Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Cost of Winning

In 1967, after Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the six day war, Zionists celebrated the victory that tripled the new state's size. But the kibbutzes were silent. Seventy percent of war casualties had come from the kibbutz--the victory was also a tremendous loss. Someone had the insight to find out what was going on with the men who had returned from the unexpected war and victory. Amos Oz and Avrahim Shapira gathered the soldiers and recorded their conversations. The men were asked to not talk about the war, but to speak of their feelings. It took many days, but the men started to talk openly and honestly. For this, their voices were censored for fifty years.

Today, I heard Mor Loushy talk about the film he directed that brings to light these censored voices. The film is poignant and does everything a good documentary should do: enrage, enlighten and bring tears and deep sadness. This movie was not only about the war Israel won, but the cost of winning. Everything I watched and listened to could apply to the wars America has won.

One of the greatest pieces of logic that emerges from the story is spoken by one of the soldiers in the days after. He says, the tragedy is not when both sides are almost 100% right, or even when each side is 50% right. The real tragedy is when both sides are 100% right.

Ultimately, no one wins at war.

The movie is Censored Voices and it will have limited releases--later on in Israel and I'm sure one day on netflix or ondemand or other documentary venues. It is a difficult movie, but a movie worth seeing.


Friday, January 30, 2015

I found an interview with an author**, Brian Stavely (whom I've never heard of), and was intrigued by his voice. One of the questions, and his answer, stayed with me throughout my day.


4) You have previously compared the experience of writing to wrestling a giant snake. Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Don’t let go. You’ll hit that moment when you think you just need to take a break, to get out of the swamp for a minute to rest. That’s when you’ve got to go for the eyes and to hell with the fangs pumping poison into your leg.

It is a great metaphor for the task of writing, but I wondered if it wasn't as applicable to other tasks that might push us to the brink of QUIT! The idea stayed in my subconscious until I needed to wrestle a giant snake.

About nine o'clock last night, I needed to read a pro forma document of at least 20 pages. The document was a financial document which is out of my normal reading canon. Each time I came to a word I didn't understand, I had to look it up and apply it to the context. My husband sat by my side as we studied it together. 

A third of the way through, a daughter came into the study for some school help. Tony was distracted and I wandered off to do some end-of-the-day little things. It was getting late; I'm not a late night thinker, usually, and we hadn't even hit the numbers. It would be perfectly fine to start again in the morning, but I knew I needed to tackle the document and the sooner the better. At that very moment, I looked into the blood thirsty, red veined eyes of the snake. Yes, friends, I literally saw a snake, an imaginary snake in my mind's eye, but the metaphor was powerful enough that I headed back to the computer screen to study the document on my own. I had that snake in a grip like a two hundred pound cop on a thief.

After a short delay, my husband joined in. In less time than I had imagined, we finished. I understood new concepts and the concepts I didn't understand and needed to gather more information for.

And oh, the satisfaction from wrestling a snake.




**

HTTP://TORBOOKS.CO.UK/2015/01/29/5-QUESTIONS-BRIAN-STAVELEY-FREE-EXTRACT/?UTM_SOURCE=RSS&UTM_MEDIUM=RSS&UTM_CAMPAIGN=5-QUESTIONS-BRIAN-STAVELEY-FREE-EXTRACT&UTM_SOURCE=TWITTERFEED&UTM_MEDIUM=TWITTER

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Little Things


A week and a day after throat surgery, my friend has a follow up visit with her surgeon. There is good and not-so-good news, but she holds on to one new protocol the doctor will allow. My friend gets to sleep in her own bed tonight. Because of that, she'll be ok, even if she has to return the following week for a corrective procedure.

I start thinking of everything I take for granted and when I crawl into bed that night, I remember how much this means to Tina and for a moment how much it means to me.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ode to Exercise

Someone has to do it.

Someone must step out of a warm home into 28 degree weather,

Someone must breathe the freshness of mountain air,
Someone must find beauty in the season of stark and gray,
Someone must startle the deer and watch effortless leaping to safety,
Someone must feel like a child leaping from rock to rock to avoid the hot lava,
Someone must watch the pack of birds flutter in unison, turning dark blue to white, to dark blue to white,
Someone must army-style-straddle the muddy path and build inner thighs,
Someone must stand in awe of a blue sky against a silver mountain,
Someone must feel the endorphins surge through veins,
Someone must feel gratitude for a heathy body, for strong legs,
Someone must notice the nest built into a rock,
Someone must feel inspiration from contemplation,
from silence,
SoMEone,
Blessed

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"I Was Raised By My Heroes"

Ever since I heard a man speak that incredible phrase, I've been thinking a lot about it. Foremost, what a privilege to both the man and his parents who were present when he said, "I was raised by my heroes." My heart swelled and I got that lump in the throat feeling.

I had never thought about my parents as heroes, yet we see our parents do heroic things and we know what good people they are. They sacrificed a great deal for us, and really, our moms gave us life. What could constitute  greater heroism than that? So why had I never thought of my parents as heroes?

 We tend to think of heroes as men and women without flaws or even as supernatural beings, yet there is no such thing as a flawless parent or a supernatural parent.  Every hero, every parent has his/her own flaw. Or flaws. Superman had kryptonite, and to be human is to be flawed.

Often heroes are labeled so because of one heroic act. Almost every child has a memory of a parent's heroic act whether it was excessive patience, forgiveness or love.

So why don't we think of parents as heroes? I saw at least one reason through my grandma eyes.

Friday afternoon, my daughter dropped off her children at my house while she went to have her hair cut. After her haircut, my daughter and her children were going to meet up with their husband/father for sushi. But Dad finished work early, and so he stopped by to pick up Max and Anni for some before-dinner time at the Nickel Arcade. When he arrived, the kids were in the midst of grandma-house-activities and they didn't want to leave.  Then I saw their father do something heroic. He said, "Ok, then I'll just have a seat and I'll wait for you until it's time for dinner."  Once the children realized Dad wanted what they wanted, when there was no reason to resist, the family was gone.

It's autonomy. For so many years, we are dependent on our parents. We go when they say go, we do when they say do. The day comes when we understand we are separate from our parents; we don't want to do what they say. This happens as early as two years old, but even then, they just pick us up and put us where they want us: in the crib, the high chair, the car seat, the bathtub. We can't make our own choices for many, many years. And then comes the day when we realize we have power and our power should be respected. Max and Anni wanted to continue their activities; Dad wanted to fulfill his intentions.  Their desire for autonomy wouldn't allow them to comply with Dad even though it was a more fun choice. And then they realized they had a choice. The choice became Dad's choice.

Even as an adult, I made different choices than my parents would have preferred. Yes, I still got in trouble as an adult. When my father disapproved, he let me know. I was still seeking my autonomy and it put me on the other side of the tug of war rope from him, from my parents.

And this is why, I couldn't allow myself to see I was raised by my heroes.

Dad is gone now, and I don't miss getting in trouble, getting it wrong, being questioned about my decisions. In his absence I have come to see all the good he did in my life. All the love he gave. All the caring, the sacrifices he made for my family, for me. I see how he suffered through his body's degeneration like a hero. My dad was my hero.

And Mom? I am so thankful I  can still see and talk with my mom. I am old enough and conscious enough that I can let go of my desire for autonomy. I can now say my mom is my hero. I can enjoy the presence of a the woman I can call a hero.

It wasn't that they just became my heroes--they've always been. It was my failure, my pride that didn't allow me to see who and all they were.

I was raised by my heroes.

Monday, January 26, 2015

While seeking my Secondary English Education, I had a professor of young adult literature who was teaching his last class before retirement. I don't remember his name, but I remember his power and his fervent desire to impart his wisdom to the future teachers of America. Because of his wisdom, I'll reference him as Dr. W.

Controversial literature: Dr. W allowed his own children to read any book they wanted. His only requirement was that his children had to talk to him about the book.

Teaching Higher Values: Dr. W loved teaching English, because he felt he could uplift students to see their divine nature and potential. His favorite way to do this: Milton's Paradise Lost.

His final parting words to a group of focused-on-English teachers: "Remember you are not in the classroom to teach English, nor Grammar, nor the great literature of the world, you are solely there to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of mankind."

Hence, teaching English has always been about loving students, loving their potential and wanting their success not only in school, but in life. When you look at it this way, teaching becomes a mission, a life-force, a game changer-----not a job.

The photo quote below reads: The greatest force in the world today is the power of God as it works through man. I would like to propose a slight revision: The greatest force in the world today is the power of God as it works through a teacher; or as it works through a father, a mother, a grandparent; as it works through a doctor, lawyer, librarian; as it works through a receptionist, a hairstylist, a government employee. We all interact with people and have the opportunity to either lift people. Imagine living and working in a world where everyone's goal is to lift one other?


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finding What We Are Made Of



Christopher Isherwood, 1904-1986, an English novelist, lived a long and interesting life. I don't know him well, except for a few internet snippets and the memory of a film based on one of his many books--Cabaret. One of the snippets of his life came from a book review, and I am remiss that I don't remember the author or the place where I found the  quote, but I found his motive for giving up cigarette smoking noteworthy, “I had given up the habit with difficulty in 1941, because I was upset about my parting from Vernon and wanted to raise my morale by asserting my willpower.”

He wanted to find his willpower or as I see it, he wanted to find his power. He wanted to see what he was made of, how deep he could dig, how far he could push.

There have been several times when I've taken an assignment, a project, an event and I've often, at the time, not quite understood why. It is at the end of the event, when I triumph or overcome that I understand. 

Most recently, these have been some of my questions while in the trenches. 

Q-Why did I agree to take a six week job teaching seventh and eighth graders? 

A-It was outside of my box; it pushed me to a new place of learning and experience. I was curious too. And when the last day rolled around, I was grateful. Grateful for the experience, grateful to have discovered some talented writers, grateful to have revisited a unique age, grateful for new friends.

Q-Would I do it again?
A-No

Q-Why did I agree to watch three grandchildren for eight days?
A-Duty and love for my daughter, her husband and those three little people. Curiosity too.
Q-Was it difficult?
A-Yes, but it was also a joy, funny-ness, self-stretching, and I wanted to see my husband in the caretaker grandfather role. He passed with flying colors and my love grew for not only the children but for my husband.
Q-Would I do it again?
A-Yes, but not for a while and I'd still need the day-time babysitter for a break. Yes, I found a power, but I also found a weakness. Just as important to embrace the limits.

Q-Why did we plan and fulfill a roughing-it camping experience, where we had to gather food and water to survive when I hate camping?
A-Because I wanted to find my power amidst beauty. Because of the successful memory, I am once again willing to rough it to see beauty-in February.

There are so many opportunities ahead, and when I remember the risk and the outcome, the learning of self and of others, the chance to grow in love and appreciation, the chance to "raise morale" by doing the impossible, I leap forward to continually learn what I'm made of and what I'm not.

There are times when we don't have a choice and especially then, we need to leap forward. Long ago, I found another quote  I don't know to whom to attribute. Paraphrased: It is often the very things we try to pray away, that will bring us the most joy, satisfaction and personal growth. Embrace the difficult to find out what you are made of, to feel joy, to grow and to enhance your life.

Don't walk away from what might bring you happiness.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Always Choose To Dance

For Dad's birthday one year, we got front row tickets to an Elton John concert. It was sort of a full circle gift, because several, several years earlier, when Loraine and I were still in high school, Dad had bought us impossible-to-get-Elton-John-concert tickets. It took both my sister and me by surprise that Dad was so hip. He'd just gotten us the most coveted tickets in town and we hadn't even asked.

This night, I sat front row with my seventy-year-old father and mother (not quite seventy) and my two adored sisters. We'd all dressed up for he occasion. In fact...I think I have a photo of the pre-event. I will check...look to the bottom of the post.

As expected, Elton John was superb. Dad was having a good time. My sisters and I were reliving almost our entire lives. Elton started pounding out the beginning chords to Saturday Night's All Right For Fighting. And then the unexpected: the usher stood at row's end and invited us to go on stage to dance with Elton John. My sisters recognized the once in a lifetime opportunity, immediately and they airlifted from their chairs to the stage. They didn't think twice; I, on the other hand, did. I looked at Mom and Dad, almost as if I needed their approval. Dad had a look of fear on his face and shrunk into his seat. I became the dutiful daughter and stayed with my parents. But here's the funny thing. At the moment, I took it as if he were embarrassed that his daughters would go to the center stage and dance in a showroom full of people. I felt it was my duty to be the one daughter with some sensibility, with an ounce of conservatism. But it wasn't so.

I watched from the front row, as my sisters danced their hearts out with Elton John. We shall never pass this way again. And we didn't.

Years later in a classroom full of ninth graders, the subject of life's biggest regret came up. They wanted to know what mine was. I had to share something that wasn't too personal, something that wouldn't tarnish my image. It was easy. Life's biggest regret became the night I didn't dance with Elton John.

They loved it. Over the next six years, I shared my life's biggest regret. Each class still loved it. But perhaps they loved even more, that when I got the chance to dance, I would do it.

At the end of winterim (three weeks of intense writing), when we passed out our awards for students who wrote 40,000 words and above, we first turned on "Celebration" from Kool and the Gang. We didn't end up handing out the awards; instead we danced. It was so spontaneous, so organic, so magnificent. After three weeks of sitting for hours, dedicating themselves to "Power Write Friday," an eight hour writing challenge, they wanted to hang loose and dance. Most of the students danced, some had to be coaxed, some never joined us. It was ok-all of the choices. I had to tell them my life's biggest regret. And so we kept on dancing. Not all of us, but those who didn't want this to be a moment to regret.

All these years, I blamed Dad and my daughter loyalty, for not dancing with Elton John. This morning while writing this, I had an epiphany~~Dad didn't care if his daughters were on stage dancing their hearts out. He wouldn't have thought we were goofs. He would have loved seeing all three of us and would have kept the memory in his heart. What he feared was that we expected him to come to the stage, and for him, that would have been a nightmare. I used my father's feelings as my excuse for my own inhibition. It's not a terrible thing, but it's a discovery I needed to make.

And that is why, I will always choose to dance.



 2007 before Elton John
2008-what a treasure this moment is


Friday, January 23, 2015

Descendents

My husband is a genealogist/hobbyist. His father's grandmother and grandfather immigrated from Spain in the early 1900s. When Tony first started searching for his roots, there were many a miracle already in the making that made his search deeply satisfying.

His great grandmother came from the northern mountains of Spain, the Basque country, the sheepherders. Today, they are a fiercely nationalist, proud group of people. The Basque people had put online, all their records. Tony found thousands of ancestors through this insightful project. His language skills, his computer skills, his tenacity, were the perfect storm for putting together the family tree.

Recently he has been researching another family line in the late 1800s and each night when he finds a family, he calls to me from his study down the hall, "This family had twelve children and ten of them died before the age of ten." We quietly lament the pain and impossible-to-imagine circumstances that would take ten precious family members. A few nights earlier he called out, "This family buried all 8 of their children. Each one died before the age of eight." Oh, the temporary ache we feel for the parents left behind.

This same week we have been planning our family vacation in November of 2015. Our niece, our cousin, is getting married in Puerto Vallarta and since we're traveling a long distance anyway, we might as well make a Thanksgiving vacation adventure. After three days in the city celebrating the marriage, we will travel north and continue our family getaway. There's been a lot of speculation as to whom exactly will be a part of the family in eleven months, some worry that the place will already be booked before we connect with the owner, and worry over the logistics that are part of moving a 14 person bus. There have been many texts, phone calls and familial connections. We gather to watch the video of our house, gather to go over the menus, gather around the phone to connect and break the good news that the vacation place is ours.

The trip will be expensive and there will be those moments, but the poignancy and pain of Tony's ancestors two hundred years ago, who lost all and most of their children, is foremost on my mind as we engage with our grown children. I watch Tony with his daughters, sharing the details, the planning, the anticipation of poolside virgin pina coladas, of guacamole and chips, of who will occupy which rooms, and I don't take one moment of it for granted. The sorrow of loss so long ago, brings a sacred gratitude that we will spend time with our children, our grandchildren, and how privileged we are to have them all.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Things that Make Me Rich

Grappling with a past dilemma has left me thinking a lot about what truly makes me rich. What is valuable. What is worth my time. Money is important, but...

other things are just as, if not more.

I was happy to work the past three weeks for very little compensation. My fee was coming out of students' fees, so I wanted it to be minimal. So, when one of the teachers I was working with had to take extra time off for a medical procedure, she said, "I am paying you extra out of my pay."

It was very nice of her and I appreciated her concern, but my response was, "Don't be ridiculous."

The greater payment is knowing I have helped my friend.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Bad News, Good News Roller Coaster

First the bad news.  It looks like my beloved little beehive may not have survived the cold snap that dipped below zero and wind tossed the elements like I've never seen or heard before. When the weather warmed up to 47 degrees, the bees should have been out cavorting. I slid the tarp aside, opened the window and peaked for just a second. The outer bees were like a natural history museum exhibit. Perfectly preserved in their motion. It was still. It was a tomb. It made me sad. Very.

I can only hope the inner part of the hive is huddled, warm and protecting the queen. Hope is the thing with wings.***

The good news: I had a full manuscript request from a super-duper agent. Cross your fingers if you believe in luck!

***From the bad news comes a piece of good news! Last year, Nikki's son told us there was a beehive in the fence post of an unsold, empty house.  Lisa, Nikki and I have been trying to figure out how to get those bees who are naturally adapted to our climate. We knew the stucco post would have to be cut. We kept an eye on the hive and in the summer, it was thriving. We sleuthed and hypothesized, and we deduced that the previous owners may have tried to destroy the hive.

 Yesterday, I talked with the new owner of the house. I told him about the hive and dared to ask him if he would let us extract it. He excitedly revealed that he was a former beekeeper and may want the hive himself!! Fantastic! Nothing could be better than a beekeeping neighbor with some experience.

He then said that since we found the hive, he'd split it with us. Plenty of bees for everyone.

****Another three chapter request from another super duper agent.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flawed

I designed my first stained glass window for Tony's office. He loved it, but then he loved the purple shirt I made for him too. To his credit, he didn't love the ill fitting pants I first sewed into one giant leg.

I'm not sure when I noticed it, but one of the Keltic knots in his window is blue instead of green, thus throwing the color pattern off.

In a half circle window above my bed is another stained glass window I envisioned, designed and created. I had imagined a tree, but the tree is also a woman standing proud but humble. I see joy in the tree. I see the fruit of a woman's labor. I chose the glass, picked through glass scraps to keep the cost down and splurged on the most vibrant colors. As the sun sets in the west, the colors project on the carpet and move up and across the walls.

When still working on the window, I inserted the largest piece with the wrong side on the front. After permanently fixing it into place, my mentor warned me that the misplacement would forever be a thorn in my side. I do notice the anomaly. It is obvious now, and I wonder how I could have missed it, but I have come to see that everything and especially everything beautiful and woman--made, has flaws. It is an essential part of beauty though it is often only the creator who sees the flaws. It is sometimes, only, her secret.

Tony might disagree, but I don't have a problem acknowledging my flaw or using them to teach others. There is beauty in flaw. Flaw is the way of life.

It is characteristic for an artist to come off the stage after a beautiful performance and feel disappointment. A speaker gives a talk and realizes stronger words would have made his point more clear. The author wishes he could re-write a paragraph or two in his published work.

The flaws help us to strive to do better and that of itself, is beautiful.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Wedding Dress Diet

OH the house is abuzz with excitement, though it is very subdued and contained. My daughter visited her potential in laws a few weeks ago and the lovely potential couple have been shopping for a ring. But as we are reminded by our daughter, it's not a sure thing. Yet.  In my day and age, none of the above happened until the formal proposal, but now, all of the above seems to happen before the formal proposal.

Anyway....we can't really count on a marriage, we are not allowed to talk about a marriage, so I act accordingly, but somehow I felt more confident in a possible marriage, when my daughter offered me her salad the other day. She walked into the room with an almost full take-out container.

"What? You've only eaten a third of it, if that much."
"But I was full."
Suspicious look.
"Mom, I'm on the wedding dress diet."
"What? There's such a thing?" I've heard of the apple diet, Southbeach diet, the Atkins diet, the cookie diet, the banana bread and blueberry diet, but never the wedding dress diet.
She laughs. "No it's my own imposed diet."

I get it. She wants to look fabulous for the possible big day. I support her.

Even though I understand the context, necessity and meaning of slimming down for a wedding, isn't everyday a potential big day? Couldn't the Publisher's Clearinghouse pull up in a van with cameras and a big check? Couldn't that special person walk unexpectedly into your life? Without warning, and wouldn't you want to look good if this happened?

Our wonderful human-ness sometimes makes a specific motivation necessary to become something we are not. But how much better it would be if we were always at our best, ready and confident for the unexpected possibilities. For a special day--which is in fact tomorrow and everyday after that.


Diet: Instead, think lifestyle change. Create habits, not goals or resolutions, for permanent fabulousness.




Sunday, January 18, 2015

Running Down the Beach

I am in my second week of teaching a writing winterim. Twenty-one students were dismissed from regular school studies to participate in a different course of their choice. My students chose writing.

The winterim is JanoWriMo copied after the infamous NanoWriMo. People all over the world jump on the writing bandwagon with a pledge to write 50,000 words (the beginning of a novel), the month of November. The task is daunting--now imagine the same goal in three weeks--and they're only in high school. Actually, they are amazing. We are a week and a half in and two students are already at 25,000 and 30,000 words. I'm so proud of them and inspired by their tenacity.

Mid winterim, I felt they needed a little inspriration.

So out came a story.

A few summers ago, Tony and I kayaked the uninhabited north shore of Kauai--the Napali Coast. It took us the better part of a day to reach our first destination-a beautiful pristine beach with a landing that was tough to nail. We spilled out onto the shore and proceeded to unpack for three days of a roughing-life adventure. That it was in a beautiful spot, does not negate our roughing it. The first steps on the sand were torture. As we trudged with dry bags full of necessities to our survival, the heavy, wet, sand was like quick sand. Every step was labor. Every step, our foot sunk a foot into the sand.

As we settled in camp, every necessity was carefully thought out to require the least amount of sand trudging.

"Are you sure we need water?"

"Yes, water is critical to our survival."

"What if I don't want to survive?"

"It does take a lot of work but, but I want to survive."

If only we didn't have to walk down the beach, hike up a bit, sit under a waterfall to collect the water, then purify it. And walk back."

"You're right, it's not worth it. Let's lay down and die."

"I'm sure someone can use our stuff after we pass."

By the third day, I was running down the beach. My nemesis had become my strength. My muscles adapted and adapted quickly. I could do with joy what I had done with pain. And so I encourage my students. Keep at it. Yes, it's hard, but 1000 words here, becomes 10,000 words there and soon enough you'll have 50,000 words. Think of it as running down the beach. With calves like a linebacker.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Three Microwave Solution

Rachel, a student, helped me carry food into the teacher's lounge that needed to be warmed up. In all my six years, I rarely used the microwave or even ate at the school. It was just this past October, when I was teaching all day that I used the microwave to warm food.

It was a simple ritual: walk into teacher's lounge, pull food out of bag, warm in the microwave, and eat. Simple, simple without much thought.

As Rachel and I stood with three items that needed to be heated, I placed the black beans in the microwave and when I pulled them out to stir, I instructed her to stick in the refried beans, so we could, "Get a jump on things."

The dear sweet girl then suggested that we put all three dishes in the three separate microwaves and we'd really "Get a jump on things."

Instead of feeling stupid like most people would have, I saw it as the three microwave unaware problem.

I had my needs, my habits, and my vision blinders intact and thus, I was content to solve the problem in the usual way. But it wasn't the most efficient or intelligent way. It took a student with "new eyes," to help me see this.

I take away two three things from this experience: 1. When faced with a problem, big or small, step back and ask if there's a better way. 2. Ask for someone else's opinion or expertise and 3. If someone happens to point out your own lack of intelligence, thank them and applaud them for theirs!

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Colleague Asked


The past five years while attending graduation ceremonies for our seniors, I've always felt a tinge of healthy envy for our graduates. They have completed four years of a great education. We challenged them with difficult texts; we challenged them to articulate new ideas and to write those ideas cohesively; we challenged them to think in Socratic discussion and to express themselves creatively. We challenged them to experience new adventures through winterim, and we held them accountable with due dates and grades. 

It was all there on a silver platter and if they magnified, engaged and tried, they received an excellent education. Of this I am sure, and that is why my envy is a May ritual.

I attended junior high and high school in the latter 1970's when accountability was almost nil, and the education pendulum swung low. There were great teachers yes, but they are less of a memory than  teachers who didn't teach or who taught poorly. We expect good teachers, and when they aren't, they leave a kind of scar like a waffle stomper imprint to the forehead (a product of the 70's too). My own distinct memories are surprising:

Foreign Language Study with Dr. M. We literally sat most days in silence doing absolutely nothing. Torture. Abuse. "Not a peep out of you or else." Other days, we listened to a reel to reel tape of the same dialogue in three different languages, and there once was a German song of which I can still sing the first line.

Mrs. McD 9th grade English: Nothing but diagramming. Nothing. No exploration of poetry nor great literature. My mother pulled me out of this class.

One of the highlights was American History with Mr. C. He taught the entire semester by telling the stories of five presidents who were assassinated or died while in office. Fascinating. We read one book and never wrote. But I remember that Lincoln's and Kennedy's lives have some mysterious coincidences. 

Biology with Ms. A. She didn't speak to us the first few days and when she started speaking, she was mean.

Geometry with Mr. C. Never a presentation or explanation. We sat at tables in pairs or threes and worked through the book. He was there to answer questions. I went to that class as little as possible and still passed with a D.

Did anyone take roll in the 70's? If my teachers did, I never knew the consequences of not going to class. If it was a beautiful day with new snow, I went skiing. Late for lunch? Just skip the whole period. 

I realize now that accountability was my responsibility too, but unfortunateley, as a seventeen-year old-girl, I didn't quite see it that way.

So now, a colleague of mine asks me what education is. I know what education isn't because I didn't receive it and I wasn't smart enough, motivated enough in high school to seek it. In my latter years in college, I finally figured out that education is reciprocal--there must be a giver and a receiver. 

It's easy to blame the 70's for my lack of education, but I do. As much as I blame myself. 

Education is a dance, a tennis match, a Swan Lake Pas De Deux; it is a happy marriage and a partnership but just as it takes the first serve, and a marriage proposal, someone has to start the process, there must be a Messiah who stands at the door ready to open when the student knocks; ultimately this begins with a teacher's passion so contagious, a student can't resist the great education waiting for him or her to embrace.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Handprints and Toys

After I visited my parents with children in tow, my mother  didn't clean the mirrors, because little hand and fingerprints were left all over. She loved those prints.

 She never loved the prints when I was a child or a teenager. She used to holler when one of us girls, in our vanity, came too close to the mirrors she loved,  that she had attached to walls all by herself, all over the house. She loved the openness and light mirrors brought to her rooms. She didn't love our fingerprints, handprints, or our lip prints. But we weren't the grandchildren.

My departed grandchild sentimentality comes from the toys, the objects, that the grandchildren misplace or take apart. The donkey from the creche stayed in a kitchen cupboard for months because Max, unbeknownst to me at the time, had put it there. And it was so cute! A reminder of his inquisitive mind, his chubby fingers and my curiosity as to why it landed in a kitchen cupboard. What was he thinking?

Ezra and Sebastian sat with me as we took apart the Russian nesting dolls. It kept each of their short attention spans long enough for me to savor the moment. And the after moment.

The nesting dolls stayed in the middle of the living room floor for days after the holidays had ended.

I never loved when my children left their toys scattered over the living room floor. I would holler at my daughters to pick up after themselves. I despised the chaos of left behind legos, Barbie shoes and game pieces and became so jaded that it was nothing to vacuum them up and away. I couldn't tolerate my daughter's messes. But they weren't the grandchildren.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Lasting

I woke up this morning after a vivid visit with two of my childhood friends. My friends were beautiful and young, and I felt so much love for both of them. After meeting at an outdoor movie theatre, we sat on the grass to talk and compare the boots we were wearing. Pointy toes were all the rage and because I didn't live in New York or Las Vegas, mine weren't as pointy or trendy. We were still girls.

Friends are always a memory away.

In the latter part of my father's life, he refound his teenage friends with whom he'd served in the National Guard. They were brought back together after Leonard had a heart transplant and died shortly thereafter. The location, the vicissitudes, the necessities of supporting families and raising children had pulled them apart and kept them from hanging out with one another, but when they aged, they found time for one another and the friendship they shared and still cherished.

That Linda and Val could return in such a vivid dream means they are still a part of my consciousness. I suspect that one day too, despite our locations, when our responsibilities are mostly fulfilled, that we too will find each other. True friendship never ends, it only postpones when our attention is needed elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Beloved Paris

Paris is everyone's city--just never say that to a Parisian.

Francophiles and humans everywhere are devastated by the recent violence in beloved Paris. Why such an uproar from Paris when these kinds of terrorist attacks happen not infrequent? With worse casualties? Why was the Parisian terrorist protest bigger, louder than in any other country or following any other incident.

Ah Paris! It is part of what makes the city great.

It is part of what makes a Parisian a Parisian.

From the earliest beginnings, Parisii rebelled against the Roman conquerers. The most well known and recent rebellion in time of siege was against the four year German occupation in 1940. The Resistance was born, that band of French women and men who so resented the occupiers that they risked their lives to resist, defy and kill. The resentment against the outsiders lasts even to today. Tourists often feel unloved and unwanted, so much that a campaign was initiated in 2013 to treat tourists better than what Parisians were famous for.

The city's beauty and preserved history are without parallel. The art, the food, the parks, the avenues are memories unto their own. During WWII, the city was preserved--barely. Hitler realized the uniqueness of Paris and wanted it, expected it to be his own. When the realization came that it would never be his, he demanded that the city be destroyed. Great monuments, a cathedral or two, and bridges, were wired for destruction. Only a series of miraculous events and an American change of heart to enter the city, saved the city.

It's to be expected that Parisians would stand united with a few million other people and carry signs that read Je suis Charlie. How wonderful it would be to one day trace the defeat of terrorism to a protest that began in Paris. Beloved Paris.



Monday, January 12, 2015

Fading

Our first Christmas together, I surprised Tony with this life size portrait. I ordered it from our wedding photographer and my parents drove it up in the back of a truck. I was working at a bank and they graciously let me store it in the vault until Christmas eve day when I brought it home and somehow hid it in our amazingly tiny apartment. It was such a contrast to our living conditions at the time, and I'm sure that Tony thought it was a little frivolous. Thank you Tony for never saying so.

Over the years it has hung in different cities, in different houses, on different walls. I once thought it needed a frame update. I pulled off the frame never quite getting around to replacing it and rehanging. Tony, acted (in response to many of my endeavors), without saying a word,  and reframed and rehung the wedding photo.

The colors were once vibrant. Rich browns, pure whites, purple orchids and forest greens. Rosy cheeks, definitive light and dark spaces. But now the image is the same washed out hue: sepia.

As I studied it closely today, I saw that details are also starting to fade.

When we first realized the slight exposure to the sun was fading our image, Tony was ready to move it to a safer, unlit place, but I hesitated. "Leave it where it is."

It was appropriate, so appropriate that as we aged, as our marriage aged, that the symbol of our beginning also faded.

When the portrait was a few years old, after a few children had enriched our marriage, I started to wonder what would happen to the image, when Tony and I were gone. I thought it would be a terrible conundrum for the children. Yes, it was lovely and sentimental, but honestly, who would hang it on their walls? It would sit in some poor daughter's basement only because she consented to take it because none of the other children would-even without threats from their spouses.

I realized this photo is for us. Only. And it closely follows our fading progression through this glorious life. The portrait was not meant to last forever, and our earthly bodies weren't meant to last forever either.

When we are gone, I hope the image will barely trace our images--like everything else, only a memory that we lived and loved. Together.




Sunday, January 11, 2015

"It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty. The only thing that matters is if a pitcher of water is next to it." As quoted by Lisa the yoga teacher.

This is great advice because sometimes the glass is half empty and it's nonsense thinking that we just have a bad attitude because we don't see it half full.

So, rather than judge ourselves whether it's half full or empty, we need to learn how to fill that half empty/full glass, because why be satisfied if it's either, or neither? I WANT a FULL glass and only I know how to fill that glass.

My children used to hate my sure-fire response to, "I'm bored."

"Only boring people get bored," I'd reply with the smugness of a know-it-all Mom. And to their credit, I rarely heard this complaint. I'd watch them apply the idea to themselves and realize they didn't want to be a boring person. Those children reached for that pitcher next to the half empty glass.

I'm happy to report that not one of the girls is boring--in fact, sometimes I wish they'd turn down the excitement that sometimes runs like a 24 hour rock and roll radio station.

The best part or worst (for whom the advice is dispensed), is when I hear my daughters carry-on the mantra-to their niece or nephew, but I suspect that they too, will learn to reach for the pitcher because anything is better than being a boring person. Especially one that is bored.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

I Didn't Realize

For three days my kitchen is off limits while workers repaint all the cabinets. Please don't tell anyone, but I think I miss cooking, or rather creating with food. In the meantime, there is a cooler on the back deck with the bare necessities of survival: fruit, almond butter, a few slices of ezekiel, walnuts, a bag of lettuce with dressing. This afternoon when I get home, I'll need to take the cooler and bury it in the snow in a deep drift, in the backyard. And then of course, we'll go out to dinner.

The set-up is rather amusing. In order to get to the other part of the house in the morning, I descend the stairs, go out the front door, around to the outside garage door, walk through the garage to the family room where the miscellaneous things we need are all stacked in a corner. I took a bowl, a spoon, went out the back deck door, where I scooped up yogurt and pomegranates, exited the same way I entered, went through the front door, up the stairs, into my study to eat breakfast.

The same process was necessary to switch the wet clothes into the dryer. And again when it was time to leave. Part of the early morning rigamarole was done with a towel on my head in twenty degree weather. How amusing to the neighbor's if they happen to be watching.

Please don't tell anyone, but I think I miss order and organization. And washing my dishes.

Why is it that we can only appreciate certain things in the very absence of those things? Or the absence of certain people, or certain rituals?

My husband proposed how miraculous the rising of the sun is every morning. Yet, it would only be in the absence of this miracle that we would truly appreciate it.

And so, I try, to notice and appreciate the very things I take for granted: the fingers that are typing these words; my skin sensitivity and a jacket to put over my shoulders; the husband who has been there for 30 years; healthy children; my guiding inner compass.

Several notable gurus have suggested to end one's day with gratitude--with a list of things we take for granted in our lives. But I recently read that making this list in the morning is more powerful and more influential in the days we take for granted.

Never again take your fridge for granted--neither the ease of getting to its location.

Friday, January 9, 2015

It Wasn't My Fight

My sister asks us if we would like some toilet seat covers for the flight home.

"Really?" I ask, and she proudly shows me the bag of covers she bought at the airport because American Airlines doesn't include toilet seat covers.

I am a frequent flyer on my own airline that (thank goodness) provides seat covers. Come on, how many people use the same cramped facility during the flight? It needs seat covers. Obvious.

By the time I join my family on our American Airlines flight, I'm ready to find the bathroom closet without seat covers and I'm ready to complain. And I do.

The flight attendant tells me that other airlines don't have tissue papers either which incenses me just a little too much. I know they do! Domestic and international flights have toilet seat protectors! I name a few places and airlines I've recently flown to and flown on, to prove my point all the while knowing that I won't be flying American and not because of the "issue," but because I fly the most convenient airline for me. Which isn't American.

All I want the flight attendants to do is acknowledge my complaint and tell me they will pass it on, that possibly my complaint will make flying more hygenic. But the problem is, it's not my fight and it never was.

I come across rude and there won't be a change. I've done nothing but see in myself a change I need to make.

A month later, it happens again. A colleague has a complaint and I want to take up his fight on information he observed and gathered.  I see his point of view and momentarily think of joining his reform crusade. But I remember the airline conundrum and I'm humbled into minding my own business. My experiences or lack of experiences do not give me the credentials to join his fight.

So...unless you are advocating for a child, a helpless animal, an oppressed person who can't help himself, think long and hard whether it is your fight or not. It may be, but do your own homework, have your own experiences and go to work. But do it with kindness backed conviction --otherwise you're sitting on the wrong seat.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Another small, independent bookstore closes. And another. The most recent bookstore reports it went out of business because people browsed and sat in the comfy chairs and read. Then went to Amazon and purchased the books.

I believe in free market principles, but something yanks at my heart-sorrow when I read and think about this practice. I love amazon prime (which has spoiled us all), but when I go to a bookstore, I buy books.

I have a favorite indie bookstore. Its low ceilings, its welcoming doors from the cold weather, its displays, its employee recommendations, its rack of cards and oh,,,the children's section complete with rocking chairs, are all part of what makes this place special. And I know, they too are in danger of closing. So I make it a point of browsing, of thumbing through the books, of sitting in one of the rocking chairs in the back to read a picture book, because I know...when I find that book, I will buy it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Grandma Gets Even

Grandma and Grandpa wanted to help a family in need. The family lived in a different state and I'm not sure how they connected with the Grandma and Grandpa, whether they were relatives or friends of friends, but their kind hearts reached out. The family couldn't meet the payments on their house or they just needed a house to live in. Somehow, the grandparents were the mortgage holders and for a few years, they made the payments.

Grandpa died and without him, Grandma continued to help the family.

A year later, Grandma got a phone call from the family. They'd moved to a different state a year earlier and decided they better let Grandma know.

Holy Cow! She'd been making payments on an empty house. What to do...

Grandma decided to sell. She found a realtor who drove on out to the house and let her know, it was in bad shape. Vagrants had been squatting, and the walls were punched with holes, and clearly the house was in no condition to sell. The realtor suggested she call her insurance agent to check the house out and see if insurance monies could help cover the restoration.

Grandma, always the wise businesswoman, knew what she needed out of the house to come out even. She calculated she could spend 10,000 to fix it up.

The insurance man drove on out to the house and gave Grandma a call.

"Well, I have some bad news. The house is on fire. I've called the fire department but I'm not sure they can salvage much of it. The good news is that you have fire insurance.

The fire department arrived and saved just enough of the house that it would cost $10,000 to clean it up and haul it away. The insurance covered all the rest.

Grandma came out even.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

44 Years

A neighborhood friend told a story last Sunday~~one of those "Wow" stories with all sorts of meanings and lessons folded into it.

Mr. M had grown up dirt poor in the home of his mother, and when he was in high school, he held a job. His senior year he spent his hard earned money on a class ring. While dissecting a frog in Biology, he took off the ring and someone...took the ring.

I'm not sure how hard Mr. M looked for the ring or how much he lamented its loss, but no one likes to be stolen from.

Forty four years later, the ring is returned. But first, imagine 44 years of knowing you had someone else's valuable possession. That didn't belong to him. Imagine the thought of the ring always in the back of his head.

Imagine being the man who had it for 44 years.

That man, a fellow high schooler of Mr. M.,  played on the football team and was sitting on the bus in route to a game. Another player handed him the ring and not knowing what else to do with it, he slipped it into his pocket. And then he married. And then he fought in the Korean war, probably had children, a good job, probably went to church, voted and payed his taxes. At some point, his wife put the ring in a safety deposit box.

Forty four years later, it started to bother him. A lot. Enough to take the initials inside the ring, P.M. and start to search for the possible owner. It started with a fellow student who was in charge of the class reunions and then it went to social media, and really, with not too much effort, my neighbor's wife was notified and Mr. M. called the Lord of the Ring, who after 44 years, boxed the ring and sent it to its rightful owner.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Measurement of Wealth

It was the last morning of holiday fun before Mandi left, before everyone would return to school. We gathered for Williams & Sonoma croissonuts and some decadent hot chocolate. The day was still ahead of us and we tried to make a plan. Max had a futsal game and the babies had to nap, so we threw out some late afternoon ideas. Perhaps the aquarium or the Museum of Curiosity, but in the end, we settled for the simplicity of sledding in a quiet snow filled hollow just as the sun set.

The baby giggled as his father bundled around him and pushed off the top of the slope. The older children owned the hill, while the two year old approached it with a little more apprehension. A few of us, went farther up the path for the steeper runs, and the babies, with enough cold for a month, headed home.

 The steeper hill was just what Max and Anni needed. They skiied down the hill, crashed and spun down the hill, made their grandma go first down the hill.

As we challenged them to make it their last run, we stood at the bottom of the hill and as we watched their repeated "last run," the moon rose over the mountain top.

I stood beside Tony, warm in my gloves, my hat, down jacket, boots and ski pants.

"I'm so blessed," I said without holding back the crack in my voice. "What else could I possibly want in life?"

Previously, an hour or two before, I'd wanted something else, something out of my reach, something, if I wanted, I would have to go after with a fight. But in this blessed moment, the fight so clearly wasn't worth it. I was already so blessed.

I had a complete paradigm shift: my measurement of wealth would be measured in moments. Moments like watching the moon rise over the mountain, the children running in its glowing path; a moment of recognition of blessings; standing next to my husband; both of us feeling joy; the baby's giggling anticipation.

Deposits into the "moments" bank, create a richer life than monetary deposits. I am blessed. I am rich.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Big Picture


Our daughter and her family were moving west for a career change, but there was a two week glitch of time and accommodations, and she needed a place to stay. "Could we live with you for just two weeks?" Two years later, they bought a house and were back on their own.

When she first asked, I remembered we'd been the kind of parents who said we'd never let our married kids move back in, but there was a need, and getting reacquainted with our grandchildren was a bonus!

After she'd settled in, our dear son-in-law, while driving into Denver for his new job, had a strong feeling it wasn't the right place. He felt he should be close to his parents and siblings, regardless that he didn't yet have another job. What he couldn't have foreseen, was that one year later he would lose his brother in a tragic accident. Had he not listened, he would have missed that whole year with him.

Was it a blast having them live with us? Most of the time. Were there some adjustments? Sometimes and more for them than us. Did we spoil and love the grandkids? Yes. Are we happy we changed our family paradigm? Absolutely.

And what we learned is to trust. Others, ourselves, to trust God. To not let the minutia interfere with the big picture. Life is like looking through a straw--we can only see a tiny portion of a much bigger picture.

Last February, I had to trust again. I did, and I felt the blessings. But I feel there is even a greater reason for not teaching school this year. Until I know I will have to trust.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Feast

I awoke this morning in the middle of a dream about the feast. The feast is a metaphor for abundance. I've used it both, in an academic setting and a Sunday School setting. But now, I would like to conjure up  a meaningful presentation that would be effective for my family.  It would be a fun New Year's Day demonstration~~a lovely challenge for our loved ones to feast on life, on abundance and love for the new year.

The Feast Plan:

Previously, I have invited students to a feast and the feast consists of something very simple like a pitcher of water and a tray of crackers. Let's say I was doing the feast for an AP Lit class. I would tell the class that the literature we will be reading is like a feast and they have the chance to eat in abundance at the table of a literary canon. Usually, the students believe the metaphor because they understand the limitations of producing a real feast-and they're usually hungry and happy with a few crackers--but then you reveal the real feast, either by opening a partition, or walking into class...



I also used the feast to teach about sharing. One group of children were invited to the feast with crackers and water. The other group came through another door where the feast was cakes, fruit, breads--beautiful food. It didn't take long for one of the children to ask why his feast was so sparse. And it didn't take long for the other children to invite the sparsely fed children to join them.

 Life is a disparate situation and when we are blessed, the first step is awareness. It is infrequent when we come face to face with the disparity: approached by a beggar, a trip to a locale of poverty. As teachers, parents, people with heart, we need to be aware and help others to be aware and share. The feast.

Friday, January 2, 2015

COLD

Our house is howling like the Harry Potter dementers are circling.

The shower feels like a walk-in freezer box for hanging sides of beef. We fear the pipes have frozen because the tub and one shower head won't release water. A space heater has been running in the shower for two days.

I've hung blankets over the doors, because the cold is like the first, second, third, wave of an attacking army-it can't be stopped.

All the blinds are pulled and our home feels like a zombie apocalypse. The zombie cold.

The news reports the whole United States, especially the southwest, is experiencing Arctic cold. The only warm places are central and south Florida. Ahhhh....Florida.

As I write this, the current temperature is zero. 0 degrees and a wind chill of -13. It feels like -13. But cold be darned! I've been struck with cabin fever; regardless of the cruel outdoors, I'm getting out of the house. Take-out food and a candle are the excuses.

When my daughter and I venture out (she was fifteen minutes out of the shower), her hair freezes.

While driving to our destination, there are almost as many deer as cars seeking warmer air in the lower mountains.

But we do venture out! And that is the important part of this post.

When we reach Riverwoods (shops and restaurants), the parking lots are full. Surprise!~~ other people are braving the cold too. After a rush walk, the candle shop is refuge. The restaurant is filled with diners.

Earlier that morning, I wanted to walk part way to yoga, so I walked to Nikki's house to catch a ride. I wanted to experience, if only for five minutes, eight degree weather.

The ups and downs, the highs and lows, are part of life's experiences, many unplanned and unavoidable. It all reminds me of a brave friend's actions during the biggest trial of her life. Her father, a doctor, asked her if she wanted to go on anti-depressents to cope with the sadness of her trial. She knew he meant well and that anti-depressents were sometimes the right choice, but she said no. She wanted to feel the depths of her pain so that when it started to subside she would feel the height of her joy.

My experiment with cold is hardly comaparable to my friend's trial, but I want to feel the depth of the cold so next time I am lucky enough to be laying on a warm beach, I will appreciate it all the more.



Keeping out the cold

video
Braving the cold with the right gear

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My New Year's Gift

I've replaced New Year's resolution with New Year's gift, because isn't that what change-for-the-better is? A gift for oneself indeed. Besides, it sounds so much more generous and easy. Isn't that what change should be? Changes that we want, that will better our lives? At some point, the gift becomes us.

This year's gift was spontaneous and the idea came from yoga this morning. Lisa read us: The 12 Symptoms of Spiritual Awakening.
1. Increased tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen
2. Frequent attacks of smiling
3. Feelings of being connected with others and nature
4. Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation
5. A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience
6. An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment
7. A loss of ability to worry
8. A loss of interest in conflict
9. A loss of interest in judging others
11. A oss of interest in judging self
12. Gaining the ability to love without expecting anything in return

When I asked Lisa for the reference she told us it came from instagram (peace.love.and.light). I went to her source and saw the site had a plethora of uplifting messages. I found a few more sites with the same goal. It's so simple, but that is my new year's gift: signing up for or following daily, positive, intstagram messages.

So far, I've been uplifted by Ghandi: We often become what we believe ourselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. When I believe I can, I acquire the ability to do it, even if I didn't have it in the beginning, and a few short blurbs such as: Trust the magic of beginnings and Happy feelings attract happy circumstances.

What a way to start the new year!

Happy New Year.