Monday, August 29, 2016

The New Policy

We are a school that wears uniforms. Like any policy or rule with punitive consequences, it is hard to enforce when a student decides to defy it. Oh there's the small, hardly noticed infractions which the school no longer fights: shoes and socks. It used to be that brown or black, standard close-toed school oxford-type shoe was required. Once in a while a pair of boots, even UGGs, showed up in the winter.

Sitting in a meeting one day discussing yet again the uniform policy, an administrator mentioned the UGG problem. He added, "Can you believe how ugly they are?"

I piped in, "Do you know how comfortable they are?"

After a few years, the brown shoe policy went by the wayside. After a few years, we were seeing red sneakers, rhinestone studded slip-ons, ruby reds and all kinds of boots. Policy changed because it was a harmless way for students to express themselves and declare some independence through bright green loafers. Then came the socks.

Honestly as a teacher, the vivid bursts of personality were quite refreshing. Students could maintain the rules with a little bit of swinging from the vines like a monkey in the wild.

Then there is hair. And beards and mustaches, and afros, and, streaks of blue, and interpretations beyond comprehension. For young men, the hair is supposed to be behind the ears and above the collar. But what if that young man can tuck his hair behind his ears and pull most of it back in a man-bun? What if the streak of magenta is underneath the regulation brown.

The worst part is being the teacher who is supposed to nail the students and write them up. For years I had a reputation of not enforcing the policy; I am so focused on teaching, communicating, and inspiring, that I didn't see, or chose not to see the little infractions.

Administration had a new idea. Let's enforce the principle of uniforms instead of the rule. Let's look at why we have uniforms.  In the new magna carta a buzzword emerged. Sacred. Education is sacred and we want to create an environment in which nothing interferes with or distracts from the sacredness of learning.

Now the question emerges among students: Is learning sacred?

We must first get to the bottom of what sacred is...and it has a lot of variety in its meaning according to how a particular student views sacred.

Three definitions for Mirriam Webster:
1.Worthy of religious worship: very holy

This doesn't work in a public school sanctioned by separation of church and state--which I am grateful for.

Definition #2: relating to religion--ditto

Definition #3: highly valued and important: deserving great respect

Learning as sacred is supported by the third definition.

But some of the students don't comply with learning as sacred.

  It's mandatory and therefore doesn't meet the description of sacred.

Yet, if you ask Malala if learning is sacred...
If you ask my grandfather who ran away from home because he wanted education instead of a position in the family business...
If you ask a woman, a black man, a native American, a Chinese, who may have been denied the opportunity to learn...
If you ask a child in Africa who doesn't have the money...
If you ask a child who walks miles, or takes an hour long bus ride...
If you ask a college student working two jobs if learning is sacred...
If you ask a teacher...


Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's Not Even Mother's Day

"Hi Mom. Do you have a minute?"

"I do."

"Well, I have to tell you how your words influenced me to do something good."

"And it's not even Mother's Day."

She laughs. "I don't know who said it, but you used to say, Never suppress a generous thought. "

"Spoken by Camilla Kimball."

"Yes, and because of those words, it prompted me to do something I really feel good about."

How ironic that I had just hung up the phone and thanked my own mother for her example of patience and love.

"A few days ago, I saw the police following a young man as he and another man pushed his car down the street and into a parking place right across from our house. Apparently, if a person lives in his car, he has to move it every few days."

I think of the rough neighborhoods just blocks away from her pleasant Chicago neighborhood.

"So the next day," she continues, "it was extremely hot, and I wondered how he was doing. I had a generous thought of taking him some ice water, but I hesitated, cause here I am with a four year old and a newborn. I hesitated. But then I saw a neighbor talking to him and it gave me the courage to follow through. I made him a sandwich, filled a cup with ice water, and walked out to see how he was doing. I found the older gentleman was trying to help him, and I suggested that he may want to find a neighborhood cooling station (set up for the homeless during hot Chicago summers). Between the two of us, I felt we gave him some hope."

In her actions, she also found a boost to her own hope. She clings to this hope that all will be well in her Chicago neighborhood, in which crime keeps creeping closer.

The majority of citizens in her neighborhood keep searching for solutions to help two feuding families who threaten the peace with gunfighting in spite of some of the toughest gun laws in America. Her community has a facebook page, and they are working towards peaceful resolutions.

As a doctor of psychology, I think she can solve any problem, but she laughs and tells me she doesn't specialize in conflict resolution. She planned to go to the first meeting not as a professional but as a concerned citizen. Again, irony comes into play: she ended up staying home because the meeting was held in a place, at night, where she didn't feel safe.

In the meantime, she will abide the situation by living the principle, never suppress a generous thought. Possibly the only hope for a troubled city.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cut Loose and Be Thankful!

Last night, during family prayer, I wanted to thank Heavenly Father for watermelon, but I started to smile and even worried I might laugh, and worst of all, that I might sound silly. So I didn't express my gratitude for a sincere, authentic appreciation for watermelon.

A few minutes later, when I said my personal prayer, I thanked Heavenly Father for watermelon. I did smile, almost laughed, but felt I was in good company for being authentic. I even felt that little endorphin kick for sincere gratitude. It was a lovely way to end the day (gratitude and laughter), before I thankfully crawled into bed.

There are multitudinous studies on gratitude and each one confirms the benefits of gratitude: better health, less attachment to material goods, a trigger in the brain for good feelings. For teens, the benefits are just as great: more friends, better grades.

Last night, at the end of a long week, Tony and I sat down to watch an episode of Master Chef. It's a demanding cooking competition, with a profanity flinging Gordon Ramsey, but the show has a lot of heart. Each week, the home cook who flubs his dish, is voted off the island. Last night's flub was a cake and the offender was a man from Venezuela. When he was asked to respond to his banishment from the kitchen, he said with the most sincere heart, "I am grateful." Tony and I were touched, the other competitors were tearful, and even THE master chef Gordon Ramsey choked up.

Knowing the effect of gratitude on teenagers, I decided to begin the school year with an exercise in thankfulness. The very first day we formed two gratitude circles. The concept is a speed-dating set-up where two people facing each other have 30 seconds to express their gratitude for...anything. After switching, students had to express a new thing for which they were grateful--no repeats.

Each year I do this exercise with students, though never on the first day. Every time it has produced the same results. At first, students wonder if they will be able to come up with so many things to be grateful for, or the students start off nervous. Sometimes it is quiet---at first. At the end of the exercise it is always loud and happy...oh so happy. I even had a student burst out, "Let's continue!"

Last year was the first time I joined the circle, and I will never miss out again. A conversation that begins with sincere gratitude, is a conversation set on the right course.

I am wondering what would happen to my own marriage if each morning I greeted Tony with, "I am grateful for you."

After an entire summer of mediocre watermelon, I was soooo grateful for the juiciest, possibly sweetest watermelon I had ever tasted, that I didn't stop eating until my belly was in overload. Yet, I hesitated to express my gratitude in prayer, thinking of the possible ramifications for doing so. I think of all the things for which I am grateful for, but hesitate to express. I hold back. I don't know why, but I want to cut loose....to be free, to be grateful--to be happy!! This is going to change my life...

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Grace of Shared experience





I am running the trail behind my house when a fox crosses my path. I know this fox. I resent her; I am enthralled by her. Her quickness. Her independence. That she dares to mess with me.

 I found her paw prints in the sand tray I placed in front of the hive when I discovered the  queen had stopped laying eggs. A fox will stand and swat at a hive, terrorizing the queen and aggravating the guards into action-right into the fox's mouth. The hive had almost dwindled to distinction. I barricaded the front of the hive with chicken coop wire, and the hive recovered.

 Since I last saw the fox and her pup, she's gotten bigger; her tail is longer, growing bushier as the temperatures descend into fall. From a short distance, she looks domesticated, like an unleashed dog who's run ahead of her master-- But yet, she is wild, frightening--capable of sinking her rabid canines into my fleshy thigh.

I fantasize taming her; walking into the garden and saying, "Why hello there little fox." She crosses her arms and reports she's been leaving the bees alone. "Proud of you," I wink. It seems so possible, but anthropomorphism is only a literary device and Dr. Doolittle doesn't talk to animals.

 When a mountain biker pushes up the hill, fox's instincts are quick, and she disappears from my path.  I could have observed her a little longer had it not been for the biker, yet I now have another distraction, and I watch him close.

His peddles pause as he watches her on a trail I can no longer see. He stays upright lingering, lingering, watching the fox.  He is fascinated too; I see it on his face.

He looks up at me; his glance stalls, and in our eye contact, he reminds me of a person on the beach who happens to catch the split second magic of a dolphin springing from the sea. The lucky observer's countenance lifts and he immediately turns, searching for his child or companion, or even a stranger with which to share his delight. It's as if awe is to heavy to hold and it must be shared like an unexpected taste or sound.

Encounters with the wild are serendipitous, even moments of grace; when we are touched by grace we feel compelled to share its light. It it is the very nature of grace, the unconditional giftt that bestows upon its recipient the desire to share meaningful  experience.  Grace requires grace of its recipient. Grace is a gift because it inspires us to give.





Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Spectacle of Greetings

Her name was Patty and she allowed my funny little child to come to her house and pick one rose a day--for as many days as were left in the season.

Her name was Lisa and she went out of her way to talk with my daughter, to ask her about her injuries, to suggest a treatment.

Her name was Mindy and she went out of her way to make the daughter who wasn't confident, feel like she was her best friend.

She was my Aunt Esther and every time I walked into her house, she'd grin and say "Well hello there Patty."

It's why I greet my grandchildren with gusto. Why I make a fuss over the shy boy who had to change to another class and teacher. As I explained to his teacher after making a spectacle over losing him, "I think it's great Davey's in your class, I just wanted him to know that I'd miss him." Cause it was best for Davey.

Tony and I were sitting on the floor playing with 16 month old Theo, when his dad walked in from a bike ride. The little guy started yelling "Daddy," with tremendous delight. He toddled over into his father's arms who couldn't resist picking up the guy who'd given him such a welcome home. I saw my son-in-law's face light up.

After 30+ years of marriage, Tony and I hardly acknowledge each other's comings or goings, and it has me thinking I need to make a change.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Underwater Children

In the imaginative painting of the playful underwater children, the little boy in the green pajamas started junior high yesterday. The little girl holding on to her blanket is on an intense trail ride this morning in the company of her father and brother.

Yesterday, I realized that the summer went so fast, I didn't even put out the cushions for the porch swing or pull the dining chairs out on the lower deck, and I'm thinking about calling the pool man to close the pool in two weeks.

When I saw a colleague for the first time after summer break, it seemed like there'd never been a break and I had to remind myself to give her a hug cause I hadn't seen her all summer.

Is time speeding up?

Is it? Two different thoughts:

Theory #1: If life is like a pie, when I was four years old, I had lived one fourth of my life. A fourth of a pie is a generous and enjoyable chunk.  As I aged, each year diminished the portion of the pie. When I'm 90 years old, each year of my life will be the equivalent of 1/90th of a piece of pie. If the pie stays the same, 1/90th is a pretty slim portion of pie or of time. In comparison, 1/4 of time is a much bigger chunk than 1/90th and would therefore seem to go much faster. Right?

Theory #2 Time flies when you're having fun. Am I having more fun? Absolutely. Does time still fly for an older person suffering ill health? I wish I would have asked Dad.

The warp speed of time-passing may have several positive effects. Knowing time is fleeting gives it a higher price tag. Each moment, encounter, each day is more valuable. We tend to protect and care more for the valuable. When Tony bought his first "nice" car, he treated it well. When we only have one day at the beach or have the company of a far away cousin, we put a high value on that time.

The warp speed of passing-time may help us endure the difficult. While sitting in the dentist chair, I try to recall a different difficult experience. Pregnancy may pop into my mind--that my last pregnancy was 24 years ago, and where did those 24 years go? helps me to endure the little bit of time with the whir of a drill.

The tricky part of time is that it is--tricky. The most precious time with the most precious people can't be anticipated or valued because we don't know how much time we have with one another. Tony's father fell and was gone within an hour. His kind, sweet mother lamented, "I wish I'd been better to him." She couldn't have anticipated time was so short.

It's a hard way to motivate ourselves to treasure time by dwelling on how little we may have left. The better motivation may be to remind ourselves how much time we may have left.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sting of Vulnerability

The aforementioned yellow jacket nest is thriving. So it was a now or never day to arm myself and take care of the problem.

Towards the end of the summer when insects are trying to fortify themselves for winter, when there is a dearth of resources, they become more desperate. You may have sat outside with a plate of food on a nice, late August evening, and almost immediately, you were bombarded by yellow jackets trying to get at your ketchup.

Yellow jackets become a nuisance and threat to beehives, and since my hive had already taken a hit from the skunks, their numbers are low and I question their ability to defend their honey stores from their hungry counterparts.

Determined to defend the hive, I put on three pairs of pants, added a jacket, pulled on my thick rubber boots and headed for the yard. I added a beekeepers jacket, requisite hat and veil, along with thick leather gloves.

Maximum dressing had protected me before.

I stood in front of the hive with my weapon. Not even a second had passed before I was attacked. It's disconcerting to look down and see yellow jackets trying to get at my legs and thighs. I backed off. Swatted at the monsters. Stepped away. Waited. Returned. This time, I found the entrance to the nest and placed the racket in front of the nest. I could see them swarming, angry, ganging up on their threat. Again, I backed away and decided I'd had enough. Too spooky to have the wrath of yellow jacket hell come full force.

A distance from the hive, almost ready to unwrap the armor, I felt the hit. Right in the stomach. I'd left myself vulnerable! The thickness of three pants must have weighted them below my belly. I must not have pulled the jacket and the shirt completely down, or I had, but the thickness wasn't enough. A lone yellow jacket had found the chink in my armor.

For the past few hours, I've been chiding myself for missing the one vulnerable spot. That an insect so small, so cunning, could move about my body until it found the right spot-- is to feel vulnerable, outsmarted, and foolish.

Feelings I try to avoid.

Intentionally.

I stay out of dark alleys. Won't drive on icy roads. I avoid cruel people. I don't scale mountainsides with ropes or mountain bike down steep trails. I will never bungee jump, lecture my doctor on best practices, or go to Syria. At least right now. However, those are the extremes, and in some cases vulnerability is key to staying humble, aware, approachable. Circumstances of limited vulnerability are replete, so I choose to be vulnerable under safe conditions and every once in a while ~~a sting is inevitable.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ode To Legacy

If Hillary Clinton becomes the president, daughter Chelsea will have the distinction of the daughter of parents who both served as president. The odds of having one's father serve as president are already staggering, but to have a mother too? For Chelsea's children to have two president grandparents? What a legacy.

My cousin's father, a man I never knew, married a woman who was the granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.

One night while visiting her father, she stayed up late watching television and happened to catch a documentary on the Roosevelt family. She always knew her step mother was a Roosevelt, but when she saw photos of her as part of the presidential family, it was surprising, and somewhat exciting to see her link with the Roosevelt legacy.

With the recent passing of an acquaintance's mother, I've been thinking about legacies. Wendy P. was a committed patron of the arts who spent her time on school boards and helping to raise money to build a cultural venue for the ballet, the opera, and other performers of merit. Upon her death, her legacy was applauded, appreciated, and brought great comfort to her daughter.

I recently bought a short story collection by Lucia Berlin. I had never heard of her, but her friends went to a lot of trouble to publish her stories posthumously. Their praise is lavish, but they do mention one of her legacies: alcoholism and eventually beating it. Though plagued in life with a disease, her greater legacy is the defeat of her demon. The triumph, without the failure, wasn't possible.

Few of us will ever have the distinction of presidential-connected legacies; it is more common to hear our friends' claims to horse thieving ancestors, or to have had an Archie Bunker loving father, or even  a legacy we try to ignore. When I inquired about the accent of a woman sitting next to me at breakfast, I learned she was a Jew from Poland. Given her age, I suspected she had lived through Nazi atrocities. When she said her past was painful, I knew her legacy was private and all her own.

So, I've been thinking of my own family's legacy and of course, my own. Hopefully, we all consider our own legacies; it may seem vain, but we should want to leave behind a positive history of our life. Yet, our actions should be motivated by more than wanting to leave a legacy; it should stem from a desire to make the world, however small, a better place. With this approach, true legacies are created. There is a difference between historical figures and the designation of a legacy.

 Author, speaker Rasheed Ogunlaru captures the essence of this best: "Legacy is not what’s left tomorrow when you’re gone. It’s what you give, create, impact and contribute today while you’re here that then happens to live on." 

With this in mind, probably the greatest legacies are not crafted, pondered or calculated~~ or even written about (mea culpa).




However, a few more thoughts on legacy since we can't help leaving a part of us behind:

Your legacy grows with each new experience, with each previously untested idea and bold ideal that you are courageous enough to deploy, and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition. Glenn Llopis, Forbes magazine


"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Theresa

Sunday, August 21, 2016

In Our Own

One of my favorite all-time books is Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in part because of a single chapter titled, The Grand Inquisitor, and because of a single quote, "Be kind to animals and children, for God gave them the beginnings of thought."

Fyodor nailed it: the beginnings of thought. It is why we must protect children, be their advocates, look out for them.


After a few years of work with a children's organization, my time had come to an end. A certain sadness rested in my heart until I happened upon this painting. I was walking through a bookstore and boom, I saw it; it claimed me. Many years later, it hangs over my bedroom fireplace and fills the room with a spirit of love and solace.

Sometimes, it takes a jarring incident to remind us to help children. The New York Times video below insures you are jarred. Like me, you will probably feel helplessness and desperate sadness because you cannot stop suicide bombers intent on death and mayhem. We can do nothing to bring peace to the Syrian Assad regime aided by Hezbollah, Iran, Shiia militias, and now Russia, who together are fighting four rebel factions of which one has ties to al-Quaida. In this knowing, we must discover a way to help within our own sphere, in our own neighborhood, in our own schools, in our own state, in our own country and if possible, in our own world.

Ours.





Saturday, August 20, 2016

Teacher Week

It was a week of laughs, learning, and getting to know some amazing educators--Teacher week. Thanks to school parents, we even ate better than most of us had eaten all month. Each day after three hours of classes, we walked into the cafeteria to see a mirage that was real: a table laden with fruit, salads, and lunch staples of sandwiches, lentils and soups. Even a table filled with desserts.

Each morning began with an on-time drawing. Gift cards for book stores and restaurants. Friday morning, I rushed out of the house to be on time; I hadn't won anything yet, but this day I had a feeling. Sure enough: $25 for the local Israeli restaurant.

A presentation and discussion on the reasons for a liberal arts or classical education reminded us of our main mission: teach critical thinking skills and provide opportunities for students to think critically so when they enter the world they will have the skills to analyze and discern between truth and error.

I was asked to teach writing. I focused on writing to discover (!!) and encouraged teachers to think of writing as a learning skill and not an end product. A PE teacher's final would never require a student to do 200 push ups without ever having done a push up in the preceding weeks. Teachers of other disciplines tend to teach a unit then require a paper at the end-- equivalent to 200 pushups with no training. The challenge for teachers is to use the paper to explore the unit's learning so the students are building knowledge and understanding, gaining in strength, doing 20 pushups on day one, 40 on day two, etc.

We talked about accreditation, the mission of our school, we even had a book club discussion from our summer read. And then it all crashed...

Friday morning topics were sexual harassment, defense and protocol in case of a school invasion, and suicide prevention. At any point in the three hours, I felt I could cry...just cry. The realities, the evils, the possibilities, had entered into the sacred ground of teaching and learning.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What Do We Aspire To?

This morning I awoke, rolled to my side and read the clock: 7:11. I smiled and said to myself, "It's going to be an auspicious day.

Why? I'm not a numerologist, a fan of the convenience store, nor am I superstitious. It just felt good to start the day day on one, positive, smiling, note. But perhaps, the morning smile was triggered by a quote and the consequent observations it has induced over the past few days.

I'm studying an excellent piece of journalism written by Scott Anderson for the New York times. The title is Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. In the piece, Mr. Anderson highlights the lives of six people from different Arab countries who have endured the upheaval of rebellion, war and loss of safety and peace. In the stellar introduction, I read a short paragraph that has resonated and caused me to pause and ponder over the past few days. Mr. Anderson proposes that one problem of the Arab world was the tendency to be a culture of grievance. They were defined less by what people aspired to than by what they opposed. They were anti-Zionist, anti-west and anti-imperialist.

The statement of reflection has caused me to be more observant of my surroundings and my personal attitude. Although the reference is macroscopic, many nations, millions of people, hundreds of years, it also has a very microscopic allusion--to the individual, to the one person~~to me.

My friend in an eastern state has volunteered to work the polls on November 8. At her orientation meeting, she was warned to expect angry voters. Angry because they are not happy with the candidates. It is not only the presidential contenders with a propensity to be their own culture of grievance, but our entire political system is turning into such. Instead, we NEED aspirations. We are crippled by focusing on all that is wrong with the other candidate, with the democratic or republican congress; we must, in order to survive, we must aspire to: reducing the national debt, creating equality among all people, bringing peace to inner cities. Mr. Anderson also believes that a culture of grievance is a smoke screen to deter from what is wrong, what we don't want to fix, or even what we believe we cannot fix.

The senior class at my school is currently plagued by a small group of students who had a grievance with a change in the curriculum. In the beginning, their intent was to facilitate a change for the better, but when it didn't change according to their naive demands, they evolved into a culture of grievance with all the offshoots of disrespect, stubbornness and the possibility of damning their own ability to learn.

The Arab Spring of 2003 was looked upon with great hope for the liberation of the Arab world. Countries such as Syria and Iraq had thrown off the heavy cloak of oppressive dictators, yet instead of embracing a functioning and fulfilling form of democracy, they created a fertile environment for Osama bin Laden's al-Queada, which gave way to the incarnation of ISIS.

How do we overcome this culture of grievance, and more especially a personal culture of grievance which may tempting and hard to resist? First of all, legitimate grievances can be an important course correction and culture of grievance vastly differs from a grievance. We discover a problem, or we're apprised of a problem; then we grieve and in that grief and complaint, we search and ultimately find "the fix." This is how relationships end, bad bosses are fired and the leaky roof gets patched. Fix becomes the antidote, not just an anecdote to the aspirations that lift us from tenuous, even dangerous, situations that lead to episodes of great whining and finger pointing.

When we stay put in our culture of grievance, it means we have accepted the misfortunate, but accepted it with dire consequences.

What happens when we can't find the fix? Or we may be too small to influence and inspire? Some circumstances, like the presidential election are beyond my ability to change. But after November 8, there should be a respite, or the worst possible scenario: a substantial growth in the culture of grievance. If only we could come together as a nation and aspire to overcome our different political views and become a culture of support, cooperation and success.

We've seen what happened to the Arabs.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Princess

I have a great story I love to tell about a dear friend.

One of Tony's graduate students, used to have us and his fellow graduates over to his parent's house for an annual barbecue and swim party. The student had a sister-in-law and at one of these parties, I saw her pass through the yard. She was beautiful and exotic looking. Later, the graduate student told Tony that his sister-in-law was a princess from an island off the coast of Africa.

The story was like a magnet to this woman, because in every way, she fit the description of what I perceived as a princess. Since we live in a somewhat small town, I would see her every once in a while. Once it was at the grocery store with her three beautiful children. I always felt a little awe; I had never known a princess before.

Years passed and one day, I realized the princess had moved into our neighborhood! It was easy to get to know her; she was open, kind, and didn't have any of the socially exclusive behavior I would expect of a princess. After getting to know her, I felt comfortable to ask her about her princess status.

She laughed. Unsure why her brother-in-law had told the story, but it wasn't true. After all those years, it was disheartening to learn the truth.

This is the story I love to tell our mutual friends; it always ends the same: everyone agreeing it doesn't matter whether or not she has an "official" princess title, because she still a princess in our eyes.

Tonight's rendition of the story, told to a table of female friends, ended in the usual way, but it was punctuated with another thought,

"What if," I posed, "We thought of all our friends as princesses?" It was barely dusk; the weather was perfect, the food was splendid, the company divine, and together we sat in the garden surrounded by love, beauty, and twinkling lights. It wasn't at all hard to imagine that everyone was royalty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Opportunist

Tammy answers the phone.

"It's time to kill," I whisper.

"I'll be right there," she answers.

I run down the stairs and turn on the outside lights. I meet Tammy, my neighbor, in front of the hornets nest in between our fences. Every time I walk down the garden path, the insects threaten my very existence.

Tammy stands armed with her peppermint and rosemary, oil-filled spray pump. I hold the flashlight. She stands above the nest; I stand below. Both of us ready to run. I point the light into the crevice.

"Ready, aim, fire."

Tammy furiously pumps as if it is a five alarm fire. She stops. We wait. Not an insect to be seen.

"It must have worked."

Earlier we had bombarded the nest, but the hornets were furious and we had to run for our lives.

"Let's try the other nest, closest to the bees."

We cautiously approach. I flash the light into the space between the steps. Two, three and then four hornets poke their sci-fi heads up, sizing the enemy.

"Ready, aim, fire." Tammy lets loose again. The little band emerges, but they aren't flying. Each one waddles away like a drunk. They disappear.

"Where did they go?" Tammy asks.

I brave enough to walk forward and investigate with my flashlight. I see movement. So quick! I move in closer. Closer. An opportunist, a spider has already seized a hornet and is circling, circling, in a frenzy, tying down its prey.

"Come watch this." Tammy moves in close. "It's fascinating."

"Nature is a cruel world."

"Tis true, and fighting nature even more so."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to Paris: Secrets to Navigating the Louvre and How I Came to Love the Louvre**


1. Download the Louvre App. It's free.

2. Know important French and ancient world time periods: The Louvre palace was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century. It became the Louvre Palace and was home to the queens and kings of France, excluding those who lived at Verseilles, until 1793--which if you noticed and made a connection, coincides with the French revolution when the have-nots said, "Enough!" and "Off with their heads." At this time Le Louvre entered its first phase as an art museum. Post revolution, Napoleon, a lover of all things lavish and fearless enough to get it, made himself welcome and occupied a part of the Louvre Palace. So did his nephew Napoleon III who brought the Louvre to its current glory and lived in the Napoleon III apartments--can't miss these!

One must know the important Louis: 14th, 15th and the infamous 16th, as much of the arts and decorative arts are associated with these kings.
Cultivate a minimal knowledge of the Mesopotamian world, the height of Greek art and culture; know the Etruscans preceded the Romans--and know their time periods.

3. The Louvre has three main entrances that I know of (a fourth not always open). One afternoon while leaving the Louvre, we were appalled at the length of the Carrousel du Louvre line through the underground shopping mall. The pyramid entrance can be extra long too, so: the secret entrance is: Richlieu--off the Rue de Rivoli. The secret, secret entrance if you are daring and security is distracted, is the pass holder's and employee line. If you make it past the lone security officer who checks for credentials, you are home free.

4. Never, never wait to use les toilettes on the main floor: long lines and too few toilets. Top floor bathrooms are empty.

5. Near closing time, some rooms you will have all to yourself. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday and stays open late on two nights of the week. The night crowds were less that the day crowds.

6. Don't even think about covering every exhibit in your one day visit; near closing time, these one-day-see-it-all people mechanically rush past, eyes glazed and pale faced, resembling zombies in a cheap horror flick.

7. If you have one day or even two, pick exhibits carefully according to your interests.

8. When Paris weather is rainy, the lines are longer, the crowds are bigger.

9. You  cannot, absolutely cannot miss:
*The Grand galerie of Appolon
*The Assyrian giant, mostly flat, but 3 dimensional sculptures. Some are reconstructed but they are a can't-miss marvel.


*Napoleon III apartments--gives new meaning to lavish and plush. Photos cannot do justice to standing in the grand salon, or walking into the dining hall.
*The mummy in the Egyptian sarcophagus section is the best mummy I've ever seen. The sarcophagus' of Sidon are also spectacular.

*You've come to far to not see the Mona Lisa--though don't be disappointed when you're kept at six-arms' length and have to wait in the crowd. Nor can you travel that far without standing under the magnificent Winged Victory of Samothrace, or Venus de Milo--look close and you'll see she's two halves.
*The oldest acquisition on loan for 30 years is a 9000 year old figure/sculpture.
* Keep in mind the rooms are as grand as the contents. Stop at each window to get a lay of the land.
*Previous to your visit, choose an artist, a time period, a great work, and study it. When you see it in person you will have an educated love for it.

Even more suggestions:

*Be open to discovering and falling in love with an unknown artist, an unknown sculpture, time period, or culture. Surprisingly, I immensely enjoyed an exhibition of clocks.
*My visit was enhanced by finding themes. One day I looked for my favorite art of the Madonna and child. Another day it was couples and another, it was children. I may not have noticed the mischievous cherub had it not be "children," theme day.
*When you enter a room and it has thousands of Grecian urns on display, pick one and enjoy its beauty. Skip the rest.
*I enjoyed the stories about art acquisition as much as the art. There was a temporary display dedicated to Alexandre Lenoir who was bold enough to try and save religious art the revolutionists were trying to destroy.
*The donor of many works was "The Camondos," often Isaac- the cousin of Moiise whose descendants were killed during the Holocaust.
*If you enjoy religious art, you will find recurring motifs: know the story of Saint Sebastian (a favorite of painters; know the story of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and Katherine of Medici. The life or rather the death of Christ is possibly the most oft painted religious scene.
*Jacques Louis David was the court painter of Napoleon III~an answer to why there are so many David's during this time period.
*Don't miss the Coronation--an exquisite commission of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine.

Quirky things:

*German works are displayed in small rooms with bad lighting and inadequate ventilation.
*The best paintings of the impressionists are not in the Louvre.
*Some of the great and very large works have preliminary smaller renditions hung in different rooms.
*Your mythology knowledge will pay off.
*The Louvre was started before America was discovered.
*If you take the time to learn about dining protocol, through exhibitions and an electronic display, you will understand why France was the coveted place to be appointed ambassador.
*Persian art has no religious architecture.
*The Louvre is a living museum~~every once in awhile sit down and enjoy the people. This grandmother of a large and happy (maybe Italian?) family enchanted her posterity while explaining The Raft of Medusa. The little boys in the family had long before thrown in the towel and were sliding on the floor in front of one of the greatest works of art.


I made two discoveries that will stay with me forever:

 In 1839, Francois Biard visited Antartica and painted the magnificent work above. The stark beauty heightens the horror of the travelers trapped by ice.
 This 1520 painting is titled Charity--to see the face of the woman who embodies this gift is to understand charity just a little bit more.

**We come to love in what we invest.