Rorschach Bunny

What do YOU see in this bunny?

It’s the week before finals at my school, just before we adjourn for Winter Break. I showed a baby animal image before each class, as I usually do, but, instead of asking students to describe this one objectively, I jumped right to “What do you think is going on?” Students responded mostly with “it’s tired,” followed by “it’s sleepy,” “it’s scared,” and “it’s praying.” Only one of my boys said, “Um, I think it’s just meditating.”

Talk about projection! Projection is defined in psychology as “the process of displacing one’s feelings onto a different person, animal, or object.” So I guess these students are feeling a little bit stressed.

My students’ responses illustrated poignantly the principle that we can all see the same image, yet all draw different conclusions based on our different realities. That one kid with his head down almost all period? He could’ve been playing video games all night (like one of my boys last year). In fact, he had been up past midnight studying, then had to leave the house at 5:30 to take his mom to the airport and sit in rush-hour traffic to get to school on time. I know, because I asked. The lesson here — no assumptions. Give people the benefit of the doubt.

Montessori Wisdom

A Montessori classroom

I ran across this article entitled, “11 Montessori-inspired phrases to teach young children how to respectfully disagree” from a mothering website, and wish to pass it on as good advice for adults, too, especially in the new normal of fractured civic discourse.

Here’s the basic list:

1. “What do you think about that?”

2. “Do you have a different opinion?”

3. “Would you like a turn to talk?”

4. “You can say ‘I have a different opinion about that.'”

5. “I hear that you disagree. How can you say that differently?”

6. “It sounds like we need a moderator.”

7. “Wow, you have a strong opinion about that.”

8. “I don’t think that’s right. I’m going to ask a question.”

9. “You didn’t want to play cars. What could you say to your friend?”

10. “Let’s play a game!”

11. “Let’s try the peace rose.”

Can you imagine if world leaders at the recent NATO Summit had used ANY of these phrases? It’s worth remembering that the “children are watching us” and they are the adults of the future. I’m grateful that my own children had a solid early education foundation in the Montessori Method. But it’s not too late for all of us to apply a little Montessori Wisdom.

Tis the season…

Seasonal Depression

I love the holiday season. But not every day nor every hour. Society creates such high expectations for happiness during this season that it can exacerbate completely normal and natural feelings of sadness.

Images surround us of shopping and gifts and happy people receiving things. Fortunately, we can also find at our fingertips a myriad of self-help articles, infographics, and helpline contacts. Just before Thanksgiving, The New York TImes published an article entitled,“Yes, It’s O.K. to be Sad During the Holidays.” One observation in particular struck me: “Social media is not real life. … The holidays can be basically one giant Instagram filter.” According to Dr Judith Orloff, some people “desperately want others to think they’re happy and O.K., so they overcompensate with beaming too much of a smile, being too bubbly or seeming inauthentically happy so the happiness doesn’t feel real.”

Just because I posted happy pix of our new car doesn’t diminish the migraine that struck in the middle of the night, or anxiety about health, work, or family, not to mention concerns about the environment or local, national, and global politics.

This article contains great strategies for understanding and coping with the “Christmas blues.” But the quickest self-help strategy by far is watching cat videos. Because science. Here’s Surprised Kitty from 2009, viewed almost 80 million times, and a January 2019 compilation audaciously titled, “Funniest Cat Videos of All Time.” You’re welcome!

Stories from the OC

StoryCorps mobile studio at Cadence Park in Irvine CA

I’ve been (perhaps) harping on StoryCorps, the NPR radio show and podcast this month, but ’tis the season. I’ve posted several times during the years about using the app for “The Great Thanksgiving Listen ” which I’ve assigned to my classes for a few years now. But this weekend I was fortunate to record an interview in the mobile booth at Cadence Park in Irvine, CA. I could have used the app, but making an official recording allows my interview to be catalogued and issued an actual ISBN number. I highly recommend that locals take advantage of this opportunity before the booth closes on December 31.

My experience was both more and less than I anticipated. My daughter and I had a lovely conversation that went in unexpected directions in which we shared memories, insights, and previously unheard reflections. On the other hand, we barely scratched the surface of potential areas of deeper dialogue. The typical limit of 45 minutes felt artificially rushed. But it whet my appetite for doing it again with other family members.

I had a taste of the potential power of StoryCorps interviews during my recent college reunion at Stanford. My co-chairs, especially Markita Cooper-Blackwood, supported a StoryCorps-like experience for classmates to share a few minutes of solo reflections about their Stanford years or their lives since then as well as conversations with one or more classmates. Many of these stories were incredibly profound, others light and funny, and all were heartfelt.

Sharing stories and listening to one another fosters empathy and understanding. What a wonderful formula for improving our inter-generational and inter-cultural relationships as well as our greater society.


#it depends.

My new favorite hashtag once again applies today. On the surface, we might think 100% is always a go0d thing. It depends on the context. In baseball, for example, a 100% batting average is not only impossible, but suspect. In computer gaming, it’s not always required to achieve 100% to complete a game or a level. In fact, the game mechanic is intentionally short of 100% in order to feed the gamer’s addiction. Or a game may humorously record OVER 100% completion for any number of reasons. For example, achieving 100% may  be a consequence of a Fractional Winning Condition, where the game tells you you’ve obtained 100% of the necessary stuff when there is, in fact, more of it to collect.

Perfection is overrated. Striving for perfection usually isn’t, except when it’s actually damaging. Failure is essential for learning. “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” I’ve blogged about this before.

The relevance to today is that I’ve “failed” to blog 100% of the days since I resumed. I missed yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving. Weirdly, I thought I had blogged, but I’d just fooled myself by posting so many pictures to Instagram and Facebook. I didn’t realize this until the morning after.

On the one hand, I was disappointed that, if my goal was to blog EVERY day, I’d have to start my count over again. On the other, I wouldn’t have chosen to do anything differently that day — we had such a fantastic family time at the Lakers game. So … *shrug* things happen.

Rather than characterize missing a day as a failure, I’m moving my goal posts. I now resolve to blog at least five, not seven, days a week, and to give myself some grace to make other choices for my time, such as enjoying my family or getting ahead in work or sleeping in for a change. To that end, I’ve also decided to stop numbering my posts. They’ll happen when they happen, and my calendar will record what days I’ve posted or not.

Gratitude in Action

Typical Thanksgiving Meal

What a lovely Thanksgiving Day! Despite some apprehension that the media focus on consumerism would overshadow the sentiment of Thanksgiving for me, I had a wonderful day with family after all. We actually cooked our traditional dinner for the four of us on Wednesday, then traveled on Thursday to grandfather’s house for a huge family buffet, board games, and lots of conversation and catching up. No parades or football, though, but they weren’t missed. Between the two meals, we hit all the standards in the photo above, including the Roasted Brussels Sprouts. Yum!

The day confirmed the wisdom of my intentionally living out the notion of “choice.” I’m striving to make the best choices possible in the moment based on the information available to me, then to move forward without regrets. And today’s choice was to limit screen time and focus on family. The result was all that annoying noise about Black Friday bargains faded away. I was really happy with my choice NOT to allow influences outside of myself to diminish my celebration of Thanksgiving.

Gratitude Journal: numerous studies confirm that the daily habit of “listing” what we’re grateful for can boost our immune systems and promote happiness and serenity. However, it seems that actively “practicing” gratitude yields even better results. So this is my commitment to do just that — gratitude in action. I’ll keep you posted….

Blurring Boundaries

Turkey Christmas Tree Ornament

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house … the Christmas decorations had been hung by the chimney with care for at least a week. At my neighborhood mall, the “holiday” lights were up even before Halloween. This image of a turkey and a pumpkin as a Christmas ornament perfectly captures that unfortunate overlapping of seasons.

The public display is all for marketing, of course. It’s the same strategy that has turned “Black Friday” sales into “entire month of November” sales. Now, I’m just as prone as any consumer to being seduced by a bargain (my Instant Pot from Amazon is almost exactly two years old), but I’m dismayed at the blurring of boundaries of the celebrations themselves.

To me, Halloween is the cosplayer’s favorite holiday (next to the Masquerade on Saturday night at Comic-Con). Unless one is costumed as a Christmas tree (as I was in my first year of teaching, including working strings of lights), people should be free from even a hint of the December festivities. The November 1 Day of the Dead commemorations also deserve our full attention. Not this year, I guess. 😦 I think retailers were spooked by the relatively late Thanksgiving that shortened the number of shopping days before Christmas. So they overcompensated by moving up Black Friday, the traditional start of the shopping season, and virtually ignoring Thanksgiving altogether.

I also love Thanksgiving (I’ll save discussion of revisiting the Pilgrim narrative for another post.) It represents family and food and relaxing (not shopping) together over a long weekend. My school site has deemed Thanksgiving a break from homework, but procrastinating seniors will undoubtedly polishing their University of California applications. My favorite special meal is roast turkey with all the fixings, followed by leftovers for days. I’m not so devoted to the desserts, though, but I love me some dark meat, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. And I take the most pleasure in cooking it in my own kitchen.

Sadly, I feel that this year the spirit of Thanksgiving has been lost in the hype of bargain hunting for Christmas. And, thus, so has the spiritual meaning of Christmas been swallowed up in commercialism. I’m not feeling the solemnity or joy any less; it’s just that all the ads are more shrill.

I guess my message is to savor the Thanksgiving spirit to its fullest. Let’s begin the Christmas season next Monday (which happens to be Cyber Monday).

“Remembrance of Things Past”

Proust – AZ Quotes

As we approach Thanksgiving, a time in which family groups (including “Friendsgiving”) traditionally gather and often reminisce about former holidays and old times, I consider this quote from Proust particularly apt.

Through familiar tastes and smells, many families contentedly recreate beloved traditions; probably just as many can’t help but recreate painful experiences. Which is truly better: to selectively recall the past as rosier than the present or to un-sentimentally shed the old ways in favor of healthier practices?

On the concept of memory, one writer reflected,

“[Proust’s] novels were hugely influential on writers all over the world, in that they introduced the idea of writing about ‘streams of consciousness.’ Through Proust’s ubiquitous narrator, they relay in great detail not just what is perceived, but also what is remembered, and the repeated and constant links between perception and memory. Even those who have not read the novels are aware of the journey of memory on which the narrator goes when he tastes a madeleine dipped in tea; it has become ‘the Proustian moment’.”

I have many lovely memories of Thanksgiving, triggered poignantly by the smell of roast turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, and the tastes of rice-and-gravy and dark turkey meat. Because we’re Filipino, my mom also made Shrimp Pancit part of our tradition. I also remember rolling hundreds of Lumpia (Filipino egg rolls) when we hosted the extended family. We never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows (still sounds disgusting to me), and we had more Bibingka and Biko for dessert than any kind of pie.

I’m so looking forward to this coming week. Yum!

Note: Researching this quote took me down a wonderful rabbit hole. Proust’s original title in French, “À la Recherche du Temps Perdu,” translates more accurately to “In Search of Lost Time.” Those who care about nerdly accuracy should read this book review of a biography of C.K. Scott Moncrieff. Moncrieff translated Proust’s seven novels in the series almost as a “simultaneous translated, [and] …. inserted Proust into the English-speaking reader’s consciousness with a force that Proust’s contemporaries in continental languages never really got” (from “Why an imperfect version of Proust is a classic in English.“).

Wine Tasting

Riboli Family of San Antonio Winery — Santo Stefano Cabernet Sauvignon

My DH and I attended a wine tasting at, of all places, our local Pavilions grocery store. They’re holding an epic wine sale this weekend in anticipation of much imbibing over Thanksgiving. We picked up the cab and set aside a blend called Stormwatch to pick up tomorrow. What a great time slot this winemaker had, basically happy hour on a Friday afternoon. He was very congenial and knowledgeable and ultimately made his sale.

We didn’t learn the prices of the three bottles until after we expressed our taste preferences. Interestingly, my DH liked the least expensive, I liked the middle one, and the priciest one was #2 for both of us. It just goes to show, as the winemaker observed, that people who are timid about stating wine preferences (“I really don’t know much about wine”) need to ignore labels and reputations and just try stuff to see what they like. It definitely helped, th0ugh, to have a limited number of choices plus an expert to explain and provide vocabulary for what we were experiencing. It was a brief encounter, but profitable for both the winemaker and us. 😉

What a terrific metaphor for engaged learning! Rather than a “sage on the stage,” a learner needs a “guide on the side” who can limit the universe of choices to appropriate ones, but allow the learner to form his or her (I can’t say “their”) own preferences based on information the guide can offer when needed. Armed with new knowledge, the wine taster can venture out on his or her own and absorb even more learning.

I plan to strive to make my lessons mini-wine tastings. Salud!

The Great Thanksgiving Listen 2019

NPR’s StoryCorps

It’s again time for the annual national homework assignment called “The Great Thanksgiving Listen.” StoryCorps founder Dave Isay used his TED prize to develop an app to help regular folks conduct StoryCorps interviews anywhere and upload them instantly to where those recorded in the mobile booth are archived: the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. He charged teachers with encouraging students to take advantage of Thanksgiving weekend to record interviews with elderly relatives, just as he advocated honoring veterans with interviews on Veterans’ Day, and celebrating couples with sharing their stories around Valentine’s Day, and gifting anyone with an interview on their birthday.

For those unfamiliar with StoryCorps, I commend you to and your local NPR station. In about 30 minute episodes, the show features 5 to 10-minute excerpts from longer interviews of all kinds of people, including solo individuals sharing reminiscences of loved ones. The show has been the source of many “driveway moments” where I couldn’t leave my car until I finished listening to the end of the show. Happily, StoryCorps is now available as a podcast which I can listen to at any time, not just during my commute.

To make StoryCorps engaging to students, NPR has created animations of the most popular stories and collected them along with other resources for using StoryCorps in the classroom. These resources have increased exponentially since introduction of the app in 2015. I’ve been fortunate to have participated with my students every year since then, and have even received great swag for sharing my experiences with StoryCorps organizers.

In today’s digital world, we have many quick images and videos of those close to us and even access to those of strangers. But rarely are they as intentional or profound as StoryCorps interviews. Teachers, parents, partners, co-workers, friends, siblings, relatives across generations — please check out the StoryCorps app and record each other’s stories as soon as possible. Other than helping one another face-to-face, there’s no better way to develop empathy in today’s society than by sharing our stories.