Thursday, 28 September 2017

Living our lives

Annie Dillard writes that “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Our days are big and busy. They are filled with very good things. We have jobs we love and side hustles we enjoy and hobbies we’re learning and a family that craves time together. But we sprint from breakfast to bed. We rush. We wish for margin. And there is one part of the day that bothers us. A lot. Every day, on the morning commute, Oscar asks a question. A wonderful, eye-widening question. Okay, sometimes they are ridiculous: “If ear wax tasted good, would you eat it?” But more often than not, they inspire action research. More often than not he wants to know if the chemical that changes a chameleon’s color can be used for other purposes or if we can cook our own bubble gum or if any of the wildflowers on grampa’s farm are edible and could he dare his cousins to eat them or how can he build his own hydraulic lift at home and raise the dog to the ceiling and also if we ever went to Dia de los Muertos celebrations someday could he paint his own skeleton costume and could it be an esqueleto with a light saber? But seeing as we are on the expressway and have meetings in twenty minutes, and a whole lotta doing ahead and some people only got in half a cup of coffee, we tell him that when we get home we’ll look that up. For four school years, our son has inquired about his world, marveled at his planet and potential projects (and his ear wax), wanted to figure something out from a genuine place of interest, and we have replied with, “When we get home, let’s look that up.”
And when we get home, because we are tired people in our 40s, and we never got to all our emails during the day, and Oscar is eager to start building that Lego hot dog stand, and we are staring down an overflowing to-do list that we created ourselves full of things we want to do but are so overwhelmed by that we do something else--we do not look things up.

If Annie Dillard is right, and if Gretchen Rubin is correct when we she says, “What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while,” then it’s more than just Oscar starting to ask big questions.

Our school is turning a lens towards personalized learning, and the last two summers I’ve carefully watched my son through that perspective. I’ve watched how he chooses to learn when unfettered. My summertime boy is a joyful creature. He runs wildly outside, chases cousins barefoot through sagebrush (a plant he’s possibly dared them to eat), investigates snakes, and builds outdoor hideouts with hand-drawn construction paper campfires. He also returns with stacks of delicious books from the library, draws blueprints of booby traps he plans to set for his mother, creates local bakery donut rubrics, and beats me in card games. We are not a family that knows the word “bored”. Like us, Oscar creates and plans and builds. This is a family of makers.
As we learn how to offer our students more choice, agency, and individualization here in Singapore, those morning question deferments really get under our skin. We are bothered by our state as school-year-inside-people, quietly crafting independently away in air conditioning. We are unsettled. It worries us that this magical age of questions and wonder and not rolling-your-eyes at your parents might pass us by---another line on a todo list we didn’t get to.

It’s time--maybe the best time and only time and most timely time--for a reset. For a todo list that includes planting a garden and planning a canoe trip and heading to the library to get books on chameleons.

Beginning in June, we’re going to live in a tiny house among family pear orchards in a little town in the Pacific Northwest. We’ll settle next door to Patrick’s siblings, two sets of beloved cousins, one cousin-we-call-uncle, an aunt who is actually a first cousin, a magician who is a third cousin, the magician’s daughter who is an artist, the artist’s husband who makes good margaritas, six chickens, two amazing grandparents, one black lab, and several sets of friends (some of whom, yes, are cousins). We’re going to offer to test out your outdoor gear, house-sit your lake home, and drive your campervan. We’re going to be rooted and also nomads. We’re going to see if all those hobbies we’ve filled evenings with can pay the medical insurance. We’re going to teach Oscar to pull weeds and rake autumn leaves and knock down icicles. We’re going to practice our Spanish in Mexico (hopefully in time for Dia de los Muertos) and our physics on the ski hill (Well, actually, Patrick warns me that I’m going to blow out my knee if I learn to downhill ski at 42. But that too is an opportunity for inquiry).
We are very aware that some of this will be hard. Or frustrating. Or a failure. We expect to get exasperated with one another. I anticipate my role as a homeschooling mom to be one that I welcome ending after nine months. I worry people will interpret our year as a rebellion against school or stable jobs. Are you kidding? No way. We are enormous fans of both, and we plan to return to both. With relish. But as Oscar only has memory of one season (hot), and continues to ask questions despite our apathy at answering, and he seems to enjoy our company, and Patrick and I both have parents we’d like to love on, and North America has some pretty darn good outdoor adventure, and it just seems in every aspect to be the very best and possibly only time to do this---we’re taking a leap to live differently for a year.

At its worst, we’ll be crying for a schedule by June 2019 and relishing heading back to “normal” overseas teaching life. And what a grand worst that is. I chose it 14 years ago, and I’ll choose it again. (Gratefully. Please. Hire me.) I value it, and I’ll miss it. At its best, we’ll have brought the neighbor a home-baked pie, hiked new trails, pickled homegrown green beans, built our own kayaks, expanded our Spanish, hugged grandmas, babysat cousins, illustrated things, written words, talked to people, explored ideas, paid the bills, loved each other and cultivated the margin we crave. I’ll take either option. And I’ll know that we spent every day living our lives. I have no doubts that some days in our 500 square foot cabin will incite sighs and job searching and enrollment letters to the local elementary school. There will be compromises. There will be winter flus. There will be conflict. We’ll all be sharing one bathroom, for heaven’s sake. But I also have hope that we will have mornings where Oscar asks a question, a really good question, and it leads to reading together. And then getting out a map. And hopping on our bikes. And exploring a new trail. And having a picnic lunch that Oscar packed from food we grew ourselves. We won’t have to ask Oscar to wait when he asks. We won’t forget to get back to him. As a family, we will have time and space (well, 500 square feet of it) to seek the answers to all of our questions together.

PS. Lest you think we’re all sunshine and rainbows, do know that we expect a little of this:

worry tank.jpg

Friday, 2 June 2017

We've got to make our noises

I've been thinking on that line from "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, "I am large, I contain multitudes." I like to apply it to myself in a way that would make Walt question my IQ. I'm pretty sure he's just reminding us that he writes for all the voices of the world, but I like to think it means that I get to be more than one thing. Aren't we all a little hard wired to resent anyone putting Baby in the corner?

People love to ask my poor high school seniors what they are majoring in. I want to elbow all of the well meaning askers out of the way. It's the rare student that knows with a capital KN. I try to telepathically deliver the message that I hope they major in adventure and learning and flexibility and change and opportunity. I hope they study responsibility and hard work and buck-up. I hope they examine humanity and find ways to make this mixed up world better. I hope they choose joy over whining and make the best of bad situations. There are going to be so many bad situations.

When I'm not rolling my eyes at the tradition of locking youthful minds into one trajectory, I'm wrestling with my own notions of success. In my career, I've always sought opportunities to switch grades or subjects. Someone once called me a "job jumper". It felt yucky. Another person, after my shift from the middle to the high school, shook his head and said, "Well, we're not all middle school people." I was horrified. It never felt like I was escaping anything; it always just felt like I was getting the grand chance to learn something new.

College didn't have "professional temp worker" as an option, and I only had a fraction of a developed brain, so by sheer miracle and divine intervention I ended up in a career that allows me growth not towards more money, power, or accolades (ha!) but towards various fields and options and disciplines. And even then, even though I was getting all sorts of New in my life, time and time again I found myself at the drawing table or the writing desk or reading manuals on how to start a small business. There were pieces of me that wanted to diverge from educational texts to books about design and fonts and creative writing. 

I'd always doodled and scribbled. My family always made things. I didn't consider myself an artist or author. It didn't matter to me to have a label. I just valued making and sharing homemade gifts. But when I was pregnant with my son, eight years ago (oh lordy), it became important to create a finished product. I printed some pretty awful cards and Advent calendars (one of which had the days numbered wrong. Sorry, kids!). But in that half-baked process of evening sketching after day time teaching and waddling down school hallways with a growing belly, I felt very alive and very curious. 

That wonder never left. No matter how sleep deprived I was in those early years of Oscar Gus, there was never a nap time I didn't want to draw or write. And since darling Oscar only slept about 10 minutes a week, I wasn't particularly productive, but I was very focused. I knew what I wanted to learn. I knew there was more to explore.

And what a good lesson in renewal. On my birthday recently, a blessed no-expectations-41, I vowed to stop swearing. It's not that I'm a total potty mouth, but I've gotten a bit relaxed, and a few mother pheasants have flown out of these lips. And then, about 45 minutes into the day, at 5:20am (for reals), while running to school with my buddies (because I sure know how to have fun on my big day), I saw what I thought was a snake (a fearsome stick). I screamed a holy shamrock, and I broke my vow. In 45 minutes. But, I am large. I contain multitudes. I'm not defined by all my son of a biscuits or my what the hockey sticks. I get to try again. Or I get to be a runner that sometimes swears. Either way, I get do-overs and new selves and tomorrow mornings. I get to steal 10 minutes a day or week to renew. 

This ramble is all to say that after eight years of hodge-podging my multitudes into blogs and instagrams and facebooks and businesses, I've made some peace. They get to be all of me. I get to be Becky Green, "Lady who does lots of things sorta-halfway-okay. Sometimes." I'm jealous of the folks that know they are a brain surgeon or sculptor or great American novelist. Singular focus seems so stable. But, it's not me. My new tomorrow morning is a half-finished website (which is probably very 15 years ago), and a willingness to celebrate my mismatched endeavors: an alphabet book, a sketchnote journal, prints, doodles, teaching, speaking, a half-written novel, an almost-open-again business. I don't do all of it well, but I do all of it. And it keeps me wonder-filled. 

Perhaps that is less Walt Whitman and more Dr. Seuss. And not the Oh The Places You'll Go cliche that all my students are getting as gifts this week. No. Horton Hears a Who: "We've GOT to make noises in greater amounts! So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!"

Hopefully my noises are fewer swear words and more ah-has. But I've got to make them.

Very Boring Technical FYI: now takes you to my website. On that homepage, you'll find a link to this same blog ( The address to the blog is long and unhelpful. Sorry, friends. You'll have to bookmark it. Don't worry--you get to swear under your breath! We are large! We contain multitudes!

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Happy Everything

Happy Christmas and New Year and no alarm clocks!

2016 is coming to a close, and we Greens are off to savor just us three. We're bringing paper and pens to make lists and plans and goals. Every year has its cycles of ups and downs, closed and open doors, discoveries and questions. We had our irritations: The colds never seemed to end. Oscar struggled with early school mornings and long school days. I transitioned a business. Patrick and I both pretended turning 40 didn't bother us until we admitted that it did. But we also had some victories: OGG revealed he has hiking stamina. My body cooperated with long distance running. Oscar lost his first tooth; Patrick published his first book.

I adore the holiday cards coming our way. Cheerful messages. People I want to hug. Stories I want to hear. Everyone beams---happy faces and coordinating clothes. But I always wish I knew what was irritating too. What was funny. What was unexpected and what was hopeful. Many years ago a dear friend said that every time she saw us, she was going to ask how our marriage was. There have been a couple times when that was asked, and Patrick and I took deep breaths. There have been far more relaxed times when that was asked---and we gushed praises. Too often, as one who struggles with small talk, I avoid initiating questions. But her frankness challenged me to be a friend and hurdle over the chit-chat that confuses to ask what is good and what is hard. I cherish those answers.

As our tribe of three, we're off to talk about those answers. We'll also eat some great Pho and drink French wine and take bicycle rides through rice paddies. We will spend time asking and listening and hopefully laughing.

Family photos are not our gift. That would require us all to be showered at the same time and also looking in the same direction while not sweating profusely or swatting a mosquito. Never gonna happen. So, this will have to do:


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Oh My Gosh! You're Building the Nativity!

Happy Christmas and good job, you! I can't believe you actually stopped by!

If you received the Green family Christmas card, you're ready for a little Nativity craftin'. (Didn't get one? I blame international postal systems. Wait a week and then email 

You're going to need scissors, tape, an X-acto knife, and very low expectations. If you're over 21, this is probably more enjoyable with a glass of wine. Go for it. It's the holidays. If you're under 21, thanks for helping out your folks. They owe you hot cocoa.


Step 1: Impatiently cut out the pieces. You could try bribing your six year old, but he will roll his eyes and remind you that this is "your project, mom." 

Step 2: Fold back the sides of the donkey, wise men, shepherd, and manger.  Set the star pieces, baby, and ecstatic new parents aside.
(Keep your eye on the three kings. They either already had a sip of the holiday wine or are poorly designed)

Step 3: Things are getting fancy! Take that X-acto and make a slit along Joseph's arm. 

Fold the sides back on Mary and Joseph and lay the baby in the manger. Much like Oscar Gus at that age, he's probably not as sleepy as everyone told you newborns would be. We'll get him out of that crib soon.

Time to build a star! 

Step 4: Cut a slit from the edge of the star base to the center. 

Step 5: Don't be me. FIRST, take your X-acto knife and cut a slit in the base about the same width of the star handle. THEN, pull the corner of the cut area of the base over a bit and tape it down to form a low (and kind of lame) cone. 

Step 6: Marvel at the simple construction and brainstorm ways you would have done this better. Insert the star in the slit, and voila----a star of wonder!

Step 7: And now, thanks to your sense of humor and determination, you have a miniature Nativity scene. Get that baby out of the manger and into his parents' arms.

And if you're Oscar Gus, invite a few strangers to marvel at the scene. Because we believe that everyone--EVERYONE--is welcome at the manger.

Happiest of Holidays!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Singapore Christmas

Lucky for my readership of two, I'm interrupting the One Green Bee blog ramblings to encourage snail mail:

The Singapore holiday cards are in!
Since the Kapok Tree is in transition, One Green Bee printed a limited run and is selling to the SAS community at the PTA Holiday Fair, December 7/8 in the Riady Centre. If you need cards sooner, drop me a line at Would love to support festive mailings.

This year, our cards are 182mm X 125mm and printed inside and out: 

If you're sending overseas, remember that SingPost offers discounted stamp rates beginning in early December. 

Happy Holidays!

Monday, 17 October 2016


It's October and the first graders have been swapping scary stories. When he comes home, my Oscar spins over them. Rather than clinging to my leg and mumbling and refusing to go to the bathroom alone and irritating your low-patience mother, we are working on saying what we are feeling so others can help us.

I was thinking on this last week as we traveled with new friends. They are just awfully kind and cheerful and interesting and smart and easy, and well--normal. Their kids sit and play and draw and eat breakfast and--wait for it---wash their own dishes. Our family tends to travel solo as we are finicky and strange and possessive about the good coffee, so this was an enormous risk for us, and as the week went on---rather easily---I began to do my own version of mumbling and leg-clinging and refusing to enter rooms alone. Turning something just fine into something anxiety-ridden is one of my special gifts:

At night I would consider my wonderings and tell Patrick, "I don't think we are asking them enough questions. They must think us so selfish." Or "I'm pretty sure they saw me put Oscar's shoes on for him. They must think we are horrible parents." Or "We didn't leave the house all day. They think we are insane." Sweet Patrick would do what he does best at times like that, which is to say as few words as possible so that I don't latch onto one of them and thus spin questions into oblivion or at the very least, a weary 2:00am conversation.

Today as I listened to Mary Karr and Krista Tippett banter about faith and poetry and fear, I wondered if maybe if it was because I was saying possibilities but not true terrors. The truth of it is, those people were gosh darn wonderful. It was easy. I spent most of that week in happy city. The truth of it also is that it's hard and scary to make new friends. It's hard and scary to let people see the real you. It's hard and scary to have an emotional IQ in the double digits. It's hard and scary to share your pot of dark French roast and to not blurt out inappropriate comments all day. It's hard and scary to be an adult.

Writers I love, like Mary Karr and Anne LaMott, both echo that we need to holler out, "I need help!" And that's what I've been telling Oscar Gus. When your playground buddies tell you creepy things, you can come home, and you can say, "I need help!" Your mom prays with you and talks to you and looks in spooky mirrors with you and reads funny books and hangs twinkle lights in dark corners.

I need help being an adult. So today I sent off a few emails to some good girlfriends. I sketched for no reason at all. I texted the nice travel buddies, and they must not be too scarred, as they texted back. I read a little Danny Gregory. I took a long walk. I let myself feel hopeful. Mary Karr says, "Daring to hope every day is much more radical than to live in the despair I was born to." So, I shall appreciate my weird and others' weird and live radically and hopefully and trust that if my emotional stuntedness scares off folks, then it's probably best they find other friends who have children that will help with the dishes. We are all just doing the best we can with what we have, and if that means Oscar is in college before he learns to tie his own shoes, so be it. At least he'll be able to make really good coffee.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

What a delight

This weekend, I talked to adults about the power of images to make meaning.

What a delight.

My real aim was to encourage the use of graphic novels for increasing reading comprehension, but in the process of creating my presentation, I realized that what I was really talking about was multimodal literacy.

This making of meaning through words and images is in our every day. Saturday, a dear introvert friend and I were supposed to meet up for a drink. A couple hours before our date she sent a cancellation:
credit to Allie Brosh

I replied in kind:

Earlier in the week, I'd written one of Oscar's teachers to share some worries over how that boy doesn't exactly embrace school and how some his actions could be misunderstood. The teacher replied not with words but with image:
It was such a relief.

And that's what my talk was all about---empathy. Having a seat at the table. Using images to start something or to grow something and to build relationships with books and words and neighbors and society. I'm a soap-boxer about graphic novels, so I'll save that for when schools are foolish enough to give me the mike, but as I spoke on the power of images to make meaning, it touched a very personal nerve.

Last night I was reading Patrix by Nadia Bolz Weber; she writes that we have this misconception sometimes that when something is new---it's clean and shiny. It has a new car smell and tender green sprouts. Ha! Usually new is really messy. It's awful. The new sober person trying to make it through the next 16 hours. The new baby bringing fatigue and body fluids. The new school year for Oscar Gus. 

I'm experiencing some new. The Kapok Tree, a beloved endeavor with a beloved friend, has been at a crossroads for several months. It's as successful as we need it to be. And it's certainly fulfilling. But, in order to grow it, we have to go in a direction and that doesn't quite sit right. So, we have a new path in front of us. The Kapok Tree as we know it in Singapore is coming to a close, but some other things are growing. 

And it doesn't feel clean and shiny. It doesn't smell very good. It has a lot of fear behind it. But, as Brene Brown says, "Unused creativity is not benign." It festers. If there's something in there---you gotta get it out.

Last night I was looking for a visual metaphor of courage to help take on the fear at the changes ahead. Elizabeth Gilbert tells us that fear can come along our creative journeys, we need her, but she gets to sit in the backseat. As I looked for visual courage, I remembered this dog:
Awkwardly posing for her school photo, Weela looks resigned rather than heroic. Her absurd image and her story were published in Outside Magazine in 1996. Back then, I pretended the carabiner that held my water bottle to my backpack was really used for scaling rock faces. I was a poser in every part of life--desperate to be something. Anything. A teacher, a good friend, a mountain climber, an artist, a soulmate, a writer. I was struggling with being in my own skin and with having any sort of compass. I wore clogs and corduroy and long baggy sleeves to cover a self that had no passport and no direction and no defined character. After reading that little ol' Weela saved dozens from drowning, lived through a rattlesnake bike, and was a mighty-hero-dog in a little pup's clothing, I hyperbolically (and cheekily) cut out her image and pasted it over my own drivers' license photo in hopes of channeling her grit and determination--or at least having something to make my geology lab partner laugh.

Last night, twenty years later, I Googled old Weela, and I cut her out again. I pasted her mug on my jar of drawing pens. An awkward talisman. Like Weela, I don't feel particularly ready for my close-up. But the difference between 40 and 20 is that I am not lost wondering who I am. I can send a cartoon to cancel an evening out and not be thrown into a spiral of self doubt. I can doodle something mediocre and not think it's me forever. I can live in the mess and believe in the hope. I can make meaning.

What a delight.