Thursday, April 30, 2015

File This Under Family

It's only April, but the vacation house and the hotel are already booked. Only eight more months until Mom's second annual birthday extravaganza!

Actually, for years, we took Mom on a trip for her birthday, but then things changed--Dad got sick and one of us always needed to be home. It was almost two months after his death when we realized we could once again celebrate Mom's birthday. However, it was different this time and we needed to heal. Warm sun and water in December does wonders for healing the soul. Adventure does wonders for healing the soul. Family does wonders for healing the soul.

And so, here we are on the eve of booking flights. Once the flights are booked, there's no turning back. My sister calls to set the wheels in motion and she starts to reminisce about last year's trip, "We had so much fun. Remember the chubby chaser man? And this and that...?" I'm nodding my head as she highlights my memories of the same fun. Momentarily, I feel like a kid. But then she stops cold as she remembers the odd incidences of the trip, "There was the ______incident and the __________story..." But there isn't any emotion with the bumps and as quickly as she brought it up, it dissolves from the conversation. It no longer matters, and it's just like reminiscing about our childhood. There were the good times: Christmases, the Surf and Sand Hotel, Disneyland, and then the bad times: our parent's fights, the time we were robbed, Hildy the beloved dachsund who was hit by a car.

Being part of a family is a guarantee there will be good times and bad. It's the pull and tug of family love and trial. It's the laboratory where love, tolerance and compassion are tested. If we can but learn to love our fellow gene carriers, then we can do anything, love anything, we can overcome our own darkness and inadequacies.

Every family member makes mistakes, offends, and at least once, does something crazy and inexplicable to upset the delicate balance of family relations.  Forgiveness is requisite--both in giving and receiving.

In a roughly paraphrased thought from Martin Luther King: Because we are all connected, I can only grow as much as I allow you to grow. When we don't allow others to grow, we cannot grow either.

Forgiving and asking for forgiveness allows growth for me and my siblings, my children, my spouse.

Yesterday, I learned that workers in meat factories who practice inhumane treatment of animals, suffer from a condition similar to post traumatic stress disorder. A person cannot hide from the effects of cruelty on animals. Imagine the stress from cruelty to humans. The stress of not forgiving or offending a family member?

 I can't stand being at odds with one of my sisters and it happens more frequently than I would care to admit. In this condition, I'm stunted. I can't grow and develop because I've failed the first test: getting along with the people I am genetically wired to love the most.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Christmas Gift Has Started To Bare Fruit

I just got a phone call from my youngest daughter. She was filling her car with gas, when a lady with two children approached her and asked her to help buy groceries for her children. Her husband and her had just split up and she needed help. My daughter's first reaction was suspicion, and she reached into her wallet to get a five dollar bill. But then she remembered her Christmas gift and instead, pulled out a $20.

"How did you feel?" I asked.

"Good," she said and, "the lady said thanks, and she had a tear in her eye." Her voice went from softness to enthusiasm, "And I still have $80 to go."

What an unexpected, beautiful phone call in the middle of the day. It also happened a few months ago. Daughter number two called me while driving home on one of those horribly cold winter Chicago days. But her heart was warm. On her way to Target, she saw a man in a wheel chair without a coat, carrying a sign for help. While in Target she bought him a coat, a scarf, and then she skipped next door to the Starbucks to buy him a gift card. Her toddler was in the car, so at the stop light, she asked the man to come to her car where she bestowed her gifts upon him.

She had to call and share her experience because love can't be kept inside. What an unexpected beautiful phone call in the middle of the day.

Christmas past, one of our gifts to our children was a $100 to use in a charitable manner. "Find that person, that family, and give your $100. In any way you want. You have until next Christmas to give it away and then you'll tell us how you shared."

I know a hundred dollars doesn't go far, but it has the power to go far in one's heart. In my children's hearts and in mine, and hopefully the person who needed the help.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Happy Birthday to _______________

The text came at 4:11 a.m., the sound so distinct and familiar ( a cricket chirp), my mind so prepared, that I jumped up and thrust on my glasses.

As if it was mid day, as if I were the fire chief answering a 911, I called out to my husband: "Holly's having her baby, let's go."

I texted back: We'll be right over. Then it hit me, I needed to dress, wake-up for real, pack a few things. As best as we can, I added.

I realized most of my day would be waiting.

I was at their house by 4:45. Impressed with my efficiency, I was, and every green light I just happened to hit on this serendipitous day. This new day, on a new person's birthday. Some one who would become near and dear to my heart, just like the other little people in my life.

Two nights ago, as I worked in my kitchen, I felt I wasn't alone. It's a bold claim in this world of tangible, concrete, and disbelief. Yet, I couldn't deny the feeling. I called Mom and told her in tender words, that lump in my throat, pushing like backed up water behind a valve.

"It's probably your Dad. You know how he hovered before your children were born."

Yes, he did. His first grandchild, the daughter who at this moment straddles that place of before-life and birth, was born in a different city from where him and Mom lived. He didn't tell anyone, but hopped in his truck, drove the six hours and walked into the hospital unexpectedly. The pull of a new generation, a new life--he couldn't wait.

His second granddaughter, my sister's child, was born the week he was supposed to be in Switzerland. As her due date came and went, he delayed his trip, but finally had to leave. When Az was born, he called expressing his love and his regret at not being there.

When my second daughter was born, Dad and Mom were there in the weeks after to take their first granddaughter to Disneyland. And so it continued with each family birth. Dad was there. In one way or another.

When the first great grandchild came, and he was also the first boy---so much joy for Dad.

I read in a message from the First Presidency of long ago, that when our loved ones pass on, they have a greater capacity to be in our lives and to render influence. The physical limitations of the body are gone and their ability to be close and influential are greater. I don't know how I would explain this to a non believer, but for me there is no explanation needed. I feel that influence, that love. I'm grateful for that connection. Grateful to know Dad is near, waiting and excited as ever for one of his own who's having a birthday. And Dad loved a good party.

Monday, April 27, 2015


From 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m., I was in the garden. I'm not sure where this passion comes from, but it is indeed passion. I realized this last night after I'd discovered that when I pulled up one of the noxious grasses on the hillside and shook it, dislodged from its roots was the softest black, sandy, loam. A gardener's treasure. While trying to fall asleep, I figured I could shake the loam into a bucket (there was no end of grasses to dislodge), and I could mix it into the garden boxes. I could hardly wait for the morning.

My mother would have nothing to do with vegetable or fruit gardening. Her childhood memories included fields of tomatoes her family would plant and sell. As the oldest child, she and her brother were the pickers. She hated her green dyed hands and arms, the heat, the sweat and those tomatoes. But then, Mom was meant to dance.

Dad didn't do outside work either--but he did love to wash down the patio.

My grandmother kept a garden. Spinach, Swiss Chard and beets. A Queen Ann cherry tree from which my mom sent a shoebox full of cherries while I was at tennis camp. Green grapes grew up and along an arbor and shaded the patio--where my parents, grandparents and their guests would sit for hours while us children played in the yard. Long after her death, I returned to Switzerland in the spring where all the relatives had started their gardens in cold frame boxes.

Today I planted a watercress plant, red potatoes, sweet potatoes and a celeriac root. And of course I mixed all that dirt hauled up from the hillside. I installed a new package of bees yesterday and when the sun finally burst out, the bees were taking their orientation flights. It was pandemonium.

As I planted shriveled potatoes, dug trenches, pulled grasses, hopped on the shovel, dragged branches, my mind was free to think, to contemplate and remember my roots.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Domino Effect

My first job was at Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. My second job was at a health food store. When I worked at BR, I ate my share of ice cream (Pralines and Cream-yum) and when at the HFS, I ate salads, raw nuts and drank fresh juice.

Over the years I've gone back and forth between eating habits like the different jobs during my teen summers. Vegan for four months, then a month later, almond M&M's for lunch (only one day). Somedays, I am a conflict of healthy and not: an organic mashed sweet potato with toasted marshmallows on top.

For the most part, I've always eaten well, but since the end of 2014, I'm once again on a more healthy eating pattern. A healthy eating regimen raises consciousness. Beekeeping raises consciousness too. Protecting my little insects has made me more aware of organics, insecticides, GMOs, bee food, my food.

John Robbins wrote a revolutionary book in 1987: Diet For a Small Planet. He's a player in the health world. My journey barely mimics his: he is the Baskin Robbin heir gone rogue. On April 25th, he started a Food Summit Revolution and each day until May 3, he is interviewing people who are instrumental in rethinking the way we eat.

As I type these words, I am also enjoying an interview with Michael Pollen--author of The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Later today and this week, I will listen to experts on GMOs, feeding the world, and a plethora of other healthy food and health related subjects. You'll be alarmed and enlightened, the dichotomy of working at an ice cream store and a health food store.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


I found an innovative beekeeper and businessman who came up with a mini hive that teaches the beginner how to raise her own queens--right from the start. This would have been invaluable last spring, as yours truly, lost her queen within the first month. No explanation...just one of those mother nature mysteries.

A hive cannot function without a queen, but the worker bees are equipped with miraculous intuition that tells them when the queen is gone. I received my mini hive without a queen today and if everything goes right, the hive will take one of the 1-3 day old eggs intended to be a worker bee, and will turn it into a queen bee. Within seven days, there should be queen cells and I should have a new queen in 14 days. Fingers crossed.

Al, the bee man, filled my mini hive with three frames of nurse bees and eggs in all stages. Then he moved the hive into the position of a different hive where foragers were coming and going. The purpose of this strategy was to lure some foragers into my mini hive. This way, I have a little army collecting pollen and nectar while the majority of the hive is feeding the new bees and the soon-to-be queen.

We blocked the entrance so the foragers couldn't get out during the 40 minute drive home, which turned into an hour as traffic was not on my side. But no worries. The bees were safely in the hive.

Until...I looked in the rear view mirror and saw one bee had escaped and was now pining against the back window.

It's okay, I told myself. It doesn't have a hive to defend; it won't be aggressive.

I looked in the rear view mirror and there were two bees against the window trying to make an escape.

Two bees are nothing to worry about.

Three bees.

Four bees.

It's okay. As long as they stay in the back of the car. I reminded myself again that there was no threat. No hive to defend-- just a little moving displacement.

Five bees.


Six bees.


It's okay. As long as they stay in the back of the car, I repeatedly whispered.

I remembered the story of a friend who was stopped for a speeding ticket; she had the gall to tell the officer that a bee was in her car, and she was distracted by trying to get it out. He bought the story and let her pass by go without a ticket.

If I happened to get stopped for a driving violation, which was impossible as traffic was moving at 20 miles per hour, I would indeed have a great excuse.

Stay calm I reminded myself, but it wasn't working, so I turned up the choir music of the MoTab....surely, surely, bees would recognize the heavenly sounds.

And then, of course, one bee migrated to the driver's side window.

And a few more to the passenger side window.

Keep your eye on the road!

One bee dive bombed past my head. Oh no. A kamikaze in the front seat. It was time to think of an escape plan. An emergency plan!

But here's the thing. I could have pulled over and rolled down the window and the bees would have been gone, sucked out, to bleed and die, after aimlessly finding their way off 1-15. But I was too    invested in these bees, the whole plight of bees. But just seven lost bees? To put it in perspective a hive of bees can contain anywhere from 10-50,000 bees. Was it really worth a sting to the face?

YES! Stay calm, there are only three bees in the front and they're just doing what they're supposed to be doing. Flying and buzzing. A mile from the house, the buzz from the right front seat window turned into a highly agitated buzz. This bee was angry. Hang on, I'm so close.

I made it, opened the car door, let three bees out and contentedly bagged the four who had remained. I placed them on the beehive landing board and they scooted themselves inside, happy, happy to be in their new home.

Then the rain started and the temperature dropped.

Oh the perilous job of beekeeping. After several hours of worry, I finally put on a rain jacket and went out into the cold. I moved them into the garage, these precious bee eggs and caretakers of nature, and finally, contentedly, crawled into my own warm bed, at midnight, knowing all was well.

Until tomorrow.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Choose A Better Word

The first time one of my ninth grade boys used the word "pissed" in class discussion, I asked him to look up the word "piss." He did and reported the denotation.

"Is that what you really wanted to say?" I asked.

He shook his head no, and the word was never again heard, without my specific banishment. The class regulated itself and the word became taboo. At least in class.

Since 1635, France has relied on the Academie Francaise to regulate language, or to keep it pure. Being a part of the Academy is a prestigious honor and an honor taken seriously. It is after all, the job of keeping the French language pure. I wonder if English teachers in America constitute our own academy and have the same responsibility.

Last December, I saw one of the worst Broadway plays EVER, and it should have been a winner based on the cast and the premise. About half way through the play when the plot was thinning faster than ice cream on a sunny day, almost every character started dropping the F-bomb. At first it was sporadic, but increased at a rapid pace. When the play finally ended, I felt sorry for the actors when the audience clapping was lackluster at best. The cast didn't even think about an encore curtain call.

I asked my sister who is liberal, and a comedy writer, if the F-bomb in this play was a cop-out. I expected her to defend the F-bomb use, but even she saw its failure. She further explained that sometimes it's a comedic tool: when people hear the word, they laugh, but it is often from discomfort. You know how it is, someone says something uncomfortable and you laugh to release that discomfort.

At the SLAM poetry competition for high school, the emcee told the audience that the F-bomb wasn't allowed. SLAM poetry can be a vent for frustration and anger, so I understood. What I didn't understand and what was difficult to hear, were seventeen year olds damning deity. The word combination of a benevolent, supreme being coupled with the word damn (sending someone to hell as punishment), is a wretched, disrespectful, dichotomy.

As a teacher of Language Arts, I feel responsible to teach word choice and how to choose better words. Finding the right words can be like reaching for the sky and touching the stars or sinking into a putrid, smelly swamp. Choosing words with care, with consideration of their meaning and impact--in writing and oral discourse, should be done as carefully as we would contemplate eating mushrooms found in the forest mulch.

None of our students used harsh profanity at the contest. There were a few well placed "hells," that fit the context of someone telling a story and a comparison between heaven and hell. As second place winners, our students showed that their word choices didn't need to include the hard core, shock value words.  Their figurative language and imagery were so strong and powerful, they didn't need to fall back, or cop out, on ugly words.

 During our novel writing seminar, a student asked about the use of swear words. My response was that using profanity was a difficult choice and should only be used carefully if showing a character's character or if the author had a justifiable reason.  "Don't use it just to use it.  If possible, choose a better word. Don't fall back on the use of profanity. Don't be lazy."

Speak and write with beautiful words.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Just In Case

Every time I sit in one of the family's newer cars, I'm confused by the tilt of the headrest. It's too far forward, and I wonder who sat in this seat before me, and why does he or she tolerate such an uncomfortable thrust.

Today I learn that the headrest is manufactured like this to protect the head and neck from injury or whiplash. Just in case there is a car accident. So....we risk throwing our neck alignment, Just in case there's an accident? If I were the one in ten thousand, I suppose I'd be happy.

I've been contemplating this Just in case way of living. Contemplating because I've implemented a Just in case precaution and even though it's an important choice, I feel wimpy, fearful and one of those people who is afraid to LIVE LIFE!!

The week before Paloma's wedding, Tony and I were supposed to be in Ireland. But I couldn't do it.

Because I remember Iceland volcanic eruption in April 2010. The disaster that ended up being the largest disruption of air travel since WWII.  Six days and millions of canceled flights, and millions of stranded travelers: Tony was one of them.  A few  days delayed, he left Germany flying backwards through strange cities to eventually reach home. One of those flights.

I also remember the friends who flew out of JFK on the evening of September 10, 2001, and how relieved they were to have flown home the night before. But there were the friends who didn't fly home the night before and ended up buying a car in a distant city--their only way to get home. And the other friend who's flight was canceled and paid a stranger to drive him home.

Even though it's my daughter's wedding for which I will take no international disaster chances, I still think it's a horrible way of living: Just in case. It seems needless to hold back, cancel, or be cautious when the odds are 1000 to one.

Unless..........., I'm putting money in a savings account, for a rainy, or a Just in case day. Or if I cook extra food for a meal, Just in case of unexpected company. Or I bring an extra coat, Just in case. Or I take some extra cash Just in case they don't take a credit card.

Ah, but it's a shame to miss a party Just in case that person might be there, or skip an adventure Just in case it's dangerous, or to miss a hike Just in case the weather changes.

My daughter is less than ten days from her baby's due date. Her husband had to leave on a business trip and after a trip to the doctor, the doctor felt the husband was safe to go. Many moons ago, Tony left on a business trip within ten days of our baby's due date, but I went into labor before his return flight. These were the days before cell phones. I paged him at the Delta gate, but it was going to be ok, because he was about to board and would be home within four hours.  And then the plane was delayed on the tarmac, for three hours.  By the time Tony finally arrived home, he was so spent from the stress, he was in no condition for the all nighter this child required.

This is why, when I think of my daughter with other children to care for, before I go to bed, I make sure my cell phone is on the night stand, volume on high. Just in case.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It is somewhat strange that the efficiency of the hive, is female regulated. The queen, the worker bees are all female. The drones, or male bees, serve one purpose only--to mate with other queens and keep the DNA pool diluted. Once their job is done, in the fall, they are mercilessly kicked out of the hive.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

We'd practiced for weeks: re-written, revised and memorized. Performing for each other. Our SLAM poetry team was solid and ready to compete.

There were  different themes that dominated the evening: suicide and love. Suicide especially, from a high school recently plagued by several attempts. Some successful.

The performances were stellar. The language unique and original. Metaphors for love found in Humpty Dumpty and emotional journeys compared to Odysseus; students shared their battles with depression, teenage angst, pressure to succeed, coming out of the closet. On a lighter note, one student poetisized her memories of Grandma. Beautiful.

The poem given by the talented, beautiful girl with flowing red hair, wearing a black skirt  was painful. "Deflowering, they call it," she began in tender, heartfelt words: the story of her loss of virginity, the lies, promises and disappointments of sex as a sixteen year old girl. She was followed by an honest telling of date rape.

What a night. There was more wisdom, bravery and creativity in the HS auditorium than on a Broadway stage.

The faces, the honesty, the pain and joy, will stay with me for a long, long time, especially Allysa's poem.

When her mom first heard her topic, she responded, "You're going to do a poem about God at a SLAM poetry contest?" Even Mom's questioning didn't keep her from writing what she was compelled to write, to recite the words burning in her heart.

When we think about God poetry, we may think didactic, or pushy. But Alyssa's figurative language of loss and faith was neither. She began by sharing her childlike faith and acceptance, of believing because she believed everything her parents told her.

because I was a child and that’s what kids do
--until you land in high school.

For the first time, she experiences failure, and she writes:
I got beaten black eyed by math--my fault--until at last the first whisper came:
there is no God.

But Alyssa does find God and explains it in the most beautiful language of her poem. She doesn't try to prove his existence or convince her audience; she simply shares why he came to exist for her and her three minute journey is compelling.
Previous to the competition, when I heard Alyssa perform her poem, I got chills.
Her performance last night was flawless. The audience was silent, mesmerized by her doubt, vulnerability, and conviction. When she finished, the room erupted in vigorous applause. It seemed that it took as much courage to speak about God as it did suicide, abuse and depression. There was one and only one poem about God.
We nervously turned to see what the three judges had given her. The first judge rated her in the middle, an 8. The second judge rated her the highest score so far that night: 9.2.

The third judge. Two full points below her highest mark and what would turn out to be the lowest score of the evening: 7.7. Clearly, it was risky to speak about God.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Learn New Stuff

"You'll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine." Kristina

We tend to think of changes in grand, sweeping, adjustments, but the above quote may be spot on. It is why, on my to-do list, I never erase the phrase: learn new stuff. By trying to learn everyday, I not only learn new stuff, but I create a self-culture of curiosity and investigation. The small act changes my life.

I also have on my everyday to-do list: I am here to bring more love into the world. That simple declaration may cause me to hold my tongue, to think positive instead of negative, make it easier to smile and say "Good morning," as I pass a stranger. It may be that everyday change helped me to see the bigger picture of needing to have a change of heart towards a person in my life--which seems overwhelming at times. Each day, a positive thought about this person, a prayer to plead for help--it will change my life. My life is a construction of my daily routines.

In the early days of spring, I was overwhelmed by the grass that had sprung between the stones in my garden pathway. I vowed to pull just a few out each day and I'm happy to say that most are gone. I also decided to clear the grass on a quarter acre of a hillside to make room for wildflower and clover seeds.  The task was daunting if I looked at the entire hillside, so I would only allow myself to look at a small patch. I'm not there yet, but I will be.

I recently came across a story of two women whom I presume to be best friends. One woman lives on the West coast-Portland; the other lives in Maine. They didn't allow space to separate friendship. Every morning, each woman took a photo of her day and sent it to the other. This everyday photo turned into a book, a website, a business. An everyday habit changed their lives.

The possibilities are so exciting. I can't wait to investigate, explore, decide, and implement my new everyday change. L'chaim! Namaste!

I think I know what it is already. Next year, I'll be teaching a whole new era of history and I've been a little paralyzed at the thought--Everyday! Yes, I will find the right books. Study each day. Everyday=success!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Ultimate Tag Team

When Tony and I were in the south of France, we consistently saw grandparents in the company of a young child, presumably their grandchild. We saw these little ones on the back of Grandpa's bike, riding next to Grandma on her bike. We saw the threesome on the beach, on walks, essentially everywhere. This appeared to be a social construct of the region.

Without asking, our landlord pointed out the common practice. Retired grandparents take on the day care of their grandchild, as it is too expensive for working parents. There is a need, and the grandparents come to the rescue. It is their duty, their privilege.

Tony is never more darling than when he is with the grandchildren. It makes me fall in love with him in a whole new way.

When we are in charge, we often turn to each other and say or ask, "Isn't he or she so cute?" or "Isn't that funny, or unique or adorable?" When our charge performs, we turn to each other with sparkles in our eyes and grins on our faces. How does this one little person bring so much joy? Is it the seemingly impossibility that a small piece of ourselves rests within his soul? Is it the never ending link of humanity? Does love grow by leaps and bounds with each generation? Or is it that grandparenting comes without the same responsibilities as parenting: just all the fun.

Tony and I already have this symbiotic relationship built through many years of marriage, so when we are together, in charge of one child, it flows, naturally. We pass off to each other, seamlessly juggling the little human. Our love for each other, makes it so we want to share the responsibility--make it easier for each other. Between the two of us, caring for the little ones often seems easier than it was caring for our own. When raising our children, we worked together, but so often after a long day, I needed to pass the children off to their father. Tony was my relief pitcher, not my teammate.

But...a couple of hours is much different than all day, presumably the entire work week. It's hard work and we know it. Would I do it if there was a need? I would with my husband. The tag team works when we are older and slower. While Tony and I were the ten day nannies, Tony still went to work each day. One night, while waiting for his arrival, Annika said, "I like when Tony's here; he has the touch." She may have sensed the grandparent-caretaker team was stronger with both of us.

This makes me think of all the grandmas and grandpas who are doing it on their own. Without the help of each other. Not only caring for the child while the mother works, but while the mother is on military duty, or when she is ill or when a parent dies. All those grandmas who step in to care for children when the parents can't. There is not a tribute grand enough for these women and men who become the parenting grandparents when the need arises.

To end on a joyful note--I'm not sure who's having more fun.


***Yes, Tony needs a pair of pants that fit.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Green Lawns At What Cost?

Almost ten years ago, Tony and I visited some dear friends at their mini estate/orchard in Santa Cruz California. Their home was craftsman style, the garage was the size of a home, and a small cottage sat at the edge of the property.

Each morning I would pick oranges from the dwarf orange trees and make fresh OJ. The property had a fruit tree of every kind. One of my favorite things was showering in the outdoor shower after a paddle in the bay. Very best of all, was the ocean view, the breeze, the friendships.

When we first arrived, I was surprised by the grounds, because they were not a traditional green estate. I expected manicured lawns and ornamental bushes. The fruit trees were lush, but surrounding the important vegetation was bare, dry, dirt. I asked our host and he taught me about sustainable, environmentally sensitive gardening. Ten years later, I see that Lyndsey was ahead, or on par, with the times. In the suffering state of California, he'd already made the most of a future projection with little water.

With that in mind, here is my front lawn. It's just a small patch of lawn, but I think the dandelions are beautiful. I won't spray pesticide to get rid of a plant that sustains bees and that is even edible. Yes, I juice it.

I worry about what the neighbors think and sincerely hope, I'm not THAT neighbor. I wonder if it bothers the mayor who lives next door, who keeps his lawn weed free by spraying quarterly. In suburban America, everyone is supposed to keep their lawn green. There was a day in California, when everyone was supposed to keep their lawn green, their swimming pools full and their waterfalls flowing. That day, of course, is over. Acres of orange groves and fruit trees are being plowed under. Community pools are jack hammered and waterfalls are dry.

Water and pesticides are different, but all the same. Prudent use is about sustainability of the environment. Our food, our lives.

Postscript: I listen to a man I like and respect use a green lawn as an analogy for living a better life. He extols his listeners to mow, feed and when a weed (a life problem), pops up, pull out your weed-be-gone and spray the weed. Noooooo! Just as there are alternative solutions to problems, so are there alternatives for weed treatment.

Great article found at:

Changing Our Standard of Beauty

Manicured lawns are everywhere in the United States. Mowed grass, neat edges and pruned bushes were once considered ideal, even in climates with little rain. But unfortunately, these lawns are like deserts when it comes to providing food for bees.
The very American aesthetic of a well-manicured lawn traces its roots back to the fields of England and Scotland, where the aristocracy enjoyed large fields of grass. But these lawns were difficult to establish in the U.S., as imported English grasses didn’t grow well in American soils and climates. So in the early 1900s, the US Department of Agriculture (in conjunction with the U.S. Golf Association) began breeding grasses that would fare better in American soil. The chemical industry, looking for a peacetime market for chemical warfare technology, then created pesticides and herbicides to keep these new types of grasses growing even in climates and soils not suited for lawns.
Lawns really took off when the Garden Club of America launched a wildly effective campaign encouraging homeowners to cultivate and maintain a neat, green front lawn. It was considered a civic duty. The Garden Club even stipulated the appropriate grass height (an inch and a half). The campaign was so successful, lawns became ubiquitous—even in arid parts of the country.
But while they may look neat, lawns, in addition to using a lot of water, can be unfriendly to pollinators.
Especially in a dry climate like California. Ellen Zagory is extremely aware of this. “We have to have a new aesthetic. We have to have a new understanding of the natural world,” she says. “We have to understand that in our climate, we need drought-tolerant plants. And they look different. And so to have a sustainable world, maybe we need to have different plants than the ones that are brought to us from our older cultural models, from say, England.”
Thankfully, people don’t need to completely transform their yards. Just a small space will do.
“Anyone can do it,” explains Muller. “You can do it in your backyard. You can do it in a planter box on your window. You can do it in a little strip of real estate right by where you park your car. If there’s a piece of bare soil, you can be planting something.”
Jessa Kay Cruz of the Xerces Society agrees. “These plants are beautiful, flower a lot, are great for pollinators, and they’re going to use so much less water than a lawn will,” she says. “If you have a pollinator garden in your yard, you will just be amazed at the activity you’ll see. You’ll start to see bees visiting. You’ll see butterflies and hummingbirds and other types of songbirds. It’s a win all around.”

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Scent of a Rose

My close friend describes her son as her "Stop and smell the roses child."

Since hearing the phrase, I've decided to be a stop more often and smell more roses, kind of person.

On a hurried run, dark blue catches my eye. I veer off the path to consciously smell this rose. I'm amused at the trouble someone took to create their own SASTR moment. What could be nicer on a pleasant afternoon, than sitting on a blue velvet couch on a hillside, enjoying the view?

 Or sitting with a friend watching the night sky?
Or stopping to enjoy the rainbow fence?
 Or painting a rainbow fence?
 Or literally stopping, smelling, cutting and bringing the tulips to the kitchen table?
 Or inspecting the pencils for all the bit-off erasers inflicted by the 18 month old child? And enjoying his little fetish.
Yet, the better part of being a stop and smell the roses person may be the person who allows others to stop and smell the roses. 

The friend who labeled her son, had sent him to get ready for bed. After plenty of time to do his tasks, she found him unprepared, but she remained patient. Instead of preparing for bed, the little boy prayed about an important issue. Because she was patient, he told her about his prayer, his answer, and her heart was touched. Had she been the harried mother, not allowing him to SASTR, not allowing herself to SASTR, the precious moment would have been lost.

The even better, better part of being a SASTR person may be that when we stop to smell the roses, we may also be suspending judgement.

My professor and his father-in-law were walking down a crowded, city sidewalk. Up ahead, he could see a scuffle among the shoulder to shoulder people. There was a man staggering through the crowd. As he bumped into people he was pushed away and my professor heard "Get away from me you drunk." When they reached the "drunk" man, his father-in-law, a doctor, reached out for the man, and asked, "How long have you been off your medication."

Things are not always as they seem. Pausing, or stopping to smell the roses, and allowing others the same privilege, ultimately brings the reward: the sweet smell of a rose.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

On The Winning Team

NPR is having its (what seems continual), fund drive, which reminds me if I were to donate along with other listeners, we wouldn't have to listen to the fund drive when tuning in for enlightening content. But the only time I listen to NPR is while driving, and I don't drive, use the phone, and definitely do not fumble for my credit card number.

Ira Glass, an NPR superstar, asks his audience to switch teams: From the people who listen and don't donate money, to the people who listen and donate. It would be nice to be on the guilt free team, wouldn't it?

I've been thinking about the times I've had to switch teams or wanted to switch teams. I don't think I've ever regretted switching teams, because usually the switch comes long after the nudge, the urge, the guilt, or the desire to switch. Switching teams is a great metaphor for life changing actions--and it's beneficial to always be conscious of whether or not I'm on the right team, or asking how can I switch to the winning team?

I remember switching to the positive words team, when I consciously decided never to speak ill of another person, or listen to ill words about another person. A definite move from the losing team.

More than once I've switched to the eat healthy team. This makes switching teams too easy--from one day to the next. I'd like to make a more permanent switch here.

From a meditation, I heard the words, "You came into this world to bring love." I definitely wanted to switch to this team.

I'm right-this-minute aware of the team I need to make a switch from: the good-at-making-excuses team. Like not donating because I'm in my car, like not-right-now. It's time to make a switch. And be on the winning team.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

This Is My Childhood

Crestwood Elementary School was just a slip through the kickball fence to the Charleston Plaza Mall. With the privilege of an older sister, I started having lunch there while in the third grade. Our mom gave us fifteen cents for a slice of pizza sold at Kresge's Drug Store. We waited in line and ate our pizza standing up. It didn't take long for my sister to figure out the better pizza was sold at The Pizza Den for 25 cents a slice. If Mom gave us a quarter, we could have Kresge's pizza and spend the dime on an Italian ice at the Pizza Den. Life was so good. It got even better when Dad gave us a dollar for lunch. Two slices of pizza, an Italian ice and maybe a candy bar from Skaggs. When my sister graduated to junior high, I was old enough to go with my own friends to the mall. We discovered the above cookie at the Jewish bakery: New York's famed black and white, or the half moon. Oh how Linda and I loved this cookie. We named it the integration cookie because we were the first fifth grade class that was considered for integration with children from the west side of town. We named the cookie in honor of the new friends we loved.

In a famous scene from Seinfeld, Jerry says to Elaine: "The Thing about eating the B&W cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate. And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the B&W cookie all our problems would be solved."

I grew up, moved away and didn't run into the black and white for too too many years, until I went to New York. The black and white was everywhere and I was in childhood heaven. I contemplated sending a box to my black/white cookie, best-lunch-friend Linda who, had helped name the cookie.

This is my New York indulgence and I'm always in search of the freshest, best made, black and white, cause all cookies are not created equal. A good black and white is worth the indulgence. A bad black and white is not. We recently stopped at a Jewish cafe in Chicago because Mandi had heard they had good ones. One bite, and I was finished.

With great joy, I found a NYT short blurb on the black and white posing such questions as what is the best way to eat it?? Chocolate first? Alternating between black and white? Broken in half?

I've eaten it every way and it doesn't seem to matter.

The second question posed was: Where can one find the best B&W in New York? Readers left comments and I've compiled the suggestions below with dreams of a testing/tasting trip to NY in the near future.

William Greenberg's
Donut Pub, 14th street and 7th avenue
Piece of Cake, Staten island
Roccos on Bleeker
Nussbaum &Wu, 113th and Broadway
Tal Bagels

Another reader wrote that she made the best black and white from a recipe found in Gourmet Magazine. After a google search, I found a myriad of recipes; but somehow, it doesn't seem part of the experience if one is not standing as a child in the Jewish bakery, or in a NY deli asking if the cookies are fresh..

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

For my own father's funeral, we were careful we didn't go over an hour. These were his explicit instructions--sort of. Actually, he was quite persistent we didn't have a funeral. Only a short graveside service. If that. But as we counted family members, ordered the tent, asked a cousin to bring chairs, considered the Vegas heat, an indoor service started to make more sense.

In the tender hours after his death, we talked, worried and made decisions. On a morning walk, I heard my father say, "Jan (my mother), you just can't keep all those people standing out in the heat."

When I told Mom, it rang true, and we moved his "graveside" service indoors. But then we had to add music, an opening prayer, etc. It became a memorial. Not a funeral. In order to keep it from an official funeral, we had to keep it short. My sisters and I were careful. I timed my talk, which previously decided by consensus, had to be a maximum of five minutes. It was four minutes and 18 seconds.

When my cousin's husband died, she called to tell my mother about the funeral, and she included that it was "only going to be an hour." But when we reached the chapel and read the program, it seemed otherwise. Mom said, "This is at least two hours."

Two hours is very little time to honor the life of a loved one.

Yet, long funerals are hard. Too long movies are difficult. Trans-Atlantic flights, childbirth labor, car rides, meetings with the board.

A different cousin's husband talks with Mom. Funeral lengths enter the discussion and he tells us a story about his grandfather. When his grandfather died, the family proceeded to go through the boxes of his memorabilia. Grandfather had kept several years of his friend's funeral programs. In each program were notations concerning the program length. Comments such as "Too long," or "just right," "should have been shorter," filled the margins of the programs.

Good story is distilled. Edited. When we include all the details, all the details are diluted. When everyone is shouting, no one is shouting. So we pick the best experiences, the best memories to highlight the story we want to tell. We pare it down to make it interesting and listenable for our audience. A good funeral, a well lived life, is really no different than a good story.

Cheers to the short funeral--exactly what our beloved deserve.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


I once believed that I had flown. Yes, the dream was so vivid, so real, I couldn't deny that I had flown by my own means. I can still feel the feeling of flight, yet my rational side, knows it didn't  happen.

On an afternoon run, I look up to see more than a few people flying. When I see this, I feel like a monster who wants to take candy away from a child. I want to be these people flying. Tony gave me a parasailing (if that is what this is) experience with optional lessons one year for my birthday, but I couldn't do it. Growing up, a family friend with small children died while parasailing. And an art mentor's son had a debilitating accident while parasailing. It's the only birthday present I've had to return.

Yet, I see these daring birds and I long to be where they are.

This longing, coupled with the surety of knowing I have flown, leaves me with one conclusion.

I believe in a primordial life. I believe I existed as a spirit, without a body before I came to earth. I would have "moved," and without a body, perhaps that is "flying."

The desire to fly is inherent. It is innate. It is what drove those early innovators to strap on wings and jump off cliffs. Were they trying to recapture a primordial feeling? A skill?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Universe Listens!

A moment of serendipity.

Deb, my teaching partner, proposes two new writing classes for us to teach. Novel writing, which makes sense since we've taught it as a three week seminar for two years. Her second proposed class is Storytelling. Ok. Sounds fun. I can do that. But I'm really unsure of how we'll organize the class. It will be a challenge and we will pull it together. The director plays with our proposals, and we are unsure if either will go. Surprisingly, she puts the Storytelling class on the schedule. Now what do we do?

I learn of an online auction to support victims of abuse. I peruse the auction items and find something that may come in handy: The Great Courses has donated "The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals," by Dr. Hannah B. Harvey. I bid on the course early in the day, but forget to return that night to up my bid in case someone has bid over my price.

The next day, I see I have won the course!!

Today, it arrived. I'm giddy-ecstatic and write to Deb:  It's like the universe listened and lined up for us: you propose "storytelling" Robyn accepts it, and these CDs fall into my lap!

And the second best part?   Tomorrow, I have a five hour drive by myself, and I was worried about self-entertainment. The course is 12 hours listening-long.


Friday, April 10, 2015

My neighbor and friend, went to work, then out to lunch, and when she returned, she collapsed. Coworkers dialed 911.

For 25 minutes, she lay without any signs of life. Paramedics worked tirelessly, making four attempts with a defibrillator to jump start her heart back to life.

The sad news spread throughout the neighborhood; we mourned, but few were willing to speak the truth: No one comes back after 25 minutes without a heartbeat. We all worried about her family, the medical bills, the probability of a funeral for a woman with too many responsibilities and who was much too young to die.

Not knowing what else to do, I picked up some salads, sandwiches and took them to the Cardiac ICU waiting room. My intention was to leave the food for the family. I heard a familiar voice call my name.

"Do you want to see her?" her daughter asked.

Knowing it could be my last chance, I said, "Yes."

I braced myself for what would surely be a sad scene.

It was bleak, and in my few minutes, I encouraged her to fight.

I left expecting the bad news to come in the next few days.

Many years ago, my mother gave me a book by George Ritchie, Return From Tomorrow. It opened my mind to an incredible possibility. His story was followed by others', including a best seller in the 90's by Bettie Eadie: Embraced by the Light. This too opened up new ideas and thoughts.

Every once in a while, I'd hear whispers, Did you know he had an after death experience? Did you know he saw the tunnel of light? I even had a childhood friend tell me about her mother's return from death. She'd suffered from severe allergies her entire life and one day after receiving her allergy shot, she went into cardiac arrest. Ann told me her mother had a choice: leave the earth or stay. Her mother chose to stay when she saw Ann's younger sister and knew she had to stay to raise her.

Do I believe these stories? I want to believe these stories.

And then came my father's death. The days preceding, proved he was with us AND entering a different realm. When he left, he did so with a smile on his face, a tear in his eye and his gaze looking heavenward.

I listened to a Terri Gross (NPR) interview with Dr. Sam Parnia, the author of Erasing Death: The Science That Is Re-witing the Boundaries Between Life and Death. The once spiritual-only topic has been adopted by Science. The research, the evidence is compelling.

And for our friend? The bad news never came.

Our neighbor, our friend, woke up, stood, talked, defied the odds. Physical therapy started immediately and in less than two weeks, she went back to work for a short period. She recovered completely.

It's easy to call this a miracle. It's hard to acknowledge that in my own heart, I had doubt. I prayed for her and her family, but I never asked for a miracle. It's a good thing God doesn't depend on me and all the company of good people I keep. Because we thought it was over.

 And then a conversation with one of her best friends.

"Do you think she saw Jesus?" our mutual friend asks.

I am not close enough to this woman to ask such a sacred question, but this woman is. "I know you're going to ask her, so please ask her if you can share her experience with me."

Where was our friend in the 25 minutes when she wasn't alive? I want to add that this woman had a hard life, a series of heartache, misfortune, and such opposition that would warrant giving up. But she never did. Certainly that warrants a few moments of encouragement--encouragement that could sustain anyone for the rest of their lives. A moment with Jesus.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Whatever You Do, Do It Well

The average shoe size of the American woman is now a size 10. In five years the average size projection is size 12.  My size, 6.5, according to Gary, will someday be hard to find. And so I learn  on a cold morning in a small shoe store in downtown Evanston, Illinois. The occasion for dropping into Murphy's Fit is to purchase a pair of workout shoes for Mandi--who has been wearing the same sneakers for ten years!

Gary listens to Mandi as she describes her needs and difficulties in finding the perfect fit. While the shop gets crowded, it's as if Mandi is the only customer. He brings out several pairs of shoes and patiently analyzes her foot, her stride, her peculiarities, and he's equipped with the patience to match his customer to the perfect fitting shoe as if he were matching marriage partners. He is the yenta of shoes.

He notices a uniqueness in her stride and says, "When you're 90 years old and living in a rest home, you won't be falling like everyone else. Only six percent of the population is born with a tendency to place their foot on the ground but not roll inward. You have this genetic marker." Gary adds, "It's only passed down from the mother." He further explains that this genetic trait used to be considered a weakness. I remember Mandi as a child and at my father's insistence, taking her to the doctor because her feet turned in a tad too much. The doctor told us nothing was wrong and if anything, the slight turn-in would allow her to run faster. This was 1987 and the strength of the genetic trait was discovered, thank goodness, in the 1980's. Previous, the strength was often corrected.

Hmmm. I had dedicated the shopping excursion to Mandi only, ignoring that I too needed a new pair of running shoes. But there was no way I was going to leave this shop without getting fitted by the master of athletic shoes. I wait my turn for Gary to work his magic on my feet.

First, I must walk. He furrows his eyebrows, concentrates and knows exactly what I need, returning with two options.

Mandi asks, "What about my mom in the nursing home? Will she not be falling too?"

"Not only will your mom not be falling, she'll be picking up the people who are falling."

Music to my ears.

"Remember this genetic trait comes through mothers only."

We have to know more, and Gary is happy to share his knowledge.

"We're talking a thousand years ago and people from only seven countries--because of an enzyme deficiency, their bones formed differently causing their foot to land and not roll inward immediately and not roll inward at all.

I want to match Gary's theories with evidence. "What countries?" I ask.

"Russia." No Russian in my family. "Poland." No Polish.

"Wales, Scandinavian countries and Ireland." Bingo.

"You won't find this trait in anyone who hails from Italy or Greece."

Five months earlier, I'd given my mom and sister a DNA test for Christmas. My sisters and I were pretty sure we were half Swiss and a blend of English and French from Mom.

Imagine Mom's surprise when she learned she was part Scandinavian and ten percent Irish! She'd passed down the genetic stride that would keep us from falling in our old age. Hurray for Mom's genetics. I thought of Mom's sturdy knees and legs and the contrast in my father's constant falling as he aged. We'd also learned from the DNA test that Dad had passed 10% Greek and Italian blood to my sisters and me. Great tanning genes, but what good is a tan when you keep falling?

I'm almost afraid to try on the shoes Gary picked out for me. So much expectation. I slip them on and take a short walk.

"This is the only pair I need to try on. I can barely feel the shoes on my feet." A perfect fit. I feel like I'm walking on clouds.

The last time I was in Chicago, Mandi and I also went shoe shopping. Our salesman was the oldest shoe salesman in the entire Nordstrom shoe salesman fleet, and he was proud of it. His shoe knowledge and shoe history knowledge was extraordinaire, and I felt like I'd been in the presence of a master.

There are so many little take-aways from my Chicago shoe encounters, some more logical than others, but nonetheless fun to ponder:

1. Only buy shoes in Chicago or a Chicago suburb.
2. Only buy shoes with Mandi.
3. When one is generous with her children, she is blessed.
4. Never look at someone as "just a shoe salesman," or "just a car salesman," or "just an anything."
5. Listen to people.
6. Genuinely care about people.
7. If you're going to do something, do it well.
8. Take care of your feet.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Turf Wars

I crawl back into bed with a book and some luxuriating intentions (at least for the next 15 minutes). Tony, however is disturbing the peace with his fastidious tucking in the bottom sheet and readjusting the main blanket, his yanking and pulling.

"Turf wars," I say. "It was going on all night."

"It wouldn't have been going on if the bed had been made right in the first place. If you would check it before you went to sleep." Harsh words spoken with love and humor.

 I am so tired when I finally roll into bed at night, the last thing I would ever check is if the sheet is tucked or if the blanket is straight. I literally can be asleep within seconds of when my head meets the pillow.  There have been mornings when I awake and realize I've slept on a pen or almost on a book. But I still slept sound. Ah, so blessed.

Tony knows so well and has accepted this so well. He however, is the opposite. Falling asleep is a chore and when everything isn't just so: turf wars.

I tend to tuck the blanket underneath my chin, and when I roll to the right, I take it with me. Which leaves Tony defending his side of the bed. His pull-back on the blanket wakes me. Usually, I just let it be and fall right back to sleep, but last night in my agitated semi-slumber, I tugged back. And forth it went through the night.

My daughter and her husband have solved turf wars, by not sharing the same sheets nor the same blanket. In essence, they sleep in two separate cocoons on the same bed. We did this one winter when I pulled on the big, fluffffffy down stuffed blanket every night. No turf wars that year. This year, I kept meaning to go to the basement and get it, but it's already spring. Time beat me again and the winter slipped away. And so it is with life, and so it is the reason we put up with turf wars. Even we can see how quickly our earth time together will pass. We see together, our mothers, all too quickly, and suddenly--alone.

With the youngest child away at college, the bedroom down the hall was free one night when we decided we needed to try sleeping alone. We tried it for one week. I missed his presence: the soft illumination from his iPad, his occasional sniffle or heavy breathing, the security, even the occasional slumberly fight for territory.

Tony's almost finished adjusting the bed to perfection but he's still fussing and complaining. This time it's the newly washed blanket. "This blanket is so crackly," he says, which means he must hear it at night too.

"It's old," I reply. "Old like us." The blanket was a wedding gift, quilted from my mother's now-tired hands. "Do you realize how old it is?" I ask him. "It's as old as we've been married. Hey, we have an anniversary coming up in a few days. How many years has it been?"

"A hundred," Tony replies.

Turf wars.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Deb and I took a few students to another high school's slam poetry auditions.  The slam-poet-teachers were friends of Deb's and they had invited us to come and to let our students audition with the intent of giving feedback. We didn't know how good our students were, since we'd heard their poems from the beginning, when their ideas were just forming, when the poems and performances were still in the fearful stage.

And so we sat in the back of the class as observers and soon-to-be-changed people.

As a Poetry Out Loud advocate, slam poetry was new to me. I didn't fully understand its importance until I was an observer at this different school.

Students stood. Recited. Poured out their hearts, from which poured out their frustrations. Slam poetry was a way to take a hammer off one's chest and turn it into words. Words that brought power and freedom. There was verse about parents' divorces. Loneliness. The pressure of perfection. Death. Sexual abuse. A poem where the planet Pluto was the metaphor: Pluto also knew what it was like to be alone and far away. Rejected. Even his planet status revoked.

Slam poetry is so much more than verse. It is therapy verse. Students took a nemesis, a hurt, a tragedy and put it into words and delivered those words like a pick-up truck full of debris to be dropped off at the dump. They were lightened. Enlightened. Weakness became power.

Slam poetry. More important than I could have realized.

Deb and I, when our student who had been brave enough to tackle her hurt; when she stood, and powered out her words, we couldn't have predicted what would happen. She held the class in the palm of her hand. They felt what she felt. The audience interrupted her with metaphorical Amens, like she was the preacher in a southern church. And when she finished, there was overwhelming cheers, tears and support for her daring to speak the truth. Power in that room. Power that transferred to the poet.

I looked at Deb. She looked at me. Her lip quivered and my eyes watered. Words. Emotional words, spoken from the human core of hurt, defeat; words that had enabled the speaker to crawl out of that abyss and had pushed the poet to speak triumphantly and beat down the pain. Once again, the power of words had changed us all.

Monday, April 6, 2015

When Marcia first informed me of the Ladies's Lit Society, I invited friends whom I thought would be interested. But I happen to have some of the world's busiest friends: careers, children, hobbies-already. No one joined me, but their absence allowed me to see friendship through a different lens.

I drove to the first discussion rendezvous and felt a little nervous about discussing The Winter's Tale with a group of strangers. I had a flashback of a previous book group that had started out well, but was dominated by one woman for whom I lacked patience. I had to withdraw. That fear of an unbalanced group entered my psyche. What if? That woman was there. Worse, what if I'd become that woman? After teaching literature for six years, would I revert to teacher mode? Act like the Shakespeare know-it-all, even though I'm not.

My fears were unnecessary. As usual. The group of women were kind, smart, witty and conscious of their discussion contributions. We laughed, and best of all, we had new insights into the bard's last play. At first, we all felt sorry for the persecuted queen, but then we realized a 16 year hiatus from a despot and the accompanying misery of her circumstances, Hermione had spent her years in hiding well. Kudos to Queen Hermione!

As I left that night, I felt blessed to have a whole new set of friends, with different stories, different circumstances, different ideas. It was like a whole new field of treasures to mine. It made me appreciate even more the group of friends I hike with, teach with, play with, lunch with. I realized I compartmentalize my friendships. Friends for this, friends for that, and each group enriches my life.

Often we are friends because we are like-minded. I thought of the funny card an old friend with whom I consistently had many friendly disagreements, had given me for my birthday one year. On the front, was a photo of two men passing each other on the beach. One man was dressed in a suit and the other was naked. The caption read: When everyone thinks alike, no one is thinking.

Here's to new friendships, paradigm shifts,  new ideas I can bring back to old friendships. Here's to thinking.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Superbowl of the LDS Faith

Or so my future son-in-law calls it. The semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Spreading the world with messages of hope, happiness and truth. I look forward to it twice a year. We gather with family in our home and watch together. Good food is always a plus. Yesterday's fare was waffles, cream, strawberries. In between sessions, the kids boarded the canyon, and I worked on the hillside in the sunlight. Conference is the perfect day of inspiration and specific time limits to accomplish what needs to be done. The ying and yang of rest and work.

Last night, at least in my twitter thread, messages from the conference were consistently posted. Even a message that read, "I'm not LDS, but #ldsconference." You don't have to be a member of the faith to recognize the good that comes from eight hours of inspiring messages that can literally change the world. Compare that to the message of hate groups in Somalia threatening more violence like the student shootings in Kenya.

So many  highlights. It was fun to hear regular scripture quotes and even quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nelson Mandela and Shakespeare! I learned of the Vatican conference on the family headed by Pope Francis. One of our apostles gave the closing address and a Muslim cleric quoted two paragraphs by heart, from the Proclamation on the Family. There is more than unites various faiths than divides us--true religion, true love of God sees this--the opposition to faith and love of God does not.

We need to flood the world with goodness. Regardless of faith, we must all unite and support goodness and love. General Conference.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Vaguely Familiar Strangers Who Drop Into My Life

We were always the family who lived far away from Grandma and Grandpa. Now we are the grandparents who live far away, and that always means saying goodbye, just when the little guy seems like he's getting used to us.

It's hard coming into town as "familiars," with memories that make the little guy smile when he sees us, but leaving him insecure enough not to trust us without Mom or Dad. He'll play cars, and chase, even move his trucks closer, but when Mom leaves, he still gets nervous.

I try to see it from his point of view. Days before our arrival, his parents make up the futon, talk about our visit, even have the house cleaned. And then one morning, he wakes, and the guest bedroom door is closed. When he gets brave enough, his mother pushes open the door and there we are! Two practical strangers.

A few days later, all evidence of our existence is gone. Where did they go? Why did they leave? Are they coming back? This time we left while he was taking his nap. He doesn't see us come or go...maybe we just magically appear and disappear? Are we even real?

It's hard to leave knowing when we return, we'll have to start all over. But start over we will.

Pirate booty, wrestling panda, and trucks. Evidence of Ezra after he's whisked away for a nap. And that is what a grandma and grandpa need to do to be remembered. Leave evidence. The evidence is what my children had of their grandparents. They came, they left but they gave--sometimes it was a box of donuts, a blanket, a new dress. But more often it was their love, their advice, their hugs. Love is the evidence of a grandparent.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Last night I attended a VIP, invitation only dinner. The occasion: son-in-law-to-be number four, asked for our daughter's hand in marriage.

The last inning. The last marriage. And again, I insisted on being a part of this male-only tradition. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. But once again, I was in awe that it is still a male tradition--regardless of my tradition-busting demands.

Just as there is no possible way, my husband could have given birth to our daughters, there was no possible way I could have taken his place when London, told us he was in love with our daughter, and he would like to marry her. It was akin to walking in a dark alley with Tony and what he would have done had a stranger threatened me. Tony would have stepped up to the plate and defended me with his life, if necessary. When London asked, Tony stepped up, and I sat back and watched with awe and confidence. All his fatherly love and protective instincts were center stage.

Tony turned serious, stern, but oozed with love.

"I only have two questions," he said with his alpha male presence.

"What confirmation have you had that marrying our daughter is the right thing to do?" Beautiful question elicited a beautiful answer.

Question number two, "Will you keep and honor the covenants you will make to and with our daughter?" Took my breath away and London, equal to the scrutiny, man to man, again gave a beautiful answer. Tony stood, embraced the young man, welcomed him to the family and told him he loved him. What a man.

Now it was my turn. Did I have any questions? I really didn't. The important points had been addressed. I did however, have one tiny request after a few observations and a short discussion with Paloma. Again, this tiny little issue made Tony stand out like a rockstar. We are a family of women blessed with one fabulous Dad. A true gentleman. Because of his consideration, I and our little women had grown up in a house, where the lone male had always put the toilet seat down. Requisite. If you are a woman, you understand without further explanation. It was always evident in the house, when a male, besides Tony, had been present, and each son-in-law, had to be taught. Paloma and I noticed that London had yet to learn. So on the night of this momentous occasion, my contribution was trivial as I whispered in his ear, "Just start putting the toilet seat down. That's all that matters to me." The woman's touch.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

When You Live A Long Time, You See Too Much

We have a daughter who drives like a New York cabby, or how we perceive a NY cabby would drive. Yes, she lives in a big city, commutes 50 minutes to and from work; yes she has a lot on her plate which equals=impatience. Since she gives her best in her profession, she believes others should too. I agree. She also believes that people should drive safely, with curtesy, and alertness. I agree.

However, there is one point in which we disagree. If drivers do not drive to her expectations, she honks and reprimands. I only believe a driver should honk if it is a matter of safety, not an after-correction. One of the reasons is that we never know the mental state of the other driver. Maybe he just lost his job or left his wife. Maybe the other driver has aggression issues, maybe she's impatient, late, maybe she keeps a gun under her front seat.

The likelihood of the above scenario is unlikely, but I've lived a long time, and I remember an incident when a woman was shot in the head when a car pulled up next to her. I remember living in LA when there was a rash of freeway anger that involved freeway shootings. When drivers were cut off, they reached under the seat and pulled out a pistol. So when our daughter reacts to an errant driver, both my husband and I tell her "It's not worth it. You never know who's behind the wheel of a car and what state he may be in."

It's hard to listen to your parents. I never did either. At first.

How blessed I feel when a few teaching moments arise. In the car.

The first: We are leaving a restaurant parking lot, turning into traffic. She pulls out and doesn't see the lady in the red car with her blinker on, moving into our lane of traffic. The lady honks and acts like an out of control driver. But my daughter never sees it. Never knows her traffic faux pas, and I don't tell her. At least not in that moment. It comes up later in our discussion. She is surprised she was "one of those drivers."

The second: We are stopped at a red light. When the light turns green, the car/person coming in the opposite direction stops to make a right hand turn. He is driving a big red truck and the person behind him has to wait for him to turn before she can go. But he can't go because a pedestrian is crossing the street and he must stop and wait for her. The woman behind him can't see the pedestrian and she's furious that he's impeding her drive through the green light. My daughter and I can see it all. We see why the man has stopped, we see the woman in the car behind him who can't see why he's stopped, we see her assumptions that he is just a rude driver making her wait. We see her "fly off the handle," hear her honk, see her act like a crazed driver at the injustice. We see her foolish lack of sight. And I hope we see that sometimes--even we can't see it all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


My husband seeks the advice of a fellow doctor of Science. Her name is Jennifer, and she is intelligent, smart, and kind.

For twenty seven years Tony has held different positions in his Computer Science department, including the department chair for 12 years, and a member of the faculty search committee for at least that long. The department has consistently tried to bring on more women PHDs. For this he asks for Jennifer's input. One of the first questions she asks is: What kind of child care is set up?

Though Tony sees the difficulties in resource allocation for such a service, I see the necessity of Jennifer's question. How can they expect to hire women without childcare when a woman's main concern is her child? Always. No matter her education, her stature in the business or academic world, a woman with young children needs consistent, reliable, and loving child care. And how much better if she could take a short walk and peek in on the child. Or be close enough to breastfeed.

I see Tony's perspective too: liability, facilities, monies, and can they limit this service to women only? Wouldn't men in his department deserve access to childcare too?

The days are not so far behind, when I remember the hardship of childcare. Yet my struggle was easy compared to that of my daughters. I had the privilege (and it was a privilege for me though I recognize it is not considered such for all women), of not working while raising my children.  But, I still needed childcare. If not for work, for growth, for self-nurturing, for a well deserved break. But I had flexibility. If my caretaker was ill, I could rearrange, skip, or miss. My daughter, in a high demand job, cannot.

I see Tony's perspective too: liability, facilities, monies, and can they limit this service to women only? Wouldn't men in his department deserve access to good childcare too?

I feel my daughter's pain when in one week, her twice a week caretaker is going on spring break with her children. So is her back-up caretaker who leaves the same week. She's exhausted her back-up, back-ups. She's THAT desperate woman. As she explains her plight, I sense her pain, the insecurity that flares, the vulnerability and the love that triggers it all--for that sweet two year old child. For whom she is responsible for along with all the other people depending on her.

She puts out a call on her Facebook play group page and a few days later, one saintly woman can take her child for two days, but the third day is tenuous. She tries to find a teenager or a college student she knows and trusts for the third day. As of this moment, it's still up in the air. And for this reason, I might be flying back to Chicago. In one week. Expensive child care. In a practical sense, ridiculous, far from a long term solution, but important enough to make the trip.

A reason why I will continue to encourage Tony to keep working on childcare for the women in his department. For women like his daughter.