Friday, August 29, 2014

Help! I'm caught!

At breakfast, my wife Judy asked what I thought about selling some of our stored “stuff” – stored away in closets and garage – at the great Niles Flea Market this Sunday (August 31)

Main street - Niles Flea market!
My first reaction was.  “Well, some of the things we bought in exotic foreign markets are nice to bring out once in a while and be reminded of where we bought it.”  Judy responded that “anything we haven’t looked at in three years could be sold and we wouldn't miss it.”  Hard to argue with that logic.
I think in this world there are “keepers” and “givers”.  I suspect we all have some measure of both tendencies. I grew up in a small Midwestern town where many attitudes were formed during  the depression … My family and neighbors lived by the rule that “you never know when that will come in handy”. So they kept wrapping paper, and string, nuts and bolts, tools and furniture that needed to be repaired, old clothes, books that had been read and been sitting on the shelf for years unread, old copies of National Geographic,  and empty coffee tins… "You never know how you could use that...." So I was raised with these tendencies and have had to combat them all my life. 

Internet photo - not our garage (yet)
In the case of the flea market, I agree that if the unused items can be turned into cash to benefit a good cause that makes sense.  Still, I will probabily hold on to things that evoke a special memory.  When I  take our a wooden figure carved in an African village it brings back a flood of mental pictures… also I love to hold a small pottery incense burner from Oaxaca made in the style of the early Aztec people.  I like to run my hands over the intricate design in a bronze bowl made by a Turkish village craftsman.  None of these items have great monetary worth – but they have the ability to bring back images of past adventures.  I can part with stuff with no special emotional tie – but some things I would miss.
Craftsman in Oaxaca making Alebrijes:
There is a story told in many variations in different countries of the world that deal with this issue:  The story is “How to Catch a Monkey’
“A hunter takes a jar with an opening slightly larger than a monkey’s hand. He ties a rope around the neck of it, which is a cradle of the rope around the jar.  The hunter places a nut or other favorite monkey food in the jar.

My trapped inner moneky
The monkey reaches his hand into the jar, grabs the food, making a fist with his paw. Now, the monkey’s dilemma:  the monkey cannot get his hand out of the jar unless he drops the food. The neck of the jar is simply not wide enough. Of course, the monkey could drop the food and easily get his hand out, but it won’t. Despite having at his command the means to escape, it does not — it holds his hand grasping the food until a hunter throws a net over it, capturing it.”
This guy is in conflict

I can so relate with that monkey – not only holding onto material things but holding on to thoughts, ideas, and values that no longer serve a purpose.  Is all seems so valuable and necessary that I can't turn loose of them – but if I could, when I do… my mind is freed of having to maintain and protect that thing or that idea.  

In the Buddhist version of the story it is told that "to be free in our mind all we have to do is let go…”  We all have experienced this at times in our lives – but it is hard for me to do. 
Yesterday's junk - I like that
Another example of the same message is in the Bible 
“A rich young ruler asked Jesus, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered, ‘Sell everything you have and give the profits to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow my way of life.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. “

I often choose the hard way, when the easy way is 'letting go'
I have had a hard time dealing with this reading.  I don't see many practicing Christians giving away everything they have, and I don't think that needs to be the message of the reading – I think that we are called to free ourselves by letting go of our superfluous posessions and connections... and to do a better job of  'seeing' and responding to the needs of those around us.  By freeing my tight grip of control I can free my mind too.

As the twig is bent so grows the tree...

In our travels in third world  countries,  we have been surprised by the hospitality from poor people who freely share what little they have, possessions, food, water, hospitality… It seems that 'rich' people are often so concerned about acquiring more or preserving what they have that for many it's become quite easy to now see the needs of people in our midst.  I must add that I can think of powerful exceptions to this statement - some wealthy people have preserved and practice great outreach to the poor.  

Maybe I had better take another look at what I can part with and sell in the flea market...  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

What the heck is "Common Core"?

Highly recommended viewing:
Now that I am starting a new school year - I find several districts are instituting Common Core Curriculum Standards. Many people have heard that Common Core is coming to our national education system but are unclear about what it means. These standards insure that all American students will receive a known level of proficiency in the subjects they take.  Instead of standards being determined state-by-state, the CCS provide consistency, so that a child’s district will no longer determine his or her education. Children in Florida will be learning the same concepts and material at the same time as children in California, and changing school systems will no longer set students back or put them ahead; they will still be right on target. The CCS provide a framework that eliminates gaps in education and progresses like a staircase—students keep moving up to more and more complex texts and ideas, but in a smooth progression. 
The development of Common Core State Standards began with examination of what has been learned from the existing standards in various states.  The new standards will refine the learning goals, and coordinate them for the entire nation to help prepare all students .  The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support the learning.
The standards are based on the results of years of careful research acquired by observing successful classroom teachers.   The emphasis is not only based on learning critical facts and skills but to also develop higher-order thinking skills. 

It is critical to "learn how to learn", how to "process new information" because with information expanding as rapidly as it is - we need to prepare students for life-long-learning long after they are in our classrooms.   Planning of the goals also takes into account  successful teaching methods found in high performing countries, so that our students will be prepared to compete in the global world.
For grades K-8, grade-by-grade Common Core standards exist in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. For grades 9-12, the CCS standards are grouped into grade bands of 9-10 grade standards and 11-12 grade standards.
While the standards set grade-specific goals, they do not define how the standards should be taught or which materials should be used to support students. States and districts recognize that there will need to be a range of supports in place to ensure that all students, including those with special needs and English language learners, can master the standards. It is up to the states to define the full range of supports appropriate for these students.
No set of grade-specific standards can fully reflect the great variety of abilities, needs, learning rates, and achievement levels of students in any given classroom. Importantly, the standards provide clear signposts along the way to the goal of college and career readiness for all students.

Opponents to common core express concern that Common Core really institutes more federal control of education – but as our population becomes ever more mobile – standards ensure that the coursework that a student has in one school will mesh with what is taught in another school. Decisions made by local school boards often involve untrained people making curriculum decisions based on incomplete information or training.

Some of the earlier standards were “lock step” with teachers required to be in complete uniformity.  The Common Core standards identify the learning goals but allow teachers to have more flexibility in adapting the learning activities to the needs of the students.

Common Core brings a breath of fresh air!  I urge you to learn more about it and support the standards in your local schools.


This summary draws heavily on these source  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Dog days are here!

The phrase “dog days of summer” is an ancient term going back to the time of the Romans… it refers to the hot lazy days in July and August.  Something about the ‘dog star’ Sirius being visible in the night sky during this season.  I love this time of year – In Northern California now is the time of year that high cool ocean overcast comes every night and days heat up to 90 degrees. 
"Its always 'dog days' in the Zlatnik household" - Rusty
It is the season of tomatoes and zucchini, green beans and cucumbers… and the first ripe figs!  Our rain year goes from July to July – officially we received 7.72 inches last year, compared with an average of 15 inches.  Thank goodness for our vast complicated regional water delivery system.

First ripe figs
My ‘dog days’ are filled with projects that I don't have time for during the year.  A woodworking friend gave me his special formula for bringing life back to worn cabinets or lacquered furniture… 1/3 Satin finish Varnish, 1/3 Tung oil, 1/3 Linseed oil…

Refinished cabinet door

Apply a bit of the mixture into a small piece of the finest grade steel wool (0000) and gently work it into the cabinet surface  ( going with the grain).  The mixture has no color and will penetrate the wood to restore vitality.  You must do the entire surface to get a uniform result.

I took about 40 minutes of work for each cabinet door, then carefully rubbed down the door with soft cotton cloth to remove excess mixture and any loose material that was worked loose in the process.  For problem areas you will need to repeat the process 2-3 times.  We are delighted with the result.  When you do the process of fine antique furniture best to proceed cautiously, first testing in a non-critical corner – and instead of steel wood use a soft cloth to work the mixture in.

Chinese dates - Jujube - 'Zizyphua contortus'
Over the years I have indiscriminately added people to my Facebook site – with the result that the site is flooded with such a huge number of messages that it is not possible to manage.  To refine the list I use the “acid test” of whether of not I recognized the name of the person.  So now I have a much more manageable list…perhaps I can actually use Facebook differently.

A new improved genetic variety of strawberries from UC Davia - large, tasty, and bears over3 a long season!
My wife Judy loves birds and wanted me to set up a feeding station for finches and Goldfinches… It is possible to buy something like a long loose sock filled with the special seed that these guys love the most – and then you can buy a big sack of seed to refill the sack.  So I built a location right out the back door where we can easily see and hung the feeder – for 10 days not a single bird came – 
Finches getting fed
then all at once on the 11th day the gold finches came (actually by the Audubon bird guide they are “Lesser Gold finches” -  “Lesser” refers to their size.)  During the daytime we have 8 or 10 finches there all the time. They are very democratic – They squabble with each other as they feed - but not as bad as  hummingbirds around a feeder– there always seems to be room for one more to come and feed.
Green beans
One of my raised garden beds needed reworking – I just harvested potatoes and removed the lettuce and kale that had gone to seed.  There is a small Mexican owned horse ranch in my neighborhood that I visit to acquire horse manure – (I ask for “mierda de caballo”).  I love visiting the ranch – they board about 20 horses – some of them young and spirited!  There are chickens and a goat, farm dogs and little kids…

Laid out bed with swiss chard
A local Mexican radio station is often playing in the horse barn… I take big plastic bins and fill them to the level that I can lift and carry them in the back of my “hatchback’.  This manure I add to my raised bed and mix with a garden fork, then place my drip irrigation hose in place attached to the timer – and run it for 15 minutes a day.  
A fall corn crop
This time I year, with the summer heat, there isn’t a lot to plant – but I planted a 6 pack of red Swiss chard plants.  I will also plant beets… I will have to wait until things cool off s bit to plant the rest… 

There is a lovely inviting hammock set up under the persimmon tree in the back yard … and I never seem to find time to lie in it…
My poor unused hammock

Last week I gave a recommendation to “The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War” – However since then, I read Book Two of the series and found it written with a disappointingly different style.  My suggestion for book one stands – but forget book two.

I cut open a carved Peruvian gourd and removed seeds which I planted in my garden

Friday, August 8, 2014

"Now I see!!"

Imagine the dramatic moment when the doctor takes the bandage off my eye… and I could see!  My first impression was how much brighter everything was than before… then I noticed colors like I haven’t seen in years! Reds, Green, Blue, Yellow bright before my eyes! 

The colors of our visible spectum separated by a glass prism

Monday this last week I had cataract surgery on my left eye. A cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye. It is a gradual condition; and over time the lens becomes hardened due to changes in the lens composition and gradual deposits of brown pigment form within the lens.  While my right eye has some cataract it is not advanced enough to warrant surgery.

Normal human eye

Having my cloudy tinted lens removed and replaced with a crystal clear lens explains both my increased sense of brightness and my ability to see colors more brilliantly,

The situation with my left eye.
The procedure was amazing.  I received medication to numb my eye and something to make me feel very relaxed and a little goofy. I was awake but quite happy for the surgeon to do whatever he was going to do. Two small incisions allowed the surgeon to insert instruments into my eyeball.  The old cloudy lens was broken down using ultrasound and it was sucked away.  A foldable plastic lens was inserted, unfolded, and fixed in place.  The process was pain free and during the procedure the retina of my eyeball was stimulated to activate the most beautiful fields of intense colors in my perception– reds, blues, greens, and yellow – it was a regular light show!
Cross section of eye showing the location of the lens... the light sensitive retina layer in on the back of the eye
After a brief time in the recovery room (where I finally got my first cup of coffee for the day at 3PM), and my first food since midnight the night before (2 graham crackers), I was sent home.  The drug that I took was quite long lasting - and Judy said that I looked like a drunk-man for the rest of the day.

No pain after the surgery.  I have to remember eye drops 4 times a day, no water in eyes, wear an eye patch at night, and just practice general extreme care…

Very much my before and after experience!

The surgeon suggested that I no longer need a lens in the left side of the eyeglasses – because the implanted lens corrects my vision without any help.  The eye will continue to adjust for the next month or so.  At that time I will be fitted for regular glasses.  On the advise of a surgeon friend I had the simple type of lens implanted – there are fancy lenses that do all kinds of other corrections – but many people are not satisfied with them once they are implanted.  Plus the simple type of lens provides the best distance correction. I will still need glasses, but I have worn then for so many years they are part of me.
Imagine looking at the world through frosted tinted glass - that is what a cataract is like

The procedure can correct myopic vision problems (near sightedness).   Myopia is caused by an eyeball that is longer than the focal length of the lens.  With the correct implanted lens,  it can accommodate for the excessive length and glasses are not needed for distant vision. 
The normal eye can focus on both near and far objects by adjusting the focal length of the eye lens by use of internal eye muscles that change the shape of the lens.   Alas, with the replacement lens I cannot do that – and must rely on eyeglasses to adjust focus at different distances.

Cartoon artists image of 'Good Soldier Svejk' (the book is written in normal text not cartoons) 
Recommendation of the week: "Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Svejk During the World War, Book One"
It has been said that the most serious topics can only be dealt with in humor.  This book is both a laugh-out-loud book but also very thoughtful on issues of individual responsibility, social justice, as well as matters of religion and politics in society.  "4 stars"

By the way - this is a new translation - that is much more "unexpurgated" than the first English translation...