Friday, October 31, 2014

Mourning

"It's not personal Mom, but it was difficult thinking of seeing you." This in the first few minutes after picking her up from the airport.

"I know," she says, "it was the same for me. Just a little tender."

We both understand and don't understand these strange new emotions.

"It's because when I see you, I see Dad." I continue, "Living in a different city, I'm so removed from the reminder of my father's absence."

It is easy, most of the time, to fold into the busyness and concerns of life.

It's the unexpected moments that are a stab to my heart-- when a daughter puts on a home video so we can watch a favorite Christmas scene. We laugh and laugh. The scene ends and Dad is on the screen. He is young and vibrant, a head full of dark brown hair. I can't control my emotions and the family rushes to turn off the TV. I'm not ready.

Or when my daughter shares the news of a new baby that will come into our family. With our beliefs in primordial life and after life, she mentions that they will pass each other, perhaps have time to spend with one another. I am weepy and long to see my father.

Or when I am sitting alone and I look up because it feels like someone just sat down next to me. And I think it's my father who's come for a chat.

A moment like now, when I write, when I think of my father and I'm unsure when this mourning will end, if it ever ends.

My neighbor's husband had been dead for double digit years when we first met her. In our honest and open conversations, often sitting on her front porch, she would still tear up when she spoke of her husband. She wasn't afraid to admit how much she missed him, how she longed to join him or the period of years when she hoped to die because she missed him so much.

Her longing was so tangible that when she did pass away, it was impossible to be sad. I knew she had joined her husband.  Yet, when I pass her house everyday, I still miss her.

For my sisters and me, losing Dad has meant that we can also lose Mom. That is what logic tells us, but it is still not possible. We cherish every moment and more, and a few days ago, my older sister took Mom to order a new car with every possible safety feature-an armored car for our Mom. In the meantime, we can at least enjoy the illusion that we can keep her safe, and with us forever.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Plenty of Worthless Money

My daughter lives in a major US city with rough winters, and sometimes, I worry about her family's vulnerability if there were to be a natural or unnatural interruption in the normal way of things.

Time and again, we've seen grocery store shelves empty when a city is threatened by a hurricane or an earthquake or extreme cold.

So I've asked her to please think ahead--just in case.

My concern springs from recently hearing a woman speak about her childhood in occupied WWII Holland. We often believe we are beyond or above a situation so horrible as bombing and starvation, but here, right in front of me was another human who testified of atrocities she too couldn't have imagined. One of her statements keeps ringing in my head, "We had plenty of money, but there was nothing to buy."

No food, no shelter, not a stitch of clothing nor a pair of shoes.

 Mrs. Hornabrook's (our guest speaker) grandfather lived with her family and he insisted on giving his food rations to his grandchildren. One day, they found him dead from starvation.

When the neighbor, an elderly Jewish woman (who hadn't yet been taken by the Nazis), saw Elizabeth and her sister outside in the snow without shoes or socks, she took her one warm sweater, unraveled the yarn, and remade it into thick stockings for the girls.

I keep thinking how much I enjoy building our savings account-- and as important as that is, it's just as important to have a reliable car, a patched roof, a garden, and fuel for the wood burning stove. Solar panels are tempting too.

My last convincing words to my daughter are, We had plenty of money but there was nothing to buy, but I realize, I'm still trying to convince myself.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


The day after my father's death, I sat at his desk and opened the drawer to find his billfold. I lovingly picked up this so familiar part of my father's life. I saw his billfold often because he was always pulling it out of his front pocket. How many times had I seen my father pull out a twenty or a hundred or a couple of hundred dollar bills? How often was I the recipient? How often were my children the recipients?

My youngest daughter was in Dad's truck one day, when he saw a down-and-out looking guy. Dad motioned to the guy who came over to his window. "Here buddy, get yourself a meal," Dad said as he handed him a twenty.

"Do you need gas money?" Dad would ask one of my children. Out came two twenties.

If someone picked up dinner? Out came that billfold.

Whenever Dad said goodbye to me, and often with tears in his eyes, out came the billfold and at least a hundred dollar bill.

Sitting at his desk, I took the billfold apart and looked at his license, his one remaining credit card, his medicaid card, and even his Golden Age Passport. Dad's billfold was a lifetime treasure that now belonged to Mom...but I wondered if...

Mom and I copied his license and other documents. I rummaged through his desk for business cards important to him. I put three authentic looking billfolds together: one for each of my sisters and one for myself.  Mom supplied the requisite money always found in his billfold.  And then I carefully wrapped each one, just like dad would have done- with two rubber bands.

When I handed my older sister the package, she was surprised, but opened it up. She burst into tears, overwhelmed with all the emotion she held in her hand. The second sister thought she'd gotten the original. I always carry my billfold in my purse. This way, I'll never be broke.

It wasn't until a few weeks later, that I got a glimpse into why Dad always kept plenty of cash in his pocket. I had recently cashed a check and kept most of the money. I wasn't sure why I'd done this, but I had more cash than usual.

I walked into the kitchen and found my in-between-jobs daughter standing by the fridge with darker hair roots than usual. Wow, I thought, she really needs to get her hair done. I resisted making a comment.

As we briefly spoke, I learned she was in fact going to get her hair done.

I cautiously paused and asked, "How are you paying for everything?"

She lowered her head and said, "I'm using my credit card."

My daughter was in a bind and because I had cash on hand, I went to my purse and pulled out the money for her hair. She had a need and I'd not only recognized the need, but because my billfold was fat, I was more eager to share. As I handed her the money, I felt the warm confirmation and connection that I'd had another glimpse of who my father was and who I could become.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Relationships Are a Privilege, Not a Right

Lisa, enlightens her yoga class with this simple phrase: relationships are a privilege, not a right. It resonates with me because I have a lot of relationships and I wonder if I've been considering them my right (hey I gave birth to four of those relationships), or if I treat them like the privilege they are.

How different I might treat those relationships if I always think of them as a privilege and not as my rights-- like voting as an American citizen or driving on a paved road because I've paid my taxes and passed my driver's license. How much richer would those relationships be?

After class, we talk for a few minutes about this possible relationship-paradigm-shift.

One woman comments, "When you've been through a divorce, you can certainly see the reality of that quote."

My own marriage seems ten times more important than it did an hour earlier.

But....because, everyone doesn't always remember that marriage is a priority, including myself, I've included a link to a really good article on marriage priority. Sent by a married daughter in the thick of motherhood: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5984366?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000037&ir=Parents


Monday, October 27, 2014

My dear friend begins her lesson with a visual image I can relate to and one I will never forget. Her family is boogy boarding at a beach with some pretty gruesome waves. One by one the family takes a beating on one of the waves. Everyone has returned to the beach except one daughter. The family watches her take the curl of a wave too soon and they watch it slam her into the sand. The daughter emerges with sand caked in her hair, her eyes, up her nose, all over her entire face.

This is how my friend feels about the bombardment of the world's distasteful things we are often slammed with: thoughts, language, political dogma and pornography. If you use the internet or have an iphone, or even if you drive down the freeway--you will not, cannot, avoid awful rhetoric and images.

 Even as a child in elementary school, forty years ago, I was walking home and someone had littered the sidewalk with pages torn from an X rated magazine. Even as an adult, on my regular running route, I came upon an open book of pornography.

This same friend was on her way to church, when she found a stop sign plastered with vulgar images. The only way to sensor our lives is to become our own filter and often this is after the fact or the exposure.

The solution is found in the daughter who was slammed into the surf. She pulled herself out and took a shower--washed it off. Let the water squirt in her ears, in her eyes and in her teeth. Days later she was still picking out sand, but eventually--it was gone.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Heavy Suitcase

I am showing my eighth graders a film that supports the text they are supposed to have finished. It is a foreign film so they have to read subtitles and think. There is one part I don't want them to see. Just before the scene, I pull out the connection to the projector and a wail of protest erupts.

"Did you do that on purpose?" students ask.

I just smile.

Oh, they get it and the room fills with whispers. A boy sitting just a desk away says, "The rabbits are breeding."

Yes, the rabbits were breeding and even though it was nature and a pretty innocuous scene, I didn't want to burden them with the image throughout their school day.

In Corrie ten Boom's memoir, The Hiding Place, Corrie writes of a lesson her father taught her while she was still a child. Corrie had heard the word sexsin at school. She was confused by the word and what it possibly meant. While on a train with her father, Corrie asked him the meaning. He didn't immediately answer. The train stopped and her father lifted the heavy suitcase he'd laden with watch parts on his trip to Amsterdam. He set the case on the floor and asked Corrie to pick it up. She tried, but it was much too heavy. Her father then explained that there were things that were like the heavy suitcase: to heavy too lift and tocarry around. When she grew older, she would have the strength and understanding to carry that information. For now, he would carry it for her.

The day came when my own child asked me a difficult question, a question I deemed too heavy for her to carry. I'd been waiting for this moment so I could pull out a suitcase, fill it with weight and ask my child to carry it.  The analogy worked, and my child was satisfied.

The responsibility of teacher is as weighty as the responsibility of parent. In all things, we have to ask ourselves if the suitcases we present, share and require, are the correct weight for students to carry.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

One of Those Blessed Days

We had a guest speaker in my classes today. Elizabeth Hornabrook was four years old when the Germans forced Holland to surrender. She and her family (and all of Holland) had to live through five years of occupation--which meant oppression, starvation, fear and death. Her stories were heartfelt and so real. It is somewhat of a miracle to hear a woman speak of personal WWII atrocities in 2014.

I only knew about Mrs. Hornabrook because I've had three of her grandchildren in my classes. When we started reading The Hiding Place, and her grandson was in one of my classes, I remembered she had a story.

So she came and she changed the hearts and minds of seventh and eighth graders. Corrie ten Boom's story came alive. It was no longer a story that happened 70 years ago but a tragedy felt through this woman's presentation.

In the Hiding Place, Corrie writes of her sister's sons hiding from a German labor round-up.  Mrs. Hornabrook's brother was also rounded up. Though the stories differ, they happened in the same context-in Holland in the  1940's.

Like the ten Boom family, Elisabeth's family also hid and helped Jews. As a testament to the secrecy and the need to let as few people know as possible, young Elisabeth never knew these people were in her home.

Mrs. Hornabrook stayed for two class periods and students gathered in the library. I'd asked her grandson Aaron to introduce her. The first class, he said, "This is my grandma." That was essentially it! As the second class gathered, I entered the circle of him and his grandmother and told him he'd have to step it up a bit. His grandmother expressed surprise that he was going to stay for a repeat of her lecture and then he said words that I will never forget, "I've never heard your story before."

He had been touched by his grandmother's story, by his story, and he wanted to stay and hear it again.

"Aaron, you didn't know?" his grandmother asked.

"Mom's told me some stories, but I've never heard it from you."

And I knew, if for no other reason, Mrs. Hornabrook who came to enlighten our children, had really come to enlighten her own.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Buddha Quote

The thought manifests as the word; the word manifests as the deed; the deed develops into habit; and habit hardens into character. So watch the thought and its ways with care, and let it spring from love born out of concern for all beings.

Buddha

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Mom Troops

One of my students asks if I saw the Shakespeare showcase last night. Darn-- I didn't. Another missed opportunity that I would have enjoyed. But fortunately, she is proud of her work and she shares the highlights during lunch.
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The acting was superb, the presentation was fun, and the costumes were the best.  The King Lear monologues had a twist--an Indian setting. The Ali Baba pants were thrilling to wear--she liked hers the best.

 I'm curious about all the costuming as it sounds quite elaborate, so I ask, "Who made the costumes?"

She throws in," The school made them," then hurries on to tell me more.

"But wait. The school couldn't physically make costumes. A person or persons had to do the work. Who was it?" 

She thinks and names a girl and then almost as an afterthought adds, "And all the chaperone Moms."

I can immediately see all those unnamed Moms, working, stitching to make sure the school, their children will have beautiful costuming.

The Mom troops.

My mom was a troop all by herself. She sewed the cheerleading costumes, the pep club costumes, the nightgowns for all the girls at the Christmas party. If she had been involved in drama, she would have been sewing 17th century wear for the Shakespeare plays.

A dear friend who lived down the street  while growing up, who was a recipient of Mom's dedication, now has her own two sons. She's raising them in upper Manhattan and she's found another under staffed, under funded school and the need to make a difference. She let us know that she thinks of Mom and Mom is her inspiration to give it all--little does she know, that she too will be somebody's inspiration. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Hiding Place

I just finished reading The Hiding Place as part of the reading curriculum for seventh graders.  Pretty heavy stuff for the little guys, but the students who take the reading seriously are changed forever. As was I.

We've had two in class reading days and students are starting to finish the book. It's amazing to see them engrossed in this blessed story. It's amazing too see them finish a 239 page book of dense text. As a lover of literature, it is joyful to see their success and hope that a door has opened to compassion, love and even non-fiction literature.

Maybe twenty years ago, I first read  The Hiding Place. Only nine years ago, Tony and I visited the Ten Boom home in Haarlem Holland. But it had been too many years and the story had faded. Faded enough that I was a little impatient when the tour included a required, tutorial to the Ten Boom's religious beliefs. I just wanted to see the house. But as I read the book again, the house, the story, can't exist without the Ten Boom religion. It IS the story of The Hiding Place.

It is a book of faith, hope, charity and ultimately forgiveness. It is a story to be cherished.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Go Girl

Our beloved mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, great grandmother, surprised us all by her reaction to a demographic.

A pharmacy school student was a guest in our home and Grandma asked him about the flu shot.

His response was that as a pharmacist, he was required to get flu-vaccinated and then he kindly suggested that as an elderly person,  she too should have a flu shot. She turned to me, deadpan and serious,"I'm not elderly."

And no one was going to tell her differently. A 79 year old woman had just said she was not elderly. And she meant it.

 You go girl. Because over and over again, it's been proven that we are what we think. If Grandma does not see herself as elderly, then she isn't.  She is strong, healthy and takes care of other people.

Her daughter likes to tell stories of her strength, how she helped her in the yard to take down a few trees and was tired out while her mother kept swinging the ax. And that time when she took her kids to a carnival and a cowboy swaggered up to the hammer to hit the bell hard enough to reach the bell--couldn't do it. So Grandma stepped up, swung the hammer and glory hallelujah, she won the prize. And her daughter smiled at the cowboy.

Next time I think I'm middle aged, I'm going to look myself in the mirror and say, "No I'm not. Then I'll pat my back and say, "You go girl."


You may enjoy reading: What If Age Is Nothing But A Mindset?
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/what-if-age-is-nothing-but-a-mind-set.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&region=CColumn&module=MostEmailed&version=Full&src=me&WT.nav=MostEmailed&_r=0

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Kind of City, Neighborhood, I Want to Live In


Yes really! Found this on a well traveled bike path above my home

That isn't all: in a neighborhood a mile or so distant, someone built a fruit stand, only it wasn't to sell fruit. The stand is for neighbors to leave extra vegetables and fruit for anyone who happens to drive or walk by.

So simple and so much goodwill.

Contrast this with a neighbor's house I drive by everyday and in her front yard, an apricot tree bulging with fruit. A thousand apricots. In the days before they ripened, the neighbor hung a large sign around the tree: Do not take these apricots. In essence, this woman who lives at the corner of two dead end streets, not a busy street corner, was pre-accusing her neighbors of possibly stealing her apricots. Hmmmm. Sad, but not for the neighbors who never got apricots but for the scarcity this woman felt.

While walking home one day, a friend and I ran into a neighbor with two plum trees in her yard bulging with beautiful purple plums. "Please come and get some plums," she broadcasted with a happy face. A happy face not because of the delicious plums but a chance to share her abundance.

We've all felt and acted on both: scarcity and abundance. We know and remember the one that brought us joy and the one that didn't.

According to Leonard Lauder who just donated 1 billion dollars worth of art to Metropolitan Museum of Art, "“The joy of living is the joy of giving.”


Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's Almost Time To Put the Bees To Bed For Winter

We, (the queen bees and I),  have survived the first season of beekeeping. Phew. No one's bees absconded, no one's hive was vandalized, no one killed their bees.

All of us have enjoyed the learning curve-steeper for some (moi), and this connection to nature. We've learned so much and that includes an important skill.

We've seen the neighborhood vegetation flourish: gardens, fruit trees and flowers. A neighbor called a few days ago to come take anything and everything that was left out of her garden. Apparently they'd had enough and the abundance had worn them down. Excited for a few straggling cucumbers, me the gleaner, was astounded to see a patch with possibly a hundred extra cucumbers they couldn't use. It was cucumber picking heaven. Because my tomatoes were still producing, I couldn't even use all her extra, beautiful, huge, intensely red tomatoes clinging to the vines.
One day pick from the mid October harvest

Even after two stings to my hands yesterday, I'm excited to continue this ancient art. I've already found a local bee source for next year's bees. All three of us queen bees want a local hive that has weathered our climate and the typical threats to bees.

At the beginning of the season, we were all haunted by the possibility that our bees may not survive the winter.  This is a normal and real possibility. Even the best of beekeepers lose bees over the winter-yet it was just unthinkable. We'll do our best, but there are so many uncontrollable variables.

One of the most perplexing concerns is will they have enough honey stores to last?

My hive doesn't. I visited the hive two days ago and found my bees in the midst of being robbed again! I halved the entrance and the misfit band of robbers headed home. How much honey did they manage to take with them? While checking for honey loss, trying to neatly push all the bars back together so no one got squished, I angered two bees to kamikaze suicide. I watched as the angriest bee curled into my glove and gave up her life for revenge! She was successful and I have the sore hand to prove it.

There is humor in this lack of winter honey stores. It turns out I will have to feed my bees through the winter with expensive organic honey. Tony thinks this is hysterical--isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

How much honey to leave them? This is perplexing too. No one knows for sure--how can one predict the hive appetite and whether they will even accept the honey? How best to feed them, how to keep the bowl of honey from freezing...?? How, how, how?

Closing the hive: The real danger to a hive is precipitation. If we put on too heavy of a winter coat and there's a sequence of higher winter temperatures, the hive might sweat and the bees might freeze. And then, what if there's a cold snap and they can't stay warm enough?

We are prepared and have adjusted to the idea that we might lose our bees over winter. Our worries originate from the mothers we are, the nurturers, and to lose life, even insects, is unthinkable. But it is part of the reality of keeping bees and one season down--we are beekeepers.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fence Sitting

Each morning, Tony laughs at me, because I wake up wondering where ebola has gone in the last 12 hours. Literally, one morning, the first words out of my mouth were: "I'm sort of anxious to get up and see what's happening with ebola."

Such a curious disease. Such a tragedy.

It's a daughter's favorite book: The Hot Zone. I remember being glued to the book until I'd finished the horrifying, chilling story of the first ebola crisis.

I'm trying not to feel the panic, the impending hysteria (or possibly rational), that drives people in hazmat suits to the front of the White House to protest open travel from West Africa. Yet, it makes sense. And it doesn't. How's that for a fence sitter?

Yet fence sitting can be one of the most pernicious un-actions ever. "Bad things happen when good people do nothing." And fence sitting is a do-nothing.

 There are some heartfelt reasons not to close borders. My friend's son, a sorely needed medical doctor, is waiting for his clearance to serve in a West African nation. If the borders close indefinitely, he and other care workers may not go and those who are there may scramble to get out. How important is it to stay and help? And not just for humanitarian reasons, but for protect-the-world reasons?

I read a report last night that the side effects of ebola in Africa will eventually be much worse than ebola, if they aren't already. One health care worker found two children whose parents had died from the infection. They needed food and care and when the health care worker returned two days later with supplies, the children were dead.

There are limited ways I can help: money donations to trusted organizations and prayer for government leaders to have wisdom--because really, there are a lot of opinions and some very tough decisions, and most opinions/decisions will not be validated until after the fact--when we have hindsight. And by then, we'll either be back slapping and grateful, or we'll be a remorseful nation full of pointing fingers and blame--another insidious disease.







Friday, October 17, 2014

French Film

The past many years, I have enjoyed French films.

Recently, Tony and I ventured to the theatre to see L'Amour--a disturbing in your face film about, well, love, death and its mysteries. There were moments in the darkened, almost empty theatre when we would turn to each other and start laughing--not because there was humor, but because the film was so...so...so
French!

How is French cinema so French? It is slow, deliberate, as if there is no time restraint, written and filmed to contrast perhaps a shocking end. Or to give one time to digest a concept that may or may not be obvious. A good comparison may be the difference in the time we spend eating a meal versus the time spent at a French meal. A French dinner may last hours whereas an American sit down dinner may last an hour. We may prep for three hours, but the meal time is a fraction of that. Prep time versus enjoyment time is 3:1. The French ratio would be 3:3.

A French film would be more deliberate--longer pans on scenery, longer exposure to suffering. Less said, more visuals. Longer scenes. The beauty is in the concept of the entire film. There is no rush to what may be a simple ending. The story line may be simple but the journey to the climax is an aesthetic one. Babette's Feast is the perfect example. The film is about a woman who prepares a feast. Yes, that is all, but if the topic was a simple balloon, the preparation for this feast, the emotion for this feast, the love and sacrifice for this feast, would inflate the balloon until it popped.

Last night, Tony and I watched again, Jean de Florette-a film so beautiful and so painful--about greed. It conveys like no other story I know, the blindness and tragedy of greed and sacrifice. There is a sequel: Manon of the Spring. I hope we watch it tonight.

The films are in French with English subtitles. This requires active watching. I love hearing the words and trying to match them with the subtitles--even best when I know what they're saying before I read the subtitles.

There is something about the beauty of the French language. In a Private Lives article in the NY Times on October 16, author Ellen Ann Fentress who teaches French lessons to older women, wrote that it was satisfying enough for one woman to say  un jus d'orange. "She said it over and over. The sensuality of the syllables transported her. She'd throw back her chin as her eyes rolled back in her head, halfway home on the Meg Ryan spectrum of pleasure. French phonetics can do that."

Another favorite is La Gloire do Mon Pere, a 1990 film based on Marcel Pagnol's memoir. The second film is Le Chateau de Ma Mere. In English: My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle. The films are funny and heart warming-and child friendly.

These films have power and relief from disturbing trends of continually-hightened violence and gore-the previous week, I watched two disturbing television shows: part of The Walking Dead (never again) and an episode of Blacklist (intriguing but often disturbing).

Many French films, especially the old classics I've listed above are an escape, a reprieve from the blaring Transformers 3, The Avengers, the films that entertain. French films are more like art that triggers thoughts, the imagination, and best of all, require us to think.