Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dressing Up For Company

The company of books, that is.

When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study; and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal...robes; and dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient courts of ancient men and am welcomed by them kindly...; and there I am not ashamed to speak to them, to ask them the reasons for their actions; and they, in their humanity, answer me; and ...I feel no boredom, I dismiss every affliction, I no longer fear poverty nor do I remble at the thought of death: I become completely part of them. [ "V: To Francesco Bettori in Rome," In the Portable Machiavelli, trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa (New York: Penguin 1979), 69] I found this in quote in an article by Dean John R. Rosenberg in the BYU Humanities Journal, spring 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Quest for a Good Education

"Did you just wake up one day and decide to start a school?"

"Oh no," Mrs. S answered, and she proceeded to tell how she did come to start a school, the long and sometimes painful/joyful process, how the school has flourished, how they now have sixty students and how they just purchased a school building-investing their own resources to secure the loan. This is the kind of revival passion for education I'm seeing all over the nation.

My first real teaching job was in a renovated bowling alley put together by passionate people looking to change education. The night before it opened, my friend Liz was putting down tile in the bathroom. Karl G Maeser Preparatory Academy also started with an ideal and blossomed into reality by the passion of parents believing they could improve education.

There's something humbling and funky about a school that starts in a bowling alley. The students who spent the first few years in the alley before moving into a school with a marble floor entry, cherry wood cabinetry and uniform size classrooms, looked back and realized the wonderful uniqueness of their school's humble beginnings and their own experience in that renovated building. How many students get to say they went to school in a bowling alley? That school soared into a nationally recognized school with an annual waiting list of hundreds.

I met with six teachers today from the new school first mentioned and each one was like a sponge absorbing ideas and best practices with plans to make them their own and even better than mine. It was a joy to teach. A joy to share my passions and theories about teaching writing. Creating and teaching at a new school is like hopping in a wooden canoe and paddling towards the new world.

In the bowling alley, my first classes of ninth graders came to me with an aversion to writing. This was mildly heartbreaking, because I came to teaching as a writer and loved writing. I believed in writing--I absolutely knew it could change a student's world. My mission was to change the world so students would love writing.

At the end of the year, a young man who was once my ninth grader and now a graduating senior, told me that I had helped him learn to love writing. In the interim, I had forgotten it was my mission, but here it was, five years later and my goal had been fulfilled with at least one student. If that's the only student who learned to love writing, it was enough.

So that is how I ended up in North Salt Lake City teaching a fabulous group of educators at an almost brand new school--because I love writing and I love teaching writing. Yet, I see it more as an evolution from teaching writing to teaching the love of writing. Love, as always is the key and that is what in part, enables people to dare to create a school--a love learning.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A dear student emails and asks: Does constantly feeling inadequate ever go away? Is constantly feeling inadequate normal?

My response was surprising (to myself) and truthful:

Honestly, I don't know if the treacherous inadequate feeling EVER goes away. It is my constant companion too. We have breaks from it when there is a personal success, yet it seems the more success, the more it visits.

I'm not sure if it's a built-in that comes to keep us humble and striving or what?  I think I've just learned to live with it and learned to beat it over the head every once in a while. 

 Funny....last night, I was kayaking on the Rhone River with a strong head wind and current, and I was the last kayak in a group and I took to singing Helen Reddy's "I am Woman." Really. To myself, to encourage and make it through my inadequate moment. 

The blessing of inadequacy is that we become more tolerant and compassionate towards others.

 As I age, I find I'm having more inadequate moments. But that is the plan. We start out as completely incapable humans and as we age, become more and more capable until we hit a peak and, we glimpse invincibility. Our bodies and minds are strong for what, in hindsight, was only a fleeting moment in time. The trickery of inadequacy-the nerve of it, to let us even think we are not inadequate--, so when the realization hits, it's even worse because we've felt the opposite.  

Closely following, are the first signs of aging and for us older folks, well, we know the rest. But for those who are still young, you don't, and how free it is to not know otherwise.

If inadequate feelings are part of the game, how do we play the game to win?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Victory is in the Doing

On a balmy spring morning, my husband helps me carry my kayak down to the surf. As I watch the waves fold over, my heart starts to tingle.
“Oooh, I’m scared” I say, with a nervous smile on my face.
 “Really?” my husband asks, “I thought after so many years you’d no longer be scared.”
I think about this for a moment, as my bootie clad feet are washed by the chilly surf. I push off in the kayak and call back to my husband, “When I’m no longer scared is when it will no longer be fun.”
I turn to face the demon, my heart racing, preparing for the perfect timing to break through the surf. If my timing is on, the wave will crash and I will paddle hard to emerge through its back door. Prepared to take on the next wave, I will back paddle, hesitate and push into a full throttle paddle through the second set. Once I am clear, always, I break into laughter: laughter of conquest, laughter for feeling like a kid again, laughter to release the fear.
The fear gives way to calmness, my own, and the placid ocean beyond its raging gatekeeper. If I am lucky today, I will paddle next to a pod of dolphins, or a sea lion will pop its head through the sea. But more than likely I will only have the seagulls by my side. I will be amazed by the vastness, yet stillness, of this great body of water. My head will clear and I will be overwhelmed with gratitude, for my body that can see, feel and hear and for the good fortune to be where I am.
There have been numerous times when the first set of waves have spit me back on the shore. There was even a time when the lifeguard parked his Subaru rescue vehicle right in front of me. The tide was fierce that day and I finally came back in, drenched and embarrassed. But there was one day, …after a beautiful morning, I brought the kayak in on a wave that grabbed my back tail, flipped and dumped me on the beach.
As I pulled myself out of the water a lady walking on the beach said to me, “That’s so wonderful that you can kayak.”
 Feeling like I couldn’t kayak, I humbly moaned, “Didn’t you see me get dumped?”
The woman retorted, “Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are out there doing it.”
To this day, whether facing the surf, a phone call, or an interview, I see beyond the tipped kayak, the possible rejection, the not-quite-achieved goal, because of the woman on the beach who taught me, it doesn’t matter the outcome, for the victory is in the effort.
I love the mid air kayak Tony caught on camera.

Braving it out in the surf

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dear Mr. Salesman

Dear Mr. Salesman,

I get it. I'm a middle-aged woman and going out of your way to help me  is not going to benefit your social life.  I'm invisible to all of you in the 18-30 age bracket. This is a good thing unless, I need your help to find the right shoes, or a certain paint, or tires. When my husband and I go to Sports Authority or when I go alone, the sporting goods store is a ghost town. I, or we, couldn't find help if we were throwing out $100 bills and giving away free cars.

But how this changes when one of my daughters is with me.

That is why, I love when Paloma goes shopping with me, because when she is with me, I get  phenomenal service. It doesn't matter where it is: the bank, the grocery, the sporting good store, --You, Mr. Salesman, will come to our aid immediately. For instance, today, we both needed a new pair of running shoes.

 We had barely walked into the women's shoe aisles when  the unnamed salesman, immediately appeared, ready and anxious to help us with all our shoe needs. He was a repository of running shoe knowledge. Man, he knew everything. This guy was impressive. Or was he trying to impress?

So, for all you young males out there with jobs in the service industry: watch out for the old ladies: help us and treat us kindly. The reward of looking at us is not as great as the twenty year old with a pretty smile, but notice us and be willing to help us pick out a pair of shoes, a pineapple, or a paint color. No, you won't get a date, but our patronage does help pay your salary.

The attentive salesman who's been with us for such a long time he's getting comfortable by resting his arm--face blurred to protect his job.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mankind ~~Be Both

I found this post from last year's stay in Paris and I wasn't surprised to find that the same issues plagued my thoughts and experiences on this year's visit to the south of France.  But I had forgotten the encounter with the man selling newspapers. It was a serendipitous moment and it would have been lost had I not written it down, and so this post is as much about the importance of recording our experiences as it is about dealing with poverty.

As a tourist, the hardest decision ever (for me), is when and if to give to beggars. They are everywhere and unless you shut them out, you will continually wonder how to deal with each situation.  I came to Paris with a pretty hard line attitude towards beggars, prejudiced from  friends' experiences and my own. On a previous trip to Paris, it was after my generosity to musicians that three of their companions tried to rob my husband. 

This time in Paris, after I'd been solicited two times by a fake money collection scam,  I'd perfected my hand- up STOP, and my very nasal, French, "Non." I was tough and the solicitors just turned around to find a more soft American. So, when an old Russian-looking-accented man disturbed our perfect lunch on a perfect afternoon, speaking French, trying to sell us a newspaper for 2 euro, my perfect wall was secure.   When I ignored him, he asked if I spoke English, and I couldn't ignore him then. When he asked me to purchase a newspaper in English,  I simply said "No Monsieur," and he walked away.

  But what I haven't told you is that right after we sat down at our table for two, and ordered a delicious meal, I looked down and saw a two euro coin under our table. I picked it up, handed it to my husband and we decided our waiter would get a nice tip (even though the service charge is already included in the meal). 

Money had literally dropped at my feet and I had turned away an old man who at least was trying to offer something in return.

When I realized this, I felt ashamed. There was a moment of serendipity and I had missed it--the two euro was meant for that man. I told Mr. Martinez who promptly pulled the two euro out of his pocket. I searched the street and saw the old Russian walk into a cafe. I entered the cafe and waited until he had finished soliciting another woman who gave him a curt no and in whom I saw myself. I tapped him on the shoulder "Monsieur," and handed him the coin reaching for a newspaper.  Our eyes met and this time neither French, Russian nor English mattered, for in that moment language wasn't needed.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Things We Hang On To

I cut this out of a magazine my senior year of high school and kept it for over 30 years. It, above all other treasures, letters, photos lasted.

It hangs on the cork board above my desk and every so often it reminds me of what was important to my younger self:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise. 
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
~Dawna Markova

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gardens and Discovering Passion

Since 6:30 this morning, I have been bending, leaning, squatting in my raspberry patch, picking an abundance of ripe raspberries. While picking, I also thought of the carrots I pulled last night that I will juice today, and the kale I cut to blend with the carrots. I remembered the tender beets I steamed, sliced, salted, mixed with oil and vinegar and blended with fresh cut onions. Right now, I can only longingly look at the green tomatoes, tasting their ripe flavor with the basil also growing in the garden.

With my bowlful of raspberries, I thought how lucky I am and how I wished everyone could enjoy the bounties of a garden. Wanting everyone else to experience my joy, connected me to what passion really is.  When you love something so much, you have a moment when you wish everyone else could do it, have it, work it. This is your passion.

Much to one's disappointment, if loved ones or friends don't share one's passions, there are plenty of others who do. Finding them will bring joy and friendship.

Ahhhh, but when those loved ones do share a passion or even a glimpse of our passion, how joyful it is.

The girls were in charge of the garden for a whole month. I came home to a lot of weeds and fresh raspberry jam the neighbor had made because she couldn't stand watching the birds eat all the beautiful raspberries.  Obviously, the garden was a chore and not a passion. But "One morning," Jillian told me, "I was out picking berries and they were so good, I was just plopping them in my mouth  and enjoying the moment." It was fleeting and only one moment, but knowing Jillian had the same joy brought intense satisfaction.

Now, if you will indulge me, let me try to convince you to keep a garden:

Hunkered down in the raspberry patch
 This morning's pick
The extra delicious jam from fresh berries

From this
 To this: tender beets in a vinegar, oil and raw sweet onion
Fresh basil always at my fingertips

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Through the Eyes of Children

"Grownups took the world for granted. They had allowed themselves to be lulled into the enchanted sleep of their hum drum existence once and for all. 'You've just grown so used to the world that nothing surprises you anymore!'" Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder

A few moons ago, for a long weekend to the beach, my daughter wanted to bring a friend. This was fine but the friend was a boy and we had a strict policy for not taking boys on vacation with our daughters. Except, this boy had never seen the ocean, never dipped his toe in the icy Pacific, never felt the pull of a wave. He ended up coming, in part, because no one should live to be a teenager and never see the ocean, and I selfishly wanted to relive the joy felt at my first glimpse of the sea. I wanted to see the awesomeness through new eyes--the eyes of this boy. I had grown accustomed to the magnificence of the sea.

The boy's excitement the first time he boogie-boarded was so palpable that we all ended up boarding with a new vigor, a new appreciation. We hadn't used the boards in a while and we were surprised how fun it really was. We remembered.

At least once a summer, Tony and I kayak the Provo River. It's peaceful, fun and there's one precarious turn under a bridge that makes it seem a little dangerous. We have to paddle real hard and stay to the right or possibly pop our inflatable kayak. There's plenty of evidence under the bridge; rafts torn to shreds, t-boned inner tubes.  Most people, exit the river right above this turn and hop back in just past.

Before we went this time, we invited Max and Annika to share the adventure. It would bring joy to the expedition if we could see it through their eyes as they'd never done it before. Trevor decided to join us and he brought his younger brother. Thirty-plus Trevor hadn't floated the river since high school and Jackson hadn't since he was a kid.

When we hit the rapids, or went under the treacherous bridge (which wasn't so treacherous this time), I found myself turning to watch Max and Anni. I wanted to experience the first-time-excitement through their innocent and inexperienced eyes.

Watching Trevor lift Max's tube just enough to miss the bushes at river's edge, listening to Max's silence in an almost tree trunk collision, hearing cold-shouts from Anni when her behind dipped into the cool river, watching Jackson flip off the bridge at the end, made the experience more fun than ever.

Joyful and a little nervous Annika! 
 Max  endowed with the spirit of an adventurer!
 AFter the rapids--relief! Brave Anni!
 Kayak selfie # 125-- Provo River July 19, 2014. We were paddling upstream--we, until I pulled out the camera and Tony was fighting the river all on his own.
 Watching Trevor and Jackson jump off the bridge gave me the distinct feeling that raising boys is a lot different than raising girls.
To confirm this suspicion, Max made the plunge but Anni held back.
 Proud of his big-day efforts


I can't wait to go again!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Silence and Modern Day Christian Persecution

It took a Japanese novel first published in 1969 to open my eyes to Christian persecution today.

I had previously read  My Name Used To Be Mohammad by Tito Momen. Tito was persecuted for his conversion to Christianity, but it was one, strange, isolated case that happened in Egypt amidst a lot of other current turmoil.  Or so I thought.

It took a novel to make me think about Christian persecution. Silence by Shusaku Endo ripped at my heart, because it made me see in different ways. It made me question my own possible strength or lack of strength should I ever face persecution dependent on defending or denying my faith.

I strongly recommend this novel.  I wish I could have read this with my English 12 class.  They would have loved the theoretical discussions that naturally arise from reading.

Silence is the story of Portuguese priests in the 17th century who travel to Japan to serve the persecuted Christians.  Two priests in the story are captured and required to denounce their faith.  This requirement is at the crux of the story, so I won't divulge any more (until the bottom of the post).***

After pondering the book for a few days, after convincing Tony to read it so I could discuss it with him, I found this article in the online Weekly Standard: The War on Christians~ They're the world's most persecuted religious group by Paul Marshall.

And today I find this:

And it isn't just Christians. In today's news: anti-semitic leaflets distributed in Chicago. What? Chicago?
Yesterday I had a student withdraw his piece from "In the Classroom" column. He wrote about his unusual name and how proud he was of his name. It is a very Jewish/Israeli name and when he googled his name, it led him to two places where his writing was posted.  I think it had more to do with the current Israeli crisis and possible backlash that could come to him. How sad when a child has to fear for his name.

I keep thinking about this book and passing it on to friends and family.  I want to discuss this with everyone. Tony and I came back to it today and I had a major epiphany.  In case you plan to read the book, the discovery requires scrolling down. REally--DON'T scroll if you plan to read. Read and come back.  The writing below is a spoiler.

***Tony decides that if he were given the trial defending or denouncing his faith, that he would defend and choose to be a martyr.
"But what if your persecutors have me and they are slowly and cruelly torturing me so you will deny your faith--then what would you do?"

"Then I would choose to suffer instead of you."

A few minutes later, it hits me hard, this is what the Savior did for us and when the protagonist of the book chooses to denounce his faith so others won't suffer, he truly learned, even felt what the Savior did for him. It was in his public denial (more difficult than all the persecution he'd suffered) of the Savior that he truly understood his atonement.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Drop It

PJ and I were collecting a certain type of pebble-shell in the surf break. Mandi had started collecting them the year before and we were delighted to find them on this shore and to add them to Mandi's collection.
We had our masks and snorkels on and I was using a colander to scoop up and sift through the sand, but it was a constant battle against the strong waves hitting the shore. 

Completely immersed in my work, I was surprised when my foot hit coral. I hadn't realized I'd drifted into one of the reefs surrounding our beach. I kicked away but without success. I wasn't wearing flippers so I had to get away from the coral because I didn't want to get cut. I kept trying but I couldn't get away and then I realized that not only was I in a current that kept me against the coral, I was also in a rip tide that was pulling me out to sea. I remained calm as I watched PJ at the shoreline getting smaller and smaller. I would let the rip tide carry me out and away from the coral current, then I would swim parallel to the shore and once out of the riptide swim safely back. I called out to PJ to let her know I was in a rip tide. She sort of rolled her eyes at me and said she was coming to get me. Though I didn't want her stuck too, I was relieved she was coming to share my peril and possibly save my life.

She took the colander and my mask and snorkel so I could swim easier, but then she turned around and said, "Mom, I can't swim out of this either. I'm going to have to drop these." (the colander, snorkel/mask). I did a split second calculation: colander-$3.00, mask and snorkel, a little more, but they certainly could be replaced.

 "Drop them," I said. 

She did and immediately made progress out of the current. Though I didn't get out as quickly, I followed her to shore.

I can't help but compare the current/rip tide peril to life situations. Sometimes we have to drop what we're doing immediately to save ourselves. Be it friends, situations, habits etc. Fill in the blank. And sometimes it's just the little things that keep us from getting back to shore. 

Though we never saw the mask and snorkel again, later that day I saw the green plastic colander bobbing at a place in the water where the riptide met the current. It was trapped for a short time...

before it sunk.
Tony and I swimming between the coral reefs on either side of our cove. 
This experience is a revisit that actually happened a few years ago, but today I couldn't get it off my mind. I wonder if I needed the reminder and if it is time to drop something.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Happy Birthday Tony or Spend Time Not Money

As our years add up, as birthdays come at the speed of light, both Tony and I are finding that there is very little that we have need of. The traditional birthday present is going by the wayside. We find that things are not so valuable, but the time we have together is what counts.

The birthday present shift started a few years back when Tony took the day off work and gave me the day for my birthday.  We took a bike ride, he made dinner, he probably did something kind like fix the sprinklers. It meant a lot.

This year I gave him the same present. I canceled my hike with friends, went on a bike ride with him, made lunch and prepared a big Korean meal for his birthday dinner. I know. I've never cooked Korean before but it seemed like a fun challenge, and remember, I was thinking of him. So when it took two days of preparation, and when Tony, our family and guests enjoyed the meal, it was well worth it. At the end of the day, he had a heart full of appreciation and I loved him more.

Once again, it's not about things but relationships.

A lovely article in the NYTimes I strongly recommend concerning the pursuit of happiness: Love People Not Pleasure by Arthur C Brooks. If you read make sure you peruse a few of the comments-dissension, disagreement and lots of provoking thoughts--or if you just want to enjoy go to short excerpt to spike your interest: 
This search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly:
Love things, use people.
This was Abd al-Rahman’s (example used in article), formula as he sleepwalked through life. It is the worldly snake oil peddled by the culture makers from Hollywood to Madison Avenue. But you know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery. You want to be free of the sticky cravings of unhappiness and find a formula for happiness instead. How? Simply invert the deadly formula and render it virtuous:
Love people, use things.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Honey Tasting Party

Many years ago, my friend Tamara had a tea party for all her friends. She'd collected teapots for all of us and there were at least ten. I've wanted to have a tea party ever since. It's so out of the ordinary and in the middle of summer, out of the ordinary is a necessity. 

The table is set on the deck. Beautiful weather!

Kristi made macaroons-lavendar-incredible-the texture was perfect.

 All of the names were in French and Kristi knew most of them but we had to consult a translation app for some.
The flavors were amazingly distinct. Prairie had a slight after taste of sweet grass, Miel de Fleur tasted like a bouquet of flowers, and the honey from the low bush with soft flowers that grows in the Mediteranean tasted, well, like a Meditteranean bush!
 Lavendar, acacia were the favorites and chestnut was...cough cough... interesting
 The tea ingredients: fresh raspberries and mint from the garden
 Paired together for an infusion

How lucky I am to have friends. How lucky I am to set aside a little bit of time with friends!
Cherish your friends. Find a new friend. Search for an old friend.

So...the tea party was scheduled for the same day the Malaysia flight was shot down, the same day the Israelis invaded the Gaza and President Obama was harshly criticized for getting a burger in Delaware and the lightness in his speech.

When I first heard of the Malaysia flight, I felt a moment of intense sadness, but I didn't consider canceling the tea party. The escalating violence in the middle east was concerning too. And these two tragedies were barely discussed during our party. We had a joyful time. Were we wrong?

Recently, at the discovery of the death of the three Israeli boys, a friend wrote from Jerusalem that she and her friends had a barbecue planned and the friends wanted to cancel. She disagreed, "If we stop our celebrations then the terrorists really do win."

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Beekeeper Who Cried Wolf

The fascinating hive on July 8

On July 7th, I wrote: Lisa's hive is thriving, Nikki's is doing well and I've lost my second queen in two months time.  She disappeared. Again. I have no clue.

Once again, it looked like the hive was failing.  Nikki and Lisa thought it rather lethargic when they were in charge. They couldn't find the queen. On my return home and during my first inspection, I too thought the hive had shrunk and when I looked for the queen and looked for the signs of a queen-right hive--it wasn't. I'd decided the hive was off and I was going to do nothing and let it die off if it was so determined to do so.

Lisa wouldn't hear of it. This is a chance to keep learning and how do you learn if you're not willing to try something different.

The truth of her peptalk motivated me to do everything I could to save my hive, and that included a phone call to Michael ( a 17 year beekeeper and neighbor) who found eggs, young larvae and her royal highness. How little I know and how exciting it will be to learn more.

Lisa and I had a good laugh after his visit.

"It's the third time I've had a crisis. Remember the first week when I called the bee supplier and told him all our bees were dead?"

Oh did we laugh and if the first two months are any indication of what the next years will be like, I'm sure there will be many more laughs.

Best of all,  I've found yet another great metaphor for life: How little I know and how exciting it will be to learn more.

It's four o'clock in the afternoon and I walk down to the outer yard to see how the bees are coming along. The hive is a buzz!  I take a quick video, send it to Nik and Lisa and text that I'm putting on my protective gear so I can see what all the excitement is about.  Lisa lets me know this is what a normal hive should look like! And Nik replies that -it's 4:00 o'clock, the hottest time of the day and the the new bees are taking their orientation flights. She knows the flight schedules--just like Delta. And I have learned--again.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

It's All About the Clothes

Tony and I are about to head out on a long bike ride. He's a little concerned that I understand it's a real bike ride~~ that it will take a few hours of pedaling in both directions.

"I get it. I've planned out the right clothes."

That statement sheds no more light on his understanding than a lamp without a bulb. But to me the RIGHT CLOTHES means everything. Knowing the morning ride was strenuous required a careful selection of the right shorts, top, hat, sunblock, glasses and shoes. Tony, on the other hand, put on the same outfit  as always.

And so we reach another grand canyon of difference in our marriage.

It's always about the clothes and shoes. For me.

Tony rotates the same three suits he's had for years. Yes, he even still wears a suit we had made in Hong Kong before Jillian was a twinkle in our eyes.  She's 25.

I dress for Sunday according to mood, weather, whether or not my legs are shaved, teaching or not, church thermostat probability and what I will be wearing for formal dress Monday.

Speaking of school: if the night before a school day, I knew exactly what I was wearing, I would go to bed excited. Especially if it was something new or a newly discovered combination of pants and shirt, jacket and skirt. And oh how fun it was to shop when I was teaching regularly. If students had to see and listen to me everyday, the least I could do was dress for the occasion.

I will be teaching a writing seminar this week and one of the first questions that came to mind was What will I wear? (I just returned from the seminar and I had chosen to wear an old favorite, so naturally the presentation went well.)

I thank my parents for raising me this way. Each occasion required a special new outfit. Easter, baptism, school dance, birthday. Their clothing generosity is a legacy.

Hand-me-downs especially bring joy. My parents had good friends who owned a casino and had two daughters just a few years older than my sister and me. Periodically, we'd get bags of gorgeous clothing. Gorgeous. I opened those bags with wonder and awe.

 I was the adoring little sister to an older sister with particular and classy tastes in clothing. When she was just a kindergartner (which means I was three and half years old, maybe four), she wanted a leopard coat. Standing in the fabric store, I watched Mom roll out a bolt of leopard fur fabric and a roll of satin lining. Is it possible for a four year old to covet her sister's coat of many colors? YES. I waited like a vulture for my sister to outgrow that coat. It seemed to take forever but eventually it was MINE, MINE, MINE.

My sister turns 56 this August and we still have this one-sided hand me down relationship. She knows how bad I want the newspaper print dress we found in a New York boutique. As usual, she picked a winner that I didn't realize was such at the time. I've been thinking about it ever since and won't be fulfilled until the day it hangs in my closet.

Tony remembers what he ate in a restaurant 20 years ago--I remember what I was wearing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Putting Together the Family Puzzle

Understanding the people in my life and life itself, is like putting together a puzzle. I have an insight here and there that connects me to self, family and parents. Parents can be the most interesting part of the puzzle because when you come to them, they are your parents and for many years, that's all they are: your parents. But at some point in your relationship, you realize there may be something more to them than the reflection of YOU in their eyes. They have a history, a story, pieced together from the stories they tell, the stories their siblings tell, maybe a scrapbook, a yearbook, an occasional  newspaper clipping. For the most part, parents are a locked closet. You never know their real dreams because YOU often interrupted them.***

It took one five minute video clip from the 1950's to understand who my mother was. From an archived film from the Ed Sullivan show, I watched my mother dance. Her confidence, the way she carried herself, her fashionable haircut--in one moment I understood my mother. It all came together.

Now for Dad. I’ve never pieced him together in one moment, in one video, in one epiphany like I did with Mom. He has been a continually interesting fellow. Every once in a while, I get an insight into an aspect of who he is, and it often happens when I travel.

All his life, Dad was a hard worker and entrpreneur with a healthy cash flow.  As a young boy, he sold worms to fishermen. He was smart and careful with his money, so I never really understood his travel purchases. If he traveled through Arizona, he picked up a lot of silver jewelry from Native Americans selling from their blanket displays. If he stopped at a roadside fruit stand, he bought in abundance. A postcard seller on the street-the same. When he came home from Alaska, he had an abundance of soapstone sculpture probably sold from a street artist. When he got home, he ofen gave away his purchases.

In Nice, there are a lot of people trying to make a living on the street selling wares. In some sections, the predominant seller is the North African man. He sells crafts I don’t want or need. But I agonize and hurt when they come to my table and try to sell me a carved giraffe or a native figurine and I say no. It is in the no that helped me understand my father. He couldn't say no, because his tender heart, his understanding of and compassion for the salesman, implored him to pull out his wallet and buy not one, but five wood giraffes. He understood how hard it was to make a living, to support a family and especially if the seller was an immigrant.

His parents were immigrants. His Uncle Emil came to America with his father and painted to bring his sisters (my dad's mother) and mother to America.

During the restoration of Ellis Island, my father contemplated buying a commemorative plaque in honor of his parents’ arrival in America. 

“Don’t you dare,” my grandfather insisted, “I’ve never been treated so poorly in my life.”

 And so it must have been for his immigrant parents who came in a massive tide of European immigrants to America, where they were often disdained and mistreated. My father’s parents. And so his heart goes out to the immigrant who tries to make it, often sacrificing his life for the children that follow-the Americans, my father.

***A parent will never admit this because she loves you dearly.
***To my own daughters: you were always a part of my dreams.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In the Cathedral of St. Nicholas

Many of the cathedrals in France have had special feelings within. Many have not, but I often wonder if it is what I carry into the cathedral~~~what I am capable of feeling may only be what I already hold in my heart.

The Cathedral of St. Nicolas in Monaco was on our radar because it is the burial site of Princess Grace and Prince Ranier. Grace Patricia Kelly died after her car plunged over a hairpin turn in 1982. She was 52 years old.

After entering the cathedral, there were signs directing the flow of visitors. It took us directly past two nuns holding collection baskets. As we neared, Tony took out the coins in his pocket and I feared retribution from the nuns because we weren't giving enough; but instead I was met by the warmest smile and eye contact from a little old nun dressed in white.

 The immediately noted contrast from other cathedrals was the cleanliness. Cathedrals are huge stone buildings with a lot of traffic and keeping them clean must be monumental. Yet, this cathedral was well kept.

Reverence was a priority. When the hum of people rose slightly, an immediate "shush" from an unseen microphone filled the cathedral.

The cathedral was filled with statues of Christ, Mary and other saints, including a tribute to the Roman soldier.  It appeared that Pope John Paul II had visited because there were several ethereal, white  paintings of him.

Keep in mind, this was the burial place of Princess Grace, one time American movie start, yet the cathedral was not about Princess Grace; it was dedicated to the tenets of Catholicism. It could have so easily been turned into a tourist shrine. Her tomb was simple, the same as other royals and saints of notoriety and was only recognizable by her middle name Patricia and her death date in Roman numerals. Between her and her husband's tomb was a painting of their marriage ceremony. It was the same white, ethereal tone of the John Paul paintings.

While in the cathedral, I was moved in such a way to ask in my heart, "God, are you here?"
My heart was seized with a burning and affirmation that God indeed was here. His presence emanated and the feeling was undeniable. It was so real that I recently described the feelings to my friends as a fist reaching into my heart and squeezing it tight.

As I was leaving, I again thought of his presence and again was heart-seized with that same undeniable affirmation.

I have since thought a lot about this sacred experience. Do I share it with an audience as public as a blog? Is it too sacred to write about and send into cyberspace? And more especially, why this experience on this day in this place?

Foremost, I was touched and therefore changed, by the charity of the nun. Charity is the pure love of Christ and the nun had pure love for Christ. She didn't judge us for what little we gave; she loved us because she recognized us as her brother and sister. Secondly, was the effort to maintain the reverent environment of an edifice dedicated to God that could have been a Hollywood celebrity hotspot.  Third, the cleanliness. God is a God of order and cleanliness. The edifice was a clean and inviting place and I could feel it. The proper environment prepares us for the better part. Fourth, what we are capable of feeling does depend on us. I was prepared at that time and place, to feel the sanctity of God's presence. God is a real personage with the power to testify of his reality and divinity.

Chapel, cathedral, synagogue or closet, God's love and assurance lives. The final key, may have been simply, that I asked.

As I write this piece, I do so with tears, because when we feel the presence of God, and testify of this reality sincerely, we will feel the joy in our hearts.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Yes Friends, Another Bike Ride to Another French Village

Ah, but each village has its unique aspects, people and encounters.

I must add that following this trip, Tony took another monumental bike ride without me to the village of St. Paul and Vence. Previously he visited Ez, a famous perched village. Perched, because it was literally perched like a bird on the side of a rock and a bike ride to this kind of village requires a freakishly, strongly endowed body to climb those hills. Even Tony doesn't have the patience for me to walk my bike up those hills while he double and triple backs waiting for me to reach the top. Neither do I have the patience/strength/fortitude/ to make it. No matter how inspired I was by the triatholon! But we didn't consider the bungee cord trick (Belgium 2005). One of the lowest reaches in my keeping-up-with-Tony travails. When will I learn. If you've never heard the bungee cord trick story, please ask. It softens with time.

This time it was a two hour, each way, trek to Antebes. The ride was along the Mediterranean Sea the entire way. Lovely.

This photo is just after exchanging our bikes, and heading back to the bike path, where the sea breeze, beautiful blue, and where I try to ride in Tony's draft. Which means I have to keep up with him. Which really means he has to slow down more than I can speed up.
Charming street in old Antebe. The streets were tiny and winding and Tony had to go back and ride the itty bitty street Rue de Petit Fours-or street of the small oven-literally but really a reference to the tiny cakes (I think).
 Years ago, I followed the blog of an American family who purchased a stone house in a small French village and undertook the remodel. These old stone houses now sell for exorbitant prices. Over time, they've proved their value and desirability --structurally they are sound or solid as a rock.
 Decorated cobblestones
 The good thing about a long ride is you have to stop for lunch. If the stars are aligned and the village is small enough, while riding through, you will find an open air market. This man was selling mediterranean dips: artichoke, roasted pepper, dried tomato dip and he kept spreading little pieces of baguettes with every kind and handing them to us to sample. REally, we could have filled up on what he served us, but of course we felt compelled to buy and it was delicious. He anxiously filled a small plastic tub and I wanted him to add a certain kind, so he filled another container full with that variety. Then he put the containers on the scale and we had instantly spent $30. But we didn't have $30 for Mediterranean dips.  We kindly protested, explained our situation and he gave it all to us for $20 explaining the artichoke dip was a gift. Which means we got the tourist price and throwing in the extra made it fair. The whole encounter was delightful. We only needed a baguette to go with our food.
 SCORE. We found the perfect boulangerie. Perfect baguette, perfect almond croissant and tarte au poire. Tony had a redeeming moment asking for a tarte au poire.  You see last year, we found the most delicious pear tart. It was a slice of heaven. Each time we went into the special pear tart bakery, Tony would ask for the tarte au poivre. And each time, the worker was confused and Tony would have to walk the worker around the display cases and point out the pear tart. Why was asking for a pear tart so difficult? During a French lesson with Monsieur Foulon, Tony learned that he'd been asking for a pepper tart not a pear tart. Pear tart: tarte au poire. Pepper tart=tarte au poivre. Big difference, unless you're not French.
 The charming little square in the old town or Antebes: Tony coming out of Aux Delices and his velo-blue bike in the right hand corner.
One of the funniest human encounters, were the waiters who made fun of my velo blue as I drove by. They were probably REAL bike riders gearing up for the Tour de France. "Velo blue," they muttered and then laughed.

I've realized just when I think we speak convincing native French, we will walk into a French restaurant, talk for a moment with our waiter in French, then the ultimate insult: he asks us if we want a menu in English. Tony probably thinks it is out of respect for me because his French sounds authentic!

Sunday, July 13, 2014


We found the equivalent of Pierre Hermes in Paris-the kind of patisserie where pastries and chocolate are nothing less than art: Canet. Pronounced: can ay.

If you click on the photo it will enlarge~~and possibly enhance your experience.

 This is candy too

Only three France posts left!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


A few months ago, I sat behind a woman who seemed to thoroughly enjoy the company of her four children. I thought to myself: I REALLY hope I enjoyed my children as much as she seems to enjoy hers. But then I thought, this is a transcendent moment: I hope I am enjoying my moment in time as much as she is enjoying her moment in time. I hope I am enjoying my RIGHT NOW~my time alone with Tony, my time with grown-up children, with grandchildren, my time at this stage in my life. It was a beautiful, serendipitous wake-up call.

One thing I have thoroughly enjoyed, is watching and listening to French children. I've discovered that the French language is super expressive ~~full of sounds, bells and whistles--literally. Frenchers cluck, whistle, ta ta ta and are certainly not monotone. The language is filled with life. When children speak, it is with inflection, emotion and variation in their sentences. To walk by a children's school yard, is to hear a roar. Perhaps it is because it is smaller and contained unlike the wide open spaces of the playgrounds where my children played. And because I'm trying to enjoy the NOW, I stopped to enjoy childrens' play spaces. I think of our little ones and it momentarily cures my longing to see them. 

I discovered this playground on a solitary walk and found it so engaging, I had to bring Tony back. He enjoyed it too. The structures in this playground are works of art.
 A stingray

 This scene reminded me of an old south photo about racism, but I'm happy to say that within seconds, the girls on the swinging octopus stopped and asked the little girls on the sideline if they would like to join them. We often hear kids are cruel, but this is the second time in France where I've observed spontaneous kindness and love among children.
All happy together

At one point in life, a dear friend and myself, both had married children with their children living with us. We were discussing the adaptation required from all parties. One adjustment was the house-it couldn't stay in the same order that we were used to and there were bound to be scratches and dents. But she said something that stuck in my mind and helped me in the NOW: "It's not about things, it's about relationships."