Playing With Logical Fallacies

return logic to politics, make logic a game, free logic game, free critical thinking game, teach logic, teach common sense,

Heated political rhetoric is everywhere. It sets us apart from one another and erodes what’s left of civil discourse. It grinds the worthy concept of logic into dust. Not any more. Not when we fight back with a game I’m calling Logic Shrink.

I’m not selling a thing. You don’t need an app, a console, even a board. It’s entirely your game. Play a solitary version. Play it during a get-together with your extended family. Play it with kids, especially teens. Bring it to the classroom, assisted living center, or secret Super PAC meeting. It will entertain.

Afterwards, when the lively score-keeping has ended there will be something new in the room. It may be unfamiliar at first. It’s a state of being that requires no name calling, no slippery slope.  It’s logical thinking.

Now just envision the game being played over and over, from living rooms to sports bars, spreading this thing called logic across all so-called divisions. Even if every snarky pundit huffed off the airwaves the game wouldn’t have to end. We’d just spread nice thick layers of logic in plenty of other places.


How To Play Logic Shrink

The general idea is to watch or listen to two sides of an issue as presented by pundits, politicians, or other talking heads. Using a guide to logical fallacies, players call out any errors they perceive. The first person to call out a fallacy that at least a third of other players agree is correctly identified, gains points. Players who correctly estimate in advance how many fallacies will be committed by each side gain points too.

1. First, print out or otherwise make available a list of logical fallacies. (Here’s one and here’s another but you can find many online or use the graphic heading this post.) As with any game, the players won’t be immediately familiar with all of these fallacies nor the names they’re commonly called. Shorten the list to the most common fallacies for new players or younger kids. Give a little time in advance of each game for players to go over the list. It seems dull now, but it won’t when players use the list to score points. Liven up the logical fallacy list any way you like, perhaps giving an introduction to each as a stand-up comedy routine or asking each player to offer an example of a logical fallacy they’ve heard recently.

2. Locate competing sources. That might be right (Glenn BeckRush LimbaughFox & Friends) versus left (Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartmann, Democracy Now). It might be a political debate. It might be two podcasters squaring off on an inflammatory issue. It’s best if the sources are taped or otherwise turn-off-able, because you’ll be stopping them a few times. Start with no more than ten minutes of each. Maybe five.

2.  Scoring. This is your game so you may keep score any way you choose. Here are my suggestions. At the beginning of each game, guess the number of fallacies each different segment will provide and put that number at the top of your list or other scoring method. Then keep track of fallacies outed. The easiest way? Provide two different colored pencils to each player (helpful for designating which source committed which fallacy), then let players check off each fallacy on the list they hear. They must be the first to call out the fallacy aloud to earn points. You can get more high tech if you’d like, there are all sorts of student response systems (SRS), audience response systems (ARS), and personal response systems (PRS) available for smart phones and tablets. Or hell, make a wall-sized board that lights up when players touch a remote. This game is ripe for geekifying.

3. Disputing scores. This is where it gets, shall we say, energized. Stick to the statements heard and the way those statements fit on the list of logical fallacies.  The goal of the game is only to discover illogical rhetoric. Be the first to call out a logical fallacy, you get five points if at least a third of other players agree by a quick show of hands. Other players can dispute the exact fallacy you claim or that any fallacy exists. (The recording will need to be turned off or backed up a few times.) Everyone should add the agreed-upon fallacies to their overall score sheet, seeing who gets closest to their pre-game estimates. At the end, the closest overall estimator gets 25 points. Also add up scores earned during the game. Grand total wins, although we all know, logic is the true champion.

To recap

  • Pass out list of logical fallacies.
  • Go over them together.
  • Explain scoring.
  • Start the show, stopping when necessary to sort out all the yelling and raised hands.
  • Finish by adding up scores.
  • Cheer for the elevation of reason and logic.

Tell me how you play, and improve on, Logic Shrink. If you come up with a great app or device to use with Logic Shrink, feel free to give me a cut. So far, tirelessly advancing good causes hasn’t paid me a nickel.

Would You Open the Door?

who is a hero?

Image: CC by 2.0 flickr Tom Roeleveld

Like many adjunct professors, Jessamine Irwin spends a lot of time commuting. The other day she way on her way to New York University after teaching a class at Fordham. She got on a New York subway and sat in a seat at the back of the train, near the door leading to the next car. She settled into the commuter’s lull, relaxed and half awake, when she was startled into awareness by a loud noise against the back door of the train car.

She was shocked to see two people between the cars. One, a large man, was shaking the other, as if trying to throw that person onto the tracks.

Horrified, she called out to her fellow passengers, “What’s happening!”

No one seemed to react. At the same time, the aggressor shoved his victim to the other side, and then slammed him with his back to the door of Ms. Irwin’s car.

Almost without thinking, she opened the door and grabbed the victim.

He half fell as she pulled him to safety, away from an aggressor she describes as muscular and over six feet tall. The aggressor, thankfully, did not pursue his victim into the car although that was the risk Ms. Irwin took.

Only after she got the victim into the car did she realize he was an 11-year-old boy.

His t-shirt revealed the name of his school but he was so traumatized by his ordeal that he could barely talk. She used his phone, trying to call his mother, but lost reception.

His arms were bruised from the assault and he’d hit his head against the subway car. He held her hand as, at the next stop, she led him off the train to the transit police. He explained to the police that he’d been play-fighting with a friend and his friend accidentally bumped into the man.  When the boy denied witnessing this,  the man grabbed him and dragged him between the cars.

Some say there’s a difference between those who ignore suffering and those who are moved to alleviate it. We know too little about how to develop that capacity in ourselves and our children. Instead we’re surrounded by news outlets, pundits, and advertisers who spew greed and misery, giving us all a sense of helplessness.

The issues of our time are serious indeed. But unnoticed acts of kindness are what allow life to flourish as we nurture the youngest and tend to the oldest, share with those in need, and weave the web of mutuality that holds us together. Most of these acts are not as dramatic as Ms. Irwin’s. But she, like so many perfectly ordinary people, show us what humanity is capable of doing.

If faced with a similar crisis, I’d like to think that you and I would open the door too.

Moving to the Hinterland

The car stereo shorted out repeatedly during our move to the country, defaulting from quiet public radio to a station transmitting evangelical hellfire at top volume.

I guess that was the first sign.

Though my husband, Mark, and I had long dreamed of raising our children in the country, we’d come to love the benefits of our busy suburban community. Along with a group of neighbors we’d established traditions including full moon walks, bike parades, Halloween get-togethers, even pig pen parties. But difficult circumstances — everything from a bully next door to a gun-toting gang  harassing our oldest son at school —  motivated us to leave. And because Mark had a home business without a commute, we were free to move farther away.

We scrounged the means to buy a rural place and found one we could afford.  As we carried our belongings into our new home we savored the pastoral refuge we’d found – a pond, fields, forest, and a low hill where we envisioned building a barn. We couldn’t wait to meet the neighbors.

The next day one of them walked over carrying a towel-covered dish. I’d always greeted new people on our old street with homemade bread so I was heartened to see her.

“This is my husband’s favorite,” she said. “It’s cherry pie.”

Her hair was sprayed into stiff curls, her face thick with make-up. Her expression seemed deeply unhappy. Three silent girls accompanied her. None of them wanted to meet my children when I offered to call them in from the woods. She stayed only long enough to ask if I’d found a nearby house of worship. I said we were still attending our former church. She asked its denomination, twice. I realized it was better to change the subject than tell her we attended a Unitarian Universalist fellowship.

On the way out her youngest child noticed a painting from India on our wall. The girl looked at me and spoke for the first time since she’d arrived. “Pagan idols!” she said in horror.

A few days later another neighbor walked over. She brought cookies and promptly asked about our church affiliation. While her toddler rampaged through the house she suggested we remove the sign on our lawn promoting the library levy. “No one around here supports the library,” she said softly. “It’s an agent of Satan.”

I was confused.

She explained that the library had “that Internet thing,” exposing children to “evil and filth on the screen.” I nodded at her concerns but gave examples of greater good brought about by the net. Words like “awareness” caused her nostrils to flare. She informed me that worldwide violence was a preordained sign of the End Times. Just then her tiny child ran into the room, assumed a firing stance and yelled, “I kill you.”

As this first month in our bucolic country home continued, more neighbors stopped by, usually in an advisory capacity. A minivan pulled in while I was putting up our Halloween decorations. The driver cautioned me that such décor would mark me as a devil worshiper.

“It’s not worth the effort anyway,” she said, “no one trick or treats around here.”

We commiserated about the reduction of household chocolate this represented. She leaned an elbow out the van window and went on about the holiday boycott. As we laughed I experienced a surge of hope, thinking I might have found a kindred spirit. She said there was a movement underway to halt even the October 31 “harvest parties” at school to which children wore costumes. I let out an ill-advised laugh and said something sarcastic. The relaxed expression on her face changed. She retorted that her pastor did not support anything which pleased “the desires of the devil and his minions” and backed out of the drive.

A brief conversation with neighbor who lived a few doors down revealed that our families had attended the same Presbyterian church when we were growing up. She invited me over. This seemed promising. When I brought muffins she nodded as she took them, saying that God had told her not to bake. As she ranged around the kitchen smacking insects with a fly swatter, she gave me a who’s who of the area.

“Don’t talk to the lady in the yellow house, she has a hyphenated name, probably a feminist. And next door, they’re Catholic, you know, so-called Christians.” She went on to list those in her own family who were going to hell because they were still Presbyterians rather than members of her non-denominational church. Finally she noticed I had gently protested each of her denunciations. The fly swatter stopped. I tried again.

“Aren’t Christians meant to see Christ in each person?” I asked gently.

She kicked me out of her house.

We’ve been here nine years now. We cherish the simple pleasures of raising cows, chickens, and bees on our land. And yes, we’ve found friends nearby with whom we can discuss politics and religion openly (even though our views don’t necessarily align). We’ve developed new traditions including potlucks to which we invite friends from urban and farm community together.

All the while our most fundamentalist neighbors have served as amazing teachers. They’ve truly given us lessons on finding that spark of divinity in everyone.

But sometimes I have to admit to myself, “Christ, good disguise.”


Originally published a decade ago by Geez Magazine: Contemplative Cultural Resistance. Our early months living in this community were actually much more harrowing as well as more strangely amusing. Here’s more on that. We’re still here on the same little farm and can truly say we appreciate all of our neighbors. (I don’t ask if the feeling is mutual…)  

Oil & Gas Pipeline Closing In On Our Township

oil and gas pipeline through rural areas

No! No! No! 

Pipeline Protest 


Its name is Nexus,

from the Latin

meaning to bind, fasten, tie.

The pipeline, nearly as wide

as a kindergartener is tall,

will cut through

dairy farms and backyards,

hurtling high-pressure

danger for profit. Always profit.


Maybe it’s another wake-up call,

like the one Bush offered

by invading a sovereign nation;

brutalizing the Iraqi people

we claimed to be saving.

Brutalizing ourselves.


Of course we keep hitting

the snooze button.

Waking up isn’t easy.

Birds flounder

in oily waters

and we’re desperate

to sleep a little longer.


Today you and I stand

amidst hand-lettered signs:

Windmills Not Oil Spills,

Eminent Domain=Greed,

Fuck Fracking.

Cold wind brings tears to our eyes.


Fear brings us here. Anger too.

And bone-deep grief

for this lovely lovely planet.

Awakening shows us a million ways

to climb past despair.

I want us to do it for love.


Laura Grace Weldon


Originally published in the Blue Collar Review. Find more poetry in my collection, Tending. 


  • Here’s more about the Nexus pipeline including the route and blast radius in Ohio.
  • Here’s an article I wrote about how fracking might affect my family, and yours.  (First published on
  • Here’s a glimpse at just how shady the oil and gas industry can be. More than 100 letters sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) in support of the pipeline are fakes, using names and addresses of Medina County residents who did not write them or sign them. A FERC project manager said the falsified letters would remain on the docket.
  • Here’s recent disheartening news. An appeals court, using a 65 year old Ohio law meant to facilitate the construction of utility infrastructure after World War II,  has ruled against the rights of property owners. This means pipeline surveyors are free to intrude on the yards and farms of 65 landowners who have actively objected. Yesterday armed security guards stood by as surveyors took measurements on a horse farm just south of the fairgrounds, a farm that’s bordered on three sides by wetlands and park property. As resident Paul Gierosky said in a recent article, “NEXUS is no more a utility than I’m an astronaut. This pipeline is not a public agency designed to service the people along its route. It’s a for-profit company that’s going to sell the gas to a foreign country.”
Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

Image: Garry Knight, CC by 2.0

30+ Ways To Immerse Kids in the Arts

how to immerse your kids in the arts

Experience Music Project CC by 2.0 Nicola

Artistic passion is second nature for young children. They draw and paint eagerly, sing unselfconsciously, choreograph their own dances, and act out dramas using whatever is nearby as props. Unless they have models of creative expression and time for artful play,  kids tend to shut down in the early elementary years.

It helps when we include the arts in our conversations as naturally as we talk about what to eat for dinner. It also helps when kids see us pursue our own creative endeavors. As with anything, it’s what we pay attention to that we magnify.

There are endless ways to keep the arts alive in our children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions.


Sketching & Painting

make art fun and accessible

~Keep open-ended art supplies available. Make it easy to grab colored pencils, paints, and other materials. Try to stay relaxed about clean-up. It reduces stress if you can set up designed bins for supplies, plus a shelf or tabletop where projects can wait to be finished.

~Take a sketchbook along on outings. Our perceptions are awakened by new places. Try materials such as pastels, watercolor pencils, and charcoal. Use them on different papers against surfaces like tree bark or stone. Notice how texture, form and color abound in the natural world. Draw your impressions of light and shadow through trees, on the water, and along the street. It’s also fun to collect leaves and flowers, pounding them with a rock to release color onto the paper.

~Learn together. We’ve enjoyed Mona Brookes’ books, Drawing with Children and Drawing for Older Children and Teens. We also got plenty of mileage out of Mark Kistler’s Draw Squad

~Draw rebus pictures.  Rebus pictures inject light-hearted personality to lists, notes, and stories in a cartoonish way. Rebuses, if you don’t remember from preschool, are simple pictures used to replace the occasional word. Even a quickly rendered image is pretty easy to recognize. On the rare occasions my dad and his brother wrote cards to each other, they injected some levity with rebus images.

~Ask others to contribute a drawing. A friend of mine enjoys asking people she meets to add a quick drawing of an imaginary creature to her sketchbook. She’s been collecting these sketches for years, keeping them between the pages of her own drawings. They provide a glimpse into friends as well as strangers, inspire her art, and help her family recognize imaginative powers in people of all ages.

~Encourage studies of the same area over a period of months. Lie on the living room rug or sit on a park bench. Look at this place from many angles, in different light, and then express that viewpoint in pencil, clay, collage or other media.  The study can be expanded. Draw the scene as it might have looked thousands of years ago, or to a creature that sees only temperature, or from a worm’s eye view.

~Draw the same thing repeatedly. You might choose to draw faces, or lamps, or shoes. Draw the tree in your back yard as it appears in different seasons and times of day. DaVinci did all sorts of studies of this sort. He drew page after page of noses, bird’s wings, and running water. This is a daydream-y exercise that invites you to find all sorts of nuances in your subject. You may not only become proficient at drawing salt shakers, but may notice salt shakers wherever you go.

 ~Doodle. This non-directed activity is a great way to allow your brain to idle while creative impulses emerge.

 ~Let art serve as a diversion. Keep different art resources reserved for travel or situations with long wait times. The Anti-Coloring Book series and Klutz series as well as anything by Keri Smith are marvelous diversions. Keep a few on hand for variety.

~Pair art with writing. Encourage young children to dictate the story behind their artwork. They’ll love to hear you read it back. Offer to do this even after kids are old enough to write well — often you can print or type faster than they can, allowing their imaginations to fly more freely. Put together homemade books (or books using photo sharing sites) along with a memory or story. Take a nature journal outside. (Here’s more on keeping a nature notebook.)  Illustrate a funny saying, quote, or family joke. Make postcards and greeting cards to send (grandparents love these). Write about a dream and draw an impression of it.

~Share art.  Share paintings and drawings on social media. Frame and hang them on your walls in an ever-changing gallery. Or go big, setting up a children’s art exhibition at a local coffee shop, church, store, or recreation center.

 ~Express your feelings. We don’t have a lot of creative outlets to express our reactions to bad news, personal disappointments, fear, excitement, or anticipation. Channel them into art. This is downright therapeutic, whether you’re four or ninety-four.

 ~Get abstract. Take away the burden of recreating representational images. Paint a favorite smell, a new idea, a mood, a strong impression left when waking from a dream nearly forgotten, a taste, a laugh.

~Let kids explore art museums their own way. These institutions are meant to be enjoyed. Rather than make a museum trip an ordeal, stop by often to take in a new exhibit and don’t stay long. Let your children stroll along as interest leads them. You might decide to look for something specific on the way (one of my sons liked to spot animals, another son made it his quest to find anything airborne—birds, planes, angels, flying carpets). Making galleries places for discovery makes the collections more accessible and allows our children to feel comfortable there. Especially as kids get older, museum visits are more enjoyable when friends are along, We were often surprised to find that our 10th trip to a museum, where my kids clamored to see favorite sculptures and new exhibits, was the first trip for their friends. Teens are more likely to go for their own reasons, perhaps to sketch a particular work or to volunteer as docents.



let the arts come alive for kids

~Start early. Listen to music as you nurse your babies to sleep, imagining the wonderful association that child is making between sound and comfort (whether Bach or the blues). Make music paired with storytelling available to kids for bedtime listening, quiet time, or travel — especially those by storytellers such as Odds Bodkin (who started my kids’ love of Homer’s Odyssey) and Jim Weiss. A great selection is available at Gentle WindChinaberry, and your local library.

~Sing. Singing is wonderful for the mood as well as the body. When adults and older kids sing  here and there through the day, young children are empowered to make singing a more natural part of their lives. Sing silly songs about your daily activities, make up lyrics together, sing whatever song is in your head at the moment. (Yes, my teenagers were embarrassed by my singing tendencies. I just tried to sing more quietly.)

~Show wholehearted enthusiasm for sing-songy names, rhymes, and clapping games. These are timeless introductions to the arts and invaluable for early childhood learning.

~Dance. Turn up the tunes and move. There may be no more powerful incentive to get kids dancing. To expose kids to all sorts of dance, don’t forget dance videos, dance performances at fairs and art-in-the-park programs, and movies that incorporate dance from old musicals to the newest Bollywood releases. Several colleges and arts organizations near us offer student dance performances several times during the academic year with cheap (or free!) tickets for kids.

~Play for your own enjoyment. Drag out your old violin, teach yourself to play the harmonica, heck, learn to play an instrument that’s entirely free — spoons! Do it for yourself and the background sound of your home changes, instantly, to music played live. Once kids get accustomed to your playing they may not seem to pay much attention, but you’re building memories that they’ll later cherish.

~Gather musicians together. Combine instruments, however unlikely, for improvisation and fun. Get together a jam session, choir, or band with people in your family, neighborhood, church, or arts group. Help your community set up an annual Porchfest. Or just get together with your guitar-playing neighbor to share some tunes. Collaboration really does amp up the playfulness.

~Consider hosting house concerts. This is something we’ve started doing in our humble living room. For more information,  look to the folks at Concerts in Your Home.

~Get young kids involved in music and movement programs. Around us, most music-movement programs are prohibitively expense. We found a music therapy practice near us in Ohio that also offers active programs for kids of all ages at a very reasonable price. Widen your search terms to find one near you. Or find a musician or new music  grad interesting in hosting such a program.

~Check out music that sparks learning in a variety of subjects. Musicians United for Songs in the Classroom shares all sorts of songs as teaching tools to engage the learner.

~Take in live music whenever possible. If you live near a college town or urban area your choices will be larger. Often you can find free or low cost performances at festivals, ethnic fairs, period music celebrations, student and faculty recitals, and brown bag lunch concerts. It will likely help younger children if you talk beforehand about what to watch for and listen for. Young children may enjoy a concert more if they are allowed to bring along a small stuffed animal or toy that can dance on their laps, draw their impressions of the performance on a small sketchpad, or enjoy a normally illicit lollipop.

~Incorporate music into all areas of learning. Talk about the meaning of song lyrics, notice how musical style historically reflects the culture from which it emerged, look for the links between music and math, read about musicians, and watch some of the many extraordinary movies about the lives of musicians.


fun with the arts

CC by 2.0 Barbara Hobbs

~One word, puppets. Whether your characters are socks or fancy puppets, young kids have all sorts of fun putting on puppet shows. Doing so, they’re  also teaching themselves the elements of performance.

~Attend plays.  Children’s theater performances are cued to a short attention span, as kids get closer to the preteen years they’re more likely to enjoy longer performances. Many kids enjoy a play more if, beforehand, you read a synopsis or a picture book based on the play.

~Start a playwright’s club. We did this with young children while their older siblings took part in a book club. The kids made up stories together, then acted them out. We usually did this outdoors where trees and park benches served as scenery, scarves and sticks served as props. Older kids in a playwright’s club may be eager to write scripts, build sets, make costumes, and put on performances. They can also script and perform puppet shows, videos, animations, or other productions.

~Take part in community theater. Encourage interested kids to take theater workshop classes and, as they get older, try out for roles onstage or behind the scenes.

~Check into apprenticeships and mentoring experiences with musicians, artists, actors, costumers, stagehands, dancers, vocalists and others in the arts field. Simply ask people involved in the arts if they have considered taking individual students, offering a workshop, or allowing young people to shadow them for a day. You’d be surprised how many people are eager to share what they know with the next generation.


Arts in general

~Balance arts adventures. When you journey any distance to see a music performance, attend a play, or ramble through galleries make that stop one of several anticipated events.   Try to spot murals or other public art on the way. (When they were little my kids knew we’d arrived when they waved at the Guardians of Traffic pylons as we drove over the bridge to Cleveland.) Take a break in an ornate big city library, eat a packed lunch in a park, stroll through an open air market, pick up unusual snacks at an ethnic grocery, and let your child’s curiosity help guide the day’s events.  If part of the day incorporates a lot of sit down time (including the ride to and fro) be sure to balance that with movement, exploration, and sensory adventure.

~Take art walks. Identify a theme of interest. An architecture walk may focus on particular structures such as houses of worship and the meaning reflected in different styles of buildings you encounter. A sculpture walk may follow a map of the city’s historical district, but pay attention to unexpected things your children identify as sculpture. Try a “found art” walk with a camera or sketchbook, capturing what each person on the walk finds interesting. Or take a collage walk, where you and your children pick up objects to use later in an assemblage. If you are going with a group on an art walk you may want to find an expert to lead the walk.

~Use the brain-building tool of compare and contrast. Casually use it every now and then. Compare favorite TV shows to plays, puppet shows, and dance performances. Contrast an ethnic festival where one is exposed to the games, food, dances and music of a culture to the presentation of that culture in the media. When discussing any aspect of the arts it can be valuable to look at it from other viewpoints.

~Arts opportunities can be surprisingly cost-effective.  There are free and reduced price admissions, workshops, and programs in many areas. As kids approach their teen years it helps to get beyond age-narrowing classes to find (or create) collaborative arts engagement where teens paint murals, play music, put on shows, plan festivals, and more with other members of the community. Learning about culture takes place best in the midst of culture.

Somewhere not far from you there are plays in rehearsal, movies being filming, musicians practicing, sculptures being shaped, and dances being choreographed. Art is alive even in the most remote communities, although sometimes it takes people interested in energizing cultural affairs to get people connected. You may be one of those people.

involve kids in the arts early on

Keep the arts fun!

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning

A Mother’s Intuition and 9/11

9/11 and mother's intuition

A happier vacation moment.

Like everyone else on September 11, 2001, where we were and what we were doing is locked into our memories. My family’s experience that day served to remind me that a mother’s intuition can be more powerful than the electronic devices we normally use to stay in touch.

My husband’s brother enjoyed taking our kids on short educational vacations. It was his way of contributing to their homeschool experiences while also indulging in his own love of history. For a few days that week in September he took two of our sons, then ages eight and eleven, on a learning-intensive trip from our Ohio home to Washington, D.C. He enjoyed fully documenting these trips. He took lots of photos and videos, bought commemorative items, collected every possible brochure, and had the kids call home at least twice each day to report on all they were doing. He always left a left a clear itinerary for us to follow.

On September 11th their agenda included the Pentagon and the White House.

At home with our other two children, I rhapsodized about the blue skies and lovely weather, calling it a “perfect day.” No intuition there. I wasn’t aware of the terrorist attacks until a friend called, telling me to turn on the television. I had no idea what he was talking about and asked what channel. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s on every channel.”

The moment I saw footage of the first plane hitting the Twin Towers I felt sure that there would be more devastation in more places. I phoned my brother-in-law immediately. I wanted to tell him two things. First, abort the trip, but drive home away from major population centers (I felt sure other cities would be under attack). And second, listen to the radio infrequently as possible so my boys wouldn’t be alarmed by the media coverage.

As I dialed, reports flooded in that a second plane had hit the towers. My call didn’t go through. I reached my husband at work but still couldn’t get through to my brother-in-law. My mother-in-law, who also had a copy of their itinerary, was frantic. She became even more frantic when the Pentagon was attacked. My husband left work and spent the day with her, trying to calm her fears and, like me, trying to reach his brother.

By now Flight 93 had turned over our area of Ohio. It was heading for a collision course with the White House until passengers seized control of the plane and it went down in a remote area of Pennsylvania. Three places hit. The media kept speculating about other cities under potential attack. Our phone kept ringing.

Every time a friend or family member called to discuss the unfolding horrors, I told them I needed to get off the phone in hopes my brother-in-law might get through. And each time they reacted with a great deal more alarm than I felt. Suddenly they knew two little boys who very well might have been at the Pentagon when it was attacked and who were still unaccounted for on this tragic day.

Their reactions, which should have increased my anxiety, didn’t. Although I was as overwhelmed as anyone by what felt like a day out of time, I was completely sure that my sons and their uncle were fine. I knew my brother-in-law would rise to the crisis. This wasn’t in keeping with my worry-prone personality but something, maybe a mother’s intuition, told me they were safe and would be home. Each time I talked to my husband we assured each other that our boys would be fine. I tried to talk to my mother-in-law but she could only cry on the phone. Even before I heard from my missing family members, I began to fear that my country might retaliate and more lives would be lost.

Hours dragged by. Each time we tried to call my brother-in-law we got the same recorded message: “all circuits are busy.”

It wasn’t until late that afternoon, more than six hours after the first attack of 9/11, that we finally heard from my brother-in-law. He’d found a pay phone and managed to get a call through, landline to landline. The connection wasn’t good but it was clear they were safe, on the road, and would be driving until they made it back.

 When they got home we heard our children’s experience of 9/11. The boy’s first choice of the day had been the White House. They emerged from the metro and started walking as a full evacuation seemed to be underway. People in business clothes were running full tilt from office buildings. Officers with squawking radios were everywhere. So they turned around, got back on the now jammed metro, and made their way very slowly back to the hotel before setting off for the long trip home. The boys tried unsuccessfully to talk their uncle into letting them swim first.

It wasn’t until they were much older that my boys understood the tragic magnitude of 9/11. Their memories have more to do with a trip cut short, a crowded metro, and very serious grown-ups. Their uncle never gave them videos or pictures from that trip either. If only we could unmake a day that easily.

Be Wary of the Next Great Thing

I tend to be skeptical about praising the Next Great Thing. Maybe that’s because I’m a fan of proven great things like public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords. Or maybe it’s because our house is falling apart.

It seems that back in the late 70’s when the house was built the U.S. began to notice something called an energy crisis. The price of gas had gone from 36 cents to 86 cents (yes, a gallon) in just a few years. Heating oil, natural gas, and electricity cost more. People realized their homes were leaking lots of nice warm air all winter long and suddenly everyone wanted insulation.  The newer the product the better.  Some advertisements practically guaranteed their insulation would seal homeowners in all winter with nothing but each other’s exhale for air. Every product was the Next Great Thing.

I can imagine what happened when the contractor slapped our house together. Surely he (statistically speaking it was a he) promoted the house as featuring the very newest extra thick rigid insulation. But construction workers performing the actual hands-on work didn’t have longer nails or an interest in compensating for that thickness.

Fast forward a few decades. After years of repairing foundation cracks, water damage, and worse we realize that our front and back porches are ready to fall off the house. That’s because in some areas, the beams holding up the porch rails, supports, and roof are only NAILED INTO THE INSULATION. Many nails never quite made it into the actual wood meant to connect porch to house. In fact, the Next Great Thing insulation was applied to the exterior of the house in such a way that it trapped rainwater and rotted the wood. That these porches held up many feet of snow and ice winter after winter is some kind of scientific marvel. That they remained attached to the house at all, another marvel.

So next time you flip past one of those home repair shows, all of which should be subtitled “Look What Money Can Do,” notice that they’re often designed around new products promoted as the Next Great Thing. (You’re basically watching a program-length advertisement.) Composite countertops made from dust epoxied together by hype. Lighting bouncing off reflectors that look like aluminum foil hats worn by the UFO-wary. Heated floorboards with inaccessible heating units. These products may be great. They may not. I think any hairspray host with a tool belt could convince awed homeowners that toilets constructed from celery trimmings are the Next Great Thing and they’d spend thousands on them. Happily.

Fortunately we discovered the porch problem in time. Added to the known blessings of public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords we now add the security that comes with newly sturdy porches.

Throwback post from our farm site, Bit of Earth Farm

Summer Day at Huntington Beach

poem, Lake Erie shore

Summer Day at Huntington Beach


I tick with alarm clock worry.

My sister is afraid of nothing.

Not the dark or death or

Jay Preslan down the street

who pushes kids in front of cars.


Look at her run into the water

while I stand squinting.

She doesn’t pinch her nose

to dive under. Doesn’t pause

before splashing back

strange splashing kids. Doesn’t heed

the lifeguard’s megaphoned warning

to stay away from the ropes.


Lake Erie grabs at the shore,

slurps it greedily in foaming waves.

I picture monstrous goggly-eyed fish

lurking under the pier,

ships skudded in the depths,

lost sailors forever unburied.

I inhale the curved scent

of suntan lotion, clench my toes

in the sand, stand still. Far out,

bobbing in foil-bright waves,

my sister is another being entirely,

straining at the boundary ropes

trying to see all the way to Canada.


Originally published by Silver Birch Press.  Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

Playground Insurrection, National Divisiveness

National divisiveness like a playground rebellion.

Image by taffmeister

I was a good elementary school student. I wrote neatly and did my work on time. Year after year, teachers seated me next to badly behaving students to be an insufferably good example (although one of them then and still today inspires me). I went to school with kids very much like myself — safe, nurtured, suburban kids who had every reason to believe “work hard and you can be anything” was true.  We were also, as schoolkids tend to be, crazily bored and itching to play.

One day, something erupted as recess ended. Although disenchanted with our oh-so-tedious blacktop playground, no one wanted to go back inside when the playground monitor’s whistle blew. Somehow an insurrection was stirring.

I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I’d been waiting in line for a turn on the swings with my equally bored friends. As we reluctantly gave up to go inside, we saw some kids closest to the building  milling around instead of lining up. More and more kids began to do the same thing. A strange muttering seemed to rise in the air with dangerously enticing energy. Just breathing made it spread. I worked my way slightly closer to the front to see the teacher, whose yelling could barely be heard, abruptly turn and go inside.

This was unheard of. We’d never been left alone on the playground, not ever. The strange energy around us gained force. It felt like power, the sort of power kids never get. Then the principal, Mr. Page, stepped out. He was new to our school and didn’t know our names. He issued a stern command. I couldn’t make it out. He tried again. I still didn’t hear him, but even to a rule-follower like me it didn’t matter. A sense of our own power had fermented into intoxication.

Someone behind me pushed. Someone next to me pushed. Soon everyone, at least near me, started to push. It might be argued that kids were pushing each other to line up as we’d surely been ordered to do. But oh, oh my oh my, it was heady. And yes, I pushed too. It felt ancient and tidal, this pushing, as if we were caught up in something larger than ourselves. I got a glimpse of Mr. Page backed up to the brick wall, kids in front pushed against him by kids in back. His expression was one of utter surprise.

I usually write about moments of aliveness in an entirely positive sense, but this was aliveness too. The playground insurrection lasted no more than a few minutes. Everyone ended up marching indoors in abject chagrin. Every single child was punished by no recess for at least a week.  I’ve forgotten if the revolt’s instigators were identified and got more serious punishments. What I remember is utterly abandoning myself to the sheer thrill of pushing. Stuck in routines, little control over what was expected of us, we may have been expressing  a  form of play that’s been called ilinx.

Sociologist Roger Caillois defined it as a category of games

“…based on the pursuit of vertigo and which consist of an attempt to momentarily destroy the stability of perception and inflict a kind of voluptuous panic upon an otherwise lucid mind. In all cases, it is a question of surrendering to a kind of spasm, seizure, or shock which destroys reality with sovereign brusqueness.”

Melissa Dahl explains in the New York Magazine that ilinx is a “French word for ‘the ‘strange excitement’ of wanton destruction.'”  She likens it to the way cats seem drawn to knock things over. Ilinx can be the mild thrill of intentionally slapping an empty water bottle off your desk or the rapturous state brought on by whirling, as mystics do in the Sema ritual (inspired by the poet Rumi).

Our playground insurrection might also have been a taste of mob mentality. Psychologist Tamara Avant defines it this way.

“When people are part of a group, they often experience deindividuation, or a loss of self-awareness. When people deindividuate, they are less likely to follow normal restraints and inhibitions and more likely to lose their sense of individual identity. Groups can generate a sense of emotional excitement, which can lead to the provocation of behaviors that a person would not typically engage in if alone.”

Mob mentality doesn’t have to be a negative thing. People participate in it when they stand up and yell at a sporting event. It’s also found in peace rallies and sit-ins, and has quite a bit to do with what’s called wisdom of the crowd.

Whether ilinx or mob mentality, on that long-ago playground my fellow students and I were just tired of being told we had to stop playing. We didn’t hate our teachers. We didn’t hate art class or gym or each other. We just wanted to express our frustration. We were, for the moment, having fun with opposition.

This may not be the best analogy, but I’m coming to think that the nomination of a man completely unsuited to become president of the United States is evidence of something similar.  I’m not for a moment dismissing how dangerous a Trump presidency would be to the peaceful functioning of our still young, still not always morally upstanding democracy.  Nor am I dismissing the obvious frustration of his supporters. I’m simply saying we need to stop pushing each other. We’re got more in common than we think we do.

A University of Maryland study compared Republican and Democratic congressional districts. In ten separate polls, people were asked 388 questions on what are considered highly partisan topics including abortion, gun control, and taxation. No statistical differences were found between red and blue areas.

For example, the Democratic party staunchly opposes cuts to the safety net and the GOP staunchly opposes revenue increases. However, the study reports, “when respondents were asked to make up their own federal budget, there were only slight differences between respondents in red and blue districts.”

There was also no polarization found in topics such as immigration, climate change, health care reform, marijuana laws, and globalized trade. In an article titled, “Hopelessly Divided? Think Again,”  Bill Moyers points out major areas of agreement found in the study.

  • Climate change. Americans’ concern about global warming is at an eight-year high, with a record 65 percent of us now blaming human activity for rising temperatures.
  • Gun control. Eighty-five percent of Americans — including large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats — favor closing gun-sale loopholes by enforcing background checks for private gun sales and at gun shows.
  • Our federal tax system. Six in 10 of us believe that upper-income Americans do not pay enough in taxes, while 82 percent are bothered — either “some” or “a lot” — that corporations are not paying their fair tax share.
  • The influence of big business. More than three-quarters of Americans believe that large corporations and a few rich people wield excessive and unfair power in this country. A whopping 71 percent of Americans across the political spectrum believe that the economy is rigged in favor of a few special interests.
  • Special interests’ influence in our political institutions. Eighty-four percent of Americans think that money has too much influence in elections. Nearly 8 in 10 favor limits on both raising and spending money in congressional campaigns. Meanwhile, 78 percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, want to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that further opened the floodgates to corporate campaign spending, including spending from undisclosed sources.

Yes there are real divides on pivotal issues but let’s not forget we are in this together. Enough with the pushing already.




Summer Food Fun for Kids

food fun for kids

1. Make a bowl of gross but edible worms. Or, if you’ve got a dehydrator, make far healthier Zuke Worms. You can also cook up fruit-juice based gummy snacks.

2. Play a match game with little ones. Simply hide equal portions of foods  (try blueberries, cucumbers, and cheese cubes) under small containers on a tray. This makes healthy snacks fun.

3. Encourage kids to throw eaten corn cobs in the grass at your next picnic. Legend in my family says it distracts the bugs. When it’s clean up time, whoever picks up the most cobs wins a coveted window seat on the way home. Surely you can come up with a similar cob-related perk. Added plus, everyone wants to wash their gooey hands before leaving.

4. Learn a bagel cutting technique that teaches a mathematical principle.

5. Let little kids “fish” for snacks. Give them carrot and celery sticks to dip in creamy peanut butter or sunbutter, then use the sticky butter end to “catch” goldfish crackers.

6. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing.

7. Cook something over a campfire or fire pit. Want to get beyond a hot dog on a stick? Try some old classics in the Scout’s Outdoor Cookbook or find recipes suited to your dietary needs, including vegetarian and gluten-free, in Another Fork in the Trail.

8. Don’t have the time or fire-safe place to cook outside? Just eat outside. Sit on the front steps or under a tree with your sandwich. Pack an impromptu picnic and take it to the park. Pack a snack in your bike bag and ride till you’re hungry. Food  eaten outdoors tastes a zillion times better than the same food eaten indoors.

9. Make pink pasta. Peel and dice a fresh beet or two. Cook until tender in a pan of water. Without draining the water, add a small handful of uncooked pasta (small pasta shapes work best), and cook until done. Your pasta should be light pink!  (If you think the presence of beets in the pasta will inspire an insurrection, you can strain out the beet pieces while reserving the cooking liquid, and then dump the hot liquid back in the pan and bring to a boil before adding the pasta. Be sure to eat those beets in front of kids with annoying “yum” noises. Kids love that.)

10. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.

11. Sing a veggie anthem. Better yet, make up lyrics about favorite foods to accompany a familiar tune. Whose says you can’t rhyme with “kimchi?”

12. Test out miracle berry, a fruit native to West Africa, that temporarily makes sour foods taste sweet. (Usually half a tablet is more than enough.) Let family members dissolve these tablets in their mouths, then discover that cream cheese tastes like cheesecake and biting into a lemon tastes like lemon sorbet.

13.  Make popsicles with hidden veggies lurking within.

14.  Let each child plant one “crop” in the garden (or porch planter) that’s his or hers to tend. It’s not too late to put in fast-growing plants like sugar snap peas, radishes, and lettuce. Let the kid farmer in charge be the one to check regularly for weeds, watering needs, and harvest times. For more ideas check out Gardening Projects for Kids and for those without yards or community garden plots, try Kids’ Container Gardening.

15. Make frozen yogurt dots. Spoon (or pipe from a plastic bag with a corner cut open) your favorite flavored yogurt in small dots on a baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour, then pop off the dots. Cold deliciousness.

16. It’s fun to chow down adorable meals like those shown in such books as Funny Food,  Fun Food For Fussy Little Eaters, and Funky Lunch. Remember, kids are more likely to do the eating if they have had a hand in the making. Use books like these as a starting point for inspiration. And don’t forget to make monster noises as you bite the nose off an clown-shaped sandwich.

17. Let them set up a lemonade stand. Or a watemelon-on-a-stick stand.

18. Make your own ice cream sandwiches. Just glob ice cream between homemade or purchased cookies, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill. Try different cookie and ice cream variations. Mix-ins work too, like bananas mashed into vanilla ice cream and stuck between two oatmeal cookies. You’ll have to do some immediate taste testing, part of the burden of innovation.

19. Make ridiculously cute miniature treats like “donuts” made from decorated Cheerios, mini “deep dish” pizzas using tortillas cut into circles, and “layer cake” made from stacked and slicked cookies. These ideas come from the book Tiny Treats.  See photos of some of the book’s recipes thanks to the Unconfidential Cook

20.  Plant and harvest crops within days by growing sprouts in a jar.

21. Freeze fancier ice cubes. Tuck mint leaves, fresh berries, lemon wedges, or cut up fruit bits in ice cubes trays. You can also freeze lemonade or juice. Hydration suddenly seems more flavorful.

22. Carve a watermelon shark or cat.

23. Set out an assortment of food for kids to make their own lunch-on-a-stick. Simple versions might be a cheese and cherry tomato kabob or a pineapple and grape kabob. (This is not a good project for young ones or kids likely to turn a skewer into a sword.)

24. Eat the occasional color-themed meal. An all green lunch might include a green smoothie, celery sticks, green pea pesto or green pea hummus rolled in spinach wraps, plus green grapes or honeydew. An all white lunch might be steamed cauliflower with lots of white cheddar or provolone melted over it, mashed potatoes, white milk, and banana chunks rolled in dried coconut. Make sure you let the kids help you plan and prepare!

25. Make ice cream in a bag.

26. Try muffin tin meals. This worked wonders for my four kids when they were small. Each child got a six-cup muffin tin. I filled the six openings with different offerings in small amounts. The compartments kept each food item from the sin of touching another food, and the concept was novel enough that my kids were more willing to try something new. Back then, I thought I’d made up the muffin-tin meal concept, but it turns out lots of moms do the same thing. Well, not quite the same; they’re much more clever. Check out Muffin Tin Mondays for all sorts of ideas

27. Go to a pick-your-own place. Right now berries are in season, soon apples will be ready to pick. Here’s how to find a pick-your-own farm in the U.S.

28. Shrink food to a scale that lets kids feel larger. Every now and then, let your children eat from tiny dishes. No need for a tea set, you probably have the right sizes in your cupboard. Use the smallest appetizer plate for a dinner plate, a custard cup or ramekin for soup or cereal, and a shot glass or other tiny vessel for milk or juice. Baby forks and spoons are perfect miniature utensils. Smaller dish size automatically scales down portion size, meaning kids will actually have room for second helpings. Encourage them to serve themselves. They can refill glasses using a tiny pitcher, creamer, or even a small measuring cup with a spout. I know teenagers who still think that eating with tiny dishes is a hoot.

29. Let kids cook with their friends. If your kids are small, set up a “cooking class” for your children and a few pals in your own kitchen. If your kids are teens, let them sign up together for a class at a cooking school to learn pastry techniques or the secrets of French cuisine. Encourage kids of any age to start a regular cooking club. It’s a great way for them to socialize while learning useful skills. They can create menus and shopping lists, then cook the dishes they’ve chosen. Let them build on their interests. They may want to devote one session to making foods mentioned in a favorite movie and the next session to making bento-box lunches. Or set up a cooking competition like “Top Chef” for kids or families, except with less pressure and a lot more fun.

30. Have a watermelon speed spitting contest. “Outside, I said outside!”

fun food ideas for kids