Having just completed  a 14-month-intentional-technology-purge in my home, I’m renewing my blog with a little reflection as I rejoin the modern world.

No surprise here. Without TV or internet at home, my husband and I had more free time on our hands. We spent it doing old-fashioned things like talking, reading, taking the dog for walks, and working in our garden. It was wonderful, just like it sounds. Most of the time. I won’t lie, sometimes we were bored and there were lots of inconveniences. Since the experiment was about intentionality toward life we allowed ourselves unlimited use of TV seasons on DVD and movie rentals from RedBox. We watched a lot of really good shows- some that made me feel like a better human being even- and nothing that made me feel dumber for having seen it. For TV shows we had to buy locally from whatever we could find at Hastings since we didn’t have Amazon for ordering. This was often annoying like when we finished the first season of Breaking Bad and Hastings didn’t have the next season in stock. Sometimes we lost time from the experiment, like when we had to do something on the internet for our jobs or taxes, and would have to drive to work or the library and then also worry about whether your personal information was safe at those venues. My school had three snow days where they decided to utilize our 1-to-1 computer initiative and have virtual days. It really sucked having to drive to school in the icy weather to post my lessons for the day.

Spending and Purchasing
We didn’t save much money on TV because of all the DVDs we purchased. We saved some on internet (some of the DVD money certainly ran into this cost though) The big pay-off was tossing the smartphones. Ignoring any up-front charges, we calculated it cost about $150/month for two smart phones. We bought two pay-as-you-go phones from Wal-Mart for $15 each and this year we spent an average of $40 a month on our phone time. That’s a yearly savings of $1320 plus what we would spend up-front and all the hidden costs, apps, etc.

It is hard to calculate how mush we might have saved just by not having the internet at home for shopping. I hate going shopping and normally do it all online. Result- I bought less- probably a lot less. This was really great for just appreciating what you already have, and it helped reduce the accumulation of more stuff in the house.

How you go about everyday things
I joked a lot with the high school kids about my experiment. They loved laughing at my $15 phone and how I didn’t know anything about “twitting.” At some point though I realized I was actually falling behind. I have always been more advanced than most of my co-workers with technology and just by not having the smartphones I realized I was missing this whole new way of doing things. My brain had reverted to the old ways. If I needed to go somewhere I hadn’t been- I thought “Where’s the map?” If I needed a plumber- phone book. I paid bills by mail and was always running out of stamps. A friend asked for a recommendation for a veterinarian and by the time I had looked it up in the phone book and written it down for her; she’d already mapped it on her phone, read online reviews, and saved the contact info. I hate a wasted Post-it® note.

Going Forward
My hope is that I will keep a lot of what I learned as a permanent lifestyle change. Wasting a bunch of time on social media, googling random information that I really don’t need to know, surfing pointlessly through craigslist ads; those things just mainly made me feel restless. I look forward to all the good things like watching Ted videos and being able to plan from home for school and as a result spend more time with my dog, even if it is just sitting together on the couch. It will be nice to keep in touch better with my friends and family who live out-of-state. I still do not want a smartphone. When I am driving or working outside, I do not want the constant infringement it used to bring. I want a few places in my world that are still “disconnected”. When I was a kid my dad stubbornly refused to get an answer machine (which is what I still for some reason call voice mail). He did it to his own detriment sometimes. Maybe that is what I am doing too, I don’t know, but there is this little stubborn place inside that thinks by giving up the constant stream of information, I am gaining something I can’t define. I hope to cultivate old-time-kinds of connections: with the soil, my animals, my neighbors and friends. Sitting out in the yard, talking with Jeff under a star-filled sky. I hope.

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The Child Who Loved Books


Artwork by Andrea Cull via Paper for iPad

My father taught English and my mom worked in a library, maybe I never stood a chance. All I know is that my parents never had to twist my arm to read. They encouraged me to roam the shelves, selecting books with care, and I remember the pride I felt when handing over my very own library card to check them out. To this day, the smell of an old book transports me back to my childhood and an inner world where I believe anything is possible.

Like many girls, I was horse-obsessed and it was through the books of Marguerite Henry that the world came alive. Trapped in between the pages was a dream that could be realized as if through magic. I could see them, smell them, understand them, be with them. I think it’s probably why I have horses today.

My parents knew the spectrum of Young Adult fiction, and they knew great literature existed for kids. Much of what I chose might have seemed silly to an adult. But from Bunnicula to Nancy Drew, neither of my parents ever passed judgement on anything I read. I think that was the critical piece.


Occasionally my dad would hand me something, “See if you like this.” It was always something great: A Separate Peace, The Outsiders, or To Kill a Mockingbird. Sometimes he’d read poetry aloud. I came to understand that carefully-chosen words had the power to transform the world. You can know the moon through science, but there are primal parts of us that know, on certain nights, it is really “a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.”

My mom introduced us to science fiction and fantasy and I swear it was before anyone else had ever loved it. Even if it isn’t true, part of me still credits her for discovering a whole new world, for being a literary Christopher Columbus. A generation of pioneers came into our home: George MacDonald, CS Lewis, and Tolkien. I remember the first time I ever felt fear, we were huddled safely on the couch as she read John Christopher’s The White Mountains.

When I think about these memories and my experience of the world through these pages, I  feel grateful for having known so many books.

So I wonder what has happened when I hear my students complaining about the books their English teachers assign. As much as I love these books, I wonder if  the power of their metaphors is destroyed through compulsion. Can a kid understand the theme of censorship in  Ferenhiet 451 if they WISH it was banned from their reading list?

Is it right to force kids to read something they swear they hate?

Reading 4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading really helped me understand the other side. I wonder if we need to rethink required reading. There has been a push in education for self-sustained and self-selected reading, but I don’t know if anyone has tried applying it to the classics. Maybe all it takes is what my parents intuitively gave me. The power to chose your own books. And a little suggestion, “See if you like this.”

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Tuscany in a Bottle


Winter has entrenched the valley where we live in Idaho. It is a Narnian world of bitter cold and snow that locals know as an inversion, and it is characterized by a constant haze which dulls the sun. In an attempt to lift our fog-laden souls, we uncorked a special bottle of Chianti last night. La Forra. It was a palate of memories. I could smell the Tuscan soil and feel the Mediterranean sun. I saw the perfectly plotted Sangiovese vines, the friends we had shared it with, and tasted the food it had accompanied.


“Do you remember where we had this?” my husband asked. A place that had been a familiar friend was a now-forgotten name. That is a special kind of sorrow. But he hadn’t forgotten. And we sat, and drank, and remembered. That bottle of wine transported us through time and space with some sort of magic power.

It was as if a part of me was still there and I was being sewn back together.
It was as if part of me no longer exists, or just as bad, that it was once part of me yet now exists without me.

And I flipped through a highlighted book to find the right words:
“For one thing, whatever we know, we cannot know what it would be like in the absence of our knowing it, ” Iain McGilchrist, The Divide Brain and the Search for Meaning

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Breaking Good


Late night cravings, secret sneakings.
Just me, butter, sugar, cream,
And vanilla-not imitation.

Patience and a vintage thermometer
Slowly creeps to firm-ball stage
Carmel, you’re Chemistry perfection.

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Divided Brain

I’ve been reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Divided Brain and the Search for Meaning: Why We Are So Unhappy . It’s an essay that not only helps us understand the scientific functioning of our brains, but the existence we experience because of it. He explains it this way:

“I take it that we bring about a world in consciousness that is partly what is given, and partly what we bring, something that comes into being through this particular conjunction and no other. And the key to this is the kind of attention we pay to the world.”

The ebook for this shortish essay (in comparison to the 600+ pages of his book The Master and His Emissary ) is available here For those of us in America, Kobo seemed to be the easiest choice for purchase.

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It’s been about 500 years since people began to realize WE weren’t the center of the universe. However, it still hits us in the gut sometimes. Here is a question I posed to high school freshman, and their parenthetical outbursts:

How fast are you moving as you sit at your desk? 

  • I am not moving (duh)
  • I’m spinning with the earth’s rotation at about 1,000 mph (huh?)
  • I’m moving with the Earth’s around the sun at 66,487 mph (That’s a lie!)

It brought back memories of dear old Spanky, my high school Physics teacher. He told these same disturbing stories. Since Democritus, Copernicus , and even Feynman, students have been left in a fog of disbelief. Could the universe be so strange? It’s nice to know the big ideas can still be new, even though they’ve been around for, well, that’s kind of hard to say. How fast is the object moving that wants to know? Say, the speed of light?

Please share your favorite universal wonders. For starters, I’d love to know the speed of our galaxy around the center of the universe. Or the velocity it has this moment as the universe expands…

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Fresh-fallen Snow

2012-12-31 09.37.52

It doesn’t look like this as I write. The snow is coming fast and thick; I can barely make out my neighbor’s house through the fallow field that separates us.

Last night the news was abuzz with the coming storm. I woke once to the sound of plow scrapping pavement and when the alarm buzzed at 5:30 I peeked out the window. Clear roads, coffee on, morning rituals, local news.

What’s that you say Maggie O’Mara

Just in, Nampa Schools are closed today. 

A blizzard can be different things to different people. Was I a real grown-up, this morning would have meant groaning, ice-scraping, and battling the roads. Was I a child, it would be play and freedom. But from my in-between place, I sit in front of a blazing stove and watch it fall; it is peace. There are small animals curled nearby who refuse to go out, and horses have tucked themselves into the barn; there is shelter. The scars left from boots and hooves are erased; the fresh-fallen snow recreates the blank canvas a symbol of the mystery of life. 

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