Monday, February 8, 2016

The Anticipation of Little You

So much hope. So much anticipation. Excitement with no where to go. For almost nine months.

Of course we don't have a full nine months. Maybe eight, but most likely seven, unless it is the first time, and the parent- to-be can't hold on to the kite that keeps pulling away because of the gusts of anxiousness.

 For this newest little person, we only have four more months until we meet her.

She will be our second granddaughter. It's been nine years since we've imagined another little girl in our lives. Over the years, the pink and frilly have been passed over by trucks, camoflauge and all shades of blue.

While thinking of this little girl, I think about a recent writing prompt I gave to students. "Rose, bud, and thorn. I want you to write about each one."

In everyone's life, there will always be a rose, a bud and a thorn. The rose is happiness, the bud,--potential, and the thorn is, what else?--the reality. The literature I am currently reading with two different classes, the nonfiction story of Le Chambon, and the Pulitzer prize winner "All The Light We Cannot See," are both about finding light amidst darkness.

This rose in our life: expecting this new baby girl; the bud in our life: the excitement sure to come in four months, is accompanied by a hopefully, unnecessary worry--the thorn.

Her doctor tells her not to worry, and we really don't, but as we read about zika, follow its outbreak, hear of its devastating effect on the unborn, we worry. The thorn among our rose and our bud. Her development coincides with our time in Mexico, and if we had known...

It makes me wonder if the ever present thorn is mostly the worry we bring upon ourselves. I've started to worry about Mom and for no good reason; she's healthy, strong, independent and happy, yet I worry it won't last. In part this is true, because she is aging, but it's not worthy of worry.

Worry can consume us. It keeps people from adventure, relationships, even getting in the car and going to the grocery store. It's like a fire--when fed with fuel, it flames.

The important thing I must remember: thorns are removable. If grasped at the bottom, almost at what feels like a root, they break off easily.

Rose, bud, thorn. For now I must focus on the bud and the rose. Forever, I must focus on the beauty of the bud and the rose.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

An Awareness of Excellence

Author Phillip Hallie writes about an art critic who had a sure way of identifying ancient Maltese art  objects: "...he found himself crying before them."

Mr. Hallie had a similar experience when he read about goodness he found in a small French village; a village that saved over 5000 Jews during WWII. The purity of their hearts, the work to make this happen, the risk, the work, the courage, the sacrifices, amounted to an excellence that surpassed all the evil, the complicity, the complacency, the ignorance, that existed at the time. He identified his recognition with the same tears as the art critic, the same tears we experience when we become aware of excellence.

I am moved when I find myself in the awareness of excellence. It is a pinnacle of beauty, of truth, of recognition. It connects to my soul and conjures emotions. At my very core, it reminds me of who I am, of who I am capable of becoming.

It is my desire to be aware of excellence more frequently: to recognize it in a smile, in a child's effort, in a student's thoughts and writing.

My husband and I bought tickets to a Vivaldi concert in Saint Chappelle. St. Chapelle is in the  heart of Paris, under the shadow of Notre Dame. It is a masterpiece of stained glass, a testament to the  biblical stories it retells, to its medieval gothic genius. During the day, it is light and fascination. During the night, it becomes lit and luminous, the perfect acoustics for Vivaldi.  The small orchestra of strings began the evening with Pachalbel's canon. Half way through the music Tony turned to me with tears in his eyes. I shared the same tears. We were aware of excellence--a reaction of tears, unsolicited, unsuspected, visceral.

I have seen it before: in a gymnastics meet, in a soloist's pure voice, in the artwork of an amateur. Today my students recognized it in the ability to better one's self, in knowing they wouldn't trade the moment for anything, the silence it evokes, in a Polynesian haka, in the blessing of choice, in music,  in a Victor Hugo phrase from Les Miserables, "It is nothing to die; it is frightful not to live!"

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Everyone Has A Story

Tom announces he might move to Panama after he checks it out on an upcoming visit.

I mention this to Tom's girlfriend and she rolls her eyes. "Everyone has a story."

Peter in the corner pipes up, "When I was a little kid, I was going to run a light house when I grew up."

"See, everyone has a story!" Tom's girlfriend exclaims.

This opens up a whole new window into my past stories-- I once decided to become a pedodentist-a child's dentist. My office was going to have a yellow brick road that little patients would joyfully follow to the dentist chair.  I also planned on becoming an astronaut, until I got nauseous in airports.

One of my stories jumped from a Christmas story I wrote. The teacher thought it was worthy to read in front of the class, and when she finished, I felt a little mouse of glee run up my body until--my fellow first graders turned around and said, "Your mother wrote that story."

I was shocked at their accusation of plagiarism, and I didn't refute it--instead, I basked in their ill-assumption. It meant the story was good, and therefore, a writer was born.

It's a story I kept. And became.

Deb and I are fortunate to teach a new class this semester: storytelling. I can't take credit for this class--it was Deb's pipe dream. When I first heard her proposal, I thought, Hmmm, now that's interesting.

And it is.

Because we become our stories, and our class is a chance to help students become.

Mandi (daughter #2), since the 7th grade, decided she wanted a PHD. At the time, it was cute, and over the next ten years it continued to be her story. She graduated from college, applied to graduate school, moved to Illinois on a full graduate scholarship, and three years ago, I sat in a stadium and watched my daughter receive her PHD in School/Child Psychology. Her persistence and dedication made her story come true---or did her story supply the persistence and dedication with the fuel it needed?

With the introduction of Mandi's story, I asked each student to tell his/her own story in one line or less--with the supposition that their one-liners have power to determine the story of their lives.

When I started reading their lines, I saw the power immediately.

 I am a giver
 I've had many families
 As I explore the world, it explores me
 I love to sing
 I have a lot of friends
 I can overcome hard things
 I am a wondering soul
 I am an actor 

Everyone has a story---even you. What is its power in creating who you are and what you want to be?

Friday, February 5, 2016

To Believe

Three year old Ezra notices a family photo hanging on the staircase wall. Everyone who was in the family at the time, who had been married or who had been born, is in the photo. But as Ezra notices, a few people are missing. Uncles yet to have married his aunts and cousins yet to be born...and someone else: himself.

"Where am I?" he asks his mom. Mom and Dad are in the photo and according to his perception of real life, they can't be there without him. They don't exist without him.

"You weren't born yet," his mom answers.

"Then where was I?"

"You were in heaven."

"Maybe I was at work."

Work is feasible. Heaven is not.

We've all had the same question. Where was I? For thousands of years, millions of people came and went, but where was I the entire time? Or was I, even an I? I get a brain freeze when I try to reconcile not existing. As a child, always at bedtime, I would churn and churn the idea of not existing. Or I would try to create the idea of eternal, or ask Where did it all begin? In my limited, three dimensional-only brain, I could not fathom life without beginning or end, yet as an adult, I can not fathom a life with a beginning and with an end. Yet, I still am unable to reconcile a logical explanation.

This then is faith.

One of my students announced to me that he was an atheist.

"It takes a lot of faith to be an atheist." This appeared to be a new thought, and he contemplated, but had no response. But to me, it's clear: to say that there isn't, is as crazy as saying there is.

When I don't understand a religious concept, I put it on the back-burner.  I wait and I hope for an answer. The answer comes. My faith is stronger, and to say it isn't true or it didn't happen seems more ludicrous than saying it is true or it did happen.

Line upon line, precept upon precept.  I look forward to finding faith in what previously seemed impossible. It appears before me like a staircase--each level attained by taking one step. When I look back, I see how many steps I've taken; I see how solidly the stairs are built.

I am absolutely loving the idea, the reality, the place in my life, for faith--that it is mutable, and like a balloon, it has a capacity to expand depending on how much breath of life I am willing to give.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Soft Hoot

Hoo, hoo.

Hoo, hoo.

The soft hoot gently wakes me from a deep sleep. Hoo hoo. I roll over to 5:00 a.m glow on my clock. 

In my mind's eye, I can see the powerful stare of an owl, a memory in which Tony calls to me, hands me binoculars, which I lift and search for the owl in the boughs of a pine tree. So resolute. So steady. So powerful.

And now one calls outside my bedroom window.

Another night, just as I am falling asleep, I hear the soft sounds again, Hoo hoo. Hoo hoo.

After three days of waking me before the sun rises, the owl is now calling out in the night.

It brings reassurance and peace. 

There are few things I know about an owl. It is nocturnal, and it hunts small rodents, insects, and small birds.  Perhaps he will take care of the mice that each winter, make their way into our home, into our pantry, into our mouse traps. To find a mouse, splayed and having suffered from the snap of wire, is startling. It sickens me. 

"Tony!" I call out, grateful he is resigned to this unpleasant task of mouse removal. 

Since the soft hoot of the owl, the trap, slathered in peanut butter has remained still. 

I have come to look forward to the sound of the owl in the night, its gentle reassurance of order in nature.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Emotional Shoes

Have I ever written about the cobalt blue shoes in Paris? The shoes in the window I passed everyday for almost a month? The shoes I desperately needed, wanted? If I did write about those coveted blue shoes, forgive me. Because in the days before I left, the store didn't have my size, and when Tony and I searched like crazed parents for a missing child, and didn't find the cobalt shoes anywhere, I stood on a Parisian corner and cried.

Tony held me in his arms and tried to console.

The next year while walking down a rue, Tony couldn't help spotting a pair of cobalt blue shoes on an outdoor rack. They weren't exactly what I wanted and I hesitated, but so hampered with the previous year's experience, he insisted I buy them.

Poor guy, I wouldn't be surprised if he had nightmares of cobalt blue shoes eating his pain au chocolates. All five a day.

This Christmas, while sitting across from a woman who was opening a gift from her mother,  I understood when she broke into tears when it was the exact Kate Spade purse she adored. I was touched, because I knew it was more than a greedy obsession. The purse was a gift from a loved one. It stood for devotion and said, "I got your back."

So, this time, when I needed a specific pair of rain boots, that had to be purchased in a small window of time, in a distant city, Tony wasn't so happy. I am certain he had visions of the great Paris shoe caper. He claimed he was up for the errand, but I know my Tony. He was secretly worried the incident would turn in to a repeat of the cobalt, blue shoe incident. I dragged him into the Womens Shoes and sat him down in a comfy chair on the fringe of the lady's shoe department. He pulled out his electronic device and sat down for a long winter's nap. I rushed about choosing the perfect three and within minutes had modeled and chosen the perfect pair of rain boots. I even went with Tony's choice. Before he could have moaned Paris cobalt blue shoes three times I was marching towards the department store exit. Tony, contently behind.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Where There Was Once Torture, There is Enlightenment

As a teacher of Language Arts, one of the most difficult aspects is reading all the essays I have vigorously assigned. Usually it is the same topic and after reading a third of the work, I start skimming. At the end of the year, after reaching the point of I couldn't read another essay if my life depended on it, I've even hired a former English teacher to edit the essays.

But...this time it's different. After traveling with our 51 students and sharing 12 days of experiences with them, and having assigned an essay, I've relished their thoughts--even re-read some of the best writing. This is a first. Within this new experience lies the secret to savoring student writing.

The problem may have been asking students to interpret an idea, a piece of literature, a historical time, in the same way, or having not given them the needed variety of options in their writing.

With the travel essays from Greece and Italy, I am seeing how different their experiences were. They were asked to write on any aspect of the trip and to not just write a travel report, but to write an essay--find a theme, a truth within their experience and expound on that experience.

I've been astounded and not so astounded--but touched, or moved to smile, or feel admiration for their insights. I've pulled some of the best from all 51 essays:

* Have you ever seen a painting that was so beautiful that you started to cry?
*I felt like it was possible to do something as great as them (the artists).
*All these experiences and realizations during these twelve days helped me change my outlook on life.
*Seeing these current events has made me question if I will do my part to help people in the world who are struggling or will I sit back and watch history write itself and me not be one of its authors.
* Delphi...inspired me to get a closer relationship with my God.
*ONe of the bigger questions I had while in the Pantheon,...was what does my favorite really mean?
*Sacredness is what makes life valuable.
*...those fleeing from Syria with papers and without papers had the same desperation and dire need for a new home. I didn't see a cut and dry difference of legality, I saw a difference of lucky and not so lucky.
*(The parthenon)...wasn't in the best shape in the world, but I wouldn't be either if I'd existed for 2000 years
*The ultimate goal in life is to create something that time cannot degrade."
*Gazing at the earth, man was inspired to not only survive, but to live, to create, to explore, and to discover."
*I drown myself in pleasure, excuses, idleness and sin while the world suffers or abuses others through their pride.
*The purpose of these museums and so we can acknowledge what's in front of us, undrstand the process of how it came to be, realize the difficulties and appreciate the accomplishments.
*Going into the Vatican was like walking into heaven for artwork.
*I wish I had kept a better journal.
* ...when I stared up in amazement at the magnificent colosseum in Rome, I pondered, "Will I be great? Will I also be timeless? Will I be remembered like the great men of old who built these walls and raised these great cities?
*Greatness is the fruit of perseverance.
*We can be the Michelangelos of our day.
*Funding winterim on my own has been and will be a challenging journey. But the elevated perspective on life, history, food, people, buildings, different cultures-and most of all myself-makes the toil of the ascent worth it.
*I'm not a leather girl, but they had some cool stuff.
*At all the other places we went to, I took pictures, but then took time to enjoy it with my own eyes.
*If we are lazy in our dressing, something that we wear as a second layer of skin, then what else are we giving up on?
*As we moved through Italy, in and out of museums, and then onto the streets, I realized that everything we do is a channel for the infinity of human potential (This is a quote from a ninth grader--yes it is!)
*David was man-made. Then I felt big though I had not reason to, and in the most presumptuous way, I felt the possibility of being significant.

The 8-10 page research paper is our next assignment and before this discovery, I was shaking in my boots at the prospect of all that writing, reading, and editing. But because they will choose their topics of research with in a very broad spectrum, I'm looking forward to their finds.

There's always a better way.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It Takes Two

Holly needs us to babysit her four children while she has her hair done. I call Tony with the exciting news and he answers, "Okay, I'll be home early."

He'll be home early, in part, because he loves hanging with the babes; but the other part is we've degenerated into wimps at childcare. I need his help and he knows it.

Four little personalities to whom we want to give all our attention to equally. Impossible! One cannot take his eye off of the eight month old, or the two year old. Around every corner is a danger, a door to the outside, a stair to stumble on and something to choke on. The twelve year old wants to play basketball and the ten year old insists we make a run to the grocery store.

When dinner rolls around, we only have one high chair. Tony feeds the two year old and I hold the eight month old and feed by hand while hefting his compact, dense body in my arms--for which I must add, I do not have the mother muscles developed over the course of the baby's growth to hold him for the required amounts of time.

When their mother arrives, we apologize for never having changed one diaper. We didn't have enough time and as Tony adds under his breath, "We didn't have enough help."

When she leaves in a flurry of joyful baby/child interactions, we sigh, and ask, "How does she do it?"

Never mind that once,  we did it too.

One of the many reasons why old people do not have children.

But every once in a while it does happen, and I remember the shock and understanding of the aged mother, unexpectedly blessed by a pregnancy, a birth, and a newborn when she had already retired from motherhood. One day, she left her beloved infant at the grocery store in what was reported as a senior moment.

And that is why we are in hyper alert when we are in charge, and why it takes two of us to do the job that only requires one--that is, if you're young.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

To Insurance or Not to Insurance

I'm sitting at my desk on the second floor of our home. A distinct rumbling starts at my feet. I feel it vibrate through the bottom of my chair and watch the computer screen shudder. I brace myself for what else might come.

It's distinctly an earthquake. Albeit a small one, the earth has shuddered. I sit and wait for aftershocks.

I text my closest neighbors. Did you feel the small earthquake?

My phone rings. I don't answer hello, but with a weary-excited "Did you feel it?"

"No. But I'm driving." Tammy thinks I'm crazy.

I text my friends on the other side of my house. Nikki responds, "Yes! I was wondering what that was."

I'm not crazy!

Within a few minutes another neighbor who didn't feel the quake sends me the link to in a neighboring town-25 miles away, a mountain away, was a 2.9 earthquake.

It's astounding to think of our vulnerability when the earth shakes and more especially if it really let lose. It's astounding to think I felt vibrations that shot under a mountain and reached the floor of my office.

I know mini earthquakes. Having lived in Los Angeles and San Diego, I've felt a few rumblers.  The uneasiness starts at one's feet, rattles upward and in milliseconds the bookshelves are shaking, and always when it stops, gratitude. After having grabbed the person next to me, my immediate thoughts were always the children. Where are they? Are they safe? Can I get to them quickly?

For Tony's last birthday, I gave him an unexpected present--a present I sense he didn't appreciate. I gave him a tent--but actually he couldn't appreciate it, because I told him to find the one he wanted and buy it. I know, I know.

Six months later our tent discourse is ongoing without any resolution. We don't agree on its use. If Tony ever gets around to buying his birthday present, he would expect to use and enjoy the investment, but my purpose is for it to stay in the garage and never use it unless....there were an earthquake.

But there's the nuisance factor: spending money that may not be necessary, the space it will take in the garage, and if we never use it, when the time comes, we may not know how to set it up.

The nuisance factor is the gamble factor. A gamble I usually take with rental cars when I don't get the high pressure $20 a day insurance on the car that costs only $25 to rent. I'm always relieved when I return the car unscathed and dent free. I don't gamble with the toaster oven warranties and the flight insurance either. We always wonder over full coverage on a new car, or earthquake and flood insurance on an old house. Or investing in a hand gun, or in extra food storage. It's the un-predictable future for which we'll be happy we have it, if it happens, and wasteful if it didn't.

After sending the earthquake-alert text to Tony too, I sent him another: Sure wish that tent was in the garage. The gamble factor seems too great for such terrible odds--out in the cold (37 degrees rain and snow tonight) without a home.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beat The Boys!

My mother gave me a sincere piece of advice when I was just a girl.

"Never beat boys," she said.

The unforeseen consequence of her advice was that I grew up with a strong desire to beat boys at everything!!

To hold back on skills and talents, just to let a boy win, wasn't sound or logic to a daughter with a competitive spirit and hours of tennis lessons. The wayward wisdom probably had its roots in an earlier century when my mother's mother's mother gave her the same advice and her mother's mother before passed the admonishment and so on and so on. Yet, this errant advice from a cadre of great great grandmothers, I am actually grateful for. It has served me well.

Until Santa delivered a pickle ball set to the Martinez household.

"You ready to play pickle ball?"

"I am."

"This time, I'm going to beat you."


Four undefeated games later, I played down my victory. But Tony couldn't get the loss off his mind. All that night and the next day, there were references to the pickle ball match. When I complained of soreness, when I explained that my arms felt like they'd been stitched to my shoulders, his sympathy was absent.

"Good," he said with a sweet smile.

"My mom was right. Never beat boys!" I conceded to her advice of ill repute. Better 50 years too late than never.

My grown-man husband couldn't let go of his 4-0 thrashing defeat, and he was haunting me. Maybe that piece of advice I once thought lousy came from smart, smart women who lost to avoid endless smack.

The next day at 3:15 p.m., after asking Tony if he'd like to walk with me, I got a return text. "Would you rather play pickle ball?"

"REVENGE" I returned, chuckling at his desire to take another beating.

"I"ll let you win again!" Smug.

Once at the gym, we set up the net efficiently. No time to be wasted. Rematch fever filled the gym.

First game: mine.
Second game: Tony's.
Third game: mine
Fourth game: mine.

I hadn't learned.

"You know I'll beat you eventually."

"Yes, I do. Because you'll start reading pickle ball strategy books; you'll start taking lessons; you'll hire a coach. And you won't let up until you win."

"I just have to start making you laugh on the court."

Like he did in tennis. Yes, and that is why we no longer play tennis.

It may be that the first time I beat him in pickle ball was in Mexico. Tony had consistently won until I got my old tennis mojo back, and I ended up beating him in the last match. I call it the great Mexican pickle ball curse.

This morning, my husband's sweet nature momentarily returned and he asked me if I was still sore.

"Yes, but it's the top of my back thighs that ache."

"Not as much as my pride," he replied.

My mother may have been right.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Money Is the Answer, Money is the Problem--Haiti #7

A marriage therapist once told my sister she'd much rather work with wealthy couples than poor couples. It wasn't because she knew she'd get paid, it was because rich people already knew their problems couldn't be solved with money. Poor people tended to believe that money could save their marriage when the therapist knew it couldn't.

One Haitian story proves that money can be more curse than help.

A family ran an orphanage in Haiti before the 2010 earthquake. When the earthquake hit, this one particular orphanage received extensive publicity in the United States. Over $500,000 was sent directly to the family. Haiti has a transparent coconut-vine and apparently everyone knew of the family's windfall. Their little boy was kidnapped. Several people came forward to extort money with empty promises of returning the child.

He was never found.

When I go to the grocery store, fill my tank with gas, go out to lunch, pay my bills, I find that money is extremely important. But over and over again we see that money alone doesn't solve problems. It is the people in charge of the money that solve the problems that can be solved with money. If the trusted recipient is corrupt, problems are never solved.

Billions of dollars went to Yasser Arafat to help the Palestinians. I was intensely disappointed when I learned his wife lived in Paris, in a hotel with a daily cost of over $15,000. Yasser's personal fortune before his death was estimated at 350 million to 7 billion. And how are the Palestinians doing? How much of that intended money actually went to education, housing and improving their lives? Would they still be launching rocks and rockets if the allocated money had actually been used as intended?

We've all heard and believed the old adage, "Money is the root of all evil," but I disagree. Money can be the root of all that is good: charity, education, nutrition, decent housing. I would say the love of money, more than the love of mankind--that is the root of all evil.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Love At the Trevi

Why do happily married older women want their young single friends to find love too?

Trevi Fountain. The legend says if a visitor tosses a coin into the fountain, then he or she will return to Rome. Thirty-five years ago, I tossed a coin into the Trevi, and I have returned, therefore the legend must be true. With my faith riding high in legends, I decide to create my own legend for happily single, Ms. Laura.

"They say if you toss a coin over your shoulder and into Trevi Fountain while making a wish, the wish will come true," I tell her with a teasing smile, "Are you game?"

Ms. Laura is one of the most "game" people I know. She has known meddling women like me for years and so she smiles, giggles even, and gets ready to toss her coin. Since I'm determined to shake up her electromagnetic energy field with the magic of Trevi Fountain, we even document the moment with a measure of fanfare.

"Well, how do you feel?" I ask after she's tossed her coin

Ms. Laura doesn't feel any different. Yet.

But the next night, a man on a moped tries to entice her for a drink. Ms. Laura, a very smart woman with three college degrees in Political Science, Latin, and Dairy Science, doesn't fall for the old Italian on a moped invitation. In my opinion, she's waiting for something better, and it will come to pass since making a wish at Trevi Fountain.

It was 19 BC in the time of Agrippa the Emperor, that the source of pure water was found, and of course it was found by a virgin diviner. Such auspicious beginnings! It wasn't until 1732 that Pope Clement XII commissioned the building of Trevi Fountain, the largest and most stunning fountain in Rome. It took 30 years to complete and it is a Baroque masterpiece carved of mostly travertine and Carrara marble. The God of Ocean, Abundance and Health oversee the masterpiece fountain,  the pure water, the 3000 euro in coins it collects each day, and the tourists who throng the square for a little wishing magic.

Just the sound of so many gallons of water spilling off the marble and recirculating for another ride, infuses our souls with joy. I feel energetic, loving, and certain Ms. Laura's dreams will come true. But then again, I will never know what she actually wished for--perhaps she wished that women like myself would stop insisting that love is the remedy.

So why do us married older women hope for love for our single friends?  Perhaps one day, Ms. Laura will answer the question herself.

 The beloved, mysterious, and beautiful Ms. Laura at Trevi

Writing our wishes at a Trevi Fountain gelato shop over hot chocolate. Notice the wall above the bar--written wishes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where Are You God?

Two summers ago, while visiting Monaco, we entered the simple yet stunning Catholic church where Princess Grace was buried.

Upon entering, a nun approached us asking for a donation. She had the purest heart and when Tony handed her a small donation my heart ached in the kind of way that sends a message to the brain to start the tears.

As I walked at the edge of the church, I had a prayer in my heart and I asked, "God, are you here?" Again my heart clenched, my body filled with warmth and the tears flowed. It was a direct answer to my prayer. Yes, God was here.

I was excited to visit the Sistine chapel. The last restoration had  revitalized the colors to their original brilliance. Before entering, we were told silence was required. I looked forward to those silent, designated-too-few-minutes we were allowed. An estimated 28,000 people a day walk through the Sistine.

How I wanted to lay on the floor and gaze as long as I wanted; this was impossible and instead we were ushered through by what I perceived as cranky Italian guards. I was saddened too when so many people were not silent. Around the chapel were ledges for people to sit, but these were occupied. I wondered if it was okay to sit on a step well out of the way of moving traffic. I cautiously, slowly, sat.

"Stand!" one of the guards barked.

Before we entered the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, our guide gave us a short tutorial. Pope Julius, to whom she referred to as a bad pope, had commissioned Michelangelo to paint the ceiling. Michelangelo was against painting the ceiling because he was a sculptor. Considerable pressure comes when the pope asks--Michelangelo begrudgingly consented. Against his wishes, he spent four miserable years painting the ceiling.

I remembered the reverent atmosphere of Princess Grace's chapel and the question I asked. I once again asked, "God, are you here?"

This time the answer was as sure as it was in Monaco, yet this time the answer was, God is in one's heart.

How true I would understand the answer to be. I took the answer to mean that God was not in the Sistine chapel. But for some he was.

Later, students shared their sacred experiences of being in the Sistine. I had missed out. I hadn't allowed God to be in that chapel because I had focused on the crowd, the non-compliance to silence, the militant guards who needed to keep order.

What we allow to be in our heart, becomes that which surrounds us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Alone At Musei Capitolini

In a city of 2.9 million people living within 495 square miles, traveling within a tour group of 90 people including 50 boisterous teenagers, the word alone didn't exist. Wanting to enjoy and treasure the experience, I put alone on the back burner and loved every minute of my company and the people-packed ancient city.

Alone was waiting for me back home.

Or so I thought.

With one and a half hours left in Rome, assuming I would never return (because I didn't toss a coin in Trevi this time), I over-contemplated what to do. Within a small group of students and adults, there were several options: returning to Trevi fountain, exploring the streets, shopping, or visiting the Capitolini-a prized museum known for several famous statues.

My heart said museum, but I was hesitant to spend my last minutes among a museum crowd of people waiting their turn for a close-up. Fortunately, Susannah swayed us towards the Capitolini. Knowing time was a premium, I suggested we split up, and...

my unknown Roman dream came true: time alone in the museum.


It was 6:00 p.m. and perhaps the dark night, the cold, and a too-soon closing time, kept the crowd unexpectedly small. As I moved from room to room, I was alone. I chose a sculpture or painting and moved close, imagining its artist, its original purpose,  or the person for whom the work was commissioned. Within the inner bowels of the museum, I gloried in the space of the Palazzo de Conservatori apartments filled with 18th century frescoes, one of which depicted a favorite ancient story: Hanibal riding an elephant, driving his army to conquer the Roman Empire.

Oh if these walls could talk; but they actually did!

 Romulus and Remus, the fathers of Rome, raised by the she-wolf. The sculpture was first thought to have been cast by the Etruscans in the fifth century BC, but carbon dating has since proved it is a piece from the first century AD.
 I took the time to peruse this ancient stella and made an amusing discovery.
 This room was big enough for the four of us. The Burial of Saint Petronella, by Guercino. This painting was once requisitioned by French troops and hung in the Louvre but reclaimed and brought home in early 1800s.
 Jesus teaching in the temple.
Part of the small Egyptian collection. 359 BC from the temple of Isis

Indescribable artist abilities.

My alone time was such a treasure, but every time I overly-treasure a tangible good, or a measurable commodity, I think of a dear friend's theory about hell. She hypothesized that earthly possessions, hobbies, and habits we loved could become our hell. She used the example of golf or running--in healthy doses they each bring us joy, heath and vitality. If overdone, if we had to run or play golf 24 hours a day,  the sports would become a personal hell.

Mary's theory becomes a warning for balance. I try to imagine the entire trip all alone. 

After an hour and a half in the museum, I'm happy to greet my crowd of travelers, my friends, my students.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pizza, Parking and Popes

1. After too many nights of a plate of meat, potatoes and salad; after having a Greek salad with EVERY meal, we arrive in Rome and dine at our first pizza cafe! We watch the pizza men ball, punch, and roll out crusts. When the first pizza slides out of the oven, we're all shocked to see everyone is served their own pizza!! This must be a mistake--but it's not. I can't imagine that I'll eat a whole pizza. But I do! It's not one of those personal mini pizzas. It's a full size thin crusted, margarita pizza. The sauce is so rich, the cheese so creamy, the crust so perfectly crunchy and soft.

The next day, our options are beef stew, calamari or pizza. Pizza it is again! And again-- next afternoon's lunch, and the next day's dinner. I even order a mushroom pizza in the kosher/Italian/Jewish bistro. I wonder what's going to happen when I wake up on Tuesday morning (in America) and I don't feed my body a whole pizza for lunch or dinner. Will it adjust?

2. There are a million cars in Rome, 350,000 scooters, motorcycles and mopeds, and only 350,000 official parking places. That's why the cars are mini, and why we see them parked at all different angles. At least once in our lives, we've been tortured by the non-existent parking place or had it stolen from a fast-swerving, swindling driver. Tawanda! Imagine this challenge everyday.

3.We are visiting St. Paul's cathedral. This is supposedly where the ancient apostle is buried. Along the upper walls are paintings of all the Popes. Our most lovely guide tells us that Nostradamus predicted the world would end when there were no more spaces for the Popes in St. Pauls. Fortunately, there are 23 spaces left.

4. Unsure if asking about the supposed Pope Joan would be a cultural faux pas, I hesitate until I arrange the words as innocuously as possible. Our guide doesn't seem to be bothered at all and responds, "Yes, she was an intellect who slid into the position after the devastation of the black plague. There was no organization and so it was possible. Romans acknowledge her, but you will never find her portrait among the 267 Popes at St. Paul. Nor at the Vatican." And the same goes for the Popes in Avignon.

5. Mussolini's existence and destruction cannot be ignored while in Rome. We pass the Villa Torlonia and learn that Mussolini confiscated the villa from a prominent Jewish family. He also allowed Hitler to deport Roman Jews. There is some satisfaction to the Romans that the villa was built over the Jewish catacombs--underground graves. The very people he helped to destroy were buried underneath his residence without him ever knowing.