Friday, November 18, 2011

Corrections, Bagels and the Future of Amerika

An early morning stop at a bagel shop near my work brought such delight recently.  And not just for the good grains bagel, toasted with cream cheese.

For I have been known to be curmudgeonly, particularly around poor grammar, and these corrections pleased me no end.  This note, pictured here, had been taped onto the cash register at the bagel store. Someone in management clearly lacked either a good education or at least a good editor – two essentials in life as far as I’m concerned – and I was happy to see these correction marks.  My hope is that a customer, perhaps curmudgeonly like myself, someone waiting to pay, had whipped out a pen and set management straight.

I have been known to get irked, driving through town, when seeing signs at Kwik Kopy Printing and the Dun Rite Construction Company.  In college, I once went door to door in a misguided attempt to make money for both myself and Kleeneze Cleaning Supplies.  There’s a Kwik Kar Lube not far from my house that I boycott on principal.

Noble yet erroneous attempts to spell necessary or definitely can be forgiven.  I am not a fan of lite beer or saying good nite.  When texting first came on the scene a few years ago, I knew I would eventually succumb.  I swore I would take no shortcuts.  Alas, I kid u not, I have to admit I have. 

Yet a curmudgeon I do not want to be.  I prefer to be amused.  So, to bring a smile to your day, I offer the following photos of protestors, deeply concerned about the future of America.  

We should all begin to worry, deeply.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tales from the Art World: Decadence, Oscar Wilde, and Wal-Mart

The old adage asserts that life imitates art.  Three separate stories from the art world crept onto my radar this week, all of which highlighted the tremendous irony in that axiom. Does art imitate life – do artists attempt to re-create whatever they perceive in their conscious or unconscious worlds – or does life imitate art?

The great wit Oscar Wilde wrote that the concept of life imitating art “results not merely from Life's imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.”

Let’s explore.

Story #1:  $1,000,000 Artwork Damaged by Cleaner

An art installation, housed in Dortmund, Germany’s Ostwall Museum, valued at over a million dollars, was damaged by an overzealous cleaner who scrubbed away at a deliberate patina.  Artist Martin Kippenberger's “When It Starts Dripping From the Ceiling” remains on display in the museum, where the damage occurred.  The patina was meant to look like a puddle beneath a rubber trough placed under a stacked tower of wooden slats.  The private collector who owns the installation has agreed that it remain on display despite the incident.  The cleaner, who had been instructed to steer clear of the piece by at least 8 inches, must have thought she knew better. I can imagine her thinking “Mein Gott, I know dirt ven I see it, and it must be obliterated.”

Needless to say, the work no longer resembles its title’s claim.  I have to wonder who would value a puddle of patina and accompanying erection of rubber and sticks at over a million U.S. dollars and what is it worth now without the all-important pool of goop?
Story #2: France Bans British Owned Painting from Leaving the Country 
French master Nicolas Tournier painted his “The Carrying of the Cross” in 1632.  It once hung in a chapel in Toulouse in the south of France, but it went missing during the French Revolution. Its location, even its very existence, remained unknown for almost 200 years - until two years ago when it showed up in Florence, Italy during the sale of an estate of an art collector.  It was bought for 400,000 euros by the Weiss Gallery of London.  The Gallery brought the painting to Paris in a goodwill gesture, to an art show for old Masters. But the French Culture Ministry is demanding the return of this long-lost work of art and is refusing to let it out of France. "This was the property of the French state that was deposited at the Augustins Museum in Toulouse and was stolen in 1818. It is a non-transferable work," the ministry said in a statement.  They added, "We are claiming this painting as the property of the state and it will not leave the country,"
It brings up reminders of not only the ongoing squabbles about the Elgin Marbles of the Acropolis, but centuries of animosity between the English and the French.  For me it raises questions. Did the French government have a perfectly good opportunity to buy the painting fair and square at auction, and could they afford it? Do they have jurisdiction over a legal sale outside of France (the painting was actually bought by the English from an Italian at an art auction in the Netherlands)? Why are the French perpetually petty around issues of culture?  Didn’t they leap into the economic and monetary union of the EU with both feet?  Shall we examine how that is working out?
Let it be.
Story #3:  Wal-Mart Heiress Brings Art Museum to the Ozarks
            Yes, Bentonville, Arkansas to be exact, the birthplace of the giant discount store chain.  In what critics are calling the biggest event in decades on the American art scene, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened this week to great acclaim. The art world is in no doubt that Crystal Bridges houses one of the most important and impressive collections in the country.

While some are calling it the Wal-Mart museum, very little of the company’s money has been given directly to the museum.  Alice Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, has donated $1.2 billion, yes billion, to endow the project.  In comparison the Wal-Mart Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the mighty empire, has given a trifling $20 million to ensure free admission for all.  So if you go, your ticket is in effect being picked up by the profits at your local Wal-Mart store.

Of course, Miss Alice’s massive fortune has been created solely by her stock in and relationship with the retail company.  One way or another, it’s Wal-Mart money. There is irony indeed in the notion that one of the finest collections of American art has been built by the glorification of cheap Chinese goods and at the expense of the mom-and-pop storekeepers of small-town America.

Far from art imitating life, Wilde holds that art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art.
Old Oscar also wrote: “America is the only country in the world that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” While the ancient civilizations of Europe continue to struggle under their massive debt crisis, while the puritanical Germans continue to clean fastidiously, and the cantankerous French continue to quarrel endlessly, the Americans of Wal-Mart continue to prove Mr. Wilde right.  Barbarism right to decadence.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Woman Teaching Women How To Handle Personal Finances

The world of wealth management is a male-dominated field, filled with experts who know investing but who don't always possess the EQ (the ability to connect with people on an emotional level) to listen to the stories, values, and priorities of women.  

This is a great article, from the Denver Business Journal, about a woman who specializes in helping women to understand finances. 

Steph Bruno has researched how women think about and invest money. She has built a practice around educating women (and their partners). She helps them to explore their beliefs about money and to make sound financial decisions.

My favorite section: Steph “offers one-day, private wealth retreats to clients. It’s a full day of one-on- one consultation with Bruno in an undisturbed setting, where the client can freely ask questions and discuss financial issues. Bruno gives them a full set of recommendations they either can implement on their own or work on with Bruno. She includes a money mindset analysis, a money purpose map, journal of wealth aspirations, action plan and more.”
Does your financial adviser do this for you?

Steph was also, this same month, named as a Five Star Professional Wealth Manager by 5280 Magazine.  

She is also an avid skier, outdoorswoman, writer, and dog lover, an amazing partner to me and friend to my children. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Man Who Changed The World - in his own words

Today the world lost one of the greatest innovators of all time.  A man who had that rare combination of vision, intelligence, fortitude, faith, and passion.  He was a phenomenal speaker - and he once dated Joan Baez.  There will be countless tributes in the coming days.

Here’s mine, in a nutshell:

In 1984 when Steve Jobs launched the first Macintosh computer, I was starting my senior year of high school. I bought my first Mac Classic in 1991 and I'm on my 6th Mac since. In my household, we currently own 3 Macbooks, 5 iPods and an iPhone. He certainly changed my world. How about yours?

I don’t often devote too many inches of this website to the words of others.  But I urge you to read a few of these quotations from Steve Jobs and think about how he might have changed your world.

And take the time to read the Forbes Magazine article written by Eric Jackson only a week or so before Job’s death.  Link at the bottom of this post.

If we can live some of these lessons, we will have lead a life worth living.


“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“The problem is I’m older now, I’m 40 years old, and this stuff doesn’t change the world. It really doesn’t.
I’m sorry, it’s true. Having children really changes your view on these things. We’re born, we live for a brief instant, and we die. It’s been happening for a long time. Technology is not changing it much — if at all.
These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that.
But it’s a disservice to constantly put things in this radical new light — that it’s going to change everything. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.”

            “We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.
When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.”

“I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what’s happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don’t seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids.” 
                                                                                     [Wired, February 1996]

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
                                                [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
                                    [Stanford commencement speech, June 2005]

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Snoozy, Bee and Me and No Lunch at Updown School - Part One

Based on a true story with supplemental moments...

By my mother’s recollection, I only ever smacked her once.  I was four years old, or possibly five, somewhere in the early seventies.

She had taken me to visit a new school.  I hated my old one.  They didn’t teach me anything.  I was ahead of the class in reading and was therefore directed to read in silence by myself.  No further instruction necessary. The less work I did, the more bored I got. And the more bored I got, the more trouble I got into. My parents were apparently no longer willing to put up with any more phone calls detailing flying spit wads and the pulling of ponytails. Besides, the uniforms were scratchy, my teachers were spiteful, and the lunch counter served liver and spotted dick.

Visiting a new school represented new hope, a way out.  My mother had heard about this school from her friend Snoozy.  Not her real name, just the best I could manage when I was first learning to talk.  Snoozy’s daughter went there.  Her daughter was learning her times tables, Snoozy said, and reading Tolstoy, or something like that, and her calligraphy was up for nomination to the museum for perfect five year olds.  This was the school for me, Snoozy said, a place where I could be challenged, and where I could bring my own lunch.

I did not care about my times tables.  I was only four, or possibly five. Beautiful letters did not excite me. But I could bring my own lunch.  I had had my fill of indestructible bangers and mash and rhubarb crumble.  Most importantly I had a massive crush on Bee, Snoozy’s daughter. I was sold.

My mother set up the visit. It was for the following Tuesday.  I wore my special brown and orange striped shirt, my cobalt blue shorts, and I got to choose my very own lunch, a Cheddar cheese sandwich on white bread (was there any other?), a bag of Golden Wonder ready salted potato crisps, and an apple.  This last one was to make me strong, my mother said. I planned on sharing my potato crisps, and quite possibly even my apple, with Bee. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The school was in a village a few miles away. Its official name was Updown School, but it was known throughout the universe as Mrs. Brown’s school.  Mrs. Brown was the head teacher.  My mother informed me that Mrs. Brown was completely in charge and I was to be extra especially nice to her.  She had been at the school a long time and it was her decision as to whether I would get in or not.  The stakes were high.

Snoozy came to pick me up in her cream-colored Morris Marina coupe. I sidled close to Bee in the back seat. No seatbelts when I was four, or possibly five, somewhere in the early seventies. Bee was wearing a plaid dress in a gorgeous mélange of green, blue, yellow and red.  She had a red ribbon tied in her golden hair.  My palms moistened. There could be no more perfect start to my new life.

We drove to school, Snoozy chattering on about her new formica countertops and the demise of the shilling and half crown. I snuck furtive glances over at Bee, but she was absorbed in Enid Blyton, an author I would learn to hate.  We pulled up at a moss-covered flint wall, interrupted by grey stone steps.  We alighted. I grabbed my brown paper bag lunch (the much coveted green plastic lunch box adorned by the highly popular Wombles of Wimbledon Common would have to wait until unconditional admission), and climbed the damp stairway. What awaited at the top was a pleasant looking pre-war schoolhouse at the end of a rich English lawn against a backdrop of tall chestnuts.  A pathway wound quaintly to the front door.

Mrs. Brown was waiting. I’m not sure what I had been expecting, but a wrinkly stooped reptilian lady in calico was surely not it.  She looked like she was a hundred and forty years old. She told me to sit down, far far away from Bee, and next to a boy called Kevin. Kevin told me his dad was a fireman.  I had never met a real fireman before.  I didn’t even own a T-shirt with a fire engine on it.  Kevin had three.  My parents didn’t mingle with people who climbed ladders for a living.

Kevin and I were sitting on wooden chairs at a long table, with four other kids next to us.  It was one of four similar tables in the room, all one behind the other facing the front.  Mine was the third one. The walls were covered in maps, a collection of children’s artwork, some writing (all in perfect penmanship), and a poster that listed the school’s agreements about kindness, safety, respect, and responsibility.

Mrs. Brown conferred with the other teacher, a rather rotund Mrs. Boyd, and then came and sat herself next to me, armed with a small collection of books.  She had me read to her from a couple of them and that seemed to satisfy her.  She gave me some math problems which I managed to do without terrible trouble, and then it was time for milk.

This was a time in England when the government provided free milk to all school children under the age of eleven.  It made our bones strong, even if it didn’t make our teeth straight.  It must have been good policy, because a couple of years later when then Secretary of Education Margaret Thatcher eliminated the practice in a cost saving maneuver (thus becoming for a while affectionately known as Maggie Thatcher, Milk Snatcher), the energy crisis hit, the unions rose to power, and the Empire collapsed.  It took her a decade of premiership to sort it all out.

The milk was delivered every morning to the school in one-third-of-a-pint-sized bottles.  Presumably because Mrs. Brown feared spillage, the oldest students in the school were given the job of piercing the little metal bottle tops with straws and parceling the bottles out to each child.  I got my bottle, sucked down the milk, and watched all the children head outside to play.

Mrs. Brown would not let me go.  We had work to do, young man.  She explained that I wasn’t staying for the whole day, that my mother would be here soon, and she wanted to get a sense of my writing.  Oh, the injustice! While Bee and Kevin and a couple of dozen potential new friends were kicking around a football, I was inside being made to write about my summer holiday.  And I had just been informed that I would be going home soon.  I wouldn’t even get to share my crisps with Bee.  This was unfair!  How could my mother have packed me a lunch and not known that she would be picking me up before I had a chance to eat it, denying me a chance to enjoy the gastronomic delights of the paper bag, a school lunch not manufactured by the proletariat classes of industrial postwar Britain?  I began to sulk.
To the sounds of children playing joyfully outside the window, I begrudgingly refilled my fountain pen at the inkwell (even in the early seventies, this was clearly a practice whose time had come and gone several decades before) and sat down at the wooden table, noticing for the first time generations of etchings in its surface. I harrumphed. I wanted to be outside.  I did not want to be sitting here waxing not particularly lyrically about what I had done that summer.  Mrs. Brown shuffled by every few minutes, a faint smell of onion emanating from her print frock, and made slightly worrisome clicking noises.

After twenty minutes, the bell rang outside, signaling the re-entry of a playground-load of happy, rosy-cheeked children back into the school.  Mrs. Brown bade me write on.  I had not finished.  At that moment, catching me fully off guard, into the school walked my mother.  She had arrived at my moment of maximum frustration. While Kevin and several others were clattering the chairs in an effort sit down, Mrs. Brown summoned me to the door.  I threw my chair back, stomped over to pick up my brown paper bag, ignored the friendly “Hello, darling, how was your morning?” from my mum, swung my lunch bag as hard as I could against her legs, and stormed outside.  The bag split. The brown paper failed me, catapulting its contents across the room, the apple rolling to a gentle stop up against Mrs. Brown’s feet.
“Well,” I heard Mrs. Brown exclaim as I headed across the lawn, “we certainly don’t tolerate that sort of behavior at Updown School.”

“But…but…” my mother stammered, “he really is a very nice boy…” which is all I heard as I made my way down the steps to the car, sniveling and sad.  After all, I was only four, or possibly five.

Mrs. Brown informed my mother that my presence at the school was not welcome.  It took a phone call from Snoozy to persuade Mrs. Brown that I really was a very nice boy and would not only benefit from an education at Updown School, but that quite frankly I needed the challenge. Mrs. Brown relented and I was admitted the following week. 

Part Two to follow…..

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The Greenest School in Boulder"

While this website is principally intended as a place for me to park a wide range of personal thoughts, once in a while a work-specific topic comes along that is too good not to share. In the spirit of "finding the good in this crazy world", I offer the following news from Friends' School (while also conveniently and not so subtly parading the amazing new branding look we've adopted at the school, created by the wonderful people at Thinking Davis).

Friends' School has exciting news – the solar panels project that we have been working towards for a number of months now is about to become reality.

Friends' School is soon to be “the greenest school in Boulder” according to Eric Hinckley, the engineer and system designer for Solar Resource Consulting.  A whopping 93% of the energy needs for the school's elementary building will be provided by our solar array.  It is a system comprised of 144 solar modules which together will generate 33,000 kilowatts of power a year.

The installation crew will begin work this week, with an estimated completion date of November 1st.  In early November we will have a “Flip the Switch” opening ceremony and we will send out more details nearer the time.  In the mean time, we are excited to tie everything we are learning about solar energy into our curriculum and we will host a gathering, giving the students opportunities to touch and learn about the solar array.  There will also be a web-based portal which will allow us to see how much power the system is generating and how much we are using.

We are indebted to many people both in and outside of our school community for getting this huge and amazing project off the ground, in particular Tom Cohen, Carol Hampf, Ryan Martens, Fred Marienthal, Jen Greene, Ryan McIntyre, Mandy Best, our Community Board, and the good people of Renewable Energy Ventures, Solar Resource Consulting, City Electric, and the City of Boulder for their generous grant.  Installation of the solar panels on the school roof has allowed us to meet one of the major goals of our Strategic Plan, that of environmental stewardship.

Let the sun shine in!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Few Gentle Thoughts

It feels like it’s been a good weekend.  Had dinner with friends, finished up a creative project I’d been meaning to do for some time, took the train downtown to walk with friends to help raise money to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, cleaned the house a little, read the New York Times magazine, didn’t do some work for school that I probably should have done, took my girls out for ice cream, helped with a little homework, now heading this evening to a friend’s birthday party armed with some decent wine.  Nothing spectacular, but all good things.
Yet there is a feeling of emptiness and loss.  It’s September 11, the ten year anniversary.  While I did not know anyone directly who was killed in the attacks, it has effected us all deeply and I mourn.  On Friday I learned that a friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Today I heard a parent at my former school committed suicide.  The papers have reported in detail the usual collection of tragedy from around the world, and I have been thinking a lot about a local story about a young college student, no one I knew, whose leg were severed after she failed to jump onto a moving train.

It’s tough to make sense of it all.  I feel so fortunate and blessed in my life and yet around us all tough things continue to baffle us.  Why these events?  Why my friend?  Why now?  Why not me?  There’s not much I can do.  So much is out of my control.  So I continue to show love, to be present for my loved ones wherever and whenever possible, to take a little breathing time for myself, and to feel immense gratitude always for the amazing relationships in my life.  For my partner, for my daughters, for my family, for my friends, for my colleagues, for living where I live. 

We should all be so lucky.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


This falls in the category of things I never thought I'd write about.  Which is, of course, exactly what I love about writing.  As Winnie the Pooh once famously said, "You never can tell...."

Three questions, and answers, about donuts:

1) Did you know that June 3rd, my birthday, is actually National Donut Day in America?
Neither did I until I stumbled upon a big yellow sign advertising this double celebration in my local supermarket on my special day.  I feel blessed.

2) Can you appreciate the irony when my place of work (which I love) should call a staff meeting on health insurance and serve donuts?
Well, they were sitting alongside the gluten-free muffins and it was in Boulder, CO which is pretty much the healthiest place on the planet, so Meg, you are forgiven. I appreciate you agreeing with me that a fed staff is a happy staff. I do wonder if the health insurance company jacked up the premiums right then and there.

3) In England, where I grew up, we ate doughnuts made of dough.  Does that mean in America, we eat donuts made of do?
You can head to Wikipedia, which knows everything about everything, and read extensively about the disputed history and etymology of the donut.  As in all academia, the experts disagree.  What is undisputed is the formal name for the classic ring-shaped donut is toroidal from the geometric shape torus.

I bet you're glad you know that.  Now go get a cup of coffee and a donut and impress your friends.

Monday, August 29, 2011

One Tiny Corner Of The Planet

In the New York Times, you can read about famous events in history that occurred on this day. Today is August 29th 2011, the day my elder daughter started high school. On this day in history, in various years, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Michael Jackson was born, Ingrid Bergman died, and the Soviet Union exploded its first atomic bomb.

Facebook has a similar feature where you can see the exact posts you made one year ago on this day. On a level of interest that has no value at all compared to the events listed above, I did just enjoy reading what I posted a year ago - the post that perhaps generated more amusing comments from my friends than any other. I re-post it here, sort of like a re-run of your favorite M*A*S*H episode. Enjoy!

And now the last word, one year later....I never did ask for that cup of sugar, nor did I take my dog to foul her lawn. I didn't get stoned or have a toilet paper tube thrown at me, nor did I write a short story about the incident. I didn't even set her straight by quoting city rules. I decided that some battles are not worth fighting and I realized that I have more important places to spend my energy.

My neighbor and I didn't exactly kiss and make up though I did cross paths with her in the alley once before I moved out of that house. We exchanged a pleasant enough hello. I suspect that she might still be keeping watch over her bin, guarding it from illicit recyclers everywhere, an ever-present sentinel over her tiny corner of the planet.

I wish her peace on earth.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

In Search of Exploration

9:16 a.m. on a chilly October morning in Denver. A class of elementary school children is nervously awaiting the arrival of the city bus. The bright sunshine has them squinting on the southbound side of the street. A few attempt, without success, to get a passing truck driver to sound his horn. They hold bus tickets in their hands and on their young backs, backpacks filled with all the supplies they are going to need this day.

Today’s the day they’ve been waiting for, the grand adventure. They have been planning this for weeks. They know what is expected of them. They know their responsibilities. For they are Explorers and they are setting off into the unknown.

Back in the classroom, they have studied some of the great explorers of the past – Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Ferdinand Magellan. They learned the facts but greater questions arose. What was it like for these stouthearted men and their crews? Did they know where they were going? What would happen if their supplies ran out? Why was there mutiny? Could they find their way home again? Outstanding questions from a group of eight to eleven year olds. Today they are going to find out some of the answers for themselves.

Their teacher has not told them where they are headed or how long they’re going to be. He has told them that they will be traveling to a new place, a place where they will find a different environment. They will be seeking the unfamiliar. They might stumble upon a new species of plant or animal or, if they are lucky, native peoples. They will be searching for clues, evidence that life has been there before them, and might still be there now.

The children are arranged in groups of four. They have picked names for their group – The Almighty Explorers, The Dodo Birds, The Exploring Rocks, and more. They have decided which task they are going to pursue out in the field – looking for plant, animal, or human life, or making maps. They have determined what materials they might need for their pursuit, and they have packed accordingly – home-made bug catchers, affectionately known as pooters, magnifying glasses, nets, cameras, clipboards, and all manner of recording equipment and writing tools. And lunch.

Lunch has been a big deal, a point of negotiation for some time. The teacher gave each group $9.48 and set them loose in the neighborhood grocery store. This wasn’t the time to go for the pre-packaged Lunchable. No one could afford it. This was a time for debate and dispute, for concession and compromise. Lively discussions ensued about the number of slices in a loaf, the number of ways you can split an orange, and whether the bakery department would hand out free cookies to cute kids from the school next door. (They did.)

The bus pulls up in a fit of hydraulics, a look of disbelief on the face of the driver and despair on the faces of the listless passengers. The children take up every available seat. This is a first ride for many of them. Most arrive at school each day by car.

They’re off. Some are amazed to see familiar places fly past the window from this higher vantage point. One or two easygoing commuters engage the kids in friendly banter. “Where are you all going?” They don’t understand why the children don’t know. “We’re going exploring!” and the passengers sense the excitement around them.

The bus threads its way out of the neighborhood and into new territory. Some kids are taking bets on where it will stop. Natural questions arise. “Will we have enough to eat? What will we find? Are we there yet?” Some kids nervously watch the landscape rush by. Others engage in carefree conversation about last night’s Dancing With The Stars. One or two pull out books and read.

After twenty-five minutes or so, the teacher asks one young boy to tug on the rope. This is their stop. This is a new part of town. The kids don’t recognize the place. The bus pulls up and the class piles out with shining eyes and wagging tongues. They wait for the bus to pull away with a mighty snort. They cross the street, and head down the hill for three hundred yards to their destination.

A vast array of early spring green awaits them. Trees snake along a stream awakened with fresh water from nearby melting snow. Open grass areas give way to manicured baseball fields. A jogging path winds around a children’s playground, following the stream, crossing it at a couple of points, forking into two and re-uniting far off into the distance. This is one of the larger parks in the city park system well removed from the usual stomping grounds of these children and their families. The perfect place to Explore.

The separate groups meet to strategize. Where are the best places to find animals and plants? Where is the optimal spot to begin making maps? Is our teacher really going to make us interview complete strangers?

Yes, yes he is.

A couple of groups head down to the stream. They immediately launch their nets into the shallow water. Great shouts of joy reach those on the banks. Creepy crawlies are being sucked up into pooters and scooped up into jars. Critters who live in, on, and under the water abound. “Look! Look what I caught! Wow! That’s amazing. Look at this one! Ugh! Gross!” Tennis shoes sink in the mud. Someone accidentally nudges a friend into the water above her ankles.

Another group tramps through long grass in search of bigger animals. Will they find a rodent or a nesting bird? They’re looking for new and interesting plants, species they haven’t ever found in their own backyard or playground. The small stream winding its way through this park should provide plenty of opportunity. Armed with clipboards and colored pencils, they settle in to draw what they see, to document, to create a record they can bring back to school without taking what they find.

One intrepid band sets off to talk to the natives, local people using the park for recreation. They find dog walkers, joggers, tennis players, mothers of young children at the playground. They approach and are pleasantly surprised at the natives’ friendly and open manner. They learn about the neighborhood and how frequently the park is used. They whip out measuring tools and graph paper and begin to map the area to scale. They plot exactly where the encounters occur.

After an hour or so, the teacher calls the class together. Children emerge in small clusters from the long grass, from behind the playground, from the clump of trees in the far distance. Classmates greet each other and share their adventures with passion, no one group waiting long enough to hear another without jumping in and interrupting. There is the story of the lady who has walked her twin Scottish terriers in the park every day for a decade. There is a tale of the curious black and white ducks who fled into deeper water at the approach of The Dodo Birds. There is the disbelief and debate whether the distance across the park from east to west is greater than the perimeter of the baseball field. And there is lunch.

Backpacks are opened. Provisions are divided out. Portions are controlled. “If we each have two slices of turkey in our sandwiches, there’ll be one slice left that we can split up. Let’s feed our crusts to the ducks. Hey, do you want to trade half my apple for a cookie? You didn’t even pay for that cookie, it was free!” There is even a suggestion from one of the kids to pick up trash after lunch, to leave the place even better than they found it. Motion carried.

The teacher eventually glances at his watch and calls his adventurers to gather together . He is proud of his gallant party of Explorers. Mission accomplished.

There was no mutiny. No one went hungry or abandoned ship. Throughout the day he heard the questions of scientists in search of knowledge, “Why, what if, how, what do you think, let’s try?” He heard the language of cooperation, “Come on, let’s go, do you want to try, let’s do it together!” He witnessed writing and reading and math and social studies and science and thinking and collaboration and trial and error and pushing out of the comfort zone and laughter and teamwork and success.

The band of explorers winds its way back up the hill to the bus stop. The children climb slowly aboard and flop into their seats. And they wonder, “What does tomorrow have in store?”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

From the United States Senate

I was pleased to receive this letter from Mark Udall, U.S. Senator from Colorado. I thought it was a classy personal touch that he included a hand-written note and I'm feeling somewhat pleased that he may be one of the few people around whose handwriting is worse than mine! I wonder when we'll catch up in person....

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Speech to the Graduating Class of Stanley British Primary School

(to listen to a recording of this speech, click here)

May 27, 2011

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, a particularly great morning to the graduating class of 2011 and good morning to an enormous sea of former students and parents who are here today.

Before I start I was thinking last night how eloquently David Marais thanked all of us as 8th grade parents for helping so much with all the graduation festivities and I thought I would take the opportunity, from all of us as 8th grade parents, a round of applause, to thank David Marais and all he’s done for our 8th grade class.

Thank you for giving me this podium on this important day. A couple of years ago, when David asked me to give this speech today, there were mixed emotions in my household. I felt some joy and pride that for the first time we were going to hear from a graduation speaker who represented a section of the school other than the middle school, and who was also the parent of a graduating student. My daughter Emma, on the other hand, was mortified that I might take this opportunity to embarrass her publicly. As if I’ve ever done that before! You need not worry, Em. You have my word. And even though David knew that this would be the last day as Stanley students for Emma and her 8th grade friends, what none of us could have possibly known then was that this was the day that I would also be saying goodbye to this school.

So here we all are, at a day that perhaps many of us thought would never come. For some of you graduating, it’s only been a couple of years or so, since you started middle school at Stanley. For others, who began their Stanley careers in 345, it’s been maybe 4 or 5 years that you’ve been at the school. We learned at the Rose Ceremony on Wednesday, that for twenty of these graduating students, you’ve had nine full and happy years on our campus. And for some of us graduating from Stanley today, it’s been twenty-one years.

We’ve all seen many changes in our time here at Stanley. In the last month, we’ve broken ground on a new entrance to the school. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen Matt and Kathy’s and Katie Boston’s classes move into their own building. We’ve got a new elevator in the middle school and a bell system so that Alexandra will get you to your next class on time. We’ve started Family Groups and we’ve finally got cool new uniforms for the sports teams.

For many of us, in the last five or six years, we’ve said goodbye to a founding head of school and welcomed a new one. He’s taller and plays the banjo better than the old one. And when I say ‘old’, even though you seem to have carelessly left Carolyn behind at the Little White House in Brockenhurst, I mean ‘old’ with only affection and gratitude. We’ve got to know wonderful new teachers and we’ve said goodbye to others. Today, we say goodbye to a few more.

Back in 2002, when this class began their illustrious careers in kindergarten, important events were shaping our world. The Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake City. The US invaded Afghanistan. The body of Hall of Fame baseball player Ted Williams was frozen cryogenically in two separate pieces and a little TV show called American Idol debuted, leading Kelly Clarkson to break a record held for 38 years by the Beatles when her smash hit A Moment Like This leapt 51 places to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Here at Stanley in 2002, Sara Stern graduated from the intern program and was hired to teach 345, the school broke ground on the construction of the gym, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated and ESPN fame was coaching our basketball teams, and at the Holiday Program, Ted’s class performed The Grinch Who Stole Christmas - again.

Before that, in a time we used to call the nineties, some of you started at Paddington Station as two year olds here on an abandoned air force base at Lowry in what are now our K12 classrooms – when they were much smaller and not connected by a hallway. To get to the classroom at the end, you had to go through all the preceding classrooms, probably tripping over great piles of asbestos as you went.

I distinctly remember meeting several of you, kids, parents and even grandparents, at that first ice cream social for our two year old class. That was the time I distinguished myself in my naivete as a parent who clearly only had girls. The two year olds had taken a trip to the local fire station and everyone was excited to dress up and act like firefighters. I took it upon myself to provide a little realism to the make-believe, cutting up an old garden hose into four foot long strips, knowing that Addie and Jade and Lily and others would love putting out pretend fires with the mini-hoses. I hadn’t taken into account two year old boys, kids like Niall and Cole and Jack Longenecker, who proceeded to snatch the hoses and beat the living daylights out of each other. The teacher had to remove the weapons forthwith.

Those of you who are graduating your second or third child from Stanley today, and you’ve been here a decade or more, will remember the days when we had a split campus and all the challenges that that represented. Staggered start and finish times to the school day. For many staff members, much driving between the two sites. Two phone numbers, two receptionists, two places where we could lose your information, your tuition checks, and quite possibly even your children. I’m kidding, we never lost your tuition checks.

Before that, we were dealing with getting onto our Lowry campus through barbed wire fences, over parts of runways, and through plenty of mud. Tim remembers those days, sixteen years ago, when we spent a few years developing a middle school curriculum and taking out all kinds of debris that the US Air Force left behind – red velvet bar stools that we removed from the room we still call the pub, cast iron desks that weighed more than a small car, and plenty of bedroom furniture from the duplex houses that are now these classrooms.

For those of us who taught in the old building up the street at 1301 Quebec, we got excited when we built an addition which housed, three new classrooms, an extended day room and a giant multi-purpose room. That thing was massive. Compared to the gym today, that room was like, as big, as a small part of it, maybe the size of the music room if you pull Jill and all the instruments out of there. We played basketball in there. I directed my first ever play Black Ships Before Troy. Heck, we had the whole Holiday Program in that room. We were crammed in, we were hot, but we were happy. Hm, I guess some things don’t change.

Before that addition, we were four little classrooms and a basement. I taught down there, in the basement, for 2 years and mastered completely the art of pipe-dodging. The pipes down there in that basement are five feet eleven inches off the ground and I’m six feet one By the end of those two years, all my head wounds healed and I was able to teach math and give spelling tests, wandering around my classroom looking like someone out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

Back then, in 1990, when I began teaching at Stanley, fresh out of college, fresh off the plane from England, when my accent sounded more like Prince William’s and I still knew how to spell properly, leaving the “u” in words like “colour” and “flavour”, we were a tiny school. We had about 85 students, K-3, and a staff of less than 20. Everyone knew everyone else. We were just thinking about offering health insurance to full-time staff members, we offered French and a writing class we called language lab, and a third of everyone’s day was spent on choice time. Some of our current teaching staff were students back in those days. Some of them hadn’t even started kindergarten then.

And of those twenty staff members or so who were at the school when I began, half of them are still here today. I think that’s remarkable. And I’d like us to acknowledge them: Carolyn Hambidge, Chris Lewis, Betsy Lewis, Leneta Jones, Ida Daniel, Joanna Hambidge, Barbara Guynn, Mary Aandahl, and Debbie Montgomery; and several other current colleagues had already been involved in the school in significant ways: Kim Hartsen, Lynne Forstot, Mary Ammons, Jane Hile, Martha Markson, and Lloyd Slevc.

We have to acknowledge them and give them our deepest gratitude and here’s why. You see, when teachers and staff members leave, they get a canvas bag with the Stanley BPS logo, the Stanley bag. You know how many people I’ve watched over the years get that darned bag? Twenty years I’ve watched friends and colleagues score with that bag, and I never got one. Not until this year. This is mine! And here are these folks giving their blood sweat and tears to this school for a quarter of a century or more, and no bag. They deserve our thanks and our appreciation.

Because when you have people who have been around an organization for two or even three decades, you get something that you can’t buy anywhere. You get institutional memory. And that’s important. You get deep-rooted knowledge of the values and principles on which a school is founded.

It’s why these 8th graders who’ve been at the school all these years make such terrific tour guides to prospective families. You remember choice time. You remember taking apart motorbikes with Chris and building giant, potentially dangerous, playground structures out of junk. You remember singing your way around Star K Ranch with Mary Jo, (and please allow me to take a moment here to thank Mary Jo who has been a wonderful, creative, amazing teacher for my own children for six years – thank you, Mary Jo) or learning about yourselves by building life-size body dolls with Lynne. You remember fully integrated days, when in 345 we didn’t clean-up from one period to the next because we were just so absorbed in everything we were studying. Days when math and science, reading and writing, social studies and the arts, all collided and the result was giant, occasionally messy, projects, that sometimes went on for weeks because that’s what we were into and we wanted to know more. You remember getting dressed up for Colonial Day and having to pay taxes to King George in order to use a pencil or go to lunch and you remember leaping on the RTD bus with no idea where we were going and ending up across town on some grand writing adventure or scientific exploration.

And now, here we all are at the end of the road. What have we learned? So much. So much we didn’t know before. For me, in all my roles here at Stanley, as intern, teacher, mentor, theater director, scheduler, parent, division head, director of programs and of operations, and, as I was once referred to, “that gal who runs the Coffeehouse”, what have I not learned? It’s been twenty-one years. That’s the length of a childhood and more. We’ve all done a lot of growing up in that time. Especially me. I started out in a traditional English family, sent away to traditional English boarding schools. About as different from Stanley as you can imagine.

This school, and the people here, have taught us all well. It has taught us how to watch and listen to children. It has taught us what a joyful place school can be. It has shown us that the process is more important than the product. It has taught us the importance of play. It has helped us understand what it means to be a lifelong learner. It has surrounded us with color and creativity, laughter and friendships.

And I’ve got to know one other thing here.

You remember the Jack Palance character in the movie City Slickers? The grizzled wise old cowboy, Curly, who asks Billy Crystal: “Do you know what the secret of life is?” and he holds up his finger and says “This”. Billy Crystal says “Your finger?” and Curly says “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean sh…”. And Billy Crystal asks him, “But what is that one thing?” and Curly just smiles and says “That’s what you have to figure out.”

Twenty one years at Stanley, and I think I’ve finally got that one thing figured out. It’s something Carolyn told me when I first got here as a cherubic-faced twenty three year old. She recites it often, her favorite quotation from the inscription in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, the Oracle at Delphi. I didn’t fully understand it back then, but I do now. It’s this. “Know thyself”. That’s the one thing. “Know thyself” Twenty one years at this school and I’ve got to know that one thing here.

I know myself. This school does an amazing, sensational, inspirational job of helping people know who they are. It’s worked for me and it’s worked for my students over the years and it’s worked for my own children. And I think it’s worked for you, graduates of the class of 2011. The schools I attended when I was a kid did a lousy job of helping me figure out who I was. They taught me what to think, where to stand, how to fit into the crowd. I’m thrilled that you have been given this opportunity to know yourself and take your own place in your world.

We are all scattering to different schools– you to high schools in Denver, Aurora, Highlands Ranch, Englewood, Erie, Santa Barbara, me to an elementary and pre-school in Boulder.

As we head away from Stanley, I challenge all of us to keep with us everything we’ve learned at this school. We hope that we’ve not only educated you as kids, we have helped to develop you into amazing people. I hope you’ve learned what you need to help yourselves succeed. I challenge you, when you leave this place, to be kind and stand up for yourselves and others. I challenge you to self-advocate and be great team-builders. I challenge you to be outstanding contributors to your community. I challenge you to see the beauty in our world and to use your talents and skills to add to it. Whatever your passion, whether it’s music or computers, sports or photography, theatre or painting or advanced calculus, or anything else, I challenge you to pursue it with energy and spirit and enthusiasm. Go out there and be the best that you can be. And do it with love.

So, it’s the last day. You’ve got your diplomas. And I’ve got my bag. One colleague, Joan, wrote something on it from Dr Seuss, himself a wise grizzled old cowboy in his own way. It says:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Thank you, graduating class of 2011 for all of your gifts you’ve shared with us at Stanley. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the journey. Be well, do good, and keep in touch.

Thank you very much.

(photo credit: Jim Thomas)