Hello New Day

Recently, the good folks over at University of Venus posted Deconstructing Proverbs. It’s a good read if, like me, you rely on proverbs to get your points across. I felt myself wanting to contribute to the list, so here are three (why stop at one?):

  1. You made your bed and now you have to sleep in it. Meaning: we all need to take responsibility for our actions, even when they come back to bite us. Own it – and learn from it. (Notice how when I say this proverb, I avoid the lay/lie confusion? Even for this English major, that one always stumps me!)
  2. Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it. I’ve often said this to colleagues who start worrying about potential institutional changes well in advance of them needing too. A few weeks ago I said this to my 3-year old who was worrying up a storm 3 days before a swimming lesson he was going to. When I said this, suggesting that we postpone his worrying until a more relevant time, he said, “Which bridge Mama? Ross Island Bridge?” Funny, that boy. Good reminder that proverbs don’t always translate well.
  3. Hello new day. Ok, so this isn’t really a proverb, it’s a lyric from one of my favorite Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers songs. It’s a nice and happy rock & roll song. I say it every morning (sometimes out loud and sometimes in song) because I need the reminder that I get to have a fresh start every day; that yesterday’s “stuff” doesn’t necessarily have to follow me. Check it out – you’ll want to sing along:

See? Sing along:

Well I feel lucky, I feel cool

What can I say?

Every time I give away a dollar or two

I find three more on the way

Now for better or worse, the whole Universe

Is singing along with every song I play

Hello new day!

Of course when I am not feeling so happy and optimistic, I might be heard grumbling this one, which actually may not be a proverb.

Yet. . .


Mr. Messy Meets Higher Education

Meet Mr. Messy, from a book of the same title:

Mr. Messy is a friend of my kid Mac, who for some reason is intrigued by Mr. Messy. We haven’t even read the book (so in fact I don’t know what it’s about), but we have seen his picture and sometimes it looks to Mac like Mr. Messy is:

a) wrapped up in pink silly putty, or

b) covered in strawberry jam, or

c) “like a flower with arms and feet!”

All of these scenarios might sound pretty neat if you are 3 — eh, hem, I mean 3 and 1/2 — years old.

For us grown-ups, though, messy may not be as fun. Messy means things are not simple, clean, or clear. Messy means being able to live in ambiguity (per my mother’s motto: “We’ll see…”). Messy means that emotions can be involved, that learning is tough, that life is sometimes challenging, that the world can be a difficult place. And as such, messy also provides opportunities. Learning to deal with messy means we get to problem-solve, think differently, find a way, and figure out how to navigate the rough and tumble seas, and then celebrate arrival to dry land and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

Without messy, we’d likely be bored. And without messy we probably wouldn’t learn much.

To celebrate messy, let me share another goodie from The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal,by Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc:

If higher education cannot deal with the messiness of real life, educated people will not be prepared to use their knowledge amid the complexities and the cruelties that constantly threaten to undo civilization. And they clearly will not know how to use their knowledge with wisdom, compassion, and love. . . If higher education does not help people learn how and why to take the risks of love, its moral contributions to the world will fall short of its potential. (pgs. 38-39)

I like the idea of addressing messy with love because love represents embracing something fully and being devoted and caring. Dean Dad recently suggested that we should “tolerate” ambiguity by reframing it, and he has a great point in asking us to consider this:

Which sounds better: uncertainty or possibility? Failure or learning experience? Internal politics or growing pains?

Um, that’s easy: Possibility, learning experience, and growing pains, please!

Ultimately, for us folks who work and learn in higher education (hopefully there’s overlap there, right?), I think that love — in the way my kid seems to love Mr. Messy — is likely more sustainable and impactful than tolerance. To me, tolerance means I put up with something that might bother me (e.g., I tolerate my husband’s inherent need to reload the dishwasher after I’ve loaded it); love, though, means we can embrace the messy and, as Dean Dad proposes, work to make a difference.

My kid loves Mr. Messy.

And I am trying to, too. Even when he’s covered in strawberry jam (or in this case, nutella).

Meet Mr. Messy: Loving ambiguity one waffle at a time.


Ritual. adjective

\ˈri-chə-wəl, -chəl; ˈrich-wəl\

1: of or relating to rites or a ritual : ceremonial <a ritual dance>
2: according to religious law <ritual purity>
3: done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol <ritual handshakes> <ritual background checks>

Mac (the boy) and Oscar (the dog) have a simple but meaningful ritual. Every night while Mac takes his bath or shower, Oscar waits by the bathroom door. After Mac is in his pj’s, has brushed his teeth, and has gone potty one more time, Oscar flips over onto his back, and then this happens:

Ritual bedtime belly-rub.

We might not be able to sleep without it.

Back To Nature

Last month’s Spring Into Service events at Marylhurst have had me thinking a lot (more) about the health of our natural environment and how we connect to nature. Robert Michael Pyle’s reading, especially, got my wheels turning, and I decided that one concrete thing I needed to do was get my kid out into the forest again. Pronto!

Last Sunday we did just this. With his own trekking poles and Camelback, the 3.5 year old and I ventured into the woods.

My hiking partner.

Now Mac’s been hiking a lot before because it’s something that my husband and I love to do. But until last weekend, he was always in the backpack or the stroller. And about last fall, he just got too heavy to schlep around on our backs, too wiggly to sit still in the stroller for the duration, and too unpredictable in both mood and matter to deal with on the trail. (He was, after all, still a toddler.) So we’d not been in a while.

One of our first long hikes together when Mac was about 9 months old. Memorable for one of us.

But now that he’s three, potty-trained, and has learned to listen (most of the time) and not run into the bushes unaccompanied (after all, one must stay on the trail), I decided that it was time for him to get his own feet on terra firma. After a hearty breakfast of pumpkin bread, we hit the trail and started walking. We looked at flowers and listened to birds. We admired the Gorge (and the trains we could see from our high perch above it).

A hike with views of the Columbia River Gorge

We wondered where all the big rocks came from.

"Mama, there's a lot of rocks here!"

We talked about where the deer might sleep, and examined a large and suspicious patch of white fur along the path (likely from another hiker’s dog, but still…maybe it was from a rabbit, or even a polar bear?!?!?) We rested and had a snack by a waterfall before turning back to civilization, the car, and the trains / bikes / trash trucks / and legos that beckoned him.

Waterfall lunch spot.

Back to nature. That’s where we went. For 2 whole hours, and almost 2 miles, we went back to nature. It was everything I had hoped for. I was optimistic that I’d started something good with and for him: that I’d created a nature-lover, a child who would take care of the earth and its inhabitants, a child who would not suffer from nature deficit disorder. I couldn’t wait to do it again! Success! Bravo mama – nice job!

When we got home, Mac’s dad asked him about the hike and what we saw and what we did, trying to show his own approval and excitement that Mac and I actually had:

  1. Gone on a hike that lasted more than 10 minutes without Mac declaring he wanted to go home and ride his bike, and
  2. Completed a hike that did not involve me — at any point — carrying him.

And what does that kid say about his hike? Let me quote:

Dado, I got to go pee pee in the forest! Let’s go hiking again – I liked going pee pee in the forest! That was cooool!

This is his take-away, his key memory of our time together in the forest. This is why he wants to go on a hike again.

To pee!

In the forest!


My intent was to have him know what the breeze sounds like among the ferns, experience the earthy smells of rotting wood and new green leaves, hear the birdsong, and feel the thrilling cold spray of a mountain waterfall on his shoulders. My intent was to elicit an appreciation for a different kind of playground, to admire its beauty and mystery and power, and to realize important ways to take care of it. My intent was to have him get back to nature.

And yet, apparently, I somehow accomplished something like this, though not exactly this.

Back to nature, we went. Back to nature.

And where is nature?

Nature: Where a young boy can pee in the forest and be thrilled to not have to flush.

Installment #15: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

Mac has a new game, and he plays it all the time. No, I mean All. The. Time!

It’s called: Find A Parking Spot

It’s also sometimes called: Stuck In Traffic

Here is how you play this game.

First, you have to find a parking spot for all the cars:

Then, all the cars need to line up to get on the bridge:

Then, the cars need to be next to other cars that match:

Then, all the cars need to go back to the parking lot to find a place to park, all while watching out for the trash truck because it’s bigger:

Finally, all the cars have to get back together again to be in a traffic jam and/or another parking lot:

The past few weeks Mac has asked me to play this game over and over again, and each time, it’s a version of what I’ve just described. The last time he asked me to play I said, “Mac, I don’t really like that game” to which he said, “But mama, I’ll let you drive!”

I have come to believe that this game is all about turning lemons into lemonade; it’s about making challenging situations into fun and imaginative ones; it’s about organizing chaos; it’s about trying to control that which we might not be able to actually control. It’s also about learning to navigate our way through the traffic jams and to find a good spot for ourselves. We might learn something from this game. The whole of the lesson isn’t entirely clear to me yet, but we might learn something. Something.

If anything, we might learn to watch out for the trash truck; it is, in fact, a whole lot bigger than all the rest of us. And last time I checked, there was an almost 3-year old behind the wheel.


#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

#6 – Selecting the Right Learning Tools

#7 – Ask For Help

#8 – Learn In Community

#9 – Embrace Ambiguity and Find Your Way

#10 – Apply Your Learning To New Situations or Problems

#11 – We Learn When We Are Well-Rested

#12 – The Importance of Feedback

#13 – We Need Good Food As Learning Fuel

#14 – Power To Life’s Puddles

Installment #14: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

“The world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”

~e.e. cummings

Through the puddle.

Mac likes to ride his bike through puddles. He seeks them out; we go on puddle-hunts. It’s a lot more fun than riding around the puddles, and when he finds a puddle to ride through, he gets happy and excited and scared and tentative and thrilled. He speeds up as he approaches them, but where he used to pick up his feet so as not to be affected by the puddle, he now drags them through, taking his time through the puddle space, one splash, and then another, and another, until he’s at the other end of it, wanting to do it one more time, one more time.

Mac’s attraction to puddles leads me to think that inside the puddle there is a particular kind of experience that’s more attractive than outside of the puddle. Going through it is way more interesting (though not often easier) than going around it.  So what’s that about?

We can call upon the proverbs of “Every path has its puddle” and “You can’t tell how deep a puddle is until you step into it,” and apply that to learning. The puddle is the unknown; the challenging; the dirty; the temporal; the ambiguous. It gets really messy in the puddle, and the puddle can be deep, it can be long, and it may take us a while to slog through it (because we want it to, or because that’s just how big that puddle is). Puddles can be unpredictable and scary, and we may love the risk-taking involved in challenging ourselves to enter them. Alas, our favorite puddle may not be there tomorrow, and so perhaps the temporary nature of the puddle may also call to us. I also think part of the attraction to the puddle — for toddlers, and for learners– is that going through them can be fun and ultimately pretty rewarding.

Power to the puddles is what my toddler has taught me this time. Embrace the ambiguity and messiness of the puddle (of learning, or unlearning, or re-learning), and head into it, push through it, and come out better for it.  We will be soaked and mud-caked, perhaps, but we will experience something qualitatively more meaningful that the puddle-avoiders will never get to know.

e.e. cummings had it right: the world is puddle-wonderful. Where will your next puddle-hunt take you?

To Learn To Cook – Or – To Cook To Learn?

(Note to my mother: this post is not for you. We all know you don’t like to cook; I will gladly do it for you. )

Culinate (one of the food sites / blogs that I follow) posted this article: A child’s place is in the kitchen – how cooking advances learning

Mac and I are making "mush" after a bike ride together: oatmeal with cranberries, almonds, and some cinnamon.

I contend that the learning benefits of cooking apply to adults as well.  In the same way that children learn from cooking with us, we keep learning when we cook too (or at least this adult does, which is perhaps why I like to cook). Our brains engage, we make meaning of what we’re doing, we take responsibility (ooops! I added too much salt that time), we see amazing scientific principles at work, we can employ our creativity, our senses engage, we’re actively learning, building skill, and (hopefully) enjoying the outcomes of our work. And often, we get feedback from others, which, if we’re open to it, can help us improve.

Mac performing quality-control on a batch of hummus.

Each time I cook — and every time I cook with Mac, which I try to do as often as possible — I think about the process, the end product, what we are doing and what the result is, and what we might do differently next time. And I think about our work together, as a cooking team. And when I cook with Mac, I take the time to let him be helpful (in opposition to his grandma’s adage that “watching is helping”).  He’s now quite adept at peeling (garlic, potatoes, cucumbers — you name it, he’ll peel it), he is really good at stirring, and he likes to taste along the way and let me know if something needs more lemon, more cumin, less paprika.

As he pointed out to me just two nights ago, our Asian stir fry would be a lot better with some ice cream in it. Now *that’s* what I mean by feedback!


I am cooking to learn.