Monday, August 31, 2015

Since the children have all grown up and moved away (somewhat, since London and Paloma came last night for dinner and laundry privileges), Tony, as previously mentioned, has been shifting everything into order. One of those "in order" jobs has been cleaning out the mysterious, foil wrapped, food looking items that have been in the Martinez Antartica, aka freezer, for who knows how long. On Friday, he released a ziploc bag filled with square "chicken breast" looking things.

After pulling back the tin foil, he determined it was a kind of vegetable cake I'd previously made. I couldn't remember ever making such a thing.

"Yes, you took it and cooked it in a little hot oil."

Still couldn't remember. "Was it falafel?" I asked.

"Maybe."

Sunday morning, the freezer mystery item was sufficiently thawed, and I pulled back the foil, and indeed it may have been a chickpea concoction, but I wasn't convinced. I put chicken in the crockpot just in case.

As we prepared to make lunch, Tony pulled the mystery food out of the fridge, unwrapped it, put it on a plate, microwaved it, set it on the table. We still didn't know what it was.

The horror. The horror.

But Tony persisted and divided the food between us. We approached cautiously with forks in hand. The prayer was unusually sincere.

"I think it's lasagne," I said.

"Yes, lasagne," Tony agreed.

"But it's definitely lasagne you wouldn't have made."

"I'm not so sure."

"Look at all the meat on the bottom and scattered across the top."

"Then who made it?"

"I don't know."

But we continued to eat, because it tasted good.

Neither of us experienced repercussions from the food, and so the unidentified food adventure continues.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Commitment

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I take the sacrament once a week while attending church. It's a weekly covenant patterned after the sacrament ministered by Jesus Christ millennia ago. The administration and the prayers of the sacrament are carried out by the young men who have received different levels of the priesthood.

For a young man, I imagine this rite of passage is a great privilege, but never more so did I realize this than when I saw a young man who "passed" the sacrament in California. The young man was afflicted with what appeared to be cerebral palsy. Though he could walk, it was with slight difficulty, and he used his hands to support himself. It would have been difficult for him to pass the sacrament. Passing the sacrament consists of carrying two different trays after two different prayers. One tray contains blessed bread and the other is a tray of blessed water.

The young man "passed" the sacrament at the side of an able bodied friend who carried the trays for him. I was moved by his commitment.

Often, when I "can't" do something, I accept the "can't" and move on. For the most part this is a good thing, because sometimes, I stand on a high mountain and wish I could soar to the bottom like a bird. To act would be senseless; yet there were those who didn't accept the "can't" and reasonably, methodically, committed to figuring out how to fly. Thank goodness for those people who didn't accept "cant."

And so, I wonder what a real handicap is: the physical limitations of disability or the disability of I can't.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

 I teach writing to discover. Usually writers, non writers, and students, write to write, and it's often a chore. Or worse, people don't write.

 I challenge students to begin with an idea, a thought, an image and just write. I challenge them to be open to discoveries and surprises. Writing can clarify feelings and thoughts hiding in the subconscious. As we write, we solve problems, see a different angle, see a point of view from another person. We discover and often the discovery is a surprise. I can teach this because it is my experience.

While writing the following essay, I made a huge discovery.  While teaching writing to a fellow teacher's class, I shared the following essay along with the insights, surprises and clarity that came from the writing. I could have never guessed that the sharing of this essay would bring a different surprise six months later. First the essay:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While explaining the concept of writing to discover, to my new seniors, one student raised her hand.

"Remember the essay you shared with us last year about always choosing to dance?

I didn't remember right away that I'd shared.

"Did you attend the Acapella concert?"

I shook my head no.

The student continued her story, "When I was singing with Viktor, my friends challenged me to start dancing as part of the song. At first I thought "No way," but then I remembered your essay and I thought if Mrs. Martinez can dance then so can I. Viktor was surprised, we didn't even tell him, but it turned out to be the best!"

It turned out to be the best for me too.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Strategies



My friend's parents were leaving for Mexico in a week-- if she could just keep her secret until then. Once they were thousands of miles away, then, and only then, would she reveal the secret. In the meantime, she wore long sleeved shirts and kept parental contact to a minimum.

When her parents arrived in Mexico, as expected, they called home.

"Hi. We got here safe."

"That's good. Er, a, ummm, Mom?"

"Yes?"

 I have something to tell you."

"I'm listening."

"I got a tattoo."

Silence.

After two weeks of drinking pina coladas poolside and indulging in daily siestas, the parents returned home and didn't say a word about the tattoo. The exact outcome, their daughter had calculated and strategized to achieve. The dragon indelibly tattooed on her arm was safe from scrutiny, repercussion, restriction and slaying.

I've come to understand that most children have strategies to deal with a parent's potential disappointment and anger.

For my little sister and me, it was elmer's glue.

Playing kickball in the living room was taboo for all the obvious reasons, but especially since the Swiss wood carvings with delicate deer horns or a hiker's hat with a thin wood feather, were the decorations. The first time the ball hit a deer, knocked it over and broke an antler,  I thought I would surely die at my mother's hand. Not wanting to die, I did my best to glue it back. I waited for discovery and punishment like it was Damocles' sword hanging by the hair of a horse's tail.

But retribution never came; our strategy had worked, and it appeared to have worked for my mother too. Years later, when we moved Mom after thirty years in the same house, I discovered that most of the delicate wood shapes had been glued in one way or another, and I'm betting Dad never knew.

I also had another strategy for concealing tragedies from my parents. On the occasion of my second vehicular mishap, (when I hit a pole driving through an empty parking lot), I came home late so I wouldn't have to tell Dad. He woke up early, so he went to bed early. I also pulled the car as far into the driveway so he was less likely to notice the misplaced bumper. But few things got past Dad--especially the condition of his daughters' cars.

Un-beknownest to me, Dad had his own strategies.

The next morning Mom awakened me with the dreaded words, "Your father's on the phone."

Truly nervous, I said, "Hello."

"How many strikes does a baseball player get before he's out?"

"Three?"

"That's right. You have two. Understand?"

"Yes."

His strategy worked. I never got in another accident again. Unless you count the time...



Thursday, August 27, 2015

Keep Doing

While running the mountainside trail, I come upon a group of Boy Scouts and their leaders on mountain bikes. The caboose leader has stopped to wait for one of the slower bikers. Just before I reach him, he takes off.  In the distance I see him stop again while he waits for the pack to move on.

This happens a few more times before I catch up to the whole group. They hesitate to wait for me, but must let me pass. Bikes are usually faster than runners, and they don't want to get behind me. Yet, I don't intend to stop and wait at every hill. So, I pass and try to stay out of their way at the trail's edge.  One boy is having trouble with his gears. I'm guessing I'll stay ahead.

It turns out there are two groups of Boy Scouts and I catch up to the first group waiting for the slower half. As I pass, the adult leader says to me, "It's pretty sad when a runner passes up bikers."

"Not at all," I respond, "it's hard getting those bikes up the hills," and I'm grateful, I only have to get my single body to the top of each rise. I don't have any gears to grind, my chain doesn't come off, and my bike doesn't break down.

Wait a minute-- it does. My body is subject to all the breakdowns of a bike and as a much more complicated machine, even more so.

My mom and I are talking about aging, because she's doing pretty well in that category. She's sharp in mind and body and can outwork any of my sisters. I ask her if she has any recommendations for aging well.

"Just keep doing what you're doing," and I guess that's exactly what she's been doing. Her advice is my incentive for running my entire hillside route and not cutting it short when tempted.

A little friendly, younger competition doesn't hurt either. I keep looking behind me for the bikers, and every once in a while, I see the leader crest a hill and stop to gaze over the valley and over the trail ahead. He looks like an Indian chief on a horse; I am the cowboy trying to stay ahead of the tribe that's after my scalp.

I manage to stay ahead of them the entire time, and when I come off the trail to the road, my hunter, bike riders, see me below. I think I hear one of them say, "There she is," though it's possible I imagined the words like I imagined the old western movie we were all in.


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Deep Thinking Challenge

I don't remember where I found this poem, but it made an immediate and lasting impression. 

For three years, I have used this poem in AP Literature to teach the importance of reading and of making inferences from titles. I intentionally leave off the title and ask students to "guess" the title after studying the distinct imagery. Seeking a hidden answer may pick our interest.

I used this poem in class today, and I loved it more than the last ten readings. The language is rich, developed from the simple occurrences in nature and life.

Once again, I am leaving off the title.  I challenge you to search and name the title, the one simple word the prose is describing. When you figure it out, or think you have, scroll down for the title which doubles as the subject. Absolutely no cheating yourself of the deep thinking it will require--so much better than suduko.

It hovers in dark corners
before the lights are turned on,  
it shakes sleep from its eyes  
and drops from mushroom gills,  
it explodes in the starry heads  
of dandelions turned sages,  
it sticks to the wings of green angels  
that sail from the tops of maples.    
It sprouts in each occluded eye  
of the many-eyed potato,  
it lives in each earthworm segment  
surviving cruelty,  
it is the motion that runs the tail of a dog,  
it is the mouth that inflates the lungs  
of the child that has just been born.    
It is the singular gift  
we cannot destroy in ourselves,  
the argument that refutes death,  
the genius that invents the future,  
all we know of God.    
It is the serum which makes us swear  
not to betray one another;  
it is in this poem, trying to speak.    
   
Lisel Mueller




The poem title and subject is: 


hope

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Root of Evil and Joy

At the end of an afternoon visit with my eighty year old, still playful friend, she asks, "Pat, do you need any money?"

Her generosity is surprising, sweet, and she bubbles with joy. I don't want to disappoint her, but I must speak the truth, "I wish I needed some money, but no thanks, I don't need any."

She continues to tell me she just sold her old house and she is flush with extra cash.

I have no doubt had there been a need, she would have derived great pleasure from sharing.

My dad had an oft used phrase: money is the root of all evil, and it must have stemmed from his business dealings in the old days of Vegas, when the mob had its hand in the Vegas money pot. He had his share of stories, some he could never tell.

I once heard a marriage counselor say that she preferred to work with wealthy clients because they already knew money was not the root of their problems, whereas those without money found it to be an easy blame.

So how can money be both the root of joy and the root of evil?

It depends where your heart is and what you believe will make you happy. If you can't be happy until you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, consider it your root of evil; if you can be happy while waiting for the pot of gold, it can be your root of joy. Depending how you nourish your root will determine the strength or the weakness of the fruit you bare.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Looks

Theo on a bad hair day and captured in an un-photogenic moment--but his mother still adored him.

It happens to everyone. Every once in a while, each of us takes a photo that's so bad, so preposterous, so doesn't-look-like us, that it shakes our confidence to the core. And every once in a while, we take a fantastic, almost-movie-star image fit for the Gods. Confidence restored. It's why facebook flourishes--because people only post ideal photos--unless someone tags an unflattering photo--which one can remove, right?

But here's the deal, bad photos, bad looks, awkward stages of growth--no matter how Pinocchio or grizzly bear looking a child may be, a mother's love is guaranteed. Case in point: my daughter sent the above photo just because it was so funny. She knew I'd laugh and love the little guy more. Regardless whether a baby wins contests or strangers ask if it's a boy, girl or shitzu pup, a mother will think her child is precious!!! Maybe not beautiful, but always precious.

I always thought my children were adorable and it wasn't until recently, when enough time and space had passed that I, um,,, realized from old photos that maybe they weren't the cutest kids on the block. Only second! See?

And so is the bonds of a mother's love.....

Theo on a good photo day--but his mother didn't love him any more.

Oh how I wish I were brave enough to open a facebook account where I only posted awkward, old looking, basically true life photos of myself. At least my mother would like the photos.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

One Sport Coat, Two Conclusions

My dad owned a beautiful blue sports coat with a silver kerchief in the pocket. I have photos of him standing in front of his big, black, luxury car, on the occasion for which he purchased the new coat. Thank goodness for photos that reaffirm that which slips away.

When my sisters, Mom, and I sorted through Dad's closet, the sport coat hung like an empty suit of armor. A relic from the past, I took it home.

It was too large, but we decided to have it tailored to Tony. The Russian seamstress appreciated the garment, but she warned that to keep its integrity, she could only take out a little of the bulk.  Possibly, it would still be too big. We both nodded our heads because we wanted it to work and Tony, may have been more attached to the nostalgia than both of us realized. From here, the story makes a segue (segway), in two different directions.

Direction 1. Yesterday we had dinner with two of our children, their spouses, and a friend named Ed. Tony was wearing Dad's old sport coat. I noticed it hung a little too loose and made a mental note to ask him to pass it on to goodwill. I also admit that I'm unsure of the feelings evoked when Tony dresses a la Dad. I also noticed when he took off his coat that he was wearing one of those annoying "too big" shirts, he'd inherited from his own father. My husband--cluck, cluck, cluck.

So this morning, I called from my study to Tony who sat in his study down the hall (which seems to be our most common way of communicating these days--but at least I've refused to communicate by email anymore). "Tony, I don't want you to wear Dad's sport coat anymore. It's too big."

"I like your Dad's sport coat."

"But it's too big."

"It's comfortable."

"Please give it away."

"I like wearing it along with my Dad's old shirt and his old shoes."

At this point, I didn't bother replying--Tony had clearly dug in his heels, and clearly it's not about the clothes nor how big or bad they may look. It's about the memories, the people, the ever so simple connection--and that's something a wife can't fight. I reconciled that I am doomed to see my husband dressed in ill fitting clothes, looking like an old man before his time in. There are worse things.

Direction 2. While taking off Dad's sport coat, Tony reached into a pocket and found a torn up note and a funeral program.

"I thought you'd want to see these." Tony placed the papers on my desk (if he could have, he would have sent them from his office to mine, via vacuum shoot--those hard-to-get-at, but cool gadgets one uses while at the bank drive-thru window).

"Thanks, I definitely want to see what was in my father's pockets."

I perused the funeral program of Dad's friend, then immediately started patching the torn papers together hoping to find just one little piece of wisdom from Dad. The torn note appears to only be his random thoughts, and yet I wonder, why did he tear the note up? His first thought, Go to Switzerland. This is no surprise, as Dad loved returning to the homeland. The second musing is the title of a hymn. To read his other thoughts, the pieces needed more smoothing, and they are currently pressed between the pages of an old Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary.

Wanting so badly to see a part of Dad in this torn note, I realize how much I want to read my father's thoughts. More than anything, I wish he'd kept a journal!!! So many unanswered questions that arise in his absence. What I would give for my father's thoughts--and so I vow to be more diligent with my journals. Not just this online journal, originally created for my daughters, but the blank pages of the books that someday they may hold when I am gone.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Commonality of Instincts

A month ago, a friend took Tony and I to a designated area, in a nearby canyon, to shoot guns. My favorite weapon was the AK-47 assault rifle. Yes, I too was surprised. I've usually considered my self a gentle, peaceful soul who's resisted having guns in my home. I've understood the odds of shooting myself were greater than shooting an intruder.

However, on this occasion with the expert friend and a safe environment, I felt a kind of satisfaction--the momentary, illusionary power that I could defend myself. I was a pseudo bad apple defending my turf and it felt good.

Last night after suiting up to defend myself (more on this below), I remembered a different friend who was walking his dog (a beloved ball of fluff who fit in his lap), at the neighborhood track.  A very large dog bounded towards him and viciously attacked his dog, and he couldn't immediately keep it safe. At the end of the attack, the little dog was bleeding and injured. My friend knew in that moment, he could have used a gun and killed the attacker.

It is the end of summer and as food supplies diminish, the yellow jackets and wasps have become aggressive. They are known to desecrate beehives, and I've watched them dart and dive around the hive entrance, trying to get inside. Fortunately both hives are strong enough to keep the pests at bay. But there is a flowering hedge which the insects, wasps and flies have taken over. So much, that I've avoided the staircase against the hedge for fear of getting stung. I also discovered a nest of yellow jackets in the nook of a garden grow box. The proximity to the hive required getting rid of it.

Because of the bees, I didn't want to use an insect pesticide, so I armed myself with a weapon: an electric zapper I picked up in the Caribbean to combat the no-seeums. I naively approached the nest, zapping the few hornets that came and went. Within minutes, I was under attack. Two stings later, I was furious. I dressed for war: two layers of pants tucked in garden boots; my bee suit, hat and veil; a pair of canvas and leather work gloves that reached my elbows. I was ready for war and war it was.

I posed the zapper over the nest hole and every few seconds, a snap and a wriggling hornet. They circled and buzzed but I held my ground. Then things got quiet. I waited.

While perched over the nest opening, I thought about the defense instincts we share with every creature on the planet. The will to survive and defend even to death, is a strong instinct. I don't like sharing the same instincts with a common garden pest.

Without warning, the insects started pouring not only out of the nest, but from all directions. I stayed focused and didn't run. The battery cover popped out of the zapper and a battery fell to the ground. Weaponless, I almost panicked, but I found it, reinserted and kept zapping.

The enemy, at least for now, is gone.

I felt justified in my attack, in defending my little garden of eden against the serpent hornets, but I also felt silly and cruel armed with a plastic racket made in China. That anger, that gift of adrenalin that drives survival and protection comes with consequences. People who are defending property and people have to deal with the after effects of killing--and for me, even killing insects. It's almost like it brought out simultaneously, the best and worst of me. I have the capability of being as vicious as a hornet, and it both scares me and sustains me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

It's A Choice--Again

There are only seven students in our AP Literature and Language class. I was extremely excited about this small number as it would allow for opportunities not possible in a larger group.

One of those possibilities was letting the students choose their literature for the year. There are AP guidelines: all works must be literary.

 Easy. The Canon of world literature literary works are massive!! However AP also keeps an extensive list of suggested novels as a guideline.

When I first proposed to the class that they would choose the reading, they reacted with surprise and happiness, but I couldn't have imagined the extent of their excitement and engagement. As they looked at the list of hundreds of literary novels, they asked questions, they interjected preferences and dislikes, and suddenly this whole world of literature was open to their view. They were like students in an ice cream shop with a hundred delicious varieties to choose from and they could only have two scoops.

We only have time for four novels.

But what happened in this moment was golden beyond expectations. I bet some students will choose to read from this list, even all of this list, throughout their lifetime.

This is the purpose of true education--to inspire and incite  lifelong learning.

In this situation, the excitement sprung from choice, and I'm wondering how important the right to choose is ---in our lives--- and as adults, teachers and parents, how much more should we be giving choices?

Most of our family, in the past has laughed at the way Holly gave her young children choices.

"Do you want to go to bed in five minutes or ten minutes."

"Do you want macaroni with cheese or macaroni with cheese and tomatoes?"

Yet, at a very young age, she was already giving her children autonomy. Autonomy brings personal happiness, fulfillment, and the freedom we crave as humans.

It's already had an effect in how I approached today's mentoring. In my mind, they would really love all the great information from Mindset, but I wasn't feeling the fire. Was it because it was their first week of school? Because it's Friday? Not sure, but I gave them the choice. They chose to have another lesson on Mindset, but they wanted the fast version. I hear you class.

So....giving choices requires change from the person offering the choices, but I"m sure the choice of changing, ultimately brings the greatest happiness to the person in authority.

So what do you want? What a privilege to decide.

A-never-forget-memory: I was the creator and over-seer of a theatrical presentation that hit a few bumps. As I was expressing the difficulties to a friend, she very strongly helped me with my complaints, "Remember, you wanted to do this."

Yes I did, and my complaints ended with the reminder. The project is what I chose, so I put my nose to the grind and worked out the difficulties. My memory of the project includes the choice, the hard work, and fortitude it took for it all to turn out. Beautifully.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Time Will Tell

It's the end of summer and the bees have discovered the salt water pool. In the spring, early summer, and even mid summer, they seem to have plenty of water sources and stay far from it.

Bees and pools don't mix.

Bees, within their complicated and inspiring social world, communicate a "find."  When a scout bee finds a field of clover, a water source, or even a new hive, she will buzz back to the hood and inform her homies with a demonstrative dance. Yes, dancing. It's called the waggle dance. When observing bees, an observer who is aware of a waggle dance, can easily identify and and enjoy the display. The bee's dance moves have specific meanings--directions and measureable distances.

It's important for a beekeeper/pool-owner to keep a bee from sharing "the find."

It means I can't save my own bees from drowning. At least in the beginning of their watery plunge.

I have to watch a bee or sometimes a whole pack of bees, flail and fight for life. Just when I think they've had a bad enough experience, so they won't hurry back to the hood with good news, I can scoop the bee to safety. Sometimes it's not soon enough, and other times, they are hardly phased by 20 seconds in the water.

Often they are alive but groggy and stumble around as if drunk. It is in this state that I worry about being stung. Bees have no allegiance, nor gratitude for life savers.

One day, I saw what I deemed as the miraculous bee acrobat. I stood over her, waiting for the fine line between the "lesson" and drowning. Oh how she struggled and then--she flipped herself out of the water! I had never seen this phenomena.

Since I started back to school, I have been thinking about the students and their abilities to flip themselves out of the water or do I help them out of the water? As teachers and parents, we face this over and over again. It starts with watching a three month old baby trying to flip himself over. "Almost, almost," we cheer, and it's tempting not to give the little guy a nudge; yet if we consistently nudged, he would never develop the muscle to do it himself.

And so we stand back. We let the bee, the student, or the child struggle until, the lesson is learned, or until they've figured it out.

My first student on the second day of school-- didn't finish the reading.

"I just didn't finish the ending," he claimed.

My purpose was not to dock points but to let him struggle a little until he realized only he had the power to save himself, because in the long run, it's not about the teacher. I asked him what he would give himself.

"Twelve out of fifteen points," he answered with confidence.

This worked for me; time will tell if it works for him.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Transparency

I once heard a story that I almost believe is true.

A woman entered the shoe department in Neiman Marcus and found a pair of shoes she liked. When there wasn't a price tag on the bottom or inside the shoe, she asked the sales lady, "How much does this shoe cost?"

"If you have to ask the price, you shouldn't be shopping here."

The unexpected day arrives when Tony and I return to a favorite little restaurant and the new menu doesn't include prices. It's a trendy place, and it seems like they may be testing a new trend. But the concept doesn't fly--I ask for the prices because I want to know what we are paying for dinner. Warren Buffet would never sign a check without knowing the amount.

Transparency. Not just in cost, but in all aspects of life. I want to know the truth, the real reason, the underlying motivation, the hidden cost and the actual cost--as well as why you didn't show, why I've upset you and your real plans.

Transparency is freedom.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Favorite Story and A Question

There once was a prince who began a quest to find himself. It was a long, arduous journey and after a year away from home, he longed to return, even though his quest was unfulfilled.

As he neared the castle, so anxious was he to return to family and familiarity,  he decided to travel through the night. On a moonless night, he came to a wide, dry riverbed. The prince dismounted his horse and walked across the stones and pebbles. The variation in the stones made him curious, and though he couldn't see, he reached down every few steps to pick up a stone and place it in his pocket.

Such celebration when he reached the castle! His family and friends greeted him with joy, the servants with food and libation. Everyone stood round to hear of his adventure, but the prince, weary  from his all night journey, begged for a few hours of sleep.

He retired to his chambers and when he he began to undress, he felt the weight of the rocks in his pocket. He reached in and pulled out the first stone which shined red like a ruby. The second stone radiated green like an emerald; he scooped a handful of smaller stones and found they were glistening diamonds. The prince was astounded and exclaimed, "Had I known I was among such treasure, I would have gathered more."

Who or what are your treasures?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Family

I am sitting behind two grown-up sisters. They are the best of friends and sitting behind them on this Sunday morning, I see how much they love and care for each other. It is so simple, so real, that I feel my heart clench and my eyes tear up. This is what I want in my life--love. Only love.

We don't choose our family, but the tie is like a Gordian knot--difficult if not impossible to untie. Family is inextricable and when times are tough we can't remove ourselves from roller coaster family relationships. If someone is suffering, I am included.

Martin Luther King Jr. seemed to understand this principle, but his application was broader than immediate family.  He said, "Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly...this is the interrelated structure of reality." I believe he saw all mankind as family.
So when a family member is cross with one of my children, I am drawn into the suffering. Yet I will suffer and resolve the issue in my own head and heart without upsetting the balance of the interrelated structure of reality.

I seek peace by trying to see everyone's point of view, and it works. I move from hurt and retaliation, to compassion and love.

I am helped by remembering another quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, "To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the  universe. Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives."

But most of all I am helped, not by quotes, or philosophies of eminent men, but by the example of love between two sisters--and because they are sisters I can assume there have been words, and tears, and forgiveness, and the bond has grown even stronger. Not in spite of, but because, they are family.




Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Foot Race

Amidst all the magnificent teachings, stories and miracles recorded in the New Testament, there is an odd little interpretation (my own) of a story that makes me smile.

Mary Magdalene, still grieving, arises early to visit Jesus's tomb. Imagine her shock when the stone covering the tomb is gone. We can assume she is shocked, because we too, would be shocked. If I went to my father's grave and the sarcophagus was open, the casket empty, I would be hysterical. In a way, I assume she was because she "...runneth and cometh to Simon Peter..."

The words of John that follow "... and [she, Mary, cometh also], to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved...," are words the Christian world reveres; I do too, but I also find a paradox of humor. Perhaps John was humbled by his remembered associations with the Savior, that he deemed himself unworthy to be mentioned. Perhaps his love was so great that it only mattered that Jesus loved him--his name was trivial. I can't know what John's real purpose in naming himself as the one whom Jesus loved. It is endearing, yet it is so human. Again, I bring it to the level of my own human experience--If I was writing about a parent's death and referred to myself as the one the parent loved, my sisters would seethe.

When Peter and John, or the other disciple whom Jesus loved, hear the news, they dash to the sepulchre to see for themselves. Dash perhaps is only fitting for John, as he mentions, "So they both ran together; and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre."

It is a sacred honor to reach the tomb first, but again, I see some child competitiveness in John the apostle. Compared to the magnificence of the empty tomb, of Christ's resurrection, John wants us to know he got there first? Again, if I were John-like and said I had reached our parent's tomb first, my sisters would seethe.

My smile broadens as I continue reading the verses.  Not only did John mention he had arrived first, but he reinforces the visual again and again: "Then cometh Simon Peter following him...Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre."

I don't fault John for including details that meant the world to him. I applaud him for telling the story from his point of view. I applaud him for his humanness, his honesty, and for making me smile. And for giving me hope that in my human frailty, I too may find my own stories with the Savior.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The White Tornado

While in a different time zone, I send Tony a text with two questions: did you watch the debates? Did you remember your mother's birthday?

He replies: no and yes. Been organizing linens.

Ok. When I return we won't be able to talk politics, but at least he rembered his mother's birthday. But who is this man who's organizing the linens? And it isn't just the linens. It's the man who's totally revamped the pantry, all the kitchen cupboards, every closet, nook, and cranny in the basement. And the man who's sent copious boxes to goodwill, and sorted, tossed, and completely cleaned out our recently married daughters' (yes that's plural) bedrooms.  I appreciate it immensely and only put my foot down after he reorganized my bathroom cupboard and was starting on my hair care drawer with no idea of what I valued or not.  Undeterred, he happily moved on to his own clothing drawers.

Sigh. I call him the white tornado and wonder when or if it will ever stop. At this rate we will be pared down in material goods enough to spend the rest of our lives in an African hut. Perhaps this is his intention.

I am however, a little puzzled and when I mention  the white tornado's actions to my friend the grief counselor, she has a different take. "Is this his way of grieving?" She asks. "Is it a catharsis?  His way of closing the chapter on raising children?"

When thinking of our empty nest, I tear-up and feel wistful; Tony organizes. Of course he does. It's the manly (sort of) thing to do when children all grow up and symbolically move away. Why did I think as the mother that I was the only parent with a right to mourn? Wasn't he the father who took turns getting up in the night with newborns? Wasn't he the father who spent his weekends building caves and pushing children in swings? Wasn't he the father who told epic bedtime stories? Didn't he take up biking after the children were grown? Didn't he spend hours letting his daughters fix his hair and dress his face with make-up? Wasn't he the parent who waited up late until everyone was home safe?

If this is his way of handling grief, I'm sure he is unaware and sure he would have a logical retort for my friend the grief counselor and me. He might even laugh at the thought of grieving; but one thing he can't deny is that things have changed around here and he's adapting in a most unique way. It reminds me of a Neitzche quote, "The snake that cannot shed its skin will perish."

A few months ago, we all enjoyed a bird's nest in a tree by the pool. Each day we watched the mother feed her babies; we watched the birds go from teeny tiny balls of fluff to almost regular sized birds. Then one day, the nest was empty.  It had served its purpose. We know that a mother bird will push out the babies when it's time to fly.

 Tony will always be a father--a great one, but his days of fathering those precious little girls in our home are gone--and it's time to move em out. Time to nurture, appreciate, adjust to and celebrate their independence.  Nothing could prove this more than the other day when he questioned one of the newlyweds about the wisdom of a job change.

 "We know what we're doing," was her curt and unexpected reply and the perfect antidote to past-parenting nostalgia.

Tony handled it like a man: he started sorting, tossing, and vacuuming out the cupboard in the entry.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dolphins and Hummingbirds

When I used to meet my parents at the beach, my father would rise early and go to the gym; I would rise early to kayak. At the end of my paddle, I could count on seeing Dad sitting on one of the benches, watching the sea. It was always a comfort to see him there and a reason to ride a wave into the shore with extra finesse. When I finished, he would always ask if I'd seen dolphins.

As the years passed, Dad rarely went to the beach, and when he did, he no longer made it to the gym. When I was there without him, we conversed by phone, and always, he asked, "Did you see any dolphins today?"

Coronado Bay is a home to dolphins. Sometimes just a pair pass through and other times a whole pod of fifty can be seen frolicking in the surf. There have been days when Tony and I have sat in our kayaks for hours--in awe, surrounded by jumping babies, mama dolphins and the big males. When they came close, it was as if they were as curious about us, as much as we were about them.

While kayaking on my last visit, each day I saw the same two dolphins. They were easily identified by a distinct chunk missing from one of their fins.

When I see dolphins, I naturally think of Dad, and this time when they unexpectedly popped up in my path, only a few feet away, I thought, Thanks Dad for sending the dolphins..

My friend, a counselor to troubled teens, recently worked with a young man who'd lost his mother in an accident. The boy overcame his problems and my friend, his counselor, felt the joy and appreciation from his deceased mother. According to my friend, Native Americans believe hummingbirds appear to living loved ones as the deceased person. One night, she had a visit from an intent and persistent hummingbird who found her in the middle of the desert, and wouldn't leave her alone. The hummingbird hovered close for several minutes, intent on conveying a message of love and gratitude. 

 I love the inquisitiveness, the forthrightness, and the absolute humorous hummingbird, but I could never expect a visit from my father via hummingbird. Yet...

Within a week of my father's death, while working in the garden, a hummingbird darted towards me, stopped directly in front of my face, and hovered. Did I think it was Dad? Did I wish it was Dad? Not really, because Dad's style would not have been to come as, or to send a hummingbird as a purveyor of communication.

No, Dad would have sent dolphins. Especially in the days before the anniversary of his death.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Horse Sense Story

A colleague of mine, Laura, was working on the family ranch with her father. They were in the company of her seven year old nephew Byron. Laura's last glance of Byron was of him next to the horse feeder. In the corral, was an injured gelding--a buck horse--a large and strong animal.

Laura remembers the sound of horse hooves beating against the ground. When she looked up, she saw the galloping horse, Byron clinging to the main.

And then...the horse didn't make the curve of the path and hit the corner of a fence--Byron head first.

He fell off the horse, but stood right up, though Laura noticed he was walking in a daze with a cut on his face. She was immediately grateful Byron was walking and though shaken, was going to be just fine.

But what impressed Laura most, was the question her father asked of the  little boy who'd impulsively jumped on a horse. Without asking and without knowing what he was in for.

"What did you learn?" he asked.

Of all the ways a grandpa could have reacted, he chose the way of compassion and wisdom.

I think of all the times I've dealt with children, my own and others, when they've made mistakes. I think of the times I've dealt with adults who've made mistakes. I've think of all my mistakes and the suffering and consequences bestowed on myself, by myself.

I've often missed the most important point of making mistakes: it's how we learn. It's how I learn.

Laura's father's example "What did you learn?" is my new model: for others and especially for myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ping Pong Table Karma

My daughter and son-in-law live in a middle class Chicago suburb, fringed by exclusive areas with expensive homes. As recent graduate students with a new mortgage, money is tight. It's been tight for a while and will be indefinitely. Yet, they've still furnished their home with some nice furniture.

All it took was timing and some astute driving skills.

It turns out, the practice of Chicago suburbans (and many other city dwellers), is to put a couch, or a table, when no longer wanted, out on the sidewalk for anyone who has a need.

We have out grown our ping pong table, and we're tired of seeing it folded upright against the basement wall. Ah ha...we have an idea. Why not leave it out on the sidewalk even though we live in an out of the way cul-de-sac. Risky, but you never know.

Tony enlists a son-in-law's help and lays out his wares on the sidewalk. He even makes a "free" sign and tapes it on. Each time I pull out of the drive way or walk down the block, I chuckle at the ping pong table on the sidewalk.

Each day Tony gives me a ping pong table update along with his latest sidewalk peddling philosophy.

"The "free" sign is missing," he says, "do you think someone took it off cause they're coming back to pick it up and they don't want someone else to take it?"

That is a bit of a stretch, and I happened to see it blow off. I tell him so and add, "I picked it up and tucked it into one of the bars. I'm sure it just blew off again."

"I duct taped another free sign so it won't happen again."

On another day, he checks the box underneath, filled with paddles and assorted ping pong paraphenalia. "Someone took all the ping pong paddles. Do you think they're coming back to pick up the table? They probably needed to get a truck."

I indulge him with some positive reinforcement, "That's it I'm sure."

But no one comes to pick up the ping pong table that day or the next.

Finally the day arrives. Tony has ventured out to get the mail (he never gets the mail except when he's trying to peddle a ping pong table from our sidewalk), and he sees a young couple looking over the ping pong table. His heart probably started to pound at the prospect of ridding our sidewalk of what our neighbors may think will always be there or even worse, that it's our new yard art. They too probably chuckle, though it's more likely at us than at the ping pong table/sidewalk juxtaposition.

The couple is going home to get their van and will return to pick it up! Best of all, they tell Tony they've been wanting a  ping pong table for a while and here it is free for the taking. I know how happy they are because that is how we acquired this very ping pong table. I put the desire into the universe and a neighbor, tired of seeing the table folded upright in her basement, offered it to me.

What goes around comes around--ping pong tables included.

Ping pong table karma.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hail To The Taxi Driver

Everyone has a taxi story, right?  Or maybe two, or three.

My first interesting experience with a taxi driver was at age 16 during the airport rush hour in Denver. With so many people needing a ride, the cabby took more than one passenger. Four of us, and I was the last one to be dropped off. He tried to charge me the full price on his meter. I politely explained the situation from my point of view. Remember I was only 16, but my sense of fairness was waving red flags. He shrugged and accepted half the fare.

Fair enough.

Then there was the time Tony and I took a cab in Korea and the driver tried to keep us off "the meter." While sweating profusely, his eyes wild with dishonesty, he drove like a maniac through Seoul traffic, trying to beat time, but can anyone ever beat time? Well....apparently a cabby.

Phoenix was memorable too. At the end of the ride, the cabby told me it was his birthday, and since it was his birthday, I was more generous with a tip. When I got out of the cab and walked away, I wondered if he consistently told everyone it was his birthday.

My attitude is not entirely cynical and my experiences are not entirely negative. A cab is something to be thankful for. During premium cab times, there's nothing so gratifying as hailing a taxi and having it stop. So grateful I've been for that taxi, I would have brought the cabby home for dinner or on the next family vacation.

The last cabby from the recent New York trip, in casual (cabby) conversation, told us his hours: 5:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. Wow! Now that's taxing.

Furthermore, in New York City, it is illegal to refuse service to anyone based on ethnicity, gender, handicap or destination. But what if...that person calling a cab looks suspicious or strange? What if that person wants to be taken to the far corner of the earth? It doesn't matter (but really, how many people prosecute?).

Yet, how safe is it to drive a stranger to dark and deserted streets? It used to be that cabbies were consistent robbery targets. A college friend's father came out of retirement to help his son get out of debt. In his first week, he was shot and killed.

Did you know what the cost is to get a cab licensed in New York City? Each cab company must buy a medallion for each and every one of their cabs, and those coveted medallions don't come cheap.

One million dollars.

Part of past mayor Bloombergs' wealth, was that he owned over a hundred taxi medallions. Since the invention of Uber, the cost of a medallion has come down to about 600,000--according to our cabby.

Most important: the art of calling a cab. When new to flagging a cab in NYC, use the best resource possible: ask a New Yorker. Where to stand? What corner? The answers are amusing: "Not here. By the hot dog stand." And by all means, flag the cab in the direction you want to go. Usually. After dinner, ask the hostess at the restaurant; when on the streets, ask the policeman at the corner; leaving from your hotel, use the man out front who calls for taxis.

Sometimes it takes aggression. In one of those desperate moments, my sister asked to share a car with a stranger. A year later, she's still friends with Roger.

Knowing which taxis are available, is triumphantly helpful: look for the cab with lit up numbers on the roof screen. If the screen is dark or unlit, don't bother. After a play in the theater district, getting a cab is nearly impossible. Walk a few blocks or use the secret New York City transportation weapon: a car service, though it's more expensive.

We recently used the same tactic to find the best pizza. He was just a man sitting on the corner, holding an advertisement for a midtown racquet club.  He could have been one step away from a bum on the street, but boy did he know where the best pizza was: Bravos on Broadway. Down the street from the flagship Maceys.

Finally, consider using my favorite mode of NY transportation: walking! One of my favorite NY walking memories happened after we couldn't get a cab. Mom and my sisters hopped in a pedi cab for three, but I got to walk through a New York City Christmas: Light snow, twinkling lights and Christmas trees in Rockefeller Center. Christmas scenes projected on the side of Neiman Marcus. Bundled up tourists. Wreath covered lights--all seen different from the window of a cab.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Little Boy

My mother, my sister and I are attending the Broadway show Matilda which is based on Roald Dahl's children's book with the same name. Since it is a children's story, the theatre is filled with children. Adorable children.

Sitting directly behind us is a little boy, an especially small boy, because of an apparent physical handicap. He is braced into the seat with a special apparatus. He is with his parents and two sisters, all sitting on the edge seats of the row.

A fellow theater patron, wants to access the seats in the middle of this family's row. It is customary for the people in the outer seats to stand up and let the people pass. They are waiting for the little boy to stand when the mother interjects, "He can't move."

My sister turns around and sees the boy is struggling to sit more upright so his legs will be out of the way. My sister, with compassion and love, acknowledges how well the young boy is doing. He beams.

When the show is in the second half, the little boy who doesn't speak, starts to fuss. His parents try to calm him, but his fussing turns to cries and wails.

Yes, they should take him out, and I'm sure they will, but in the meantime, even though it is distracting to my theater experience, I'm thankful the family is sitting behind us. Audiences who have traveled from all over the world to see a Broadway show, who may have sacrificed to purchase tickets, are not always tolerant of audience interruptions.

Mom, Loraine, and I, pretend we don't hear a peep. Later, when we discuss the night, my sister says, "When that little boy was interrupting the show, all I could think was, thank goodness he's sitting behind us."

Next time you're inconvenienced by someone's unruly kids, or a child who doesn't know better or can't do better, say to yourself, "Thank goodness it's me and not someone else."

The recall of your compassionate action will sustain you further and lift you higher than any inconvenience.

In the days and years to come, when we gather and reminisce, it will not be the play we remember--it will be the sweet face of the little boy who sat behind us, and our gratitude that he was.





Sunday, August 9, 2015

Talent and Grace

Over the years, I have come to appreciate and love theatre. When traveling, if a stop in New York City is possible, or when NYC is the destination, we try to include a night or two at the theatre. My life has been enriched by the hours sitting in a small chair, in a tight row, in an old theatre, on Broadway.

Sometimes, I find myself crying purely because of the talent: an actor's ability to live and breathe a character; the emotion of words spoken with or without music; music I can forever hear in my mind. Then there are the few plays that change my heart, change my life.

Amazing Grace is one such play.

Amazing Grace is the story of a former slave trader who has an epiphany, changes the course of his life and writes the song Amazing Grace. John Newton lived in England in the eighteenth century and because of his father's business of slave trading, was also a slave trader. While traveling from Africa, his ship encounters a storm which almost sinks the ship. But John is saved and he sees this as a sign of God's will for him to change.

The play is of course, fictionalized and the most powerful scene, an incident that probably isn't true, is a life changer, for Newton and for me.

Life is a series of life-changing moments. Truly. I wish I had kept a timeline of my life, or perhaps a graph would have been better, with points that corresponded with current age and the epiphany, the devastation, the humiliation, the mistake, the repentance, the glory--all the moments that change a person's life. If honest with ourselves, we stumble, but we arise--more humble, more appreciative for the experience. Sometimes we can't pull ourselves up, and then, it is only grace that is endowed with enough power to lift and save.

The fictional John Newton, in a fit of anger, banishes the slave, Thomas, who raised him to the island of Barbados. Newton knows the hardships of Barbados are far worse than Thomas' previous life as a slave.

When Newton's life is spared, and he realizes the evils of slave trading, he commands his ship to Barbados where he desperately searches for Thomas. On the last island, he is found, but he is a broken, crippled old man, who refuses to acknowledge the boy he raised, the boy who cursed and doomed him to Barbados. But grace prevails, and the slave's heart softens enough to forgive his master. It is a supreme moment of grace, a culmination of grace for a man in desperate need of divine intervention.

At that moment, I also remembered how in need of grace I am. In that moment, how I wished I could take back every mis-step I had taken. But it isn't possible to take back or erase our past; it is only possible to arise from those human frailties through the power of grace.

Amazing grace.

 Chuck Cooper as Thomas and Josh Young as Newton


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Going Out of One's Way

When my sister booked rooms at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, I remembered there was something unique about the hotel. It is old, historic, and Mom stayed there in 1955 when she danced on the Ed Sullivan Show--(nine years before the Beatles made their American debut), but there was something more. When we arrived, it came to me: The Waldorf keeps bees on the rooftop!

I wonder if I could get someone to show me?

On the last morning, with some free time, I ventured to the lobby to inquire. While waiting for the elevator, a man wearing a suit appeared, but he wasn't wearing a hotel name tag. A little voice in my head clearly said, Ask him. I hesitated, but the voice was too clear to ignore.

The elevator doors closed. "Hi, do you work here?"

He turned and smiled, "Yes, I do."

"Would it be possible to see the rooftop apiary? The beehives?"

"Come with me," the elevator doors opened, "and I'll see if you can."

I followed him to the lobby where he instructed me to wait.

A few minutes later he emerged and said, "I'll take you, but first I have to go to security and get the key. It'll be about five minutes."

"Oh thank you!" I was overjoyed. I'd asked Mom to come along so I called her to join us.

The Waldorf Astoria apiary. A little beehive in the foreground of skyscrapers and the Chrysler building.

In the next half hour, Jamie went out of his way to accommodate my curiosity. We joined him on an old elevator, climbed out of the way stairs, watched him return to security to update his security pass, and we enjoyed his patience and pleasure at sharing the bee gardens. By the end of the tour, friendly Mom knew he was married, had a three year old, graduated in business and was the assistant comptroller in the finance department. Mom even asked him to extend our check-out time to which he graciously complied. Jamie was a man who was willing to go out of his way.

In contrast, the previous day while ordering a chopped salad, the server informed me the salad bar had just run out of carrots. What would I like to substitute?

"I'd like half pears and half grapes."

"No, you can only have one substitution. One scoop."

"Could you just use a half scoop of each. A little bit of pear and a little bit of grapes."

"No. It's an even exchange. One scoop of carrots, one scoop of something else."

"I'll take the pears."

Lol.

On my flight home, my seat mate is a young girl. She initiates the conversation during our dinner, and I learn she is a senior in high school from Long Island, New York. I ask where she is applying to college. She lists her hoped-for universities, and she adds, "I'm supposed to be writing my college essay on this flight." Big mistake to tell an English teacher.

When she explains what she will be writing about, I am sure she has a fantastic topic. I get excited--for her, for my seniors, who will very soon be writing their college essays.

"I know I'm a stranger, but as an English teacher, I hope to see you write it." I'm kidding, but I'm serious, and I even hope she'll share a first draft.

She naps, I read. She wakes; she pulls out the laptop; she doesn't write. She plays on her phone. Laptop goes back under the seat. I hold my tongue and try not to make the corner-of-my-eye glances obvious. Poor girl--to be under the auspices of an English teacher with nothing else to do.

With a couple of hours left in the flight, she's finally tapping away on her keyboard. Looks like she's writing her essay.

We don't speak again until landing. She turns to me and says, "Thanks for making me write my essay." Oh, the subtle, maybe not so subtle, unrealized power of sitting next to an English teacher, while sitting 30,000 feet in the air with no place to hide.

"You're welcome, but I didn't do anything, you did. I was even hoping to read the first draft."

"You can."

I'm not sure if her offer is serious since the plane is about to land and laptops are now taboo.

I feel the need to go out of my way.

I offer to read her essay via email.

 I was the recipient of someone who was willing to  go out of his way to create a memorable experience. I am grateful. The salad bar man created a contrasting memorable experience I am also grateful for. His simple refusal reinforced my appreciation for Jamie and the understanding and importance of going out of one's way for someone else. Little efforts make a difference.

 I write my email address on a tiny piece of paper and invite her to send her essay . I promise to give suggestions, if wanted. I hand her the paper and explain that if she doesn't want help, the scrap of paper will be easy to lose. I'm surprised when she takes a photo, so it can't be lost.

I doubt I will hear from her, but the invitation, the offer to go out of my way, is enlightening to me and hopefully to her.

Postscript: Emily sent her essay. Together, via phone and googledocs, we edited and polished her essay.




Friday, August 7, 2015

My first visit to New York City was in the stunned aftermath of 9-11.

I had come to Connecticut to work on a project and, Doris and I took the train into the city "just to see." It was one of the most sobering experiences of my life. Trinity church was still covered with ribbons, cards of condolences, and letters from children trying to make sense of, and trying to bring some peace to a crazy world.

The most heart wrenching evidence of a true disaster was the hundreds of missing person flyers posted throughout the city. Family members with a string of hope, looking for answers, looking for loved ones.

Yesterday was my first time to visit the 9-11 sight after the construction of the new tower and the flowing water memorials. The visit began with a view from the 50th floor of a Battery Park high rise. Everything was miniaturized. The magnitude of the space couldn't be experienced from such lofty heights.

After walking to the sight, it was apparent the sadness wasn't gone, but somehow, there was hope amongst the painful reality of the past. It didn't feel quite right watching tourists take smiling selfies with the memorial behind them, but we experience tragedy and hope in different ways.

The man who showed us the view from the 50th floor of the neighboring building, was in the office the morning of September 11, 2001. He met a friend, a co-worker at the elevator, who was on his way to a business breakfast at the top of the tower. The man who died that morning was a CEO of a high profile investment corporation.

I was struck by the names etched in steel surrounding the water memorials. Every name of every person has a place on the water-surrounding memorial plaque. I didn't know the name of the CEO, the one our friend had met at the elevator, but I was struck that if I had known his name, I wouldn't have been able to find it, because there is no differentiation between a power Wall Street broker and a bus girl who worked at Wonders of the World restaurant. We are all equal in death.

video





Our host informed us that the new World Trade Center Towers has a very low occupancy. The city can't find tenants who want to rent the space. Conde Nast corporation has taken five floors, but they've had to fill the other floors with various city organizations and employees. I can't blame people for not wanting to work at the new tower.

Hope prevails, but reality haunts.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

My mother's 80 year old neighbor is on the edge of an atheistic cliff, and he's trying to take Mom with him when he jumps. He doesn't know Mom.

 He's started volunteering to take her to the airport when she needs a ride. Each time he has a twenty minute captive audience.

We all love Neal. He's kind, he's smart; he's a retired lawyer from Texas who's still a partner in his law firm. We all love chatting with Neal, and if I ever had the chance to talk to him about his new atheism adventure, I would, because I've already had a few imaginary conversations.

"Neal," I would say, " you're an attorney who's used to gathering evidence; is there enough evidence to believe in God?"

Neal never answers in these conversations, so while he's thinking, I also have the answers. "No Neal, there's not enough evidence to believe in God, but is there enough evidence not to believe?" This time Neal shakes his head no, so I continue.

"Then it has to be a choice Neal, and once you gather the evidence, just like when you were a practicing attorney, you either believe or you don''t."

Neal thinks.

I close the conversation with a conclusion by one of the most eminent thinkers of our time, Albert Einstein (paraphrased), "You either see everything as a series of miracles or see nothing as a miracle."

Once again, one of life's many great questions and decisions is answered or determined by choice.

Choice: the greatest factor in a well-lived or a poorly-lived life.

Thank god or not, for choice.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

I Am

My family frequently makes fun of one another, because we all have a tendency to watch, glimpse, or steal a peak at ourselves as we pass mirrors or a store window, or really anything that reflects.  It is extra unavoidable at our house, because a twelve by eight foot mirror hangs in the kitchen/dining/family room where all intermingling, eating, and socializing takes place.

 I hung the mirror so we could see the view from all angles, but it's turned out to be more of a self-view mirror and a checking point for everyone as they pass, or stand in front of, or if you are a teenager, a place to stare, straighten up, and stare some more. If you are a toddler, it's a place to show your unabashed self fascination. A place to run past and giggle at oneself.

It's interesting to watch a guest who is new to our dinner table, who is sitting on the the side facing the mirror. Whether the guest is male or female, he or she is unaware of the constant glances to view oneself..

If I were to sit down at a public place where passing people caught their reflection, I can almost 100% guarantee most people would stare at themselves as long as they could.

 It seems that most people, not just my quirky, self-loving family, love to see their reflection. We need to quit making fun of each other for staring at our reflections, because this urge is not only a family trait but a commonality, even a fascination we share as humans.

So why do we all like to see our own reflection?

I popped up in the dentist chair and the hygenist handed me a towel and dropped the mirror so I could clean my face. I almost jumped back when I saw myself. "Wow, I'm older than I thought I was."

"That's funny," the twenty year old hygenist answered, "An eighty year old woman just said the same thing."

This may be the clue to self reflection fascination. The majority of our life, we spend behind the face, the body, in a kind of cave. Our body cave. Just looking around, interacting while not seeing where we come from. We don't see ourselves, but perceive of ourselves from our thoughts, our voice, the movement of our arms and legs. When we do catch a glimpse of ourselves, it's validating and surprising. It's surprising that our wrinkled face doesn't match the exciting thoughts of a twenty year old.

Never before was this so clear as when I was walking down the beach on an overcast day. I'd been thinking deeply within my cave, unaware of my physical self. Everything going on was inside my head. The clouds parted and I jumped when I saw my shadow. I existed! I am.






Why do we love to see photos of ourselves?

When you see a group photo, who do you look for first?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Revenge of the Caprese Salad

Have I ever mentioned that Tony is a foodie? A gourmand and a gourmet? A gustatory driven soul.  That he was endowed with a palette that never forgets? A palette that longs for the next best croissant, a quart of vanilla Haagen dazs, a tree ripe Valencia orange, a homemade meatloaf?

According to his mother, when he was just six months old, she handed him a cookie, but before it reached his baby fingers, she took a bite. The baby, I repeat baby, understood what had just transpired and wailed in grief.

Furthermore, he has yet to forgive his family for a faux pas of many moons ago. He and his family were traveling cross-country and the big plans were not to stop at the Grand Canyon, nor Mount Rushmore, nor Yellowstone, but to stop at the family's favorite restaurant: The Blue Moon Chinese Restaurant in Boston.  Tony was ill and sleeping in the back of the camper, and his family, left him to sleep while they dined on egg rolls and sweet and sour chicken. To know my husband, is to know this was a horrible offense, indeed a crime.

This man, while living in Los Angeles, tried every kung pao dish on the west side and perfected his own version for which he is now famous--at least with the family. For Christmas Eve dinner, we will always serve kung pao.

With a deep understanding of how much Tony enjoys, worships, loves good food (even mediocre food), I have mostly let him order for me, what he really wants to eat, because there are always at least two dishes he must try. Sometimes three, but that is another story. I trust him, because he has proven himself to be a shrewd reader of menus.  In this way, I am the perfect mate for Tony, possibly one of the reasons for our successful 30+ year marriage.

Though my compliance can be counted on, it is never guaranteed--and it has never brought such angst as one time in the south of France. We had discovered the Italian restaurant section of Nice and I fell in love with the caprese salad. Never had I tasted buffalo mozzarella so divine. Creamy and tart, it combined perfectly with ripened tomatoes and the ambrosia combination of oil, vinegar and basil. It's what I ordered over and over again because I couldn't get enough. In my love affair with a caprese, I failed to realize I was breaking Tony's long standing code of restaurant ordering bliss.

The culmination is almost unbelievable, but in Tony's defense I will first explain that finding the perfect restaurant is a lot of work. He scrutinizes the menu and searches for restaurant reviews. Social media has proven dependable when there are thousands of five star ratings. We have eaten at the best restaurants off the beaten path, that couldn't have been found without Tony's work. My food loving self bows and applauds him.

With only a few days left at the Disneyland of Italian food tasting, Tony found another great restaurant in Nice France. We sat down and there were several tasty temptations he wanted to try. To his great disappointment, I ordered a caprese salad. Remember the six-month-old baby grieving over a cookie?

Ahhh, but I held my ground. Though I love to please my husband with my congenial ordering abdication, I too am a foodie, and this foodie wasn't giving up her caprese. Still wailing, but this time to himself, he ordered the dishes he wanted: all three. Or were there four?

Which brings us to our current vacationing status. Each night out, I would prefer to eat at my favorite restaurant: Leroy's. The food is fresh, playful; the chef takes risks. Seasonal, new menu items and always the favorites. Lots of vegetables, fruits, choices of fish. Every member of our family has a favorite at this restaurant.  I'll order anything Tony wants, as long as it's at Leroy's, but Tony wants more restaurant adventure. Consequently, there's a lot of bartering going on and whenever it looks like it might not go in the connoisseur's favor, he mentions oh so casually, the stressful, powerful, disappointing, incident of the caprese salad.

The moral takeaway: Never love food more than you love your spouse, or never love food more than your spouse loves food--either way, it will haunt you.

And according to Tony, after listening to me read the above discourse on food, I'm a lot more demanding than I have admitted.

Monday, August 3, 2015

In Training



Tony and I are enjoying a delectable meal, yet the joy is incomplete without thinking of this child or that child who would love quinoa cake or the bacon jam on Tony's burger. This night, I think of Holly, our oldest daughter, who would love the roasted peach salad. It hits me that she will be joining us for one night at the beach before we leave, and she will arrive with hubby and children in tow after a long drive, and wouldn't she love a quiet hour alone with her husband at a nice restaurant?

"Never suppress a generous thought," enters my mind. It's a quote by Camilla Kimball that I read and loved years ago. It has a way of popping into my head at opportune times. Like tonight.

I hurry and text the offer before I think better of my generosity.

Fortunately, she gets my text right away and takes us up on the offer. It's a done deal. I'm committed and happy to have thought of her and pleased that Tony and I have the chance to give her a well deserved break.

A premise: Each time we act on a generous thought, that action will bring greater happiness and fulfillment to our lives. 

If my premise is true, how do I become better at acting on thoughts of generosity? Answer: By accepting a challenge. By practice.

The challenge:

Step 1: Carry a small notebook (my "notes" option on my phone works best for me).

Step 2: Each time I have a generous thought, record it.

Step 3:  At the end of the day, reflect on each generous thought and answer the following questions: Did I act on the prompt? What was the outcome?

If the premise is true and the challenge is successful, I'll be quicker to listen and to act upon generous thoughts, which will bring greater fulfillment. If I become more conscious of others, I will become more conscious of joy--to myself and others.

Yesterday, I started the experiment of listening to generosity and acting on the generous prompt. I was walking my bike down a busy sidewalk. When I passed Starbucks, I noticed a young girl sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store. Her head was down as if she were possibly sick. Everyone else was passing her by and it would have been the easier thing to not interfere or inquire. I parked my bike and walked back, kneeled by her side and asked if she was okay. Her head popped up and she answered, "I'm fine," in a very fine-feeling voice. I comfortably moved on.

Nothing important happened. Unless I count that I didn't suppress my desire to care. I traded the worry I would have felt had I not stopped, for the assurance that she really was fine, at least in the sense of not needing my help. That brings a certain peace. It also brings a satisfying feeling of connection to another human being. Most of all, I've practiced;  I've hopefully gotten a little better at not suppressing a generous thought--because next time, the person may not be fine.


**Thanks to author John Pontius for issuing a different challenge upon which I modeled the above.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Sabbath

Yesterday, I woke up vacation-early, walked down to the water to check the surf, hurried back and suited up, then dragged my kayak to the water and paddled for a half-mile.  I returned to the surf, rode in a few waves, paddled through the surf, and started over again. After pulling the kayak up the beach, draining it, I went for a swim.

I carted the kayak back up to the garage, showered the paddle, the wetsuit, myself, and hurried back to start my beach walk. Because Tony and I had planned to go to Farmer's Market, I walked the beach to the north, but ran it back so I'd be on time. When we met up for the morning, he had just returned from his 25 mile bike ride.

Hungry, we battled freeway traffic to downtown. We found a parking place and walked during the heat of the day, four blocks to the crowded market. We bought green juice and oranges, bok choy, sprouted hummus, and ate lunch while sitting on a shaded piece of sidewalk.

We returned home where I studied the battle of Agincourt, read for pleasure and fell asleep. Ha ha.

A little after five, we hopped on the bikes, rode to the library where I searched for a book. When I couldn't find it, we also rode to the bookstore. We stopped for dinner. After dinner, we rode to the bank ATM, peddled home and because I didn't find the book I needed, hopped in the car and drove to the Barnes and Noble in Point Loma, hurrying to make it before it closed. We also stopped for gas and battled the gas dispenser because it wouldn't take credit cards and didn't seem to take debit cards.

Please understand I am not complaining. All of the above is a choice. Choices I love---but this morning when I woke and my shoulders felt paddle weary, I was thankful that today was Sunday, a day of rest.  I was thankful the only driving would be to church and back. I was thankful there would be no kayaking, no bike ride, no beach run. My body and mind could rest and recuperate.

The Sabbath. "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work. But the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord, thy God."

I grew up with parents who honored the sabbath. We didn't always go to church or live our religion, but the sabbath was always important. Dad awoke everyday of the week before the sun rose and he worked hard. I don't remember him taking Saturdays off. Sunday was an important day of rest. My mom grew up in a hard working family too. They grew and produced their own food. They sewed their own clothes. The Sabbath was also a welcome day of rest.

It used to be that almost everything was closed on Sundays. Store parking lots were bare, the roads were quiet.

My best friend in sixth grade was the Rabbi's daughter, and it was a delight to be in her home at the beginning of Shabbat. Her mother donned a shawl, lit the candles, said prayer, and a whole new set of rules governed the home. No cooking, no turning on lights, no riding in cars,--the Sabbath was much more than a day of rest. Strict adherence to these rules "set apart" the sabbath for her family.

As Christians, we have a lot of freedom in choosing how we will observe the sabbath. When Jesus was derided by the Pharisees for plucking grain on the Sabbath, for healing on the sabbath, he made it clear that "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."

For me the greater joy is that we were created by a God who understands the frailties of the human mind and body and like a loving parent, knows when it's time, to slow down and renew our bodies and souls. It's like having a nursery full of two-year-olds and knowing they must nap in order to function. He even knew it would be hard to slow down, so he made Sabbath day observance a commandment.

Tony finished his Master's and PhD in three and half years. It was record time for students in his program at UCLA. Years later, his comrades who started the program at the same time were either still plugging away or had moved on to other endeavors. Tony never did any homework on the Sabbath. Which brings us to the blessings of Sabbath day worship.

We've only had one daughter who followed Tony's example of not studying on the Sabbath. Both she and her husband received their PHD's together a few years ago. During the graduate journey, they also received full ride scholarships to the same university and managed to get internships in the same city. It is not uncommon for married couples to live in separate cities while seeking their PHDs.

God doesn't give commandments without accompanying blessings for those who are willing to make the sacrifice.

Monday morning will come soon enough and the kayaking, the beach run, will start all over again. Tuesday, I'll board a plane for a five hour flight to meet my sister and mother where we will spend two days museum hopping, seeing shows, shopping and making some very important business decisions. I will fly home late Friday night, attend to the two weeks of a neglected garden, plant the winter garden and Sunday, I will rest.

Monday morning at 8:00, I begin teacher week. Sunday I will again rest. The next week will be long, hard and joyful with a classroom full of students, but alas, on Sunday I will rest again. This is the pattern I have set and will try to live for the rest of my life.

I thank God for the Sabbath.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Protect Your Time As If It Were Gold

Over twenty years ago, I had a young neighbor with mental health issues. She reached out to me, and I extended my love, my concern, and silly me, I tried to help.

 Silly me, because she needed professional help all along, and I didn't realize this until I'd been dragged through a lot of mud and anguish and only after I'd lost precious time with my young family.

Since this incident, I've been mother-bear protective of family time.

It doesn't mean I'm always available or that I skip out on obligations, or fun and important things; it's more that I make sure we have time and when we are together, family is priority.

On a smaller scale it happened again. An old acquaintance came to a family event and tried to divert my attention. I smiled at the effort because no way, could I be distracted from my family time.

Protect your time.

Because time is gold.

Family is gold.