Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You Can't Always Get What You Want

No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
No, you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need -- Rolling Stones

Yes, I am going to a concert during the final tour of the Rolling Stones!  How timely of them to schedule these concerts, and of them to provide the backbeat to my post.  Thank God I am married to a man who recognizes the significance of these moments!

Thanksgiving has come and gone, leaving me with a deep level of gratitude and a clear understanding of what it means to "get what you need."  The tug between getting what you want and getting what you need is a reality.  And, becoming peaceful with that tug is the beginning to really, REALLY getting what you NEED.

First of all, you CAN do something for some New Yorkers who have lost homes and belongings.  Go to:  or  the Sandy Relief Fund at   or any other site you might find.

Back to that tug...
I have been reading The One World Schoolhouse   Education Reimagined (Salman Khan, inventor of the Khan Academy).  How he created the "Academy" and his understanding of education and learning are very, very inspiring and exciting.  But about that tug;  "Normal is what you're used to."  That is somewhat of a profound statement.  I know it is true, and that people have created their lives around that statement.  And, the killer is that "normal" is what sets the expectations that trips one up when trying to step into a new experience.

Sal says that the educational system that we know is "so complexly integrated with other aspects of our culture that it's daunting to imagine a world without it." (61)  And further in the chapter called Questioning Customs he says "the idea that college is needed for everyone in order to be productive members of society is only a few decades old."  And, then "why should it prove so difficult to design a school that would teach both skill and wisdom, or even better, wisdom through skill?  That's the challenge and the opportunity we face today." (69-70)

Normal is what we are used to.  Expectations can trip us up.  Is college, as it is now, the best option for everyone?  Can daydreaming about what it would be like to be a college student bring some of those expectations down to Earth?  Harlen says in The Naked Roommate, "Students are rarely told the truth about college life." (39)  He goes on to explain that although most of the college experience is amazing, a small but robust part can be unexpected or not be in line with students' expectations.  And, students may find themselves putting a disproportionate amount of time and energy into dealing with these unexpected aspects.  Or, they might just shut down or resort to fitting in.

Do you remember the gift you got that turned out to be not the gift you thought it was?  It was still a gift, but not the gift you were expecting.  Its potential was dashed from the moment you ripped the wrapping paper off and saw it wasn't what you thought it was.  It could have been just want you really needed, but it wasn't what you wanted.

Expectations can really get in the way.  An A-student in high school may find that isn't going to happen anymore in college, at least not right away.  Someone who has never shared a room, and loudly stated that having a roommate would be a piece of cake finds himself tongue-tied when trying to explain that his roommate's music is disturbing his studying.  Sitting in a lecture with 600 or 10 other students feels really uncomfortable, despite the beautiful glossy pictures of happy students on the college website.

But, all that may be required is some practice and learning to not put that unexpected gift into the trash or the drawer so quickly.  You can't always get what you want; but if you try some time, you might just find, you get what you need...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Muscle Memory

I am in Boston for the weekend.  There is a saying, "move a muscle, change a thought," and I feel like taking it one step further and saying, "move geographically, change a perspective."  My purpose for being here is acting as a chauffeur for some of my children and their friends.  I needed to drive them to the area for both a visit with friends and to attend SPLASH at MIT.  SPLASH is an educational experience for teens enabling them to take classes, negotiate some of the MIT campus, and basically ditch their parents for the weekend as they do these things with throngs of friends and new acquaintances.  If the time is used correctly it also enables parents to get through loads of work and enjoy some much-needed solitude.  I have finished one book, gone through a pile of Inc.Magazines, revised my game (again) and am now adding a new post.  And, being in Boston has made me feel SMART.  I don't know if that is real but it does feel good.

Geographical places, for me, conjure up different emotions and sometimes even physical feelings.  Colorado makes me feel balanced, Ann Arbor makes me feel at home, Washington, DC made me feel curious, Chicago inspired perkiness, Florida is other-worldly, Utah is crisp, Greece on the beach was timeless, as was St. Petersburg, Vilnius was busy.  I like clean beaches and mountains that have hiking trails I can handle.  And I love rock formations and elk!  And, one day I will finally come face-to-face with a moose.  And, New York?  I am just proud to be able to sometimes live there successfully.  It is big, messy, awe-inspiring, loud, disrespectful and both the most cold-hearted and benevolent place I've ever been in.  It has peregrine falcons and homeless people, beautiful sunsets and garbage that stinks.

Today, in Boston, I have been thinking about the enigma of a good fit, and how teens preparing to go to college don't really care about the same thing I do.  My child, the other day, did a very good job of explaining that kids don't really try to prepare for going to college in the same way I am trying to get that to happen.  He was clear and concise and eloquent.  I feel confident that the coming leg of the journey will have lots of challenges but also lots of opportunities.  I don't have the same fears I had when he was much younger, so I guess I have grown and matured (ha, ha...).

But, I have also learned that I really am smart; it's not just being in Boston!  And, no matter what the challenge is, practicing something like it can give a person a little muscle memory.  Oh, I love muscle memory!  I was never an athlete like my father, and I am still not very confident when it comes to physical things but my body does remember a little about riding on a bicycle, hiking and skiing.  I can at least do it on some level.  (I don't know what happened with tennis; and am hoping better outcomes with golf.)  And so, why not play a game and pretend that you are going to figure out what it means to go to college?  Building up a little muscle memory is not setting the entire experience thereafter in stone.

I met a lovely woman at the Starbucks this morning.  We chatted for a few minutes about how when you have more than one child, the children are different individuals (oxymoron?)   And, I told her about one of the exercises I use when asking students to practice sharing a room.  Never underestimate the USE OF THE REFRIGERATOR!  It matters not if a college student is brilliant, rich, poor, not-so-brilliant, perky, or whatever -- the use of the refrigerator must be negotiated.  And, just when one thinks they have conquered it, that they are the best, it will come back to offer another issue.  So, I want to say Thank You for adding another layer to this negotiation:  who buys it?  who gets to store food in how much of it?  who cleans it?  AND,WHAT IF SOMEONE EATS THE FOOD THEY DIDN'T PURCHASE?

I am continuing to read The Naked Roommate.  Mr. Cohen describes college as a place to take risks, because there are so many safety nets.  I like this part:  "And take risk after risk after risk so that you can figure out what you love and what you don't love.  Expect that all the risks you take will not always go as planned." (33)  And, "Most people get to college and want it all...New takes time." (35)
Building up a little muscle memory, imagining what it will be like and then taking some pretend risks can be really smart.

So, I need to take my own advice.  I have revised my game and now I need to get it online and see if anyone will play it, and if it works!  Yipes!!  My muscle memory is quivering.

Speaking of memory...did any of you eat food from the cube refrigerator that you didn't purchase?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, It's the Grateful Dead....

And the crowd goes wild, right? What was it about the Dead that caused people to go to multiple concerts and in some cases actually follow the band.  I was not a Dead Head but even the small interaction I had has left a set of memories that lead quickly into re-creations.  My favorite moments were at a concert at UNLV when the band played "Fire on the Mountain" as a lightening storm approached across the desert and at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC when I ran into a student who lived in the dorm I was directing.  He was amazed and dare I say disturbed that he would turn around and find me at a Dead concert.  His expectation was that only younger people and especially stoners would be attending.

So, here are some points:  expectations can drive an impression or even an outcome and abandoning oneself to an experience can enable a person to push past previous expectations.

I went to a "Further" concert this summer where some surviving members of the Grateful Dead played and many, many people attended.  For anyone not familiar with the Grateful Dead it looked like some older guys playing some sort of California spacey music and a lot of middle aged people bouncing around and in some cases getting high.  But, for anyone who had followed the Dead it was a trip to reconnect with all of those memories, no matter what present life looked like.  It appeared that many people came from corporate or other traditional "grown up" jobs.  I wonder if colleagues  knew they were going to become Dead Heads for the evening?  And, I wonder if it crossed anyone's mind to say "I have outgrown this or I shouldn't do this."

Segue to envisioning oneself as a college student.  I picked up a copy of The Naked Roommate:  And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into In College (Harlan Cohen).  Mr. Cohen's first tip, in a book that claims many very helpful things, is Expect the Unexpected.  "Bottom Line  When you expect the unexpected you're better prepared when the unexpected arrives."  Expectations can motivate students to achieve, but having them can also create blinders that get in the way of seeing possibilities.

Abandoning oneself to an experience can enable a person to push past previous expectations.  In Ivan the Fool (Leo Tolstoy) Ivan turned a village on its ear by changing the value of things like money.  Others could be corrupted by the promise of money but Ivan considered it only something shiny and saw no use for it.   Can you imagine how life would become very different if money suddenly became useless and something unexpected, like tea bags, became valuable?  Apply that thinking to transforming into a college student, regardless of reservations.  Ivan was true to who he was regardless of the situation, and he didn't fall into conforming to the expectations based on who he appeared to be.

So, next time you see someone get out of a car that has a funny little bear on the bumper, just take a moment to recognize that you are probably looking at someone who has thrown off their blinders and abandoned themselves to something bigger than who they appear to be.

Sometimes the light's all shinin' on me
Other times I can barely see
Lately it occurs to me
What a long strange trip it's been (Truckin')

Saturday, November 3, 2012

It's getting better.

I have been tweaking Small Steps Go Places this evening.  I hope the changes will make reading this blog more entertaining.  For example, if you scroll to the bottom you will find you can translate the blog into whatever language is most appropriate.  This means you can refer it to folks that don't speak English.
And, yes, to comment you do need to have a Google account (remember we really do have to take the steps!)

I'm also going to try making the advertisements more relevant and interesting.

And, hey, have you checked out the links that have been posted on the site all along?  Jerry Posner is great (look for his ukelele) and Dawn Falcone has great design tips.  And, I may take some of the Smart Brief articles out and include them in the blog.  I have found them very useful myself.  These are all real people and sites that I have known or used!

So, take a few steps and let me know if it's getting better...

In Charge I am Not

I have been, over the past year, working in the book The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron, one of Martin Scorsese's wives).  I've worked my way through the book once and am back for my second go-around.  Soon I will be looking for a group to share this amazing experience with, but for now I am slogging solo.
Today I am working on negative core beliefs; trying to challenge them with positive core beliefs.  And, in the middle of this I have found a small, golden kernel:

"creative recovery (or discovery) is a teachable, trackable spiritual process.  Each of us is complex and highly individual yet there are common recognizable denominators in the creative recovery process."

There is something very comforting about the phrase "teachable, trackable spiritual process."  It doesn't even have to be spiritual but the fact that there are steps that any of us as human beings are taking and those steps are recognizable is such a simple, satisfying notion.

So back to my statement, "In Charge I am Not."  As I try to move my journey back to this game and what it represents I am also stating and restating that college application is a process, and that students and their families shouldn't be shooting for perfection, but rather for a good fit.  Just as I should not be shooting to rescue everyone in the New York City area after Hurricane Sandy, or shooting for the perfect job, or the perfect anything.  Perfect doesn't exist, and in fact trying to make it happen has some drawbacks.

Take a step back.....

The truth is you really do need to take the steps and do the work.  There was a hurricane and people do need help so step up and help them.  Even a small thing will make a difference.  High school students do need to decide if they are going to college or not, and there is an application process that needs to be completed.  But, going to Harvard isn't the only "good fit."  Maybe becoming a plumber or a phlebotomist or a police officer is a good fit.  The real work is asking the questions and really being honest with the answers.

Henry David Thoreau said, "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you imagined.  As you SIMPLIFY your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."

Isn't the ultimate "good fit" figuring out how and when to say "I'm not going to do that right now," and letting the world go on to fill the space?  Isn't it finding out how to "simplify" life so each of us can decide what to hone and what to add?

Yes, In Charge I am Not!  But I am taking some small steps, and I am going places.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is the student in your life ready to choose a college?

If I believe that I can make a "dent in the universe" with the game about the college process then I should feel good about sharing some aspects of it, and I do.  I feel that a "good fit" is important.  I believe that when I get this game to a place where families, students, teachers and counselors can use it, that it will improve their experience with this complicated process.

Step 1 will be for students alone to complete, but for right now students can draw a picture of an avatar for themselves.  Reflect what characteristic defines you to the outside world!  Are you an athlete, scholar or something that doesn't fit into the regular categories?

Then comes an important question:  College or No College?  Have you really truly thought about the answer to this question?  I'm working on a concrete comparison!  And, it will involve knowing how much your loan payments will be at the end of college.

How about What Frames Choosing a College?  I bet most students base their initial choices on Location or Size, right?    There is so much more.

Try this:  Look at this very short list (there are more) and make a list of Important and Not Important.

Family affiliation
Sports to play
Sports to watch
Know people who are going
Want to get away from parents
Want to recreate self

Then choose the top 3.

Oh!  Go back three spaces...
How do you move from a high school or home model to a college model?
Are you in your own room?  Do you wait to be told what to do?  Can you do your own laundry?  Do new experiences make you energized or does it make you break out in a sweat?

Finally (for now), are you an early riser or a night owl?  Are you a neat freak, a lover of piles, or do you not care as the debris rises around you?  You are paired up with your opposite -- that means really living with another human being in a small space daily.  Who gets who up?  Who decides the condition of the room? And, who gets to decide what goes into the mini-fridge?

Enough for now...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What if Einstein Colored Inside the Lines?

I have been reading a book that was on my daughter's reading list for last summer: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.  It is a startling book because it states a number of things that are the direct opposite of what I have learned or been told about starting a business.  And, I am finding that many of the statements seem to ring true for me.

"To do great work, you need to feel that you're making a difference.  That you're putting a meaningful dent in the universe.  That you're part of something important." (31)  And they go on to say it doesn't have to be earth shattering like a cure for cancer, but rather something that would make customers say it made their life better in some way.  Which makes me ask myself how many times I have delayed doing something because it wasn't important enough.  And, how times have I known it was important enough to just do it regardless of the reactions I would end up with.  I wish I had more times in the latter.

These guys really push for taking a stand and having an opinion based on what matters.  (Draw a Line in the Sand--43)  But, even bigger was reading "Decisions are progress.  Each one you make is a brick in your foundation." (77)

Today while I was waiting for my youngest to finish the ISEE test (a necessary hoop in our high school admittance journey) I had a long conversation with a couple who were having their much younger child tested.  I wish I could say it was a new conversation or a new story, but it wasn't.  Smart child in a public school already becoming bored.  Turns out he taught himself to read by asking his mom to tell him what was written on the back of the cereal box, and then used what she said to phonetically translate kids' books for himself.  That sounds pretty motivated to me.  How far can he go?  And, what happens when he interrupts the teacher's instruction to say he really wants to know about something she doesn't know or care about instead of what she is presenting?

Hey, I know kids need a good base with grammar, math, scientific thought, etc.  But, they also need adults in their lives who are willing to switch gears to accommodate those important off-road excursions.  It must have been hell to be Thomas Edison or Einstein's teacher but where would we be if they had colored inside the lines and really worked just to get those gold stars?

So here I am trying to find that stand to take.  And, it is based on what feels way impossible right now.  It's all about having a good fit and not having to always fit into someone else's idea of what is the right thing.  But, the magic happens when a few good fits come together to really spark a new approach to some problem that has been lying around for a while.  Or, even more simply when a group of kids talk about a really challenging book like The Jungle with as much passion as they do Harry Potter.

A good fit comes from spending the time to get to know the people involved.  I know that and that is why I have been designing a game for high school students embarking on a college search.  I feel that kids who work through the steps to getting clearer about applying for college will make a better choice.  And, I know that listening to parents talk about what they feel their kids need to succeed in learning is work toward a good fit for their kids.  Enough with the policy studies and grand plans and arguments.  How about some good old-fashioned listening and then doing.  Not big plans and certainly not things that make teachers and students feel bad.  How about figuring out what kids need to know, and then doing that?  Like I said, it's way impossible right now.

But I am confident that applying that good fit will lead me to doing something that will put a meaningful dent in the universe.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

TIME - This I Must Engineer

I have enjoyed using the acronym TIME (This I Must Earn) for years as a way a reminding myself that sometimes I need to just be with a thought or change for a while before it works.  But, I am now realizing that in my daily life I have to add another acronym for TIME (This I Must Engineer).  There are way too many choices to take one-at-a-time.  I can no longer be thoughtful about everything!

All of these observations and choices are floating around me like satellites orbiting the globe, threatening to run into each other or me, possibly blowing up or burning up.  It is all I can do to not run and hide someplace!  I have detailed fantasies of transplanting myself to a cabin in the woods.  And, regardless of centering myself and getting into a flow, I think a little transplantation might be a wise move.

So, how do I get into the flow instead of the satellite orbit?  Strangely enough I think the key is voicing my own priorities and goals; and sharing what I really feel.  Isn't that ironic?  Some of us in the world fancy our skills in running the show, and some of us relish supporting the engineer.  For years I have felt that I did best as a promoter -- and I am an excellent connector and promoter.  But recently I have deeply desired the return favor.

But perhaps most important is the fact that to become, I have t let go.  And I know that letting go is one of the most challenging things to do.  I take comfort in the fact that by being a good connector and promoter I have set up some of the people in my life to really excel.  It is just that first step requiring either courage or the mettle to face some discomfort.

So, here is to engineering.  I can run the train for awhile, and take it on an interesting set of tracks.  And, hopefully I will do it right most of the time.  But what if my running the train isn't about leading a group of people?  What if it is leading people to step out of their comfort zones as I am stepping out of mine.  To try an alternative reality with the purpose of altering that orbit, and maybe putting some of the choices and observations into real play.

TIME:  This I Must Engineer so I can EARN.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Order versus Freedom

I feel psychology bruised this morning.  Back and forth, back and forth in so many areas of my life do I bounce.  Yesterday, in an attempt to help my daughter understand the question of order versus freedom for an essay I found a thread that has been marching its way through the fabric of my life.

Glorious, wonderful FREEDOM -- isn't that why I ask so many questions of everything, and isn't that why I chose to home-school?  Isn't that why the United States of America came into being?  No one can tell US what to do!!!  But, down deep there is a lot of responsibility that goes with that glorious, wonderful, freedom.  And, sometimes there is a small, hidden wish that PLEASE WON'T SOMEONE TAKE RESPONSIBILITY!

Then there is steady, solid ORDER.  No matter what happens it will be done according to a template that everyone knows about -- no surprises here.  I don't get things done unless there is some sort of list or template running underneath it.  It is the value of order that led me to read How Self-Expression Damaged My Students by Robert Poniscio, a former South Bronx teacher who recalls how his own idealism kept his class from learning how to write.  This is an article I found much value in when I surprised myself by reading it.

That, perhaps, is the real kernel I've gained today.  Yes, I am really one of the Freedom-lovers.  I like to ask questions and mix it up.  On some level I know that discomfort born of being in a place that is unfamiliar leads to growth.  And, that growth, if used properly, can be the source of small changes whose ripple effects can shake whole systems.  But, my freedom-loving steps don't get taken unless there is something beneath them, for them to stand on.

I am blessed because I am married to an order person who tolerates freedom, and our children have some of both and are using those talents really well.  And, I am finding that I have to speak up (exhausting) if I don't want to be pigeon-holed in one of the many roles I have carved out for myself.  But, isn't that what my freedom-loving self is asking for?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Avatars and the golden ticket

The weather has taken a break from hot, hot and humid and is a bit delightful today.  It has been a good day.  I talked about my game and got some great ideas for the next step.  Does anyone have ideas for avatars?  How to disguise learning so that it is fun?  I have some really good ideas that have been unlocked.  Sometimes the best laid plans and intentions are just not good enough.  Sometimes I have to accept the fact that I am really just a tool or conduit, and I should focus on making my part really good instead of trying to make the whole thing a success.

What is it about us as a human race that wants to be the winner and holder of the golden ticket?  I find it difficult, as I age, to give up some sort of control hold.  I live a charmed life but it is never good enough because I haven't done that successful thing.  But, now I wonder what is that successful thing that I am grasping at?

So, I return to what I am finding that I am good at doing.  How can I make what I want people to do -- fun?  And, I have never said they have to be who they really are.  So, how do I insert avatars?  I guess the real question is how can I help people pretend to be who they want to be for the moment, and take the steps that I help lay out?  Could I take a trip as someone else?  Hhmmmm...who would my avatar be?  Maybe a wild-haired drummer or guitarist in a rock and roll band who also listens well. hair, yellow hair, black hair?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Doesn't the elephant look relaxed?

Hello out there.  I looked on Small Steps Go Places and amazingly, someone is still looking!!
So, I realize I really do need to redesign this blog and get it up and running again.

The school year is over, girls are safely deposited at camp, one child at home for the summer and I am making my to-do list.

And......I have designed a game to use with high school juniors regarding finding a college.  75% designed it and now I have to finish it and find some warm bodies to tell me what works and what doesn't.  And, if I should just put it all on line instead of wanting to make parents, counselors and kids do that laborious "talking with one another."  Sometimes our best intentions are like lead balloons, but they are sooo hard to give up.

But hey, on the lighter note, I have ridden on a horse and an elephant in the last month.  How's that for facing discomfort in the face?