Saturday, September 24, 2016


I feel remiss that I haven't posted in a long while.  I'd like to say that I am too busy.  Nah.  I just temporarily lost my writing mojo.  I'll get it back.

I've been thinking about my mom a lot lately.  Here is a repost from a few years ago.


There are several kids in my class who still hold hands.  It seems like the most natural thing in the world.  Interlacing your fingers with another’s must be one of the oldest human gestures.  It says so much.  That singular gesture is invariably positive.  It demonstrates trust, compassion, comfort, and friendship.  It is a sign of love.

My finger, your finger, my finger, your finger, my finger, your finger, my finger, your finger, my thumb – your thumb.  The webs between my fingers contacting yours.  The bones of my hand entwined with yours. 

When we are little we reach up for the hand of the people we love – sometimes just to be sure of them.  When we are big we reach down to show that we are there, that we care, that we must cross the street safely together, that we won’t get separated in a crowd.  We reach down to grasp a little hand almost as a reflex.  To express our love.  To show simply that we are within reach.

children holding hands

Babies are born with an intense need for touch.  Babies who spend a lot of time in hospitals and orphanages where they do not receive skin-to-skin contact fail to thrive.  I read about this interesting study where librarians were asked to alternately touch and not touch the hands of their students as they gave back their library cards.  Those whose hands had been touched by their librarian reported “far greater feelings about themselves, the library and the librarians than those who had not been touched.  This occurred even though the touch was fleeting and the students didn’t even remember it.”

In our classroom we touch pretty unselfconsciously.  Certain kids zoom in for a hug every morning.  Others opt for a fist bum or a hand slap.  Some will come in quietly without checking in with me.  I usually give them a noogie or a high five when we do catch up.  But we touch.

There are many girls who still hold hands in our classroom.  They grab hold when we walk to the public library, or to the recess field or to the cafeteria.  Some boys may still hold hands at the beginning of second grade, but by the end of third it is a rarity.  There are a couple of guys who are always sitting close enough so that their legs touch when they are on the floor.  And we do a lot of teaching and learning from the floor.  Our girls often touch, run their fingers through or smooth out each other’s hair.

This morning as my students took a big, high stakes test in our computer lab, the feeling in the room was one of intense concentration.  This was the kind of test that pushed every child to the wall.  I’ve written about this before.  It started out easy, but as they answered simple questions correctly, the subsequent questions were more and more challenging.  Glancing over their shoulders at the answer choices, I was amazed at how difficult this must have been for them.  And yet no one complained.  No one whined.  No one cracked under pressure.  I walked around the room every few minutes just checking in with a touch on the shoulder or a pat on the back.  To soothe, to connect, to praise them and to show my gratitude for their effort.   It was a gesture that words can’t quite explain. 

It’s sad to me that many of us become self-conscious about touch as we get older, especially guys.  At some undetermined age, and it is probably a little different for everyone, little ones (especially boys) stop holding hands with their friends, brothers and sisters and parents.  Girls are lucky in my opinion.  They can hold hands freely with their besties. 

I suppose holding hands for little boys is like crying when you hurt yourself.  At some point we stop crying for physical pain.  Comments like, “big boys don’t cry” probably help to extinguish it. 

When I was in Rwanda I saw men holding hands routinely.  My friend Brandon took a picture of two very rough looking soldiers in camouflage, each with a machine gun slung over his shoulders, holding hands walking down a busy street.  It was as natural as anything there. 

Adult guys can still hug briefly if there is a manly slap on the back at the end of the embrace.  Let’s not read anything too personal into this hug, right?  Shaking hands is the norm.  No weapons, right?

At the end of my mom’s life I was blessed to have been there for her final week.  We touched so often.  The first night I was there in New Mexico at my sister Ruthie’s I spent in the office guest room.  Then for the next several nights I slept with my mom.  I needed her touch.  And I think she needed mine.  I think she needed grounding.  I think she needed to be sure of me.  We slept with our legs touching or my hand on her shoulder, or holding hands.   And through the days and evenings when she was awake we sat close enough to touch.  During her final hours, when she had lost consciousness, Ruthie and I stroked her hair and rubbed her back.   We held her hand - just as she held ours when we were little, to protect us, to make sure we didn’t get lost or frightened, so we could be sure of her. 

I can smile when I remember her touch now.  But I miss that touch like nothing else.
I can think of my mom now and not cry every time at missing her.   I expect that I will cry for a long time when I remember her and miss her touch.  Even though big boys don’t cry.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Nuclear Football

Without any reference, after you read these actual words - you'll know who this is.

Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you're a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what's going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what's going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it's all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don't, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

I only have two words to say.

Nuclear                     Football

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Lesser Evil

I spotted this on line.  I couldn't embed the video, but it is pretty revealing.  I'll type out the transcript.

Hillary Clinton gave a speech in early June in which she quoted Trump.  It seemed a clever way to let Trump's own words reveal him to America.  Obviously people have been listening, but lots of people aren't hearing.

Clinton (in her speech) - He says he has foreign policy experience because he ran the Miss Universe pageant in Russia.

(cut to Trump speaking to interviewer) - I know Russia well.  I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago.  The Miss Universe contest which was a big, big incredible event.

After the speech Trump tweeted - In Crooked Hillary's teleprompter speech yesterday, she made up things that I said or believe but have no basis in fact.  Not Honest! 

Clinton tweeted back - You literally said all those things.

Clinton - He says he doesn't have to listen to our generals or admirals, our ambassadors, or other high officials because he has quote, "A very good brain."

Trump (on Good Morning Joe) - I'm speaking with myself number one because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things.

Clinton - He has said that he would order our military to carry out torture and the murder of civilians who are related to suspected terrorists.

Trump - (on Fox "NEWS")  Torture works, OK folks?  You know you have these guys [mocking feminine voice]..."Torture doesn't work."  Believe me.  It works, OK?...  They asked me the question, "What do you think of water boarding?"  Absolutely fine.  But we should go much stronger than water boarding.  That's the way I feel...  When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.

Clinton - And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he'd give him an A.  

Trump - I think in terms of leadership, he's [Putin] getting an A.

Clinton - And he has the gall to say that prisoners of war like John McCain aren't heros.

Trump - He's not a war hero...  [Host - He's a war hero...  five-and-a-half years...]  Trump - He's a war hero 'cause he was captured.  I like people who aren't captured, OK?  I hate to tell you.

Clinton - He also said, "I know more about ISIS than the generals do.  Believe me."

Trump - I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.

Clinton - Or he says he'll stay neutral on Israel's security.

Trump - I don't want to be in a position where I'm saying to you - and the other side now say [sic], "We don't want Trump involve [sic], we don't want."  Let me be sort of a neutral guy.  Let's see what, I'm gonna give it a shot.

Clinton - And he said this about a war between Japan and North Korea, and I quote, "If they do - they do.  Good luck.  Enjoy yourselves, folks."

Trump - And if they fight, you know what, there'll be a terrible thing.  Terrible.  Good luck.  Enjoy yourselves, folks.  If they fight, that would be terrible.  Right?  But if they do, they do.

This is a serious question.  Do you think he really didn't realize he said those things?  Because if he really thought Hillary Clinton was lying on him - then we are in for some serious trouble indeed if he becomes president of the United States.  Perhaps he doesn't realize that everything you say on camera is a permanent record.  You can't unsay something you blurted out on FOX "NEWS", or MSNBC, or CNN.  You can't pretend you can take back something you said on the TODAY Show.  Or maybe he thinks HE CAN.  Sort of the "BECAUSE I SAID SO!" thing.

In David Brooks most recent op-ed for the New York Times he said, Occasionally Trump will attempt a sentence longer than eight words, but no matter what subject he starts the sentence with, by the end he has been pulled over to the subject of himself. Here’s an example from the Mike Pence announcement speech: “So one of the primary reasons I chose Mike was I looked at Indiana, and I won Indiana big.” There’s sort of a gravitational narcissistic pull that takes command whenever he attempts to utter a compound thought...

It’s hard to know exactly what is going on in that brain, but science lends a clue. Psychologists wonder if narcissists are defined by extremely high self-esteem or by extremely low self-esteem that they are trying to mask. The current consensus seems to be that they are marked by unstable self-esteem. Their self-confidence can be both high and fragile, so they perceive ego threat all around...

And one of his most important points...  This is a unique moment in American political history in which the mental stability of one of the major party nominees is the dominating subject of conversation.

I am not surprised that he has his followers, people who will look past his very apparent mental instability and side with him anyway.  What surprises me is the sheer number of followers.  Because he speaks his mind?  Because he isn't politically correct?  Because he speaks for the working stiff?  Because he's not Hillary Clinton?  

None of this really makes sense to me.  He seems to offend almost everyone.  On purpose.  I get that Hillary Clinton is not a great choice.  Despite her experience on the world stage, she has truthiness issues.  She can be caustic.  She landed on the wrong side of the war in Iraq.  There is a long list of ideas I can't agree with and foreign policy blunders on record.  

But she is not mentally unstable.  

Don't you hate it when an election comes and neither candidate seems appropriate?  But this one for me is a no brainer.  I love my country too much.  

This time - it's lesser evil.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Life in the Woods

Living in the woods is the wild place to be. You never know what you're going to see when you walk outside. 

There is incredible diversity of animals and plants in this small area. There are spiders, frogs and toads, lizards and all different kinds of birds and insects. Every day is different than the day before. 

This morning I saw a garden spider, I think it's called an argiope. She had the coolest zigzag pattern in the middle of of her web. When I was watering the garden this great big American toad seemed to

just soak up the water that I was splashing around. I think it was grateful that I was watering. When I checked the bluebird box there were four little ones
craning their necks trying to get food they thought I had brought. And all of this took place in the span of about five minutes.

I know some people who hardly ever go outside. These people are afraid of every kind of animal. Even the thought of a mosquito bite or a bee sting makes them fearful. I don't know how people like that can enjoy living here. I mean they could be anywhere.  They could be in Minnesota or southern Florida it would all

be the same because all they would see are the four walls around them. The only air they would breathe would be conditioned.

When the weather is hot I'm sure my shirt is going to stick to my back and sweat is
going to drip for my eyebrows and onto my glasses. But I get to see the beautiful creatures that live naturally all around us.  I get to be a part of the same existence since we share the forest. 

I feel so blessed when I'm out and I get the chance to see a bumblebee buzzing around, knowing that our existence depends largely on that animal doing its job. When I see a hummingbird going from flower to flower in our garden I know we have provided some little treat, some small bit of sustenance for that beautiful creature.

The pictures in this post I took with my phone camera.  They may not be great works of art, but now I have pictures of many of my neighbors, some of my best friends, right here in my pocket.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Confederate Flag - The South is Gonna Rise Again!

It was just about a year ago that the Confederate flag came down off of our State House here in South Carolina.  We had just suffered the tragedy of the Charleston Nine.  While Governor Nikki Haley wanted to come out the hero on this one, it was clear that she had no choice.  The emails that she received left it clear that the vast majority of South Carolinians had to have it down.  

"First, I am a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Many of my ancestors served in the Southern Confederacy ... For many years I have been a supporter of keeping the flag in place on statehouse ground. However, the murder of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney along with 8 other of my Christian Brothers and Sisters changed my heart ... My Christian duty requires me to call for the removal of the Confederate Battle flag from statehouse grounds."
Randolph from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

"About 2 weeks ago there was a shooting at Emanuel AME church. When I heard about this, I was sad as can be to know there are people out there against Black People."
Handwritten note, with a smiley face stamp and hearts, from Amayah, age 10

"The current flag needs to come down either way. It has been allowed to be hijacked by hate groups. Those that revere it while being upstanding Americans will suffer unfairly."
Larry from Charlotte, North Carolina

Of course there were many responses condemning Haley for her actions to take down the flag...

"While I do not minimize the tragedy to the families of the seven [there were nine] Negros [Negros, really?!] who lost their lives nor condone the actions of Dylann [sic] Roof, I consider you a disgrace and a traitor to America, to the state of South Carolina and to your race."
Mark from Middleburg, Florida

"The rebel flag means to me home. Southern pride. Wheat fields, sunflower fields, deer hunting, hard work, trucks, racing, family and pride in where I am from. Born and raised here and damn proud of it. Ignorance 'flies' both ways. An item can not be racist, unless you are an easily offended person, or racist yourself." [Stanley seems to be easily offended to me.  Just saying.]
Stanley from Greenville, South Carolina

It was a no brainer.  She got out in front of it and made it seem like it was her brave idea.  And she got a lot of credit for it.  Who cares?  It came down.  We were there at the protest.  Heidi and her class took time away from their studies to walk down to the State House to witness the historic furling of the flag.  That flag that stood for states' rights to be sure.  Mainly for states' rights to own other people like property.  Then later for states' rights to keep a group of people down, to keep in their lower place, to keep them from voting, from drinking at the same water fountains as whites, from swimming in public pools and eating in the same spaces.  


It came down.  

And it seemed like the beginning of a new era in South Carolina.  And maybe a new era in our country.  If that flag could come down, then maybe other symbols of racism could be removed.  Maybe the Nine wouldn't have died in vain.  Maybe Dylan Roof would have started a new beginning of lives lived in peaceful understanding and celebration of our differences.  Maybe our kids could grow up in a world where we learned from our mistakes and we put racism behind us.  Maybe the Confederate flag would be a relic, a symbol of a bygone era before we were sensitive to the hateful memories it stirred.  Just maybe...

I remember that time when the flag came down as one of hope.  I love South Carolina.  I love the soft drawl and the wide open hospitality.  I love the way people down here ease into conversation with sincere questions about family.  I love the unhurried lifestyle and the gentility.  I love the fact that people let you in if you are stuck in traffic - even if it means they make themselves a little bit later.  I love the "please" and "thank you" and the way people hold doors for each other.  I love seeing mixed race couples and the beautiful children in these families.  I love teaching in a classroom where children of all races come together to talk about how to make a better world.  

And then I see this as I am driving through the country.  Then I wonder how far we've come.  

Read more here:

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Nine

As we approach the anniversary of the tragedy in Charleston, I thought I'd put this out there.  I wrote it last summer.  While it recounts some of the terrible events, I like to think there is hope here too.

The Nine – Tim O’Keefe 7-15

Charleston in the month of June
At Mother Emmanuel
Good people met to share their prayers
But one man came to kill

They invited him to share their time           
To pray, to learn, to teach
They welcomed him with open arms
But his heart was out of reach

Maybe some good will happen
Maybe some kind of spark
Maybe we’ll move a little closer to the light 
Maybe come in from the dark
Maybe we’ll seek some honest answers
That would be so fine
Maybe we’ll speak some truth to power
We owe so much to The Nine

He shot and killed those precious ones
To start some kind of war
He thought his hate would conquer their love
But he’ll get no reward

‘Cause when the families of the victims spoke
Their strength came from their faith
Forgiveness was the message they shared,
“There’s no room in my heart to hate.” CHORUS

It was no trouble for that young man
To get himself a gun
Like chains and whips and ropes of old
He carried a Glock .41

They prayed and talked that mid June night
A young stranger in their midst
Singing those old Halleluiah songs
They couldn’t know what to expect                       

We met this evil man before
His face was there on Africa’s shore
In the Dark Middle Passage and Hate’s awful course
We’re familiar with his terrible face
His gun and his rope and his hanging place
His Jim Crow laws, his higher race
We know this wretched man all right
His tired flag, his speeches trite
His endless battle against Civil Rights
His chains, his whip, his hate, his gun
He’s been in this land since we’ve begun
Now let us pray that his time is done

Along with the Birmingham girls
Mississippi and young Emmett Till
The Freedom Riders back in ‘61
We remember their stories well

“Come Ye That Love The Lord,” they sang
And, “We are marching to beautiful Zion”
We sing their songs, we raise our voices

To the memory of The Nine

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Teacher's Life

A teacher’s life is a bit of a mess I’m afraid.  New friendships forming, old friends leaving.  It can be an emotional roller coaster.  At least that’s the way it is for me.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have taught next to and near teachers who count down the days until summer, wishing their lives away along with the potential for being best friends with students.  Teachers I have known in the past have shown me exactly who I do not want to be as a professional – or as a human.

One was many years ago.  My neighbor in a very large public school with 7 second grades.  She was a nice person.  The wife of a preacher.   She never had a good word to say about her students.  They were her enemy.  They made life hard. She hated coming in to work each day and after the first she would say, “Only 179 days to go!”  This counting down was her mantra.  “Only 157 to go…  Only 132 to go…”  It was funny.  

Only it wasn’t.  

Teaching for her was an endless process of wishing she wasn’t teaching; wishing she was doing something else.  Her kids hid her keys from her.  Her kids were never quiet.  Her kids were failures.  When she retired, it was the happiest day of her life. 

The other is a teacher I know now – although I hasten to add that she is not on my staff.  I play and sing with her at my church sometimes.  She teaches Kindergarten.  She literally prays for the end of the year to come more quickly.  She also counts the days down and is always asking for a HALLELUIA as the year draws to a close.  She regularly recounts stories of her students spitting on her, cussing her out, assaulting her.  Kindergarten.  While she claims to love teaching young children, I doubt she fools anyone.   Being that we are two teachers from the same district you might think that we have a lot in common, that we might be able to talk shop some.  Nope.  We don’t come from the same shop. 

Friday was our last day together.  In my school we loop with the children.  I teach second grade, then third.  That’s 360 school days. That’s over 2,500 hours, 150,000 minutes.   It’s a long time in a critically important time of young children’s lives.  Everyone grows and changes so much.  And I get to be right in the middle of it, I get to bear witness.  And it is an honor and a privilege.  We get to know each other really well.  We become best friends.  So, yeah, I’m kind of sad right now.  But that really is a teacher’s life. 

Even writing my last letter to parents was emotional.  Because most of us get to know each other pretty well too.  After all, we share responsibility for their precious children for two years.  Below are some excerpts from my last curriculum report / newsletter.  Some of it is insider language – but you'll get the gist…

 “Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. And there are many things that don't really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way.”  C. JoyBell C.                    6/4/16

Dear Friends,
            It is a bittersweet moment for teachers to say good-bye to their children. And for us at CFI, it may be especially so since we are together for two years. It seems even more emotional this year since I am getting older and probably only have a couple years left teaching. It is also hard because I am just an old softy and I fell for your children.  Oh, we’ll be together again; I’ll make sure of that. We’ll sing songs together. We’ll share projects. But it won’t be the same. They know it. And I know it. But it has been a wonderful ride.
            Perhaps because I am older, and that each year is only a tiny fraction of my lived life, but it seems like only a little while ago when your children were walking into the classroom for the first time. They were looking around full of curiosity and wonder. And perhaps they were a little scared (there are a lot of animal skulls in there!). Most of the kids were used to their Kindergarten/first grade teacher. And here was this old-ish man. They didn’t know if they could trust me. I’m sure they asked themselves… Who is this guy? Will this be fun? Will I learn a lot? Will he be mean? Will I be allowed to talk and be myself? Will it be hard? Does he yell? Will we all be friends?
            The truth is, after all of my years as a teacher, I was a little scared as well. At the beginning of the loop I miss my old friends who have moved on to grade 4. I am also wondering… Who are these guys? Will this be fun? Will I learn a lot? Will they be mean? Will I be allowed to talk? Will this be hard? Do they yell? Will we all be friends?
            While every day in the life of a student (and a teacher) isn’t pure joy, we had a tremendously successful time together. We covered a lot of curriculum but, more importantly, we uncovered a lot of essential learning.  Together we dug in dirt, watched black swallowtail butterflies emerge from chrysalises, assembled skeletons, and built tall structures from toothpicks. We learned cursive, we wrote beautiful songs and sang our hearts out. We got to know our 4th grade pen pals through letter writing. We learned about hunger and homelessness and together we made a difference.  We shared awesome books (Fig Pudding, Marshfield Dreams, Charlotte’s Web, Shiloh, Shiloh Season, Saving Shiloh, The Music of Dolphins, a lengthy set of books about hunger and homelessness, a set of books by Patricia Polacco, Holes, biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Helen Keller, The One and Only Ivan, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963, The Indian in the Cupboard, The Return of the Indian, and Number the Stars). 
            We all outgrew ourselves as writers with our own memoirs, our non-fiction animal pieces, biographies, conflict and resolution pieces, poetry and “This I Believe” essays. 
            We had interesting visitors concerning hunger and homelessness, and geology. We were glued to the news and the polls as the primary election process whittled away the field of men and women running for president. What better way could there be to learn about government than focusing on the amazing process happening right in front of us?
            We went on some powerful field studies including one to the State House and, of course, Harvest Hope food bank– where the class worked efficiently to sort and inspect food. And we sang and sang and sang. Our learning celebrations always had a song or two to demonstrate what we had been learning and thinking about. We sang at The Haven Alzheimer’s Care Center before the holidays. We recorded our CD “Helping the Hungry with Harmony” and managed to sell (or give away) hundreds of copies (and raised almost $1,200.00). We sang for the Inquiry Matters conference, our MAT Hooding Ceremony, for Sparkleberry Fair. But mostly we sang for ourselves. During the final week of school we voted for our favorite five songs to sing together on that last ½ day. They were precious. We ended our time together with the very first song we sang when the kids were in first grade. It was a powerful full circle moment.
            These critical incidents and memories made our year unique. This year was filled with special learning events from literature studies to expert projects to science demonstrations to learning about Civil Rights and SC history.  

           In some ways we were like those caterpillars we fed and observed at the beginning of our time together. Even though I had a BIG plan for the year, in an inquiry classroom one never knows precisely what to expect. We all grew and matured and changed and outgrew ourselves. We became more efficient mathematicians, more effective readers, more curious about the world, richer singers, more expressive writers, better team members, wiser teachers, deeper researchers, and more fearless at asking questions. Just like those black swallowtails last fall, the kids shed their old skins and grew up.  After 36 years teaching young children, I guess I did too.

EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY in the end.  IF IT'S NOT OKAY it's not the end - John Lennon