Monday, January 26, 2015

While seeking my Secondary English Education, I had a professor of young adult literature who was teaching his last class before retirement. I don't remember his name, but I remember his power and his fervent desire to impart his wisdom to the future teachers of America. Because of his wisdom, I'll reference him as Dr. W.

Controversial literature: Dr. W allowed his own children to read any book they wanted. His only requirement was that his children had to talk to him about the book.

Teaching Higher Values: Dr. W loved teaching English, because he felt he could uplift students to see their divine nature and potential. His favorite way to do this: Milton's Paradise Lost.

His final parting words to a group of focused-on-English teachers: "Remember you are not in the classroom to teach English, nor Grammar, nor the great literature of the world, you are solely there to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind."

Hence, teaching English has always been about loving students, loving their potential and wanting their success not only in school, but in life. When you look at it this way, teaching becomes a mission, a life-force, a game changer-----not a job.

The photo quote below reads: The greatest force in the world today is the power of God as it works through man. I would like to propose a slight revision: The greatest force in the world today is the power of God as it works through a teacher; or as it works through a father, a mother, a grandparent; as it works through a doctor, lawyer, librarian; as it works through a receptionist, a hairstylist, a government employee. We all interact with people and have the opportunity to either lift people. Imagine living and working in a world where everyone's goal is to lift one other?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finding What We Are Made Of

Christopher Isherwood, 1904-1986, an English novelist, lived a long and interesting life. I don't know him well, except for a few internet snippets and the memory of a film based on one of his many books--Cabaret. One of the snippets of his life came from a book review, and I am remiss that I don't remember the author or the place where I found the  quote, but I found his motive for giving up cigarette smoking noteworthy, “I had given up the habit with difficulty in 1941, because I was upset about my parting from Vernon and wanted to raise my morale by asserting my willpower.”

He wanted to find his willpower or as I see it, he wanted to find his power. He wanted to see what he was made of, how deep he could dig, how far he could push.

There have been several times when I've taken an assignment, a project, an event and I've often, at the time, not quite understood why. It is at the end of the event, when I triumph or overcome that I understand. 

Most recently, these have been some of my questions while in the trenches. 

Q-Why did I agree to take a six week job teaching seventh and eighth graders? 

A-It was outside of my box; it pushed me to a new place of learning and experience. I was curious too. And when the last day rolled around, I was grateful. Grateful for the experience, grateful to have discovered some talented writers, grateful to have revisited a unique age, grateful for new friends.

Q-Would I do it again?

Q-Why did I agree to watch three grandchildren for eight days?
A-Duty and love for my daughter, her husband and those three little people. Curiosity too.
Q-Was it difficult?
A-Yes, but it was also a joy, funny-ness, self-stretching, and I wanted to see my husband in the caretaker grandfather role. He passed with flying colors and my love grew for not only the children but for my husband.
Q-Would I do it again?
A-Yes, but not for a while and I'd still need the day-time babysitter for a break. Yes, I found a power, but I also found a weakness. Just as important to embrace the limits.

Q-Why did we plan and fulfill a roughing-it camping experience, where we had to gather food and water to survive when I hate camping?
A-Because I wanted to find my power amidst beauty. Because of the successful memory, I am once again willing to rough it to see beauty-in February.

There are so many opportunities ahead, and when I remember the risk and the outcome, the learning of self and of others, the chance to grow in love and appreciation, the chance to "raise morale" by doing the impossible, I leap forward to continually learn what I'm made of and what I'm not.

There are times when we don't have a choice and especially then, we need to leap forward. Long ago, I found another quote  I don't know to whom to attribute. Paraphrased: It is often the very things we try to pray away, that will bring us the most joy, satisfaction and personal growth. Embrace the difficult to find out what you are made of, to feel joy, to grow and to enhance your life.

Don't walk away from what might bring you happiness.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Always Choose To Dance

For Dad's birthday one year, we got front row tickets to an Elton John concert. It was sort of a full circle gift, because several, several years earlier, when Loraine and I were still in high school, Dad had bought us impossible-to-get tickets. It took both my sister and me by surprise that Dad was so hip. He'd just gotten us the most coveted tickets in town and we hadn't even asked.

This night, I sat, front row with my seventy-year-old father and mother (not quite seventy) and my two adored sisters. We'd all dressed up for he occasion. In fact...I think I have a photo of the pre-event. I will check...look to the bottom of the post.

As expected, Elton John was superb. Dad was having a good time. My sisters and I were reliving almost our entire lives. Elton started pounding out the beginning chords to Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting. And then the unexpected: the usher stood before us and invited us to go up on stage and dance with Elton John. My sisters recognized the moment, the opportunity immediately and they airlifted from their chairs to the stage. They were ignited rockets. They didn't think twice. I, on the other hand, did. I looked at Mom and Dad, almost as if I needed their approval. Dad had a look of fear on his face and shrunk into his seat. I became the dutiful daughter and stayed with my parents. But here's the funny thing. At the moment, I took it as if he were embarrassed that his daughters would go to the center stage and dance in a showroom full of people. I felt it was my duty to be the one daughter with some sensibility, with an ounce of conservatism. But it wasn't so.

I watched from the front row, as my sisters danced their hearts out with Elton John. We shall never pass this way again. And we didn't.

Years later in a classroom full of ninth graders, the subject of life's biggest regret came up. They wanted to know what mine was. I had to share something that wasn't too personal, something that wouldn't tarnish their image of me. It was easy. Life's biggest regret became the night I didn't dance with Elton John.

They loved it. Over the next six years, I shared my life's biggest regret. They still loved it. But perhaps they loved even more, that when I got the chance to dance, I would do it.

At the end of winterim (three weeks of intense writing), when we passed out our awards for students who wrote 40,000 words and above, we first turned on "Celebration" from Kool and the Gang. We didn't end up handing out the awards; instead we danced. It was so spontaneous, so organic, so magnificent. After three weeks of sitting for hours, dedicating themselves to "Power Write Friday," an eight hour writing challenge, they wanted to hang loose and dance. Most of the students danced, some had to be coaxed, some never joined us. It was ok-all of the choices. I had to tell them my life's biggest regret. And so we kept on dancing. Not all of us, but those who didn't want this to be a moment to regret.

All these years, I blamed Dad and my daughter loyalty, for not dancing with Elton John. This morning while writing this, I had an epiphany~~Dad didn't care if his daughters were on stage dancing their hearts out. He wouldn't have thought we were goofs. He would have loved seeing all three of us and would have kept the memory in his heart. What he feared was that we expected him to come to the stage and for him, that would have been a nightmare. I used my father's feelings as my excuse for my own inhibition. It's not a terrible thing, but it's a discovery I needed to make.

And that is why, I will always choose to dance.

 2007 before Elton John
2008-what a treasure this moment is

Friday, January 23, 2015


My husband is a genealogist/hobbyist. His father's grandmother and grandfather immigrated from Spain in the early 1900s. When Tony first started searching for his roots, there were many a miracle already in the making that made his search deeply satisfying.

His great grandmother came from the northern mountains of Spain, the Basque country, the sheepherders. Today, they are a fiercely nationalist, proud group of people. The Basque people had put online, all their records. Tony found thousands of ancestors through this insightful project. His language skills, his computer skills, his tenacity, were the perfect storm for putting together the family tree.

Recently he has been researching another family line in the late 1800s and each night when he finds a family, he calls to me from his study down the hall, "This family had twelve children and ten of them died before the age of ten." We quietly lament the pain and impossible-to-imagine circumstances that would take ten precious family members. A few nights earlier he called out, "This family buried all 8 of their children. Each one died before the age of eight." Oh, the temporary ache we feel for the parents left behind.

This same week we have been planning our family vacation in November of 2015. Our niece, our cousin, is getting married in Puerto Vallarta and since we're traveling a long distance anyway, we might as well make a Thanksgiving vacation adventure. After three days in the city celebrating the marriage, we will travel north and continue our family getaway. There's been a lot of speculation as to whom exactly will be a part of the family in eleven months, some worry that the place will already be booked before we connect with the owner, and worry over the logistics that are part of moving a 14 person bus. There have been many texts, phone calls and familial connections. We gather to watch the video of our house, gather to go over the menus, gather around the phone to connect and break the good news that the vacation place is ours.

The trip will be expensive and there will be those moments, but the poignancy and pain of Tony's ancestors two hundred years ago, who lost all and most of their children, is foremost on my mind as we engage with our grown children. I watch Tony with his daughters, sharing the details, the planning, the anticipation of poolside virgin pina coladas, of guacamole and chips, of who will occupy which rooms, and I don't take one moment of it for granted. The sorrow of loss so long ago, brings a sacred gratitude that we will spend time with our children, our grandchildren, and how privileged we are to have them all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Things that Make Me Rich

Grappling with a past dilemma has left me thinking a lot about what truly makes me rich. What is valuable. What is worth my time. Money is important, but...

other things are just as, if not more.

I was happy to work the past three weeks for very little compensation. My fee was coming out of students' fees, so I wanted it to be minimal. So, when one of the teachers I was working with had to take extra time off for a medical procedure, she said, "I am paying you extra out of my pay."

It was very nice of her and I appreciated her concern, but my response was, "Don't be ridiculous."

The greater payment is knowing I have helped my friend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Bad News, Good News Roller Coaster

First the bad news.  It looks like my beloved little beehive may not have survived the cold snap that dipped below zero and wind tossed the elements like I've never seen or heard before. When the weather warmed up to 47 degrees, the bees should have been out cavorting. I slid the tarp aside, opened the window and peaked for just a second. The outer bees were like a natural history museum exhibit. Perfectly preserved in their motion. It was still. It was a tomb. It made me sad. Very.

I can only hope the inner part of the hive is huddled, warm and protecting the queen. Hope is the thing with wings.***

The good news: I had a full manuscript request from a super-duper agent. Cross your fingers if you believe in luck!

***From the bad news comes a piece of good news! Last year, Nikki's son told us there was a beehive in the fence post of an unsold, empty house.  Lisa, Nikki and I have been trying to figure out how to get those bees who are naturally adapted to our climate. We knew the stucco post would have to be cut. We kept an eye on the hive and in the summer, it was thriving. We sleuthed and hypothesized, and we deduced that the previous owners may have tried to destroy the hive.

 Yesterday, I talked with the new owner of the house. I told him about the hive and dared to ask him if he would let us extract it. He excitedly revealed that he was a former beekeeper and may want the hive himself!! Fantastic! Nothing could be better than a beekeeping neighbor with some experience.

He then said that since we found the hive, he'd split it with us. Plenty of bees for everyone.

****Another three chapter request from another super duper agent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


I designed my first stained glass window for Tony's office. He loved it, but then he loved the purple shirt I made for him too. To his credit, he didn't love the ill fitting pants I first sewed into one giant leg.

I'm not sure when I noticed it, but one of the Keltic knots in his window is blue instead of green, thus throwing the color pattern off.

In a half circle window above my bed is another stained glass window I envisioned, designed and created. I had imagined a tree, but the tree is also a woman standing proud but humble. I see joy in the tree. I see the fruit of a woman's labor. I chose the glass, picked through glass scraps to keep the cost down and splurged on the most vibrant colors. As the sun sets in the west, the colors project on the carpet and move up and across the walls.

When still working on the window, I inserted the largest piece with the wrong side on the front. After permanently fixing it into place, my mentor warned me that the misplacement would forever be a thorn in my side. I do notice the anomaly. It is obvious now, and I wonder how I could have missed it, but I have come to see that everything and especially everything beautiful and woman--made, has flaws. It is an essential part of beauty though it is often only the creator who sees the flaws. It is sometimes, only, her secret.

Tony might disagree, but I don't have a problem acknowledging my flaw or using them to teach others. There is beauty in flaw. Flaw is the way of life.

It is characteristic for an artist to come off the stage after a beautiful performance and feel disappointment. A speaker gives a talk and realizes stronger words would have made his point more clear. The author wishes he could re-write a paragraph or two in his published work.

The flaws help us to strive to do better and that of itself, is beautiful.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Wedding Dress Diet

OH the house is abuzz with excitement, though it is very subdued and contained. My daughter visited her potential in laws a few weeks ago and the lovely potential couple have been shopping for a ring. But as we are reminded by our daughter, it's not a sure thing. Yet.  In my day and age, none of the above happened until the formal proposal, but now, all of the above seems to happen before the formal proposal.

Anyway....we can't really count on a marriage, we are not allowed to talk about a marriage, so I act accordingly, but somehow I felt more confident in a possible marriage, when my daughter offered me her salad the other day. She walked into the room with an almost full take-out container.

"What? You've only eaten a third of it, if that much."
"But I was full."
Suspicious look.
"Mom, I'm on the wedding dress diet."
"What? There's such a thing?" I've heard of the apple diet, Southbeach diet, the Atkins diet, the cookie diet, the banana bread and blueberry diet, but never the wedding dress diet.
She laughs. "No it's my own imposed diet."

I get it. She wants to look fabulous for the possible big day. I support her.

Even though I understand the context, necessity and meaning of slimming down for a wedding, isn't everyday a potential big day? Couldn't the Publisher's Clearinghouse pull up in a van with cameras and a big check? Couldn't that special person walk unexpectedly into your life? Without warning, and wouldn't you want to look good if this happened?

Our wonderful human-ness sometimes makes a specific motivation necessary to become something we are not. But how much better it would be if we were always at our best, ready and confident for the unexpected possibilities. For a special day--which is in fact tomorrow and everyday after that.

Diet: Instead, think lifestyle change. Create habits, not goals or resolutions, for permanent fabulousness.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Running Down the Beach

I am in my second week of teaching a writing winterim. Twenty-one students were dismissed from regular school studies to participate in a different course of their choice. My students chose writing.

The winterim is JanoWriMo copied after the infamous NanoWriMo. People all over the world jump on the writing bandwagon with a pledge to write 50,000 words (the beginning of a novel), the month of November. The task is daunting--now imagine the same goal in three weeks--and they're only in high school. Actually, they are amazing. We are a week and a half in and two students are already at 25,000 and 30,000 words. I'm so proud of them and inspired by their tenacity.

Mid winterim, I felt they needed a little inspriration.

So out came a story.

A few summers ago, Tony and I kayaked the uninhabited north shore of Kauai--the Napali Coast. It took us the better part of a day to reach our first destination-a beautiful pristine beach with a landing that was tough to nail. We spilled out onto the shore and proceeded to unpack for three days of a roughing-life adventure. That it was in a beautiful spot, does not negate our roughing it. The first steps on the sand were torture. As we trudged with dry bags full of necessities to our survival, the heavy, wet, sand was like quick sand. Every step was labor. Every step, our foot sunk a foot into the sand.

As we settled in camp, every necessity was carefully thought out to require the least amount of sand trudging.

"Are you sure we need water?"

"Yes, water is critical to our survival."

"What if I don't want to survive?"

"It does take a lot of work but, but I want to survive."

If only we didn't have to walk down the beach, hike up a bit, sit under a waterfall to collect the water, then purify it. And walk back."

"You're right, it's not worth it. Let's lay down and die."

"I'm sure someone can use our stuff after we pass."

By the third day, I was running down the beach. My nemesis had become my strength. My muscles adapted and adapted quickly. I could do with joy what I had done with pain. And so I encourage my students. Keep at it. Yes, it's hard, but 1000 words here, becomes 10,000 words there and soon enough you'll have 50,000 words. Think of it as running down the beach. With calves like a linebacker.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Three Microwave Solution

Rachel, a student, helped me carry food into the teacher's lounge that needed to be warmed up. In all my six years, I rarely used the microwave or even ate at the school. It was just this past October, when I was teaching all day that I used the microwave to warm food.

It was a simple ritual: walk into teacher's lounge, pull food out of bag, warm in the microwave, and eat. Simple, simple without much thought.

As Rachel and I stood with three items that needed to be heated, I placed the black beans in the microwave and when I pulled them out to stir, I instructed her to stick in the refried beans, so we could, "Get a jump on things."

The dear sweet girl then suggested that we put all three dishes in the three separate microwaves and we'd really "Get a jump on things."

Instead of feeling stupid like most people would have, I saw it as the three microwave unaware problem.

I had my needs, my habits, and my vision blinders intact and thus, I was content to solve the problem in the usual way. But it wasn't the most efficient or intelligent way. It took a student with "new eyes," to help me see this.

I take away two three things from this experience: 1. When faced with a problem, big or small, step back and ask if there's a better way. 2. Ask for someone else's opinion or expertise and 3. If someone happens to point out your own lack of intelligence, thank them and applaud them for theirs!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Colleague Asked

The past five years while attending graduation ceremonies for our seniors, I've always felt a tinge of healthy envy for our graduates. They have completed four years of a great education. We challenged them with difficult texts; we challenged them to articulate new ideas and to write those ideas cohesively; we challenged them to think in Socratic discussion and to express themselves creatively. We challenged them to experience new adventures through winterim, and we held them accountable with due dates and grades. 

It was all there on a silver platter and if they magnified, engaged and tried, they received an excellent education. Of this I am sure, and that is why my envy is a May ritual.

I attended junior high and high school in the latter 1970's when accountability was almost nil, and the education pendulum swung low. There were great teachers yes, but they are less of a memory than  teachers who didn't teach or who taught poorly. We expect good teachers, and when they aren't, they leave a kind of scar like a waffle stomper imprint to the forehead (a product of the 70's too). My own distinct memories are surprising:

Foreign Language Study with Dr. M. We literally sat most days in silence doing absolutely nothing. Torture. Abuse. "Not a peep out of you or else." Other days, we listened to a reel to reel tape of the same dialogue in three different languages, and there once was a German song of which I can still sing the first line.

Mrs. McD 9th grade English: Nothing but diagramming. Nothing. No exploration of poetry nor great literature. My mother pulled me out of this class.

One of the highlights was American History with Mr. C. He taught the entire semester by telling the stories of five presidents who were assassinated or died while in office. Fascinating. We read one book and never wrote. But I remember that Lincoln's and Kennedy's lives have some mysterious coincidences. 

Biology with Ms. A. She didn't speak to us the first few days and when she started speaking, she was mean.

Geometry with Mr. C. Never a presentation or explanation. We sat at tables in pairs or threes and worked through the book. He was there to answer questions. I went to that class as little as possible and still passed with a D.

Did anyone take roll in the 70's? If my teachers did, I never knew the consequences of not going to class. If it was a beautiful day with new snow, I went skiing. Late for lunch? Just skip the whole period. 

I realize now that accountability was my responsibility too, but unfortunateley, as a seventeen-year old-girl, I didn't quite see it that way.

So now, a colleague of mine asks me what education is. I know what education isn't because I didn't receive it and I wasn't smart enough, motivated enough in high school to seek it. In my latter years in college, I finally figured out that education is reciprocal--there must be a giver and a receiver. 

It's easy to blame the 70's for my lack of education, but I do. As much as I blame myself. 

Education is a dance, a tennis match, a Swan Lake Pas De Deux; it is a happy marriage and a partnership but just as it takes the first serve, and a marriage proposal, someone has to start the process, there must be a Messiah who stands at the door ready to open when the student knocks; ultimately this begins with a teacher's passion so contagious, a student can't resist the great education waiting for him or her to embrace.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Handprints and Toys

After I visited my parents with children in tow, my mother  didn't clean the mirrors, because little hand and fingerprints were left all over. She loved those prints.

 She never loved the prints when I was a child or a teenager. She used to holler when one of us girls, in our vanity, came too close to the mirrors she loved,  that she had attached to walls all by herself, all over the house. She loved the openness and light mirrors brought to her rooms. She didn't love our fingerprints, handprints, or our lip prints. But we weren't the grandchildren.

My departed grandchild sentimentality comes from the toys, the objects, that the grandchildren misplace or take apart. The donkey from the creche stayed in a kitchen cupboard for months because Max, unbeknownst to me at the time, had put it there. And it was so cute! A reminder of his inquisitive mind, his chubby fingers and my curiosity as to why it landed in a kitchen cupboard. What was he thinking?

Ezra and Sebastian sat with me as we took apart the Russian nesting dolls. It kept each of their short attention spans long enough for me to savor the moment. And the after moment.

The nesting dolls stayed in the middle of the living room floor for days after the holidays had ended.

I never loved when my children left their toys scattered over the living room floor. I would holler at my daughters to pick up after themselves. I despised the chaos of left behind legos, Barbie shoes and game pieces and became so jaded that it was nothing to vacuum them up and away. I couldn't tolerate my daughter's messes. But they weren't the grandchildren.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


I woke up this morning after a vivid visit with two of my childhood friends. My friends were beautiful and young, and I felt so much love for both of them. After meeting at an outdoor movie theatre, we sat on the grass to talk and compare the boots we were wearing. Pointy toes were all the rage and because I didn't live in New York or Las Vegas, mine weren't as pointy or trendy. We were still girls.

Friends are always a memory away.

In the latter part of my father's life, he refound his teenage friends with whom he'd served in the National Guard. They were brought back together after Leonard had a heart transplant and died shortly thereafter. The location, the vicissitudes, the necessities of supporting families and raising children had pulled them apart and kept them from hanging out with one another, but when they aged, they found time for one another and the friendship they shared and still cherished.

That Linda and Val could return in such a vivid dream means they are still a part of my consciousness. I suspect that one day too, despite our locations, when our responsibilities are mostly fulfilled, that we too will find each other. True friendship never ends, it only postpones when our attention is needed elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Beloved Paris

Paris is everyone's city--just never say that to a Parisian.

Francophiles and humans everywhere are devastated by the recent violence in beloved Paris. Why such an uproar from Paris when these kinds of terrorist attacks happen not infrequent? With worse casualties? Why was the Parisian terrorist protest bigger, louder than in any other country or following any other incident.

Ah Paris! It is part of what makes the city great.

It is part of what makes a Parisian a Parisian.

From the earliest beginnings, Parisii rebelled against the Roman conquerers. The most well known and recent rebellion in time of siege was against the four year German occupation in 1940. The Resistance was born, that band of French women and men who so resented the occupiers that they risked their lives to resist, defy and kill. The resentment against the outsiders lasts even to today. Tourists often feel unloved and unwanted, so much that a campaign was initiated in 2013 to treat tourists better than what Parisians were famous for.

The city's beauty and preserved history are without parallel. The art, the food, the parks, the avenues are memories unto their own. During WWII, the city was preserved--barely. Hitler realized the uniqueness of Paris and wanted it, expected it to be his own. When the realization came that it would never be his, he demanded that the city be destroyed. Great monuments, a cathedral or two, and bridges, were wired for destruction. Only a series of miraculous events and an American change of heart to enter the city, saved the city.

It's to be expected that Parisians would stand united with a few million other people and carry signs that read Je suis Charlie. How wonderful it would be to one day trace the defeat of terrorism to a protest that began in Paris. Beloved Paris.

Monday, January 12, 2015


Our first Christmas together, I surprised Tony with this life size portrait. I ordered it from our wedding photographer and my parents drove it up in the back of a truck. I was working at a bank and they graciously let me store it in the vault until Christmas eve day when I brought it home and somehow hid it in our amazingly tiny apartment. It was such a contrast to our living conditions at the time, and I'm sure that Tony thought it was a little frivolous. Thank you Tony for never saying so.

Over the years it has hung in different cities, in different houses, on different walls. I once thought it needed a frame update. I pulled off the frame never quite getting around to replacing it and rehanging. Tony, acted (in response to many of my endeavors), without saying a word,  and reframed and rehung the wedding photo.

The colors were once vibrant. Rich browns, pure whites, purple orchids and forest greens. Rosy cheeks, definitive light and dark spaces. But now the image is the same washed out hue: sepia.

As I studied it closely today, I saw that details are also starting to fade.

When we first realized the slight exposure to the sun was fading our image, Tony was ready to move it to a safer, unlit place, but I hesitated. "Leave it where it is."

It was appropriate, so appropriate that as we aged, as our marriage aged, that the symbol of our beginning also faded.

When the portrait was a few years old, after a few children had enriched our marriage, I started to wonder what would happen to the image, when Tony and I were gone. I thought it would be a terrible conundrum for the children. Yes, it was lovely and sentimental, but honestly, who would hang it on their walls? It would sit in some poor daughter's basement only because she consented to take it because none of the other children would-even without threats from their spouses.

I realized this photo is for us. Only. And it closely follows our fading progression through this glorious life. The portrait was not meant to last forever, and our earthly bodies weren't meant to last forever either.

When we are gone, I hope the image will barely trace our images--like everything else, only a memory that we lived and loved. Together.