Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Deep Roots

Every few days when I checked my Linden birthday tree, it seemed to be faltering. I didn't want to lose this tree!

The back hillside is a tough place to introduce trees. We tried fruit trees, but they were hammered by sun and deer. The west summer sun is intense and life sucking, so it was a leap and possible poor choice to plant a mature tree.

The tree was getting water, I was sure, but why was it drying up? Maybe it needed more water. I filed the hose through the fence and sent it as far down the hill as it would go. I carried a five gallon bucket, turned the water on low, filled the bucket, trudged downward, water sloshing as I slid. Hard work.

As I poured the water at the base of the tree, it disappeared. Up the hill again, down the hill with the heavy five gallon bucket.

After twenty five gallons of water, the ground finally started to saturate. The next day, the leaves were perky and green. My poor tree needed water; my neglect, my lack of proper assessment would have killed another tree. I needed to be more diligent in order to help my tree become deep rooted. Only then would it have the strength to survive the coming years.

People, especially children, find strength, when they are deep rooted or when they understand their family story. We understand our family story by hearing stories of our parents, our grandparents and other relatives. When we stay connected or rooted to family, we feel a kind of power.

I find strength in my grandfather who came to America with $20 in his pocket. I find strength in my mother who put cardboard in her worn out shoes. When my grandmother's husband was killed in a car accident, she carried on with seven children. My paternal grandmother stayed silent for days while crossing the seas to America. It was during WW I and they feared detection from submarines.

My father had an attorney who struggled through law school--but every night when he wanted to give up on his studies, he thought of his mother, on her hands and knees scrubbing the great marble floors of a bank in New York City, so he could go to college. When he turned to his roots, he had the strength to keep studying.

Tell your children family stories; tell your own story--don't be afraid of hiding the truth, of mistaking that only bravery and perfection will do. Roots are strengthened from the truth of weakness and our resilience that took time and failure to develop. Share triumphs and failures. My most heartfelt moments with children and grandchildren have been when I have responded to their hurt or disappointment with, "Well, one time.....I did this.... or made this mistake....or.... foolish thing....which often was the best thing to help me develop the deep roots I need to become a better person.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Thin Pancake

One semester, long ago,  I took American Literature from a visiting professor from Germany.  One of my favorite all time books was discovered in this class: Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King.

This morning, wanting to brush up on my memory of Henderson the Rain King, I read a few reviews from the New York Times, one of which was the book's  first review written in 1959.  The review was unkind, which attests to me, the abilities of this German professor who made the book seem like a literary masterpiece--and, that another reader could call the work a literary bomb. How different a book's appeal can be.

The professor had personally met and spent time with the great American writer Saul Bellow while attending an  academic conference in Israel. There he was in a country created, in part, because of the events of the Holocaust and my German professor knew nothing of the Holocaust.

He'd grown up in post WWII Germany and the government wanted to erase the Holocaust blight from their history. Imagine the German professor's shame when he knew nothing of his country's atrocities while touring with two Jewish men.

I believed my professor, but it was hard to believe, and later, when a neighbor married a man from Germany, I asked him if it was true. Yes, his parents, in the 1960's had learned nothing of their county's Jewish extermination order and only his generation, attending school in the 1980's was beginning to learn the entire story.

It was the first time I had realized that history could be manipulated. I had previously thought it was a clear cut, black and white report of past events. I didn't know that history could be cut, pasted and rewritten. It was a sobering moment.

While reflecting on my current read, Team of Rivals of Doris Kearns Goodwin, I remembered the German professor's experience and I wondered if children raised in the south, even today, might have been taught a different story about the Civil War. It's been a 150 years, but how deep could the wound be?

I knew the perfect person to ask. A bright young college graduate, a southern boy who likes to respond, "Yes, Ma'am," who was raised in South Carolina. I asked with mild curiosity, seriously doubting if he had been taught differently, but given the Saul Bellow experience in Israel, it was worth asking. And so I did, casually over dinner. And what I heard was shocking. He had indeed been taught Civil War history from a different perspective.

 The young man's teachers, his classes, all examined the Civil War events more deeply than this girl raised in the west, in a state that was a territory until late 1864. Foremost, Lincoln was not a hero, and his school viewed the Civil War through the lens of constitutional violations such as the suspension of habeas corpus and the disregard for state's rights. Oh my. Sobering.

That two pivotal events in history could be left out, or taught from different angles makes me wary of my own single minded perceptions concerning historical events.

 There are immutable truths that do not vacillate or hinge on the opinions or intentions of men, and my discoveries of conflicting or hidden history help me appreciate the solid ground I do depend on.

What I want to keep in mind is that story, history retold, reinterpreted by witnesses old and new will always have many sides, and it is critical if understanding is sought, to examine and pursue those different sides.

One of my favorite sayings comes from ancient Chinese thought: It's a mighty thin pancake that doesn't have two sides.

And more than likely, there are more than two sides.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


The men who are setting the tile in the children's bathroom have been working for a day. I hear them speak to each other in Spanish, though one of the men communicates fairly well with me in English. But when we have to hammer out some details about trim, there is a slight communication gap. I wish I spoke Spanish; I don't, but I know someone who does.

"Tony, come translate."

We both show up at the bathroom door. My husband is fair skinned, once blond, now mostly gray, but we are the quintessential gringo couple. Tony initiates the conversation in what is, to me, perfectly accented Spanish--like a native.

I detect a tinge of surprise, like I always do when Tony speaks to native Spanish speakers. Yet, people from all over the world would have the same surprise if they knocked on doors in my neighborhood. My next door neighbor speaks Swedish, his two sons Spanish; a few doors down, the second language is Japanese and Spanish again. In the opposite direction is Portuguese, French, more Spanish, Arabic, Tagalog, Mandarin, Korean, and soon-to-be-learned Malagasy.

The after-effect of the Mormon missionary. In a very small way, it shrinks the world.

A young man is sitting in an airport, next to a woman who is on the phone and visibly upset. He recognizes her language. He doesn't speak it, but his friend does. He calls his friend and hands the phone to her. Several minutes later, she's smiling and the problem is solved.

For Thanksgiving this year, we will attend our niece's wedding in Puerta Vallarta Mexico. All thirteen of us, a big family of gringos. Imagine our encounters when Tony replies in Spanish, and then Trevor, and then London. And maybe even the three year old, with his head of floppy yellow hair,  who will have had four months of Spanish immersion pre-school.

Shrinking the world.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Simple Solutions

An adorable, sweet, pre teen is on his way to a week at summer camp. Rustic summer camp in the mountains with minimal comfort and amenities.

While packing, he asks his parents if the camp will have a blow dryer. When he is met with a "No," he's slightly exasperated because now he has to pack his own blowdryer in his backpack.

His parents gently break the news that he won't be bringing a blowdryer to camp.

Things turn tense, "Then how am I supposed to do my hair?" His mother, suggests a simple solution, "Comb your hair and put gel in it."

"When it's wet?!"

It's hard to change when the current protocol works so well. His surfer boy hair falls perfectly into place after an application of gel and a session with the blowdryer. It took years to get to the perfect surfer boy hair stage and now his parents were asking him to compromise his look. At camp. With all his friends.

And this is why, in part, we send our children to wilderness camp. To compromise, to change perspectives, to take some rigidity out of the daily equation. To realize there are a hundred things more important than the way we look.

Five days later and home safe, everyone wants to know what our preteen did with his hair.

He wore a hat.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Saving Steinbeck's Reputation and Soda Straw Thinking

When I look back on who I was as a teenager, I see myself as developing compassion  from two different, life changing experiences: a life threatening disease when I was twelve, and my reading of great literature.

I specifically remember John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Compassion is born from suffering, our own, and the vicarious suffering of others. When we read and love literature, we suffer with The Joads, with Wang Lung and O-Lan, with Scout and Boo Radley, with Piggy, and even with Harry Potter. When I traveled, I saw not only people, but people who had stories and more than likely those stories included hardships I had never experienced.

John Steinbeck, not only helped me develop compassion, but helped me to see life beyond soda-straw vision.

Metaphorically imagine seeing life through the minute circumference of a soda straw. Now, physically experience it. Pick up a straw, close one eye and look through it. If you don't have a straw, recreate the effect with your fingers. Now open your eyes, remove the straw and compare and contemplate. Wouldn't you hate to go through life only looking through a tiny hole? Ah, but some of us do, which leads us to the John Steinbeck conundrum.

Viewing life through a soda straw

 John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley, wasn't approved by the school curriculum committee for Socratic Seminar 12. A committee member had read a tell-all claiming Steinbeck had fabricated his experiences. The journalist loosely duplicated the author's supposed journey and claimed the journey was impossible.

One "impossibility" the journalist made fun of, was Steinbeck's claim to have met a Shakespearean actor in the middle of North Dakota, whom he supposedly spent hours with, discussing theatre. This makes me chuckle. Suppose that, our Shakespearean actor had written a book claiming to have met up with Steinbeck in the Nowheres of North Dakota. Would anyone have believed him?

A curriculum committee member said via email that Steinbeck was a liar who sat down with his publisher with the intention of deceiving America. Again, this presumption seems to be based solely on one journalist's arrogant accusations. Relying on the writings of one journalist to make such a definitive, condemning assumption, seems the epitome of soda straw thinking.

Yet, in asking others to widen their view, I must too, because limiting our vision through the straw makes both sides of an argument narrow minded and judgmental. So, I completely agree it is likely that Travels With Charley is in part, fictionalized, and I can live with the presumption. Yet, is it a reason to assume Steinbeck is a liar and Travels With Charley, shouldn't be read?

In trying to enlarge my vision, I've found a few points to help defend Steinbeck.

1. A current literary trend of selling non-fiction as fiction so an author can't be sued for slander. In fifty years, after an author is dead, will a critic attack an author for publishing fiction that is really non-fiction? 

2. Literary critics who increase their notoriety by attacking an author who can no longer defend himself.

 3. In 1960, industry standards in publishing a book under the umbrella of fiction or non fiction may have been different. Since the controversy, and I'm not sure when, the current publishers of Travels With Charley did retract its non-fiction genre. It is officially a work of fiction though it is based on a real journey taken by Steinbeck.

4. Fictionalized history in movies: We all know that Selma and Lincoln are movies based on truth; yet how many of us adopt the cinematic interpretation of truth over scholarly investigation? In a Sundance interview, director Ava DuVernay, defended her right to take liberties with history when confronted about her controversial portrayal of President Johnson. Can we learn from and love historical drama, knowing conversations, characters and circumstances are recreated, embellished, to create a better story? 

There are times to put up the straw: a scary movie, when you walk in on a parent wrapping Christmas presents, or when your father-in-law uses your shower without asking. For the most part, however, life is more clear, satisfying, and kind, without straining through the hole of a straw.

Same view. no straw--on a clear day one can see forever--

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"We See Through Different Lenses"

Tony has just come off his annual spring weight loss extravaganza and he's looking quite fine in his new fitted suit and his small-size clothing (remember, he has an organized three-different-pant-size system).

For the past month, I've watched him carefully choose his foods, eat smaller portions, and ride his bike like a 15 year old maniac. I've also watched his ice-cream-overindulgence-plus-winter-lifestyle, extra-weight, melt off as usual--in record time. Men are metabolically blessed but that rant will be saved for another time!

So on the Sunday morning of Father's Day, our daughter is in the kitchen making him not one, but two banana cream pies. I notice the toaster oven is on with a bonus surprise inside: pie crust cinnamon sugar crispies. A whole cake pan of them.

When I call him to come downstairs for his surprise, he enters the kitchen with the face of a Christmas morning child. He sits down at the counter to indulge. I am busy as the sous chef (aka clean up gal), and don't turn around from my place at the sink until Tony is biting into the last crispy.

"Wow," I exclaim, "You ate all of them?" Remember, I'm not used to him eating richly and indulgently.

He smiles with satisfaction and with no apologies.


"I just realized," I admit, "that if you had said that to me, I would have been insulted and incensed because you had the gaul to tell me I just ate too much. I would have been self conscious and defensive and attacked you!"

He smiles, "I know." And he adds, "I took your gasp at my eating all the crispies as a compliment and recognition that I thoroughly enjoyed my Father's Day surprise." He tops it off with a philosophical explanation (while licking the last tasty morsels off his fingers), "We see through different lenses."

Ugh, why can't I be like him? Why can't I see through his lens? Or better yet, create my own realistic and healthy lens?

Ahhh, but I can, so I lift another thought off my chest, "While we're acknowledging that we see through different lenses, let me admit another crazy lens: the other day when you were looking at me, I felt like you were trying to assess whether I had gained weight."

He gives me that ridiculous smirk like he would never do that.

My initial instincts are to respond/write about all those female self conscious issues, but why? Just get over them, be free, and besides, I'm hungry and need to eat--with a healthy, kind, un-self conscious attitude.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Peas, Work, and Harmony

Last night, the doorbell rang and standing on the front porch was my neighbor Dave. He'd been picking peas for the last hour and wanted to share his abundance. He'd had to do all the picking because he was leaving the next morning for two weeks on tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! Just writing that line gets me so excited, because I've harbored a secret desire to be a part of that great choir, and not for reasons one might think. It isn't the music, nor the slice of fame. What fosters my dream is gaining hundreds of instant friends and sharing a camaraderie of spirit unparalleled. They have one purpose for which they come together: to harmonize!

Actually, the peas and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir have a lot in common. When I started to shell the peas first thing this morning, I was a little overwhelmed at the tedious, time consuming work, but it took me back to one of my favorite moments of harmony.

It was a summer when we had gathered with Tony's family on the old Montana ranch. The uncle and aunt to whom the ranch had been passed on to, had a large garden and Aunt Jamie had just picked a sizable box of peas, and I mean there must have been a thousand. I saw that pile of peas and jumped in to help along with other sundry relatives and a few of the nine children.

I had never been a part of a family workforce that large. As a child, I'd watched my four aunts gather and clean up a kitchen in seconds; I'd seen my mom gather with church women and stitch up a quilt in hours; but no, I'd never had the chance to gather and conquer in such an environment where conversation to the task is like needles to thread and seeds to a garden. And that is why I remember shelling peas on a slow afternoon at the ranch. Surrounded by newly met friend-relatives, harmony prevailed: laughter, stories, and one purpose.

"Wow," I tell Dave while picturing the whole MoTab on one jumbo plane, "I would love to be a fellow passenger on your flight to New York." I wonder what plane acoustics are like? "Do you guys practice en route?"

"Actually, we have to charter three separate planes to carry all of us. No bystanders, no serenading. And I still have to memorize 250 pages of music."

Ooh, not all play and harmonizing around the exit row, but I do imagine that a flight attendant, a pilot, someone, will stroll down the aisle and ask for an A Capella rendition of God Bless America.

Singing in Manhattan, in Boston, at Carnegie Hall, it all sounds more glamorous than shelling peas around a table, and honestly, the experiences don't compare, but harmony can be found in both.

Bonus video suggestion: If you really want to see harmony, check out the surf ride on the world's largest surfboard: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/surfing-667730-record-huntington.html

Thanks to Mindy Schauer OC Register photographer

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When Love Prevails

My sister and I have a new code word: South Carolina.

Separately, we both listened to the arraignment of the man who committed the church murders.

While the man was held at a different venue, the relatives of the victims spoke their minds, or as it turns out, their hearts. Each mother, father, sibling or maybe even spouses, spoke to a television screen and to a disconnected, seemingly unemotional man. Every person spoke of forgiveness, of repentance, and hope for the boy's salvation. Because their words were sincere, they have rocked the nation--the attention has shifted to love and away from hate.

Imagine what it would take to address a loved one's killer in the aftermath.

We both tear up, both admit to crying when we heard the families, and we both agree to how inspiring these people were amidst such adversity. We decide to learn and to change from their example.

On a recent occasion, my sister and I got into a verbal pickle with another person that we shouldn't have been in. We should have said, "Ok," and handled it at a better time and in a better way.

"We should have acted like the people in South Carolina, with Christ-like love in our hearts and actions."

"You're right!" And how I wish we had.

The verbal pickles aren't over and neither is our effort to become better people, so we make a plan, "Next time, if we find our self in a similar situation, one of us needs to say to the other, South Carolina, or Carolina baby."

"It must be subtle."

"Of course."

Exemplary action deserves emulation, and so my heartfelt gratitude, love and condolences go to the exemplary people who dared to act with love instead of react with hate--who've dared my sister and me without even knowing, to become like them.

South Carolina.

Monday, June 22, 2015


One of my students confides in me that she doesn't have a father.

Ok, I think, a lot of children don't have fathers: a mother's choice, a father's choice, divorce, death..., she hesitates as if she is sitting at a red light. I am quiet, waiting for her to speak.

Really, she explains, she does not have a father. Her mother chose an anonymous sperm bank donor to have her child.

I am surprised, but I hold on to my therapist face--the last thing I want my student to think is the truth--that I am surprised. I want her to feel comfortable, because it's clear how difficult this is.

Her conflict started in elementary school in a large and liberal California city. The students were planning a father-at-school day and her lack of a father status didn't settle with her young school mates. The little guys called on their teacher who took over the conversation and insisted she had to have a father. My student was bewildered and humiliated when she couldn't adequately explain why she was father-less.

Over the years, she figured out how to avoid the conversation, she figured out a satisfying story to appease the natural inquiries, she figured out how to lie, or how to survive.

Easy for me to say, but she didn't need to. Children are always at the mercy of someone else's choices and therefore should never have to explain family circumstances-whether Mom's in jail or whether "Dad's" role was only biological. Children should be accepted and loved. Period. My student was a beautiful, intelligent, creative, talented young woman who brings great joy and devotion to her family and to me.

We now live in a world where the possible was once impossible, where the taboo is no longer. We may disagree with conventions, lifestyles and adult choices, but it's our right and joy to sustain and love all children.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Gift From Dad

Yesterday, with a case of blueberries and various other fruits in my car trunk, I stopped at the grocery for a few other needed items. High in a refrigerated case, above the packaged lettuces and mostly hidden, I happened to notice a row of small-boxed Rainier cherries.

While at the beach one summer, my father already in a degenerative state, I drove inland to a farmer's market hoping they'd have Rainier cherries for Dad. It was the end of the season, and the cherries were few, but I picked through browning cherries, found enough pink and yellows, rushed to the post office and overnighted them to Dad for Father's Day. When he received them, fully aware of the expense, he chided me for the gift, but, it was easy to defend myself, "Dad, I wanted to do it for you."

The cherries at the grocery didn't have a price, and Rainier cherries can be very expensive. I hunted down the grocery man and asked him how much.

"Those aren't even in our system yet, so they shouldn't be out on the shelves, but I'll give them to you for $4.99."

I gulped. It was such a small box.

"They're usually $7 or $8," he added.

"Thanks, I'll take 'em."

I brought them home, not fully understanding the purchase, for the house was full of fruit, from my food co-op pick-up that morning and Tony's recent watermelon indulgence when he found them on sale for $3.99 each. I was feeling a little guilty for buying the cherries.

My grandmother had a Queen Anne (a close cousin to Rainiers), tree in her side yard that produced abundant, juicy, beautiful cherries. Dad and Mom were visiting his mother and while there, sent me a shoebox full of cherries. I was on my third week at tennis camp and the box of cherries was a welcome treat and reminder that I still had parents.

Queen Anne or Rainier cherries

My Dad and I always welcomed cherry season together. The neighbor's mother owns an orchard and one summer her grandchildren sold us bags of cherries. It's delightful when children's lemonade stands become cherry stands and when bing cherry salesmen can be found on almost every major corner. If Dad was coming to visit or if I was going to visit him, I'd always pick up a pound or two of cherries. If Dad was with me, he'd always stop and support the local cherry entrepreneur.

The night before Father's Day, when Tony and I discussed it as my first celebration without Dad, I couldn't talk. I would begin to weep and we'd change the subject. In the previous months, I had intentionally shut down my thoughts of Dad--it had become so difficult to constantly think of him--where he was, what he was doing...I couldn't distinguish what was my imagination and what was possibly real. I saw Dad in my mind's eye, like he was near, like he spoke to me, but reality and common sense told me he wasn't and didn't. I wanted it to be real, but couldn't make it so.

I had to intentionally quit thinking of him, and I felt like a traitor.

I turned the photo of him on my desk, in his prime with wavy dark hair and his crooked smile, away from my view.

This morning I awoke at 5:45, unable to go back to sleep, and I wasn't sure why.

The box of cherries popped into my mind. I made my way downstairs and pulled the cherries out of the fridge, washed them and savored the first one. I brought them to my desk. With my glasses on, I saw that they weren't Rainier cherries but a new cherry: Orondo Ruby. I succumbed to the blurb: Go to orondoruby.com to find out what makes this cherry so unique!

This is what I found:

In his family's Rainier cherry orchard in Washington State, 4th generation grower Marcus Griggs noticed one particular tree that matured earlier with fruit that tasted sweeter and was more red-blushed. Careful studies revealed this was a brand new varietal – a gift from Mother Nature!

The word gift hung in my thoughts. Of course! Today was Father's Day. I could no longer buy cherries for Dad--but maybe, in a way that defied explanation and reason, he had bought them for me.

A gift from Dad

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Breakfast In the Berry Patch

For some people it's pure bred dogs, or show horses, or it's prize winning roses; if we bump it up a few notches, it could be art collections, or antique cars; but for me, it's simply berries. The patches are small, require little work, and bring only seasonal enjoyment, but there is nothing like picking one's own berries for breakfast and even sharing a few. This morning, I watched a fat robin red-breast swoop down, land in a red raspberry bush and pluck a whole berry for herself. I was mildly annoyed, but realized all good things need to be shared. Abundant blessings require a payback and for me on this June morning, it's our mama bird.

A few weeks ago, I discovered her nest built in a hillside tree. Even though she built the nest high in a crevice of two adjoining limbs, it is eye level with the pool. Each time we swim, we can bend over the fence and almost reach out and touch mama bird. She diligently sat on her nest; when she flew away, she exposed her eggs. Soon the baby birds, scrawny, unfeathered, helpless, appeared. We'd pick up the children and bring them close. Away she flew and we watched the babies stretch their necks, gaping beaks, searching for a worm, and every once in a while, we witnessed mama bird drop one into their hungry mouths.

Last night while I was swimming with my daughter and her guests, I joyfully watched as she, like me, pointed out the birds, then climbed out of the pool to bring an eight year old closer to the nest.

A few berries is a small price to pay for the nature show so close and convenient, for the reminder of the cycle of life.
Golden berries--everyone's favorite

 Black raspberries--in all stages of ripening--but only delicious when dark, dark, purple
 Leftovers from this mornings picking
 The boysenberry patch--the birds' favorite, so this year I covered the patch with netting.
 Covering has paid off
 As a child, boysenberry syrup was my favorite; these little gems are perfectly sweet and Knott's Berry syrups can't compete.
 Long sleeve shirts and gloves are a necessity when picking.
Hidden within the vines
The symbiotic relationship of a garden, birds, bees, earthworms and the gardener-everyone working together to further nature's treasures. I once read that the chirping of birds, the beat and melody, has an effect on the growing plants. Since having bees in the yard, the berry production has at least tripled.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Louisiana Purchase

The year is 1800 and President Thomas Jefferson has his ambitions set on increasing the size of America. It's hard to imagine our sea-to-shining-sea country as a small blip on the eastern seaboard, but that's about it in 1800.

Found at earlyamerica.com

Jefferson's desire was relatively simple: he only wanted the city (for strategic and monetary purposes), at the end of the Mississippi River: New Orleans. He got together with James Monroe (future president), and hatched a plan to send Monroe to Paris to negotiate and purchase the city from France. It seems simple until one realizes that the offer had to be made to the one and only, great, though small in stature, Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France. Mind you, the man had a reputation for Extreme imperialism, domination, and accumulation of other sovereigns--not all taken peacefully.

Jefferson: "In the beginning, offer only 3 million dollars. Do you understand?"
Monroe: "Yes."
Jefferson: "But it is Napoleon. The great imperialist and conqueror of the 18th century. He probably won't want to give it up. You may go higher; you may offer as much as 15 million, but start at only 3 million and do not, do not, let him think you will pay more than 3 million."

In the meantime (because there's always an in the meantime), the French have taken possession of the Caribbean island Saint-Domingue, and have found it to be an incredible island for growing coffee and sugar. What could be more valuable to the emperor of the country of fine food? After enough time to learn about the fertile growing conditions, the French also learn of their biggest impediment: mosquitos carrying yellow fever. French farmers contract the disease and die. Not willing to give up, they bring in the first ship of slaves. The slaves are no more immune to yellow fever than the French, but it is cheaper to bring in another slave ship, watch them succumb to yellow fever, and bring in another ship. The true cost of sugar and coffee.

At some point, the first slaves build an immunity to yellow fever and become stronger and stronger, stronger than their French oppressors, and while using those machetes to cut sugar cane, they realize they have a weapon. Slave revolt ensues--a bloody battle, lives lost, but the slaves prevail and retreat to the other mountainous side of the island to hide. 

Napoleon convinces his sister Pauline, in accompaniment with her husband and eventually 30,000 French soldiers, to sail to Saint-Domingue and fix the problem. With 30,000 soldiers strong, how could they lose; but lose they do. Pauline's husband succumbs to yellow fever along with 2/3 of the French soldiers. Pauline shares the blood of Napoleon and when misfortune rained so hard on her parade, she decided to fight back with a vengeance. She decides to send her husband's body back to France but not before cutting out his heart and wearing it in a challis around her neck. She cuts her hair (in protest, health reasons connected to yellow fever?) and boards that ship. What do you think she does when she meets up with her brother whose actions brought such misery?

In the meantime, strange things are cooking on that other side of the island. Men and women who have revolted and murdered with machetes, create a new religion mixed with a little bit of Catholicism brought to them by their so-called-benevolent benefactors: voodooism is born.

Before Monroe makes it to Paris, Napoleon wants nothing to do with the cursed New World, yellow fever and slave labor. He not only offers to give it to Monroe for 3 million, he decides to throw in all of the French held territory, all 828,000 square miles for a paltry 15 million! Imagine Jefferson's and Monroe's shock when Napoleon is happy to rid himself of so much land for such a bargain.

The real story of The Louisiana Purchase!

I briefly remember learning about the Louisiana Purchase in elementary school, and its significance stuck with me--but it was fact and story starved. 

Yesterday, I listened to Nathan Hale, an artist/author who brings life to American history in his graphic novels for children. Though the above story is retold in my own words, I was inspired to do so by this man who recreates history so we want to know more!

“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” — Muriel Rukeyser

Thursday, June 18, 2015


 I’ve caught myself in the act of underestimating women, of having assumed that the woman in the room isn’t the expert in the room. Katherine Angel, Los Angeles Review of Books

On two distinct occasions, while walking into a thousand person conference lunch, while walking into a restaurant for a professional group gathering, I have searched for a seat and chosen the one next to an unassuming woman. The seats beside her were open, because I'm guessing, she was unnoticed or overlooked.

On the first occasion, that woman, turned out to be an award winning author who was also presenting at the conference. She was a delightful conversationalist and I enjoyed her company over a salad and the ubiquitous chicken breast.

On the second occasion, the woman turned out to be a talented writer whose first book sold over 100,000 copies. We became friends and I invited her to speak to our winterim writing students. She told a story that brought tears to our eyes. I hear from her every once in awhile, and she is nothing short of a phenomenal woman--but, she doesn't look like one.

So what does a phenomenal woman look like?

The assumption of "look like," is where the mistake begins--in thinking that looks may equal merit, talent or success. Though many successful people fit the description of "lookers," or "dressed for success," success in actuality has no "look." Which brings up another important point: What is phenomenal? What makes a presidential candidate more phenomenal than a hardworking, devoted mother?


It's difficult when I stand on the periphery of a room filled with strangers, acquaintances and a friend or two. I am drawn to the comfort of joining my friends, but I also try to notice and include the woman who may be sitting in the back of the room or by herself, the woman whom I have yet to discover, who may be another incredible, phenomenal woman. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thinking of Suzie

Growing up was a calm affair--my older sister and me, and a baby sister who came almost five years later, brought home to our little sorority in a red-trimmed, white Christmas stocking.

Just a few blocks away, was the bustling, teasing, always someone-to-play-with home of our seven cousins. Three big brothers and four younger sisters. The hours we spent at Uncle Ray's and Aunt Marilyn's home couldn't be added up on a thousand fingers. Included in all those hours, was summer pool time: swimming lessons, pool tag, Marco Polo, diving and breath holding competitions.  Fourth of July fireworks, parties, barbecues, and sleepovers on the patio.

If you could have seen the cousins' Christmas! In my home of just three little girls, our presents and demeanor were often delicate--clothes, dolls, books--careful tearing of the Christmas wrap--the stuff little women are made of, but the presents Santa brought to the cousins: games, sports equipment, pogo sticks, balls, boisterous boy activity stuff--everything times seven. These were the toys we loved to play with and the people we loved to play them with. Christmas morning at the cousins was almost as fun as Christmas at home.

Time has widened the gap of our camaraderie and the last few times I've seen my cousins, unfortunately, has been at funerals. But we are there to support each other and the support is as comforting as a worn-in chair.

When Mom tells me that one of my dearly loved cousins has just brought her husband home from the hospital, with the hopeless prognosis of two weeks to live, I am heartbroken. I am absorbed with the questions of how I would feel, what I would do if my husband and I had only two weeks left in our earthly companionship. I like to think that I would make them the best two weeks of my life, but I have seen death in the last days, and they are not the best life-days. They are painful, sad, arduous, confusing, and confirm that death is difficult.

Yet, how many people didn't know they had only two weeks left to love, hold and savor one another-and wish they had known?

The admonishment to treasure the people we love is nothing new, but expressing our love because of the fear of loss is a tough way to live. The greater choice may be to express and act upon our love, not in fear of possible loss, but because of all the time that lies ahead.

Every few weeks, Tony brings me roses. This day I place half of the roses in a vase on our bathroom vanity. Tony walks into the room and sees them; he laments that the buds are open more than he prefers, for he fears "They won't last as long."

I respond, "Then we need to enjoy them more."

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Winning Is Everything to the Person Who Always Loses

"You're quiet," I say to Tony on the ride home from a kayak  trip.

"I'm just thinking of an algorithim for Quarto."

I make a mental note to never play this game with him.

The next day I'm enjoying a thunderstorm out on the deck when he brings the game out.

'I'm not playing a game that you think about in your spare time."

But somehow, he convinces me to play, though I know I'm going to lose. I try to squelch my competitive spirit and just try to exercise my brain and enjoy Tony's company.

I promptly lose the first three games. I comfort myself by rationalizing he's already played and probably read  the instructions twice.

This is the reason why no one in our family will play croquet, chess, or Settlers of Cataan with him. Why I no longer play backgammon, Chinese checkers and why 30 years ago, I threw the Risk board across the room for one final grand finale. It's why none of his daughters will take the $1000 challenge to beat him in a bike ride up Squaw Peak. It's why Tony offered a $1000 because he knows no one can beat him. How miserable an existence he must live.

And then one day a miracle! Max, Anni and I ganged up on him and actually beat him in a spatial placement game. Yes, it was a fluke, but we had him and we knew we had him several moves before the game ended. Out of control and ecstatic, I started yelling, "We're going to beat the brain!! And when we did, the chant turned into, "We beat the brain." It was a scary moment that etched itself onto our grandchildren's brains. They went home confused and scarred and wondered who their grandmother really was.

But the awful part of the story is that I became a Tony--only worse. I was five times older than Max and though he was old enough to compete, I still had the advantage, used it, and took the wind right out of his sails. I remember the moment it happened. The moment he realized I was his crazy competitive grandma and he was never going to beat me so why even try. I saw the fire leave his spirit and he made just a couple more moves with compassion in his eyes--for me. He didn't want to finish the game. I'd smashed his little spirit and I felt horrible. All because I wanted to win. The very thing Tony had done to me.

I tried to make it up to him. I asked him to play knowing I was a changed woman. Knowing I would be slightly competitive, but I would let him win. He'd just shake his head no.

A year passed. One whole year. And just this week, he turned to me and said, "When are we going to play Settlers of Cataan?

Redemption is nigh.

The recipient of redemption must also bestow redemption--looks like I'll be playing backgammon again.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Looking For Adventure

 It's June 15th and I haven't boarded a plane, carried a passport or landed in a different time zone. I haven't been lost, spoken to in a foreign language nor tasted a new food, and I'm feeling a bit stifled.

What to do? The answer came when the last wedding guest left on Saturday and .....it hit me hard... I NEEDED some real ADVENTURE but, I'd have to find it in my own backyard.
Isn't that where real happiness and love is found anyways? According to ancient legends of travel,  treasure and wisdom seeking?

#1 And so the adventures began that very night with Tony and I finding a new lake to kayak (20 minutes away). We actually heightened the adventure by using googlemaps, me in the driver's seat, Tony intensely studying each street and calling out, "Turn now," as if we were racing through the French countryside. We could have easily found it without googlemaps (ridiculous), but it brought us that much closer to a much needed adventure. Once there, the surrounding mountains, the unfamiliar people, reminded me of a Ravensburger puzzle, and I pretended, for just a moment that we were on the lake in a quaint European village. The spell was broken when a hefty, American accented, bubba voice called out,  "Hey you're on my fishing bauble."

On the adventure scale of 1-10, it scored a -10.

#2 We're actually going out to a real movie theatre to see the new Jurassic Park. The effort will be tempered however by seeing the matinee--I won't even feel the threatening thrill of coming out in the dark after a scary movie!

On the adventure scale, we move up to a -8. Wait,...we haven't done it yet so -9.

#3 The great American adventure through the history books. I'm really focusing on American History--post reconstruction forward AND I will create a timeline to keep it all in perspective. Woo hoo. And could anything be better than the vicarious adventures of America's statesmen? Don't answer.

Adventure scale: -5

But, we're moving up.

#4 Finding many of those history books in the public library. Ok, I got myself on this one. The public library has always been an adventure for me.

Adventure scale shakes like the Richter: +1.

#5 Spend an afternoon at the Museum of Art. Since museums are most often a vacation endeavor, I shall overrate this adventure, especially since I will sit in the cafe after, while reading the exhibition pamphlet.

Adventure scale +2

#6 Drive to a new canyon and ride my bike.

Adventure scale +3

#7 Last night, clouds gathered, rain threatened. The thunder rumbled, lightening flashed, and it was gorgeous. I sat on the comfy deck couch enjoying the beauty, the peace and the sure-safety, and realized I needed to rethink the need for adventure. I haven't been home in June for seventeen years, but the funny thing is I really want to be here. I'm glad I'm here. Perhaps the adventure is finding the adventure when it's far from apparent. Like finding the blessings amidst hardship; like finding the joy through the pain; like finding the purpose of the experience when there's no way out. Like finding the good when we've only focused on the bad. Like finding kindness and patience when we've only shown impatience and intolerance. Like finding the greatest adventure may be the change we can make in ourselves.

Adventure scale +10

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Travel Warnings

I'm sitting in a crowded airport terminal waiting for a flight to JFK. It's past lunch, but I'm quite proud of myself because not only did I plan well, I was extra thrifty too. I boiled a few eggs from the dozen, expensive, island purchase and put them in my backpack. I even brought an extra bag to neatly peel each egg. I start to peel and almost immediately realize it wasn't such a great idea--hard boiled eggs have such a distinct and somewhat offensive smell, especially in a closed, recirculated air, small airport terminal. The smell escapes the bag and floats into the atmosphere of the man next to me. I'm not sure whether to apologize or to keep quiet. I opt for the quiet escape and keep my head down. It's not like I can take it back--it's peeled, the smell is out; I just need to eat fast.

The man turns uncomfortably towards me. I choose again the silence and vow to toss the rest of this egg and the others. Right away...and to remember to never again travel with hard boiled eggs.

Mandi has a three hour flight to Chicago with her two-year-old. She over-prepares (is there such a thing with a two-year-old?): food, entertainment, comfort toys, iPad, kids' shows. The foods include the guaranteed-to-please universal child staple: peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread. But her foolproof prep fails her--a person on board with a peanut allergy. She's not allowed to open the sandwich, but they'll make it; they will be home soon. Soon becomes a relative word when their flight is diverted to Iowa because of weather. She updates their progress through the night: a half hour on the run way; Should be taking off soon. We can only hope for the best.

At midnight, we receive the last message. Just landed. Only four hours late.

The two-year-old was a trooper; he didn't sleep and he couldn't eat his sandwich, but perhaps to a two year old, the all you can eat and drink, usually forbidden, pretzels, chips, and juices might have been just what he needed to make the journey. And hopefully, no one on board packed a hard boiled egg.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Sharing Makes Us Happy

Yesterday afternoon, a neighbor pulled up in his van and asked, "Do you have any more of that basil?"

Of course I do, for basil is a prolific grower. I offer to dig it up, pot it and bring it to him. Service!

Over the years, my raspberry patch has also been prolific, and every spring and fall the extra plants go to friends, family, and even the pool man.

When a woman offers free strawberry plants on the gardening facebook page, and the only requirement is to come and dig them up, I'm excited to be on the receiving end. But can I carry a shovel into a stranger's backyard and dig up her strawberries?

I message Megan; she is welcoming, kind and generous to this reticent recipient. The strawberry patch is plenty big and there's enough for everyone. I'll even be helping her as she needs to clear out the space to extend her patio.

I do feel a little awkward, but hours later, I return home, plant and fill two garden boxes, and a little patch on the hillside, with strawberries. I've saved at least a hundred dollars. I'm grateful to one woman, who went out of her way to help others.

There is always someone with a need, a want, and more often than not, without the means to satisfy either.

Tony used to hang on to things he didn't really need. When it clicked that it may be of use to another person, he easily let go. When he wavers, he remembers the too big shirt may perfectly fit another person.

When my children were young and the concept of sharing was new, I repeated often, so often, that the phrase has become a kind of silly reminder of the past, yet a reminder we still need: Sharing makes us happy.

The trunk loaded with shared strawberries.

Friday, June 12, 2015

On Mom's last day of visiting, I decide to turn the regular dinner into a going-away party. Why not? Her visits are usually just a weekend, but a later meeting in a neighboring city, extended her stay into a week.

We have all loved having Mom/Grandma longer than usual, and her extended stay warranted special occasion action! We met the girls for lunch, we visited Holly, we breakfasted on the deck. I enlisted her to help teach my class, and best of all, she helped with the impossible task of picking out bathroom tile and flooring.

So on her last night, we made a spicy enchilada dish, a German Chocolate cake, and Holly even brought a cake. All her grandchildren/great grandchildren were present (except for the honeymooner). It had indeed turned into a party to honor Mom's presence.

When we gather around our dinner table to honor a birthday, we have a tradition. Each person takes a moment to share a favorite memory or something he or she loves about the honored person.

As the firstborn granddaughter, Holly remembered the times she was greeted at the airport with Grandma bent down with her arms open, waiting for her to run into them.

Tony remembered all the pies sitting on her dining room table the day before Thanksgiving. Even her great grandchildren had very specific memories of her love and generosity. I spoke last and couldn't speak without choking up, for my mom and dad had taught Tony and me how to be grandparents--how to love unconditionally, and how to enjoy our grandchildren. What a legacy! When all ten guests (the ones who could speak), had finished sharing, the table was a place of love and devotion.

Last night, the honeymooners got home and our newly married daughter texted: dinner tomorrow?

Mandi replied: Um yes!?! At Mom's?

So tonight, once again we will celebrate life, for it will be Mandi and Ezra's going away party (they return to Chicago after a one week stay too), and it will be Jillian and Tanner's coming-home-married party. We will once again take turns around the table, but perhaps it will be to listen to each person's favorite memory of the wedding, or favorite thing about our new son-in-law, or cutest thing that two year old Ezra did, and of course something wonderful about Mandi---because I have learned, not a minute too late, that life needs to be a celebration.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Choosing Friends

My daughter shows me a food idea she found on Pinterest. It's a beautiful photo of a glazed donut cut in half and filled with whipping cream and strawberries. "Isn't that a great idea?"

The no-fun mother responds, "Well, actually it's not a very good idea.

She gives a quizzical look. "Why wouldn't a creme stuffed donut be a good idea?"

"Think about it," I say.

She gives me that ridiculous look.

I'm sure the creme and strawberry filled donut tastes delicious, but if I were to indulge... It's not a food that loves me back.

Often, the most satisfying relationships are the ones that are reciprocal: I listen to him, he listens to me. She calls me with exciting news; I'm just as excited. She gives, I take; I give, he takes. Happy to see me? Happy to see you. They need help? I'm there and visa versa. I love you and you love me back.

Yet, we've all been on the opposite end of the relationship spectrum. The relationship that is one sided--the taker, the talker, the person ignorant of our time and obligations.

Certain foods love us back with energy, vitality and the ability to keep us slim. In contrast, other foods are takers; they make us sluggish, flabby and even make us susceptible to sickness and disease; so think of food as a friend. If your friends don't bring energy and vitality to your life, typically, you find new friends. And so it should be with food.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How Did Bonnie and Clyde Begin Their Life of Crime?

I pull up into the driveway of Max and Annika's house. Annika emerges from the side of the house, from the once big, scary bush that now looks quite inviting. She invites me to come sit a spell. I lift a soft branch and join the two bandits in one of the three chairs they've set up.

This is the life! On a hot day, we are shaded and a cool breeze tunnels through. They inform me that their father cleared out the branches and created this pseudo clubhouse. It's like a private hut, a child's getaway and a place to do.....the forbidden.

A few minutes into the conversation, the truth emerges. They are drinking a for-Dad-only, caffeinated diet soft drink. As they pass the one can back and forth, they slowly sip and enjoy the indulgence--not so much for the taste (personal choice), but because they are getting away with the contraband. I'm just thankful there's no cigarettes in the house.

They seem quite proud of their coup, and I assure them that their secret is safe with me.  Let them think this is the worse thing they can do!

Their mother is upstairs occupied with the other children.

"Your children are so funny," I comment when I go inside.

Mother knows immediately. "What are they eating that they're not supposed to?" My daughter is a Dietetics major and food consumption/health is very important to her.

"They're not eating anything."

She doesn't buy the "not." "Then what are they doing"?

"You don't need to know. Trust me." And she does, because we both know, the minute they are in any danger with any other type of behavior, I will interfere, I will tell Mom, I'll be the catalyst for the consequences. Whatever it takes to keep these little guys safe, good, and kind.

In the meantime, just let them think....

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


My mom and I were driving when I noticed three men standing on a street corner holding a 4x6 banner. I sadly recognized the young woman's photo on the banner. Her name is Elizabeth Salgado, and she has been missing since April 16th--54 tortuous days for her family and friends. I had learned a month before that her parents had come from Mexico to help in the search and they were in need of a place to stay. Friends of ours helped them find a place.

The story is painful, and even more so because I am helpless in the family's tragedy. So when we passed the men holding the sign, I had to turn back. I could at least donate some money to help in the search or to help the family to live while the search continues. As I approached the men, I noticed how somber they were. How long had they been standing without notice? And how could they feel and act otherwise? When I handed the money to one of the men, all three saw me and turned my way. It was then that I saw the missing girl's face. It must have been a brother. I handed over the money, shaken that it was possibly her brother standing on a street corner, desperate, hurt and feeling helpless.

It wasn't enough money for all the needs they must have had. I headed back to the car.

"Mom, do you have a $20." I explained the heartbreaking encounter. She dug in her purse, and I headed back. This time, the men smiled, not with joy but with gratitude, but the pain was still visible..

I am tired of feeling helpless while standing outside the pit of others' suffering. I know that any dent I make in the world's suffering will be small, but I must at least try to make a dent by asking anyone who reads this to pass it on. Maybe, just maybe...

Monday, June 8, 2015

We Need Pollinators More Than We Need Pesticides

 Twice now, I've seen my around-the-corner neighbor out vacuuming his lawn. Yes! He is retired so he does have more time, but I'm not sure what to think of a person vacuuming his lawn. But no criticism. Maybe it is a non pesticide way of keeping it weed and pest free. If so, triple kudos, knuckle-smacks to him.

Once, upon a long time ago, I would even have admired his manicured lawn. It would have brought pastoral peace of mind, but no longer--as my friend and fellow backyard beekeeper Lisa said, "You can't eat your beautiful lawn," and I think it's coming down to that kind of choice.

NPR journalist Diane Rehm's show on June 3, featured three beekeepers and a representative from Bayer chemical company for an interesting discussion. A few details stick in my mind.

Roundup: An herbicide that has eradicated 90% of the nation's milkweed, the Monarch butterfly's mainstay diet. M butterfly's are major pollinators. The herbicide also kills native bees and honey bees.

Discord: Chemical/pesticide companies have a lot to lose. The conversation representative did not  refute or defend the evidence of the beekeepers, but she just repeated her own evidence. Which the beekeepers then refuted.  Hmmm. The takeaway: as home gardeners, think before using chemicals on your grass and gardens. Superweeds and their resistance to the current chemicals are growing. Pesticides kill insects--the good and the bad. This is an article that helps you to distinguish: http://www.grit.com/farm-and-garden/beneficial-insects-ze0z1411zsie.aspx

Bottom line: we need the pollinators more for healthy food than we need the pesticides for healthy lawns. Lisa and Nikki have made their own natural weed killer: vinegar, soap and a few other ingredients. A plethora can be found on the web, and they claim they work! My own daughter, without a nudging from her mother, already uses non chemical weed killers over concern for her toddler. As far as pests? I use trays of beer to lure slugs and buy ladybugs to eat aphids.  I am letting my small piece of front lawn change to clover. I tolerate a few weeks of dandelions because they are bee food and a sign of an organic lawn!

I knelt down next to a perfectly heathy looking bee watching it writhe in what I perceived was pain. Its body convulsed and I wondered if I should smash it to end its misery. What could have gone wrong? What had it been exposed to?

I strongly recommend watching the documentary, The Vanishing of the Bee (found on Netflix, youtube). The compelling evidence against the use of pesticides is its main focus. Speculations as to the build up of poisons in our food system and soil go beyond the killing of insects--it is affecting our children too.

Also recommended: A response to the recent US Moratorium: http://www.theorganicview.com/uncategorized/open-letter-to-american-beekeepers/

The agriculture advocate on Diane Rehm's program left a plea for America: Stop keeping green lawns-they are a thing of the past. Let the flowers grow. We have to change our concept of beauty. My beekeeping friends and I, actually have within a half mile radius of our hives, more than one winner of the lawn-of-the-month award--which puts us in a dilemma: Do we inform our neighbors about the costs of keeping a green, weed free lawn?  As we search for answers, as we educate ourselves, we watch our own beehives succumb to environmental conditions and die out. Now, each time the lawn company pulls up to my neighbor's yard to spray her beautiful green lawn, I cringe and wonder how many bees will die today, yet I'm afraid to say something, to bring contention to our 17 year friendly relationship, and I'm aware of my neighbor's right to treat herself to a weed free lawn.

I met a small plot farmer from South Carolina who is strongly considering keeping bees. The reason? This year, he didn't get any raspberries because there weren't the needed pollinators. My raspberry patch is humming with bees and loaded with berries, like JFK International Airport is  loaded with planes and passengers.

As a nation, what a conundrum we are in knowing we have to change agriculture, knowing we have to change billion dollar chemical and pesticide businesses if we want pollinators to live, if we want healthy food to eat; yet, of all people, I can understand how difficult this is when I can't even ask my neighbor to quit spraying his lawn--besides, what else would he vacuum?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

In The Eye of the Hurricane

The wedding dinner venue was a glass house surrounded by beautiful gardens. When we first arrived, we followed the pathways through the enchanting surroundings, and the sky was blue with only a hint of gloom in the distance.

For most of the night, the glass doors were open wide--cool breeze, fresh air and the feel of a Disneyland world. At some point during dinner, clouds gathered, the breeze boldened, the trees, bushes, and flowers churned. The glass doors were quickly closed, sheltering us from the storm.

I looked around and marveled at the contrast that no one else seemed to notice. Smiles, laughter and love, company and conversations were oblivious to the impending storm. It was if we were in the peaceful middle, or as if we were safe in the eye of the hurricane.

This, is marriage, I thought, or what it should be. A place of refuge from the storm, not the storm.

The eye of a hurricane, or the center of a tropical storm is somewhat of a mystery to scientists; they aren't completely sure as to why the lowest barometric pressure, the place of the least wind and precipitation, the place of peace and warmth, by comparison, exists. In stark contrast, the eyewall, or the circular surrounding of the peaceful eye, is the most turbulent. As storm velocity increases, the eye will shrink.

The pressure continued to build; I continued to observe and marvel, and then the storm unleashed --the light rain became torrential. But before it did, the newly married couple chose to dance their first dance, outside in the rain. They held each other close--both physical and emotional. It was truly their moment, and as the rain increased, it didn't matter, for they were safe in their own eye they'd created to weather the storm.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Dear Jillian,

Today is your wedding day.

It is a day like no other. A day when you will be at your best, your happiest, your most beautiful, your most grateful, and you will love everyone! Especially your spouse. You will pledge an eternity of love together.

Over ten years ago, your sister came to me with stars in her eyes and said that no one had been more in love than she and her fiance. I hope you too feel that way.

So today, I want that feeling to be indelible in your soul. Feel the joy, the happiness, the love, and especially how much you love your new and perfect husband.

Because perfection, or the delusion of perfection, doesn't last very long.

We are learning to be become better people; we learn from our own and others' good choices, but we also become better when we learn from mistakes.

For every mistake your new husband makes, you will have made two without realizing. For every time he forgets, or is late, or is insensitive, or downright stupid, you will have been too. His idiosyncracies are equal to yours. There is no way to avoid the moments of impatience, intolerance, stupidity, and forgiveness because the catalysts are these human conditions.

So please forgive each other. And communicate. And make each other laugh. And most of all, always remember, how you feel this day.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Thanksgiving Point is selling hundreds of thousands of tulip bulbs dug up from their epic tulip festival. When I hear the price, $3 a dozen, I make it my goal to drive out and pick out some tulips! It just so happens that the July bride and groom, the father of the bride and I, will be going to Thanksgiving Point for our wedding tasting meal.  Yes, a free dinner. (No such thing as a free dinner.)

After the dinner, we'll stop at the greenhouse and everyone can help me bag tulip bulbs. Perfect.

The food, the company, are lovely. The lovely night continues as I hand everyone a bag and tell them to each choose 12 bulbs. Next spring when the bulbs emerge, it will be fun when I remember that everyone had a hand in choosing the early beauty of my garden. The choosing is mysterious--the bulbs are different sizes and shapes but no one knows whether it will be yellow, purple, orange or pink--or what shape it will be.

We are almost finished when the groom-to-be, London, decides he wants to buy a bag for his mother. Ahhhh. Another bag is filled and he walks ahead of us to pay for his gift. The garden lady hands him a slip of paper with bulb storage and planting instructions.

"These can't be planted until the fall?" London asks almost incredulous.

"No, but I'm buying them now because they are such a good price. In the fall, some bulbs may be $3 each. They don't emerge until next spring."

"A year from now?"


"Oh. Here I don't want them. I thought we could plant them right now."

"Really?" I'm surprised, but happy to take his bag of bulbs. "I'll bring you some raspberry plants in exchange. You can plant them now." I don't dare tell him it may take a year to get berries.

At first I am puzzled, but it doesn't take but a moment for the difference to reveal itself--perspective of time and age. To me, fall will be here quickly, and spring right on its heels.  London is 22. The distance to fall is too far off. At least for a bag of onion--looking things that hold no immediate promise or beauty.

Over the years, I've learned that planting is necessary to reap the rewards much later, and sticking to that plan or the planting, the watering and nurturing is what it takes for the reward, the beauty, the joy. I have the perspective of children, of birth, of growth, of the child's eventual independence. I have the perspective of middle age and the awe at how quickly my own life has passed. Looking back allows me to look forward and know that fall is not so far away. That in the blink of an eye, I will be enjoying the bulbs chosen on this day.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

My Own

While my daughter and I are waiting for her fiance, my future son-in-law, a stranger asks me if I like the young man.

"Very much," I respond.

"Oh that is good. I loved my mother-in-law."

I am touched by the sincerity in his expression and judging from his older age, his mother-in-law has probably been gone a few decades.

Always wanting my sons-in-law to think well of me, maybe even saying long after I'm gone how much they loved me, I ask the man what the woman did to deserve his love.

"She just loved me and accepted me as one of her own."

No magic bullet, just a simple secret to lifelong, loving relationships.

"Is this your first son-in-law?" he asks.

"No, I have two others."

"How do you treat them?"

"I hope I treat them like my own,"

"Because they are your own."

My very own.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success." Henry David Thoreau

 During a busy window of my life, I found when the alarm went off in the morning, I said to myself, "I hate getting up in the morning." The more I repeated the doomed mantra, the more I hated getting out of bed. Not a great, positive, habit for starting one's day.

It was a five-year old boy who helped me change. 

The boy was the energetic, life-loving child of one of Tony's colleagues. At such a young age, he loved each day's possibilities and adventures. He was so life-gusto, that he had a hard time going to sleep and staying in bed until at least the sun was up. His parents, seeking a few more hours of morning rest, hung black-out curtains in his bedroom. The first morning when he awoke and it was still dark (but he was ready to go), he climbed out of bed and pushed back the curtains to a world of light.

"Yippee!" he delighted, "It's morning."

The story came at the right time--during my habit of telling myself how much I hated getting out of bed. The story inspired me to change my words, change my life. The next morning with cynicism clutching my words, I whispered, "Yippee, it's morning."

I repeated the phrase every morning thereafter, until it finally clicked, and I was ready to greet the day with joy. 

My mantra was never spoken with the exuberance of that precious five year old boy, but repeating Yippe, it's morning, was the rope that helped me climb out of the deadly morning-attitude pit.

And this morning.....I took it even further. Yippe it's morning! Oh the places you'll go, the things you'll see, and the people you'll meet! It's 7:53 a.m. and I'm already excited for the day ahead!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Almost Empty Nest

I send a text to family, to join us for secret recipe crepes. "We have nutella, squirt whipping cream, strawberries, and blueberries."

 During the last hour of church I was dwelling on the flavor combination of nutella and whipping cream, so when we get home,  I munch through my healthy salad, while really looking forward to the crepes. I make the batter, then search for and pull out the other ingredients: nutella, strawberries, blueberries and...what????--no whipping cream. Yesterday we had three cans of whipping cream. It was purchased for a party, but surely they didn't use all of the whipping cream??? In serious distress, Tony searches the fridge and confirms what I already know--no whipping cream.

"In a few months, what's in our fridge on Saturday will be there on Sunday," Tony laments.

We are teetering so close to an empty nest and barely holding on. Every inconvenience, every pair of shoes left in the middle of the floor, we tolerate only because "It's only a few more months."

Can we tolerate the daughter's disastrous bedroom? Only a few more months.

Can I tolerate the shoes I trip over while walking through a dark bathroom? Only a few more months.

The glass left on the staircase that Tony turns into a bowling ball with his aching toe? Only a few more months.

Yet, "Only a few more months" is bittersweet. We may always know where the scissors and tape are, but we won't have anyone to blame for eating last night's restaurant leftovers. The milk may last longer, but there won't be anyone to wait up for and quiz about the dinner date. It may be a quiet, peaceful and calm house, but there won't be any parent-child banter. It makes a pair of shoes worth tripping over.

Over dinner with our daughter's future mother-in-law, I learn she and her husband are empty nesters. I feel sad for her until I ask how she's doing. "I love it." When she adds a second, "I love it," I figure it's time to rethink the sadness I anticipate when everyone has moved on from their childhood home. It's time to start planning for some good stuff.

"I'm buying all new glasses when the children leave," I say to Tony as I stare into the cupboard filled with assorted Christmas mugs and mismatched glasses. It looks like a thrift store bargain shelf.

While dreaming of an afternoon nap, I pass, because the upstairs bedroom gets too hot in summer and there's nothing worse than waking up in a sweat.

"Hey, I have another idea. Since we'll have an empty basement bedroom we can turn it into the cool, summer napping room and the upstairs bedroom will be the winter napping room."

"That's not a bad idea," Tony (who has recently discovered napping but will not admit it), responds.

Some things however, can't wait. I polish all the silver and get rid of the camp forks Tony has insisted on keeping because the children tend to blend and chop them in the garbage disposal. The silver spoons are few, but a return to beauty and refinement is more than worth it.

I've been preparing for the empty nest for awhile, but I'm still jolted when future son-in-law number one says that he's renting a truck to move his future wife's possessions to their apartment on Thursday. I keep thinking about the finality of it all.

"But it isn't final," Tony insists, and reminds me of how it used to be. Often, when parents said good-bye to their betrothed daughters, they would never see them again. Off to foreign countries or even neighboring states, travel and communication wasn't like it is now. "We can talk to Mandi everyday. We can facetime everyday. Think how often the whole family texts and sends photos."

Tony is right and I am pacified once again.

By the end of the week, we will have a houseful of children, sisters, moms, nieces, in-laws, in-laws of in-laws, friends. There will be incessant shopping, food prep, eating, cooking, clean-up, sheet changing, bed making, swimming, laughing, exhaustion and loving. I'll be happy that the children come........ and happy that the children go.


Monday, June 1, 2015

The Anticipation Far Surpasses the Actuality

The eye doctor finds an anomaly behind my retina. It probably isn't a big deal, but he needs to dilate my eyes to get a clearer, closer look. Ugg, the dreaded eye dilation. I haven't done it for years, because I really hate that lingering, blurry, feeling.

"How long does it take to wear off?" I ask Dr. Bird.

"Three or four hours."

"I can't do it." Afternoon plans run through my mind and too much, too little time, for blurry eyes!

The doctor responds, "We can schedule you for next week when it better fits your schedule."

I'd dodged the dilation bullet for now. Little did I know the anticipation would be much worse than just doing it.

All week long, I think about, dread over, the impending surgery.  I deliberate over who will pick me up, how I will recover, and I even scheduled the last appointment at 4:15 so I could rehabilitate while watching a Friday night movie.

Oh my.  It isn't that bad. It doesn't hurt and I even drive home wearing the ugly glasses. I pick up my car, think about dinner out with my husband, and when I do get home, I make dinner for company and finish the evening with a little hillside watering.

The anticipation of the event was greater than the event.

In 1999, we took our children to live on a Fijian coconut plantation for two weeks. While waiting for a connection in Australia, we met an interesting family with several children, each responsible for their jumbo, newly purchased, two pieces of luggage. The family, in fear of Y2K (remember?) were leaving civilization (America) to live on a Fijian island where they could live independently and where they could grow their own food year round.

It seemed like a drastic move, but hey, Y2K hadn't happened yet, and who was going to call them overly-cautious?

On the eve of 1999, even I stayed up until midnight to see what was going to happen in the year 2000. I steadied my dreary eyes on the clock so I could witness the exact moment when the world imploded.

It didn't.

Funny thing. In an email from a new acquaintance, he uses the word "implode" to describe the bond market. He also supplies me with the name of an economic genius with a blog. Oh my...people with blogs.

When I read about the genius, he has even supplied the exact date of the bond market implosion.

I read as many posts of his as I can tolerate, and then remind myself that people make as much money off the doom as they do the glory. Bull and bear have made many a rich man. After the panic, there is a swarm of buzzards ready to move in with dry powder (liquid cash), to clean up the spoils.

As the Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen threatens to raise the interest rates as consistently and inconsistently as the ups and downs on a roller coaster, when a Ron Paul doomsday video has gone viral, when my family is told that selling a certain bond will take days to sell, and it's gobbled up in hours, are we just suffering from the hype of another Y2K not-so-disaster? Is the anticipation much worse than the dilation? It's like after a hurricane,  when beach front property sells cheap. Always someone ready to buy. Always someone ready to wait. Always someone ready to make a profit.

If I knew, I'd claim to be a financial guru; if I didn't know I could still claim to be a financial guru. Is all I know is to buckle up on the roller coaster ride and try not to anticipate with misery, the supposed, impending implosion, or the unexpected puff.