up a perfectly good cover crop in order to plant another cover crop – white clover was one of the options I considered before choosing the Hairy Vetch. Hee. I just really like typing that. Hairy Vetch Hairy Vetch Hairy Hairy Vetch Vetch!

Next up – sometime in the next week or so I should receive the seed garlic that I plan to put in the one remaining bed. I’m also pretty excited about growing my own garlic. We eat a LOT of garlic! My zone is warm enough that I had to stick to softneck varieties, so I ordered some Silver Rose and some Early Italian Purple. I am hoping to get enough of a good harvest to keep some for next winter’s seed garlic, and braid the rest!

What are your favorite foods to grow?

A Little Oversensitive

Past few months I’ve been … a little blue. Not full blown can’t get off the couch living on Ben and Jerry’s listening to Old 97’s hardcore depressed kind of blue. I’ve been there, it sucks, I’m grateful this wasn’t that. But bleh. Disinterested. Not at all excited about the things I’m usually passionate about. Sort of just going through the motions, y’know? More blue, less Green.

That’s why I haven’t blogged. The blue blehs, combined with a wee bit of old leftover low self esteem, convinced me that I didn’t have a single thing to say that anyone would be interested in reading. So I just didn’t.

Some of it was regular post-Haiti letdown. Some of it was life circumstances – a little good old fashioned strife with formerly close friends, a scary diagnosis in my near family, various people in my close circle having unhappiness hit them in various ways. And some, I think, was feeling a little more “out of step” with the world at large than I usually do.

Now, I’ve never been prone to any excessive “fitting in.” In high school, I was pretty much like the Ally Sheedy character in The Breakfast Club. (If you are too young or too uninterested in retro movies to get that, watch the previews for the new movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It looks like about the same thing, except there is more than one of them and they found each other. I was just me, all alone in a world of popular kids.) But this is different. I’m differenter now than I ever was before. Well, I’m sure I’m not, really. But I feel more out of step than I used to.

A lot of it is the green-lifestyle clean eating thing. That doesn’t seem like it would be such a big deal, right? I mean, I am making very personal choices about my food, cleaning products, and healthcare that don’t really impact anyone else but me. And the hubs. But he’s completely on board and supportive, so, this should not affect my ability to move in the world socially. Should it?

But it does. It hit me last Sunday at church. We are doing a series called God at the Movies, which so far has been quite wonderful. But part of the “movie” theme has been the addition of a popcorn machine and soda pop at the hospitality table. I looked around last weekend and everybody  I saw had a bag of popcorn in their hand. Except me. I was suddenly the only wacknoodle in the room that refused to consume weirdly orange butterishly flavored salty-oil stuff. I feel like the weirdo every time I leave the office on Thursday afternoon while the Marines are doing the weekly power-clean ritual with Lemon Pledge and Pine Sol. I am apparently the only one who gets headaches from that stuff. It seems completely normal to everyone else. I’m the odd one. Again. This is harder than it seems like it should be. I don’t want to be “just like everyone else.” But I’m also not super-happy about being that strange woman who won’t participate in Scentsy parties or walk into Bath and Body Works, who is (discreetly!) grossed out by half of what is at the potluck and never ever eats at the work socials where they bring in 25 fast-food pizzas.

I find myself saying that “I’m allergic” to a lot of things. I’m not, exactly – I’m just really sensitive to a lot of things, and more so now that I’ve eliminated them from my daily life. I had to walk up the cleaning products aisle in the grocery yesterday. I had a pretty good working headache within 30 seconds. Seriously, I am that sensitive to some chemicals in some cleaning products. I’m sensitive to MSG, a fair number of preservatives, a fair number of common artificial fragrances, and most artificial colors. They do anything from exacerbate my AD/HD symptoms to trigger fibromyalgia flares to cause headaches to make my skin break out. But it does seem that people accept “allergic” more readily than they do “sensitive.”

I have many, many friends who live a very conscious green health and sustainability focused lifestyle and don’t seem to be bothered by their own differentness. And in truth, I doubt any one human in my whole church noticed or cared that I was not drinking the Kool-Aid eating the popcorn. The Marines who get most involved with the Pine Sol and Pledge are very understanding and polite, and they come and tell me every Thursday when they are getting ready to commence Operation Smelldown. They don’t seem at all judgemental about it. But every once in a while I let the old demons of “I have to care desperately about what everyone thinks of me” come out and play.

It doesn’t help that since I’m not in school anymore, I feel a little directionless. Almost midlife-crisis like, but I don’t think we are really there. Well, maybe. Who knows? I am 45 after all. This could be it. (I sort of hope so, because as crises go this one was a little anticlimactic. I’m for that.)

As I am pulling out of this little Pit Of Disconnectedness (like the Pit Of Despair, but less drama-queenish) I am sure that I will find whatever my next big thing is to get passionate about. So if you are still with me, stay tuned for whatever my upcoming adventures in Greenness are destined to be.

What are you oversensitive to?

More about Sandley

When I came home from Haiti last June, one of the first things I did was blog about Sandley. That blog post had more hits than any other one I have ever written. That is my basis for guessing that some of y’all might like to learn more about this extraordinary young man.

Portrait of Sandley

Sandley at the mission, June 2012. Photo by John Rambo.

All I had to write about at that time was what I had seen and what I had been told. As of today, Heather has taken the time to pour her heart into Sandley’s story – how she found him, how he found Justin, how God brought them all to the right place for them. This is an amazing read, please take a moment with it.

I have also heard, since the original post, that Sandley is more successfully absorbing nutrients from his food now that he is being fed tiny quantities on a more frequent basis. I will update you all on his story as I learn more. John is going back to Haiti for an extended trip this spring, as well.

Sandley with missionary intern Justin Clark. Photo by John Rambo.

The Miriam Center is one of the very, very few places in Haiti that is equipped to take care of special needs children. They operate on a shoestring budget, but the 47 young people that they care for are loved, played with, educated, and have treatment plans developed by a special-needs experienced OT. There is a chronic shortage of diapers, food, and medical equipment – there is no shortage of love. To learn how you can help, visit  http://www.kimmyshouse.com/ .

My Unpoisoned Cleaning Kit

Do you have any “standard” conversations? The kind where, when you start talking about a particular subject – to anyone – you know how it is going to go and where it is going to wind up?

Every time I get into a conversation about my stance on reducing chemicals in my cleaning routine, it always winds up in the same place. Everyone I talk to seems to understand that my kids and I are very sensitized to several harsh chemicals. Most people “get” that a lot of those chemicals, along with many preservatives and artificial colors and flavorings, make our AD/HD symptoms worse. But virtually everyone I try to explain this to gets stuck on the issue of “So, um, well, how do you clean your house, then?” There’s an almost palpable cultural assumption that if I don’t own a closet full of commercial cleaners, I must live in some sort of health-hazard filth.

Moment of honest: Sometimes I’m tempted to shrug casually and toss off, “Clean my house? Oh, I don’t.” But that would be lying, plus it would reinforce the idea that all of us who are trying to break free of our industriochemical shackles are hippy-dippy fringe slob wacknoodles, and that’s not so helpful. So I don’t do that. I just think about doing it, and giggle on the inside.

More honest: I’m not that great of a housekeeper.  But I do have standards of hygiene and health, and I have learned a lot about maintaining them without the likes of Lauryl Dimethyl Amine Oxide (the listed active cleaning/surfactant agent in fantastik® All Purpose Cleaner With Bleach among others.)

If you click on the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that I linked above in that crazy chemical name, you will find the following totally reassuring information about potential chronic health effects:


See! There aren’t any studies available to prove that it’s dangerous! Therefore it’s obviously totally safe! Right? Oh, sorry, pardon my sarcasm. It just happens, sometimes.

Stage whispered aside: If you are curious about what is known regarding the safety of any chemical on the market, type the name of the chemical or the product into your search engine along with the letters “MSDS.”

Here’s are the tools that I use to keep my house safe, hygenic, and comfortable. I used all of these today, because we finally finished redecorating the upstairs bathroom. Icky but true, it hadn’t been properly cleaned since it became “the boys’ bathroom.” I love my sons, but keeping their bathroom sanitary was not their strong suit. When they moved out, we started painting and stuff, but I got (you guessed it) distracted, so it took a while. Now that it’s finally time to make it usable again … well … it was gross. It is not at all gross now, thanks to my personal arsenal of “Mother’s Little Helpers.” In fact, it is rather nice and shiny.

Cleaning Tools

Clockwise from bottom left: Pumice stone, portable steam cleaner, microfiber cleaning cloth, clog cannon.

Pumice Stone   – This gadget serves only one purpose in my life. I have super-hard water, and no matter how often I clean my toilets, I always wind up with a hard-water ring around the bowl at the water line. A pumice stone scours that ring away without damaging the porcelain, and without resorting to something like Lime-a-Way® or CLR®.  

The Shark portable steam cleaner  – This may be my favorite cleaning tool EVER. I hate cleaning, so you can take that however you choose. But this gadget, with it’s really groovy bag o’ attachments, has cleaned and sanitized every surface I’ve put it to with less effort than anything I have tried before. So far, “every surface I’ve put it to” includes tile and linoleum floors, bathtub/shower enclosures, sliding glass doors, and countertops. This is a heat producing device, so please, if you get one, don’t be like me! Read the directions and all the cautions and warnings thereunto pertaining! Yeah, I didn’t read ’em at first. Yeah, I burned myself. Yeah, I’m just like that. In this instance, I strongly recommend that you do as I say not as I did.

Microfiber cleaning rags – I am not eloquent enough to describe how useful these little babies are. There are several brands and styles out there, I’ve heard good things about a lot of them, the only ones I can really speak for are FlyLady’s Rags in a Bag. They clean everything. Without sprays or powders or anything, mostly – just water. I wipe my counters, clean mirrors and windows and my glasses and electronics, and scrub the inside of my microwave with ’em. I even have one set aside that I use for oil-cleansing my face.

Drain Clog Cannon  – This is an air-pressure gun that has, in the couple of years I’ve owned it, saved me from buying and using Drano® at least a half-dozen times. Including today. It looks like a toy, but it’s a serious tool, so again with the read the directions thing. But it works great!

These tools keep me from needing to use very much in the way of products, but when the need arises I use (in no particular order): vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, soap nuts, lemon juice, and borax. (Borax is controversial – I am comfortable using it in laundry and dishwasher soap, I understand that others aren’t. Not trying to start a fight, here – do what you feel is best for your family!)  I have several cleaning product recipes, including what I use for dishwasher soap, pinned on this board.

For me, the health effects are my primary reason for eliminating commercial cleansers from my home. Honestly, I count myself lucky that I do have obvious and immediate acute effects (blistering headaches and respiratory distress, mostly). They got my attention and helped me get serious about change much earlier than many people do, and hopefully they have saved me from any serious long-term chronic effects. My secondary reasons are ecological and economical. Okay, economical needs a word of explanation – steam cleaners are not cheap, so that is a long-term effect. Sad but true, I will have to not buy a lot of bottles of cleanser before that one pays for itself. But it will, eventually. Baking soda and lemon juice? CHEAP! Pumice stone? CHEAP! The rags – not disposable! I’ve had one set for over two years, they still work as well as brand new. And I’ve not bought a lot of paper towels and magic erasers in that time. I mean, a LOT.

Do any commercial cleaning products bother you – ecologically, medically, or economically? Other concerns? If they do, what do you use instead?


This is Kenderson.


Kenderson.  You can click on this picture to go to his sponsorship page.
File photo from http://www.NWHCM.org

I could try to describe what Kenderson’s life was like before he came to the Miriam Center, but that would be redundant. Heather Owen has already poured her passionate and compassionate writing into the state of this young man’s early life, so if you would indulge me by taking a look at this:


I have been privileged to see Kenderson on my last few trips to the mission campus. He has grown tall and a little pudgy, and no longer appears malnourished at all. But that first year of severe malnutrition will be with him for life. He suffers from serious developmental delays, an autism spectrum disorder,  and he may be deaf. Still, though, given his frightening beginning, he has turned out rather cute, eh?

Kenderson, Miriam Center

Kenderson Jean-Batise (photo by John Rambo)

I met Kenderson for the first time on my 2010 trip with Little J and Ber. That was the same trip where we met Pastor Curtis and his youth group – they “adopted” us onto their team for some ministry events, and I am still friends with many of them. Pastor Curtis spent a lot of time with Kenderson, and nicknamed him “Big Poppa.” He was a round little butterball of a three-year-old back then, and just beginning to connect with/acknowledge the people around him. He spent a lot of time on Curtis’ lap staring at the crazy blans like he was trying to figure out what planet we were from.

So as of this last trip, Kenderson is fed, clothed, has access to an occupational therapist in the summer (she’s trying to go full time starting next year – yay!), and is in pre-school.

The Miriam Center is one of the very, very few places in Haiti that is equipped to take care of special needs children. They operate on a shoestring budget, but the 47 young people that they care for are loved, fed, educated, and have treatment plans developed by a special-needs experienced OT. There is a chronic shortage of diapers, food, and medical equipment – there is no shortage of love. To learn how you can help, visit http://www.kimmyshouse.com/ .

Meet my friend Sandley.

Sandley is 20 months old. Yep, that is not a typo – he will be two years old in September of 2012. I didn’t ask how much he weighed, but from the times I held him I would guess less than 15 lbs – smaller than an average 3 month old.

Chandra helping Sandley take formula through a syringe

It is an unusual feeding position, but it is all he has to work with. Photo by John Rambo, 2012, at NWHCM

Sandley appears (to me – not a medical professional) as mentally alert and responsive as any average infant in the U.S. He is most likely to smile when making eye contact, and he discerns the voices of his “special” people that he is close to – particularly his blan papa, an NWHCM missionary named Justin. His eyes are huge and wise, his face is expressive. He  knows when he is being held by someone who loves him.

The tiny muscles in his arms, shoulders, and back are so well developed that many of my Marine gym-rat friends would be envious. He holds his muscles under tension at all times, even when sleeping. It seems a little like living inside a perpetual charley-horse.

When Sandley has one of his many seizures, he cannot even cry. His body curls up even further – sometimes his feet almost touch the back of his head, and his head turns to look over his left shoulder. In the strongest of his seizures, his arms and hands tremble as yours or mine would if we clenched them too tightly. As he begins to relax, he is able to cry.

Sandley’s malnutrition is advanced – he has symptoms of kwashiorkor, a protein deficiency that causes his hair to grow in thin, fine, and red instead of black. He is fed a very mild formula, dripped into his mouth through a syringe, but his stomach is so sensitive that even this causes diarrhea and he does not absorb much nutrition as the formula passes through him. The co-directors of the Miriam Center, the OT, and the doctor are discussing options for helping his little body take in nutrients more efficiently – it may be possible to place him on a continuous-drip feeding tube for a time until he gains a little weight and his organs function a little more efficiently. He needs to be just a few pounds heavier before he has a chance of being able to tolerate the anti-seizure medications that could begin to ease his pain.


The Miriam Center is one of the very, very few places in Haiti that is equipped to take care of special needs children. They operate on a shoestring budget, but the 47 young people that they care for are loved, cared for, educated, and have treatment plans developed by a special-needs experienced OT. There is a chronic shortage of diapers, food, and medical equipment – there is no shortage of love. To learn how you can help, visit http://www.kimmyshouse.com/ .

No, seriously. I really, really, like breathing.

So – two trips to the ER. Every test an ER can do. There is nothing at all wrong with me. I’m in*perfect* health. (Okay, that part is good, and I am grateful.) Except for the part where it really hurts to breathe.  I have been aware of and pretty well in control of my breath my whole life. Literally. My mom is a yoga teacher. She taught me how to take slow full complete breaths… probably before she taught me to tie my shoes. Five years of vocal music lessons – I can’t sing a note, but you had better believe I can breathe from the diaphragm.

But now all of a sudden, I have no control over my breath. And I’m not gonna lie, it is freaking me out a little.

A week and a half ago – Saturday, the 19th. I took a Sabbath. No kidding.  I had been busy every weekend for months – photo shoots with Bo, CMA events, weddings,  work days, baby showers, travel to VA for school – always something. And Sundays are a day of worship for me, but they aren’t really a “Sabbath” because of the amount of work that we do to set up and tear down our church. So Saturday I told Bo that I was not doing anything. I literally laid on the couch, surfed the internet, and scratched my dogs all day long.

Apparently that much rest is bad for me.

At one point mid-afternoon I got up to make a sandwich. Somewhere around spreading the almond butter, I noticed that I was a little short of breath. Weird. I’m in pretty good shape, walking to the kitchen doesn’t usually wind me. The rest of part one of my saga is here.

So, by the end of Part 1 I had come to the conclusion that it was allergies, dog hair, dust, maybe mildew from the ducts. Yeah, um … no. That wasn’t it.

We went over every square inch of floor, with the Dyson, four times. Dusted everything that couldn’t run away from us with very good ostrich-feather and microfiber dusters that hold everything, not the kind that just kick the dust up into the air. Brushed everything that  could run away from us. Changed the vent filters, with special attention to installing the super-mega-ultra-allergenic-millionth-of-a-micron gold standard filters. I felt better, some. So, that was all probably a pretty good idea. (It’s definitely all stuff I should do a lot more often, with or without the silly breathing thing.)

But then we went over to our friends’ house for Thanksgiving dinner. My friend is a neat-freak. I’ve never seen dust in her home. And she only had one small, not particularly shed-happy dog (a miniature dachshund.) And I was still periodically noticing, especially when I was standing up or walking, that I was breathing fast and shallow at the very top of my lungs.  And the instinctive response when you notice that you aren’t breathing well is to try to breathe deeper. Which now really seriously hurts. So that’s scary. And when you are scared you breathe faster, and… it all gets in a handbasket and rolls on down from there, unless I get really conscious of the situation really fast and make a very specific, very focused effort to get it under control. Which I can, yay! But only by breathing really unnaturally slowly, from the abdomen only, holding my chest muscles completely still.

And then came Saturday. Beautiful day. Woke up feeling pretty good. (sidebar – I can breathe just fine when I’m lying down. Mostly okay when I’m sitting. It gets bad when I stand, and really bad when I walk more than a block.) Got on the motorcycle (backseating on Steve, Krea is still… becoming beautiful) and rode to CMA bible study down in Morehead City. Spent a nice two hours with great friends there, and then several of us planned to ride to New Bern to the Harley dealership to help out with a children’s home fundraiser ride that they were doing.

If you aren’t familiar with my neck of the woods, the ride from Morehead City to New Bern is maybe 40 miles, mostly open state highway, passing through a couple small towns but  mostly open road. Not much traffic, not much exhaust, certainly no dog hair or mildew, very little dust. And I could not get my breathing under control. All the fresh clean air anyone could want, and I’m hyperventilating and feeling like I have my head in a plastic bag. Seriously?

So we went to the event, I sat down and kept trying. Unfortunately the only bench available to sit on was right next to the ashtray. So I was breathing secondhand smoke and trying to get my breathing under control. It didn’t help that I was pretty upset, because I really wanted to be at this particular event, held in honor of a wonderful dear man who recently passed away. Bad conditions for breath control.

So, I admitted defeat and told Bo that I needed to go back to the ER.

I won’t go into detail. Nobody wants that. Short version (no, Chan, too late for that) after two chest X-rays, a contrast C-T scan, heart monitor, Pulse Ox, extensive conversation with the respiratory therapist (who is also my Thanksgiving hostess friend), and even more blood tests …. I am really. Really. Healthy. Except it hurts to breathe.

From here – I have a consult with a cardiologist, then back to my primary doc. Then, maybe (I really really hope not) a pulmonologist, an allergist, an endocrinologist… apparently your thyroid has a lot to do with how you breathe. Who knew?

And after all of that, it is probably an odd presentation of a panic or anxiety attack. By odd, I mean – my stress level is lower now than it has ever been in my adult life – and the worst of these attacks happened when I was totally chilled out or having fun. And I’ve never had panic or anxiety attacks before, even when I was under serious stress. But still – right now that is what seems likely.

I think I have a new ninja talent. I can make medical professionals scratch their heads and shrug.

I like breathing.

Yeah, so – I spent Tuesday night in the E.R.  No rumors of my demise, please – I’m fine. I just couldn’t breathe very well.

It was scary. I’m not gonna lie.  Saturday I started having a little trouble breathing. Nothing dramatic, just … it felt like I had run a mile or so, when I hadn’t. Sunday it got a little worse. Stop thinking about yelling at me. I know, I know, I should have gone to the E.R. immediately. I’m a dummyhead. I know.

By Monday it was pretty weird. I was having random attacks of feeling like I could NOT get enough air into my lungs, no matter what. And when I tried, it kind of hurt. Like I was fighting to expand my lungs, and an evil invisible boa constrictor was fighting to keep them contracted. Okay, you are right, I definitely should have gone to the E.R. at this point. Dummyhead. Got it. Movin’ on.

I procrastinated the whole hospital panic thing because I had a regular doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday afternoon anyways. Still dumb, but at least I was not entirely eschewing medical attention. Dr. G checked me over, did an EKG (very good), checked the oxygen saturation in my blood (also very good), and told me that it was “probably” no big deal at all, but just to be 100% super-duper-on-the-safe-side sure, he:

a) wrote me a consultation to a cardiologist for a stress test
b) ordered a ton of blood tests and a chest x-ray
c) strongly strongly strongly recommended that I go to the E.R. so that they could definitively rule out a heart attack.

In the name of honesty, I will tell you, I walked out of his office thinking “yeah, right, heart attack. I’m 45 years old and in the best health of my life, I am NOT having a heart attack and I am NOT going to go sit in an E.R. for hours and hours for no reason!”

And then my common sense caught up with me. Drat that sense! I don’t use it very often – perhaps because sometimes it is decidedly inconvenient. I remember my grandma’s first heart attack. It was right before I joined the Navy. The only symptom she had was shortness of breath. My grandpa (purveyor of a great deal of common sense, except where his own health was concerned … hmm…) called 911. It was a very good call.

Well, I spent my 20’s and 30’s completely ignoring good advice from my doctors. In my own defense, the socialized medical care that I was receiving at that point (Navy hospital – they try, but they are really really undertrained and overbooked) was often worth ignoring. But still, I’ve been trying to do better lately. So I went to Onslow hospital’s emergency entrance. They were packed. Call me a stereotyper, but I really didn’t thing that an emergency department would be that crowded at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday. Sigh.

I won’t bore you with all the details. The short version of the next 12 hours of my life is – Bo drove out to be with me. They did three rounds of blood tests and a chest x-ray. Then they made me take prednisone (ack! bleck!) and two breathing treatments. I had a very bad reaction to the breathing treatments. The nurse said “you will feel sort of ‘jittery'” – yeah, apparently for me “jittery” = full-on panic attacks.

By 2 a.m. they were pretty sure that I was not having a heart attack or a blood clot.  So they released me. The official diagnosis was “reactive airway disease” which basically amounts to an allergic reaction. I am still going to follow up with the cardiologist, the chest x-ray, all of that. But chances are, the mass quantities of dog hair and the dust that the dogs bring in, coupled with the fact that my cleaning routines have been off-kilter since my last trip to Lynchburg, are to blame.

In other words, I’m not dying. I just don’t vacuum enough.

It’s only fear, book 2

A year ago, I was annoyed.

Today, I am appalled.

I heard an interesting lecture recently – it was in a recording of the “Lead Like Jesus” presentation hosted by Ken Blanchard, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren. The point emphasized by one speaker (I’m sorry I don’t remember which one, I was driving my car so I didn’t take notes) was that there are two fundamental motivations for human action; love or fear.

Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but I can get behind it in most cases. I mean, if I think deeply about other motivations – greed could be defined as “fear of not having enough,” arrogance as “fear of appearing insufficient,” etc. So, okay – working hypothesis, for this essay at least – love and fear are fundamental motivators of human action.

From my Christian worldview, the only motivation supported or endorsed by study of the scriptures is love. Specifically “love the Lord your God” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” What are we LOSING, as Americans, Christians, citizens of a democracy, when we take or tolerate actions motivated by fear?

On my way to work this morning, I listened to a podcast of an old (well, two months old) debate on Intelligence Squared – one of my favorite new iTunes podcast addictions. If you are not familiar with it, it’s Oxford-style debating on political topics, two on two, some of the most prominent political analysts and officials in the U.S. So, the one I listened to this morning was on the topic “It’s Time to End the War on Terror.”

Both sides made intelligent, well-reasoned arguments. And by the rules of the program, the “Against” side one – that is, they swayed the most members of the live audience to their side. Good to go. But one member of the against team, in his opening argument, absolutely shocked me. His rationale was that, as long as we remain legally in a “declared” state of war, we have the right to use strenuous interrogation tactics, order drone strikes on whoever the president names, detain prisoners for years with no constitutional rights to speedy trial, and carry out operations like the killing of bin Ladin. In fact, one of his principle talking points was that the way that operation was carried out – an armed military person shooting an unarmed, unresisting man – would have been either murder or assassination if we were NOT at war. Therefore we should remain at war, so that we can kill opponents in those situations instead of apprehending them and bringing them to trial. And by “strenuous interrogation tactics” – for now, apparently, we only mean waterboarding. But it does leave the door open for other options. Think about it. Are we who we say we want to be?

I read a news article this morning. In this one, former Baltimore police lieutenant Charles J. Kelly, who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, called pepper spray a “compliance tool.” He was defending the UC Davis officers who sprayed that line of seated, passive students. COMPLIANCE TOOL? I’ve heard pepper spray defined in terms of self-defense, and of riot control. A non-lethal tool to divert a violent attack. But a “compliance tool?” Does that freak anyone else out? Or does it only depend on who is being asked to “comply,” and with what?

And why are we afraid of the “occupy” movement, anyways? Because we disagree with them? Because they may fizzle out and give up? Because they may cause actual policy change in some areas of U.S. infrastructure that have become sacred cows? Or because we just don’t want to have the conversations that they are starting, about whether “the way we’ve always done it” (since about 1990-ish, anyways) is actually the best way to do “it.” Whatever “it” is, take your pick. Taxation, public education, administration of social programs. Why are these occupiers so scary that they need to be silenced at any cost? If they are wrong, they aren’t scary, maybe just annoying and inconvenient. If they are right, they aren’t scary, but other things are. There is a way to handle annoying and inconvenient. I don’t object to arresting someone who is breaking the law. You block the public roadway, violate noise ordinances, stop workers from getting into their offices, or raise your fist against police (or anyone else) – you should go to jail. And stand trial. But this…?

The Patriot Act. Consenting to all but a prostate exam in order to travel by airplane. Defending a declaration of war as necessary to avoid having to allow suspects constitutional rights. Are we motivated by fear, or love? If it is to be love, what are we going to do to stop our fear from dragging us any further down its path?

Rant of the Androgogue (public high school pt. 2)

In my line of work, there is a lot of discussion about “pedagogy” v. “androgogy” (thank you, Dr. Knowles) – basically the differences in how children learn v. how adults learn. I won’t bore you.

But the question that always interests me is, of course – what about our teens? How do they learn best? 

 Ubiquitous chandeeregreen ***disclaimer*** : I know that there are many many many high school teachers out there doing much better and more interesting things than the “pedagogy” example listed below. But I don’t think the majority are. Sorry. Just haven’t seen it much.

Social science pedagogy: Assign a textbook reading on Maslow. Use class time to draw a pyramid on the board and lecture through the hierarchy of needs. Give a pop quiz at the end of the week.
Social science androgogy: Give students – groups of four to six – 3/4 of a class period to come up with a Lord of the Flies list.  You and your classmates are stranded on a deserted island in a shipwreck, have to establish a civilization that meets everyone’s needs. What must happen? Prioritize it.
Use the last quarter of the class period to fit their ideas into the hierarchy of needs.

How much of high school still relies on listening to class lecture, taking notes, reading text, and taking written tests? How many students thrive in that environment and emerge well prepared to function as adult members of our society?

Can we do better? And does the question of whether teens should be treated (and educated) like children, like adults, or like a special entity of their very own have anything to do with doing better?

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