Sunday, November 30, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014


In the middle of a harried day ( my shoulders are so stiff I feel like I've been carrying a load of bricks on my back), I cross the path of some dear friends in the grocery store. We chat briefly (they are probably short on time too), then move on, but run into each other at the check-out line. It's a busy afternoon and we are all looking for the shortest line. They get in line while I'm still perusing for a shorter wait. We both watch as another checker opens up a new lane. I'm about to jump into that line because after all, it's a busy day and my shoulders hurt; but I wait because they are ahead of me and it is the polite thing to do. They are more considerate than me--they ask the gentleman in front of them who's been waiting longer if he would like to move into the just-opened checkout. I make some comment about their kindness and keep to myself that I wouldn't have done the same.

I move on and find another line to wait in by myself. It is here that I realize why I'm having such a rough day--cause I'm only thinking of myself.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Quality of Mercy

My friend tells a beautiful story about her mother. The story involves two acts of mercy and even though I hear only one side of the story, I imagine that both parties were immensely blessed. True charity, true love, always blesses twice: the giver and the receiver.

When I thank my friend for sharing the story, I realize I have heard my favorite lines from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice in action: Portia's speech, The Quality of Mercy.

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthron├Ęd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. 
This is stand alone prose--the words and truth behind the words are so, so beautiful.  I now have the blessing of more than Shakespeare's eloquence through the wisdom of Portia; I can visualize two real women, who long ago blessed one another with the gentle rain from heaven that twice blest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Ingenuity Through the Ages

An empty masking tape roll sat on the children's bathroom counter for a few days before I asked, "Can I throw this away?"

Anni responds, "No, it's good for crafts."

I inwardly roll my eyes and think pack rat, but I love this pack rat and completely love that this is the  nature of this child.

Later when I use the last paper towel, I'm tempted to keep the "craft item" for Anni. I succumb to my white tornado self and toss it in the recycle can.

Saturday arrives and it's time for soccer practice. Annika didn't bring her shin guards when we switched houses. It's almost time to leave and her house is a good twenty minutes away. Anni contemplates the alternatives: don't go, borrow Max's (he doesn't wear his in practice), borrow some from a friend ( no guarantees here).

This is when her ingenuity kicks in. "I'll make some. Do you have some cardboard?" There is a computer box top within arm's reach. She wields scissors and produces two rectangles. She bends the cardboard to her legs, we add some air-filled packing wrap for cushion and she slips the guards into her socks. They look pretty good, but I'm dubious.

When I pick up Anni three hours later, after watching her game, she's still wearing the homemade shin guards. When we get in the car she pulls them off with no complaints, no indentations nor blisters, and I am impressed.

When we go back to her house, I take a closer look at the craft area reserved just for her creative side. It's right off the kitchen in what should have been the formal dining area, but her mother understood this child and she nurtures her child's ingenuity, her need to create.

 Annika's great grandmother, my mother, used her ingenuity when faced with a somewhat similar problem: a school dance. Mom's dance shoes were too worn to wear to the dance and her family was too poor to buy new shoes; but this didn't keep Mom from dancing. She cut from a piece of cardboard two new soles for her shoes.

My creative Mom, my creative granddaughter-- so thankful for them both.

Annika's Sacred Space and Tools For Her Creativity~~

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Our Dressed Down Lives

Our oldest daughter is hosting Thanksgiving this year. She is a good cook and a good host and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, the guest list keeps growing. It started out with 14, but as the holiday neared, one daughter found a cheaper flight and decided to come, a relative here and there adapted their plans to join the revelry. We are grateful for family and grateful to share our blessings-- the guest count has reached 20!

Daughter number one is thinking a lot about this occasion and for her, there are certain self-requirements: the first Christmas decorations must be up, the house clean, certain pies pre-made, and more-than-enough dinner rolls from a specific bakery (8 dozen!).

Amidst her planning, she has another brilliant idea. Thanksgiving is a special occasion so why not dress to make it even more special? She implemented a dress code in a group text:  Guess what? I am implementing a Thanksgiving dress code: Dressy casual-no jeans unless paired with a dress shirt, no t-shirts, leggings only if paired with a more formal top/blouse. 

 Instant backlash from her comfy loving sisters.

No sweatshirts either. Especially with college or timeshare logos (what?-that must be a joke). I'm completely serious. 

More questioning.

This was not meant to  be offensive, just meant to add to a more festive holiday atmosphere. We are putting a lot of effort into the meal--why not dress to fit the occasion?

I thought of the uncle who has not not worn jeans and a sweatshirt to every family gathering for the past 20 years (funeral excepted).

The group text was a buzz. Is she kidding? Is this a joke? What's the point? Some discussion about the legitimacy of leggings or stretchy pants (Nacho Libra Waaaa),  and then a few funny memes and three internet images of women bending over while wearing nude stretchy pants.

Tony chimes in: I didn't need to see these images.

The idea needs some positive reinforcement so I enthusiastically support it. I even have my outfit picked out for the special day. Think silky leopard jacket from a New York boutique with a jeweled gold metal belt.

As a four year old on my first ever airplane trip, I wore a dress and my patent leather shoes. Flying and dressing well were synonymous my entire childhood. As an adult, while traveling with mom and sister, I messed up our flight check-in and when we tried to board, the airline worker told us she'd given away our seats. But, there just happened to be two seats in first class and one in coach. The better dressed of us three got first class seating (it wasn't me).

Dressing well for school was expected, and my first year of college, jeans still weren't allowed on campus.

I used to dress well for Christmas, but even that has changed.

It seems all so archaic now in the land of sweats, sweat shirts, stretchy pants and flip-flops.

The only time I put on a dress anymore is for church, formal-dress-Mondays at school, and the occasional occasion. On formal dress Mondays--those students look so gooooood, but is their performance better with ties and blazers? I'm not sure, but there was a different feeling in the classroom, and different is good.

It's nice not having to worry about a tie, or hosiery, or dress pumps, but have we lost something without dress standards? I don't feel qualified or opinionated enough to definitively answer yes or no. But I'm sometimes shocked by airplane attire, I am disappointed to see hoodies in nice restaurants, and I was embarrassed when I looked down at my own feet, in church, and realized I'd chosen comfort over fashion/civility by wearing UGGS. They looked so clunky and brown and out of place under my long skirt.

So tomorrow will be more than a turkey dinner gathering, it will be a return to clothing civility and a good excuse not to help with dishes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Art Is As Good As Taste

 In the photo below, I am in Paris, standing in line, waiting to pick out a delectable, mouth watering, scrumptious, indescribable Pierre Herme (accent left off), creation. Tony took this photo in the mode of let's-document-this-to make fun-of-Pat-later. All's fair in food and love.

The shop closed in the very early evening, and it was always in the half hour before, that I had the urge to end my day with a visit. Sometimes Tony wouldn't detour via bike to get there in time, but most often, he would. And by the proof of the line, we weren't the only people who hurried for a day's end treat.

 The pastries were art. That is the only way to describe Pierre's creations. And the art tasted as good as it looked.
Imagine my delight when I found two Pierre Herme cookbooks on my daughter's shelves on an 18 degree November day when I was stuck inside with the one year old. The art was enough to transport me back to the carefree days of a summer in Paris.

Actually, getting to Pierre Herme's shop before it closed was a very serious, not so carefree endeavor.

The cookbook perusal was extremely satisfying as the magnified glossy pages of endless sweets left me with no need to cook, no need to run to the French bakery, no need for the French, dark chocolate in my cupboard. Perhaps, knowing where I was, having chosen to be there at this moment in time, the armchair travel---was enough.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How Deep The Well?

It's 11:58 p.m. and our daughter and husband will be home by 1:00 a.m.

 Tony and I survived a willful eight and ten year old, and a one year old who wasn't sleeping through the night. For nine days!

A medal of honor to us!

There were moments. Oh were there moments. Like the night the older children determined they were staying up until 10:50. I told them to turn out the lights when they came up for bed. Two minutes later, they'd decided it wasn't that much fun to stay up late. Or the night when they were so wound up, NOTHING could be done, so we locked our bedroom door and hoped for the best.

Or the four times the baby got so mad, he couldn't breathe. Or the day the children didn't come home from school until an hour after it had ended. And yes, I was out looking for them. Then there was the Saturday with two soccer practices and one soccer game. The overwhelming responsibility. And the day I picked them up for lunch as planned, but one of them had already gone to the cafeteria and ordered pizza. And the night Tony came upstairs and said, "I think we're in over our heads." And then there were those darn cats.

But there were moments. Oh there were moments. The baby's head resting on my shoulder as I patted his back, and I wanted to rock him all night. The thank-you's when I cooked a good meal. Pretending when I made a horrible meal. Or bragging rights when their grandma had made crepes for their lunch. Knowing I couldn't have done it without Tony and loving even more this sweet, sweet gentle man. Watching Anni take pride in cleaning her room after I'd helped her just to get started. Watching the baby in the bath every night. Hearing the sibling invoked giggles. The sincere prayers that everyone would be safe.

And then there was one moment above all others. One night, while bathing Seb, I felt an actual physical change in my love for him. We often think of love as an emotion, a deeply felt emotion. But this night, the change was physical, almost as if I felt a click in my heart. It was a physical change as tangible as hunger to well fed.

I pondered this moment wondering how it had happened. Wondering how much deeper my love could go for the rest of my family.  How many more shifts could my love make? If our capacity to love could be measured like the depth of a well, how deep was my well? How deep could my well go? How much more capacity to love was I capable of?

Foremost, where did the shift come from? What enabled me to love deeper? I loved Seb more because I had served him so completely and thoroughly. The incredible feelings, the gift of love, had required more of me than I was usually willing to give.

Previously to becoming the nanny, I'd been praying to have love for a difficult person. How ironic that what I'd been praying so hard for came so easily and unexpectedly for baby Seb---but the key was service---everything about that child had been my number one concern.  I now knew what I had to do for the difficult person, what was required to love that difficult person. I had to serve that difficult person. Like serving the children, there were going to be difficult moments, but the culminating feelings, the sublimity of love would make it all worth it.

It had been a hard nine days with three children, but a blessed nine days. When we put the older children to bed we also had to say goodbye. It was tender, it was sad, it was wonderful--because I loved those children more than I ever had. I had learned my well was deeper than I knew. What a gift it will be to find the well goes even deeper. I now know it can.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Why do two of my grandsons look just like Harold?

This American classic has come alive not once, but twice, and I may have channeled this since Harold and the Purple Crayon was one of my all time favorite books as a child (and the Pink Motel).

When I purchased Harold for my own children, it was as darling as my own childhood remembrance. And then one day, a photo of Ezra exploring in his pajamas came via email or text: Harold had come to life--still in pursuit of adventure, still wearing pajamas, still sporting the inquisitive look of a Vasco de Gama, of  a Columbus, or a Magellen. One day, Ezra was even carrying a purple crayon. It was as if Crockett Johnson had used my grandsons as his models.

And now, grandson number two is on a quest with his own metaphorical purple crayon: catching the elusive kitty-- and both will stop at nothing to get at/get away from the other.

Harold comes to real life

It isn't often, but it does happen--when you meet or know someone who reminds you of a literary character. Recently, one of the seventh graders had such a strong personality, such a unique voice, such big square glasses, she should be a literary character.  I still think about her and wonder what character she reminds her grandmother of, the character who comes straight from a book--like Harold. Like my Harolds.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Too Simple

Lisa, yoga teacher extraordinaire, begins her class with words of wisdom. Today the wisdom comes from an Oprah Lifeclass.  I don't remember the name of the guest, but the guest was an Episcopalian priest. Her advice was simple and profound: If ever a person finds himself/herself or if YOU ever find yourself in a slump or depression, take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one half of the paper, write or list all the things that make you come alive. On the other half of the paper, list all the things that keep you from doing what makes you come alive.

If one is true to self, this divided paper should help one come out of the slump. Simple. The best advice always is.

And that is precisely why, so often, people won't take the advice.

A classic example is the when the Lord tells Moses (Numbers 21), to make a brass serpent, put it on a pole. If the children of Israel are bitten by a serpent, they are promised they will be saved if they will only look upon the brass serpent.

In 1 Nephi 17:41, there is a continuation of the story:...for they hardened their hearts, even as ye have; and the Lord straitened them because of their iniquity. He sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he prepared a way that they might be healed; and the labor which they had to perform was to look; and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.

Too simple.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Miracle of Morning

After two nights of precious baby not sleeping well, we had a major breakthrough. We put him to bed at 7:00 pm and didn't hear a peep until 7:00 am. And....the coughing 8 year old, didn't cough all night. I slept well. We all slept well.

There is nothing better than a good night's rest and I have always been blessed with a good sleeping ability. I can even love napping.  I treasure sleep and I don't take it for granted, because all around me are people who don't sleep well.

Mom tells me frequently that I came this way. I loved to sleep and consequently was an easy, happy baby. If we get to pick gifts to bring from heaven, I picked a good one.

Often, when I go to bed at night with an unsolved problem or conflict, my brain, somehow, works through the problem. I often understand a previously unseen  solution or figure out a better way. Clarity shows the divergent point of Tony's and my understanding. One time, I even wrote a whole newspaper column while sleeping. I woke up with the complete story and post script in my mind. Literally I went from bed to the computer, and there were very few edits. I think the subconscious does a lot of work while sleeping, another proof of needful rest.

Ah...but loving and functioning well on sleep does have a downside. When I don't get enough sleep, I don't do so well. My sleep is like water to a marathoner in the desert; butter to a pastry chef; kleenex to a cold-afflicted person.

Without sleep, my sanity slips. Everything sad or troublesome is magnified. I don't want to ever travel or be far from home--and this is not the real me. I think of persecuted people who aren't given a real bed, who were expected to stand through the night in a cattle car and nothing could be worse.

The old cliche Never go to bed angry, doesn't work for me either. The best thing I can do under these circumstances is go to bed. In the morning, it will all be different. And this is what I really want to focus on: the miracle of morning.

The way the world is set up, every 24 hours, we in essence get a fresh start. 365 fresh starts a year! Every morning when I awake, I can choose to be different. I can be kinder, more forgiving (of myself and others), eat better, exercise better, work harder, learn and love more.

I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions--once a year is not enough. Every day I have a new and glorious chance to be better. Everyday I cradle hope for a better me.

If we take it one step further, the way time is set-up and divided, we have even more opportunities to re-set our do-better efforts: every hour and every minute provides a new starting line.

But nothing beats the possibilities of a new day. From darkness comes light and that light, either physical illumination or mental and emotional insight, is what can change our lives.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sit On Your Emails

First email to daughter traveling the Caribbean while I am home with the children:

Tony and I feel like we didn't get full disclosure here:

Seb  (one year old) woke up twice the first night. I let him cry through the 3:00 a.m but got up with him at 5:00.

Second night, he woke at least four times. The fourth time at 12:30, Tony got up and fed him. Anni was up most of the night with a cough.  Gave her cough syrup.

He also stopped breathing after crying so hard and we were just putting him in his sleep sack. Just like Pj and the doctor said she was manipulating me. Scared Anni and I to tears. Thank goodness we had each other. I always thought he was a zero to 50 in 3 seconds kind of guy.

The baby sitter is my salvation. She is the best thing that ever happened to you and me.

I know he is supposed to take a second nap, but he's been in his crib for an hour (not crying), and he's still not asleep. Fussing.

Seb is in the first stages of getting sick.

Max appreciated the roasted yams for his after school snack--sweet potatoes are better than yams--I thought you knew this--told you to buy sweet potatoes.

You better be having a great time.

Before sending, I decided to wait-think about how the words might affect daughter's vacation. Second email to daughter after contemplating: 

Tony and I feel like we didn't get full disclosure here:

Seb  (one year old) woke up twice the first night. I let him cry through the 3:00 a.m but got up with him at 5:00.

Second night, he woke at least four times. The fourth time at 12:30, Tony got up and fed him. Anni was up most of the night with a cough.  Gave her cough syrup.

He also stopped breathing after crying so hard and we were just putting him in his sleep sack. Just like Pj and the doctor said she was manipulating me. Scared Anni and I to tears. Thank goodness we had each other. I always thought he was a zero to 50 in 3 seconds kind of guy.

The baby sitter is my salvation. She is the best thing that ever happened to you. And me.

Seb is in the first stages of getting sick. Seb might be getting sick.
I know he is supposed to take a second nap, but he's been in his crib for an hour (not crying), and he's still not asleep. Fussing.

Max appreciated the roasted yams for his after school snack--sweet potatoes are better than yams--I thought you knew this. Told you to buy sweet potatoes.

You better be having a great time.

Third email after more contemplation--the actual email sent:


All is well, kids are happy and safe.
 Hope you are having a great time.

I love you,


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Babette's Feast or "An Artist is Never Poor"**

Many years ago, I had a shift in thinking while watching the Danish film, Babette's Feast. The story is too wonderful to explain, or give away the ending, as every person should watch this film of devotion, love, sacrifice, austerity, extravagance and food. I will reveal that the film enlightened my mind concerning food and love, food preparation and love, and gave me a whole new insight into cooking as service. 

When I am lucky or blessed enough to partake of good company and a good meal, I think of Babette's Feast. Always.

And on this afternoon, I was in the company of a Babette--Kristi came home from our hike/walk and cooked for us. She made and served cuisine from Afghan and Morocco and it was sumptuous. 

The best part about a great meal is when it's made with love and received with love and appreciation. Nik, Lisa and I were in awe of the flavors, the variety, the table settings but mostly the sacrifice and kindness--the love. 

***An artist is never poor." This is Babette's response after her guests discover what she spent on a meal for people she loved. And I will leave it at that, as I've already given away too much information.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gimme A Break

Ok. I've been the nanny for 36 hours and I'm already taking a four and a half hour break. A well deserved four and a half hour break.

First night: 5 hours of sleep, and that's generous in the count.
Last night: Awakened at 10, 11 and 12:30 by the baby (adorable, but not as adorable at 12:30), who must miss his parents, and the 8 year old who needed cough syrup.

I love these children, they are my grandchildren, but let me restate the obvious--I needed a break. Who knows what tonight will bring. Fortunately, Tony and I are the nanny team.

Last night, when I thought about the babysitter coming in the morning, I didn't even know what I was going to do or where I was going to go. At 8:15 this morning when sweet Chandler, standing in the 19 degree cold, rang the doorbell, I knew: home. My refuge. In the twenty minute drive, I contemplated and relished the supreme pleasures of home. Even driving down a main street that led to home was sweet.

When I opened the fridge, I pulled out the vegetable and fruit bins that had needed cleaning for a few weeks. However, this morning it was a simple privilege to fill them with warm water and soap, wash, dry, and re-insert.

I was then drawn to my study; a room that is totally mine, a reflection of my crazy organization, my tastes, travels, photos, maps, and loves. The place that always reflects where I am in life: the open literature anthology, the newly hung poster of the Civil Rights documentary, the stack of books waiting to be read, my father's Book of Remembrance propped up against my desk. I clicked on the electric blanket and sat in the big purple chair by the window. Ahhhhh. Home.

I answer some important, neglected emails with only the soft hum of the heater. I check bank accounts, and finally, sit down to do what I couldn't have done in the past day and a half: write.

I am absolutely convinced that every human, woman, man, and child needs a place of refuge. A place where the tension dissipates, the place that feels like an electric blanket turning on in the cold. How blessed when that place is home. That is why in part, I moved to my daughter's house to care for her children for a week. As much as they might love Tony and me, with their parents gone, those children need their familiar place of refuge. How blessed I am that their refuge, my refuge is a place of love, acceptance and warmth. And what a blessing that my feelings for a place of refuge is renewed after prioritizing their needs.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Caveat Emptor

My father loved cars, loved to buy new cars, loved to give them to his family, especially his granddaughters ( he only had a few). Since he was ill and now that he is gone, I've had to step up to the plate twice. It's pointless to wish Dad was still here to take care of this, so, I'm thankful he gave me the tools and confidence to negotiate.

The first time, I THINK I got the car salesman to knock $500 off the price. I never told my dad in case I hadn't been savvy enough.

The second time, just this week, after the price was negotiated, I sat down with the manager and my daughter for the final signing. With Dad on my shoulder, I was prepared.

Bang--first change: they wanted to give us $200 less for the trade-in. "It's a matter of principle," I said, "I checked Kelly Blue Book and the first offer is the fair price." I was ready to walk away, which in hindsight was a little foolish but a heavy bargaining chip.

Salesman's response, "But the trade-in guy didn't see it and it needs new tires,....etc, bla bla bla."

"That's your fault."

He backed down right away but made sure I knew they would be taking a loss. Too bad.

Next, we were offered a warranty that would kick in five years after the original warranty expired. All for $1100.

"You mean," I said to the salesman/office manager/son of the owner, "You want me to pay $1100 up front for a service I may not need for five years? Really?"

Not a minute passed when he dropped the warranty price to $800. If that doesn't tell you something.

Next, we were offered a sealant protection for the leather seats--"If you wear jeans, sometimes the blue rubs off onto the seats."

"Then she won't wear pants when she drives."

Next: extra protection for the exterior. Again, I have faith they already did a nice paint job. Pass.

I'm winning, or so I think.

The man shows us that if our car should ever be stolen or totaled that ON Top of the insurance pay off, the dealership will give us an extra $3000. Wow this is generous, and I think it's a pretty cool thing to offer but the odds are so against this happening that their goodwill gets a lot of bang. Maybe the customer only gets the $3000. towards a new car. I ask. Nope...regardless, a check for $3000.

Everything looks good and we are asked to sign the previously typed MOTOR VEHICLE CONTRACT OF SALE.

Line by line I congenially (because we've almost rounded the bases and I'm about to score), go over the contract.

"Oh...what is this?  Hmmm... I see." On line 18 is a charge for theft registration at a minor charge of $189.

"The $3000 in case of theft or an accident that totals the car is no gift. You've made us buy an insurance policy. Tell me, what percentages of cars get stolen or totaled? I bet it's less than 5%."

"Well actually, we don't keep statistics," he responds.

"Of course you don't. It's probably one percent. Out of 100 cars you sell, how many qualify for this $3000 payout?"

He doesn't answer but successfully diverts me with a story of two cars that were stolen off the lot this year."

"Did you pay yourselves $3000?"

"The cars were returned. Someone took a joy ride then parked them in the restaurant lot next door."

Ugh...I let it go...but in the words of Stephen Covey, the situation was a win/win and we drove away satisfied in a new car and knowing we've helped keep this dealership running--especially important if the odds turn against us and we return to collect our $3000.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Fleeting Moment In Time

Wesley writes to his family from the isolated interior of Siberia: "There is a fantastic new star in the sky. It appears every evening, has a tail and is very bright. Is it a comet? Please write and tell me what it is."

We on the other side of the world are abundantly blessed with information about Hale-Bopp. I decide to arise in the early morning to see this glorious comet before it is visible in the night sky. I try to get some takers for the 5:30 adventure, but alas, no one is interested except my seven year old, Jillian. She is enthusiastic about arising at 5:30. I set my alarm but awake before it rings.

I search out my bedroom window in the direction of the comet and am taken aback at the brilliance I find. The clarity of the science textbook picture of the Hale-Bopp comet is amazing. It's true; it really exists!

I make my way through the dark house and into Jillian's room. I lean over her cherubic face and whisper, "It's time to see the comet." She wakes instantly from what seems like a Sleeping Beauty spell. We walk arm in arm, to protect ourselves from the furniture and walls. our steps are slow, but filled with playful urgency like trying to get to a stadium seat before kickoff.

The picture window in my bedroom is perfectly positioned for our comet watch. It sits above a deep windowsill about five feet off the floor. "I'll go first so I can help you up," I whisper so we don't wake her father. I take a forbidden step on the white wingback chair and pull her up.

I settle her in my lap, wrap my legs around her and cuddle her in my arms. "Where is it?" She asks. I lift up the blinds. We lean together like members of a bobsled team taking a curve in the luge. She sees the comet and instantly recognizes the magnificence of the moment. I wonder how she will ever fall back to sleep.

Her excited ooh's and aah's have awakened Dad. He joins us at the window and suggests we get the binoculars. Jillian and I head downstairs as if it is Christmas morning. We hunt down the binoculars and warm jackets. A bark from the crate means the golden retriever will join us for this magical date with heaven.

Once outside, I realize what we might have missed. The massive sky is let with all her stars. With the comparison now of the north star and the big dipper, the uniqueness of the comet stands out even more profoundly. I want to freeze the moment: Jillian and I alone on a deserted street, cloaked in the precious silence.

The dog sniffs in the flowerbeds. Jillian sits on the sidewalk. Hr eyes look like they are protruding binoculars.

"Remember this moment Jillian. You can't see a comet every day; this is a once in a lifetime experience. Look how it stands out above all the other stars in the sky. You can almost see it moving."

I picture her later that morning at school sharing her experience for show and tell. I imagine her most meaningful words--My mom and I got up together to see the comet." I am content and think that this is what life is all about.

The next night after tucking her into bed, Jillian calls out to me, "Will you wake me in the morning so we can see he comet again?"

And I did--only this time she wouldn't wake up. Like the passing of a comet, certain opportunities only come once.

This was originally published on March 18, 1998 and the little girl Jillian is now 25. Since studying and looking for the ISS, this memory came back. Fourteen years later, I realize, it truly was a fleeting moment in time.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


It's 1939 and my aunt is only seventeen years old, my uncle not much older, when they marry. They keep the marriage a secret. My grandmother receives an anonymous phone call that tells her, her son is married. She is devastated. She spends the next four years ostrasizing, refusing to acknowledge, the marriage, the children. When my uncle has his third child, the first girl, and they name the baby after my grandmother, Grandma finally accepts the family. Yet, the two older boys who never met their grandma and grandpa until their sister is born, refer to Grandma as Annie's grandma.

My entire life, I grew up with this story of rejection.

The rejection left a few scars and when I hear this story, I alway feel sorry for the two cousins (whom I adore), who never felt Annie's grandma's love.

It isn't until my rejected cousin, a successful lawyer who still practices at age 74, speaks at his mother's funeral that I hear a different side of the story. He tells the story of the other side of the family, his mother's parents and her siblings. Not my family, not my grandparents. He pays homage to a grandpa who "Made him feel like he was the only grandchild in the world." And, "When he talked to us, it was as if we were the only person that mattered."

Every Sunday, my aunt took her children to her parents' home where they were lavished with love and attention, to a place where they were adored and treasured.

I see there was a different side to the story and I'm grateful for people who loved my cousins when my own family didn't.

The light illuminates the darkness of my own grandmother's hard, hard heart. And I have a change of heart--

I never want to be hard hearted. But I'm immediately reminded of a few incidences that have left me with a hard heart. I want to change. I want to be free. I don't want a 74 year legacy of hard heartedness.

I want a soft and loving heart.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Oh The French!

Tony and I are itching to get back to France, mostly for that incredible taste of a fresh baguette with the simple pleasure of butter, some confiture (jam), and perhaps, some miel (honey). And some pastires. French food, freshness, bread, pastries, are superior--in our mind and in the mind of a true Frenchman or woman.

In the spirit of feeling and wanting all things French, we invite our French-- French--French friends to dinner, and we enjoy their company immensely.

Tony deliberates on the menu for a week, and he finally decides on what will turn out to be a delectable cream sauce over a chicken breast. Normally I loathe a chicken breast, but Tony's cooked-in-butter, smothered-in-cream and topped with $11.00 worth of gruyere, chicken breast is heavenly.

For dessert, we've decided on the quintessential crepe--but our recipe is not just any crepe recipe. One night after making almost 500 crepes for the senior breakfast, after whipping up the batter at least 30 times, I couldn't help but memorize the ingredients. Oh, I tried not to, but it spread and cooked in my brain just like a delicious crepe. The reason I tried not to remember the recipe was because the young lady who shared this recipe made sure we all understood that two generations ago, the recipe was secreted out of France and her family's plans were to keep Les Americains from ever making such a delicious crepe.

I make up the recipe before our guests arrive, and we're both looking forward to impressing our friends with delicious crepes. After basking in the mushroom cream-sauced chicken and some wonderful dinner conversation, we show our friends the batter and share the story of the secret crepes. Our female dinner guest takes a look at the batter and instantly declares, "It's too thick, I'll make up my own." Now Tony and I don't mind in the least. We are thrilled she is making us more crepe batter and THIS recipe was her mother's (who still lives in Provence), and probably her grandmother's and so forth through the ancestry line. All we want is the best darn crepe ever.

The next day, we have too much crepe batter so I offer some to a friend with a French culture background (she's married to a former Parisien, speaks French, and is an incredible cook). I explain the story behind the batter and she responds with "That was nervy of her." And indeed it was, but it was a classic moment as it proved the French pride and joy in their fabulous cuisine--which we enjoy so much!! And without that pride? Maybe they'd be cooking like the English.

And the best crepes?  Well, Tony declared that our crepes were the best, but please do not ask for the recipe: it's a secret.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Sacredness of a Free Afternoon

After six weeks of teaching, there was a lot of stuff on the back burner waiting to move forward. My life-gusto tends to overbook my free time. Yesterday began with an early morning hike, followed by an incredible lunch with friends, concern over a child's medical procedure, buying a car, and dinner guests.  Yes, I went to bed at 11:00, exhausted, and slept in this morning until eight only to begin the gusto-life all over again: walking to yoga in 28 degree weather with a new friend. But when I got home...

I showered...

Put on lime green sweats I would never wear out....

And savored the free afternoon and evening ahead...

In a quiet house all by myself...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Keeper of Treasures

Back when I lived in Texas, I had a big ambition to do my own brickwork. I took a bricklaying class--yes, it seems funny now, but I really did take a class.  And somehow, this put me in a position to inherit my grandfather's trowel. He was a mason and he'd passed on many years earlier, but my grandmother had only passed six years earlier. I'm not sure where that trowel had been, probably in my parents' garage and given that my father was not a handyman, he jumped at the opportunity to bring it to me.

No surprise that a year after the bricklaying class, we moved from Texas and my masonry skills vanished with the state. But I kept that trowel for pragmatic and emotional reasons and the possibility of one day.... I saw the value of an old item used by my grandfather the mason, but I had never felt close to him--as one of the youngest grandchildren, he'd already aged, had a stroke and my memories are of a grumpy old man who tolerated his grandchildren, who found fault one day when I answered him with a shrug of my shoulders. Disrespectful I was. I wanted to capture some kind of closeness in holding that trowel, but it never came.

Many moons later while attending a family event, I am conversing with my cousins' children. They are successful, impressive adults. One second cousin worked for Goldman Sach's for a few years, then started his own companies and sold them to larger companies. He currently runs a seafood business. The other cousin runs an outdoor business that outfits and runs adventures and supplies kayaks, bikes etc. to major east coast resorts. The next second cousin is a school teacher in Oregon. And the last second cousin pipes up that he has continued in a family trade: he is a mason.

I instantly remember my grandfather's, his great grandfather's trowel. The unused trowel that has sat on a garage shelf, waiting for this moment.

He is surprised that such a moment, that such a gift could come his way. His cousins recognize the "coolness" of the moment and how meaningful it will be to possess this family heirloom. And I know I have only been the keeper of this treasure for my grandfather's great grandchild.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The International Space Station

Sunday morning at 6:37 a.m. while most of us were still cuddled in bed, the international space station passed by.

Little did I know that a whole world of science, technology and everyday life was happening in the skies above.

I can possibly see it every morning from November 7-22.

Today, November 11, I have a 6 minute window at 6:36 a.m. I plan to set the alarm, put socks by the bed and wrap up in my feather stuffed comforter and step out on the deck.  It appears at 10 above SW and disappears 14 above NE,

The crew on the international space station awakes at 6:30 a.m. If they are on the same time schedule as me, I can imagine them climbing out of their sleeping sacks and confronting the day much in the same way that I will. Only they'll sip and spoon their food out of bags carefully so as not to send it on a trajectory without gravity.

It's all pretty amazing but simple. People just living in a different direction unaware of one another unless they make a special effort to get up, get out and notice.

Find out when the station passes your neck of the woods:

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Goes Around Comes Around

What goes around comes around and that includes obligations.

Before I was old enough to start school, my parents went on a six week tour of Europe. Who in their right mind would take care of me and my sisters for six weeks? Grandma and Grandpa. And not only for this epic trip, but they moved in for many of my parents' trips. They didn't only take care of me and my siblings--they did the same for their other children and that included one son with seven children. When Grandpa passed on in 1968, Grandma solo'd.

That devotion, sacrifice and familial duty passed on to my parents. With open arms, they welcomed my children into their home when we went to Hawaii, to China, to......

And now my time is here. In six days, 22 hours and 45 minutes, Tony and I will move into our daughter's house and become.... The Nannies.

I've never done this before.

Am I scared?

I've been building my aresenal: the babysitter is still coming for her Tuesday, Thursday shift; young, vibrant 21 year old daughter has promised to come on her free days; even a sister in law has volunteered to help out if I really need a break. Besides making lunches, getting to soccer, doing homework and getting the 8 & 10 year olds to shower, I'm planning some fun time: a visit to a movie costume exhibit and Grandpa is already thinking about the Museum of Wildlife. I've joked that we're going to Disneyland or that one day I'm keeping them home from school.

I should be compiling a list of take out restaurants that deliver, searching for temporary cleaning services and looking for someone to take those sneaky, conniving, shedding cats. If only.

In Confucius' Analects are recorded the tenets of Confucianism. One of those tenets is filial piety or xiao. Filial piety is based on hierarchical relationships and those of a higher rank are required to care and help raise those in the lower rank. Abiding by all the tenets brings peace, harmony and happiness.

But I don't need Confucius to know that grandparenting includes the occasional nanny job. When we take over next week, it won't be out of duty, but out of love.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tony and I were a dinner table host at a philanthropic dinner. Most of our dinner guests were married couples, but one man, brought his adorable ten year old son.

The evening began with a spinach salad. There wasn't a whole lot of imagination in this spinach salad, just leaves sprinkled with strawberries.

Warning: what I am about to write is a judgmental observation of habits--not of people, though it is hard to distinguish. But I do this to make a point, what I believe is an important point in how we decide to act. 

The man and his son barely touched their spinach salads. It is possible they had an allergy to spinach or even a dislike to spinach. The father promised to take the boy to get something after the dinner if he didn't like it, but pleaded, "Just try it." I would have done the same, I have done the same.

The server set a basket of white dinner rolls on the tables. The little boy proceeded to eat several rolls. With butter. But so did my husband and the other dinner guests. The main course came and the boy didn't eat much of the asparagus, the chicken, the risotto. The father finished the boy's plate as well as his own.

When we start trying to eat better, we tend to notice those who are not. This is part of the process of eating-self awareness, and it is important as long as we don't look down on others who aren't trying to improve their diet. Negative observations can help make us aware of what we want to be and what we don't want to be.  Often the negative example can be more compelling and motivating. It's why I love the phrase, If you fail to be a good example, be a very good bad example.

When we see a woman with heavy make-up, we may think, I never want to look that made-up. Or we may see a front yard with a lot of yard art, nomes, benches, swings, scarecrows and think, I want to have a simple yard. Or we may drive by a beautiful car and not like the bright yellow color: I never want a yellow car. Comparing with the negatives is a built-in thinking track. It helps us develop tastes, habits and character. Seeing what we don't want can be as important as seeing what we do want. The important part is judging the results of someone's decisions and not the person who has painted his house bright orange or is eating a whole box of donuts.

The un-ignorable negative side of comparison is unfortunately, that we look at other's weakness to validate ourselves. My thoughts that night were: I'm glad I'm not eating like that man and his son. 

If ever one becomes prideful, arrogant or judgmental in this process, it's important to twist the situation around. To look honestly at oneself and to wonder what people think of our outward appearances and actions. I think about what the patisserie and boulangerie shop owners and workers in France might have said when Tony and I walked out of their shops everyday with a bag full of delights: Those Americans are so indulgent! Do they not have any restraint?

It is true, I have no constraint at the boulangerie that bakes the incredible almond croissant. And that is why I am now trying my best to eat the best food--and hoping I was a good, bad example for someone who was using restraint.

So, I loved this article in the NYTimes about food as a prescription. Yes, a community of people with health issues have a health care provider who provides prescriptions to gardening over drugs. The liability is much less.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Slightest Dent

Half of the computers die with 20 minutes left of class. The class  will be wrestling each other if I don't think of something fast. The class of 17 seventh grade boys and five girls. The human mind can do marvelous things when faced with extinction. I gather the computerless boys and lead them into the hall. I have a book for them with character parts that we will read tomorrow. I'll assign the parts and have them practice.

But as they gather around me, my back to the lockers, I'm overwhelmed with a sickly sweet smell-- cologne and sweat, perfectly, putridly combined.

"Do you guys where cologone?" I am incredulous.

They all get sheepish on me--smiles, but no one is admitting yet that he wears cologne.

"Do you shave and then splash on the cologne?"

One boy mans up,  "Yea, I do."

"You shave? You have enough hair to shave?"

"Yea, but just a little up here." He tickles his upper lip.

His admittance, the way he owns it, makes me smile and I"m overwhelmed in a different way.

"That's so cute!" And they all start to laugh. But they still have no idea how bad they all smell.

"Do you use scented deoderant?" That must be it.

NO one admits to wearing the scented deodorant, but they do launch into horrific boy's locker room tales of fellow seventh graders who don't shower and instead spray on cologne.

And by this time, we are all laughing. I'm in cover-the-mouth stage of laughter and that of course, makes them laugh even harder. They've made the teacher really laugh hard. For which a seventh grade boy is immensely proud.

"Look, do the girls a favor. Quit using the cologne and get some unscented deodorant so you don't smell."

More laughs and I doubt they'll take my advice.

"Boys are just  strange creatures, aren't you?"

They launch into cries of "Girls are stranger!" and start speaking like girls and with phrases like, "Oh I broke my nail!"

"I never say that," but my defense of the female race just brings more laughter.

It wasn't exactly what I had planned. No one read nor practiced their part. But we laughed: a teacher, her students, and I hope we made a dent into the conscience of just one smelly teenage boy.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Simple Gloves

A group of students and I, spent a week in Ecuador helping a family build a new, dirt floor, cinder block house. No running water, no plumbing, nary a dishwasher, neither a big screen TV, not electrical wiring. But a home, a shelter, a place to sleep, to stay out of the sun and rain, a place to call home.  We did all the grunt work: shoveling, block lifting, ground leveling and a group of native Ecuadorian craftsman did the important work of cementing blocks.

Before I left, I knew I'd be working hard and I knew I didn't have the hands to do it.  So I went to Harmon's the night before and bought a pair of sturdy work gloves for only five dollars. If only I could have known the value of a five dollar pair of work gloves.

We worked hard and there were several times when I looked down at the gloves and felt immense appreciation for something so simple. Especially when I noticed that the craftsmen didn't wear gloves. I wondered if it was just a part of their practice, if glove wearing inhibited their work.

On the last day of building the cinder block house, I thought about the now soiled gloves. They were still in great shape, but I certainly didn't want to pack them up and take them home. Plus, the gloves seemed like they might fill a need.

The van was waiting. I slipped off my gloves and mentioned to my fellow workers, my students, that I was going to donate my gloves and that they should think about it too. A few other students agreed, but there were a couple who wanted to keep them as memories. I couldn't argue.

I lifted my gloves above my head and called out to my working friends. Though our language was different, they clearly understood that a few of us were giving away our gloves. They hopped off the scaffold and ran with joy to get a pair of the worn gloves. They put them on with big smiles and gratitude! Then went back to their work with protected hands.

It was such a small gesture, but one that was more appreciated than I could have ever imagined. For all of us.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Making My Husband Laugh

When I think of joy and happiness, honestly, one of my greatest pleasures is making Tony laugh. It's probably in the top ten list if not number one. Making him laugh in any way is satisfying, but if he laughs when I write something? All the better--though in this photo series, he's really laughing at himself. But I have to believe there's a little skill in the laughter induced writing. He's pretty amiable and easy going so it's not too terribly hard to make him smile or chuckle, but to get a full belly laugh with tears is a real coup. And here it is folks.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hard Work

I woke in the morning darkness to a freezing cold house and remembered why it was so cold. Last night it was supposed to drop to 32 degrees.

Usually, after the first low-low temperature of freezing, I walk out to the garden to a mesh-mash of frozen vines, plants and unpicked green tomatoes. It's quite unpleasant and the clean-up  often gets put off until spring when the weather makes a better companion.

But this year, when I wrapped the blankets even tighter while waiting for the heat to kick on (the real alarm clock), the image of my garden appeared and I felt joy. And relief.

In the previous weeks, I had been dragging wood up from the forest. Tony and I had been pruning the trees, pulling out the nasty Russian Olives, breaking the dead limbs, gathering the Christmas trees that had sufficiently weathered. We hauled it all up the hill, up a long flight of stairs and stored it on the side of the house. Then we rented a chipper. For four hours, we chipped wood, and honestly I thought I would lose my hearing.

After we finished chipping, Tony went on a bike ride and I was left to wheelbarrow it all down the stairs into piles that would eventually be shoveled into the garden.  I waited right up to the days before the weather was supposed to turn into unbearable winter temperatures. And I was blessed--those preceding days were beautiful.

I tried to create my own little version of a mini perma culture in the garden boxes. I dug trenches, filled them first with mini-logs, branches, layered with leaves, organic kitchen waste and then the final layer: the labor intensive mulch from the chipped wood.

A garden has many stages of beauty. That first row of radish seedlings are beautiful; the first ripe tomatoes are beautiful; the bee filled raspberry blossoms are beautiful, and finally, the beautiful ready-for-winter garden. As I walked up the levels of the yard, I would turn around to glance at the beauty of all the hard work: cleared beds covered in a wood blanket all ready for blanket. And as I stayed under my own bed-blanket waiting for the warmth, I felt great satisfaction for the hard work and preparation for winter.

While pondering or procrastinating the inevitable jolt into the cold room, I was infused with memories and sureties of the satisfaction that always comes from hard work. But often, it isn't until after the work, until after the job is finished when that joy is deeply felt.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I am the passenger in a car driving down a hill with a very slight incline.  A man walking up the street, still a distance away, catches my eye because of his vigorous movements. He is on the opposite of side of the street and he is working hard, arms swinging, to make it up the street--and he is using hiking poles.  On a beautiful day, on a residential street with only a light incline. I'm more curious than judgmental, so I keep watching. My whole perspective changes when I see one of his legs is artificial. I only saw the artificial leg because he was wearing shorts and if he'd decided to wear pants that day, I wouldn't have so appreciated his efforts.

My doctor's office has a small sign at the front desk: Be kind, you never know what kind of day someone is having. Or what they've been through or where they're going.

An acquaintance of mine was walking down a busy city sidewalk with his father in law. Up ahead he saw a commotion caused by a drunk man stumbling into people. As they neared the drunk, the acquaintance saw someone shove the man and say, "Get out of my way you drunk." He got a little uncomfortable as they neared the drunk. Then he watched his father in law, a doctor, reach out to the man and ask, "How long have you been off your medication?"

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Travis Bradberry is the author of the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0. I've never read this book, but I recently found his words of wisdom on a news feed. 
Concerning Toxic People
Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions--the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with toxic people--caused subjects' brains to have a massive stress response. 
1. Set limits
Combine your niceness with someone else's love of endless complaint and you have a recipe for a whole lot of wasted time and unnecessary stress. Don't feel bound to indulge the constant kvetcher at your company.
People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don't want to be seen as callous or rude, but there's a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral. You can avoid this only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: If the complainer were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke?

2. Choose your battles
Successful people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. Choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.

3. Keep tabs on your own emotions
 You can't stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don't recognize when it's happening. 
Think of it this way--if a mentally unstable person approaches you on the street and tells you he's John F. Kennedy, you're unlikely to set him straight. When you find yourself with a co-worker who is engaged in similarly derailed thinking, sometimes it's best to just smile and nod. If you're going to have to straighten them out, it's better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to go about it.
 4. Defend your joy
When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. When emotionally intelligent people feel good about something that they've done, they won't let anyone's opinions or snide remarks take that away from them.
 5. Focus on solutions
This makes you more effective by putting you in control, and it will reduce the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.
 6. Watch physical stressors
Your self-control, attention, and memory are all reduced when you don't get enough--or the right kind--of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. A good night's sleep makes you more positive, creative, and proactive in your approach to toxic people, giving you the perspective you need to deal effectively with them.
 7. Enlist help
Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them, and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it.