Friday, July 31, 2015

Real Life

Our family. Staged. A set-up. For the most part, it's what we want the world to see, how we want to remember the occasion--that life was calm, our lives were beautiful. Moments like this do occur. It's absolutely imperative that memories such as this do exist and important we put our best foot forward in public settings. Can you imagine if we didn't care about "appearing" well?  But...
 This is real life.

A little bit of chaos. Disciplining mother. A lack of cohesion. Still a few pockets of happiness.

And this is...real, real life. Unbecoming, true and chaotic. I have no memory of the seemingly tragic-inducing-facial expression and stance I share with Alixann, the photographer.  The photo freezes the undeniable insecure moment. It couldn't have been so bad, if I can't recall it. Yet, real life awful moments are awful. But they pass, and this is what we have to remember. This is why we order the staged photos and hang them on the wall. Because this is what we want life to be. And it is. But only for a moment--for now.

Real life. Brought to you today by the Martinez family.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Sans Alcohol

Our entire married life, Tony and I have never drunk alcohol because of our religious choices. On many occasions, we have been the strange couple who didn't drink and nothing more. Only once, while we were the sole guests at a small inn, did it become a bizarre situation. 

In October 2001, we had flown to Paris and had planned a short side trip to the village of Le Chambon in the Loire Valley. After a lengthy train delay, our side trip was shorter than originally expected. From the train, we rented a car and drove to the village. At the end of a long, dark road, we were greeted by our spirited host. After a traditional but mediocre French meal, he invited us to his basement man cave, where he played music on an old stereo, and where he expected us to drink with him. When we told him we didn't drink, he had a hard time accepting our strange, very un-French ways. His insistence became scarier as the night progressed and his alcohol consumption increased. Once we were in our room, my imagination flared, and I feared for our safety. Tony wedged a chair against the door so we could sleep in relative peace.  C'est la vie!

Our non-drinker situations have also been humorous. One summer, Tony was part of a team at Jet Propulsion Labs in California. We were invited to a small dinner party, where once again, we were the only ones not drinking. As the night wore on, the men planned an elaborate deep sea fishing excursion. Tony was excited, but the next morning no one remembered but him. To his disappointment, the trip never happened.

We are used to being the non-drinking anomalies in certain social situations, and I've never expected it to change, so, I was surprised when a family member tells me a dear acquaintance has stopped drinking.


"After casual drinking, he was rushed to the hospital. His body couldn't take it anymore."

The next day, I learn a family member has also quit drinking.

Could there be a shift? Are people ready for a shift?  When friends or relatives join our family, on our territory, they are always surprised how much fun they have without the alcohol. And of course, there is more than the discovery that one can have fun without alcohol in prompting people to quit:  compelling research and evidence showing the negatives of alcohol consumption.

In 1938, Harvard University began a study of 268 undergraduate males. The purpose of the study was to follow these men throughout their lives in order to determine the factors of happiness. After 75 years, the most significant find of the study was, "Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power." 

The test results and conclusions were published in a book, Triumphs of Experience, by George Vaillant, a man who directed the study for three decades. An excerpt from the book synopsis reads: "Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects),  ‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings." 

Lisa, our yoga teacher, also teaches yoga at the state prison. From her association with 25 women in  in her class, she learned that only five of the 25 would have been incarcerated if not for alcohol and drugs.

With all this in mind, when the waiter asks us for the second time if we'd like a cocktail before dinner, I answer differently. Usually, as the anomaly, I'd just say "No thanks." And once again I do say, "No thanks, but I also add, "We're already happy enough."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I am waiting for my three-hour, delayed flight, at the gate of a just arrived plane. I watch the passengers disembark. A flight attendant accompanies a small boy who can't be older than six years. The attendant passes him off to another attendant and says, "This is an unaccompanied minor and his mother is picking him up." His responsibility ends and he re-enters the jetway.

The little guy is wide eyed and bewildered. No one with open arms is waiting for him after his four hour flight.

The attendant asks him if he sees his mother and when he says no, she resorts to, "Do you see anyone you know out there?"  She wants to help and follows with, "What color of hair does she have?"

He answers, "She has reddish hair."

"Can you see her?" the attendant asks again.

He nods his head no and I think I'm going to cry sooner than him.

"Keep looking and see if there is anyone you recognize."

His bewilderment seems to intensify.

I wonder what will happen if no one shows. He's so sweet, so vulnerable, I want to volunteer to take him home.

The attendant picks up the phone. "Hi, this is the airline calling to see if you are picking up your son. Oh. You are coming into the concourse now."

She's not the only one who's relieved.

The attendant turns to the little boy, "You're going to have to wait right here.  I can't watch you because I have to board these passengers. Stay right here."

She can't watch him, but I can to make sure he's safe.

The recognition and relief on the boy's face, in his body, alerts me that Mom is near. She steps toward him and he wraps around her like he will never let go. He squeezes her so tight, his own face so tight, his eyes disappear.

I'm reminded that I wasn't a perfect Mom either. That sometimes I was late and sometimes my child must have sweated like this little guy waiting for his mom.

I like to think that I'm punctual, that I don't keep people waiting, but I tend to pack in too much, too tight, in too little time. I often fight my way out the door with less time than needed to reach a destination. It seems like I'm always five minutes late.

I remember my mom waiting at the airport, curbside, in the sun for a half hour, when a detour to see some seals ended in a California traffic jam and I didn't make it in time. I'm just a few minutes late for lunch with my husband cause I had to switch the laundry or respond to a time sensitive email. I think of my six minute drive to school and if I make all the lights, I can really make it in four and a half minutes; I've rushed too often; I've gambled with time. I excuse myself by calling it a "rush," but it's really self deception and hypocrisy.

I once read that being late was a form of selfishness; people who are late value their time more than others, and I see the truth in this. When I remind myself of this, I work harder to be more conscious of time.

Last night at the airport, seeing the disappointment and angst in the little guy waiting for Mom, has brought a new perspective to timeliness. The people who wait for me are rarely small children, but regardless of age, there will always be a tinge of disappointment when my inconsideration says, "My time is more important than yours."

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The End Is Only The Beginning

Thanks to father of the groom Scott Lazerson for this photo

The bride and groom, surrounded by a blaze of sparklers, departed Hidden Falls Garden, and oh so movie-like, climbed into a black 1970's-ish Mercedes Benz. He looked like James Bond and she, like his beautiful, crime solving, side kick. 

As the groom shifted into Drive, the gears grind-ed ever so slightly. So appropriate, because marriage too, is a shift,  in need of a little adjustment here, there and everywhere: the I'm sorry, the No, I'll change my schedule, the Let me help you, the What do you need? And the always appreciated, I'll do the dishes while you study, or I'll do the laundry. The real stuff that follows, the unglamorous stuff we'll never see in a James Bond movie, but the action that truly bonds a marriage.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Inevitable Wedding Emergencies

With only ten minutes before we have to leave, I hurry upstairs to put on my mother-of-the bride dress, carefully chosen months ago on a shopping excursion with the girls.

Tony, always prepared and ready to go before me, sits in the chair reading. "What's that on your dress?"

I follow his eyes to the hem of my dress. No! It can't be! Not now. Please not now. How silly I will look if...if...I can't remove the dreaded security tag attached to clothing to deter a would-be thief. Why didn't the sales lady remove it? Why didn't it set off the store alarm?

This has happened before, and it was only a minor nuisance, because it wasn't my daughter's wedding day!

How did I let this happen? Doesn't a woman try on such an important dress several times before the event?

Go with it, I hear my calmer, happy self whisper. Laugh it off. It's even funny. It's part of the unexpected vicissitudes of life and weddings. If this is the worst thing that happens, then we get off easy, right? I go with it, at least for the moment, because there's not much of a choice to do otherwise. On the way to the ceremony, I call Nordstrom. I explain the situation and they are happy to help in my dire need and especially since their sales person didn't remove the tag. A customer service representative will meet me with a security tag remover, but not until after the ceremony, so I truly must go with it.

I walk into the pre-ceremony meeting room and the mother of the groom, the sister-in-law, the female guests, all gasp. Truly a woman's nightmare. I announce to the line of groomsmen that I didn't steal the dress. I'm not sure they get it, so I've just reinforced the whacky mother-of-the-bride perception.

As promised, I find the cute little customer service rep from Nordstrom waiting for me. As always, she is overly apologetic for a sale woman's mistake, but this time I owe her big. She's there for me in a time of need, of panic; I hug her and tell her I love her, cause I really do. She saved the day.

Wedding morning surprise

As if not trying on the dress wasn't enough to save until the last moment, I also didn't shave my legs until that critical ten minutes before we had to leave, and of course, the razor was missing. Tony offered me his extra electric shaver to which he mildly mentioned that it might not "shave as close as a razor." No worries! No time to worry. I was already the woman in the stolen-looking dress, and I was worried about a close shave? Quickly, I ran the shaver uniformly over my legs, lathered them with lotion and figured the job was done--until the day after when I sat cross legged with my reading glasses on.

"What's that on your leg?" I ask myself.

No!  Surely I didn't spend the whole wedding day with hairy legs. This is much worse than the security tag conundrum, because it passed unnoticed, hopefully only by me. Not even Nordstrom could retroactively save me from ill preparation and consequent humiliation. Lesson learned--the hard way. Again.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

If You Believe

When Jesus Christ lived and began his earthly ministry, he chose simple men to serve with him, to be his representatives, and to continue the preaching of the good word. These men were known as the twelve apostles and it is their accounts that largely make-up the New Testament.

One of the most distinguishing claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is that we are the restored church of Jesus Christ. Literally. And we claim Jesus Christ stands at the head of the church, who leads through a modern day prophet and twelve apostles. An amazing, almost too fantastic claim--that we are patterned after His way of over two thousand years ago. However, t's a claim I love and believe.

Yesterday, when Paloma and London were married, it was by one of the twelve apostles.

One of the apostles is London's great uncle and London asked him to perform the ceremony.

What is it like to participate in a wedding ceremony performed by an apostle of Jesus Christ? When asked only as a question and taken out of context of the event, the answer is "mind blowing." But that is not what it was.

Remember, Jesus' first apostles were simple fishermen who were willing to believe and serve.

This apostle was just a man willing to believe and serve.

He was also funny. He made us laugh with his insights and a rendition of a fortune cookie cartoon.

He was warm and gracious. I felt embraced in the comfort of his presence.

He was happy. Not an over-the-moon kind of energetic happy but a happy that filled his presence. Wouldn't you be happy if you were an apostle of Jesus Christ?

He had an undeniable air of "specialness." Was it because of what I knew about him or if I hadn't known he was an apostle, would I have picked up on that feeling---just because?

Yet, the ceremony focused only on Paloma and London, the marriage covenants they made, and the promises and blessings bestowed upon them. It was not about the officiator, about an apostle of the Lord, it was about the Lord's love and blessing of a young couple beginning a life--together--a sacred endeavor in need of God's blessings.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Twins: Sorrow and Joy

Yesterday morning, I awoke weepy and melancholy as I realized a chapter in our lives was about to close. It was the day before our youngest daughter's wedding. At the core of my heart, I felt all the years of mothering privilege, and sadness will always accompany the end of a true privilege. I told my hairdresser I wanted to crawl under a rock.

Fortunately, the day changed. As the pre-wedding dinner grew closer, my melancholy lightened, my gratitude increased, the family gathering grew, and I began to bask in the joy, leaving that sorrow behind like an old skin. It had its place, its time, but celebration was at hand, and I wanted to be in its palm.

In joy's palm

Ahhh...but one chapter ends, and another begins! More chapters until the end of the book, and at the end of the book--always the possibility of a sequel!

Nothing could make me happier than writing more, but a joyful celebration awaits! A time to live and a time to reflect on living.

Friday, July 24, 2015

What Dreams Are Made Of

The soon-to-be newlyweds took a friend to see their new apartment. They warned him it was small, and he said that was fine, just as long as it wasn't as small as his sister's first, newlywed apartment, because it was awful!

It was the same apartment.

While standing in my kitchen, I wondered if the upstairs part of their apartment (living room, kitchen and bathroom), was any bigger than my pantry. I walked into the pantry and said, "Yup, this pantry has more square footage."

But that's okay, because each time I think of her living in a hobbit-hole small apartment, I remember our first apartment. It was a horrible basement with a bedroom that really doubled as the boiler room for all three apartments in the old house, and there was only room enough for a double bed and a wire  for hanging clothes, strung from one apparatus to another. It seemed wonderful--but not to my sister, who told my dad he better give us some money to rent a nicer place. But did he?

No. Because he remembered his first apartment with a new wife and he remembered his first car as a newlywed was the bread truck from the business and that they used to put my sister in a bread box. He probably remembered how their first home cost $20,000 which was a lot of debt to take on, so they chose the house without the fireplace because it was $500 dollars less.

Proof that my daughter loves her first newlywed home is that she keeps proudly showing it to anyone who will take the drive with her to unload a few more boxes. Last night, it was her future husband's grandmother who also "loved" the apartment and like us all, had a few nostalgic moments. She remembered her first college apartment for $20 dollars a month, her job that paid one dollar an hour, and that a McDonald's meal cost only 56 cents.

The sweet seal to this story is that London, the fiancée, has promised my daughter if his entrepreneurial adventure is successful, after their one year lease in the small apartment is up, they will rent a loft in a fancy part of town. The dream, in part, is fueled by the condition of their first apartment, and who would want to destroy a dream? Because that first apartment, that first bread truck, that first dollar-an-hour paycheck, are what dreams are made of.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Finding Mary

We come home from taking the little guy to his first movie. Grandpa, Grandma, the parents, all worried about a three year old confined to a row of seats, a dark theatre and an animated movie about emotions. Ah, but like most three year olds, he surprised us, and aside from some loud commentary, the experience opened a new door to future children's movies.

We don't return home until 6:00 p.m. and usually, at this dinnertime, there'd be a flurry of panic and rush to put dinner on the table. But this night, my daughter and her husband planned ahead. All the dinner prep was done before the film. The night continues to flow.

By 6:15, clouds have covered the sun, a slight breeze wiggles through the air, and it's a beautiful night to eat al fresco. I extend the outside table with a card table, a tablecloth, and to continue the flow, why not use paper plates?

When second daughter and her husband arrive, we sit down for dinner, say grace, and begin what will be a memorable meal. Even the three year old recognizes the moment, "This is a fun party," he states.

No one had planned a party, but something wonderful has given the evening--party status.

Eventually, the little guy is taken to bed. The table is cleared, but we return to our chairs to continue the conversation. A daughter moves to the deck couch and when the sun goes down and the air chills, we pile around her to create some warmth. It's a my heart takes a picture, moment and evening.

In the week preceding the family gathering for family wedding #3, I was a little nervous: about all the people, the feeding of the people, and the continual cleaning up after the people. And I love all these people. Regardless, my concerns were legitimate. I think I had pre-allowed my mother-self to be a Martha.

In the biblical story of Martha and Mary, we find the Savior has come to their home. Imagine the gathering, the rejoicing, the feelings that would accompany a visit from the Savior?! The gathering of our loved ones illicit those same feelings, though perhaps, on a calmer level. Perhaps Mary and Martha, the women of the home, felt a little nervous, like me, about the logistics of hospitality. But when the time came, when the crowd gathered, Mary recognized the importance of partaking in the spiritual aspects of having the guest of all guests in her home. Could she also have recognized the beauty, the enjoyment, even the fun of her special guests?

When my daughter and her husband unexpectedly relieved me of my Martha duties, I stepped back and saw what I should have seen all along: the joy and fun of my special guests. They may not have been the Savior, but we learn from his very words that serving others is akin to serving Him: When you do it unto the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto me.

Your summer guests may be gone, but they will return, as soon as Thanksgiving, or even next weekend. Enjoy those guests, that family, and regardless of their stature or their demands, remember to keep your Martha at bay and bring out your Mary to enjoy, to savor and to even have fun. And by all means, please ask for help.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Crepe or Crape?

I mention to my students that we will be eating crepes. To the chagrin of one young man, I pronounce crepes with the correct French pronunciation.

He is disturbed that I would call them crepes, with a soft E and insists that crepes are pronounced crApes-with a hard A.

I gently tell him that crepes really are crepes.

"No it's crapes--I've been to Paris."

"Oh have you."

Possibly, when he asked for a crape-the server/crepe maker, was making fun of his pronunciation. Possibly.

But there is no sense in arguing with someone who knows he's right.

Or a person who knows she's right.

Tony and I were at an impasse over a once beautiful hedge that used to drape the staircase leading to the lower yard. I write "used to cover," because Tony saw that the branches intertwined among the deck railing, were breaking the slats, and he took care of the issue with a pair of clippers. When I saw my landscape art, the beautiful hedge I'd been training for ten years, butchered, I could hardly speak to him. Yet, I knew my husband would never do anything to upset me. Still, we couldn't speak about it without each of us focusing only on our own rightness. I only saw crepes and he only saw crapes. The conversation ended twice with Tony walking away.

It wasn't until I started thinking how much I had to be grateful for--for the husband who cared about the care of our house and our deck structure that I was able to feel gratitude, and gratitude brought an epiphany. I could see the bush as the deck-destroying hedge and that he would never have cut it had he known the work I'd put into its creation. So now, we joke about it. And today, I'm going to have him show me the damage, and I'll admit how I can fix the hedge like I would fix a bad haircut--by letting it grow out.

Most arguments are caused when two people both know they are right,  and they usually are. It was only when I allowed gratitude to fill my mind, that I was able to appreciate the rightness of his argument.

Yesterday, I heard my French speaking friend, pronounce crepe in the American version: crApe.

"Why did you pronounce crepe, crApe?" I demanded.

"So everyone would know what I was talking about."

Someone else is right again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Who We Are

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." Joseph Campbell

I've been thinking that life is too short, and it is, but this lack of time that sometimes makes me panic, pits me against an imaginary clock I have to beat, that I can never beat. It also pits me against myself.

Believing, even internalizing that my lifetime privilege is being who I am, changes all this. Foremost, a lifetime, is a privilege.  I am thankful everyday for all aspects of the life cycle that help me become: youth, middle age, healthy, and even unhealthy. They are each like spokes of a wheel, each spoke necessary to help the life wheel turn.

 It's ever so exciting that I get to be who I am. Which naturally brings to question, Who am I? Is it definitive, or do I play a part in molding this character called me?

I'm a believer in molding. In essence, I'm a hunk of clay with certain DNA, certain tendencies, but with the power to shape that hunk.

Exciting. What we become is determined how we spend our time, what we create, what we think, who we listen to. Who we don't listen to, and how we love and give to others.

With each experience, with each choice, I discover who I am, I become who I am. Now here's the tricky part. I believe I already am. I already have a destination or a pinnacle to reach. Living is finding our path, our dharma, or who we are. That is why some endeavors bring joy and others bring emptiness. That is why, when we mistreat or demean others, we are not becoming who we are. There exists within us a course correction that goes off like a fire alarm--unless we don't listen and the battery runs out, and the alarm dies.  Because we are light and love, because we are created in the image of Heavenly Beings--this is exactly why the privilege of a lifetime is becoming who we are. Who we already are.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Road TRip!!

Premise: Every future in-law should be required to take a road trip with his future family before marrying the daughter in the family, or the love of his life.**

All four children, five grandchildren, three spouses and a soon to be spouse loaded into four cars early Saturday morning. I was excited most of the family would begin the drive together, including Grandma M, to cousin Staci's wedding. It would be a five-plus hour drive, but that's okay. The seating arrangements were spacious and allowed everyone to stretch out and sleep on the journey that began at 6:00 a.m. And plenty of overnight sleeping space at Hilton Gardens and Aunt Corinne's. Mandi and her little family flew in from Chicago and drove up (in a rented car) from Lake Tahoe (from the other family trip).

There were a few trip elements that made me nervous.

Possible glitch #1: we'd lose the rental car and throw Mandi's three person family in with the rest of us-a seatbelt for everyone, but stretch-out space would be reduced immensely.  Easily solved when we decided to keep the rental for the entire journey.

Glitch #2: Making the entire round trip in a little over 36 hours.

The bride was beautiful, the ceremony sweet-sweet, the dinner delicious, the reception joyous and relaxed, but so much in so little time? It worked out just fine. Plenty of time. Well spent. Well relaxed. Glitch number two: overcome.

Glitch #3--WHAT? I couldn't have anticipated glitch #3, because I'm not usually self conscious of who we are or how we behave. But on the return home glitch #3 manifested itself!! Spouse-to-be #4 might see what we're really like!!! The fear arose when a slight discord arose over whether to stop for lunch and where to stop. Four cars, 13 people who had an opinion. You know, your family isn't perfect either.  It occurred to me that EVERY future in law should travel with his future family before marrying--he will learn what they're really like and determine if he can take the marriage journey with his new family.

We have six days until we see if we scared him away, or not.

**Love of his life. The clincher. I suspect our future husband will show up. It's why we all show up, adjust, love, and become part of just another crazy family.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

It happened again--this time while attending a nieces' wedding in a different state. We were the unknown relatives.

It happens so often, I know what the person is going to say even before he or she tries to explain.

The conversation usually begins, "Where are you from?"

Followed by "What is your name?"

When no connection is made, the person is stumped and adds, "But you looked so familiar to us! We were sure we knew you from somewhere."

My pat response, "This happens to me all the time; I must have a really generic looking face."

The person walks away unsatisfied and slightly puzzled.

Does this happen to other people?

In my husband's younger days, and Arnold Swartzenegger's younger  days, my husband resembled the terminator. While in Korea, he was mistaken for him by our waiter. Tony was recognized because he did look like a celebrity, but I don't and have never looked like anyone famous.

Though I did find my face once on a box of corn flakes in Hong Kong. It wasn't really me yet the fellow teen looked just like me. I bought the cereal, cut my face off the box, packed it, but it disappeared, and I've never been able to prove that  my doppelgänger lived.

This eery coincidence and the recurring "recognition'" by strangers, does make me wonder if I have a look-alike....a double....or,...

The rest of the story: the recognition is sometimes reciprocal.  The stranger and I will see each other , will be drawn to one another like we are old and dear friends,yet, try as we might, we never find the mysterious connection.

A decade ago, a European journalist, on assignment to an American conference, and I, locked eyes when we instantly recognized one another. Pulled together like magnets. Though it sounds like the same description lovers might use, there was no such feeling. It was purely recognition and curiosity to discover the absolute sure feeling of previous friendship or even kinship.

We compared childhoods, lineage, summer camps, years I'd visited Europe, possibilities of encounters in America. It was ethereal. But there was not a connection to be found.

The rest of the story to which I resort when no other explanation can be found: I not only believe in an after-life, but also in a pre-life. With that in mind, the possible connections are endless, wonderful, even kind of magical, and even more impossible to sort through, or to reach a conclusion of understanding. At least for now.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Inside An English Teacher's Head

Tony used to say to me allllll the time, "I'd love to be in your head for just a day."

I always and quickly retorted with an attitude, "I would never be in your brain for even a minute. It would be so, so, so constricting, so logical."

"But I'd just like to know how you think."

"I already know how you think." Aren't we close minded and stubborn.

I've always thought my free floating, psychedelic, easy chill, relaxed way of thinking (the pool man asked me if I had been a hippie in the sixties--TOO YOUNG I AM), couldn't be beat, but the way I've been deliberating over the usage of further and farther, I wonder if being in my mind, maybe isn't all that incredible and free flowing. I am after all, an English teacher.

English teachers worry and deliberate over strange things. For instance, while on a mini, two-week student teaching assignment,  my old battle ax of an English teacher mentor, who was retiring that year, wrote a letter to my advisors complaining that I had used the subjunctive conditional incorrectly!!!

Is that what I am destined to become?

So, I try very hard not to be prescriptive and not to ever correct anyone's grammar or language use. Do I even have a right, since I once used the subjunctive conditional incorrectly?

My teaching partner, and hysterically funny friend Deb and I (wait, is it I or me?--I because it is in the nominative position since Deb and I are the subject of the sentence--now if when talking about me in the objective position, then it would be......See what I mean?)---the sentence sort of got lost; (by the way I love semi-colons), I will start over. Deb and I (should this have been a new paragraph?) text quite a bit, and in the beginning, when auto correct took over and we sent some pretty wonky, non English teacher messages, we would always correct and send on the correction with an explanation--so subconscious were we of our faux pas (love inserting a little bit of French). But now! I swear, I love to send Deb texts that are grammatically incorrect. She is the one person who will appreciate the bucking against all that English teacher hoorah gimmish gammish garbage of prescriptive English language laws and rules for which one is considered a backward, backwoods, crocodile eating, swamp tuna, if one uses the English language wrong, and this is according to a self imposed elite group of men who wore powdered wigs and knickers. Probably.

Today I sent Deb a text that said, "You is cute!" It felt so good!

Even worse than if I were prescriptive (correct use of subjunctive conditional), and conscious of it, we English teachers run the risk of passing on our idiosyncrasies to our children.  I knew all was not well, when a young man asked my daughter to a dance by decorating her car with flattering phrases. One of his messages was: Your so beautiful.

My daughter had to turn him down.

"I can't go to a dance with a guy who misused your as the possessive when it should have been the contraction you are=you're."


Remember to run if you are in the company of an English teacher when someone has the audacity to correct her!!! Over twenty years ago, I mispronounced (this is debatable), consortium in a group of academics--the PHD kind. One of them broke the cardinal rule of all grammar rules: public correction!!! Who the ____was he to think he could correct me? I have never forgotten and find great joy when I hear another person, on NPR or from a different region than the west, pronounce it like me! Constantly looking for vindication is hard work.

So is holding a grudge. Whenever I see this man, I seethe, even though it was so long ago, he has no idea who the angry woman, who just let the air out of his tires, could  be.

And Tony wants to be in my head for a day?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Feelings of Accomplishment

As a teacher, I was qualified to enter the Norman Mailer creative nonfiction writing contest. This contest is open to all full and part time middle and high school teachers in the world! Imagine how many entries and imagine the odds of winning one slot. Shall we be conservative and say 1 in 10,000?? Yet, I still had the audacity to enter.

The maximum entry was 20 pages of single space verse. I am used to writing 500 word essays-- my comfort, my forte, my safe zone. Twenty pages seemed daunting, so I approached the assignment by writing a series of 500 word essays that could connect to each other in theme. With three of these essays written and with a copy and paste approach, I wrote interim transitional thoughts that tied it all together. My entry ended with 13 single spaced pages. A grand accomplishment for a short-short kind of writer.

In order to accomplish the task, I had to dedicate the whole of Thursday to this essay. I started at 9:00 a.m and had to finish by 5:00 p.m. CST. I uploaded my file and pushed submit at 4:58 p.m. CST!

A rush! A coup! I did it! I won't even think about winning, because I already won in the doing of the task. I'll file the email confirmation away and forget about the contest. And next year, when I am reminded of the contest again, I will remember the exhilaration of stretching myself, of accomplishing for accomplishment sake, for the joy of working hard and long, for the joy of accomplishment.

Writing is my sudoku, finishing the marathon, starting repentance, returning to teaching after a difficult first year, working into a prosthetic, mastering a concerto, memorizing the Family Proclamation, graduating with a GED. I feel accomplished and empowered after the endeavor. It is how children develop confidence--from hard work and overcoming obstacles, not from unearned praise. They know it, we know it.

Oh remember, remember, and let it prepare me for the next difficult task. For the stretch, for the joy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

If Only...

I awoke today with an extraordinary desire to do nothing.

Let me back up a little.

1.Tuesday's hike was an unexpected five hours-at least two thirds of the effort was an uphill climb.

Ahhhhh...but the flora and fauna on the way up. The view at the top. The wind--to be the first people it touched. The taste of cherries at the highest peak for miles and miles; the satisfaction of knowing we'd hiked almost eight miles on a beautiful summer morning.

2. Wednesday's birthday party was an all day event. It started with an early morning visit to the grocery store, followed by an entire day of food prep and follow thru--and the rest of the day was spent catering to birthday husband's birthday needs.

Ahhhh...but Tony was happy. The guests ate well. I watched for those who scooped up seconds. The babies were sweet; the honeymooners still joyful; the conversation was fun. The pool was warm-future son-in-law's attack giggles were memorable--the association was .......heavenly.

Hopefully it's more clear why today, I have an extraordinary desire to do nothing.

3. But the doorbell rang at 8:00 a.m.--soft water service men.
                        We need soft water.
4. Literary Society gathering tonight which requires a half hour drive each way.
                         I need the association of women and books.
5. I have a mini classroom grant, long overdue, I must finish today.
                         The benefit of an in-class document camera would be amazing.
6. I have an essay deadline at 3:00 p.m. today.
                         I love the joy and satisfaction from a finished piece.

Today's escape from my lethargic body and mind will find its fuel from past experiences of success and future hope if I just persist. But to rely on myself is not enough, and fortunately, I came across a list of quotes I had recorded for a day such as this.

Ordinary people who consistently and diligently do simple things will produce extraordinary results. Elder Bernard

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extra ordinary destiny. CS Lewis

When I graduated from high school I couldn't go to college so I went to the library three days a week for ten years.  Ray Bradbury

If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for all your troubles, you couldn't sit for a month. Theodore Roosevelt

If you are on the right path it will always be uphill.

Alas, I am fortunate to be on the right path according to the unknown voice of the above wise words. So tomorrow I will awake early,  drive to an out of state wedding, and the next week will involve all the work, joy, preparation for the next wedding, but on the Tuesday following, when the last guest leaves, I will quietly board a plane and take a well deserved rest where I'm sure I will awake the next morning with an extraordinary desire to do nothing, and I will fulfill that desire. But not for long.

Gratitude is the other motivator to keep going. As I write this lament, I become keenly aware of the falseness of my hardships.
I'm not standing on my feet all day in a job I can't lose because I support my family.
I'm thankful for the two legs, the body, the health that allow me to hike five hours.
My service is for a healthy husband on a joyous occasion.
I do get a rest and the rest is not from living in war, in a refugee camp, in a homeless shelter.
And finally, the desire to do nothing, worn out mind and body, is from joyful life activity, not from devastating, real hardship.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

From Dull To Shiny

My mother passes on several pieces of silver she either inherited, purchased, or received as wedding gifts over fifty years ago. She'd held on to these pieces, and I often wondered why, because they had mostly turned black, but remained on shelves, in drawers, and in the back of the pantry. I certainly never wanted them either, but when she moved, they were stacked on the counter, on the floor, for whomever was willing to take on the polishing drudgery.

It's silver, I reasoned with myself. It's valuable, it has sentimental meaning, and so I take a few pieces of the discolored antiquity. Heirlooms.

After polishing, washing and buffing, I understand why, in movies, the British servants and the southern maids are always polishing the silver. But when I see how a little bit of work can transform and beautify, the task becomes a treasure bounty. I end up polishing all the silver pieces, photographing them, and sending the photos off to Mom.

It is a rather joyful endeavor, turning something dull, into something shiny.

I am listening to a missionary tell his story. He and his companion have an appointment to teach a woman, but she isn't home. Disappointed, the two young men walk away from her house. While doing so, a car swerves to a stop and an apparently drunk man gets out of the car. When he climbs out, the missionaries see he is covered in tattoos and his intoxicated demeanor is an immediate deterrent. One of the missionaries dismisses him, but he is chastised by the words and feeling that comes to his mind: You came on your mission to help people just like this man. They turn back, converse with the man who agrees to listen to their message.

The man has no interest in religion, but he had recently come to the conclusion, if he didn't stop drinking, he would die from alcoholism. He gives religion a chance.

After four days of soberness, the missionaries convince him to go to church, but when they pick him up, he's passed out on the couch. They start over. Again, and again. Patience, love, polishing and eventually a miracle. The man enters the fold and never knew he could be so happy.

From dull to shiny.

From the polish of the master's hand.

Two discolored, tarnished plates

Polished portion on the left

Mom's souvenir from a small silver shop in Holland.     A butter dish now fit for royal service

It is just the end of July, but I am already gearing up, preparing, for the coming school year I will spend with mostly twelfth grade students. Their last year of high school... and so I am ultra challenged to turn the dull into shiny. How will I make getting up before 7:00 worth their time? How do I make Henry V, into a character they will honor and learn from, let alone read? How do I challenge their minds to see the important lessons in progressivism, the Civil Rights struggle; how do I help them realize essay writing really will benefit their lives?

Patience, love, a lot of polishing, and in turning the dull to shiny, hopefully their minds will have the same transformation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sacred Mysteries

I have two dear friends who both lost their young husbands to cancer, when they were too young to be widows, when their children still needed fathers. Their husbands' deaths occurred within a few years of each other.

When we gathered together, each friend would share the intimacies of her heart, and one thing they had both shared, has stayed with me for the past 20 years.

Each friend had felt her husband near for the entire year following his death. One of the friends even felt her husband's presence leave on the one year anniversary of his death.

Intimate and sacred details of not only one, but two people, who had the same, unique experience. I was always curious if other people had the same experience, but it's neither an easy nor a proper question to ask. At the time of my own father's death, I was in the company of a woman I'd known since her daughter and I were in second grade together. She'd come to share her condolences with Mom and me and the conversation was intimate and tender. It was comfortable enough to ask her if she'd had the same experience with her husband's passing.

Yes, but she described it in a very different way. In the year following her husband's death, she felt a physical sensation in the pit of her stomach. It didn't hurt, it didn't bother her, it was just a feeling, and  at her husband's one year death anniversary, she felt it no more.

As August 12 nears, I've been wondering if the feelings of my father's spiritual presence will also subside, lessen, even disappear.

Four mornings ago, I awoke with clear thoughts of my two friends' experiences, and an even clearer thought of my father affirming that he would be moving on.


I couldn't think or talk about the experience without tears. I looked back with regret when I had thought of my father constantly and I had asked him to leave my thoughts because it was just too hard. How could I have done that?

However, the next day, I awoke and felt peace. Not because I had answers to these mysterious thoughts, in fact there were more troubling questions than ever. Was this my imagination? Why would a person move on after a year? Why didn't everyone experience this? Or did they? And why, oh why, would time be measured by one year?

I've spent part of this day reading and watching different witnesses who've had near death experiences. They are many! I especially like the experiences of Dr. Eben Alexander told in his writings found in internet articles and in his book Map of Heaven. I had previously read Dr. Mary Neal's near death experience, To Heaven and Back, induced from a kayak accident in South America. Today I watched a youtube news clip of her explanation. Each person's story, which seems more valid because each one is a board certified doctor, rang true and even logical. So logical that an alternative couldn't exist.  Both Dr. Neal and Dr. Alexander saw in their after life visit that we are loved and cherished more than we can imagine by people who have passed on before us--which confirms the feeling of Dad's presence, but not the feeling of his impending departure.

Unless, I am looking at this all wrong, without gratitude, for a bonus year with Dad. It may be that a loving Father in Heaven lessens the loss of a loved one--by giving an extra year of spiritual presence,  but the time does come when the deceased must move on. If there is an after life, there must be a purpose, a way that life continues on with importance, and that purpose compels, even insists that a loved one moves on. And like a promotion or progression, I should be cheering him on. Just not yet.

Monday, July 13, 2015

It Doesn't Take Much

I have just started on a bike ride. I'm focused on the road ahead, on gear shifts, on the hill that lies ahead. Yet, my focus is pulled away from the road; it is pulled up and to the left because an energy, like a bright light, compels me to do so.

A neighbor friend, a woman who is a fitness guru, is beaming a grandiose smile. A smile I can actually feel. It contains so much energy, it was capable of distracting my focus. I couldn't hear the smile, I didn't see it. It had a force all it's own.

This smile power is a curiosity to me. I think about the thousands of times I have watched people enter classrooms, stores, restaurants, libraries, my home, and the different feelings that accompany that person depending on his or her demeanor. They have been dark clouds or sunshine and every degree of weather in between.

I think of the thousands of times I have entered a place and the instant feeling of comfort or discomfort depending on how I am greeted. My day or my momentary experience begins with the energy of one grumpy person or one happy person.

My tenth grade Biology teacher, Ms. Ruby Alderson, had the power to extinguish the hope and light out of thousands of students. And she did.  It was her policy not to look at, or smile at her students for the first three days. She wouldn't even speak to us. We entered class with instructions on the board. If a student tried to break her code, she scowled. Eventually she warmed up, but I never did well in tenth grade Biology.

Mr. Nelson, the seventh grade English teacher was kind, welcoming and soft spoken. On the first day and every day after. I did well in English. I even became an English teacher.

Did I become, because of the way I was treated? Did I associate the message with the messenger? Was English pleasant and Biology not, because of the demeanor of two different people?

I try to think of my demeanor as something I carry with me, and it is as evident and influential as carrying a baby elephant on my back. I try to remember that my demeanor is a gift or a curse, with the power to affect a moment, an hour, an entire life.

My old doctor's office had a square plate sitting on the front desk with these words etched on the surface: Be kind to everyone, you never know what kind of day they've had or what burdens they carry.

Funny thing though---the receptionists were neither kind nor welcoming. Even funnier--I no longer see that doctor, and I realize, in part, that is why I love my dentist--everyone working in her office is kind and cheerful. I enter and leave feeling good---even if I'm in pain.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Getaway

I love it! It's a lazy, summer afternoon, and I decide to see a chick flick--the deliciousness of all by myself. This is still an indulgence.

The show starts at 1:55 p.m. and I wonder who else will be at the film interpretation of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. Will audience members be the literary type? All women? Yes, I suspect, the audience will be made of women, unless someone has dragged a husband along.

I walk into the darkened theater and just as I suspected: two separate women sitting all by themselves. I assume they are just like me--they snuck away, they value a date with themselves, they enjoy being, if just for a minute, all by themselves. Did they escape a house full of children, a busy office, or did they take advantage of some free time? Peace and comfort, at a matinee love story. With just the three of us, I can pick my own ten rows--away from the maddening crowd.

I once heard a woman who had several siblings describe what it was like growing up in her home. Her mother was a dedicated homemaker to eight children. She also had a dedicated father who recognized that his wife needed regular breaks. So every Saturday, Mom would pack up and take the day off to enrich her mind, her life, to refill her bucket, so she could cope the other six days of the week with never ending laundry, meals, car pools, homework...

All those years, this woman with seven siblings, imagined that on her mother's day off, her mother would spend the hours in museums studying great art, or reading volumes in the library's special collections, or attending lectures by dignitaries in the Arts and Sciences.

But it was never so. The day came when she discovered that her refined, learned, mother, spent her days off by driving up the canyon to sleep.

Disappointed she was, until she had her own children.

Ah, the indulgence of a getaway.

For $5.50, popcorn excluded, and only a short drive away, I can spend the afternoon in 1870's Scotland with a daring woman, bravely running her own farm, pursued by three dashing, devoted suitors including the quintessential evil one. I can laugh and cry, in private, in company with two other women seeking the same afternoon. A getaway package we can't afford to miss.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Love Thy Neighbor

I am standing for the third time at the Returns counter at Bed Bath and Beyond, having failed a simple task once more. It should be easy to match bathroom rugs with new tile, but it hasn't been so.

I haven't paid much attention to the store cashier, until he says, "Sorry about that."

I respond, "That's ok, I'm in no hurry." Yet, I wonder what he is sorry about, and so I inquire.

"When the refund is a certain amount of money, the manager has to ok the transaction by using his key in the register, and I have to wait for him."

I have now connected with the cashier and together we must awkwardly wait.

I take a stab at some trivial conversation. I look at his left hand and see that he is married.

"If my husband worked here," I begin, I'd be calling him all the time to bring something home. I bet," I search for the politically correct words, "I bet your spouse does that all the time if," again, I stop because I don't know which pronoun is correct, he or she, and I admit it to the cashier, because I've backed myself into this corner and it's obvious that I am stumbling. "I'm sorry, I don't know whether to use he or she," and I smile not expecting him to answer. He pauses slightly.

"It's a she."

"I just realized that with the changes in law, that it could have been either."

"Yeah, it's too bad, isn't it," he responds.

His response catches me off guard, but not more than a few seconds "Well, that really depends on your point of view," and I realize that point of view, is at the very crossroads of today's moral debates.

We friendly chat until the transaction is over, I wish him luck in his marriage (of only two months), and I'm on my way.

As soon as I reach the car, I call my mom to share what I saw as an amusing, awakening encounter. She lightly chides me for not standing up for the Christian stance on traditional marriage. I affirm to her I haven't lost my faith, but instead had an epiphany, and I believe the explanation is found in the writings of 20th century pastor Harry Fosdick:  Some Christians carry their religion on their backs. It is a packet of beliefs and practices which they must bear. At times it grows heavy and they would willingly lay it down, but that would mean a break with old traditions, so they shoulder it again. But real Christians do not carry their religion, their religion carries them. It is not weight; it is wings. It lifts them up, it sees them over hard places, it makes the universe seem friendly, life purposeful, hope real, sacrifice worthwhile. It sets them free from fear, futility, discouragement, and sin--the great
enslavers of men’s souls. You can know a real Christian, when you see him, by his buoyancy (as quoted by L Tom Perry, A Year of Jubilee, 1999).” 

The encounter, the understanding of point of view, left me feeling buoyant, and I believe in part because it was a moment of suspended judgement and instead, a moment of charity and love as advocated by the Savior: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

I read about a phenomenal man who was attributed to having the greatest influence over classical music in the latter part of the twentieth century. He had been an agent, an artistic director to orchestras, conductors, musicians and high profile performance artists such as Marcel Marceau. The man was accoladed for his talents, his generosity, his business and musical genius. He'd even married a president's granddaughter.

I felt sad because I had never met the man nor would I ever, even though he was my uncle. The glowing New York Times article was his obituary.

Real uncles are the guys who play Monopoly or Aggravation with the kids at Thanksgiving. They're the guys who throw you in the pool or take everyone out for ice cream or have the talent to do the missing finger trick. They organize the soccer game and always pass the ball to the underdog even when they have an open shot. We have images of them in military uniform, memories of gifts brought  from distant lands, family legends of bravery. Real uncles are loved, accepted and laughed at.

What would this uncle have been like had he been given the chance? And that is where the tragedy began; he never had a chance.

He'd entered the family on rocky ground and my aunt's brothers weren't going to let him get away with it. Hot heads and fists prevailed; my aunt was left with a marriage certificate no stronger than the paper it was printed on, and a newborn baby-- a baby who would become my favorite cousin, the child of the phenomenal man who I am sure would have been my phenomenal uncle.

I try to play with the past, try to imagine if only... If only the family had known what he would have become. In this idea I see a kernel of acceptance and compassion; I see a path to success in relationships, to successful lives. Everyone is yet to become. Everyone makes mistakes and those mistakes will in part determine what we become. But if we are held back, defined by those mistakes, never forgiven of our faults---Imagine a man trying to emerge from beneath a manhole cover on a busy New York City street. Every time he tries to lift the manhole, another tire shuts it down. His finger gets pinched, his head is cut; he falls back into the pit and eventually gives up, moves away, withdraws, screams "Uncle!"

We never know what he could have become. Or we miss out on what he did become and what we could have become with his association. Or worse, he never becomes.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Social Media Illusion

I open my instagram app to find a photo of my soon-to-be son-in-law standing in front of the nose of a corporate jet. His caption reads that he's on his way to work. Tis true. He's filming an event for his company.

Wow, I think. Way cool to commute to work in a private jet. Lucky guy. I hope he realizes how lucky he is, because certainly through instagram, everyone in his world now knows how lucky he is, and what a waste if he doesn't.

However, Instagram doesn't tell all; there is the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say on national radio, and more often than not, it's the rest of the story that tells the best of the story--and so it is with London.

When London boards the plane, the CEO, his boss and friend, tells him he needs to sit on the toilet in the lavatory at the back of the jet. Always the good sport, London assumes he's kidding and heads to the lavatory, sits down, makes himself, ummmm, comfortable. He waits for the joke to end.  CEO comes back to tell him the plane is at capacity and he does, in fact have to sit on the toilet. Turns out, this private jet toilet also doubles as an extra seat. CEO pulls out the pads, and the safety belt that will accommodate London safely to work.

Now, the instagram photo was honest and fun, but left out the rest and the best, and certainly the irony.  The photo helped us to imagine the probability of the rest of the story: London, reclined in his seat, surrounded by the conversation of sharp executives, all the soda he could drink and peanuts he could eat, when in fact he was sitting on the toilet.

To this London would retort, "Hey, Pat, I'd rather be sitting on the toilet in a lear jet on my way to work, than ummmm, just sitting on a toilet."

To which I would most likely reply, "You're right London. It's not about the toilet, it's about where you're going while you're on the toilet."

And next time you see a glamorous Instagram photo? Remember, it's only part of the story.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Where Has Art Bell Been?

It was late, late, at night, and you were driving home from the airport, a vacation, a business trip, and most important, you were all by yourself. You'd exhausted your thoughts, your CDs, so you turned to the radio. Mostly static, mostly everyone had gone off the air, but you kept pushing the button or turning the dial, persisting, and finally found what you were hoping for -- a late night encounter with Art Bell and all the crazy, paranoid, UFO, Big Foot and time travel believers in the universe. You hunched closer to the steering wheel, your hands tense and tight, and you didn't know whether or not to believe what you were hearing. The callers believed what they were saying; Art Bell seemed to believe, and it was all so convincing, you couldn't not believe. You looked out into the night sky and wondered what was lurking. You actually practiced composure in case you were lucky to encounter a UFO on that empty desert highway. That very night. All alone.

Just a few nights ago, it was 10:30 pm, when I was walking through the neighborhood. I saw a friend sweeping her backyard deck. I called out to her, and she invited me to climb the stairs and sit for awhile. We embraced and caught up on the few years that had passed since we had seen one another. As we sat in the dark, under the stars, catching up, she had to tell me the strange encounter of the previous night.

She was sitting on the deck with her family, when a large round flying object, with a bright red light at its center, darted across the sky. It stopped and hovered over the roof of a distant house. All eyes stayed on the object.

"Was it a drone?" I ask.

She doesn't even answer because, ridiculous me, it wasn't a drone.

It continued to hover and then, as quickly as it had moved across the sky, it reversed its direction and disappeared.

One of her family members said, "You all realize you've just seen a UFO."

Who am I to tell her she didn't see a UFO? I've heard the callers on Art Bell talk about Area 51. About aliens they conversed with, even stored in the freezer.  I've had my own friends, friends I trust, who know, who absolutely know without a doubt, they have seen UFOs.

It's past midnight, and the deck is getting too cool for my summer shirt. I'm about to say goodnight, when my friend's son joins us. He has been cooped up all day and is grateful for a little late-night conversation on a cool night. I stay a little longer, because he too, needs to tell me the UFO encounter.

I start thinking of how I need to leave, and in just a few minutes, I will be walking all alone on quiet, dark, deserted streets.

My friend walks me to the curb and makes me promise I'll call her as soon as I reach home.

I begin my walk and try to enjoy the evening peace, but I think of Art Bell, of aliens, of UFOs. I break into a run, staying in the middle of the street. If danger lurks behind a bush or a fence, I at least, will have some distance. If I wasn't so focused on making it home safely, I could have laughed at how silly I might have looked to a neighbor who happened to look out his window at 12:30 in the morning.

I'm out of breath when I rush into the garage, shut and deadbolt the garage door, the door to the garage, and walk through the house, every light on, double checking all doors. Before retiring for the night, I leave a few strategic lights on, and finally lock my bedroom door.

Art Bell has been off the air for a few years, but he's coming back! July 20 he will take to the airwaves again, convincing America that we are not alone, nor safe, nor sane. Because of my overactive imagination, I will avoid his paranormal radio program at all costs--unless, of course, I find myself driving late at night on a lonely stretch of desert highway......

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Playback Clarity

My intention was to film Max's swimming flip, and I was so focused on doing just that, I didn't notice Anni's shenanigans until I watched the video a second, and a third, and a fourth time, each time, a little more shocked at her behavior and that I could have kept filming without notice.


Yet, how could I have missed the blaring, obvious, quintessential, annoying, little sister while it was happening?  I've seen them taunt and tease one another their whole lives, but for the most part, they are best pals and maybe I just didn't expect this.


 I also didn't notice because we choose to see what we want to see and it's only on the playback, if we are willing to watch the playback, that we can see the truth.

A camera is objective, the mind is not. The camera may be pointed in a subjective position, but what it sees or reveals is the truth. Unless the film is manipulated, photoshopped or altered, the truth will be plain. In a way, our minds are capable of photoshop.

This little incident has me wondering: How do we get playback in our own lives?  How do we find the unfiltered truth of our actions? Unfiltered from our own mind's best intentions. The only playback we'll ever have, of our lives, unless we're a thief robbing a gas station, is in our own mind. How do we stay objective? How can we judge our actions whether they are wrong or right? Whether we've been too harsh or too soft? Kind enough? Too judgmental?


 It's the best way to evaluate an encounter, a mishap, a mistake. And most often we only have to listen to ourselves. There's a compass within, a kind of internal north star or barometer that takes readings and lets us know. If we'll just listen and have the courage to see the truth.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Speak Positive Words About Others or Else...

In the 1860 presidential election, there were a few strong contenders: William Henry Seward and Salmon Chase.* But a less-known country lawyer surprised everyone. Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States. After winning the election, Lincoln called on both Seward and Chase to be members of his cabinet--Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasure, respectively. 

Both men served their country well. However, Chase had a consuming weakness; he wanted the presidency soooo bad, that he spent a fair amount of time disparaging the president in order to further his own presidential possibilities in the upcoming 1864 election. 

It was an easy time to criticize the president. The Civil War was raging and the North was losing critical battles. The Emancipation Proclamation and other slave controversies, made Lincoln vulnerable to the naysayers and the discontents. To some he pushed the cause too far, to others, not enough. The ongoing debate over reconstruction was another touchy subject. When the war ends, do we help the south or punish the south? How will we assimilate four million slaves into a free society?

"Late at night, in his (Chase's) study, he wrote hundreds of letters to local officials, congressional leaders, generals, and journalists, citing the failures of the Lincoln administration. 'I should fear nothing if we had an administration in the first sense of the word guided by a bold, resolute, farseeing, & active mind, guided by an honest, earnest heart. But this we have not. Oh! for energy & economy in the management of the War..." and "After detailing the faws in Lincoln's leadership, Chase would suggest the differences that would characterize his own presidency (Goodwin 564)".

Salmon Chase tried to keep his criticisms covert, but Lincoln knew. His handling of the enemy within his own cabinet created accolades and the better legacy for President Lincoln: "It was by ignoring men, and ignoring all small causes, but by closely calculating the tendencies of events and great forces which were producing logical results," and "the most truly progressive man of the age, because he always moves in conjunction with propitious circumstances, not waiting to be dragged by the force of events or wasting strength in premature struggles with them (Goodwin, 572)."

Chase's disparaging of the president didn't work, and in the end, hurt him more than helped him. He made enemies and he lost respect.

According to the abstract below, when we speak ill of others, our audience transfers the ill thoughts from the intended, to the person who is doing the bad mouthing--my negative comments about another person will be perceived as my negative traits. I find it fascinating that a modern day experiment gives us a few clues as to why disparaging a competitor might be the worse thing one can do. 

 Bam shizam, that's some fast karma in the universe.

So, if I am listening to a person speak of another's weaknesses or negative character traits, I am likely to think of that speaker as having the same traits. My mind will shift the negative to the speaker and not his intended. 

Just another good reason to not speak ill of others. And the qualities you want people to see in you? Cultivate those qualities and find them in others. When you speak well of others, you will be speaking well of yourself. 

Spontaneous trait transference: Communicators take on the qualities they describe in others. 
Skowronski, John J.; Carlston, Donal E.; Mae, Lynda; Crawford, Matthew T. 
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 74(4), Apr 1998, 837-848.


  1. Spontaneous trait transference occurs when communicators are perceived as possessing the very traits they describe in others. Study 1 confirmed that communicators become associated with the trait implications of their descriptions of others and that such associations persist over time. Study 2 demonstrated that these associations influence specific trait impressions of communicators. Study 3 suggested that spontaneous trait transference reflects simple associative processes that occur even when there are no logical bases for making inferences. Finally, Study 4 used more naturalistic stimuli and provided additional evidence that the phenomenon reflects mindless associations rather than logical attributions. Together these studies demonstrate that spontaneous trait transference is a reliable phenomenon that plays a previously unrecognized role in social perception and interaction. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)

*According to Goodwin's research and writing in Team of Rivals 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Home Alone--- Not the Movie

I've waited for this day, for a long, long time. Maybe even 30 years, but more likely 20. It all began in the long ago years, when our children were old enough to take on epic, far away vacations. Vacations that took a lot of preparation, hours of planning, packing. Passports, packing a food suitcase because of a remote location; buying shorts, swimsuits, goggles and masks that fit little faces-sturdy hiking shoes and bug repellant. And the home protection arrangements--someone to water the indoor plants, care for the dog, take in the mail; guessing what to set the heater or air conditioner at so the pipes wouldn't freeze or the plants wouldn't cook. And if we missed school? Making arrangements with teachers and packing homework. Carry on bags? Medicine, snacks, books, change of clothes, blankets. The anticipation of traveling with children, stuffed together with other travelers who were not always fond of children, added a certain uneasiness to the whole vacation.

No wonder, that after dropping off the children, their father, the seven pieces of luggage, that on my way to long term parking, when the fork in the road gave me the option of continuing on the chaotic journey or returning home for ten days of solitude, I would ever so slightly think about doing the latter. Yes folks, not something I'm particularly proud of, but I actually contemplated disappearing from the family vacation  trip. But I never did, because someday, that day would arrive and it would happen all too quickly. Proof that it did, because today is the day!

I have had plenty of alone vacations/experiences. But the luxury of "by myself" was always in an apartment, a hotel, or as the guest in someone's home. There's nothing quite so luxurious as a solitude vacation in one's home. Or, so I have imagined for many years.

Imagined not waking in the morning because of someone else's alarm or slamming of the doors. Imagined eating what I want, when I want. Cookies for breakfast? No problem. No texts at 6:00 p.m. when I haven't made dinner and have no intention of making dinner, asking What's for dinner? No embarrassment at 3:00 p.m because I'm still in my pajamas, still in bed, still reading a book. Take-out for one and a guarantee of leftovers next day in the fridge, untouched. No one else's dishes to rinse and load, no one's shoes to pick up, no television competition. No one to complain about my clothes left on the floor--for the next five days. Yes, I plan to live it up, because these plans have been in the making for 30 years!

I'll let you know if it's been worth the wait.

Postscript: Completely worth it.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"We the People" vs. The Pursuit of Happiness

The red, white and blue buntings are up.

The meat is marinating.

The watermelon is chilling.

Raspberries are waiting to be picked.

The children are coming.

I finished reading an 800 page book on the history of the United States.

Tony is ready for our holiday bike ride.

The constitution is challenged!

The Declaration of Independence is supported!

It's time to celebrate the fourth of July!!!!

Like a firework bursting in the sky, so were the celebrations for the most recent Supreme Court ruling. So much celebration that I assumed everyone was happy, especially SCOTUS. But not so--I was surprised when I looked closer and saw that the ruling was passed with a slim margin vote of 5-4. Fascinating.

It was easy to find the dissenting Justice's words in the aftermath.  Justice Roberts' was so appalled, he was to read his dissension out loud to the American public--something that hasn't been done in ten years.

This Court is not a legislature,” he said. “Whether same-sex marriage is a good idea or not should be of no concern to us. Under the Constitution, judges have power to say what the law is, not what it should be.” 

"Although the policy arguments for extending marriage to same-sex couples may be compelling, the legal arguments for requiring such an extension are not.”

Roberts even went so far as to ask, "Just who do we think we are?"

Those who founded our country would not recognize the majority’s conception of the judicial role. They, after all, risked their lives and fortunes for the precious right to govern themselves. They would never have imagined yielding that right on a question of social policy to unaccountable and unelected judges.”

Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to share the same concerns. He expressed his neutrality on marriage rights, but not on the right of rule, “It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me.”
 "Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court. The opinion in these cases is the furthest extension in fact—and the furthest extension one can even imagine—of the Court’s claimed power to create ‘liberties’ that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention.”
He continues, “A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy... To allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.
 “What really astounds me is the hubris reflected in today’s judicial Putsch.”
Justice Clarence Thomas was also a dissenter, The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits” 
Last but not least, Justice Samuel Alito writes, “Today’s decision will also have a fundamental effect on this Court and its ability to uphold the rule of law. If a bare majority of Justices can invent a new right and impose that right on the rest of the county, the only real limit on what future majorities will be able to do is their own sense of what those with political power and cultural influence are willing to tolerate.”
These are strong words as are the words of the preamble of the United State Constitution: We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessing of Liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.

Just as strong are the words found in the Declaration of Independence signed on this day 239 years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 

It seems to me that the Supreme Court ruling enforced the rights of the Declaration of Independence, yet negated the importance of the Constitution. Solely, my interpretation. Granted. 

We cannot do away with "We the people," which by the dissenting justices' own admissions has been done. Rule by nine unelected judges is a travesty. Yet, equally important, we must stand behind the timeless words of the Declaration of Independence. They are both magnificent and critical to our nation.

It is important to realize that both documents were written by men, during a time when we were governed by higher laws, by Judeo-Christian beliefs and anchors. These beliefs were commonly held and upheld.

With a moral shift in this nation, the waters muddy and may continue to muddy. The right of The pursuit of happiness fell within clearly defined parameters-God's parameters clearly set forth. If the shift of morality continues, we may one day find some pretty interesting challenges when people defend their rights solely based on "pursuit of happiness." 

How do we balance and support two critical ideals necessary to continue the freedoms we treasure, we enjoy, in this great nation? Without a common belief of morality, it's going to be a challenge, evidenced in part, by this historic 5-4 split in the Supreme Court of the United States.
Today and to me, my buntings represent: We the People and All men are created equal, and hang in perfect harmony.