Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Thoughts On Aging

Our oldest daughter needs a babysitter.

The reliable nanny will be attending an out of state wedding. I rearrange my life, along with the other grandma (bless her, bless her), and I mentally prepare for the toddler extravaganza!

My first day starts smooth. Seventeen-month-old Bandit #1 eats his toast; almost three year old Bandit #2 manages to stay unscraped, unscathed, and intact, and he only flooded the bathroom floor with one gallon of water--thank goodness for side drains in water filled sinks.  It's a beautiful day and ever since learning my Canadian friend took her children outside even in the harshest of weather, I'm conditioned to bundle up the little bandits and brave a walk.

While buckling B1 into the stroller, B2 disappears. I find him "tunneling" under the low-set van in the garage, and I'm thrown into a panic. The oil, the grease--he's going to suffocate from fumes or cut his head in between car parts. He may even get stuck! I dial his father who works from home in a basement office and in seconds, he stands like the annunciation angel in the doorway. Hallelujah! B2 explains to Dad that not only was he "tunneling," but hiding. Horrific scenes run through my over-imaginative, worrisome, grandma mind which sees the future: B2 hiding; his family unaware he's under the car. You know the rest.

My poor son-in-law. When I return from the walk and both boys are wet from playing in the sand, the grass, and sliding into puddles on the slides, he abandons work and helps me clean-up and put the little bandits to bed. This is only day one.

I arrive home that late afternoon exhausted. I weasel my way out of playing pickleball with the terminator, aka Tony--until I ask him to help me with the boys on Wednesday. It's his work from home day but no sacrifice is too great to spend with the bandits and to save his beloved's life.

"I really can't do it," he says.

"Okay. I'll play pickleball tonight."

I see a subtle shift.

"If you help me on Wednesday, I'll play pickleball, even though I'm exhausted."

I detect another shift.

"You'll probably win."

"I'll help you on Wednesday."

"I can't believe you're going to make me play pickleball just to help me!"

A deal's a deal.

Tony 4, Pat 1.

It's best he comes anyway. When I visit the bandits, they look at me, smile if I'm lucky, then promptly ask in varying degrees of language proficiency, "Where's Bapa."

"Bapa? Bapa? Bapa, Bapa Bapa...

Today I'm thankful he's the favored son. They will only allow Bapa to change diapers (a manly thing) and scream "Bapa" when it's nap time. I am left downstairs to finish lunch while he tricks them into their naps. Big mistake. In the unexpected quiet, I get a glimpse of my former life and long for the plush rug under the desk in my study.

 As per the previous pickleball bargain, Tony only has to stay on duty until both B1 an B2 are down for their naps. When his work is finished, I wistfully walk him to the door, and remind him in twenty short minutes he'll be in the sanctuary of our home, "surrounded by silence and freedom."

He smiles like a man far younger than his gray hair reveals-- as he skips down the stairs to his car. As I watch with envy, an idea lightening bolt strikes.

"Hey, I call out. It's great getting old!"

The past two days of intense attention, cleaning up, wrestling toddlers out of wet clothes, wiping spilled milk and tossed food off the floor, walls and high chairs, have been a fraction of a myriad of years of hard labor. Old age returns the gratitude of younger days spent in the trenches with an envious schedule void of interference.

Anyone who complains about getting old needs to spend a few days with toddlers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


The original flight was supposed to leave Chicago with a one hour stop and plane change in Minneapolis, then on to San Diego. I thought the hop north was a little off, but what could be so bad about a stop in Minnesota? Answer: a plane mechanical failure resulting in a missed flight to San Diego.

I now have a five hour stay at O'Hare International. I am left to make the most of the delay.

I park myself in a sunny window for the next few hours and all around me, I hear other people on phones, conversing about delayed flights.

Delayed flights delay life, but it's not only air travel that sends life into the unexpected.

I think of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before he became president of South Africa.

I think of another friend who wanted and planned to be a mother. Nearly 40 years old with two failed adoptions and just as many failed pregnancies, I smile when I think of her holding her baby girl.

In the long years, Nelson Mandela became a powerful advocate of peace; my friend studied for a PHD and served the people in her community.

Their admirable accomplishments put a positive twist and possibility to the discouraging idea of a life delay.

Maybe delays are just bridges to discovery, understanding, and a deepening of the soul.

Whenever I have a short delay, I hear my mother's advice, "Always carry a good book." She's never thrown by a doctor who's behind in his schedule, or a bumped flight, because she always brings along a good book. Her antidote of adjustment is to prepare for the unexpected with literature. I've come to adopt the same attitude, and because of Mom, the five hour delay in Chicago brings opportunity to explore (physically and mentally), observe, and enjoy more golden hours of reading and writing. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Looking Forward

On a morning beach walk, I was enchanted by the different scenes depending on whether I was looking forward or behind. 

When my focus stayed ahead, the sky was clear and blue, the people on the beach were in color. When I first looked back, I was shocked to see the world behind was silhouettes in black and gray.
Hindsight, memories, learning from the past, are all critical to positive change and development. If willing to change, if willing to contemplate and reflect on past actions and events, these can be our strongest motivators for growth.

I recently was taught, "If you're too busy to reflect, you're too busy to improve." But there comes a point in all reflection when we need to move forward, when we need the color of hope, and we need to leave behind the gray--because hope is critical to change, and hope always presents itself in living color.

When I begin teaching poetry in my AP Literature class, one of the first analysis-for-poetry tools we use is Title. Students must take note of the title and how it might apply to the meaning of the entire poem. To illustrate this point, I give them a poem without the title and ask them to explore what the poem is about. It takes them a while, some never find the answer, but eventually, a student says, "Hope."

Hope   by Lisel Mueller  
It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,  
it shakes sleep from its eyes  
and drops from mushroom gills,  
it explodes in the starry heads  
of dandelions turned sages,  
it sticks to the wings of green angels  
that sail from the tops of maples.    
It sprouts in each occluded eye  
of the many-eyed potato,  
it lives in each earthworm segment  
surviving cruelty,  
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,  
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs  
of the child that has just been born.    
It is the singular gift  
we cannot destroy in ourselves,  
the argument that refutes death,  
the genius that invents the future,  
all we know of God.    
It is the serum which makes us swear  
not to betray one another;  
it is in this poem, trying to speak.    

Without knowing the title, it's difficult to know the subject of the poem. If we start our reading knowing it is about hope, the meaning of the imagery is clear. We fall softly into the words instead of fighting the confusion before we reach clarity. 

An intimate acquaintance with hope at the beginning of every journey, of every change we try to make, makes looking forward bright with color and brings along the ultimate traveling companion of choice: hope.

Monday, October 17, 2016


On summer, Sunday afternoons, we always went for a drive after the sun had set; it was finally cool enough to sit in a car with the wind blowing through the open windows. We would check on Dad's warehouse, pick a pop from the soda machine (always Fanta orange for me), or sometimes stop at Baskin Robbins. Pink Bubble gum or Pralines and Cream. Another always.

On one occasion, Dad pulled up to a stoplight, and when it turned green, he hesitated-- I remember the moment so clearly. Without speaking, we were keenly aware of his unusual hesitation.

 And then it happened--the reason why he hadn't pushed on the gas pedal. A car came barreling through the opposite red light. Dad was stunned. We all looked to each other, shaken, relieved, but grateful. In that second of recognition, it was frighteningly obvious what would have happened if Dad hadn't hesitated.

That impressionable moment has always made me a green-light-hesitator and when I taught my daughters to drive, it always included many reminders to never proceed through a green light before checking both sides of traffic.

It was just last year, when I finished work, stopped by a sandwich shop for an avocado/veggie on sour dough (the only menu item I ever order), and I was too hungry to wait, so at the red light, I picked up the sandwich and took a bite. When the light turned green, within my mind's eye, I saw my sandwich fly across the car from the impact of another car. So I hesitated, longer than seemed necessary, and the imagined car, now in real life, ran the red light. I was shaken, relieved and grateful.

Today my daughter was driving her family, and she didn't hesitate when the light turned green. She couldn't stop in time when a car tried to sneak in a left hand turn.

Her car totaled, but her family safe, she sent a series of texts while riding in the car of a friend who drove by the accident and gave her family a ride home. The description and shock sent me to my knees in gratitude. When such news hits, it is always accompanied by the imagined possibilities of what could have happened.

The sobering moment made me reach out to other family members to remind them to always check cross traffic before entering an intersection--even when the light is green.

I received an unexpected reply that intensified my gratitude. My daughter wrote, "I actually do the same because of that advice, and one time the light was going to turn green and I heard the Holy Ghost* whisper in your voice saying to look both ways first-- regardless of it being green,-- a few seconds later a truck came speeding through and I would have been t-boned. Thanks Mama--love you."

I love you all too. Enough to remind you again and again to always check before proceeding through a green light.

*When we are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to prompt, inspire and warn. I believe that all mankind may receive promptings and warnings regardless of religious affiliations. I am just thankful for this gift that makes me aware of the potential guidance from a loving God.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sleep Wars

When Ezra's mom wakes in the night to tend the baby, he wakes and dashes into her spot on the bed. When Mom comes back she picks him up and carries him back to his bed. Regardless of the effort, she still finds him sleeping on the floor when she gets up the second time in the night to feed the baby. Sigh. 

Getting children to sleep, to sleep through the night, to sleep in their own the most exhausting, challenging part of childrearing.

How I remember--- finally, after rocking a child, or bouncing the child while singing One Tin Soldier with a long crescendo to silence, her eyes would shut. With the precision of carrying a bomb that might explode from sudden movement, I slowly lowered the child into the crib. I slipped my arms from under her body one millimeter at a time. I crouched to the ground inch by inch and hid next to the crib rails--just in case the child's eyes might pop open. Fearful still, I crawled, my movements as smooth, slow, and timely as a jaguar moving on its prey, towards the door.

When it's clear I've escaped, only then do I stand upright and tip toe down the hall.

Then comes sleep training. When the pediatrician asks, "Is she sleeping through the night yet?"

He already knows, that trickster. He can see it in the bags under our eyes, in the way we limp into his office, in the way our eyelids almost shut during his lecture concerning the child's age and how she is old enough to be sleeping through the night, and no longer in need of nightly sustenance or parental reassurance.

He may hand you a pamphlet or suggest a book. He may even go through the rigors of sleep training right before your eyes, because it is after all, very simple.

"The first night your child wakes, you just go in and pat the child's back, soothe her with a short presence and walk out. Do not speak. DO NOT pick the child up. The second night repeat the first actions. By the third night, the child may wake up for a minute and cry, but by now, the child has learned to soothe herself back to sleep.

As a young desperate-for-sleep mother, you believe the doctor. A 20 x 16 canvas image of his grown children snuggled at the sides of him and his energetic looking wife, hangs in the hallway. He did it. The proof is in the color coordinated smiles and clothing colors of his handsome, healthy children and the smiling proud parents sitting with a backdrop of pastoral grass and pine trees.

But in his two minute tutorial and picture lined office hallways, he never mentioned the child crying for three hours straight...or trying to outlast, outlive, the small patch of patience fast-draining from the deep recesses of the feel-good part of a parent's brain.

It is then that sleep wars has a new battlefield: the parent's bedroom.

"It's your turn."

"It's yours."

"I'm just going to pick her up and bring her into our bed."

"If you do, we've lost all ground gained in last night's two hour battle."

"I'm getting a hotel if this doesn't end."

It does end.

The next sleep war begins.

High school, first period math. 7:30 a.m.

6:00 a.m summer tennis lessons to beat the heat, that the child was so enthusiastic about when you wrote the check for $200.

It does end.

Finally, the children are raised. Somehow, on their own, they managed to graduate from college, hold a job, marry a very decent man or woman...then have children of their own....

Sleep wars begin again.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Freedom To Do So

Tio Aruturo agreed to speak to my classes again.

We are in the midst of the Cold War study and just finished with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tio and his family lived through the CMC and left Cuba during the Johnson airlifts; in doing so, they sacrificed everything for freedom. This was a sobering lesson I was so excited to share with my students.

Just the day before, a young man had written that the best way to study history was through written primary documents. When I read this line, I had to pause; I thought of the first hand stories I've been privileged to hear--I had to disagree with the young man's premise--the best way to learn history is from the people who were there. Hearing their stories can be stronger than reading their stories...yet, so few people are still alive to tell of those crucial historical moments.

The first time we spoke to Tio, we had a speaker problem and he had to shove his story into 20 minutes; this time he had two 45 minute class periods. I basked in his phone presence and the stories he told. So intent on listening carefully, I took very few notes and I'm desperately trying to hold on to all he said.

The story begins with Cuba's independence from Spain. A series of leaders led to Fulgencio Baptista becoming president. He came to power through his goodwill that toppled the previous corrupt government; he was liked and trusted and was voted president in 1940 through free elections. He served Cuba well by strengthening the economy, developing public works, and expanding education. But he had a flaw that allowed him to enrich himself--he made money from being the president. When his term was up, he moved to Florida and invested the money (reported as huge sums) he'd made from his service.

The eight years following his presidency, Cuba fell under corrupt leaders again. Baptista returned and the citizens were happy to greet him; he took control in a bloodless coup--but something had changed--drastically.

Baptista returned as a vicious dictator. He took control of the press, the economy, the university and began embezzling huge sums of money from the thriving sugar economy in Cuba. He rigged the election so he was the only man running.

Along comes the revolutionary Fidel Castro. Again the people had hope. He promised free elections... While promising he was not a communist, he slowly stacked government positions with communists. Elections weren't free, and then the devastating day when Castro joins with the Soviet Union and declares communist Cuba.

Tio's mom was an attorney who worked in the sugar industry. When she refused to join the communist party, she lost her job. They lost their home. The father, mother and Tio started listening to the Voice of America short wave radio at 4:00 a.m in the morning. If caught, the father would have been sentenced to five years in prison.

Tio's grandfather had been a farmer all his life. Each morning he rose early to take care of his farm. One morning he rode his tractor to his fields and was greeted by government officials who told him it was no longer his farm. He turned his tractor around and headed for home, but they stopped him because the tractor was no longer his either. It was a long walk home.

Tio's family held on, after all, how long could Castro last? The economy had tanked and only held on with Soviet assistance.

People started leaving Cuba in boats and very soon overwhelmed the Florida Coast Guard.

President Johnson miraculously negotiated with Castro, airlifts that allowed people to leave Cuba.

When Tio's family got on the list, government officials came to his home and inventoried all the possessions. When his family was informed they could leave, the inventory staff came again to make sure they hadn't given anything away or sold the silverware, the furniture, or any of their possessions. When Tio's father wasn't on the list, his mother said she couldn't leave without her husband. A soldier pulled her aside and said, "If you don't go now, you'll never get out of Cuba."

Imagine the weight of making such a decision.

Tio, his sister, his mother and his grandparents left that day. Tio was only able to leave because he was 11 years old. Men between the ages of 14-45 were held captive as military capable. They left with only 12 pounds of clothing and no money.

They arrived in America with nothing but their precious freedom.

As we listen to Tio, I jump up to the board to write key phrases, key truths he has expressed.

Corruption precedes upheaval.
No one wants to leave their home country.
The US could have obliterated Cuba, but they used constraint; they let Cuba be Cuba.
Castro later admitted he wanted war and was willing to risk nuclear annihilation to teach America a lesson.

When our time is almost up, I ask Tio, "Having left a country because of an oppressive regime, you know how important good leaders are. How are you feeling about his upcoming election?"

Tio laughs. "Well, like many Americans, I am torn. I haven't yet decided. But I have faith in democracy. I am optimistic. Democracy works and it may take a long time to recover from the bumps, but it does recover."

This is exactly what my students needed to hear. It's what I needed to hear. I think of the shambles our country was in during and after the Civil War. We pulled through. I think of the Great Depression. I think of the divisive 1960s and the Vietnam War. I think of the gas shortages in the 1970s, of the '08 housing market crash. We pull through. We live in a democracy. We have free elections and a constitution.

This morning I remembered I had a place in this democracy. I will no longer feel discouraged and desperate about the presidential candidates. This morning I started looking at the alternative candidates. I will no longer be backed into voting for a republican or a democrat to stop a democrat or a republican. I will vote for a candidate in whom I have confidence and trust.

I have the freedom to do so.

Friday, October 14, 2016

When We Listen

"We just had the best field trip ever."

Her name is Sarah and she's just taken two steps into my classroom. I see her excitement and so I say, "Come in and tell me all about it."

"We went and saw an old bookseller, collector, and trader. He had Louis the XV's personal copy of the bible. We saw a letter from Helen Keller and a letter signed by Mother Teresa. Oh, and a fourth folio of a Shakespeare play. He had the glass bowl from the Hunger Games and the ring used in Lord of the Rings."

"From the movie?"

"Yes, and he had a first edition of the Gutenberg Bible."

Her mind is racing and then she remembers, "He even had Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf."

What a shame that has value.

But it does, and the greater value is in the student's discovery of history, of books, great thinkers, and other people who respect the celebrated works of the past.

She pulls out her phone to show me the photo of Helen Keller's signature. By now, another student has joined our circle and together we thumb through photos that include first editions of The Lord of the Rings.

As exciting as antiquity is, I find the real excitement in the student's  discovery that these things exist and that they were accessible to her. It was a surprise. A surprise that  left her shaking with delight that heightened when she found an interested person to share it with.

When something VERY special happens, even something sacred, even something sad, I've come to understand I can only share it with a small circle of friends, or even one person. It's not because I'm snobbish about it, or protective--my sharing is completely dependent on whom will listen to me. Who will really listen.

Many of our life experiences are vicarious. I didn't live in Cuba during the missile crisis; the French resistance didn't try to recruit me on a country road; I was never hit by a car and lived to become a professional, handicapped, golfer--but I know people who lived these different scenarios, and I can listen to their stories and be enriched by their stories.

Funny thing: As I write this, the German exchange student who came back to volunteer and learn better English, meanders into my room. I listen. And learn. I learn how difficult it was for him to get a visa. I learn how his family back in Germany, a country inundated with refugees, took in a young teenager from Afghanistan who made the journey by himself.

I learn I have so much more to learn by listening. When we listen, people are willing to speak, and they often speak from the deep wells of experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Fuzzy Truth

While interviewing high school age refugees, I sat next to a man who was visiting from Canada. After he shared his family story with me, the conversation took an unexpected turn, "I feel so sorry for you Americans!"

He was referring to this year's election.

I was left speechless, which was fine because he'd said it all. From his objective Canadian viewpoint, he couldn't believe that we Americans were sitting ringside to such a political circus.

Last year, when Supreme Court judge Scalia unexpectedly passed away, and consequently left a huge gap in the court, and a divisive response from Congress, I asked a law professor to come and explain the importance of, the balance of, and the controversy of the empty chair.

His presentation was excellent as his specialty was constitutional law. With passion, he drew an x and a y axis and placed each judge on the chart that helped us visualize their liberal or conservative leanings. We learned that Scalia was a strong advocate of voting by the constitution; we learned other judges were swayed by current social trends and beliefs of the people. We learned that liberal judges tended to vote together, whereas conservatives tended to split according to what they considered as constitutional.

So when the craziness of this year's election was swinging from branch to branch, I called upon our esteemed law professor to help explain and to sort out the rhetoric of the day. He gladly agreed to come on November 2, less than a week from the presidential circus of 2016, or as a pundit on NPR called it, "The election that would be remembered as the election when people only voted for a candidate because they didn't want the other candidate. Or in other words, they had to choose the lesser of two evils."

I happened to run into him a month before he would visit our class. After setting definitive times, our conversation went something like this:

"Thanks again for your willingness to speak to the students."

"I'm looking forward to it."

Expecting him to be on top of all things election, I asked, "What did you think of last night's debate?"

He shakes his head. He's still shaking his head when he admits, "I can't even watch it. I can't stomach what's going on."

There was nothing further to discuss. We parted with the promise of an email reminder.

With this in mind, I was part of a text thread from one of my daughters to the rest of the family. She sent a Buzzfeed link that purported a movement to repeal the 19th amendment allowing women to vote. One daughter responded that it had to be a joke, to which the text originator said she didn't think so.

I dutifully checked the source and found it to be a ridiculous claim attributed to one party. The other party members threw gasoline on the unfounded claim and lit a match. The tweet fire burned. And my child thinks it's true.

To this I responded: This is an example of the ridiculous propaganda coming from both sides of the campaigns to incite fear through the extreme rhetoric that is so easy to perpetuate through social media. Sad. It's also a sign of deep cynicism springing from this unprecedented election.

We live in a time of unprecedented trust--a distrust of government, religion, and the political environments. We've seen presidents lie outright, only later admitting to the truth when they are backed into a corner. In the presidential debate, one candidate will speak and the other will say, "That's a lie."

When did truth become so fuzzy?

Imagine if Joseph McCarthy had had access to social media?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thinking About Christmas Gifts

It's only October 12, two and a half months before Christmas and gift giving, but I am not the kind of person who thinks about Christmas in the fall. I often postpone Christmas shopping until the very-few-days before Christmas. Often, the crowds are sparse, the merchandise on sale, and there's no better time than the present to immerse in the Christmas spirit.

But lately, I've been thinking about Christmas and more specifically the Christmas presents I will give to my grandchildren's caregivers--one woman whom I have never met. The nannies are at the top of my list because I think a lot about them. I pray for them. They are, after all, taking care of the most precious people in my life. All day, three days a week and five days a week. Somehow, I believe that my one-time Christmas gift can compensate for all their time and care.

Veronica takes care of a precocious four year old and his five month old baby sister. She takes him to preschool, coaxes him to eat and pick up his toys. Veronica changes diapers, makes sure nap schedules are met and even tidies the house. She is a year older than me.

Meagan takes care of an almost three year old and an eighteen month old, whom I lovingly refer to as the bandits. Times two, they are curious, both in diapers, and prone to dump things out, dig things up, and drag things about. Meagan is in her twenties.

When I am in charge of the grandchildren, I need Tony's help. I'm worn out after an hour, and I worry incessantly about their safety--bumping heads, scissoring off fingers, or wandering out the door during nap time. I often wonder how I raised my own children. My shortcomings help me to appreciate these women who are doing one of the most important child raising jobs possible.

And so, the caregivers are at the top of my Christmas list. Their gifts won't be elaborate or life changing--they will be just enough to express how much I appreciate their work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Today, the counselor came to class to sign-up students for college prep day. It seems like she is always having students pencil in forms.

While walking them quickly through what should have been an easy task, a student interrupted her with a question.

"What do I put for gender identity?"

The traditional options were male and female.

If the counselor stumbled, it was hardly perceptible. "Put down what is on your birth certificate."

I paid attention because I'd never heard the question asked before. I knew the student struggled with gender identity; the student isn't the first one I've had with this question.

I love this student. The student has suffered with depression and has contemplated suicide. The suffering for someone so young and tender feels like a granite rock is tied onto my heart, pulling it into abysmal sadness.

My female identity is inherent to who I am. I have always felt like a girl, like a woman. As a child I was a  giddy around the boys. I liked Blake, and Randy, and finally Tony. As I sit in the passenger seat explaining this to my husband, I try to imagine for a moment the blurriness I might feel if I wasn't so sure.

The surety feels like a gift, not because it would be wrong to feel differently--just the gift of knowing for sure.

I already second-guess myself enough over the serious and the trivial, and shouldn't the most difficult worry in high school be whether or not one is getting asked to the prom?

And so I ache for my friends, my students, people who make a change, who take a stand, who are able to ask the question in a class full of peers, "What do I put for gender identity?" On my part, there is no room for criticism or confusion, only love and acceptance.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Excitement of Discovery

I've always run the beach in the same way. I lace up my running shoes and stay above the water line, sometimes dodging the surf, sometimes returning home with wet shoes.

One summer I was with a friend who went on morning runs without her running shoes. Intriguing. I wanted to try it myself, but I'd always been a running-shoe runner.

Vacationing on St. Martin, the beach in front of our house was sand and rock. Entry and especially exit out of the water was precarious. The currents were strong and unpredictable, so timing was critical. I ended up with a bleeding knee. Not willing to give up swimming in the Caribbean, I needed to enter the water at the end of the cove that was pure sand. It was a short distance away, the perfect distance for a morning run. My barefoot beach running was born.

When I reached the end of the beach, hot and sweaty, I swam into the sea. Refreshing! When cooled off, I'd let the wave push me in, and I'd run back to the house. No need to bother wiping off sandy feet and forcing them back into shoes.

My discovery of organic, free form running changed the way I exercised.

Back on the California beach, I no longer wanted to lace up running shoes.

They stayed in the closet and my new way of running became a run-swim or a swrun. I am no longer limited to getting up early for the morning cool. It's even better to go in the heat of the day and even better when the tide is strong and high. I'm in and out of the ocean, alternating between cold and hot. When an especially strong surge comes to shore, my muscles fight the weight of the water. When the tide is deep I immerse and swim. I laugh when I can duck my head. I've never had so much fun while beach running.

The discovery of a discovery makes me more willing and even anxious to make a new discovery. That openness, that ah ha moment, curiosity fulfilled, questions answered, are invigorating to life.

I've tried to be open minded to the burqa, the hajib, the full black dress of a Muslim woman, and now the burqa-bikini that has brought so much controversy to French laws and the handling of those laws.

At different times, the dress has been outlawed in France because it brings attention and dismay to French culture. After several Islamic extremist attacks on France, the outlawing of a dress code that so differentiates one culture from the other, is understandable. In Nice, a woman was forced to remove her hajib on a French beach. The humiliation, the outcry, ended the enforcement.

It was while running/swimming on the beach that I made another discovery, a cultural discovery concerning Muslim dress.

I was wearing board shorts and a swim top purchased when I was ten pounds lighter. The swim top still fit well enough to run in, but my chest was a little bulging. I was aware of this, but it was a swim suit on a California beach. I was well within the dress code.

As I was coming down the beach, I saw her ahead. A woman in the surf wearing the burqa bikini. In contrast, she was modest and I was not. I was not affected by our differences; she had a choice I respected and I had a choice I treasured, respected and was grateful it was a choice I could make.

 As I passed her, I said hello. She smiled and said "Hi," and then I had a moment of absolute clarity from her point of view. It's as if I could read her mind. Scattered around her, were her three teenage sons, probably 11-15 years of age. I was a woman revealing more of her body than was acceptable to a mother of three impressionable boys. I understood her extreme modesty. I respected her stance and her choices.

I had made a discovery. I had an insight into the heart of another woman's beliefs and I had been enlightened.

Will I change the way I dress for swimming and exercise? No, but I will make sure the swimwear fits.

A true discovery changes the way we run, the way we think, the way we respect others. Excitement.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dreams Come True

Our AP Literature and Language Composition class decided they wanted to be chic-literary. The five young women proposed meeting once a week in a cafe for discussion and libation.

"Can we do this?" Deb asked. "Should we do this?" we both asked. "What will we call it? It needs a good name."

I turned to my limited French language knowledge. "Soiree. An intellectual, social, gathering."

The girls loved it and with administration permission, the weekly practice, Soiree cafe, began.

I was invited to the first meeting, a little cautious that real work wouldn't happen, but after the girls ordered hot chocolate  or a sweet, they settled down into their copies of Letters from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King. They had fastidiously annotated the work and knew it well. I was impressed. Perhaps this would work.

The first time I took the class to soiree cafe, we chose The Vanilla Bean. Normally, the shop opens after AP Lit but today was A Friday and AP starts a half hour later on this half school day.

I was pretty excited to walk into the bakery/cafe. Many years ago, my friend Michelle had had a dream. She wanted to be a baker in her own shop and she was going to call the shop, The Little Red Hen. 

My husband and daughter, alone one weekend had gone to dinner and decided to stop at a new establishment that served iced hot chocolate. Michelle greeted them. Her dream had come true.

When Michelle greeted the girls and me, one of the first questions I asked was, "Why didn't you name it the Little Red Hen?" Somehow, the name hadn't worked and Vanilla Bean did.

The display case was full of scrumptious. Recipes saved and savored from Michelle's grandmother were created in cookies, bars, and cakes. Chocolate croissants once a week. I wanted to taste everything.

Each student chose an item: a bottled drink, hot chocolate and ice cream. Ice cream at 10:00a.m?
I was reminded I was in the company of teenagers.

That morning, the girls pulled out their reading reflections and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. They'd read deeply, thought deeply, and now we deeply discussed the complexity of a well written American novel. As we sat in a sunny window, Michelle in the background fulfilling her dream, I somewhat realized another dream I'd never really articulated: a teacher, her pupils, engaged in the language, the study of syntax, the specific analysis of the creation of a sentence with such power--students who were at the beginning journey of a life long love for literature.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


I am dining alone.

The manager, or so he appears, comes out to the patio, sweeps past me and asks, "How ya doing Sweety?"

Really? But one thing I like less than being called Sweety is unnecessary confrontation. Maybe he was a genuinely caring manager who like terms of endearment. Bottom line, it doesn't matter.

While riding my bike around the island, I pass the golf course, and a hole that is right up against the fence.   I'm the recipient of a cat call. Or so I think. Bottom line, it doesn't matter.

I then bike past a gardener who looks up as I pass and makes the same overture. It doesn't matter. I know who I am; I am secure in who I am. I am not flattered. I am not insulted. It's a minor confrontation for which I will not be bothered.

But somehow it bothers me, it all comes back, when I hear the language, the machismo insults of a man running for president, the disregard of the sacred female body and her right to not be thought of as a physical open playground. The man who is seeking the most esteemed position in American government---should his past attitudes towards females make a difference in the US Presidential election?

Friday, October 7, 2016

French Fry Wages

A seventeen year old male student walks into class. His crosses my exactly, so I hear him say, "I finally have money in my account!"

His exuberance invites inquiry, so I ask, "Did you just get a job?"

"No, I have a job, I just got paid."

"Where do you work?"

"At McDonalds."

It's just after lunchtime and I haven't eaten, so delicious golden french fries pop into my mind.

"Do you get free french fries?" I ask.

"No, that's the bad thing, we still have to pay for food, but we get it half price."

"That's a perk."

I need to interject that this young man hasn't always been the most engaged in class and the work he turns in (late) has always been under par. I haven't had much time with him, so I hate to label him, but he's not a star pupil---yet.

Always preparing students for upcoming discussions, I ask him, "I bet you're happy that both candidates are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage." I'm sure this assumption will put us on the same page in the same way it would bring commonality to a group of pro-minimum-wage-increase voters.

But his answer surprises me.

"No, not at all."

"Why not?"

"The economy needs jobs like I have in order to motivate us to seek more education and better opportunity. If I can make $15 an hour at McDonalds, then why should I seek for something better."

He continues to explain that if a technical engineer only makes three more dollars per hour, why would anyone go through the struggle to become more.

I'm impressed with his perspective and wisdom, and I wish someone else was listening besides me.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

When A Job Is Like Play

I try to focus through AP Lit and try to be as hands on in Competitive Writing, but my heart is racing to Socratic. Just a half hour more, just twenty minutes, just ten.

The tables are set up, the scenarios are printed, the students enter class with curiosity.

Today is the Cuban Missile Crisis simulation! Years ago, a colleague created this simulation for her eighth graders. Will it work for seniors? We have to take a chance. Maybe we will see the holes, the short circuits, a way to improve. We can improvise, raise the temperature of intellect. I'm more excited than unsure or nervous.

I review the Bay of Pigs with their help leaving off critical events and they easily complete my sentences. My confidence in them is gaining momentum like a bowling ball down Lombard Street.

Okay, this is going to work. They've listened. They've processed.

Shannon and I show the movie trailer for Thirteen Days. We pass out the deliberated character assignments. The most important was President John F Kennedy. I just feel in my heart it needs to be Anastasia. Set. Richard is Robert F. Kennedy. They should work well together. For the other characters, I have to trust my instincts and hope each student plays his or her part well.

The simulation begins after students have read their parts. I hold my breath. Mark, get set, go. They jump in and play their parts well. Curtis LeMay is pushing for a surgical strike. O'Donnel is protective. President Kennedy holds her presence. Bobby sits right by her side.

Only one student has a hard time with the debate. I pull him out on the sidelines to be a concerned citizen who is allowed to write notes and send them to the president. The student decides to be a Russian and uses the translation app on his phone for a truly authentic experience. He passes the note to the president who reads them with ease.

We all forgot! Our President Kennedy, Anastasia, reads and speaks Russian! A serendipitous moment.

Students continue to argue their causes with passion. I had yet to realize how deep their thinking skills were. It's a teaching moment of pure pleasure. When the second class recreates the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'm happier still--I wouldn't have thought they could have surpassed the first class, but they did in their eloquence and reason.

I stand back and enjoy.