Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Perfect Outfit

In the last two months, my daughter has had two important interviews--so important, they will change the course of her life. For the first interview, she flew to Sacramento for a day at UC Davis. She plotted and planned: plane and hotel reservations,  whether or not to rent a car, and the contemplation and practice of possible interview questions with perfect answers.

Previous to her invitation to interview, she'd spent hours filling out forms, writing, editing, reediting what seemed like hundreds of essays. It was an intense period of time.

As much work and fret as she put into her application process, once she made the first cut and had an interview, even more time and consideration went into what she would wear. Everything else in place, the personal presentation had to be flawless.

She went to the experts--the women who'd been there before and over and again, the advice was: look professional! Skirt, hose, and blazer.

The critical shopping began.

It only took us one afternoon. Two skirts we found: classic black pencil and camel colored conservative. A white blouse with personality; and she made the outfit her own--bold enough to forego the blazer so highly recommended but not preferred. The campus was large so she settled for a pair of flats. She could carry on now only because she had the perfect outfit. I sent my daughter off with confidence!

There's something about the perfect outfit. On the night before a special occasion, knowing I have the right dress and shoes, sends me into blissful sleep. When I awake to remembrance of that special pantuit and pair of boots in the closet, I jump out of bed excited to start the day.

It sounds a little shallow (I know).

When my daughter received word of her second interview for her top choice school, silly me, I thought the first outfit would be just fine. But the season and locale had changed. It was now too cold for a skirt and she was ready to embrace the required blazer. She needed to shop again and needed my help. This time I wasn't too compliant and resisted until it hit me hard how important this was to her. How did I almost miss out?

This time the shopping was even more blessed! The perfect black blazer with an unusual cut complimented her figure perfectly. We found a cropped matching pant and both of us pictured the ensemble complete with a pair of camel pumps with silver studs around the heel that belonged to me. The only glitch this time was my shoes were one size too small. We had to find the same shoe, and we did--on the sale rack!

We did it! We'd created the perfect outfit. Again. She was ready.

We even had a couple of unexpected bonuses: the blazer was also on sale and the pants were deeply discounted, so much that since I already had the shoes and an old black blazer of my own, I bought the pants too. I'm now prepared and excited for the occasion (as yet unknown) to wear the perfect outfit!

And...we could go out dressed like twins.

Postscript: She attends the interview and feels it went well. She worked strategically with other applicants in a mock scenario and had answers for all the tough questions. When she finishes filling me in on all the important conversations and events of the day, she mentions a funny anecdote about her well planned outfit: "One of the professors who didn't interview me, pulled me aside and said, '"Your shoes are bad a..."' She laughed and thanked him. I imagine if this school sends her a rejection letter, they should at least do so with an explanation, You were a great candidate, but this isn't a school to earn a degree in fashion.

Saturday, December 3, 2016


I drive out of the rental car parking structure;  I'm greeted by a rainbow stretching halfway across the sky. Like Noah of old, rainbows hold special promise to me.

I've returned to Hawaii, and although I have never been a resident, the islands have played a small part in my life.

My first visit was as a teenager in the company of friends. We were enjoying a two day R&R after six weeks of travel in the Far East. We had rented mopeds, and supposedly, as they sat aghast, couldn't understand how a car in the road hadn't hit me when I'd made an erroneous turn. I was oblivious.

With only a few years into our marriage, Hawaii became a favorite destination. We loved the water, the mountains, the winding, fern covered roadsides. Eventually we discovered the wild growing lilikoi and we'd go on lilikoi hunting adventures through jungle. We kayaked the enchanting and mysterious Kauai Coast--twice. When my sister attended the University of Hawaii, Mom, my sister, and me, made regular trips; when she graduated, Dad came with us.

My connection goes back further than my first visit. When just a little girl, a favorite aunt and uncle discovered the Hawaiian islands. I try to imagine what the islands were like in the late 1960s. Aunt Marilyn brought back grass skirts and bikini tops for all the girl cousins and taught us the hookie lau song and dance. One Christmas Eve at the annual party, all eleven of us performed in Aunt Virginia and Uncle Herman 's family room with a stage. The moment is so memorable thanks to home movies. As we turned in a circle, my grass skirt wasn't completely tied, and I was the little girl with her underwear showing.

We are here again, because my soon to be 79 year old mother enjoys spending her birthdays in Hawaii. What a privilege it is being in her company to celebrate her birthday! Celebrating with Mom always includes thoughts of Dad. Thoughts of a rainbow. It's why the sight of the rainbow when I first drove brought tears to my eyes and a flood of memories.

As Dad got older, when we ate out, he never ordered enough food for himself. "I'll have a small cup of soup," he would say, or "I'm not hungry enough to order a meal," and so one of the great privileges was sitting next to Dad and having him finish off my meal.

It was a perfect weather night when we sat at a big round table, on a big deck, next to the ocean. The sun was just setting when we had finished our delicious Chinese meal, and the fortune teller came out. The sky was Hawaiian, the atmosphere Hawaiian, and there was a lot of love around that table. The moment was mystical, even kind of reverent. Our bellies were full ( and I'd had the joy of sharing with Dad), my sister had successfully completed her first college degree, most of all--we were all together. It is moments like these that flood my mind when I return to Hawaii--and to be greeted by a rainbow--was sacred.

On the morning I learned my father's death was imminent, the Florida sky was filled with a magnificent rainbow. I brought out the children to share the awe, and we sat outside mesmerized by its beauty, significance, and timeliness. That rainbow was a promise to me as much as it was to Noah's family. The rainbow held a promise that life would continue no matter the circumstances, no matter the hardship, the deluges, the floods of destruction. And so I am gathered in Hawaii again under the most sacred of circumstances--with family, with blessed memories, and knowing that one day too,  going to Hawaii will only be with memories of Mom.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Train Ride

Tony drops me off at the train station--how romantic! Tis the beginning and end to all romantic comedies, dramas, and in this case, real life. However, this is not the end, just a 10 day separation where he stays home in nine degree weather replete with snowstorms, and I am off for an 80 degree island adventure: the annual sister celebration of my mother's life.

I settle into the 70 minute ride at a booth complete with a table. My travel time can be productive.. This reminds me of European travel! Yes, I pretend I am on my way to Amsterdam.

The train is like a stage where the different actors enter and exit. A woman jumps into the train panting so loud I can hear her from my seat at the front. Her lack of breath precludes a story she must tell; she missed the first bus that would bring her to the train, and the driver of the second bus was kind enough to drive fast so she could reach the train on time--then she ran the entire way. The friendly young man next to me sympathizes with the woman. One would think they are best friends--and they are for just a moment in time, because one human being needs another to share her rushed adventure.

I need a human connection too. After buying a round trip ticket from the kiosk, I learn the return trip expires this same day.

"Sir?" I ask the train attendant, "is it possible to use my return ticket for another day?"

He gives me the UTA transportation number and an easy solution--they will give me a code word for the return.

I switch trains at North Temple to catch the airport green line. The biting cold is in the twenties, and in order to minimize the transition to warm weather, I'd left gloves, hat and scarf at home. My pants are thin and my jacket isn't filled with down. Near shivering, I ride the escalator to the green line platform. Above me, two young men are barely dressed for the cold-- light weight shorts, no-sock sneakers, jogging suit jackets. Clearly they too are living in warm weather-future.

"Where are you going?" I ask.

"Cabo!" They burst out together.

Surely the train will arrive in seconds or we shall all freeze together--but it doesn't. Two minutes pass and I motion for the young men to join me in a corner I've imagined is the warmest place to wait. We are out of the wind at least. Five minutes pass. A man dressed in a wool long coat, a hat, comes over to tell us about yogis who can sustain their warm body temperatures without clothes, in the cold, with their awesome mind control. Ten minutes pass and surely the train must be close. I start jogging in place to stay warm.

Finally, I see the train turn the corner.  The cold disappears; warmth is imminent, hope is sustained.

Hope is knowing things will get better, the train will arrive; Cabo warmth is only a plane ride away.

It's December second and the month of hope is laid out before us with 23 days of giving.

We received Jesse's email yesterday asking for us to join in giving her students hope. She teaches/mentors 10 homeless high school seniors who may be in and out of foster care, who may be mentally handicapped, who may live in a sleeping bag under a freeway overpass; a few of them have children. The hope is so easy to give: Walmart gift cards, underwear, hygiene kits.

After another natural disaster, our friend in Haiti is trying to raise $3000 so children in his city might have Christmas. It's so easy to make a go-fund-me donation from the chair in my study.

All around us are opportunities for hope.

We not only need hope, but it's just as critical to give hope, for endurance is only possible with human connection and hope. Sometimes we have to give hope before we can see it for ourselves. How can we ever resist when it's so easy? When warmth is imminent, we can tolerate the cold.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


I have finally embraced my hair. It's been a thirty year fight of haircuts, color, product, endless hours of blowdrying, clipping, hairbands and ponytails.

All my life, people have told me what thick hair I have and how lucky I am. The problem is that my hair is straight from the top of my head and from the occipital bone down, it is curly. This miss-match has been the source of my hair confusion-conundrum. There have been few people who know how to cut it and once it is salon blown-dry, it lays nice and flat, but the minute I try to care for it, it goes wonky!

I finally decided to not fight it anymore. Straight, curly, mismatched--let it be.

Once the decision was made, it all fell into place--literally. Once the fight to straighten it ended, it became more curly, but the curls worked with one another. I learned how to brush before I showered and leave it alone to air dry into a happy state. I started getting compliments that went beyond "thick hair," into "enviable hair." I've even been asked what products I use. None. Nada.

Yesterday, my friend cried in my company. She shared that her son likes men and it's been a hard thing to process. On some days, she is happy, put together, and only wants her son to be happy--but he's not--yet. For some, it is a natural acceptance; for others, it is a process. For some it is neither. We both understand the trial, and yesterday as I listened to a gay man talk about his memoir on NPR, he mentioned the statistics of the all the beautiful, confused, men we have lost to suicide. Whether it came from being bullied, from parent or self denial, it caused enough pain to overrule life. My friend knows in her son's confusion, he too may think of suicide as a way out.

As we talked, we wondered if the situation could really just be simple acceptance. Finally embracing the circumstances just as they are. No need for judgement--that is not her burden.

The comparison to my hair is trivial, but are they not the same journey? Struggle, then acceptance, and finally joy?

However, to reaching acceptance, often requires a journey. In my friend's journey, she has needed a time for mourning. To mourn the life expected for her child--to see him marry traditionally, to hold the children who would have come from his womb too. But all of this pale's to her son accepting and adjusting to his path, just as his mother so desperately wants to accept and adjust to her path too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Always In Search

 I love to walk, run, and hike, and so I am always in search of beautiful pathways. Sometimes with companions, more often by myself, it has been a lifelong habit of seeking solace in the outdoors. Moving among trees or waves, coming upon a herd of deer, watching a bunny dart from under a bush, I relish the encounters. It's an important connection that brings joy in the simple moments of just walking.

Sometimes the path is in the middle of the city or in a big residential area, but there's something about a secluded tree lined path that makes me feel all alone. I hear thoughts once distant, see memories once faded, and create ideas that are new. Endorphins are coaxed out of their hidden cells. Beautiful pathways bring a subtle euphoria.

Even Sebastian felt the euphoria and had to climb out of the stroller.

For the most part, I find beautiful pathways when I don't have a camera, but they stay in my mind enabling me to return again and again: The Kaanapali Coast, the state park in Connecticut, the sand dune path in Southern Utah, the tide pools on a small island, the hot pot pathway in Yellowstone, the secret doorway to a park in Paris, the Tai Chi Park in China. In an instant the pathways appear and I am floating to distant lands. 

Yesterday, I dared the mountain side pathway thinking it would already be packed down and an easy run, but the only tracks were the hooves of deer. 

Still! How pleasant to know and see in my mind's eye, the leaping grace of a deer.

Sometimes, I am lured off a path. The smell of this cedar tree brought a rush of childhood memories. The berries! How many berries had I picked as a child and mixed with leaves and mud, to make the perfect dessert?

 When I walk to yoga class, I veer off the busy road to walk this path. It takes longer, but the to and from, is the perfect match to the contemplative practice.
As careful as I am to find and venture on beautiful pathways, I am even more careful in choosing life's pathways--friends, adventures, even sacrifices. These choices place us on a journey often longer and with more serious consequences. Even when we find ourselves on a pathway we didn't choose, Viktor Frankel taught us we still have a choice of a pathway within that pathway. Personal choice is the evader of all thieves. 

Once conscious of our choices, pathways can be skipped, jumped over, or emergency exited.

I love beautiful pathways. I love the power of choice. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

PSA For Kitchen Safety

Each time I am asked, "How was your Thanksgiving?" I have to weigh whether or not to be honest.

The inquiry has lost its sincerity in the same way "How are you?" has. We all answer fine, and I suspect no one asks how Thanksgiving went, really wanting to know how it went. No one wants to hear the turkey was dry, the in-laws were chummy, the uncle was difficult, and it was the worst holiday ever. Even so, I have confided in a few people, and each time I explain briefly what happened, the person to whom I have engaged, also has a kitchen disaster story.

It's PSA time.

Person #1 was carrying a pan of boiling water, turned around, caught her arm on something and spilled the water. Her burns were second degree and only on the top of her foot, but walking was difficult as was sleeping.

Person #2 remembers heating oil on top of the stove. She left the room, came back to a flame engulfed pot, ran to the pot and pushed it off the burner. The hot oil spilled on the dog, her mom and herself.

Person #3's memory was of her own mom having burned her hands so bad in a kitchen accident that later in life, the thin skin on her hands became painful and she had to wear gloves.

Person#4: My own mother. As a seven year old, she and her little brother were burning garbage. A piece was thrown, caught by the wind and landed on my mother's stomach. Her mother rushed outside after having seen the accident from the kitchen window. Her mother love was so intense that she put the fire out with her own hands, and she too suffered severe burns. My mom was put to sleep for three days and spent six months laying on her back in a bed moved into the living room.

We no longer burn our own garbage so the single solution is to never cook again.

Or maintain the pots in one's kitchen. Periodically check to make sure handles aren't worn down and are still securely attached. Recycle old pots and pans.

Or cook in small quantities, and always make sure there is an uncluttered path for moving hot pans and food.

Make sure children are not in the kitchen or near a stove or oven when cooking.

Pay attention. Safety depends on it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

When Evil Cloaks Itself As Good

From 1965 to 1973, the largest airborne refugee evacuation took place from Cuba to America. President Johnson's freedom flights alleviated the influx of Cuban refugees who risked their lives by crossing the sea, sometimes in rickety boats and makeshift rafts.

Not only did my son-in-law's mother come by plane, but another little girl, Giselle, accompanied by her parents, her brother and an assortment of relatives, came by plane to America. She was my new friend, a fellow 11 year old. Our only difference was that she came from Cuba and had left the country because of a very bad man named Castro.

That's all I knew, all that mattered--at the time.

 As an adult, I wish my child-self had been more curious. I wish I would have asked all the valuable questions lost over time.

That very bad man, clearly understood to people who value freedom, is being pseudo honored in his death. He was even honored before his death. I understand it is the nature of humans to be contrary, to want to kick up the dust, to "stick-it-to-the-man." All fine with me--let the first person who has never been rebellious cast the first stone. But...this man and his cohorts...

I told my students if they ever wore a Che Guevara or a Fidel Castro t-shirt to class, I would ask them to leave. It would NOT be a violation of free speech or free t-shirt wearing--they have every right to wear what they want--just not in my class. Because these men denied basic human rights to fellow human beings--even death, they cannot be glorified in my classroom. Castro ruined the economy of his country, took away people's possessions, properties, and denied the right to think according to one's conscience.

How blurred do we allow the lines of right and wrong, good and evil, to become?

Some people may remember when Ronald Reagan had the audacity to call the Soviet Union, the Evil Empire. It was a bold move in the dawning age of political correctness. In 1983, the President defended America's Judeo-Christian traditions against the Soviet Union's suppression of religious freedoms, freedoms of expression, the rights to think and act for oneself and its totalitarian rule. He wasn't afraid to call evil evil. What if? What if this blatant identification helped in the surprising, miraculous, dissolution of the great and might Soviet Union?

Yet, we keep trying to call evil good, keep hoping there is hope in socialism. We tried to cloak it again in the most recent election, because we saw such goodness in the candidate, even though he deemed himself a social democrat. Over and again, socialism has proven an unsuccessful economic experiment. Margaret Thatcher reversed the socialism of the UK and saved her country's economy. The socialist principles of the Soviet Union failed. Keep your eye on Venezuela, whose people are leaving by boat to escape starvation. Even China's economic changes were spurred by the leader who recognized, "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white, as long as it catches mice."

We are trying hard to be mutually inclusive. We want refugees to feel welcome, accepted and hopeful. We can love everyone, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but we can't step on the toes of truth. When we blur the lines of good and evil, evil triumphs.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


A friend and I go to lunch and throughout our conversation, she says, "I remember when you said this," or "told me..." Each time I cringe, wondering what goofy opinion I espoused, or the embarrassing anecdote I might have shared. Who hasn't said at least a few silly things we wish had never been spoken?

But those said things follow us to the end of life. Both the things we said and the things said to us. I have an uncanny remembrance for uttered words, both serious and not, from my friends and acquaintances. Why they become indelible is hard to trace or determine.

"Deception is always a half-truth." We were in deep conversation while on a morning walk, Tam and me. She went on to explain why the aphorism was truth. It's why we can be deceived--because we hold on to the truth part and conveniently ignore the deception. A pure deception would never work, but a half deception does.

It's a funny thing how this phrase spoken twenty years ago, pops into my mind unexpectedly. I'll be teaching an unrelated concept, and her words will pop into my mind--inevitably they relate to the topic I'm teaching and I write it out on the board. Tam's wisdom keeps on traveling.

All seriousness aside, whenever I eat a crunchy cookie, I remember my neighbor Liz. For some unknown reason, she said to me one day, "I like soft cookies, except for a snickerdoodle. I like them to be hard, so I can dip them in a cold glass of milk."

One day I'm standing at my kitchen sink with a hard snickerdoodle in my left hand and a glass of milk in my right. When I dip the cookie, I hear Liz, I see her face, explaining the snickerdoodle eating habit, as if it were yesterday. The memory always enhances my cookie eating experiences.

Some of my father's common sayings pop into my mind when needed. When circumstances are rough, but not that rough, I hear Dad say, "It's not a murder trial," or if I do something stupid and on the verge of broadcasting the stupidity, I hear, "If you're going to be a sucker, be a quiet one." Each time I think about blessings, I hear Mom say, "We are so blessed." The words do not stand alone, but in my mind's eye, I see Dad's face or Mom's face and hear the tone in his and her voice.

Last night while playing cards with my children and son-in-laws, the girls were chatting incessantly. "Mindless chatter!" I called out to them--a frequent phrase used when gibberish filled the house or the car. Mindless chatter drove me mad!

I opened the Pandora's box for the resented litany of phrases so tied to their childhood. When they'd spend too much time watching TV, I'd brush past and dare them to make the "Big click."

Or if they complained about their nose, a bulging stomach, or aching legs, I was sure to respond with "Be thankful you have a nose, or a stomach, or legs to walk on, because there are people without."

And supposedly, I would regularly say,

"You're not hungry."

"You love brussels sprouts."

"No one likes donuts."

Their memories were like rubber bullets reminding me of how annoying a nagging mother can be. I joined with them in laughing at myself-- because, I understand that as important as the phrases are in their memories in forming a memory of who I am, I hope my actions, my love and devotion, speak louder than my words. Much louder.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Bees Are Gone Again

After a run, I passed by the hive and paused a moment to see if all was well.  I noticed a yellow jacket enter freely. It wasn't attacked and chased away, like it should have been.

Houston, we have a problem. 

Fearing the worst, I sat down this afternoon to intentionally observe. A bee, then one yellow jacket, then two, came and went as if they owned the place.

Wax crumbs rested on the entryway--a sure sign the hive was being honey-robbed. Not a guard bee in sight was defending the homefront. I pulled the winterizing layers off--just weeks before the wood and styrofoam had protected an active hive from the winter's cold. The observation window now exposed, revealed the awful truth-not a bee in sight. Sigh....I'd lost another hive.

At summer's end, Nikki and Lisa both lost a hive or two. We were all down to one hive. So puzzling, since Lisa's had JUST been strong and thriving. We are back to square one of the equation.

I cleaned out the hive, stuffed the entry so yellow jackets couldn't squat for the winter and carried the few bars of honey upstairs to harvest.

Discouraging, but I won't give up.

Next spring, I will start rooftop beekeeping. However, it's not technically a rooftop, it's the third floor deck.

I'm not sure when beekeepers started keeping hives on the roof, but all over the world, in hotels, in apartments, beekeepers are suiting up. The needed sun exposure is often guaranteed, and the foxes who roam my hillside will never make it to the third floor.

It's my fourth year of beekeeping and I'm not sure I can really call myself a beekeeper.

Sometimes it feels like a lost cause. As I tore the hive apart, I wondered how much money I've invested in the cause I believe in: protecting our food sources. Almost 70% of our agriculture needs pollination. The raspberries have tripled in production since I've kept bees.

...but here's the misconception...I don't keep bees. As much as I think I do, the bees have proven otherwise...obviously.

I often wonder if our efforts to save certain aspects of the environment fall into the same category as thinking we are keeping bees. Can the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions stop the rising seas, or has it been in the making for hundreds of years--with or without our destructive help? I try a new kind of hive, move the bees in and out of the sun, when I suspect it doesn't matter. Yet, just as I am the steward of my bees, we are all stewards of the earth and to not make sacrifices would be a crime against nature--but still nature rules.

In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica. CFS or chlorofluorocarbons, the chemical used in hair sprays and refrigeration were the cause. Because of the threat to human health and even existence, a first time ever world agreement to ban CFCs occurred. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 has every country's signature who is a part of the United Nations. The hole in the ozone quit growing. Yet scientists postulate the thicker ozone layer actually contributes to global warming. Other scientists report the hole is as big as it has ever been.

Still, I will order my bees for next spring. I have heard of a heartier breed that is more resistant to the decimating varroa mite that weakens hives. I suspect my hive was weak after the varroa mite had gained a foothold in the hive. I naturally treated the varroa but the hive moved on to greener grass--and they didn't ask permission.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Painful Gratitude

Thanksgiving turned into one lousy day.

We got our conflict that drives home the meaning of gratitude.

We had a kitchen accident that sent one of us to the hospital with second degree burns.

Yes, we were grateful it wasn't third degree burns. We were grateful the two toddlers were taking naps and weren't underfoot when the handle on the giant pot broke. We were grateful for the health providers who worked the holiday. Grateful for the nurse back in Chicago who answered our immediate questions. Grateful for healthcare...

We got the grateful part, but what I had forgotten is how painful it is in the midst of that kind of gratitude.

I was so grateful when the day finally ended, and I could try to forget the day's tragedy. It worked for the first half of the night, but in the lonely, wee, morning hours, I relived the moment over and over again.

I was dumbfounded and helpless as I watched the boiling stock fall out of my daughter's arms and burn her hands and arm--helpless as I watched her slip, bounce, and hit her head. Dumbfounded and helpless as I watched her jump into the sink screaming, "I'm burning." Over and again, I replayed the incident.

An hour after the incident, after she and her husband had arrived at the hospital, we sat down to eat. But the food was without taste and it just wasn't the same without her. Eating while in shock is perfunctory-without pleasure.

She kept in touch with us. She let us know when the IV was in. Let us know when they scrubbed the blistered skin. She even laughed when she was finished and waiting in her Dad's big blue robe. Five months away from officially being a Registered Dietician, she knew what she needed to teach her students from her accident, and she knew enough to write, I've gained a lot of empathy for potential future patients. This is typical [pain] for burns. 

As the night continued, her pain intensified and she knew there wasn't a whole lot to stop it. My mom turned to me and said, "Don't you wish you could take her pain upon yourself?" Mom then recalled an incident with my older sister in which she would have suffered herself rather than take the wounds to her mother's heart.

I knew my mother's wish was impossible and I knew my own weaknesses, and so I answered honestly, "I'm too big of a wimp to take on someone's pain."

As the night wore on, as my daughter's pain intensified, as I thought of her days ahead, of the little people she still needed to care for, of her internship obligations, I made a shift. I came to the realization--if I could, I would take the pain. Gladly. I had found a place heretofore undiscovered. I let my mother know I could do it, even wished it was possible. Sincerely, even though I knew it was unlikely, even impossible.

"You've had your glimpse of a mother's unconditional and pure love."

For which I am grateful, even when it is so painful amidst that kind of gratitude.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Great Blessings

After an afternoon of banging on the piano, driving toy trucks through the kitchen, playing chase on limited-space window seats, the children have settled in front of the screen for an animated show. Calm has overcome chaos...until...the screen goes black and the emergency broadcast system blares in ...WARNING ALERT...extreme thunderstorm. Little heads pop up in wonder. My focus turns to the bank of windows showcasing the valley, the mountain range, the on-a-clear-day-you-can-see-forever view. Dark clouds loom beyond.

Earlier that day, the valley's roof was a clear blue sky. It was November 23, and that morning, Mom and I had taken off our coats on morning errands. A storm had been forecasted, but it was hard to imagine the perfect pre-Thanksgiving weather could turn cold. Wanting to take advantage of the last good weather, I made sure everyone was settled and happy before I laced up my running shoes and headed for the mountain trail. I quickened my pace as those dark clouds threatened my afternoon getaway. But I made it home dry, foolishly thinking the great weather would last.

The first lightening hits behind the distant mountains. The light flashes and rumbles and it looks like Mordor--middle earth controlled by Sauron, and the evil is brewing. Some of the family moves to the windows--we are mesmerized by the churning clouds, by the fearful strikes of light. I pull a little one up to the counter; he scoots close to the window and watches. FLASH! We ooh and ahh. We are spellbound. We wait. FLASH! I insist the lights are turned off, even though dinner is soon to be served.

The next little one stands at the counter and asks to be lifted. I pull him up and he sits still for the awaited spectacle of light. The littlest one has toddled over and I lift him too.

The dark house, the anticipation--he stands and pound on the window completely caught up in the excitement of--who knows? The whole sky turns white! Best of all, the storm moves closer. The wind becomes fierce and outside, the wicker couch flies across the deck. The chairs are next and slam into the railing clear on the other side. A rescue party rushes outside caught up in the delight of almost-danger. They take the glass off the table and move it to a protected corner. They salvage pillows carried over the rails--and then the hail, furiously thrown down by the wind, hits hard, shortly followed by pelting snow.

It is all so exciting! We startle at the first clear and clean strike of lightning! It lingers, and its vein is so peculiar, so fantastical. These are record-breaking lightning strikes. As we watch, a strike sends a firework into the sky; the valley goes dark, our house goes dark. Within seconds our lights come back to life, but just below, sections of the valley are without power. We feel humbled and grateful that ours are still working.

"How would we cook the turkey tomorrow without power? How would we keep the babies warm tonight?"

The storm seems to settle. The time between lightning strikes stretches. The little one still on the kitchen counter with me, wants more. He uses his sign language--striking his fists together to signify his want.

"Sebi, it looks like the storm is over."

How we enjoyed the storm!-- from the safety, from the warmth and protection of our home. Knowing this, directs my thoughts to all those people caught in the storm. My daughter pulls up a weather app that shows all the car accidents on 1-15 and that a short journey from point A to B has increased by 45 minutes. I almost feel guilty for the mysterious pleasure of the storm.

Perhaps, this is what makes Thanksgiving so poignant--that we gather around a table of abundance, fully aware that others may not have the same blessings. It forces us to pause and recognize the peace and love surrounding. It's what inspires us to let the grocery cashier tack on an extra $10 to our bill so we can help provide a meal for someone without. We are reminded of the bombs that still fall on Aleppo, that people still need homes, that jobs, food, and loved ones will always be great blessings not to be taken for granted. The realization comes only in part, because others go without, and because we too have been caught in a storm.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Yesterday, the house was bumpin; today it rocks; tomorrow it shakes.

Mom drove up yesterday; Mandi's band of four arrived late last night. Jillian will arrive this morning, Tanner later tonight when he gets off work, and Holly will join us for lunch, along with her almost teenager Max, Annika, and the little monsters. Tomorrow, not a soul will be missing from the family. Sixteen of us will cook, play, and around 4:00 p.m., will squish in around a table we've already outgrown.

It's a good thing we kept the house.

No matter how much I can't imagine it, one day we will abandon this house, like a shell we shed because it no longer fits. Usually the slug, the snail or the hermit crab abandons his camper top for a larger one--we will be looking for a more snug fit.

This house mobility seems to be a phenomenon of our generation. Tony's grandparents built a two bedroom, one bathroom home on the Montana ranch. When the kids came faster or more abundantly than expected, the oldest child (Tony's mother), and her sisters moved into a tent on the property. Soon enough, she went to college, married, and was followed by all the sisters and a brother. Grandma and Grandpa Hitchcock had their home back.

My grandparents did the same. As newlyweds, they bought a one bedroom house with a kitchen and a parlor. When the trick or treaters hauled away the outhouse, they added a bathroom. As the children came, Grandpa finished off a crude room in the basement and the kids made due with the space they had, even though it must have been a tight fit with four sons and a daughter. Grandma lived in that house until the day she died.

Roots. A home. I need a place to belong, a place where memories are not stored away, but are the memories. Each time I sit down in my study, I remember this space used to be Jillian's bedroom. I've never painted over, Viva la bonneheure!! on her ceiling. I look down the hall into Tony's study and see our youngest's little feet peeking out of her twin bed blanket. A downstairs bedroom, its ceiling covered in shining stars, is still referred to as Mandi's room, and Holly's room will always be so.

The word downscale-- to cut back in size or scope,--was first used in 1945.

Even the tax system is conducive to selling one's home in older age. Tony and I could sell the house and use the profits, up to a certain limit, to travel the world or buy a condo without a garden to plow or grass to mow.

The odds are that we won't.

Just when I think about downscale, our home becomes a welcome refuge for the daughter and son-in-law who can't find an apartment in their price range. After a promise of "just a two week stay," we all become comfortable, dependent on one another, and it seems silly to live elsewhere. All to soon, school will be finished, the business will flourish, and they too will move on.

So how long will we keep the un-snug shell? Will we ever downscale? Take the profits, buy an RV and see the hidden America?

As my Dad used to say, "I'll leave this house in a pine box."

The only guarantee we will not live in this house forever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Magic Chemistry of People Who Made It Happen: The Cold War Ends

In order to organize history, historians have compartmentalized it into periods: Stone Age, Bronze Age, the Renaissance, the Jazz Age, Post-Modernism, and so forth. In doing so, the human-ness disappears as if these moments were just scenes from a fast paced montage of world history. But the flow of time and events are distant from the neatly packaged years lumped together for convenience. They are the diverse, messy, bloody, and even well intentioned actions of  individuals, who thought, energized, and created. History only happens because of individuals who act--either on their own or together, consciously or not.

The end of the Cold War was the combined influence created by small and bold decisions one at a time. Imagine standing at a picnic in the park and the person in charge realizes the food table needs to move because the watering system is about to come on. She calls for help and one by one, two by two, the frisbee team hurries over, the father hands the baby to the mom, they gather and when there is enough cumulative strength---the table moves. This is how the "evil empire" was defeated. It took several people who came to the table.

Andrei Sakharov had helped to create the first Soviet atom bomb and the first hydrogen bomb. He was considered one of the most valuable and prominent Soviet physicists, but even he reached the point when he saw the futility of an ever-competing nuclear build-up. He began to write and protest. His power demanded attention; when people started to listen, he was shut down-- put under house arrest. He later received a Nobel Prize for his courage. His decisions were part of the great puzzle.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a respected Soviet playwright and novelist. Through his writings, he revealed the imbalance and injustices of the Soviet Union and was labeled a dissident and banished from Soviet society.--another part of the puzzle.

Once there was an actor and a playwright from Poland named Karol Wojtyla. At some point in his life his call was no longer the stage, but a call to serve God. He listened. In 1978, he became Pope John Paul II, the Pope who would be forever known as the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years and the  one who came from a communist country.

When he made his first visit to his native country the party deemed him an enemy: "He is dangerous, because he will make St. Stanislaw (the patron saint of Poland)...a defender of human rights...Our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop (Gaddis, John-The Cold War)."

When Pope John Paul II entered the city of Warsaw, he was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people shouting, "We want God, we want God." The next day, the next city, over a million people came to see the people's Pope. The crowds grew and so did the desire for religious freedom.

Another blow to communism was the election of the first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She robustly targeted nationalized industries, intrusive government regulation and high taxes. "No theory of government was ever given a fairer test...than democratic socialism received in Britain. Yet it was a miserable failure in every respect (Gaddis)." Thatcher's policies showed that capitalist principles of privatization, deregulation and entrepreneurship, helped the economy.  When England's economy was rebounding, the Eastern bloc countries were suffering from stagnant growth, lower production, the threat of famine and bankruptcy.

Lech Walesa, was a Polish electrician and in 1970 had seen shootings in an anti-government protest. This memory festered and in 1976, he lost his job for trying to organize workers or unionize his trade. Outside of the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. 1980, he announced the formation of Solidarnose, or solidarity!--the first ever independent trade union in Marxist Leninism tradtion.

He was arrested by Polish communists and when they came for him he said, "This is the moment of your defeat. These are the last nails in the coffin of communism."

Why? The theories of Marx and Engels, the actions of Lenin, were born in the name of the proletariat--the workers of the world. They were encouraged to rise up against the establishment. This is exactly what Walesa was doing. It was an ironic slap in the face to the cause of communism.

For every person who played a pivotal role, a role of notoriety, there were thousands who will forever remain unknown; but the surge, the changes, couldn't have happened without them.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Herodias' Hate

It is disturbing that one of the most frequently painted New Testament scenes, is of the severed head of John the Baptist. Almost every room of the Louvre displaying sixteenth through twentieth century Biblical influenced art, has a John the Baptist's head on a charger, painting.

We are especially horrified when we learn the story behind the brutal decapitation of a man who was the precursor to Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist ruffled the wrong political feathers. He dared to openly criticize the illegal marriage of Herodias to Herod Antipas. The complication was that Herodias was still married to Herod Antipas' half brother Phillip. She had never been legally divorced; her pretend marriage was considered adulterous and incestuous under Jewish law. But Herod Antipas was the government authority, the tetrarch of Galilee and Petrea, and he considered his actions above the law. Herodias allowed the charge of adultery to fester and grow with hatred and blame towards the "heretic in the wilderness." To have him imprisoned in a dungeon was not enough. She wanted his head.

Salome was Herodias' daughter by Phillip. Salome was loyal to her mother and fiercely committed to avenge her mother's bitterness towards John the Baptist. She seductively danced before her step father in such a way that it led him to promise her any desire. Her desire was the head of John the Baptist.

As I have watched some of the political hatred, I have been surprised to see how far it has gone. Each protest seems to push any precedented level of decorum just a little further. I understand the frustration and even the fear some people have expressed. I have listened whole heartedly to my own students, some of whom have Mexican ancestry and feel especially oppressed by the previous rhetoric of our president-elect. But I have a strong conviction that once the president has been elected, it is our duty to sustain and uphold the office with respect. Eight years ago, I had the same requirement when some of my students were against the election of Barack Obama. "He is now our president and we will give him his due respect. Regardless of how your parents voted or your own political leanings, we speak respectively of the office and the man who now presides."

The less divisions our country has, the better--even in a high school classroom.

Yet, my daughter points out the absolute necessity of dissension, but I counter her argument with positive dissension--dissension with respect and voiced through the proper channels--dissension that may have power to change and not power to destroy.

"But we need to keep our eye on him and not let him get away with improper behavior," she retorts.

Yes, she is right. But the right must be handled in the right way.

The cast of Hamilton handled it the right way. Though their actions will continue as debate and news fodder, they were respectful and honest. They needed to be heard. VP elect Pence also handled it the right way, "I am not offended," he said. He left the debate of impropriety to others, but he applauded the sound of democracy, even in a Broadway theatre.

The unacceptable actions in the theater, were the people who booed Pence and his family.

Where will the political disenchantment lead us? How far can hate push its little tendrils?--like the determined growth of ivy, it creeps into the mortar surrounding bricks, creeps into the slices between glass and building. It takes over, and destroys the integrity of structure.

Disappointment is justified, but to allow hate a foothold in one's heart is inviting personal destruction.

I shake my head in disbelief at Herodias' hunger that drove her to demand another human being's head on a charger. It began so simple: a political calling-out, an offense, a seed for revenge--fed, watered--enough to destroy souls.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mistakes, Forgiveness, Relationships, and Life in General

I awoke this morning with this poem in my head:

Introduction to Poetry
By Billy Collins

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and hold it up to the light  
like a color slide 

or press an ear against its hive. 

I say drop a mouse into a poem  
and watch him probe his way out, 

or walk inside the poem’s room  
and feel the walls for a light switch. 

I want them to waterski  
across the surface of a poem 
waving at the author’s name on the shore. 

But all they want to do 
is tie the poem to a chair with rope  
and torture a confession out of it. 

They begin beating it with a hose  
to find out what it really means. 

When I awoke this morning with this poem in my head, it was accompanied by other thoughts skipping urgently behind. 
First thought: the poet's admonition is so much more than a request for readers to just enjoy poetry.  
Second thought: This poem is not only about enjoying life's beauties, but about the over analysis of the unavoidable, ever present, un-glorious messiness of life--the mistakes, the relationships, the wish-I-could-forgets. 

I dare say we overanalyze the faux pas far more than we revel in the joys. 

How many times have I tied my sins to a chair and beat a confession out of them? Even kept them in the chair far longer than necessary? How many times have I beat a relationship, or a scenario, trying to figure what it means or what went wrong?

If possible, analyze life with joy, with the purpose of discovery and learning. Find its light, its mystery, hear its music. 

Resist becoming the KGB. Put away the rope, the hose...buckle the water ski and hop into the water.