Thursday, September 29, 2016

Teaching In the 21st Century

Yesterday, my teaching partner was home sick with a sore throat, and I was on an airplane for five and a half hours (with a one hour plane change in SLC).

Just because Deb had a sore throat and was home in bed, doesn't mean she wasn't working. Just because I was above the earth doesn't mean I wasn't working too. Because in fact, we were both working. Or in this case, we can call it playing.

Students are almost finished reading Viktor Frankl's, Man's Search for Meaning. The book creates amazing discussions. I've watched students come alive as they discover a new way to look at problems, at life, at finding meaning in their own lives. Yesterday was discussion day, but remember, both teachers were absent from the classroom.

Google has some amazing resources such as google classroom and google docs. Deb created discussion groups and invited three or four students to each group. I also received an invitation to each group discussion. While sitting on the plane, I had an open window to each discussion and would jump back and forth among the five groups. To some of the students, I entered the conversation by typing, "Hi, I'm joining you from 30,000 ft. I look forward to reading and participating in your discussion." I followed the conversation and jumped in with encouraging words such as, "That's a great point Garret," or "That's a great quote you used." I asked questions and offered a few of my insights, but most of all I listened in cyberspace as the students spoke to one another via computer.

For the second hour of class time, students were writing their college application essays in  Google classroom. It is an amazing tool that allows me to FREAK out my students. They will be typing along and suddenly---I am present in their document. Yesterday's participation included compliments on writing style and opening lines, and my excitement to see where the essay was going. Joining their online writing effort seemed to be a special nudge. Often I would open a student's document and find a first line only. I'd hop to another student's writing then hop back to the first student and it was still just one line. Then I would break my silence. "Are you still thinking?" When I returned, sometimes an entire rough draft would be hammered out.

At the end of school, Deb and I were pretty amazed at what had happened. Even we communicated through an online source. I texted, "You successfully created a way for us to stay in our pajamas at home and teach school. We can now hire a robot."

Today Deb was feeling better and back in school. A minute before the bell rang, as students were putting books in their backpacks, she took a casual poll on yesterday's silent Socratic discussion. "They loved it," she wrote.

Teaching in the 21st century certainly has its challenges, but it also has its perks. Who could have imagined I would engage with students while flying over North Dakota--still a rarity-- as it could become a very expensive way to teach school.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

When Values Clash

I'm standing on the sidewalk when a man on a bike stops in the road and asks in a muddled voice, "Excuse me, do you have some change? I'm really hungry." My pockets are empty but I offer to get him some food. Maybe a sandwich or a slice of apple pie.

"You and me---don't think we eat the same food," he mumbles. "I just need a little change to go down to Bills to get something to eat."

"What will you eat? A sandwich? A protein bar? He scrunches his face and curses, "A protein bar!"

I tried.

"Well good luck," I say, because I don't know what else would be appropriate.

He's peddles away but turns back, "Ain't no such thing as good luck. I'll make you pay for that good luck."

So much for good intentions. I'm left to worry he'll hold a grudge and come back to my daughter's house for revenge.

This is what happens when we value different things. For me, it was an almost-offer to dish up a piece of homemade apple pie I'd made the previous night. For the man on the bike, I suspect he valued alcohol or drugs.

I can never forget the crazed eyes of a woman who also had different values. She stood in the middle of the crosswalk, her eyes wild, her arms in the air, muttering in French. I wasn't sure what she wanted, so I studied her: she wasn't wearing shoes but her feet were somewhat protected by several pairs of long, dirty, socks. Her sweater was stained and shredded. Her hair looked like she'd slept on the streets for weeks.  We made eye contact and she came directly to me. She said she was hungry; she wanted money, but I had no money. Ahh, I was delighted when I remembered the contents of my purse. I had chocolate from a Parisian chocolatier.  I opened up my purse, showed the woman, and proceeded to break off a piece for her. She scoffed and looked at me like I was the crazy person.

I valued that chocolate; she wanted money to feed her demons.

Once at the end of a trip in a foreign country, Tony and I were unaware of the queen's birthday that shut down bus service and banks. We had to rely on a cab driver who took us to the train station for half the fare. Once at the station, I had to stand on a corner and sell our bus tickets in order to buy train tickets. I depended on the kindness of strangers who could speak English. Fortunately a woman took a chance and stopped. I gave her a deal--half price bus tickets. She valued the tickets, I valued her money that would get us to the airport.

I often think about the cab driver who had a value we were so in need of: mercy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Good Leaders

"Goodnight," I said to my son-in-law, "it's good to know all of America can sleep well tonight."

He laughed heartily.

After all, we'd just watched the debates.

Did you sleep well last night? 

I didn't think so. 

However, I was pleased that candidate A & B didn't turn the debate into a barroom brawl. Both candidates were more civil than expected--it was easy to see how they were one time friends or at least, friendly New York acquaintances. Each candidate had as many sincere comments as snarky, vitriolic jabs. Both candidates looked healthy.  I liked that both candidates said they would support one another if the other was elected.Overall, it was a good night, because it might not have been. It's sad, cultural commentary when South Park airs a parody on the presidential debate and calls one candidate the Giant Douche and the other the Turd Sandwich.

When the debate was over, I asked my daughter and her husband who they were voting for. My daughter hadn't changed; my son-in-law said he couldn't vote for A or B. Then the phone rang: Tony was calling to join the after-debate conversation.

"Candidate A is_______, and candidate B is___________." He was in turmoil.

At least each candidate did a good enough job to cast doubt in the other.

So this morning, riding in a cab, enjoying the privileges of a prosperous, safe, free country, I have to move closer to a voting decision. Do I think America and its current policies are in rough enough shape that I need to take a risk to make America great again? Vote for a man who has outsmarted the system to not pay federal income taxes? Or am I happy and secure with status quo, and the competence of a strong, admirable woman, to take a risk that we can be stronger together? A woman who's been under an FBI investigation?

My cab driver from O'Hare was an immigrant from Nigeria. He's been in this country for 19 years. Since leaving his native land, he's watched its further deterioration. He makes passionate accusations of its corrup leaders. He is thankful to be in America.

This morning, my cab driver to O'Hare, has been in our country for 28 years. He left Haiti and having just witnessed the state of Haiti myself, we have some commonality.

"There is money there but the leaders are corrupt," he says. "The last president built himself another house that cost 8 million dollars. Not 8 thousand--8 million. All the money collected from the earthquake relief? I don't know where it is, but it isn't in Haiti. Corrupt leadership again and again."

The rest of the cab ride is silent, because corrupt power is unsolvable for a cab driver and his customer.

Sometimes I wish I wouldn't take this election so seriously, but it's overly evident how important good leaders are to a nation and its people--as I learned from my cab drivers who were driven from their countries by corrupt and greedy leaders more concerned for their own gain than the welfare of the people who trusted them to make a difference.

Monday, September 26, 2016


It's the preschool fall festival! The children are active, adorable, plentiful. The parents, mostly thirty somethings, are handsome, healthy people. The food spread is a treat--a catered main dish and a pot luck of salads, fruit, dips and desserts. The weather is balmy and when the sun sets, it cools off to facilitate that magic end of summer feeling.

The children are treated to two bouncy houses, face painting, a balloon tying man, a bean bag toss, and the tree lined street where the old Presbyterian church houses the preschool, is blocked off for a bike riding extravaganza.

As delightful as the occasion is, I am waylaid with a darker concern: my invisibility. Yes, I am just the tag along grandma, and I am invisible.

This invisibility started years ago. I noticed it while in the company of my daughters. One of them would be noticed by a young man and I could make faces, contort, my head could spin and I wouldn't be noticed--but that was okay. I didn't want to be noticed by young men.

It then started happening in a store or at the bank, or a restaurant. I hadn't been aware of the problem until one day, my youngest daughter accompanied me to buy some running shoes. A salesman came out of nowhere. The experiment began, and sure enough the hypothesis was proven. While doing business on my own, I was invisible. When my daughter came along, I got the best service possible; I started taking her with me whenever I had important business or an important purchase.

At the preschool fall festival, the hosts greet my daughter's family, but I remain unacknowledged, standing on the periphery. Again and again.

Isn't it my fault? Shouldn't I go out of my way if I want to socialize or be involved? Yes. But I am running another experiment and I want to prove to myself I am becoming part of the forgotten demographic: older, marginalized, unnoticed people.

My son-in-law makes films. Some of those films are for his mountable speaker company. The short clips show young people skateboarding, surfing, biking.  I'm just as interested in mounting music on my kayak, but he's not interested in my subset. I tease him, "When you're ready to show an older clientele, I volunteer to be in the ocean kayak film." But he knows the surest way to kill interest and the cool factor is to use old people in his promo films.  "But we're the ones with the money to spend!" I try to reason with him.

It doesn't matter. Product success is dependent on image. The right image, the young image.

I accept that I'm invisible, but tonight, it seems harsh. I think of my friend Deb whose job it is to pay attention to old people in her work as a chaplain. She is kind and she is happy. I imagine being with her in a social situation and she is the one who walks over to the old person at a party.

I want to be more like Deb.

The preschool's tree lined street is also lined with beautiful homes. I am sitting on the curb watching my grandson and the other tykes ride their trikes, their two-wheelers with training wheels, their scooters--when I notice an older than me gentleman standing in the street. His wife is in their driveway and they're trying to pull out. The situation seems hopeless--how will he stop the speeding tykes? No one is paying attention to him, not even the parents when the man's goal is obvious. He is invisible to the children.

Jumping off the curb to help jolts me from my invisibility slump. We try to stop the big wheel traffic, but we need help. We solicit the help of other parents and only after forming a chain, is the older woman able to pull out of her driveway. In this further demonstration of invisibility, I know I will not be content to be forever invisible, but it's up to me to fight the inevitable. There's a shift in my presence--less on myself, more on others.

It's now dusk and theoretically I should be more invisible than before, but as I push the bike with training wheels towards the car, I pass a young woman who smiles and says "Hi."

She'll never know how much it meant to a woman who thought herself invisible.

Forget my invisibility--look for the other person who also feels invisible and make her visible--it may only take a smile.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Apple Pie

We're off to a rough start. The four year old, after refusing to switch his natives to the right feet, tripped and skinned his tummy. The baby cries. After stopping for gas, we return home because mother forgot the baby carrier. And last night? The baby was up from 3:30 until 5:30 am, and the guest room is right below the nursery.

Once on the road, the rough start is only a blip of the one hour drive to Indiana to the best apple picking orchard in the midwest...or so my daughter says.  As we pull into acres of parking and lines of cars, I realize I'm on a mid westerner's fall pilgrimage. Every one is here from Illinois and Indiana: young, old, millennials, a group of Vietnamese aunties who cluck and smile at the cute baby in my arms.

This I am sure, is the all-American experience: corn maze, pumpkin patch, animal farm, a tractor ride to orchards with 35 varieties of apples. Picking those apples is part of the $5 per person fee.

I am amazed by the varieties I have never seen nor eaten, but a successful harvest is somewhat determined by one's apple IQ. We seem to have wondered into a stretch of Cortland apples, yet the expectation of a juicy, sweet, fresh off the branch bite is a grave disappointment. Are they not ripe or just a bad tasting apple? Clearly another row of apples haven't reached their peak sweetness. The Honey Crisp apple rows are picked clean.

The sun is emerging from behind a kind cloud cover and the midwest humidity sends trails of sweat down my back. Excitement gives way to feelings of I'm done. It reminds me of noon in Disneyland-when every other child is crying and anticipation has parted for hunger and tired. It's time for lunch. But the Disneyland tram, or rather the tractor pulled wagons are momentarily stalled. A tractor engine is on fire. We are hardly delayed because the next wagon arrives.

A short lunch and a walk through the big market lined with bins full of pumkin donut packages, chedder popcorn, side carts selling pie, ice cream and other specialty foods. An old beekeeper stands behind a cart giving out honey samples. Never pass up a chance to speak bee, my subconscious whispers.

"How many hives do you have?" I ask.


A real beekeeper. I almost blush when I tell him I only have one.

"How do you handle mites?" I ask. Varroa mites are a recent invasion and hive devastation to American beehives.

"Well, I use a somewhat illegal combination that works real well. It's part what we used to dip the hogs in, a little mineral oil, I rag it and put it in the hive for two weeks. After I remove the supers. You know, I think the bees are getting weaker."

Not what I want to hear.

"If I could, I'd get out of beekeeping."

"But we need you."

He smiles because he knows it's true.

In the late afternoon, we've had enough of our all American experience. We buy some honey suckers, blue popcorn, three pieces of pie: caramel apple, blueberry and sweet cream. We go for the chedder popcorn, a rack of pumpkin and apple spice donuts for tomorrow's Sunday school class. We pay for our orchard picked apples and grab a bag of Honey Crisp apples-$14.99.

When the customers in front of us, with a cart full of big pumpkins, hear the cashier say, "That will be $131. dollars, the father is shocked. The mother and daughter respond, "It's a good thing this is only once a year."
Back in Illinois and almost home, we stop at Marianno's market for a Vito and Nick's frozen pizza and ice cream for tomorrow's homemade apple pie to be made by moi! We peruse the apple section--as abundant as the three-hour-drive-to-apple-orchard-land's apples. And there it is--the same size bag of Honey Crisp apples for $6.99! Another part of the American experience.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Page Turner

Margo doesn't sleep at home in Chicago without being held, but within a few days, she's sleeping because all four of the aunts, one great aunt, and two grandmas are more than willing cradles.

Certainly then, the problem isn't Margo not being able to sleep, the problem is there aren't enough Aunties and Grandmas. Can there ever be enough? Can there ever be too much maternal love?

When my children were growing up, my mother was the perfect grandma. She made dolls and blankets; she filled baskets with toys and goodies; and always she drove or flew to be with her granddaughters. It was her goal to visit once a month. What a Mom, what a Grandma.

I am however, not as generous with my time, nor do I sew and create beautiful packages delivered by UPS. And Margo is a four hour plane ride away--not to mention, no one visits Chicago in the winter. Not even for grandchildren...ah but this may change. The pull is getting stronger.

I stumbled upon the most lovely paragraph ever written by a grandma, a famous grandma.

"Becoming a grandmother turns the page. Line by line you are rewritten. You are tilted off your old center, spun onto new turf. There's a faint scent of deja vu from when you raised your own children, but this place feels freer. Here you rediscover fun and laughing, and reach a depth of pure loving you have never felt before," Leslie Stahl reports.

How unique that through the birth of another human being, I am changed. I am molded.

Beautiful words. A beautiful responsibility. A beautiful blessing: Grandma.

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Banking Rant

There are very few times when I go to the bank to withdraw a larger than usual amount of money. Each time, the bank teller, in a casual friendly way, has asked me what I'm doing with the money. The first time it was slightly jarring, and none of her business, but it seemed like an over-friendly fluke and I thought nothing more.

On another occasion, I was asked again. This time the money was going to a young widow who needed some help. I didn't have any problem answering the question about my altruistic withdrawl.

When it happened yet again, I casually answered, "A woman's got to have some cash." The bank teller and I had a little laugh.

This time, as I made plans to stop by the bank, I wondered if the question would pop up again. If it did, something was amiss. This time I was ready to fight the intrusion into my personal money management.

Poor guy.

After I handed the teller my withdrawl slip, the expected question wasn't even disguised as casual interest, "What are you doing with the money?"

Hmmmm. I'm on the verge of blowing a fuse at the young man who is probably following protocol established by a higher-up.

"Why do you ask?" I ask with suspicion.

His answer is reprehensible; he explains the bank feels responsible for how I spend my money and more especially that I'm not being defrauded.

I feel like I'm in a twisted version of Huxley's Brave New World, or Orwell's 1984. Is this really 2016?

We banter back and forth and the young man as sweet and concerned as he is, cannot convince me that the bank is acting in my best interest. Their assumptions are plainly that I am stupid. The bank feels responsible for my money.

"Like you're doing a service for me right?" I question him about the zero interest policy that's popping up at various financial institutions. It may not be too long before the bank convinces me that letting them take care of my money is a great service and I will be paying for those services--instead of the bank paying interest on my money they are using to make loans, interest, which = money.

This encounter seems to be the norm. The woman at the next teller window overhears the conversation, and when she finishes her transaction, she leans into me and says, "I just always tell them I'm going on vacation."

The bank teller stammers. He apologizes for offending me.

I wasn't offended, I was made aware. I can't ignore that this is the same bank where the CEO recently resigned for a fraudulent act. Hmmmm....

Time to find a new bank.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Top of the Mountain

I felt It on the morning we pushed our kayaks on to the River of No Return. I felt It the day we pushed and paddled through the first surf on the Napali Coast. I felt It on the trail walk with mountains looming 2900 vertical feet before us.

The It is an almost tangible reverence for a great endeavor about to be taken. It's part fear, part vulnerability, part reverence. It's self doubt, quiet contemplation, and foremost--excitement. It's a confirmation of the human spirit and a discontent to remain static in a world so full of mountains, rivers and oceans.

The It, was a climb to the top of Snowbird.

When we reach the top, we can ride the tram back to the resort.

"Why is it free?" one of us asks.

"If you make it to the top, you deserve to come down free."

We dare to laugh.

On the first stretch, I'm already pausing to catch my breath.

Up ahead, a hunched hunched-over figure with hiking poles, seems to be a very old person. As we pass, we say "Good morning;"  he returns the salutation. He looks like a wise ancient Indian guru. His steps are purposeful and made at a steady pace, but I wonder if he will make it to the very top.  As we twist and turn on the pathways, I lose sight of him. When I am his age, will I be strong enough?

For three of us hikers, this is our first time hiking Snowbird, but we are in the company of two veterans who have made this pilgrimage before. Lisa tells us that when we reach the top, we must pause and make a goal, because goals are attained when made at the top of this mountain. She explains that after such a climb~~ anything is possible. Just a few years before, Judy made the goal of finishing a degree--which seemed impossible at the time. As we ascend, we all know that Judy, with a full time job as an ICU nurse, finished her degree last February. Maybe there is power at the top of this now sacred, goal-setting, mountain.

As we see the culminating peak, it reminds me of the ascent to Mt. Everest. I've never been there, except in the movies, yet I still feel like I have a little glimpse of what it's like.

"Twenty-five percent of the people will die who climb Everest," someone reminds us, and I warily look down the steep sides.

Our last steps require stops to catch our breath. The end is near and a kind of exhilaration is imminent. We reach the edge where Judy and Lisa make their annual goals. It is far from ceremonial but in my quiet mind, I know what I have to do.

Everyone is content. There is quiet joy in overcoming obstacles, in working hard, in reaching the top.

And the view...

is spectacular.

We have the luxury of sitting on the deck's adirondack chairs while waiting for the tram ride to the bottom. The bell rings signaling its departure. We stand, gather our belongings. I turn and see another beautiful sight: our ancient Indian guru has reached the top of the mountain--his steady pace, his never giving up, has paid off--the same requirements it will take to reach my goal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When A Snake Crosses Your Path

I froze. I backed up. I assessed the situation the best I could. Is it a poisonous snake? A rattle snake? I'm alone on this trail; what would I do if it struck?

Not an expert in reptiles, it was probably a harmless garden snake and all my fears were a little dramatic. fears were real because I didn't know what I was up against or the potential threat of the slithering creature.

I find it rare, in any worthwhile endeavor, that a snake doesn't cross my path, and in these cases, the snake has been a contrary colleague, a stubborn child, a comment taken the wrong way. I usually freeze, back-up and assess the situation to the best of my ability, and just like the literal snake on the path, the perceived threat to success is a harmless one indeed.

So...I took its picture, backed up and made a giant leap to insure if it did strike, I was far above its treacherous threatening venomous fangs. When I made that leap, it scurried back into the brush, more afraid of me than I ever was of it...usually the case for obstacles or snakes that try to stand in our way.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

True Friends

My dear friend lives a busy life: four children (two teens), a grand baby, a business in her garage and a full time job counseling teens who have stumbled.  I have a few responsibilities of my own, and so when we do get together, which is often just ten minutes here, or a short walk there--always, we have too much to catch up on in too little time.

Yesterday we only had ten minutes. We started several different conversations and never had a chance to finish at least one story.

A few hours later, my phone rings, "Hi," she says, "I called to tell you the rest of the story."

Just before hanging up, my friend reminds me, "You know, it's only the best of friends, who can pick up weeks, even months later, and continue the conversation. You're one of those friends."

I acknowledge the truth of what she's saying. Real friends can pick up where they left off even if it's years later. For my best high school friend and me, it was my four-kids-grown-up later before we could get together again.

Today, another friend, who I haven't had a real conversation with in years, is meeting me for lunch. Another friend dropped by with her boyfriend after one long year of her absence--it didn't matter.

And then...there is the friend who doesn't appear to have stood the test of time.

We were only sixth graders when we said good-bye, but we promised to meet as grown-ups. I never forgot and one day, the third friend who'd been part of the pact, found our long lost friend on facebook. She'd become a famous person in a fame filled world and in spite of the demands in our very different worlds, we'd managed to find a time to meet. She was in the middle of moving, I was responsible for sixteen teenagers, and we were two LA suburbs apart. We miscommunicated; I tried to change our meeting to another day. In the fit of a too-busy woman who isn't used to people changing appointments, she canceled. I apologized. She didn't respond. Crestfallen, I realized I should have done this, I should have done that. A childhood dream ended in disappointment. I accepted it and vowed to be more considerate of others' time.

Years passed. Whenever I thought about the failed reunion, I felt a little stab in my chest.

I just so happen to have a little-used facebook account where I belong to beekeeping groups only. I don't stay on top of the messages, but this time I clicked on the messages and one was from my sixth grade friend. She'd seen the Broadway play, Beautiful, the story of Carole King, and she'd thought of me because I used to sing along to Carole King songs. She'd sent the message in July and I didn't see it and reply until September. I hoped I hadn't blown it again.

I re-read the first heartfelt messages we'd sent when we'd found one another. So kind and tender.  Those messages were sent in 2010.

We'd reconnected after thirty years. It didn't matter--we were still bonded by our sixth grade promise. She cautiously reconnected again after six years, and I truly hope it is the beginning of possibly meeting again~~~because with true friends, it doesn't matter how much time has passed, how many stories there are left to tell.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Bad Tune

A young acquaintance of mine walks into the fridge at the grocery store where he is employed, counts to ten, returns to the customer and says, "No. We don't have anymore."

The customer thanks the store employee for checking.

Employee feels no remorse.

I however, am stunned.

"You mean, every time the grocery store shelf is empty of a product I want to buy, and I ask an employee if there are any more, he or she goes to the back of the store, or to the refrigerator, counts to ten, returns to tell me, "Sorry, we're all out?"

"Yes," he replies. "Everyone does it."

He recognizes my horror and interjects, "It's because we've learned that if it's not on the shelf, it probably isn't in the back of the store or in the fridge."

This is a reasonable justification but, his previous words ring like a bad tune in my mind.

Everyone does it.

If ever I find myself acting or doing because everyone's doing it, it may be the very reason to change course.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

$15, 594 and Growing

Next week, I'll be in Chicago.

I think a lot about Chicago, mostly about the people I love.

Then I think about the people I've met in Chicago. The strangers I've encountered. The strangers I care about. Every stranger in Chicago has a story. Every stranger is a potential friend. Whether it's the Nigerian woman on the corner waiting for her children; or the Muslim, black cloth covered girls in Target; whether it's the young black man asking for money to bury his friend killed in gang warfare who stands outside of Whole Foods Market; whether it's the hedge fund manager with a top floor office in downtown--everyone has a story.

I understand why my daughter loves Chicago--because she loves people and the people have stories.

Even when the stories have a sad ending. Over Memorial Day weekend 58 people were shot of whom 6 died. The saddest story concerns a mother of three who was sitting in her car when a bullet pierced her window and found its way to her spine. She lays comatose in a hospital, her mother waiting to take her home. Yet, taking her home looks bleak.

The mother of the comatose woman is grandmother to three children who need their mom. Their mom who also supports the family. Grandma wants to flee the violence and created a Gofundme account asking for $50,000. With that magical sum, she believes she can find an apartment where "white people live...where they can walk to the store" without getting shot. Before the NYTimes story, the account collected $200 in almost three months. After a few days on the front page, the account has reached $13, 459. While at my computer, I refresh the page and my heart dances as I watch it climb.

While in Chicago, I say to my daughter, "Why can't we go down to south side Chicago and help some people?" She smiles at her altruistic wanna-be Mom and thinks how naive I am.

$14, 089.

Of all those people who are shot in south side Chicago, a small percentage die and most likely make the news, if only as a statistic. Recently Nykea Aldridge, a cousin of basketball star Dwayne Reed, was shot and killed in one of those crazy, senseless, drive by south side Chicago shootings. Finally, I thought, a person with a connection to a celebrity who might step in and help the problem. This was before the Memorial Day shootings and no, it doesn't seem to have made a difference.

But the other people who the comatose woman--whose medical bills keep climbing, whose bills won't get paid, who children will not be cared for ...what about them? I've already imagined finding some of these people, going to their homes, telling them I care, bringing a gift to momentarily ease their burdens. I know I won't or can't go by myself; I can't risk taking my daughter, the mother of two small children. I wonder if my son-in-law would go with me, then reality hits and I feel foolish with self doubt and grandiose save-everyone desires and ask Who do I think I am?


I remember the weekend when my two daughters and I rented bikes in Central Park and rode them into Harlem. To me, we were just white people in a black neighborhood and why should that matter?

An older woman, came up to me as I rested my foot on the curb, and told me I needed to leave Harlem right away. I took her advice and we peddled straight back to the safety of "where the white people live..." I will never know the exact reason for the warning. Was I not allowed among this culture? Was I in danger?

When President Obama, who was once a senator from Chicago, announced he would live in a beautiful DC suburb while his daughter finishes school, who has supposedly purchased a California estate to reside in after, I felt a kind of disappointment  that he didn't move back to south side Chicago to help the people. Imagine the impact! Surely it would change if the ex-president and his messages of peace could be applied to one of the most violent places in the world.

A few years ago, I was asked to assess the education efforts of a charity working in war torn Sudan. There was a cease fire and I was ready to go...until my husband came to me and asked if I would reconsider. It was a dangerous place and I was too much to lose for my children, for my husband. I couldn't argue with his plea. I never went.

Recently, my daughter and her nice neighborhood where white people live... have heard gunshots. Blocks away is the crossroad of two feuding gangs. My daughter wants to help, wants to be involved in the community action that communed last month to come up with solutions to fight the violence that has now reached into those desirable, violence free neighborhoods.

She has a lot of hope, is determined to not move, and was excited to facilitate change. When I asked her how the first meeting went, she had to sadly admit she never went. The meeting was held at night in a place where she wouldn't have felt safe.

$15, 234

People want to help. People want to save lives. People want others to feel safe, to know their children can play on the school playground without getting shot. Collectively, we will donate enough money to move one family out of Chicago south side--but how many are left?

At the same time I am disappointed in myself that I lack the chutzpah, the fortitude, to go and make a difference, not once or twice, but many times. What is the difference between a fool and a game changer? Is one a necessary step to the other? Or am I seeing it backwards and does the precursor to game changer require wisdom? With hope, I cling to wisdom and precaution, that my daughter and I can be part of a solution that requires wisdom and sometimes that takes standing at the edge of a fire for warmth and not jumping in and getting burned.

I pray for that wisdom, that patience, and an opportunity.

Maybe that will be helping with one family at a time.



$24,960  10:30 p.m. EST

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Beautiful Saturday Morning

It's a beautiful Saturday morning, though a tad bit chilly at 7:00 a.m.

Most people should still be tucked tight and sleeping unless they have a job, or a baby, maybe an early soccer game or a garage sale! Yes, just up the street, my neighbors are moving and loading boxes to take to a busy corner for a garage sale.

Last night, Tony and I carried a dresser, a nightstand, and fit it into the back of the SUV. I cleaned out a few closets, made a sacrifice or two--but for the most part, it was a chance to clean house with hopes that my extra would be someone else's treasure.

When I first pull next to the corner lot, my friend is putting up tables all alone. It doesn't look like it will be much of an operation. I help her, we unload furniture and arrange the clothing.

Ah...another truck pulls up full of hopefully valuable goods. It's the uncle of Lucy!

I make another run to the house for another stack of goods. I pause for breakfast then return. This time, the garage sale has a few customers and quite a few more goods and more trucks are backing up--one with a brand-new-looking fridge. It looks like Grandpa might be here too; he's wearing a bright green shirt with a shamrock and white lettering that reads: Love for Lucy.

A woman sells watches, a customer wants to know "How much?" Vans pull out, children rummage through toys. I want to hurry home and empty out my house to support the cause.

It's a beautiful Saturday morning; the sun is up and the temperature has barely reached 52 degrees; but my heart is on fire. All of us are here for a four year old girl, for her family. She was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor--she will not live, but the medicine to alleviate her suffering is too expensive for her family to afford. In the words of my industrious friend, "I don't have $1000 to give, but I can help organize a garage sale."

The love and warmth I feel on a cool morning, standing on a weed-filled empty lot~~~there's no place I'd rather be.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Activist Needed

I walked out to the bee yard on my nightly watch, expecting all to be well on the bee front.

 It wasn't. In part, it's what makes beekeeping such an interesting challenge; I can never take the practice for granted. Nature is much too fickle.

One day the hive will be thriving and days later the queen will be missing without a clue to her disappearance, because she never leaves a note. I ponder and speculate--did she die? Find a better gig? Did she go on strike for better hours and higher pay?

So on this early evening, the sun almost set, the hive hadn't settled down; the bees were furiously dragging dead bees out the door, hitting the ground and tugging them as far away from the hive as possible.  A pile of a thousand bees lay just beneath. I crouched low and watched until dark, when the bees should have been huddled in the hive, and not so driven and desperate.

Previously I would have been devastated and heartbroken to find so many dead bees, but this time I looked at it with a scientist's objectivity intent on finding a hypothesis to the death wave.

I snuck my gloved hand into the mayhem and picked up five little bees. They rested in my palm and I carried them like a pall bearer to the kitchen where I laid them on a chinet white sepulcher,  then continued the procession up to my desk. I pulled out a magnifying glass. I was distressed to see each one died with an extended proboscis or tongue. A sign of pesticide poisoning.

What to do? I called the beloved county bee inspector Joey.

"Hmmm, I need to take a look." A day later Joey was at my side lamenting the box of dead bees.

"Pesticide poisoning. Does anyone have a problem with bees?"

"My neighbors love the bees. They've noticed how their garden produce has tripled in the last few years."

 I've heard several times, "We never saw a peach until you started keeping bees." I think of my poor friend's berry patch in South Carolina that no longer produces because there are no bees to pollinate it. My patch has so many berries we can hardly keep up.

Joey continues his questions, "Has one of your neighbors recently sprayed?"

"I wouldn't know." Thank goodness I don't keep tabs on any of them.

"But," I answer Joey, "look at these beautiful lawns; they don't just happen. I think all my neighbors use a lawn service, and I respect this."

Joey agrees, but he talks to me about safe pesticide usage. "You really should talk to your neighbors. Let them know the simple ways they can help save bees." He hands me a stack of flyers to distribute.

We both wonder if lawn services would ever start spraying at dusk when the bees are safe in their hive. It seems like a great public relations move for a company that sprays poisons into a sensitive environment.

Joey again mentions the need to educate my neighborhood. I'm not much of an activist, but the Department of Agriculture and Food needs help. Bees need my help; the environment needs my help; our food supply needs help...and we all can help.

Preventing Pesticide Poisonings of Honeybee: by following simple guidelines, unintentional pesticide poisonings of bees can be reduced or eliminated altogether.

*If an insecticide poses a residual hazard to bees, 4-8 hours, only spray after bees have stopped foraging-between late evening and midnight.
*Pesticides with extended residual toxicity to bees-8 hours or more- should not be applied if plants in bloom are present.
*Don't allow pesticides to drift to non-target crops or weeds that are in bloom.
*If a pesticide is toxic to bees, try an alternative pesticide or other control if such options are available.
*Use the least hazardous formulation of the insecticide.
*If an insecticide is highly toxic to bees, ask beekeepers if their colonies can be moved prior to application.
*When temperatures are unusually low or dew is forecast, don't make applications. Bees are especially vulnerable during these conditions.
*Control weeds before they begin to bloom.
*Some blossom thinning agents are hazardous to bees

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Gain Vs. Loss

My teaching partner asks all the students to hand in their annotated work on William Golding's "Thinking As A Hobby." A student comes to the front of the class and explains how he elaborately annotated the reading, but due to his waking up late, he forgot to put the elaborately annotated piece in his backpack. Alas, it is still at home, sitting on his nightstand.

Without a blink, my clever teaching partner, responds,  "Tell your mom to take a photo of it and send it to me."

Student (exhibit A), is speechless.

"He never sent me the photo," she later laments.

Later that afternoon, mind you ---the same day, I watch as my friend listens to her eight grader. He asks, "Can I go to (friend's) house?"

"No," she responds.

"Why not?" He whines.

Cool as a refrigerated cucumber, she responds, "You know why." He slinks out the door.

"Okay, what did he do?" I ask.

"He went to second lunch when he was supposed to be in class. His brother saw him out the window of his class and sent me a text, David's (name change) ditching class."

"So, I sent him a text asking him where he was and he responded, In class. I knew he wasn't so I texted back, Take a picture of your teacher. He didn't respond."

Clever, clever friend, clever Mom.

Does deceit make us dumber? Does wanting to bust the deception make us more clever?

Certainly, the ubiquitousness of phone cameras make a liar's world just a little harder to live in, and a teacher and parent's world a little easier to live in.

But it also makes us all a little more miserable. Without much effort we become a voyeur on a dark night, peering through the partially closed shades of someone's bedroom window. The lack of privacy takes its toll on not only the undressed, but the person who might have accidentally gotten a peek.

In one sense, the camera phone is the best thing that could happen to a society with a propensity for violence as a problem solver and lying as a way out of trouble. The person with authority, power, and that propensity, may pause in his or her actions with the threat of a recording camera; a person my be forced to tell or admit the truth--however, the reliance on technology instead of virtue is a great loss in a person's life, in his integrity, and ultimately for his or her nation.