Monday, October 12, 2015

Winter Is Nigh

When I turned on the kitchen light this morning, a little brown mouse scurried out from under the dining room couch and disappeared into the back of a kitchen cupboard. It was a Houdini move, because there was not enough room; it must have been a secret door and I just didn't hear him say "Open sesame." But then again a mouse is able to morph into a credit card width rodent.

I sighed in disgust and thought, it's that time of year again, when the weather turns from warm to cold at night, and every living thing seeks refuge in a more preferable habitat. Living against the mountain, we always have a mouse at the change of seasons. It's as if a vacancy sign hangs from the porch.

Later that day, while making up the bed, I found an arachnid. Somehow calling it an arachnid distances that it was a spider in my bed.

I sighed in disgust, thought it's that time of year again, and squished it into a kleenex. Spiders are moving in - we must be on the cusp of winter.

Today was school photo day. I planned well and had my hair blown out on Friday. I carefully picked the right color for photographs--the requisite black dressed up with a pattern of gold. I did everything the photographer told me to do. Sit strait, chin up, slight tilt of the head.  Oh...and I also told the photographer to make me look young.

After clicking the camera, she invited me to take a look at the image in her camera. Confidently, I walked over.

"Oh, I look so old."

"We can take another one."

I seriously, foolishly, believed it would make  a difference. In the second attempt, I tried harder to look younger.

When I looked at the second photo, the first one was the better of the two, even if I looked old. I had to settle for the photo and for the face of who I am.

Winter's coming.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Mom ordered a large umbrella for the beach condo terrace. Our neighbor had one on her deck and it extended the living space into a beautiful shade covered patio. We all looked forward to enjoying even more of the outdoors.

I called Mom one afternoon and the phone rang longer than usual.

"I was just reading on the terrace in the shade."

I was sorry to have interrupted.

The next day, a burst of wind lifted the umbrella from the stand, dashed it through the air, crashing it just a few yards away. Just a minute before Mom was sitting under its protection: she'd only just stood up and gone inside for a glass of water. Mom was shaken.

The umbrella, with its metal insides, its heavy top, could have caused damage had the wind carried it in a different direction, carried it longer or farther away. Heaven forbid if it had come close to a person! To Mom.

She called for my opinion; she was deliberating whether or not to keep the umbrella. Was she overdramatizing what had happened? Was it a one time freak accident? Could it happen again? How would she get rid of it, and not wanting to throw away money, the umbrella was expensive. She'd already called the company who originally told her they would refund her money, but now they wouldn't.

To me it was clear. We'd been blessed. What could have been a freak catastrophe, had been nothing more than a frightening incident. But the evidence of the umbrella's instability in a gust of wind, the possibility of its power, had spoken.

"Get rid of it," I said. "There's no reason to take the risk."

Years before the beloved family dog, had taken a chunk of skin out of Dad's hand. Yes, Dad was aggravating the dog, trying to train it to protect me since I took it on mountain runs. I now saw that the dog had a propensity to bite when aggravated. When the little boy next door starting too taunt the dog, we were on a path for disaster. I made a hard choice; the dog was euthanized.

My friend told me a tragic story when fate had spoken and the family didn't act. In the backyard of their lovely Los Angeles home, like all lovely LA homes, was a swimming pool. They enjoyed the pool immensely not only with the three kids but entertaining as well. The three children grew up, married and had children of their own. Tragedy struck when one of the grandchildren drowned. The family couldn't have imagined the depth of the devastation they felt--until it happened a second time.

The pool was filled in and a short while later, the home was sold.

Fate speaks. It warns. Listening can be inconvenient, can incur monetary loss; but there is no greater loss than knowing we should have acted, sold, fenced, given up, moved on.

It's why I'm fencing the lower half of the yard and moving the bees out of the main garden; their proximity was too close to the pool. This summer our little grandson climbed out of the pool onto a bee sucking up the splashed water on the deck. It managed to get out a sting before it was smashed to death.  It was devastating that my hobby had caused pain for little Ezra.

Fate had spoken and I needed to act.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

I am sitting around a table with a group of historians when a reference is made to an Anne Bradstreet poem. Anne was a 17th century American poet with incredible talent. The referenced poem is her tale of preparing for possible death on the eve of giving birth.

"Every woman who lived before the age of modern medicine always prepared for her death before giving birth," says the woman next to me.

The table turns silent. Most of us are women and it is a sobering thought. I mistakenly discount that it might not be as sobering for men as it is for women. I learn I am wrong when one man tells his story.

"It's 11:00 pm and the nurses hand me my beautiful son. At 3:00 am, the alarms sound when my wife's blood pressure drops dangerously low.  She is bleeding internally. We are surrounded by competent nurses and doctors and she is restored to health. In that moment of crisis, I realized if it had been a century earlier, I would have been a widower."

I understand in that moment why my parents were always so nervous each time I announced a pregnancy. They grew up on the cusp of time, when women died in childbirth. They heard stories of and knew women who did. I remember Mom repeating a haunting and mysterious phrase: "Childbirth is walking through the valley of the shadow of death."

Even though we are blessed to live in the 21st century of modern medicine, I still live with the anxiety of my daughters' pregnancies.

Three years ago, our daughter was having a difficult birth. Her husband called every few hours to let us know if circumstances had changed. After 36 hours of labor, the doctor's plan was to perform a C-section if she did not give birth by noon that day. Twelve noon came and went. Two o'clock passed. Four o'clock passed. We texted, we called, we emailed, but not a word. After six o'clock that night, we finally heard that all was well, but the in-between, I wondered if we had lost our daughter.

I felt I had walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

I understand now that this valley is not solely for the physical sufferer, but for those who wait, those who accompany. The one reassurance of this dismal biblical passage is that the circumstances which create a shadow, are also the circumstances that require light.

Friday, October 9, 2015


Mom is visiting and it's like having an old and dear friend come my way. Because marriage took me away and never brought me back, our time together for 30 years has always been just visits. When we are together, we are driven by the silly and serious traditions we've established. These traditions have become habits, rituals, reasons to laugh at one another, and oh how they've changed since the children are no longer in the picture unless they come over for dinner, unless grandma invites them shopping, unless we meet for lunch, or visit Mom's great grandchildren. So many options, so many joys.

Silly Tradition #1: A few years ago, I was preparing a mammoth activity for my 9th graders. We were going on an archaeological dig!!! The summer preceding the advent of school, I needed ancient pottery to crack and bury. Mom and I visited every goodwill store in San Diego California. If a thrift store exists in the area, I have been there. We even found an ancient vase with drawings of Iliad looking warriors. The search was fun, purposeful and so began, our traditional visits to goodwill. For Mom, the search has become a search for lost books in series she happens to be enjoying. For me, it is real glass drinking glasses; I have a preference for water in real glass and a clumsiness for breaking it. Ten glasses of the same style for $1.00 a piece is a bargain to wag about.  After last night's run, I walked out of goodwill with Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," a dozen glasses, two of which were crystal, and two bowls without chipped edges picked up only after Mom complained, "There wasn't an un-chipped glass bowl in the house."

Sillier Tradition #2: Whenever we meet in San Diego, we usually return to the same restaurant. Extraordinary Desserts. The first few times we went, it was a treasure hunt. We discovered this great restaurant and returning to it a second time took some work. Neither of us wrote down the address or google mapped it before. The third time, we repeated the first two mistakes. The fourth time, it became a tradition of hunting down that restaurant, coaxing our brains to remember whether it was a tree-named street or not, and which major street ran parallel to the one we couldn't name. Or did it run perpendicular? Each time we decide to go to Extraordinary Desserts, same confusion. But now it's part of the ritual, part of the fun. I wouldn't dare look up the address. I'm actually quite sad at the moment because I remember the tree-street is Birch and the cross street is Union. I will do all I can in my power to forget. Having now written it down, I probably won't forget. It may be time to choose a new restaurant hidden on a downtown side street.

Worthy Tradition # 3: Education. Our first serious educational exploration came in Chicago a few years ago. Keep in mind all those years with little children we towed around, and how it wouldn't have worked carting them to museums and exhibitions. But since they were now grown, we scheduled a visit to the home and office of Frank Lloyd Wright. Ah the beauty of design and the passing of time. I noticed how Mom loved the tour, loved the architecture. Since then, I've always tried to schedule an exhibit or a place to go that stretches and enhances aesthetic appreciation. When I found the Rose Marie Reid bathing suit exhibit, I couldn't wait to take Mom.

Serious Tradition #4: Good food. Doesn't matter where we get it. This trip it was gluten free carrot cake muffins at Holly's house and an al fresco lunch in beautiful fall weather eating my favorite soup at Tacos 180.

Blessed Tradition #5: Hanging with all the family. This time it included three of the four daughters, and three great grandsons and one great granddaughter.

We could do without the thrift shop, the search for the San Diego restaurant, the good food, the culture and education, but hanging with the babies---never--it's the best repetition of all.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


I have the loveliest student. In every way. I've watched her grow from a quiet ninth grader to a confident senior. She is composed, caring, and clear minded; I always suspected she came from a strong family situation. Yet, as she became more confident in her writing, she wrote about family discord.

A few days ago, she told me she needed to talk. Her countenance was heavy and I wondered if something was terribly wrong.

"Can you talk to me in class or do we need to leave?"

"We need to go outside."

I shut the classroom door and anticipated the worst.

She was on the verge of tears.

"I don't know whether I should write about my parents weaknesses."

Deep breath. I reminded her that writing can be therapy and it might be helpful for her to do so. A caveat followed closely on the heals of this advice.

"Be smart and careful with what you write. I've seen families torn apart when a person publishes writing that disparages a family member."

"Ok," she trembled.

Over the next week, I thought about my student everyday, and I wondered if I should share with her that my parents weren't perfect either.

Years ago, I had another friend, a grown woman, who carried the burden of an imperfect father. She acknowledged he'd done something bad, but she kept it a secret. One day, she called a mutual friend and asked her to come to her house.

The woman broke into tears as if she'd committed the crime herself. She disclosed that her father had murdered another man in an unfortunate accident. His daughter had had nothing to do with it, but she acted as if she did.

Heartbreaking--that love condemns a child to carry a parent's cross. In part because the child thinks she is the only one with human parents capable of mistakes. So, today, as we were discussing the 14th and 15th amendments, I let it out--a costly mistake another parent had made.  My parent. My wonderful, adorable, beloved father. It was okay, especially if Dad knew it might help a teenager know she wasn't the only one with fallible parents.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My sweet daughter has a great plan for her nine year old daughter and eleven year old son. Like all children that age, they frequently make mistakes and find themselves in the fallen grace of their mother. She takes away privileges, assigns extra chores; she's even fined them for disobedience. The new plan is a way to help them out of their punishments.

Essay writing!

"What do you think Mom? Could you give me some essay writing guidelines? Her voice mail is chipper and optimistic. My reply is not.

"Please don't use any kind of writing connected in any way to punishment. School already makes kids hate writing."

Her response: crap.

For five days, my students have been writing freely with little pressure and a lot of support and effort on my part to help them love writing.  Each day when the bell rings, they continue writing. Today, I had four students ask if they could skip the second half of class, the history, and keep writing. Oh how I was torn. Imagine my joy, when students want to keep writing.

How do teachers make students hate writing? Like my daughter, they mean well, but I have a few theories.

More often than not, teachers assign an essay assuming students can just write an essay. It's a home assignment, usually done the night before without any exploration or support.

In math class, students practice math; in PE they practice sports, do push-ups and jumping jacks. Students are only tested on Algebra problems after they've practiced, practiced, practiced. PE may test for physical fitness only after the class has been running for a month. Never does a PE teacher take her class out and expect them to run five miles without building up the stamina.

This is what happens to Language Arts students. We read, we ponder and discuss, and then we assign an essay. No wonder students hate writing.

My daughter thought she could instill a skill in her children. She would have only instilled hatred.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Miraculous Chain

Since this morning, a beautiful image has subconsciously worked itself into my mind and upon my heart.

A student came into class needing her essay edited for the National Merit scholarship. The essay had to be uploaded to the site--right then, or at least in the next few hours. The counselor wanted her to submit it before she came to class, but she trusted me enough to want me to read it.

It was a tight day already, laid out in the previous days, the final lesson plan typed out the night before. I had an agenda, but my agenda paled next to the needs of this student.

"We have an emergency," I said to the class. "I need to edit with Eliza, so we're going to plan B." I

Eliza's essay was about her service specialist job in the student council. All year, she had planned and executed acts of service with and for her fellow students. They'd made cards for hospitalized children, held car washes, and she'd even organized a blood drive. At the end of the year, she wanted to bring the service home--home to the school, student to student service. At the culmination of service week, students came to an assembly where Eliza held the paper chain students had been adding to all week. Each time an act of service was performed, students added a link to the chain.

When the service paper chain was unrolled, it went around the gym, not once, but twice.

This is the image that stayed with me all day, but little did I realize it.

School ended with just an hour before my dentist appointment. I hurried home and filled two bags with tomatoes from my garden, wrapped a baby present, then walked my neighborhood to deliver the gifts. Before I left for the dentist office, I made sure the jacket that the dental assistant had admired, was in the car.

When I gave her the hand-me-down, she was delighted.

When the dentist got behind in her schedule, I had enough time to drive to Holly's house and stay with the babies while she ran her daughter to soccer practice.

Just about now, things began to shift.

When I returned to the dentist's in the nick of time, I learned from a phone call that the amount of money we had saved wasn't needed for an investment: instant monetary blessing/windfall.

And then, the greatest blessing of the day. The dental assistant was left to clean up the plastic surrounding my tooth. Having known her, having adored her for years, she broke some sad news, but immediately on the heels of the sadness were incredible blessings. Blessings to her life that had tears rolling out from under the protective dental glasses and down the side of my cheek. I was so grateful for her blessings, so grateful for her sharing them with me, that she shared even more! More tears, more gratitude, more amazement, more love and hugs.

As I drove home and was pondering the little miracles I'd received, I saw Eliza's chain in my mind's eye. Each part of the chain was an act of service and an even greater blessing that came back to me. I was honestly--astonished. Touched. Grateful--and I knew the next deed I needed to add to the chain.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Injustices of Justice

When our second daughter was just in high school, she drove the short distance to another city to visit a boyfriend who'd had surgery. On her way there, she was stopped by a policeman because her registration had expired. This all happened in the days before cell phone use was as common as blue eyes in a Scandinavian country.

The policeman made her exit the car, sit on the side of the road while he called for her car to be impounded. I don't remember how she called us, but it was only after waiting on the side of the road.

Within the law, the policeman must have had the right to impound her car. Yet, it was punitive as she had no tickets or other violations. I had bungled the registration. I drove the 45 minutes to pick her up and that following Monday, I paid the registration, the fine, and paid the fee to un-impound her vehicle.

A heavy price to pay for overlooking a necessity.

A few months ago, I did it again. Somehow, I didn't pay the registration on my own car. I don't know what happened. Whether I didn't receive a notice, whether I put it off and forgot, I do not know.

When the policeman told me the reason for making me pull to the side of the freeway, I knew the worst that could happen. I braced myself for what might come to pass. Yet, he returned to the car, told me to get the car registered and drive safely. That was it.

Justice should be equal and consistent. Yet, we see and we know it isn't. Even the nature of justice, taken from the hands of weak women and men, can be random, cruel, strange. One underage drinker, driving at night, may arrive home safe, whereas another may run into a car, killing its occupants. Both agents acting recklessly--only one with dire consequences.

An ice covered mountain: one car slides off, the other doesn't. A fall: one man a paraplegic, the other walks away.

This week I had to pay the registration on a car, our son-in-law is borrowing. It's four days past the registration expiration and he hasn't yet put the new decals on the car. I wanted to impress upon him the importance of following through, so I told him, "If you get stopped, they could impound the car. It's expensive and a hassle." It's unlikely both events would happen immediately, but they could, and the possibility, my warning, seems to justify the inconsistencies of justice.  Justice is a measurement of consequences from none at all to worst case scenario.  A warning. A caveat in the back of our minds. The possibilities, the what if's, can be motivators to correction.

Justice can be kind, justice can be cruel.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Let It Be the Bra

Five years ago, in sunny Los Angeles, I hosted my best high school friend's birthday party. A northerner among southerners, I noticed the women in dresses were not wearing hose or nylons.

I must have inquired, because my friend made it clear that, "Hose are out. No one in LA wears hose."

I felt immediately free. Bless those trend setting Los Angeles women.

For most of my adult life, I had worn pantyhose, and the name can't come close to how awful these constricting, bottom squeezing, nylons actually were to wear. Not including the work it was keeping an un-snagged pair in my lingerie drawer.

That night of liberation, thanks to my LA women heroes, set me free from the circus antics of pantyhose. When pantyhose are first pulled out of the package or the egg, they are the size of a Chihuahua or rather the right size to fit on the legs of a Chihuahua. I would always have to sit down on the side of the tub in order to put them on. It was a careful exercise of starting at the tip of the toes, inching up carefully in order to stretch the pantyhose out completely. Then, I would try to walk. Pantyhose had to fit snug so they wouldn't fall down. And when they didn't, well, there's nothing quite like walking as your pantyhose slide down your legs.

Yet, there was still a problem: cold winter weather. I wasn't going to let this seduce me into wearing hose. I promptly filled my drawer with comfortable, user-friendly tights and leggings to keep my legs warm.

I wonder what will be the next body-constricting garment to go. Please let it be bras.

Keep in mind that a woman's bare legs were once scandalous. We could adjust once again.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Happy Is the Man With His Quiver Full

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them... Psalms 128:6

For over thirty years, children were at the center of our home. If they weren't my own, they were our children's friends, cousins, the child from around the corner-- each one welcomed and loved.

For two unexpected years, we even had grandchildren filling our quiver.

It's hard to imagine a child will grow up and leave the nest--especially in light of those days when we brought a child home, swaddled, sleeping, so brand new, that we kept stealing glances, hardly believing the bundle belonged to us. We were enraptured, in love. Yet, we always know, keep it in the deep recesses of the mind. We'd done it ourselves, lived our parents independence--some of us even saw our siblings grow up and leave the home.

When the time comes, usually, we are ready. I'd heard many times how hard it was on mothers to let their children go, so I calculated, I prepared. When I lost the last child, there were 75 to take her place. Yet, it still hits me. The loss, the chaos, the excitement, the companionship that all come with a child living at home. And still we can't imagine the loss as we could have never imagined the gain.

There is still a thought that plagues me whenever I am away from home. Whether it's a few hours, a day, a week, even a trip to the grocery store, I always think I have to hurry home to the children. It's hard to shake a thirty year goal of wanting to be at the crossroads of my children's lives. I get this fleeting panic that I need to hurry because a child is waiting for me, waiting to share her day, waiting for me to just be there. It passes. Quickly. But only after an initial sorrowful feeling that I am going home to a child-less home. Today when it happened, I realized that I looked forward to seeing another person. A person who worked from home today. And remembered another verse, another chance to fulfill happiness: ...For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Queen Is Caged

It's a terrible thing to be stifled.

Yet, that is just what I've done to the queen of my hive.

If you haven't heard about the honeybee plight, you've been living on the moon. As I study and study, it seems the problems with honeybees are insecticides, pesticides and the evil mite. Beekeepers have responded to mites with more chemicals.

This past spring, Nikki and I each bought a new package of bees raised in a California apiary. By summer both hives had a high enough count of mites to need treatment. The bee inspector suggested a "natural" treatment. Nikki promptly ordered the "natural" treatment." After putting the strips in the hive, she was sick over the bees' response. They clung to the outside as if the inside had been poisoned. It was--just enough poison to kill the mites, but not enough to kill all the bees, but enough to make them suffer and maybe lose a few or even the queen. A few hours later, she pulled the strips out.

I started thinking, thinking. The mite proliferates by crawling into an egg cell and attaching itself to a bee embryo. Sci-fi kind of stuff. What if there were no new bees? What if I removed the queen, so she couldn't lay any more eggs? Theoretically, the mites would die, if the queen didn't lay and the mites had nowhere to go.

I started searching and found some information: a scholarly paper from a university agriculture program, and ultimately support from our own county agriculture inspector. His information came from the few scholarly papers too and from "things he'd heard." He'd had no experience with this experiment.

The day came too soon, when Lisa, Nikki and I gathered to pull the comb, find the queen and catch her! How hard it was to even imagine putting a stop to mother nature.

And the risks. The queen might become infertile. She might die. The hive might try to raise another queen or worse, one of the workers might try to become an unfertilized egg layer. I was too nervous to try and catch the queen, so we nominated Lisa. Lisa is fearless when it comes to getting the job done.....sure enough, she chased that queen with her fingers and pinched her from her dominion. She dropped her into her little queen cage and I corked the top. Have a nice rest.

How I worried about that queen. I was sorely tempted to release her early. I couldn't bear thinking of her cooped up in a cage. The workers still had access to her, still cared for and fed her, but she was a prisoner. Condemned to stop fulfilling her one responsibility in life. It was cruel, but it had to be done.

Over the next week, I would text whine to Lisa and Nikki. They stayed strong and insisted I did too. After all, this experiment belonged to all of us. We were on the edge of an experimental frontier and we all had plenty to lose or gain. My hive was the test hive and what we discovered could help us treat mites in the coming years while keeping our hives chemical/poison free.

Today is Friday and last Monday, we  checked on my queen. She was still surrounded by workers specifically assigned to her royal highness. How confused they must be too. How loyal they are.

How hard it is to stick to a plan even when the plan is best. Especially when the plan requires tough love with our children.

While my children were still young, I heard a story that impacted my ability to stay the course--to better stick with important demands and discipline for my children. Two children from different families were afflicted with polio. Both children needed extensive physical therapy in order to recover. One child screamed when he was forced to walk. The parents gave in to his cries and let him stop. The second child screamed in pain, but the parents wouldn't let him stop. Their child walked, the other child didn't.

In three more days we will release the queen from her Tower of London. She will be free to do what she does best, only because I did what was best, to the best of what I could piece together.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


 I grew up with 27 cousins whom I both loved and feared.

I feared the teenage boys as I watched them wrestle in the pool and stand dangerously close to fireworks. I understood how mean boys could be from my cousin's rebuke. After leading us on a hike and getting us lost, I started to cry, and he pounced with his words. "You're a baby," he yelled.  "Look around you! We're not lost. One of those cabins is our cabin."

 I did look around, and from our mountaintop perch, all I saw were hundreds of cabins which made finding ours even less likely.  Forevermore, I kept my distance from this cousin but couldn't stay away from news of his life. I watched him rebel, watched him intentionally aggravate the uncles with his liberal views, felt the conflict and tension he brought into a room. He was busted for pot, cleaned up, became an attorney--broke up his marriage with infidelities, battled alcoholism and eventually pushed the button of self-destruct. I trace it all back to that moment on the mountain top.

I adored my girl cousins. As one of the younger cousins I watched how they dressed, how they wore their hair, and copied their mannerisms. I saw them drive cute little cars, go to proms, graduate from high school, go off to college and earn degrees. I saw their cheerfulness, their charisma, their boyfriends. I especially paid attention when certain young men consistently showed up at family gatherings.

We were our own novel of Little Women and when we got together, there was laughter and joy. So much that we got in trouble after Grandpa's death for having too much fun. My parents trusted these cousins to take us to the family cabin for the weekend. The cabin was meant for fun, for all night giggles, for silly charades, for hot chocolate, for playing Authors, for sleeping by the fire.

The family cabin was built by this same grandpa whose death we didn't know how to mourn. The cabin was simple. A big fireplace at the center of one great big room. An afterthought kitchen, a toilet that always leaked and a toilet seat that was like sitting on ice in the winter. Two big bedrooms off the main room, one lined with bunk beads and bunk beads.

When the mean boy cousin was a teenager, he took his girlfriend to the cabin and spent the night; her mother called, furious. The family cabin was sold the next month. It was the beginning tear of a family that would eventually rip apart.

Grandpa, perhaps, could see this coming, could see his strong willed sons and saw they fathered strong willed children. Perhaps he saw so well because he'd seen it before. He'd created a family rip that left an ocean between his father and siblings.

Perhaps this is what inspired him to commission a painting. In this painting, serene and pastoral landscape surrounds a fagot held together by a strong rope.

 Grandpa gathered his sons and presented the commissioned painting explaining that as long as they stayed tied together, they would be strong; no one could break his sons and daughter apart if only they stuck together.

Not even a work of art was strong enough to hold the bond in place.

Family relations are tempestuous affairs. Often family members, determined by genetics and experience, are prone to the same tempers, the same intolerances, the same brash decision making. Like mountain plates that shift when the earth moves, families too will butt and scrape against each other.

But like the shifting of plates, the family shifted too. Differences were laid to rest, people were laid to rest; hardships were old news and the reasons to be adrift weren't as strong as the reasons to reunite.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chalk Drawings

After a short weekend at the beach which included a business meeting for my son-in-law, my daughter laments: "I wish the trip wasn't over." We are just minutes from the airport, and indeed the trip is over.

An optimistic voice pipes in from the back seat. London, my son-in-law, says, "When one trip is over, I just start a new one."

I interpret his words to mean: life is a series of adventures that begin when one ends, whether it is a trip, a new place, a new day, or even a new hour. Each moment holds the potential for learning, adventure, and opportunity.

I remember feeling the same way as my daughter at the end of a dream trip with two favorite cousins and my mother. All three women were Interior Designers and I was fortunate enough to accompany them on a furniture buying trip to the American furniture design city in the United States. It was intoxicating. Buildings and buildings full of the latest design trends, and full of beautifully crafted furniture.

And of course there was an amazing amount of down-time-fun. My cousins and I hadn't been together since I was a child, when my oldest cousins would take us to the cabin, where we would play Authors, hike, eat popcorn, and sleep around the fireplace.

As we were about to part, each of us heading to different gates at the airport, I said to my cousin, "I wish this trip wasn't over. I feel like I'm in the Mary Poppins movie, and I've been in Bert's magical chalk drawing having the adventure of a lifetime. It's started raining, the chalk drawing has dissolved and the adventure is over."

"Ah," my cousin's eyes twinkled as if she were Mary Poppins herself, "But you can always start a new chalk drawing."

And so I am reminded this morning, when the alarm rings before six a.m., when I dutifully trudge to the shower, dutifully prepare my thoughts for this morning's classes, that it isn't just another day at school for a tired teacher, but another day to create and enjoy another chalk drawing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ducking the Boat

New Navy recruits, and potential Navy Seals are put through some tough training.

When they first begin, it is rigorous, backbreaking and everyone has to work together. It's a weeding out process and not everyone stays planted. There are several exercises that separate the tough from the weak, the guys with integrity from those without.

One of the most difficult and hated exercises is "Running with the boat." Seven men are required to carry a big, heavy, rubber dinghy on their heads while running a considerable distance through the thick sand. Each man is required to stand straight and let the dinghy rest on his head. The head pain is excruciating, and each man is tempted to duck his head and carry his part with one arm. When this is done, the weight shifts to the other six men, who now must carry the burden on their heads; it creates severe disrespect towards for the guilty navy guy who is ducking the boat.

I love when I'm told a story and it creates an immediate metaphor. As I listen to Braden, our potential Navy Seal, I can see the men running, I can see the complex shift of emotions as one of their own tries ducking the boat.

I see my own life. I pinpoint the times when someone nonchalantly was ducking the boat, and though I don't want to remember, I'm more than sure there were times when I was ducking the boat.

I look forward to using the phrase with my students this week when we start reading Alfred Lansing's book Shackleton. It is a tale of woe, of fortitude, of bad luck, blessings, and foremost, endurance and team work. For most of the journey, every man carried the boat on his head, but when one of the men didn't, it was excruciating as a voyeuristic participant to stand by and absorb.

A hundred years later, I remember the name of Ordes-Lee, not for the 95% of the time he was a team player, but for the critical moments when he was ducking the boat.

Once again, I'm reminded of the kind of person I want to be, the kind of person I want my students to be: players who resist the urge to ducking the boat.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Here's To the Fruit of the Gods

Drum roll please....I am waiting to write, waiting to taste the first kernel of deliciousness, so I can record my immediate sensation of this year's first pomegranate goes.

Not as sweet as I remember, but it will get better! And it does. The second pomegranate is even sweeter and by the third one, I am only stopped from eating more because of the intense labor and the pink juice that has stained my dress and the white sheets. Yes, I was eating a pomegranate in bed!

Pomegranates are part of our family legend. Mom grew up eating pomegranates in a pomegranate loving family. They were probably one of the few plants, besides cacti that flourished in the Las Vegas heat. Thrifty women they were and her mother, her aunts, made pomegranate jelly, and it was a favorite of my sister's and mine. So much that when we attended a family reunion, and the annual auction started, my sister and I had our eyes on the pomegranate jelly. We each paid $20 a jar for that beloved taste from our childhood. Ahhh....the memory of an English muffin smothered with butter and pomegranate jelly.

Thanksgiving always included Mom's beloved fruit salad with pomegranate arils. I always took for granted the hours she spent cutting, cracking, peeling the little rubies from their bitter casing. Now having reached my ten thousandth pomegranate aril extraction this weekend, I appreciate her work even more.

Last year, Kristi made lunch for her friends. We walked into a Moroccan feast! This is where I learned to really up the class status of pomegranates. Kristi had mixed a bowl full of arils with fresh orange juice and orange zest. I could live off this dish from September until the last pomegranates harvest in December. Kristi also referred to this dish as ambrosia or the fruit of the Gods.

Because of the love of pomegranates passed on to my little family, we have our own family legend. When Holly was just a sweet and tender sixth grader, she was called down to the office, for a date with the principal. I can only imagine how nervous she was. When she entered the principal's office, the lunch room janitor was standing by the principal's side.

"Yes, she's the one."

I am certain, my daughter was trembling at this point.

One familiar with pomegranate extraction knows the little arils bounce and it is impossible to peel and keep them in a bowl. They bounce against the peeler, bounce off the cupboard, and certainly wouldn't stay on a lunch room table. My daughter's pomegranate seeds had bounced too often on the lunch room floor and the janitor wanted it stopped.

I understand, but in the school crimes against humanity, it is slight, and we all enjoy this reminiscence over the pomegranate bandit who was sent to the principal's office.

Year after year, when pomegranate season rolled around, Mom told us her pomegranate story. The bushes were abundant as usual, so her father asked his children to pick some for a neighbor down the street. She'd never had pomegranates and Mom's dad wanted to share. The children picked a sack full and carried it to her home.

Time passed and the neighbor didn't say much. Not a thank-you, not a response at all. When someone in the family (I need to ask Mom who it was exactly), asked the woman if she enjoyed the fruit, she hesitated and responded, "Well, it wasn't bad but there were too many seeds."


Mindless and unnecessary facts about pomegranate arils: they are really sarcotesta. Uh huh, just look it up.