Sunday, May 31, 2015

Nikki Was Missing

It must have been because Nikki was missing.

With weeks of continuous rain, Lisa and I jumped at a window of sunshine  on a Tuesday afternoon to open and check our hives.  Nikki had to wait until Wednesday, but rain was the forecast.

We should have waited for Nikki.

I had to start taking an anti-histamine that morning (a moment I dread), and maybe that's why things went wrong. I'm not completely myself on any kind of medication and perhaps we both needed the calming, commanding presence of Nikki to make up for my allergy med absence.

Plus...we started at my house, and we always start at Lisa's.

Am I becoming superstitious?

I had on a new hat and veil and hadn't secured it properly.

We checked the mini-hive first and all was well. Two fully developed queen cells with hopes of my first hive-grown queen!

We opened the second hive. This was the moment when I felt the sensation of a bee walking mid-chest.

"I think there's a bee in my bra," I said to Lisa.

I put my hands through the veil, pulled my shirt away, but only saw my bobbing pearl necklace.

"It's just my necklace." Back to work.

We'd finished checking seven bars of comb, all the while I was still feeling the necklace bob against my chest. Funny thing-- I'd never noticed this before.

I put the lid back on the hive and pulled my shirt away for another check. This time, I saw the bee walking in the the tender decolletage of my chest. It was me or the bee. I grabbed my sweatshirt hoping the bee was within the squished folds, and pleaded for Lisa to help me get it OFF! The veil and helmet came off quick, then the sweatshirt, then the bra. Then the laughter. But no bee. It had escaped. We both had escaped.

Nikki should have been there.

A little frazzled, but grateful to have dodged a bee bullet, we moved on to Lisa's.

Nikki was still missing.

Lisa's first hive wasn't producing like they should. But her second hive!!! Lisa's newest queen is a Cadillac! We've never seen such a fully loaded queen and she lays eggs beautifully. So beautifully that while responding with jubilance, Lisa dropped the beautiful comb full of capped baby bees.

This would have never happened if Nikki had been there.

The moment found Lisa and I near-ground picking up baby bees and lifting them to the landing board. After we'd cleaned up the best we could, we put the lid on and walked away.

Nikki would have noticed the board was on backwards and fixed it.

Nikki should have been there.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why I Write an Essay Everyday

Back in the early 2000s while writing a newspaper column, I noticed my life was richer in experience, in reflection, in observation. Having to write with a weekly deadline gave me the incentive to plan, to ponder, to live, so I'd have something worthwhile to write about. It made me bolder, more assertive, more communicative, more friendly. If a person looked like she had a story to tell, I would ask. If a person needed help, I would offer a hand. Having something to write about was only possible if I lived a life worth writing about.

The column ended, but when I started teaching school, the same principle applied-- I needed to be a teacher worth learning from. When I challenged students to do an Odyssey in honor of Odysseus, I had to do the same. When I taught values, I had to have made virtuous choices and often these lessons were from my mistakes. I didn't need to be a perfect example, I just needed perfect examples of trying and failing which = real life. In fact, I think my students loved learning from my failures more than my triumphs. If you fail to be a good example, be a very good bad example.

This year, there has been no deadlines, no class, no grade, no monetary reward for writing. Why do I still do it? Because the reward for daily writing is far greater than a paycheck.

The everyday writing habit sprung from being a National Writing Project fellow and participating in a three week intensive writing workshop. Each day, among peers who had a passion for writing, I would write up to four hours. It was heaven. On the last day of the workshop, we were given a prompt, a short writing time and then asked to share our non-edited mini essay. After three weeks of consistent writing, the words flowed like a river in early spring. Writing was a muscle and mine was a bulging-proud-to-flex, accomplishment.

But I hadn't yet committed to writing an essay everyday. A week after the workshop, Tony and I flew to Paris to live for three weeks where I was committed to writing everyday so family could follow our adventures. Once again, I was more observant, more willing for adventure, found more humor in the adventure. After a bike ride through the bare streets of Paris (roads were blocked for the Tour de France), I couldn't wait to write about it. If we found an incredible boulangerie?--had to write about it. Writing was becoming a conscious habit and I liked the security of putting my life on paper (so to speak).

Eventually, I started teaching-writing consulting and my message was that writing was a muscle. I had walked the talk and I knew it to be true. I was now afraid to stop writing in the same way I know I can never stop exercising. I will lose muscle! I will lose writing muscle!

But I hardly write out of fear: I write out of joy.

The joy that comes from discovery! Writing is discovery. Often I find an emotion an angle, I find out how I really feel about a person, an experience, an issue. I find words or ways to put words together heretofore unseen. Syntax and semantics are playful connections. Sometimes I even discover what I want to say. Often I'll have an experience and I know it is at the core of an essay--but I don't know what that essay needs to say. Imagine the delight when I discover a hidden meaning within the piece.

A few years ago, Deb (my teaching partner for next year), recommended a book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned While Editing My Life--The author looks at the important elements of story and asks if these elements apply to making a good life story. The book is really about the consciousness of our own life-the deliberate choices that we can make to live a better story. 

Someone had written a book about my own discovery and his articulation nailed the desire to write. To write everyday, but I took it a step further: writing and polishing as well as I could, everyday---bringing meaning to my life and hopefully to someone else's life.

But wait! There's more. Another surprise is that the recollection of my life would be a fraction of what it is without writing. Once I've written down an experience, it seems to indelibly stamp itself into my brain. Often I will recall the story just when it needs to be retold. When I'm standing in front of class, when I'm with friends, when I'm teaching a child, when I want to make Tony laugh. The act of writing and thinking it through keeps my experiences from blowing away with the wind.

And finally, often I have gone back and read an essay but would not have had any recollection if I hadn't written it down.

Life is doubly rich when I write. It's like getting two desserts without the calories.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Genuine Care

It's humbling and sad that I'm considered a danger and even a potential threat to a Highway Patrolman's life.

Last night around 9:30,  I'd just driven onto the freeway, so I was confused when the flashing red and blue circus was distinctly after me. The blinker on the city bus ahead of me started flashing and the bus pulled off. Relief! The HP is after him; but no, he ignored the bus and stayed on my tail.

I pulled over ready to take what I deserved.

The flashlight came first...behind it was a sweet, young face, keeping his distance. It was dark, I was a stranger and he didn't know what to expect.

"Ma'am, I'm stopping you not because you were speeding, but because your registration is expired."

I thought I was on top of car registration. The online process makes it easy and I usually receive the notice in the mail and register the car right away, but, maybe this time I slipped?

I hand him my license and then search for the always-missing-when-you-need-it insurance card. I'm sure I ALWAYs put this in the car too, but it can't be found tonight--along with my missing registration.

"Well they could have made a mistake," the officer gives me the benefit of the doubt, and I wonder how many people like me claim to have registered their cars and blame the absent registration on the DMV.

"No, it's probably my mistake," I concede.

And once I am no longer on the defensive, the situation changes. I see this young kid, standing on the edge of the freeway, cars whirling past at life threatening speed, and realize he is standing here, risking his safety because of my oversight. As he takes my license and turns to go back to his car, I sincerely tell him to be careful. I fear for his life.

In the few minutes that he's gone, I search the glove box for the missing documents. No luck.

Seconds later, he approaches the car with that intimidating flashlight, but this time he's on the other side of the car. It seems like he might have taken my advice--to be careful.

A little confused (that flashlight in the dark), I roll down the other window. Again he stays well behind me as I am a potential threat. Even when I reach into my purse for my glasses, I sense that he is watching for something else.

"I thought it'd be safer to come on this side."

"Yes," I'm relieved too.

"Please know that because of the length of time from your expiration, I could impound the car. Call first thing in the morning to check on your registration."

"I won't drive the car until it's taken care of."

He sends me off without a citation.

I will never know, but I want to believe, that because I cared, he did too.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


The doctor's office needed front desk help and the doctor, before hiring a new staff member, decided to audition the potential help. She (the potential candidate), came and worked for a few days, but after the trial run, the other workers decided to vote against hiring her. When the potential hire-ee learned she didn't get the job, she came back to see the doctor--a previous acquaintance. Without the job on the line, she was completely honest with him, and with hurt in her eyes,  informed him that everyone on staff, except for two, had treated her with rudeness.

What did the doctor do? He gave the "other" two a significant raise.

Be kind to everyone: you don't know their circumstances...or how much yours may depend on theirs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Good-bye David Letterman

It was 1988 when Tony informed me we were going to China! He'd submitted a paper to an academic conference and the paper had been accepted. Hooray! What a privilege. We'd both grown up knowing little of the mysterious communist country that had shut itself off from the rest of the world and had only recently opened up to foreign visitors. I was only in elementary school when Nixon had made his historic visit to China, but boy did I remember its significance.

The country was a surreal experience. Not only was China beautiful, but the food was wonderful, the people were intriguing and we, were intriguing to them. Everywhere we went, we were stared at, at the very least. Two young men on the Great Wall wanted to converse. Old ladies came out from privacy walls to see us pass. When I took a photo at The Forbidden City of two men fighting, a Chinese citizen told me I had misbehaved.

I was most excited to carry out my own first hand study of the "One child per family," policy.  I interviewed as many people as I could and took photos to document this strange Chinese policy.

The entire visit, we were carefully watched and guided.

On our way to Shenyang, we had a glitch. Our party checked into the flight, but our reservations, Tony's and mine,  had been canceled. There was no apparent reason and our only option was to leave the country. Strict government policies, visions of the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution, the mistreatment of anomalous citizens, had us spooked. Then there was that incident in The Forbidden City. Paranoid, we scrambled for a flight back to Beijing where we would spend the night, and then fly out to South Korea first thing in the morning. We said good-bye and separated from the safety of our guide, our group and any English translation for the days ahead. The situation was stressful. So stressful that when we saw we could stay in a Marriot Hotel in Beijing, even though it was a budget strain, we jumped at the familiarity.

Finally, safe in our hotel, after a strange day of interruptions and speculations, we layed down on the bed and turned on the TV. It was David Letterman, and somehow, seeing his face, hearing his voice, listening to his humor, we relaxed because everything was going to be just fine.

Ever since our escaping China incident, David Letterman has held a place in my heart. Our danger was most likely a paranoid imagination, but the comfort he brought us, thousands of miles away from home and family, was real.

I feel sadness that he is retiring--how could he? What's he going to do?  How can life fishing at a lakehouse (assuming he's retiring to fish at his lakehouse), compare to the past years he's spent on Broadway? He can't grow old! If he's  growing old then...anyway, I loved his last Top Ten. So much nostalgia. You too may feel like these people are your old friends. Enjoy this clip of the last top ten.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Sauce

The preparation for Jillian's family birthday started long before Sunday afternoon. It started weeks ago, when Tom, my sister's boyfriend, made "Sauce" for Mother's Day. "Sauce" is an event in the Julian family. Tom's mother, Mary Julian, made Italian sauce his entire life, and Mary was known as the best sauce maker. She learned how to make sauce from her mother, who came from Italy, and who knows how many generations the art of making sauce was practiced?

Mary left this earth last year and each time I am at a family gathering, we think of her. But her legacy isn't only the rich sauce--it's that people gather together to eat it. Once we are together, we indulge, we laugh, and we love. The legacy of the sauce is really family love.

 I asked Tom to teach me the ropes of making sauce. I listened carefully to his time tested measurements and recommendations, because there is no recipe---for both endeavors: making the Julian sauce, and a joyful family gathering.

 As we planned Jillian's party, the guest list grew: Grandma, Aunt Val and a cousin and her son who needed a place to stay for the night. The house lit up when the grandchildren came through the door with their new baby brother.

While planning the birthday games, I enlisted the help of Max and Anni. Their creative minds started to churn. We collaborated on prizes and they called to keep me updated on their games and to ask my opinion. Sunday afternoon was coming together.

Saturday, I shopped and made the fruit pizza dough and thought about making the homemade pasta dough. Sunday morning, I was up early to start the sauce. I came home in-between church to stir, and to start the second cake for the growing crowd.

Oh, and how we cleaned in between each dish.  Tony expected me to be grumpy with so much cooking. Yes, when I over-cook, I sometimes feel taxed. But I had made a shift; the sauce making, the honoring of Mary, had given me a different perspective: I wasn't making food, I was making family memories.

 The homemade arugula pasta
 The failed homemade pasta
 The fruit pizza "birthday cake"
 Max's Battleship chess game with the brain
 Anni's magic marble game
Birthday girl and funny-facd Anni

And the sauce...

Monday, May 25, 2015

Owning the Incompetence

My daughter and I had an important matter of business that had to be accomplished with a quick turn-around time. I gave her the contact's number and told her to call him. She called, left a message and he never returned her call. I was disappointed. Upon leaving town, she asked me to follow through.  It was 9:30 p.m when she passed the baton, so I didn't want to call knowing some people choose to retire early. I sent a text.

No response. I started thinking of the person's incompetence. Started judging his slacker attitude. It had now been three days without a response.

At 10:00, a stranger texted back in broken language: this is the wrong person.

I went back to my records and checked the number. I'd used a 9 in place of an 8. I quickly copied the text message and sent it at 10:02. At 10:03, the right person texted back: I'll take care of this.

Relieved, grateful and ashamed, I'd judged his incompetence when all along, it had been mine.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

More Beautiful For Having Been Broken

In 16th century Japan, a fascination developed for beautifully restored, once broken, pottery. The artist's concern was not to make pottery look as if it had never been broken, but to enhance the breaks with color that made the repair stand out. The culture of the time saw that mending a bowl gave it new life.

The anecdote attributed to starting this art form began with a hot tempered war lord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi who loved a certain tea bowl. During tea ceremony, a servant dropped his beloved bowl. A guest quickly made-up and recited a poem that eased the tension filled room. The bowl was mended, saved, and a new art form was created, but the beauty of the  mended bowl art form is so much more than art.

I think the Japanese people recognized that a broken bowl's value paralleled the life of a flawed human. We make mistakes, we crack, we even break into many pieces. After the injury, the recovery, a new life is found. Perhaps the breaks bring compassion, more patience, more love. The master, the artist, molds our breaks, puts the pieces back together and declares us whole once again. We are not the same piece of pottery as before--perhaps we are stronger from the breaks.

When Jillian was a ceramic art student in high school, she made this ghost (?) that I found simply adorable. Something about it. The whole family was disappointed when I knocked it over and broke its head into many pieces. I didn't have the heart to throw it out, even if it did seem beyond repair. I put the pieces in a bag and pushed it to the back of a closet for many years.

 When a I read about kintsukuroi***, I knew all these years of saving the ghost (?) had a purpose. The ghost (?) could be restored, and doing so had symbolic meaning beyond the clay, the paint, the glue.

Yet, ...I look at this funny, mended, little piece, and I wonder, is it really more beautiful for having been broken? The little guy definitely has new life--from the back of a dark cupboard to its original spot on a family room shelf, from broken to mended. Perhaps its real beauty is not found in its ceramic shape but that it could be restored and like us, no matter how fractured, how shattered we are, we can be put back together.

***I found a beautiful write-up about kintsukuroi on the website of a Swiss art dealer that specializes in Japanese art. It tells the whole story:

Later, Jillian did her own research and wrote up her own paragraph for a talk she was giving. Her interpretation was more beautiful than mine:

Kintsukuroi means to repair with gold, and is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. The story behind it is of a bowl that was much loved by a military ruler. One day during a gathering, a servant accidentally dropped the bowl, which broke into five pieces.  Everyone paused, fearing for the young man as the military leader was known to possess a quick,  harsh temper.  Then one of the guests improvised a comic poem about the incident, provoking laughter all around and restoring the leader to good spirits. This story goes on to say that instead of the break "…diminishing [the bowl's] appeal, a new sense of its vitality and resilience raised appreciation to even greater heights."  The bowl had become more beautiful for having been broken.  The true life of the bowl "…began the moment it was dropped…" From that day onward, mended bowls have been used and cherished for generations. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Birthday Balloon Baton

Dear Tanner,

After this morning of May 23rd, I am passing you the birthday balloon baton. You see, 26 years ago, I started a tradition that I had no idea would last from 1989 to 2015.

On the eve of your future wife's one year old birthday, I slipped over to the grocery story and purchased one dozen bright, neon, delightful balloons. With the hall light out, I carefully turned the knob of her door, dropped to my knees and crawled towards her crib with this giant bouquet. I slowly stood and moved each balloon strategically so when she awoke, she would look up to the sky of her world and see color!

I wish I could have seen her fresh one year old face in the moment of awakening. Did she jump from surprise? Did she smile or laugh? How long did she stare at the balloons before she let me know her discovery.

She was delighted enough with the balloons that we realized this would become a tradition. How much of a tradition we could have never imagined. As she aged, I tried to shimmy out of the tight tradition, but she let us know each year: 14, 17, 18, 22, 25 and 26 that she expected her balloons!

Next year on her 27th birthday, she will be living in the home you will have created together. By then you could be living in Alaska, or South Carolina, or at least 40 minutes away. Too far away for me to creep into her room, down her hall, or to drive and leave them tied to her car antennae because I can't get into her apartment.

So, to you, dear future son-in-law, I pass along the birthday balloon baton. Along with everything else this beautiful child comes with, she is coming with the need for birthday balloons.

Good luck.

Happy Follow-up: Jillian informed us that her birthday celebration would have to be the day before or after because she would be spending the entire day with her fiance, Tanner. Last night as we sat around the birthday-dinner table, I read this letter as my tribute to Jillian. As we were leaving the restaurant, Tanner pulled me aside and asked if I would call him first thing when I woke up. He'd already purchased balloons and wanted to set up her birthday morning surprise!!! Could I let him into the house in the early morning? He'd already accepted the birthday balloon baton!!!!!!!, and I was more than ready to pass it on. 

Sort of.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Seventeen Year Mistake

For seventeen years, we purchased and hauled down a flight of stairs and around the back yard, bags and bags of water softening salt.  The bags were heavy, wrist aching nuisances in our lives. Yet, we needed soft water. Otherwise, we itched. So more frequent than we would have liked, we found the big flat bed shopping carts at Costco and loaded up on salt pellet bags. Mostly Tony. Every once in a while, he would ask a son-in-law to help, or rope in a daughter, and of course, I would do my share.

Every once in a while, Tony would complain, but mostly he would wonder as to why the soft water didn't seem to last very long. We never took notes on the refill times, never tried to see if it coincided with times of year or company or number of people living in our home.   For many of the seventeen years, we had four daughters who showered everyday. We had soft water service calls, but no one ever figured out why we used so much salt. Time passed with greater concerns filling his life, and he only thought about it when carrying those heavy bags.

He recently decided it was time to get a new softwater tank/system. With hopes of selling us a new system, the softwater company rep made a more thorough assessment. Tony's suspicions were confirmed: the soft water had been running out much too quickly indeed. The outside faucet, the one we use to fill the pool, to water the garden, to spray down the dirty, all these years, had been connected to the soft water.

It's hard not to look back on all those years, the worst in the colder months, when we'd have to bundle up, put on gloves and manage the concrete stairs with snow or ice, all those years of carrying those horrendously-awful-poorly designed bags of salt down stairs.

In the grand scheme of life, carrying too many salt pellet bags is a pretty innocuous seventeen year mistake. What do you do when the investment has been greater? When we realize the mistake, we make amends, make it right, disconnect the hose, move forward--only looking back to be thankful where we are today.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Kigatsuku Mom

The Japanese word kigatsuku means:
To become aware
To notice
To perceive

But the full potential of the word is reached not within the simple definitions, but in the action of kigatsuku. All of the above "happens," but it happens on a person's own accord.

Whenever I have a child or a student who notices that something needs to happen, whether it is as simple as cleaning the kitchen, or moving an entire class of desks, and the child or student makes it happen without being asked, this is kigatsuku. It is the highest form of service: Noticing on one's own, and acting on one's own. I love the action of kigatsuku. It means someone is listening, someone cares, someone has the forthrightness to act, and often, someone has been taught well. How does one teach kigatusuku?--as it requires an action triggered by one's own consciousness, one's own awareness. Perhaps kigatsuku is taught by example.

Many people have shown me kigatsuku, but probably the greatest example and impact came from Mom. She's spent a lifetime serving people, boards, churches, and most of it, I bet, was done because she saw a need and acted.  Kigatsukuers don't do it for the rewards, for rewards are often few and far between. Kigatsukuers act because there is a need. More often than not, the only reward comes at the end of the day when they know they have done well, served well. And that my friends is probably more than enough.

When I think of Mom's examples, so many come to mind, but there is always one that climbs to the top of the list. As a child, probably younger than eight, I was following her down a crowded church hallway anxious to go home after what might have been a long day of church. She stopped and bent down to a silently, crying child. No one else had noticed but Mom did. That is as far as the memory lasts. Mom kneeling next to a distraught child, because I'm sure his parent was quickly found. But that one moment I'm sure is what compelled me for the rest of my life to look out for the lost child, and there have been many.

Yesterday, Mom was honored by the city of Las Vegas. The accolade was nice, but it didn't matter. What she did would have been done, regardless--because there was a need.

The kigatsuku Mom! So proud

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


O bee ma care. No disrespect intended--only accolades for the president, the government, in creating the Pollinator Health Task Force. (

Yet, it all seems so surreal. The red flags have been waving frantically, since 2006 when Colony Collapse Disorder was given its name; since consistent hive decline over the past 30 years. As early as 1999 the EU ***recognized that pesticides were killing bees and acted on banning the culprit poisons. So here it is...2015 and the United States is finally acting with a task force. Again, no criticisms, just gratitude that we are finally, officially, moving forward to save our pollinators.

When I texted a fellow beekeeper the good news, she replied: is important. Duh!

 FOOD IS IMPORTANT! From the introduction of the Pollinator Memorandum: Pollinators are critical to our Nation’s economy, food security, and environmental health. Honey bee pollination alone adds more than $15 billion in value to agricultural crops each year, and provides the backbone to ensuring our diets are plentiful with fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Through the actions dis- cussed in this Strategy, and by working with partners across our country, we can and will help restore and sustain pollinator health nationwide.

Honey bees pollinate 90-130 crops, which account for 1/3 of the American diet. 

The memorandum reports that hive losses over the past years have been around 30%--yet after the memorandum research, the new numbers report that hive losses are at 42% this year.

I know about hive loss.

The memorandum proposes the "Pollinator Research Action Plan" which includes:

  • Studies of the health of honey bees, other managed bees, and wild bees that assess stressors leading to species declines and Colony Collapse Disorder, as well as strategies for mitigation.
  • Plans for expanding and automating data collection and data sharing related to pollinator losses, in partnership with the private sector.
  • Assessments of wild bee and monarch butterfly population patterns, and modeling of the relationship of those population patterns to habitat variables.
  • Development of affordable pollinator-friendly seed mixes and guidelines for evaluating their effectiveness in restoration and reclamation.
  • Identification of best practices for minimizing pollinator exposure to pesticides, and new cost- effective ways to manage pests and diseases.
  • Creation of strategies for targeting restoration efforts at areas that will yield the greatest expected net benefits for pollinator health.

    I appreciate the thoroughness of investigation, but I can't help but wonder if it's too little too late. Has the enemy already landed on our shores and we're in a house on the hill formulating a plan instead of marching to the beach to defend our country?

    Concerning pesticides: The Presidential Memorandum specifically tasked EPA to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides, on the health of bees and other pollinators, and to take appropriate actions to protect pollinators. The following summarizes the specific actions that EPA will take over the next 3–5 years to contribute to this effort (see Appendix A for details) page 47.

    Depending on which side you're on, there is already enough evidence to ban the use of certain pesticides and certain practices--which not only affect bees, but humans too. Which brings up GMO's--again, already banned in Europe.***

    How I understand GMO's--one example: Food scientists recognize that a certain type of flounder is particularly resistant to cold temperatures. A scientist with good intentions asks, "What if we could isolate the DNA that makes a flounder tolerant to cold and engineer that DNA into a tomato plant?" Great idea?

    The tomato plant won't accept the DNA, so they disguise the DNA in a virus and place it within the cell structure of the tomato plant. The cold-tolerant virus survives and we now have a hardier tomato plant. Wonderful? Maybe not. What are the repercussions to humans?

    The controversial neonicotinoid pesticides that may be so lethal to bees are placed within the seed of certain plants. The seed is genetically engineered to be tolerant of certain pesticides. The pesticide is now within the plant. A bee takes its nectar, its pollen, returns to the hive. And we're wondering why bee hives are dying?

    A few days ago, on a beekeeping facebook page, a man wrote that there are no bees/beehives in a part of western New York. He didn't say why, but imagine a whole region without a single bee. How do they pollinate?

    In a southwest region of China, they pollinate by hand: 

    The most dramatic example comes from the apple and pear orchards of south west China, where wild bees have been eradicated by excessive pesticide use and a lack of natural habitat. 

    In recent years, farmers have been forced to hand-pollinate their trees, carrying pots of pollen and paintbrushes with which to individually pollinate every flower, and using their children to climb up to the highest blossoms. This is clearly just possible for this high-value crop, but there are not enough humans in the world to pollinate all of our crops by hand.

    My suspicions are shared. While writing/researching this morning, a friend sends me this article from Friends of the Earth:

    White House Pollinator Strategy won’t solve bee crisis

    Posted May. 19, 2015 / Posted by: Kate Colwell
    WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Obama administration released its National Pollinator Health Strategy today, which failed to adequately address the impact of pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides -- a leading driver of bee declines -- on bees and other pollinators. This report was required by the June 2014 presidential memorandum, which directed federal agencies to establish a Pollinator Health Task Force, develop a strategy to protect pollinators and charged the EPA with assessing the effects of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bees and other pollinators within 180 days.
    The White House announced it will increase pollinator habitat, implement a Pollinator Research Action Plan to further study honeybees, native bees, butterflies and other pollinators, engage in public education and outreach, and expand public-private partnerships.
    As part of the plan, the EPA reinforced its April 2 announcement that it is unlikely to approve new uses of neonicotinoids, but did not restrict current uses. The agency may consider restrictions on a broad range of foliar use products, but did not outline restrictions for pesticide coated seeds -- one of the largest uses of bee-harming pesticides. Despite receiving more than one million public comments urging for swift action on neonicotinoid pesticides, the agency outlined it will complete review until as late as 2017. EPA is encouraging states and tribes to develop pollinator protection plans, which beekeepers have publicly opposed.
    Friends of the Earth, Green America Business Network and the American Sustainable Business Council issued the following statements in response to the announcement.
    Friends of the Earth Food and Technology Program Director Lisa Archer said: “President Obama’s National Pollinator Health Strategy misses the mark by not adequately addressing the pesticides as a key driver of unsustainable losses of bees and other pollinators essential to our food system. Four million Americans have called on the Obama administration to listen to the clear science demanding that immediate action be taken to suspend systemic bee-killing pesticides, including seed treatments. Other countries, along with cities, states and a growing segment of the business community have taken steps to protect bees -- but their actions are not enough. Failure to address this growing crisis with a unified and meaningful federal plan will put these essential pollinators and our food supply in jeopardy.”
    Fran Teplitz, Executive Co-Director of Green America and its Green Business Network stated: “From economic, health, and environmental perspectives, businesses across the country recognize the urgent need to protect pollinators from pesticides. Our business network urges the White House to build on its plans with all due speed to ensure that systemic, persistent pesticides linked to the demise of pollinators are not in the marketplace. We also need strong federal action that will spur innovation in green products and technologies that will best serve our long-term economic, agricultural, and health needs.”
    Bryan McGannon, Deputy Director of Policy at the American Sustainable Business Council stated: “Our business network members are very concerned with the continued and unsustainable losses of bees and other essential pollinators and their impact on the bottom-line of our industries and economy. The Obama administration must listen to the business community and growing body of science by taking immediate action to address the threats pollinators face from pesticides to protect our economy, food system and all of us.”
    An effective strategy to save pollinators necessitates the following steps:
    • Cancel the registrations of all systemic, persistent pesticides, including neonicotinoids, for all uses that pose a risk to pollinators, beginning with unnecessary uses (such as seed treatments and cosmetic applications) and uses for which alternatives exist.
    • Close the EPA’s “conditional registration” loophole, which allows pesticides, including neonicotinoids to enter the market before adequate toxicity testing is completed.
    • Expedite the development and implementation of valid test guidelines for sublethal effects of pesticides on pollinators and require data from these studies for all currently registered and new pesticides.
    • Ensure that the administration’s assessment and all future EPA assessments fully value the broad array of ecosystem services threatened by systemic insecticides including, but not limited to, economic value, natural pest control, and soil enhancement.
    • Regulate the planting of treated seeds as a pesticide application.
    • Ensure EPA compliance with the Endangered Species Act to prevent killing our nation’s most imperiled species.
    • Require agencies to ensure that all federal lands and any new pollinator habitat is free of systemic insecticides and that all pollinator friendly flowers planted have not been pre-treated with these insecticides.
    • Increase investments in green, fair, and cutting-edge alternatives pesticides that support a prosperous agricultural system.
    In January, more than 100 businesses including Clif Bar, Nature’s Path, Organic Valley and Stonyfield Farm urged the Obama administration to immediately suspend neonicotinoid pesticides in order to protect the nation’s food supply, environment and economy. Members of the American Sustainable Business Council and Green America’s Green Business Network voiced deep concern over the Environmental Protection Agency’s continued delays in restricting these pesticides.
    In the past year, more than twenty nurseries, landscaping companies and retailers -- including Lowe’s (NYSE: LOW), Home Depot (NYSE: HD), Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) and BJ’s Wholesale Club -- have taken steps to eliminate bee-killing pesticides from their stores.
    - See more at:

    Kudos to our government, but the question is legitimate: are they doing enough?'s foolish for us to rely on the government. We need to all recognize, research, assess the problem and make decisions. I heard a respected friend tell a story the other day. He compared weeds in his lawn to problems in his life. He suggested that we eradicate immediately the problems the way we eradicate the weeds: at the first sign of the weed, grab the bottle of weed killer and spray it. He might as well have said, "Grab the pesticide and kill the weed, kill a bee, destroy our food, destroy our world."

    Seems crazy. But maybe it's not.

***Since Europe is ahead of us in the banning of pesticides and GMO's, they seem like the gold standard of measurement. How is their bee population doing? How is the health of their citizens? I haven't done any research, but after spending two summers ( one month each time) of living in France, we never noticed a gluten free product in a grocery store and the staple of the French meal is still, the baguette. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Almost everyday, I spend the entire day and into the night working in the garden. I've never had this energy, this passion for creating a beautiful place. And it's really just for me. It's not a public garden; my family doesn't seem to have an interest and though Tony is supportive, he's hands off.

Yesterday, I was squatting in the raspberry patch pulling an errant placed flower. I was eye level with a few bees, watching, listening to them fly from raspberry flower to flower. The sky was overcast, rain was imminent--it was a beautiful moment that filled me with joy. I felt like Mother Nature herself.

When the rain did come, it was perfectly placed--lunchtime. I chopped my salad, made of the earth's bounty: lettuce, spinach, carrots, pumpkin seeds, cashews, an avocado, blackberries, dried mulberries, and early green onions pulled from the garden that morning. I sat on the covered deck enjoying the passing bluebirds and the lush green valley from so much rain.

Each night as the sunlight dims and the lights below start to appear, I'm usually sitting on the hillside, pulling grass. I'm starting to see progress and I'm encouraged by the "little bit at a time," principle. It adds up. All those clover and wildflower seeds are starting to peep through the dried grass. The weed covered hillside may one day be a beautiful place.

So much joy! It's ok that I am the only one who enjoys it so much! The work is satisfying enough, or so I think, until the day when Jillian joins me on the deck. I am potting the last of the flowers, the herbs, in the pots that will beautify the deck. Jillian is relaxing on the deck furniture Tony and I purchased as an anniversary present.

"This is really beautiful Mom," Jillian says.

I swell with happiness and gratitude that someone besides myself has taken a moment to enjoy the beauty I have been working so hard to create. In that moment of joy, I understand how Heavenly Father feels when we see the beauty he has created, and the happiness he must feel when we take the time to thank him. The power and completeness of gratitude.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Beating the Wisteria

The man at Cook's greenhouse and garden center tells me to take a hose and beat the trunk of my wisteria vine.

"Excuse me?" Surely I didn't hear him correctly.

He repeats his advice, this time acting out the prescribed action.

"Ok," and I imagine myself in purple boots, green floppy hat and soiled pants beating my wisteria with a hose. In the front yard, my neighbor watching from her window.

I shouldn't have admitted my wisteria has NEVER bloomed. But when he told me my winter hardy kiwi would bloom just like a wisteria, the awful truth spilled out. And now, I need to beat the wisteria with a hose.

The wisteria only blooms those gorgeous purple flowers under the perfect conditions and when those aren't part of its story, the tree has to be stressed or shocked into blooming. This may include cutting back on its water, cutting at its roots or as I learned, beating it with a hose.

In a way, the wisteria becomes complacent, refusing to let its beauty burst. To see its best, to see it in full bloom as nature intended, we have to shock it.

The analogy is pretty obvious to us humans: the harsh conditions, circumstances, or experiences can bring out the beauty in all of us, but what I have seen, is that people in dire circumstances will react usually in one of three ways (with variants on all three): With complacency, with beauty, or without beauty.

In dire circumstances, the best reactions change lives for the better; the worst reactions make the news.

So how do we react with beauty? How do we bloom under stress?

First step: change react to act. Breathe deeply. Think thoroughly and ask, What do I want to happen here? What will produce the best result in the long run? What kind of person do I want to be? What kind of influence do I want to have on the other person?

Many times, we won't have the time to think. Under stressful situations, we act according to who we are. Everyday is an unconscious preparation for that defining moment when who we truly are is revealed. Are we kind or cruel? Do we act differently according to the audience? The big moment action or reaction is a cumulation of the everyday actions. Are we building from bricks of integrity or mortar of self serving interest?

A lot to think about while beating the wisteria.

Worth beating or not?

Sunday, May 17, 2015


I believe if we ask and listen, God will speak.

Yesterday, I wrote about the negative kickback from students: today I write about the hand of God.

When we first heard the essays, there was one essay that made me a little uncomfortable. It was a young woman's emotional experience of injury, surgery, disappointment, loss, and in the end, comfort.

She heavily personified suffering. Suffering became a kind of human with power to destroy and torment. He sat at her bedside, whispered discouraging words in her head, and mocked her torn ACL.

The Last Lecture assembly is supposed to be inspiring, funny, full of wisdom and this talk, well, it was sort of a downer. Heavy. Could 600 junior high and high school students take a pounding about suffering? So...Deb and I didn't even count her in. After deliberating for hours, after choosing speakers and order, I finally left the school, and called Deb to mention something...and out of my mouth popped, " I can't stop thinking about Andi." But we shooed the idea of the suffering talk away because of all the previous discussion and judgement. Yet, she still popped in my mind--regardless of how I, we, felt.

That night, Deb got home late and found one of her children suffering. She sent a message: "These kids suffer, I'm rethinking her talk." Ok. Deb reread it and I reread it, and again, we passed the same judgement, and besides, the ten were already chosen. When Deb got online to read the one essay that would be displaced by suffering, the young writer was on the google doc making some last minute edits. The writer's grandmother had put in her notes. Deb wrote back, "I can't disappoint the writer whose place would be taken."

At 11:00 that night, Deb wrote an email to all four judges. She was advocating for suffering.

Many people do their jobs well, but it's just a job. I've always considered teaching a spiritual calling. The influence a teacher has on students needs temperance, wisdom, love and Godly influence. When the suffering essay conundrum hit, I started praying and encouraged Deb to do the same.

When I received her email, I knew she was right and it was easy to tell her I supported the decision she would make. At 4:00 a.m she got up and made the decision. Suffering was in. What surprised me was that it became the last essay to be read.

When Andi's name was read, she looked surprised and relieved. She stood up with the confidence that comes from overcoming suffering. All year, the student body had watched her walk in crutches, had seen the black wrap with funny looking knobs around her knee. Some noticed she wasn't playing even though she was the girls' basketball team captain. Today they would hear her story.

She stood at the pulpit and though she was reading her words, she was living her words. She didn't cry, but her voice cracked and shook with power. When she finished, I looked around and many in the audience were wiping tears from their cheeks. And then the audience stood. And then she won first place for her suffering. She taught us that suffering doesn't win in the end, but only teaches the sufferer how to be a better  person. Suffering is there to teach its companion. She told us when suffering speaks, listen.

She taught me that I too, need to listen.

But why is it hard to listen? I find the answer in 1 Kings 19. The prophet Elijah is discouraged. Jezebel seeks his life and the children of Israel reject their prophet and their God. Elijah lays down and wants to die. But the Lord has other plans and commands Elijah to eat and get on his way.

11. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Life Is Rigged

Three years ago, I found the book The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and thought it would be a great senior activity. Today was our third annual Last Lecture assembly. For the assembly, almost every senior prepares a 500-750 word essay and performs it during class in front of judges. It is every senior's chance to evaluate his/her high school experience, to offer advice, to tell funny stories and impart wisdom. The top ten essays are chosen to be read at the assembly. First place wins $100; second place $50 and today for the first time, there was a third place winner of a $25 gift card from Target!

The seniors wait in suspense to hear their name called --or not. This year, disappointment ran a little too high. When Deb returned to her class, she felt the brunt of their disappointment. I wasn't there, but her save-me text mentioned that someone had said, it was rigged.

Rigged? I texted back. Really?

But after 10 seconds, I realized they were right--the contest definitely was rigged: we chose the best essays!

And while you're feeling bad seniors, may I add a touch of harshness to your already low point? Life is rigged. It's not just the Last Lecture essay contest, it's all of life. The fastest runner will win the race, the best writer will get the publisher. The person who persists the longest, will finally get a contract, a job, or some help at the Walmart customer service counter.

Life is rigged. The person who smiles and tries to be happy will be happy. And those who love will probably be loved back. Those who share will be remembered.

Life is rigged. Those who are humble will be respected, those who are funny will get laughs. Those who give, give, give will receive, receive, receive.

Life is rigged. There is order to the universe, an eternal placement of law and order. A give and a take, a reward and a punishment, and if you want more substantial evidence than my musings, just read the Sermon on the Mount.

Life is rigged.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Day of Reckoning

I am with the grandmother and the aunt of the bride. It has been an indulgent weekend of homemade Italian food from an Italian chef; a homemade carrot cake made by me and dining out for salads and grits with shrimp.

We keep slicing pieces of the carrot cake with a full side of cream cheese frosting, so with 1/3 of the cake left, I return to the store for another slab of cream cheese to frost the cake again.

Indulgent indeed!

It is the last night together before I head home, and we are riding in the car when the aunt of the bride asks, "Is it two weeks until the wedding?"

"No it's a month," responds the grandma.

"Well," the mother of the bride chirps in, "It's actually three weeks."

"Three weeks!!!!"

"We only have three weeks to get in shape for the wedding!"

Panicked plans are laid out for the following weeks: the cake is banished, talking only allowed while walking, daily swims and healthy, healthy and more healthy food.

We've all done it. Planned, sacrificed and kept our eye on the mark of the big day. We get complacent and we need motivation to take care of ourselves. I distinctly remember the return to my ten year high school reunion. In the weeks before, it was easy to eat light dinners, popcorn without butter and to take an extra walk at night. Motivation!

But this time of the impending big event, I'm not in a last-three-week panic like everyone else. My panic came eight months ago when I saw a certain photo that couldn't have been me! But it was--just a little bit more of me. So this time, when I see others work on their physiques, I am calm and content and it's a very nice place to be, and it has me thinking about the "specialness" of everyday. Knowing the specialness that everything in my closet fits. Knowing the specialness of not having to apologize to myself for getting out of shape. Knowing the specialness of the confidence that comes with being healthy.

There will be another day of reckoning ( a photo, a wedding), I am sure, especially for a woman who loves good food. But what I have discovered for myself, is if I make everyday a day of reckoning, I'm more than likely to be prepared without a panic for those "special days." My day of reckoning comes every morning on my bathroom scale.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


I'm running along a mountain trail when I hear a voice coming pocket. "Pat, Pat. It takes me a few seconds to figure out it's my mom. My phone, jiggling up and down made a pocket call. By the time I unzip and answer, she's gone. I call her back.

After chuckling over the pocket call, Mom inquires, "How are all the kids?"

"I have a funny story from the soon-to-be newlyweds."

Mom laughs cause it's the perfect funny-story set-up: Newlyweds.

I was included in a text last night with the star of the story and her older sister (also a soon-to-be newlywed). By the time I joined the word burst....

Younger daughter: We won a prize from the bridal fair. ha ha. We get a hotel for three nights--paid for--and we can choose wherever we go. BUT, we have to listen to these presentations for an hour to get it. ha ha

Older daughter: Yeah, I got that call last week.

YD: How come you didn't do it?

OD: I don't trust it and it's not worth it.

YD: Was it the china plates?

YD: Why don't you trust it?! Everything is paid for except the sales tax.

OD: I will never "do something" to get a  "free weekend." But you do it and tell me how it goes.

YD: For sure

OD: It's not really free--guarantee there's hidden costs.

YD Wait! Steph's brother did this and it was legit.

OD: Then do it.

I join the conversation: Remember the "free breakfast" in Mexico?

Younger sister doesn't remember but older sister does. Tony was approached, and he agreed to have a "free" breakfast. The breakfast was lovely, but then we were guided to an underground back corner of the resort for a time share sales pitch. The head American salesman looked like the devil himself. Blood shot eyes, fancy suit, and I swear, I'd seen him before--just a younger version. I turned to the girls and said, "Run!" And run they did. I had to follow, leaving Tony to explain to the kind Mexican recruiter why we didn't want to invest in life-lasting vacations at the Krystal Kankun. To this day, we both have a visual image of four little girls running up a series of ramps exiting from the dark, deep, chamber known as the boiler room.

The texting continues:

YD: He said (recruiter) it would be an hour. And it's us giving opinion on their product. We get the hotel and a companionship flight. We have to buy one ticket and the other is free.

How much is that FREE ticket?

When Tony and I were first married, we answered the call for "free groceries." Little did I know those "free groceries" would require blood. Two hours later, after politely resisting the gang of four pitch (after they found out we had a little nest egg), I finally said, "I won't make an investment until I talk to my dad. They brought me the phone and encouraged the call. I told Dad and he had a one word reply: RUN.

I try to convince her via text: It will be high pressure sales!

Big sister adds: You're gonna leave having purchased something. I guarantee it.

At this point big sister catches something that I have yet to catch and sends one last text: Oh I can't wait to hear about this.

I now get it too.  Sometimes we need to have our own experiences. Go for it. Better now than later when there's more risk and a bigger investment. Worst case: It will make a good story you can tell your children.

YD: Well, I'll call before we go and ask if there are any strings attached. You guys are so funny getting all riled up about this.

Mom: Worse case, call me before you buy. Like I did with my dad. You'll understand once you get there.

OD: Don't give them your social or a CC number.  Please go. I need this.

My mom and their grandma have a good laugh. We understand that they have to have their own experience. They have to learn. They don't want advice; they want to believe and no one can convince them otherwise.  

And then, Mom reveals her own free faux pas--something I've never heard before: I remember when I fell for one of those deals too. I wanted a movie camera and the bait was "free movie camera." She tries to explain to the best of her memory even though it happened almost 50 years ago.

Mom thanks for telling me. I guess we've all had to learn.

A few minutes later, older daughter and I send texts just to each other.

Me: I wonder how much the first ticket costs? For the FREE companionship ticket?

OD: Ha ha for real. It's kinda sweet how naive they are.

Three week later follow up: Youngest daughter is leaving for school: "Hey, I call to her." I ask calmly and kindly, creating an environment where she will feel safe to be honest. "What ever happened to your free trip meeting?

She's nonchalant: "We didn't go. Something came up."

Ah....she listened....this time. Or maybe......

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A friend stops by his friend's bar to get his morning coffee. While enjoying his brew, a young man enters the bar and it appears to Tom, our friend, that the young man has changed the TV channel.

What?? He quizzes the channel changer and finds out that he purchased an APP for his phone that allows him to program the type of TV into the APP and once this is done, he can change any channel anywhere.

After telling Tony this story, he informs me that we, 300 miles from home, could change the TV channel, if one of our children was home watching TV.

"We could have some fun with that, couldn't we?" I foolishly propose.

Tony, always the wiser agrees, but he wouldn't dare do it because he knows if we started channel changing, they would lie in wait for the moment we would be watching TV. It would become a war we could never win and like all wars would become an eternal irritation.

As always, with children, "Pick your battles."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Conflict In Nature

The robin's nest above the outdoor dining table is almost complete. I've been watching the industrious  little red robin fly onto the deck, her  beak full of green leaves and branches, sticks and dried grass she's pulled from the hillside. It breaks my heart because we'll have to move her humble home. Already, she's made a mess on the table below and the deck beneath.

Tony sits down at the counter with his cereal bowl and I point out the nest.
"We'll have to take it down," he laments.
We both decide the sooner the better. We bring a step ladder and Tony pulls it off the mini ledge and hands it to me.

It's rough and uneven on the outside, but inside the nest, she has spun and smoothed a perfect hollow ball. I take it to the yard below, climb up to a tree that will have to do, yet it is raining, and the protection is not enough.

By late afternoon, she's rebuilt her nest. I am away by now, and it's up to Tony to relocate our persistent little bird. He places a brick on her homestead, but she is back the next day, though not as committed as the day before. She places a few stray leaves before abandoning the sight.

This conflict with nature. As we talk about the battle of the nest, we are sad, but unwilling to tolerate the bird on our deck. I often feel this conflict, the feeling of tied hands, the inability I have to feed the world or save all the parent-less children. It's a feeling we have to get used to if we want to enjoy some degree of joy.

Hardened. Desensitized. Calloused. Survival or misery? But what if I want joy? Attainable if I try to balance what I can do with what I can't.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Bringing Dad Home

Dad wasn't much of a church goer, and at different times in his life, he was critical of those in his family who chose to keep the faith, but like all lives, there was an ebb and flow to his practices and preachings.

Mom always kept her faith and through the years added different religious paintings of the Savior to the walls of their home. Dad more than tolerated the art. He seemed to appreciate the calmness it brought when he would take the time to contemplate the scenes. He especially enjoyed a print I had hung on my own family room wall. It was an artist's interpretation of the lamb and the lion lying down together, a promise of peace from Isaiah 11:6. I took it from my wall and gifted it to Dad.

There was one religious leader for whom my dad had an unexpected love for. He would tear up when he thought of this young boy who dared to ask God what church he should join. The world changed when the young boy was given the responsibility of  ancient gold plates and the charge to restore the gospel of Jesus Christ in 1830's America. There were times when Dad couldn't say anything good about the church, but there was something about its founder: the man, the prophet, Joseph Smith.

Dad couldn't get over a film scene he replayed over and again in his mind. Joseph Smith was fleeing for his life and he turned back one more time to think of his family, his home, and a temple this new religion required. Dad was so moved by this moment that he came upon an artist and commissioned him to paint the scene. I think the painting became bigger than he had originally intended, and when the artist suggested including my father as one of the prophet's friendly posse members, he balked. But Mom insisted and Dad softened.

The commissioned painting included a banker with a top hat, riding one of the background horses. Yet, dad never rode a horse and he never wore a tux. He didn't love the way the artist chose to portray him, but he did paint my father's face perfectly and so we adjusted--the banker wasn't Dad, but he didn't live in the 19th century either.

When my father's father died, he was in the hospital far from his home. It was Dad's responsibility to pack up his casket and drive him home--400 miles back to Salt Lake City where he'd married, worked, raised his family and walked out his front door to look at the mountains that reminded him of the alps.

I remember asking Dad (I was only eight), if his dad was heavy in the back of the station wagon. Dad teared up and replied, "He ain't heavy, he's my father."

He was taking his father home.

Dad left Salt Lake City when he was 26 years old to join a business in Las Vegas where he spent the rest of his life.

When Mom moved, the painting was too big for her new home. We all fretted as to where it was going. We thought about donating it. A cousin offered to take it, but we hadn't settled on its new home. While on the phone discussing the painting with Mom, I walked into my living room and realized the two story high wall was perfect.

It's taken a few months to get it home, but a few days ago, I flew to Las Vegas and today, Tony will rent a truck and together we'll drive the painting of my father, small, on a horse and in a tux, and hang it on my living room wall. Tomorrow, I'll be taking my father home.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reflections On Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day Mom!

I've been laying in bed for 20 minutes now, thinking of how I want to write something eloquent, something beautiful in honor of you. But I am wrestling. I am sitting on a teeter totter landing on my two feet and then thrusting upward so the other side will fall and I will rise--and finally, I get out of bed because there is so much to do this morning. For you.

I flew down this weekend to honor you. To be with you, to help you in every way. It's 6:30 a.m. and I need to get up to cut all the fruit for the infusion. I want to start the carrot cake I will be making from scratch--just for you. And I need to shower and be ready to leave by 7:45, because I also came this day to sit beside you in church. This is the day for honoring mothers,  and I want everyone who doesn't know your story, to know you have a daughter honoring you this day.

And yesterday we bought and fitted the solar blanket, scrubbed the backyard tile, dusted, decorated, cleaned out the pool chest, unboxed and unwrapped the new patio furniture.

And so, I hurry and write this short tribute, because what I am really doing is being the mother you taught me to be. I am happiest, like you, when I am serving someone besides myself. When I am willing to rise early for the simple acts of cutting fruit and mixing a cake, so your family dinner, your day will be an honor. This is your example, your legacy, and your day to see the true effects of motherhood: what you have helped me to become. You taught me not to write the tribute, but to act the tribute.

I love you Mom.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

With New Eyes

All my life there has only been one way to Salt Lake City: via airplane or in a car on 1-15. Today for the first time, I took the frontrunner to SLC and to the airport.

Chuckle, chuckle, such a short trip, and I feel like I'm traveling through Europe. Yes! Who knew that spark of international travel exhilaration was only a train ride away and only $5.50.

The route is so familiar along I-15 that today I am enjoying the newness of back roads, different geography, and trivial discoveries such as an Ebay building. And people! My previous journeys never involved the woman with long white hair in the wheelchair who's going to the hospital, or the young men in suits or students with backpacks. I'm not only going to SLC in a new way, I'm seeing life in a different way.

A few weeks ago in yoga, Lisa took us outside with bare feet to walk in the grass. She suspected we hadn't walked barefoot in the grass since childhood or at least since last summer. I regularly walk barefoot outside, but since it was the first time of the year, the sensation felt brand new. The grass was cool and soft, and my coddled, cozied wintered feet felt free and playful, and all of us started acting like children, because we were free like children.

Lisa challenged us to continually see things through new eyes. This is why hanging out with children is so important. Hanging out with teenagers is so important. Why hanging out with older people is important too.

There is one person whose eyes I try to see through and she generally (or so I think), has no idea. Leyla lost her eyesight from a degenerative disease when in her early thirties, and when she openly speaks about her loss, it reminds us how precious it is to see.

Try it for just a day, or an hour or in one place-- look through the eyes of a painter: notice light and dark, shadow and space, color tones and patterns. Look through the eyes of a person who is blind: notice sounds, smells and touch. Try to look through the eyes of someone you don't understand: pause, listen and just try.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Nothing That Can't Be Fixed

I'm on my way to a colleague's classroom when I see a favorite student (who should be in class), sitting on a bench. I say the wrong thing, and her lip quivers, her face scrunches, and then the tears. I sit next to her, put my arm around her, and try to help her through this moment.

She was part of a very trivial social media trend that backfired. It was an innocuous tweet that started it all, but the powers that be, inflated it like a balloon. And this is a great kid: school officer, model student, scholarship recipient to prestigious college--and she's reduced to tears on a school bench. Because this moment is everything.

She can't yet see over the rainbow. She can't see that one day she'll look back and laugh, that it will make a great story, that it's something she can write about and most importantly...there's nothing that can't be fixed. It's why we have spare parts, body shops, prosthetics, heart valves, apologies and repentance. And most of all, time.

"There's nothing that can't be fixed," came from a revered interior designer with some of the biggest accounts in a major city (my cousin). She was so in demand, so successful because she understood literally that EVERYTHING could be fixed: new carpet, paint, drywall, and rearranging furniture. She took these skills one step further, and applied them to life.

And so I tell my young friend, and she gets it. She laughs, she wipes her cheeks, she stands up, shoulders back, head high, and walks to class.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bolstering All Women

I meet with old and dear, dear friends. The occasion is to celebrate the college graduation of Mary, who over the last 15 years has done her best, amid the vicissitudes of family life, to work towards her degree. Carol, the organizer and host, has asked us to bring a favorite memory of Mary's schooling.

For me, this is easy. For a couple of years, Mary had gone to classes and was the most enthusiastic, gung-ho student ever. She hosted her study group for study sessions, cooked them dinner and shared her  infectious desire to learn with everyone. But when her daughter entered her senior year of high school, Mary took the year off, because she didn't want to miss one minute of her daughter's last year at home. Then Mary went back to school--until her aging mother moved in with her.

Mary understood the priorities of life. Finally, her graduation was the priority and she deserved the celebration.

When we celebrate the accomplishments of one woman, we celebrate all women, and that is why these friends are so dear. They have always celebrated, lifted, helped out and sustained each other. Whether  it has been a success, a divorce, a child's death, we have gathered. It's not always to eat lunch together, but maybe to take lunch, or make lunch for a funeral or get away because we need some therapy. Never a judgement, never a harsh word--only support, encouragement and love.

The day before, I was hiking with a different group of friends. Lisa brought up a mutual acquaintance to praise the woman's education, but I hesitated to join in the accolades, because this woman was a colleague of mine, and I saw her treat our colleagues poorly. More than once.

I momentarily felt justified in wanting to disparage the woman; I caught myself before I spoke ill of her, but after after my expression of disdain. I apologized to my friends for negatively dusting their perception. We should be there to uplift each other and support each other,  especially the women who are not in our presence. It's hard enough being a woman; we need each other to build one another, not to tear each other down.

Lisa remembers another time when she praised a different woman in front of another woman. The woman responded to Lisa's praise by informing her of the subject's poor choices and consequent state of mind. "Thanks for ruining my perception of this woman I admired!" She says in retrospect.

Mary's celebration is a gentle reminder of the stories we repeat about each other and the impact they have on others but mostly on ourselves. It's a harsh reminder of the story I almost repeated and the intention and purpose of telling such a story. Most of all, the celebration reminds me of who I want to be: a woman worth celebrating.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Story About Mousse Au Chocolat

Twenty-five years ago, Isabel and Chris came to America for Chris' graduate work in Computer Science. Tony was his graduate advisor and both of us got to know this little French family. One night, they invited us over for mousse au chocolat. I had never tasted anything so intensely rich, and at the time, my undeveloped, unrefined, un-yet-exposed to fine French food, didn't appreciate the mousse au chocolat as I should have.

Fast forward twenty-five years: We are once again sitting at the table of Is and Chris, but this time it is a delectable Moroccan tangine, the children are many and most of them grown.  In the past twenty-five years, Chris received his PHD, the family moved back to Europe, and most recently, back to America. By now, Isabel knows I love mousse au chocolat and I'm hoping mousse au chocolat for dessert. It isn't her dessert choice, but I am grateful I have sat among their family for the last hour enjoying their company.

The children were born in England, Switzerland, France, and America, and as we sit around the table talking about their different jobs, it is only then that some of the children realize that some of their siblings aren't American citizens! But that is only one of the surprises of the night.

It is this night, that I learn how poor Isabel and Chris were while attending graduate school. Isabel tells me about a man who collected outdated, but still good food from grocers around the valley. He brought all the food to his garage every Thursday and somehow, he found the people who needed free food.  I couldn't have imagined the sacrifice it was for her, twenty-five years ago to make us mousse au chocolat-an expensive dessert.

The family was poor, but they were smart. They rented in a lesser part of town but figured they could buy for the same price as rent. They purchased an old home and rented the basement to students like themselves. After four years of investing in Chris' education, home prices in their area significantly increased. Their real estate investment paid off handsomely and when Chris took a job in England, they bought a house. Their savvy investing allowed them to even buy a house after their next move--in Switzerland!

Just last summer, when Tony and I stayed in Avignon for two weeks, we learned that Isabel's parents lived close. They invited us for the afternoon. Since many moons had passed, I'd forgotten about the mousse au chocolat. This is what Isabel's mother served us for dessert. Ahhhh. I ate it slow. So slow. Each bite was a burst of intense flavor that had my palette rejoicing. In French and English. She must have sensed how much I enjoyed the mousse (I'd had seconds) because she sent us home with a small container of leftover mousse. Each morning, I'd have a spoonful of the mousse, like a person who takes their liquid vitamins. So rich, a spoonful was all I could eat, and I wanted to make it last.

When we left Isabel's and Chris' home (a beautiful older home they were renovating), without the hoped-for mousse au chocolat, Tony promised me he would ask for Isabel's mother's recipe and make it for me on a future day of celebration. I forgot, but Tony didn't. He'd decided he would make it for my birthday.

Let the fuss begin. Of course the recipe came in French, which Tony appreciated and easily deciphered, but all the measurements were in metrics and weights. And then, and then, Tony learned the recipe didn't contain cream! But mousse au chocolat had to be cream laden. It was French. He almost trusted the old French recipe. He found an Americanized version from a famous chef that included, what he thought, was the requisite cream. What to do now? Make both recipes and compare. We had a discerning group of family members, party guests, to help us discern the best mousse recipe.

My favorite? Hands down: the authentic French recipe without cream. Each family member, a scoop of each mousse side by side, joined in the consensus for the best mousse au chocolat: the French recipe without cream.

Though the birthday mousse au chocolate is at the center of this story, it is not only a story about mousse. It is a story about friendship, kindness and families. It was just the mousse that brought it all together.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An Auspicious Day

Birthdays are reminders that:

Time is limited.
Time passes quickly.
There are inherent lessons in aging.
Like a great actress, there are many roles we will play.
Age means nothing--it is about progression from this moment on.
Age is a benchmark and can be a measurement of who we are, where we are and where we still need to go.

What I've learned over the years:

I used to depend on others to fulfill the expectations of my birthday--a lot of unfair pressure. Today, it is totally up to me.

Birthday interviews are great assessments of life; I am the interviewer and interviewee.

The interview questions:

How's my health? Weight?
What have I accomplished in the last year?
What do I need to change?
What intangible present will I give myself this year?
What tangible present?
How will I measure those goals?
What presents to others will I give on this auspicious day?

My birthday present to self:

A linden tree. **Yes, a bee loving, pollen oozing, sun loving, end-of-June flowering tree. The tree is established and fairly big. It will need lots of TLC to survive and thrive on the hillside-- a metaphor for my life this year.

The Big Day:

The big day will begin with a three hour hike with friends and will end with a family gathering.

Tony will help me plant the linden tree that will be delivered today (and an almond tree and three cubic yards of wood chips he doesn't know about).

Today I will breathe deeply and express the gratitude I feel. I will be observant and enjoy that this day is symbolic of how I will (want to), live my entire life. A birthday is a pattern of how to treat ourselves and others.

An auspicious day.

**The linden tree: Lucas, the horticulturist,  mentioned that linden tree leaves were edible. He checked for an aphid-free leaf then popped it into his mouth. While chewing on my leaf, I remembered this was the very leaf that sustained a starving city. While researching Mimi Lost and Found, I learned that in Paris 1944, the French Science Academy printed a list of edible trees and plants which included the linden tree. A tree I could eat! I could put the leaves in my salad. A perfect birthday present!