Saturday, December 31, 2016

Life Is A Ravensburger Puzzle

Tony and I walk the beach on a beautiful, sunny morning, the week after Christmas. It seems all the world has descended on Coronado Island, and since the weather is so fine for a December day, everyone has come to the beach.

Most are prepared; they carry surfboards, boogie boards, and set up umbrellas on the shore. The water is chillllllly, so the super prepared are in wet suits. Some are unprepared, so they roll up their pants and run into, and away, from the surf. A mother strips the soaking wet clothes from her child and he runs naked.

As I pass by children, it is evident for some, it is their first time at the ocean. Their delight is spectacular! I burst into laughter as I see their explosive expressions and squeals of surprise.

So many people! All in their own world.

We pass an exercise class of at least 50 people, all dressed in swimming suits. On our way back, they've all plunged in and out of the water, and when we are face to face, they are back on land,  chicken skinned, red, and near shivering.

A man thinks he has spotted dolphins in the sea. He screams in his native tongue, which sounds Korean; he animatedly scoots across the sand pointing, pointing, yelling. His family watches. Everyone watches. The dolphins are swimmers.

A toddler is in her bikini and won't come out of the gentle surf, despite her blue lips and chattering teeth. The parents try to steer her away, but she insists on keeping her toes in the frigid Pacific.

When my children were young, one of my favorite activities was to get down on the floor and put together a Ravensburger puzzle. I still remember the scenes: the lake with the children floating in tubes; the mountain scene with jubilant hikers, and a camper on the side of the road with a flat tire. So much activity packed into a puzzle, each person oblivious of the next, each scene extremely amusing.

Ravensburger sells millions of dollars in puzzles each year, and they do it because they reconstruct in caricature and hyperbole the human experience.

How funny we are.

A modern Ravensburger puzzle

Friday, December 30, 2016


Last Christmas Eve, Theo's mom was changing the lens on her professional camera. Curious, he picked up the lens and threw it. Nature teaches him about thrust and the force of gravity; he also learned about social consequences--his mother cried and his father whisked him away to his crib. Theo, still learning about the world, hopefully gained some important insight into acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

But not fast enough. Christmas Day, a day like no other in his one year old life, it was finally time for bed. In his mother's arms, his warm milk bottle in his hands, he said good night to all the family and guests. Still navigating the curiosities of this world, perhaps wondering about the consequences of last night's toss, he threw the bottle. It's glass and it made a horrific noise as it splattered milk in a fascinating pattern on the floor, the couch, and the cloth covered chair. He had everyone's attention too. And just look at those facial expressions he's never before seen! This time, his mother didn't cry, but once again, Theo was wisked to bed.

 The radio program is addressing the nature of babies, and even though they may appear to be non-thinking/non-processing blobs of mini-flesh and blood, in actuality, they are absorbing all the stimuli, movement, and details that surround them.  They are perpetual learning machines.

A baby sitting in its highchair throws food off the tray. She is testing gravity and human reactions. Things fall, mommies and daddies react. Ahhh, that baby thinks, when I drop my pancake Mommy gets up. To every action is a reaction. This is how we all learn.

For the past year, Ezra, now four, has amped up his learning in the form of questions. Not the quintessential "Why?" that drives parents bonkers, but he's been asking serious, scientific, thoughtful questions.

I've tried to keep track of them.

What is in eyeballs? What if I had 10,000 eyeballs? What happens if our house was only made of candy? What happens when a fly gets burnt? What happens to a fly's body when it dies? What are bridges made of? What is in light? What is stupid? Why do we burp? What is in hair?
When Margo (his baby sister), grows up will I have two moms?

He even has his own answers.

"What happens to us when we die?"

His mother asks, "What do you think?"

"We turn into bakers!"

Fortunately he has a mother who looks up images of eyeballs, artistic reproductions of the layers of skin (Mom it looks like cake!"), and talks to him about the anatomy of an eye and how there are nerves all over his body that communicate with one another and send messages to the brain. When his mother explains his nerves are like wires for electricity, he excitedly responds, "I have wires in my body?"

Ezra's curiosity and consequent questions take me back to my own childhood, when I too wanted answers to everything in the universe. I used to lay in bed at night caught in a vortex of confusion over one particular question: If God has always existed, who came before God? How did it all start? It had to start somewhere?!! After trying to resolve the ultimate mystery, exasperated, I would fall asleep....and wake the next morning with more questions.

As we age, we no longer have to throw a bottle to understand simple physics, but to continually grow, we must keep asking questions, keep investigating, keep finding the answers.

Today on our hike, we had a question: was George Washington born in America? What about the presidents following--John Adams, Thomas Jefferson? We should have known, but it has been a long time since we've studied details of American history.

What I like best is that we combined the two keys to youth: learning and exercise.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Choose Your Lifestyle and the Food Will Follow

Sitting in our Economy-Comfort (that's an oxymoron!) seats, Tony turns to me just before take off and congenially accuses me of taking him to post-holiday fat camp.

Not intentionally, but a week away after his our Christmas indulgences, fat camp isn't such a bad idea. We are leaving behind icy, snow covered roads, uninviting 20 degree weather, and a cupboard full of Christmas chocolate. We're headed for mostly sunny and 70 degree weather, sublime conditions for running, swimming, paddle boarding and biking, and a kitchen void of all the Christmas sweets. We'll shop at Farmers Market and feast on Valencia oranges, strawberries, and mini brussells sprouts.

As I walked the beach this morning, I realized my weight concerns are not about thinness or how I look--it's about wanting a certain lifestyle--wanting it enough that I don't consider the necessary adaptations and changes as sacrifices. Wanting the energy to ski Park City or climb the Great Wall of China, to chase grandsons, requires a different focus--a focus on the greater privileges of fun! Not a focus on denial.

I am enamored with a new TV drama in which one of the characters is medically obese. I love Kate! In episode one, on her 37th birthday, she's reached the limit. She's desperate and intolerant of her life and she's mustered the needed courage to step on the scale--finally. Her body is so out of balance, she falls backwards. But she's made the shift, and I believe that Kate will attain her lifestyle goal, but not only out of sheer desire, but from addressing her emotional needs as well.

Recently, the daughter of a friend was in my company, and we had lunch together in my kitchen. After finishing our sandwiches, her mother came into the room, horribly upset and in tears. I watched the friend's daughter go to the fridge and pullout the fixings for another sandwich.

My own daughter asked why I always went to the kitchen to eat when I was on the phone with one of my sisters. Today when I dropped my mom off at the airport, I start craving gingerbread.

When I asked myself why I was craving gingerbread, I became aware. Awareness and consciousness was enough. I didn't need to eat gingerbread; I only needed to recognize the sad feelings associated with Mom leaving.

After our family get-together on Christmas Eve, while hugging my 82 year old mother in law good-bye, I noticed the muscles in her arms.

"I bet your abs are rock hard too, aren't they?" I playfully poked her abs and was actually surprised how  ROCK hard they really were.

"It's all that shoveling," she explained.

My mother-in-law chose her lifestyle. She built a house on a hill and put in an abundant garden of fruit trees, strawberry plants, raspberries. She needed to build pathways and trails and a small patio nestled among the scrub oak. She loves to dream, create, and execute the plan. She eats to live her lifestyle.

When we finished our delicious dinner out tonight, the waiter asked if we wanted to see the dessert menu. It was easy and natural to tell him no, as I pictured myself bike riding home from the restaurant.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

You Came

On the last day of school before Christmas break, a glowing ball of energy strides into my room! It's a beloved former student who has returned with a gift, a thank-you card, and an invitation to her harp concert.

I look at the date, "Oh my mother's birthday!"

Her face changes, "So you won't make it."

"No, I think I can. My mom's in California. I'm pretty sure I can make it."

I even text her as per her RSVP request, and I pre-apologize "though, I'll be in my yoga clothes."

On the harp concert day, I leave yoga early and make it to her house just on time.

When I see there are parking signs, and a sign as to where to enter, I'm proud of my former student's organization.

She'd told me the concert was just to "give back," and to give people a pause from the rush of the holiday season. She was even serving refreshments.

I slip into the back row of a crowded family room. Within minutes, she stands and thanks everyone for coming. She is glowing with excitement.

The room is surrounded with young and old, friends and previous students, even a fellow teacher.

The music is sanctified. I tear at the loveliness, at the talent of the three young woman who have planned, practiced, and who are now giving their best.

When the concert is over, I wedge my way through the crowd to thank her for the beautiful music. When she sees me, she softly says, "Mrs. Martinez, you came."

Having slipped in the back, just minutes before the concert started, she hadn't seen me before it had started. In her greeting, she showed her surprise and her appreciation, and even her faith in my RSVP.

She couldn't have realized how endearing those words, You came, were to me. When she uttered them, they were so familiar and for days I pondered where I'd heard them before. I could only recall one sacred incidence.

My dear neighbor of twenty years had moved into a care facility. I'd been out of town, and when I returned, I was warned her health and mental state had rapidly declined. I was afraid.

Was it best to remember her as the sharp English teacher or to see her in an aged and vulnerable state? I'd spent hours on the summers-night-porch, and by her winter fireplace. She'd shared her stories, her wisdom, her deepest longings. Even her chocolate. She'd passed on a beloved poetry anthology when I first started teaching AP Literature.

I ached when I thought she would never return to the home she loved. I ached when I knew she may not recognize me or appreciate my visit as she had in the past.

I didn't want to go. But I did because Tony insisted.

When we saw each other, she said, "You came."

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Christmas Ball Rolls Again

One of our Christmas Eve day errands was the fabric store.

Paloma helped me pick out six different bolts: gingerbread men, bright bows on a black background, polka dotted mini Christmas trees, bright green and red combinations.

"What are you making with the fabric?" The nice lady who was cutting our yards of fabric asked.

"It's for our Christmas ball," I answered.

"Your what?"

Three years ago, a neighbor mentioned her Christmas ball tradition. I'd never heard of a Christmas ball and she invited me to her home for an explanation. She pulled out a box of neat and precisely cut strips of Christmas fabric. She showed me the small trinkets, an exact number of each one, chosen for the grandchildren who would unroll the Christmas ball.

As lovely as it was, I knew our Christmas ball would never be like hers. And it never has been. I'm not a precise nor stream-lined kind of person. Yet, we would still have a Christmas ball!!

This year's Christmas ball was as lopsided and homespun as it could ever be--mismatched and filled with surprises and laughs. And money! An iTune card! Cookies! Candies, photos and super balls with blinking-light fish. A Pez candy dispenser, a Tide on-the-go stain remover. A Nordstrom note! A piece of homemade candy.

I made two this year. One for the grown up children without children and one for the grandchildren--or so I had intended...Christmas Eve, I decided it would be more fun for all the adults to sit on the floor, great grandma included, and each of us would take several turns at rolling the ball.

Christmas ball #1

Christmas ball # 2 action shot

The only problem with the Christmas ball is that it ends. The final roll brings a sigh of sadness~~like Christmas, like all things good and joyful. And then begins, the next pursuit of goodness, joy, and adventure. Or...taking down the Christmas decorations.  Sigh....

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Magic Pink Gloves

Last January, I bought five pairs of delicious Italian gloves in Florence Italy. I had finally gotten the hang of Christmas shopping in advance, and the gloves were picked by color and size for my daughters and me.

The leather was out-of-this-world soft; the colors were deep and rich: a dark madeira plum, a turquoise, a powder blue, a classic red, and a rosy pink. I let my daughters choose their favorite color, and their choices mostly aligned with what I had imagined. The pair left was rosy pink.

As I pictured those gloves on my hands, a pop of pink, contrasted with my black winter coat, I thought of the nice gloves I already had, and the true spirit of Christmas wouldn't be keeping those gloves but giving them away. Who should I give them to? For whom would it be a meaningful gift? For both she and me? After all, I was giving up a treasured possession...

She popped into my head the minute I asked. At this point, it was easy to relinquish the gloves~~it was the true spirit of Christmas!

I wrapped the gloves in beautiful paper, in a beautiful box, and tied it with a gold ribbon. I wrote a card explaining how much this woman meant to me.

Tony waited in the car as I rang the doorbell. I didn't hear it, and wondered if it worked. I thought of ringing the bell again, but there was a slight shift in my focus. I can't pinpoint exactly what it was, but somehow I knew it had to be a quiet gift. I gently laid the box behind a wooden Christmas tree on the porch. It was a little hidden, but I didn't want someone walking by, to take the gift.

When I jumped in the car, Tony said, "You need to text her and let her know the gift is on her porch, otherwise, she won't see it."

I nodded my head, but I knew I wasn't going to text her. At the time, it seemed like the gift would be more about me than her: Look what I I I let on the porch for you.

All along there was a different plan in motion.

The next morning, Christmas Eve day, I got a text from my friend. I'm emailing you about your gift.

It hardly deserves an email, I wrote back.

It sort of does. So, I waited for her email.

The email was sacred and a reminder of what the true spirit of Christmas really is.

In part, the email read:

Subject: The Magic Pink Gloves

Thank you so much for the gloves. It was so weird because I went to bed at 11 and I was so tired that it almost hurt. It was hard to unwind and my head hurt. We just barely put up our tree yesterday. Tried to make a fun family activity of it by picking one out at the lot together since all the kids are home.  Anyway, I woke back up at 12:30 just super stressed about everything I had to do to pull Christmas off. We are having 17 for dinner. I'm feeling a lot of pressure. When I woke up, I felt awful. I got up to get some Tylenol and I noticed the porch light was on, which was weird because it hasn't gone on for a few days and I thought we needed to change the bulb. I looked out the window to see if it was snowing and I saw your cute package. The Italian pink gloves and the card and the joke just lifted my spirits so much. I went back to bed and just realized that I need to chill out. What gets done gets done and what doesn't doesn't. The most important thing is I need to be present and enjoy the days with the kids without killing myself to make it special for them. I realized I had been going about it wrong. 

 The Christmas spirit is the hand of God~~who knew it would be discovered in the magic pink gloves.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Presents

It's the day before Christmas. The sun has yet to rise and the dawn prevails. The forecast was snow, but it looks like a gloomy, rainy day, yet as I just wrote the measurement of the weather, I was filled with extreme joy~~the kind you feel in your heart that brings forth tears~~and I'm not even sure why.

Probably because I'm so thankful. Grateful. I feel that spirit of giving. Perhaps because Mandi just sent me the cutest photo of Margo on the way to Portland. I'll share it with you, so you may feel the sweetness of life too.
While looking in downloads for this photo, I found other photos that brought absolute joy~~and true joy must be shared, and so I do in these joyful photos.
Christmas isn't complete without a Santa photo!

Santa grew up~just a little. The joy is in the mirror of their smiles, faces, and love.

Who couldn't smile after seeing the delight in this child's eyes.

And here's what I realized this morning. 

They are all presents. 

My family.

 My people.

Merry Christmas from my house to yours!

Christmas morning we are serendipitously blessed with a white Christmas! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Learning from "I Didn't"

It was the late 1950s when my uncle convinced his dear friend to move his medical practice to Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1950, the population was only 24,000, but by 1960 it had grown to 64,000--the growing city needed a good doctor.

AG Noorda began his Las Vegas legacy. He delivered me, my siblings, and most of my cousins born after his arrival. He delivered my cousins' children too--even my niece, and thousands of other children. Dr. Noorda even taught me how to waterski.

So when my sister called to tell me Dr. Noorda had passed away at age 89, I rejoiced for the life he'd lived, but my sister was filled with tearful sorrow. Not for his death, but because she had felt impressed to visit him in the weeks before and hadn't done so. She'd missed an opportunity.

"Dr. Noorda would never want you to be sad over this!"

She knew it, but she'd also let herself down--and this is where the pain magnified.

This is how we learn.

This is why in my prayer this morning, I asked what opportunity I might have today, and please help me to recognize it. The mistakes are what drives us to go all we're not nagged by that one thing we missed.

A day later, my sister receives a thank-you email from a teacher of homeless teens. This is the second year my sister has provided Wal-mart gift cards so they can buy groceries, gas, even diapers for their young children. The teacher writes that some of the recipients broke down and cried when they knew their basic needs would be fulfilled with a gift card.

I'm sure my sister joyfully cried when she read about the students, and I'm sure she will do it again next year, and when she receives an impression to visit someone old, I'm sure she will do that too--only because she didn't.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fixing It

My Christmas present is happening right now in the downstairs bathroom.

It started as a simple request, "Mom, what do you want for Christmas?" Always a hard question when dealing with one's children, so I tried to keep it simple.

"How about towels for the downstairs guest bath?"


"You could even buy a new piece of art. Nothing expensive. See what the discount store has. You could even paint it if you wanted."

Daughters eyes bulge.

"I should get a new faucet. And a sink."

I never had time to pick out a new faucet or sink, and besides, I figured the Moen teardrop faucet was so old, it was about to come back in style. It took vinyl 30 years, and the faucet is at least 33 years old.

Time was actually on my side.

The gregarious newlyweds took the challenge. They are downstairs taping the bathroom readying it for its first coat of primer. What color will it be?

I have no idea. I gave them complete control, absolute monarchal reign over the downstairs throne room.

I am banned from the hallway until Christmas morning, and I've sworn compliance. I even promised to get to the garage by leaving out the front door. I can do anything for two days.

A few times, the inevitable what if? has entered my mind. What if they paint it orange? Or black? Naaah....have faith. It is fun letting go.

If it's horrible, I'll wait six months, and hire a painter. We'll all be relieved.

The power to let go (on really a trivial thing), is in part because I keep hearing my cousin (the million dollar account interior decorator), say, "There's nothing that can't be fixed." She's spent a lifetime of fixing design mistakes.

Her words have stayed with me longer and have had a broader application than I ever expected. Except for death and a few other catastrophes, in the general state of existence, truly, there's nothing that can't be fixed.

I keep this in mind when grape juice is spilled on the custom green polka dot bench. I keep this in mind when a child reports a fender bender. I keep this in mind when I've been impatient and snapped. I keep this in mind with estranged relationships. There's nothing that can't be fixed,~~ the hardest part is first fixing myself-by being humble, by checking myself, by just getting in there and fixing it!

End product photo forthcoming...just two days until Christmas.

Postscript/follow-up: The gift givers couldn't wait until Christmas morning. Once the bathroom re-paint, re-decoration was finished, they were boiling over with excitement to give--isn't that the true spirit of Christmas. And.....

they painted it white!  And soft blue. They took the ocean palette and the sand colored vanity surface.

I love it. 

Sometimes when you do it right, it doesn't have to be fixed.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

In Gratitude We Become

In the late 1930s, the economy is just picking up after years of the Great Depression.

The farm next door to Grandma Parker's farm has been abandoned for months; the owners lost it to the bank. There were years of drought and with no water for the crops, keeping up with the payments was impossible. The farm is now for sale and the bank is asking $870--a small fortune considering the time.

Grandma Parker has a dream to own the farm next door. She dresses in her Sunday best and walks confidently into the bank. The banker tells her if she wants the farm, she has to have a down payment. It's impossible to come up with any kind of money, but Grandma Parker can't let the thoughts of that idle farm out of her mind.

One day while walking through the farm she wants to buy, she takes a closer look at three silos standing tall in a field. She discovers they are full of wheat. She returns to the bank.

"What comes with the farm?" she asks.

"Everything," says the banker.

"Including the grain in the silos?"

"Well, I suppose, if there's grain in the silos, it would come with the farm."

"What if I could sell the wheat--could I use it as a down payment?"

The banker tells her if she can sell the wheat, the farm is hers.

The wheat sells.

Grandma Parker has her down payment.

The next year, the rains are plentiful and the family reaps a bumper crop. The farm is paid off in a year and a half.

Grandma Parker was my friend Bill's grandmother, and he inherited her tenacity. When people need a job done, need help or guidance, they call Bill.

In these few days before Christmas, I've been writing down people, ideas, and ways in which I'm thankful. From Bill's Grandma, Bill's actions, I have gleaned a small list of gratitude: friends who are examples, people who share their stories, people who think beyond the apparent.

I believe the things in which we feel gratitude, are the very things that become our own characteristics. In gratitude we recognize, in gratitude we appreciate, in gratitude we become.

If one advances in the direction of his own dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thank You Ira Glass

"I committed the unpardonable sin," I say to my mother.

"Are you shopping at Costco on the Saturday a week before Christmas?"


My mom is not only brilliant but intuitive.

But the truth is, I'm feeling extremely joyful on this day when perhaps I have a reason not to. The stores are crowded and the traffic is horrible; it takes three light changes to make it through. The horn honking sounds like I'm in New York.

I owe my joy and peace in the car to Ira Glass and This American Life. I'm enjoying his Christmas story broadcast so much, I actually slow down and feel bad when my errands are finished.

The first story that grips my heart is about a man whose four-year-old daughter asked him, "How did Christmas start?"

He explained about the birth of Jesus Christ. The explanation satisfied his daughter who understood the concept of a birthday, gifts, and a Savior who espoused "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

Later, while driving, he and his daughter passed a church where a statue of Jesus hanging on the cross caught her attention. Oops, he hadn't told her that part of the story, and when he explained to her that Jesus' thoughts were so radical that they killed him, it broke my heart, and I cried. From a radio story. It's a story I already knew well, but to hear it in his words, from his perspective, and to learn from his daughter's innocence--the tragedy compounded.

After Christmas came Martin Luther King Day, and again, his daughter asked him who this man was. The story was tragically filled with the same elements: a man with ideas so radical, they killed him...

Again, it broke my heart and I cried.

A woman tells the second story on This American Life. Christmas morning, she and her sister awake to find one big, wrapped box in the living room. With all the pent-up anticipation of a Christmas gift, she and her sister unwrap the box to find two black tissue boxes, decorated with painted flowers. The woman, as a little girl, burst into tears. Her older sister, changes the moment by her excitement for the tissue boxes painted by trained monkeys!

The tissue box becomes one of her prize possessions. Years later, she finds an essay written by her sister.

On that Christmas morning, she too had wanted to burst into tears, but she saved those tears for later in the privacy of her own bed. What she had chosen instead was to save Christmas for her little sister. She knew how poor her parents were and how hard it was for them to take charity from others. The tissue boxes were painted by their friend. She imagined in that split second, the boxes were painted by trained monkeys. Her reflective essay regretted most that she was forced to act like an adult on that Christmas day.

The stories change my perspective for the day. I feel blessed instead of tortured.  Ira Glass says he will be back next week with more Christmas stories. It will be Christmas Eve day--and inevitably, I'll be back too, fighting the last minute rush of people and chaos, in between it all, within the peace of my car-- with Ira Glass.

Postscript: As expected, I head out on Christmas Eve day! But my driving around is not in the company of Ira Glass~~~even better(sorry Ira)~~it's with my daughter who has joined me for the last minute and joyful generosity of pre-giving.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Papaya and Shorts to Pomegranates and Thermals

Overnight, from here

 to here.
It all happens too quickly. Or so it seems.

Within six hours, I can be in a different time zone thousands of miles away with a temperature that varies by 60 degrees. I can go from sun-warmed sand to snow outside my window. Oh the marvel and speed of change.

Yet, when I think of the convenience and miracle of travel, I have to slow way down and remember this possibility didn't happen overnight. The first controlled flight of a power driven plane didn't occur until 1903. Before, there were decades of dreams, attempts, and failures.

My amazing overnight flight was at least 113 years in the making.

In the making... a very curious phrase.

At any given moment...I am in the making...of what? What am I becoming? All the dreams, attempts, and failures are contributing to the making of what and who I am.

Already in my mid-fifties, it's a little different when I consider the becoming of myself. It's such a different consideration when we are in our twenties and thirties. Yet, in the making, starts at birth and can continue throughout our entire life.

It's exciting to think I am still in the making. The possibilities are endless.

I'll only be finished--when I'm finished.

Yet, finished is relative; and since I have a strong belief in life after death, in the making is possibly an eternal effort.

If in the making is an eternal effort, then maybe Jesus' admonition found in Matthew 5:48, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect, isn't so far-fetched?

It is impossible to be or even become a perfect human being; the human condition, the fallen human state, we can never achieve perfection,  yet this is exactly what Jesus commands. But what IF I have a hundred years to progress, to be  in the making~~hmmm, I don't think so. But what could I become after a thousand years in the making? ~~perfect? No way, becomes a longshot, a maybe, even a possible reality.

Long ago, no one could have imagined a person could go from sunshine and shorts to snow and thermals in six short hours...but we do.

Monday, December 19, 2016


We have a student who is amazingly talented, intelligent and his own worst enemy. He is belligerent, and during a recent exercise, gave an example so heinous, I asked him to retract his statement. He wouldn't, so I moved on immediately trying to minimize the attention.

His fellow students, over the years, have adjusted to him--they accept him, tolerate him, and even care for him. I'm just thankful for all the good he contributes, thankful his contrariness is minimal, and most of all thankful that everyday after school, he goes home to someone else.

Last quarter, he sat in our classroom at the end of the term and made up all the work in one afternoon. Yes, it was late, and yes he was only given half credit, but he eeked it out and earned a passing grade. This quarter, he wasn't as motivated, and a week after the school deadline had passed for any late work, he made the long walk to my desk after the last, last, class.

"Is there anything I can do to make up my grade?" he asked.

"No. The deadline was last week." My compassion was as sincere as my gratitude for hard deadlines.


His acceptance was a relief.

In the meantime, his mother had called the counselor, and the counselor had sent a plea to the young man's teachers. "Please be merciful."

Widdershins. An old German word (1500s) meaning contrary, counter clockwise. Thinking differently than what may first appear, as the only way.

True mercy for this young man is contrary to what the counselor has asked for. In this case mercy equals accountability; it is more merciful to require accountability for this young man than to let him slide further into the rut he has so deftly dug for himself.

In the next three years, Tony and I will be paying for Physician's Assistant schooling for our daughter. The tab will be high, sacrifices are required, but most of all we are grateful we can do it.

My sister recently asked how we can justify spending so much money for one child's education and not for the others. How are we going to keep it fair among four children?

Fair and equal doesn't mean the same, I explained. Fair is addressing needs when they are needed, and fortunately all needs will not cost as much as PA school. If as parents, we felt our monetary disbursement had to be equal among children, we'd be choking to survive, or worse, we would refuse to help because we couldn't keep it equal.

Fortunately, we think otherwise.


Sunday, December 18, 2016


I pop a piece of buttered bread into the microwave. Out of habit I push the one-minute default button even though it only needs 10 seconds.

After twenty seconds, the microwave is still running, and my husband sheepishly--because I hate for him to tell me what to do in the kitchen--suggests I shouldn't leave it in that long. I casually turn and try to hide my reaction because I actually forgot I had put the bread in the microwave. When I admit this to my husband, he is understanding and says, "If you think that's bad, I'll tell you what I did yesterday if you promise not to laugh."

He recalls, "I was getting ready to leave my office and I kept reminding myself to remember my laptop. By the time I got to the car and drove a block towards home, I remembered I'd forgotten the laptop. I turned around, drove back, parked the car, and walked up the three flights of stairs to my office. I walked in and attended to another task. When it was completed, I walked to my car, reached the car and remembered I had forgotten the laptop again.

Tony and I blame this behavior on brain overload. Just like an overloaded circuit, a breaker blows and instantaneously, we forget the simplest things like taking bread out of the microwave.

Our second excuse is aging.

Marylou Weisman wrote that after the age of 30, the brain loses about 100,000 neurons a day. "These nerve cells tend to take the car keys with them and leave important things behind. There are two basic kinds of forgetting: Losing one's train of thought and losing the passengers on one's train of thought. Losing one's train is caused by a sudden mass defection of neurons. One moment you're moving purposefully toward your destination. The next you're standing stupidly in the doorway mentally derailed, 'What did I come in here for?' At least losing one's train is almost always a private act."

Postscript: Tony and I go to lunch and purchase a loaf of French bread for dinner that night. After lunch, he drops me off at my car which is parked right next to the bank. I have to deposit a check, so I enter the bank with the loaf in hand. Finished with business, I drive home. An hour later, I can't remember bringing the bread into the house. I check the car and realize I left the bread at the bank. A phone call confirms my suspicions and the bank will leave the bread at the drive-thru window for Tony to pick up on his way home--maybe.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Food, The Food!

We're one week and one day away from Christmas!

My impulse is to start craving the food I associate with the holidays, some of the foods I've known and loved since I was a little girl.

The Old:

Cottage cheese pie~~Even thinking about this pie warms my stomach, my emotions, my heart. I see the pies sitting on the stove where my mother placed them to cool. They never lasted long--maybe a day or two at most. My Grandma Zobrist brought this pie recipe from Switzerland.

Pomegranates~~The holiday fruit! The bright red tendrils were ordered by Santa himself. Pomegranate bushes grew well in Las Vegas and Mom always had this fruit through the holidays. It must be a part of my food DNA too.

Cherry Rice:~~Mom brought this recipe home from Denmark after visiting her brother. It's slow cooked rice in whole milk, then chilled and mixed with cream, almonds, and cherries. My sisters and I were wee little ones when she started making a big batch and placing it in a decorative glass bowl. The white, white rice and cream contrasts so beautifully with the bright red cherries. It's the quintessential snow-white and red combo of the season.

Grandma M's carmel cookie balls~~I knew I was marrying into the right family that first Christmas when I tasted these cookies. There has never been a Christmas when my dear mother-in-law has not made these cookies. She starts with a shortbread type cookie dough, wraps it around a walnut, carmel-ly nougat, cooks the cookie, then dips the cookie in caramel and nuts. Heaven!

Gingerbread: One year Mom went to Relief Society workday and was introduced to making gingerbread houses. Mom's artistic flare and the possibilities of houses and even villages was ignited! For a hundred years, Mom made gingerbread houses for everyone. Each morning I awoke to the aroma of fresh gingerbread. After Mom cut the pattern for the walls, roof, door and trim, there were leftover scraps for dipping in milk. I love the smell of gingerbread.

The person who got the biggest kick out of those houses was...Dad. Mom made them for his colleagues. Those gingerbread houses graced the tables of hotel magnates and the janitors at Dad's warehouse. He used to have the biggest grin as he carried another one out the door.

My little sister with gingerbread houses in the background~1969

This year one of Tony's teaching assistants brought him a miniature gingerbread house. Its construction is rather simple compared to Mom's past creations, but the minute I smelled it, I was back in childhood Christmas land again. I placed the house on my nightstand, and last night I woke up several times to the smell. I loved it, but it's not worth waking in the night.

I'm so excited about this year's food, I've thought of publishing (for my children) a schedule of what I'm going to be making each day, with an invitation to join me for the specific food celebration. Fortunately, I've narrowed the foods down to three. Or four.

The New: A few years ago, Christmas in Kauai, a daughter discovered toffee macadamia nuts. Since Mom loves spending her birthday in Hawaii, it's become a tradition. I haul a dozen bags back for family and friends. I had to hide them this year to keep Tony from opening a bag.

Hidden away in my pajama drawer

For at least five years, our new Christmas Eve dinner tradition includes Kung Pao chicken (I pick out the chicken). Christmas day is nachos with jalapeno cheese sauce based on a recipe from Miguel's on Coronado Island.

Each year, I like to add a new delight and it either passes the test or not. So many dishes have gone by the wayside, mostly because there's not enough Christmas days to eat all the celebratory food the world has to offer. So we've said good bye to eggs Benedict, Kris Kringle coffee cake, because it never turned out like it used to, and sugar cookies I like to save for Valentine's Day. Crepes have moved to anytime of the year because I love crepes!

This year, I'm quite curious about a New York Times Thanksgiving recipe for a grape dish...yes really, and will add the Four Seasons Meyer Lemon Ricotta Cheese Pancakes. Yum, can't wait! I've included the recipe in case you're feeling Christmas-food-tradition adventurous too!

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 c. ricotta cheese
  • 8 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon zest (about two lemons)
  1. Pre-heat griddle on medium low.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together ricotta, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. With a rubber spatula fold the dry ingredients into the ricotta mixture.
  3. In another mixing bowl beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold half the egg whites into the ricotta mixture, then fold in the rest of the egg whites until just combined. The egg whites will lighten the mixture.
  4. Melt 1 Tbsp. of butter on griddle heated to medium low. Pour the batter onto the griddle. I used a 1/4 c. measuring cup for this.
  5. Cook pancakes for 4-5 minutes, or until the tops begin to bubble and the undersides are nicely browned. Flip and cook the other side for 3-4 minutes.
  6. Dust with powdered sugar!

Friday, December 16, 2016

It Is Glorious

As a teenager, a book by George Ritchie fell into my life. It wasn't an ordinary non-fiction re-telling or a novel, but was the first book of its genre I ever knew about. It was a man's nine minute experience with death and his journey within that nine minutes. The story is extraordinary.

Years later, as an adult, another after-death experience book fell into my lap, Betty Eadie's Embraced by the Light. It was also a compelling, and to me, a believable experience.

Both works were seminal because I'd always had hope that life extends beyond this limited three dimensional world. The authors' experiences fell on fertile soil. My hope is shared by many as both books became bestsellers.

Now that the near-death experience was out of the bag, other people started talking and sharing their stories. A trusted friend told of "seeing the white light," during an operation when the surgeon "lost him." I relish in these stories.

And then my own father passed on, and his experiences in the three days it took him to fully leave the earth, convinced me even more of a beyond. Before Dad came so close to the end of life, he scoffed at the stories I shared, at the beliefs that sustained me. Not yet ready to leave, he was shooing away personages who were waiting at the foot of his bed. He was curious to know who the man was who wouldn't leave. My sister pulled out a photo album to show him images of relatives who'd passed on. As she pointed to each one, he'd shake his head no, until...

His eyes widened and he sat straight up in bed, and said, "That's him."

It was my mother's father whom he'd never met.

After that, Dad stayed in his deep sleep only to say a few more words.

My cousins had a similar experience with their own father, but their story is not mine to tell. What I can share is that in a moment before his imminent death, after a son cried out in discouragement, their father rose and said he was with a sibling who'd passed on 60 years before and he clearly said, "It is glorious, glorious."

I believe his words with all my heart and hope

Thursday, December 15, 2016

So Simple, So Monumental

The gifts trickle in like unexpected guests. They are often trivial, perhaps items a parent picked up at the dollar store, or store-bought popcorn repackaged with a ribbon.

The gifts mean the world to me. It means I'm just their teacher, but a teacher worthy of a small Christmas remembrance.

James walked in with a box of homemade cut-out sugar cookies he carried around in a box, dispersing to his friends. There was a sweetly wrapped bundle for me and for my teaching partner.

Josh brought a loaf of his father's homemade bread. Taylor brought a giant kitkat bar.

The essential bottom line requirement is loving the students no matter what, and when they give back the smallest iota, we take it as the best thing in the world. A teacher will never take the slightest gift, nudge or change for granted.

Today's final consisted of a short presentation of students' research papers. Each student was allotted a time to share his or her research.

One of the first presenters showed a short clip on prosthetics. When I asked the student what drew him to this research, he recalled when he had a biking accident and couldn't walk; he added, "It's because we don't know how important something is until it's not there anymore."

Melina gave us a short presentation on the education necessities of becoming a nurse. When I asked her what drew her to the profession, she recalled a time when she was at girls' camp and stayed up the whole night caring for a sick friend--and loved it.

Christian's research was on the creation of the TSA and a consequent report card. We learned the head of TSA took home 5.4 million in pay and when tested by their own affiliates, the officers failed to find threats 96% of the time. He'd stood in too many long TSA lines--his research was spurned by a distaste for the TSA.

Then there was Jared, who stood up to present and a few of his fellow students asked, "Wasn't that your research project in 9th grade?"

"Yes," he answered, "but I'm expanding on it. Last night I wrote 14 pages."

Okay. We'll have to hope and trust.

Again, it is the little, little things that often matter the most.

I texted my teaching partner and told her one of the best things about the whole day was that Joseph actually cared about his grade. For the first time ever, he came up after class and asked me how his presentation was. This was EPIC!

The day ended with a student coming up to me and asking, "How can I get my grade up?"

I looked at the grades and saw he was in deep trouble. But he'd missed the school wide deadline for turning in all semester-end work. He seemed resolved but was still going to send an email to the other teacher. I sent her a heads-up warning. She noticed what I hadn't, and it was indeed the slightest nod of improvement. "You're right about late work," she responded, "I'm happy he came to us instead of us going to him."

He still hadn't done the work, but to us it was the itty bitty improvement that sent joy through our teacher hearts. It's really the little things that matter like subtle shifts in the earth's core that eventually bring about an earthquake-- a cookie, a miniature cactus, a simple question, "How was my presentation?" from a boy who's never cared--it offers hope that one day, they'll be high school graduates who do well in college, who do well in life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Warning: If You Can Still Stand To Read About Politics

I keep wanting post-election political talk to go the way of hoola hoops, Volkswagen beetles, and cream of mushroom soup casseroles.

I just want to read the New York Times without having to wade through more anti-Trump articles--do they know he's the president elect and it is likely not to change?

I want to go back to the sane conversations with friends and family that no longer include political rhetoric. I want to hear my intelligent democrat friends focus on their ideals, dreams, and accomplishments and not their doomsday whining. I cringe when they publicly write about a newly-elected fascist. I want my intelligent republican friends to...well, actually, they're not saying least they are open about their concerns now that they've been heard. Remember the phrase: Be careful what you wish for? However, they are, I am, cautiously optimistic about Trump's actions. The disparity still exists in what Trump says he is doing and what the news is reporting. What a shame, who to blame?

Now that it's over--even the stilted recount, I want balance. I want checks and balance. I want truth instead of fear mongering, lies and wikileaks. I want to see proof, not unverifiable quotes. I'm tired of Trump f-bombs and saddened to hear his Manhattan-living children are plagued with outbursts from the disappointed.

Realizing the fight isn't over and has probably just begun, I've buckled in and bucked up...I may want to put my head in the sand, but it would be foolish. Even though I revolt at the thought of engaging in going-nowhere political conversations, I'm keeping my ear to the ground and trying to wade through the aftermath--desperately trying to use and hang on to my own logic, keeping a balance in what I read and absorb. In seeking this balance I've listened to the post election reflection held at Harvard University, a gathering of media heavy weights and the Clinton and Trump election brains. Both teams gave their perspectives on why the election turned out the way it did.

I've added the president elect to my Twitter feed, along with Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and the Trump twitter feed which reports all things negative and positive--for balance, for checks and balances. Hillary has been silent since November 26, but Bernie keeps pushing for justice and keeps his negative cracks to a minimum. I like what Trump tweets, but the counter revolution would say it's all lies.

How does the average woman sort through a political dark alley?

The only concession, promise, or hope I have is that ~time will tell.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Na' aupono

Na' aupono: the Hawaiian word that means to nurture a deep sense of justice.

I am often surprised how incomplete the English language is when I learn a new word in another language. I search for a cognate or an equivalent. How often I have heard a foreign language speaker try to translate a concept from his language to mine, but he fumbles and comes up blank.

Understanding of the word justice  (the quality of being just, impartial, or fair), is universal, but the word for nurturing a deep sense of justice is missing from my word pool. Has anyone heard of such a word in English?

I can say that I try to teach justice, or that I taught my children justice, but even writing the words seems so superficial. And what exactly fits under the umbrella of justice?

The number one definition on my Webster dictionary phone app is: the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.

A second definition is: the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments. So it seems the greatest teaching of justice would have happened in my own home within the relationships of my own children. Did I ensure they treated one another justly and were they judged and taught by the same rules? Was I fair? Did I merit the same punishments and rewards? Were consequences and rewards equal for my children's behaviors and actions?

I sure hope so, but I most clearly remember times when I made accommodations for a younger child that an older child didn't think was fair. The consequence of my injustice was an angry child who yelled, "I hate you."

We imperfect parents may be saved by what is the greatest teacher of justice--injustice. Often we can't understand what justice is until we recognize injustice. How often have we exclaimed, "That is so unfair!" Perhaps my teaching of a deep sense of justice improved after the sting of my child's retribution.

Some of us learn best from negative examples; the phrase, "If you fail to be a good example, then be a very good bad example." Knowing I often learn best from negative experiences has prompted me to share my mistakes--even if I look like a fool, it is worth saving someone else from foolishness.

To develop a deep sense of justice would take time and care. That is why the acquisition is paired with nurture. We nurture plants, animals, people, all with the intent of specific development, growth and health. A deep sense of justice requires consciousness, awareness, and desire. Foremost, it is an act of love--self love, love of humanity, and love for our own family stewardships.

Hence the need for fluidity, adaptation, and adoption of language. I have always needed the word na'aupono. Just as I needed the word kigatsuku. Kigatsuku: the recognition of need and the compulsion to act on that need without prompting from any other source but one's heart.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Favorite Story

A prince, whose life was filled with ease, found his life to be lacking. Wanting more, he was filled with wanderlust, believing that true happiness and knowledge would come from outside the walls of the kingdom. The king and queen understood his desires and sent him forth in the company of a trusted knight.

Together, they traveled on horseback for many miles, to many lands, to sit at the tables of great kings and humble peasants. Everywhere he went he was welcomed, revered, and yes, he learned. 

He soon grew tired of his adventure, and he longed for the familiar surroundings of home and family. 

So anxious was he to return, that he pleaded with the knight, his friend, to travel a different, untested route that would surely shorten their journey. The knight agreed, and they cut through the forest to pass through an unfamiliar valley. The way proved not only shorter, but more flat than expected, so much that the prince, more anxious than before, demanded they travel by night. If they did, the prince predicted, he would enter his kingdom the next day as the morning sun would rise.

It was a crescent moon night, and they traveled slowly and carefully. When they came to a dry riverbed, the two men sensed a difference heretofore experienced. The prince led his horse over the stones and noticed in his unsure footing how strange the stones were. He stooped to gather a handful and dropped them into his pocket. 

Much later than the sunrise, the prince and his trusted knight, found the road to the village outside the walled castle. Word spread quickly and by the time they came to the palace, a full entourage awaited the prince. What joy to be had at the prince's return. There were tears (his mother's), prideful rejoicing (his father's), and a feast and celebration was ordered at once. 

The prince was led to his chamber where his coat was taken off his back and laid across a chair. He was bathed, dried, and powdered. How good it felt to be clean after an arduous journey. 

The revelry lasted into the early evening. When the prince finally insisted he couldn't stay any longer, he retired to his chamber. As he crawled into his sumptuous, fluffy bed, the jacket caught his eye. He remembered the riverbed and the stones.  He re-lit his lamp and reached into the pocket. To his astonishment, he pulled out, not stones or rocks, but gems of the most incredible clarity and color--rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds. The prince exclaimed, "Had I known I was among such treasure, I would have gathered more."

Today, I will gather with my cousins, as they have traveled far to bury their father, my uncle. He is the last of the uncles on my father's side--a rich cast of characters in my childhood.

Growing up, I was unaware I was among such treasure and could never have gathered enough---it is why today, I will drive a distance, why I will stand in the cold, to be among my cousins--my treasures.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


An eight hour layover in Honolulu airport. It might have been unbearable had it not been for my laptop, a good book, endless walking space, and people. When I kept seeing groups of teenagers (in groups of a hundred or more), in look-alike t-shirts, with all that teenage angst and energy, I was curious as to what was up. School was still in session and they were in Hawaii?

"Hi, why are all of you here?" I asked a young girl who was only slightly cautious of talking to a stranger.

"We're a high school band and we came to play at the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor bombing."


"You know," a reserved tone takes over her voice, "there aren't many of them left."


She understands the privilege of having been at a special place, at a special time. She witnessed the venue and the testimonies of those who endured the surprise attack. She heard their sacrifices to save others and to defend the United States. She even heard the head of the US Pacific Command address a controversial issue in 2016. Ninety-seven year old Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., said, "You can bet that the men and women that we honor today--and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago--never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played."

I was filled with admiration for the band leaders who trekked across the Pacific with hoards of teens, instruments, chaperones, and suitcases. They saw the vision, the importance of participating in a historic moment. Again.

Once on the plane, I too opened my eyes, to the possibility that I was surrounded by WWII Pearl Harbor Veterans. The news had reported that hundreds of veterans had returned for the occasion. Yes, there seemed to be quite a few gentlemen with white hair and time wrinkled faces. A man ahead of me was more bold and asked, "Are you a Pearl Harbor Vet?" The man smiled and shook his head yes.

Years ago, Tony and I attended a play about a young man and his friends who had defied the Nazis in their town. At the peril of their lives, they listened to the BBC and were determined to get out the truth. They published the Nazi atrocities and placed them in restaurant menus and phone booths. For their crimes, one was murdered, and another was sent to a hard labor camp. 

As we watched the play, I noticed quite a few old people in the audience. When the play ended, the audience learned that one of the characters was sitting in the audience. What stories he had lived.

That night my perspective changed. I am constantly in the company of people. Old, young, foreign, well-known and unknown, and everyone has a story. It may not be as historic as having been in Pearl Harbor or having been a martyr in WWII Germany. But the story of a person's life is always as important as the next person's story. It has made me a seeker of stories, deepened my appreciation of hardship, and helped me become a good listener. That combination--has tremendously enriched my life.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

High Returns

In a tiny jewelry store tucked under the hotel lobby, laying in a glass case on velvet, is an exquisite strand of rainbow colored sapphires cut into mini pineapple shapes without the big green leaves. I found and adored the strand last year but didn't have any desire to own it. This year, I went back to see if it was still there--it was, and the saleslady was anxious to make it mine--with a generous discount. But I still had no desire to make it my own --for a certain scripture haunts me.

Tony gave me a beautiful string of pearls for our anniversary, which our daughter wore on her wedding day.

Her wedding photos are the only evidence those pearls ever existed; in the days after the wedding those pearls were nowhere to be found. Were they stolen or left in a dressing room in the blur of celebration?

When Tony asked if he could replace the pearls, it seemed pointless, because that same scripture had just started haunting me; Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not? Mormon 8:39

I seem to hold those words to my heart when I think of buying jewelry, yet I feel like a hypocrite because I do adorn myself with other things that have no life: too many pairs of shoes, more skirts than I need and what about all those French pastries? Don't they adorn my body and certainly the life force is cooked right out of them and shoved aside by all that sugar and butter. Sigh...

My sister was equally tempted by a piece of jewelry she found in the little store under the lobby. When we went to dinner, we started reminiscing about the past jewelry in our lives--and the times she had been robbed--four times. My father finally told her, "As long as you keep spending money on things that people can steal, you'll never get ahead."

So what can't people steal?

People can't steal love. Investments we make in people can't be stolen. The money we invest in our children's or other people's children's education can't be stolen. Paying someone's rent or buying someone a meal can never be stolen from us.

People can't steal time either.

What exactly did Dad mean when he said you'll never get ahead? I'm pretty sure he meant the obvious-- invest in things that people can't pick up, put in a pocket, and walk away. Dad meant land and property. But now that he's gone, I think he might have a shift in his investment strategies. Sure, go for the real estate investments but don't forget the greater investments of time. Time with loved ones. Time with God. Time with yourselves. Time spent on becoming stronger, more educated, more compassionate and loving.

Time can't be stolen but it can be squandered. Think of it as a prudent, wise investment with a return rate of 100%.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Because of the Weather

 I awake to the news of a tsunami warning for the Hawaiian islands; the threat comes from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in the Solomon Islands. How connected we all are on this beautiful, ever-in-motion planet. A few hours later the warning ends, but not before I instinctively calculate various evacuation plans.

Throughout the night, I was awakened by fierce, pounding rain, splashing off the concrete patio. During our visit, we've also witnessed epic snowfall. Hard to imagine in Hawaii, but a man who works at the hotel, tells us he loaded the kids and drove up to Mauna Kea where three feet of snow had fallen. Together, they shoveled and packed into the back of his truck, all the snow they could fit, then drove to the beach and had a snowball fight. Epic memory.

Hawaii is home to beautiful weather. Most of the week has been sunny with temperatures in the 80s. Yet, it seems island weather-blessings are intermixed with a few weather surprises.

In 2003, Tony and I, four children, two son-in-laws and one grandchild traveled to Hawaii to celebrate Christmas. Christmas day included a tree--really a branch, plucked from a bush, decorated with lights. Stockings hung from a coffee table were athletic socks. There were no gifts, so we gave each other two imaginary gifts with two simple guidelines. The first gift had to be a gift with no monetary limit. If I wanted to give a daughter a villa in the south of France, I had the power to do so. The second gift could have no monetary value--it had to be something that money could not buy: health, happiness, an increase in IQ.

The gifts were heartfelt, well thought-out and touching. Each gift-giver had to think out what was meaningful to his or her recipient. One daughter gave a son-in-law the cure for diabetes. Another gift was happiness and laughter. And yes, there were some pretty elaborate no-expense-barred gifts too: a fleet of jets, endless containers of Haagen Dazs, and exotic islands.

It was a peaceful, love-filled week of Christmas...and then a hurricane off the coast of Kauai created a turbulent preparation for departure. Before we left the rented house, we had to pack up, clean up, empty the trash, the dishwasher, and wash the towels. As we worked, the rain came harder...and then, we lost all power. When we took out the trash, we noticed the road was beginning to wash out. Time was of the essence.

Talking stopped, serious masks took over once smiling faces. Every action was focused and hurried. We worked tightly with one another; if one person finished packing, she rushed to help load the car--one people, one goal--all in candlelight and flashlight.

At dusk, muddy water gushing over the road, threatening to wash it out of our reach, we drove away, thankfully and safely from Anini Beach...

a favorite memory of the power of family working together.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wolf or Sheep?

My friend Arthur was a teenager in France during WWII. While delivering wine for his father's business, his bike tire went flat. It was late, getting dark, and when a truck slowed beside him, he took the offer for a ride home. He soon realized he was in the company of men who didn't speak French (American soldiers). If he was with American soldiers then who were these Frenchmen? La Resitance of course!

"We could use a young boy with a bike," they said, and within minutes Arthur was ready to fight for freedom.

As the truck moved on, Arthur's initial excitement waned. As he contemplated the dangerous work, he was already missing his family. When they reached his town, he politely, sheepishly, declined the chance to be a French fighter.

In his later years, in another world, living in America, Arthur had another unexpected encounter. A former nazi officer was standing in his company, in his church. Thirty years had passed but they still recognized one another. The old resentment for a man in a Nazi uniform returned. Arthur dared to ask "How did you continue wearing the nazi uniform when their atrocities became so transparent?"

"Why Arthur, I could do so much more good while wearing the enemy's uniform!"

It's really a simple story about assumptions; and one could safely and fairly assume a man in a nazi uniform shared the same ideals as the rest of the regime. But every once in a while...

It's the same assumptions we made along with Harry Potter about Professor Severus Snape.

Never fall for the wolf in sheep's clothing, but maybe the sheep in wolf's clothing is really---

a sheep.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

1986, 2001, 1941

I was standing in the kitchen of our UCLA married student housing apartment on Sawtelle Blvd. The counters and sink were stainless steel and for some strange reason, that is what stands out to me the day Christa McAuliffe's chance of a lifetime, the Challenger flight, blew up in the sky. I see her parents sitting on the bleachers unable to process what they had just witnessed. I had trouble processing it too as my friend Laurie tried to explain.

We probably hung up, and I went to the television to learn the awful truth.

Years later, I was seeing the children off to school. Tony was riding the bike in the basement, the morning news on the television. He called me down after witnessing a horrendous replay of a plane hitting a tower. We watched, wondered, weeped. Could hardly imagine. The phone rang and it was another friend Rebekah who wanted to chat about something so trivial by the day's standard. I cut her off, "Do you not know?" I asked. 

"No, what?" 

I didn't have the words to explain what happened. "Turn on your TV. I'm sorry I can't talk."

She did, and I'm sure my words are embedded in her brain the same way her words are embedded in mine.

As humans, we share tragedies in strangely remembered ways. 

So, on this day of December 7, 2016, Pearl Harbor is my father's memory, and though I've referred to it before on a few different occasions, once again, it is the story I must write today.

Dad was 11 years old and was playing football at Sugarhouse Park. I can't help but wonder if he'd skipped Sunday School to run to the park and engage in a game much more exciting than the alternative. 

That would have been my dad.

When the news hit on the mainland, someone ran to the park to let the truants know the world had changed--drastically. The football game ended. Everyone went home a different child. 

Today, I read the 1941 accounts of the Pearl Harbor bombing. Once again, I was saddened by the facts of a horrible day, a horrible war. There were new stories (for me), today: a group of Japanese Americans who were bombed out of a cafe by friendly fire. Veterans, one 97 years old, who gathered to pour bourbon in the water to appease the spirits. I cringed when I read the attack as "brilliant." 

One line however, settled gently into my thoughts: We are celebrating 70 years of peace with Japan.

It's that emphasis that brought hope amidst the tragedy of remembering.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nature's Peculiarities

On a beach walk over a two mile stretch, I count 23 sea turtles! I've never seen so many sea turtles in my life.  To come upon one is a treat, an encounter with two brings a surprised grin, three, an ecstatic level of consciousness, but 23?!! I come upon a clump of four; I look down the beach and see a row of turtles evenly spaced in the sand.

They come to shore to lay eggs and also to bask in the sun and rest.

Oh how I want to get close to a resting sea turtle--to stroke its back, to watch its lazy eyes, to feel the course scales on its legs; but to interfere with a Hawaiian sea turtle is taboo and can carry a $100,000 fine. Turtles are an endangered species--all the more reason to celebrate the pack of 23. What if they were the last 23 turtles?

A long time ago, a friend suggested every human being had a role in designing the earth--an astounding idea that lead me to ponder the possibilities. Initially, if it were true, I knew I'd helped to imagine oceans, or perhaps clouds, but as I continued down that mystical path, I realized it would have to be much more refined and specialized than "oceans," or "clouds." Given the earth's population over all time would number in the billions, there would have to be billions of design possibilities. As I become more familiar with the earth's diversity, the amount of species of sea turtles (7), and whales (90), orchids (70,000 hybrids and cultivars), pollinators (200,000), flora and fauna yet undiscovered, could it be possible? The microscopic world contains perhaps billions of species we'll never discover, but which may still be critical to the earth's functions. 

The skin of a rambutan. Did you know inside the furry plastic shell was a delicious fruit?
How unique is the vertical climb of this snail? Only a person with a sense of humor could have imagined this.

A fungus?

And thoughts? Are thoughts created before an epiphany. Do they already exist floating in space until one lands in the general vicinity of one's mind? How many ideas and inventions have yet to land?

I love this earth. Its animals, terrain, its people. Is my love in part from helping in its creation?


For years, each spring, I would lace my garden with lady bugs--the natural predators of aphids and other noxious insects. Hundreds came in bags for sale at the garden store. My children and I would set them free and at first it was like a crowded day at Disneyland. Eventually, they would dissipate throughout the garden; some would fly away, and others made their way into the house, especially when the weather changed.

Ladybugs are a sign of good luck. They are cute, cute, cute, and never could I think of them as ordinary insects in the kitchen. Over the years, I have tolerated the occasional good-luck presence of a ladybug. This winter, their presence has been especially prolific! When I find one in the morning, it is feasting on the pomegranate scraps left on a plate, or a dried drip of juice on the cupboard.

 I suspect I shouldn't not mind ladybugs in the kitchen, after all, they are insects, and insects have no business in my kitchen. Beetles are a bane to any kitchen pantry and the ladybug is a member of the beetle family.  However, I just learned that ladybugs were invited onto NASA's 1999 space shuttle, and consequently were a part of the shuttle's kitchen. There were four, and their names were Ringo, John, Paul, and George. The beetles were part of a gravity experiment, which I understand, they did very well in a non-gravity environment.

 My winter invasion is caused from ladybug hibernation patterns. They most likely cluster underneath the outside house-trim. Because of the southwest exposure to the sun, the outside walls warm, and they move inside.

It is even possible to keep ladybugs as pets! As long as the pet-keeper moves them into the garden in spring.


Monday, December 5, 2016

My Way Only

Bah humbug.

Our contrary, small, group of high school seniors (thank goodness they have the other teacher), have gone into rebellion again. Encore une fois.

This time it's over the Senior Class Christmas gift exchange. Student Council assigned secret Santas so every senior would have a gift under the tree.

When I learned we had another rebellion (they first walked out of class in protest of having to read F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby), I responded to my teaching partner, Who wouldn't participate in a gift exchange?

Because, I know how everyone feels about Christmas. Of course. And my feelings about Christmas are the only right feelings. Of course.

Actually...I don't have the right and only feelings, but I did for just a moment! Until I caught myself and realized this is how some people in different political parties feel about their decision, their candidate. No one else could be right!

This is the core of most discord. Figuring there is only one right way to believe and act.

One of the best quotes I've ever heard, to which I can't give credit, goes something like this: the worst excuse for doing something the same old way is "Because it's the way we've always done it."

Kudos to the students. Bah humbug de la la la.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Perfect Outfit

In the last two months, my daughter has had two important interviews--so important, they will change the course of her life. For the first interview, she flew to Sacramento for a day at UC Davis. She plotted and planned: plane and hotel reservations,  whether or not to rent a car, and the contemplation and practice of possible interview questions with perfect answers.

Previous to her invitation to interview, she'd spent hours filling out forms, writing, editing, reediting what seemed like hundreds of essays. It was an intense period of time.

As much work and fret as she put into her application process, once she made the first cut and had an interview, even more time and consideration went into what she would wear. Everything else in place, the personal presentation had to be flawless.

She went to the experts--the women who'd been there before and over and again, the advice was: look professional! Skirt, hose, and blazer.

The critical shopping began.

It only took us one afternoon. Two skirts we found: classic black pencil and camel colored conservative. A white blouse with personality; and she made the outfit her own--bold enough to forego the blazer so highly recommended but not preferred. The campus was large so she settled for a pair of flats. She could carry on now only because she had the perfect outfit. I sent my daughter off with confidence!

There's something about the perfect outfit. On the night before a special occasion, knowing I have the right dress and shoes, sends me into blissful sleep. When I awake to remembrance of that special pantuit and pair of boots in the closet, I jump out of bed excited to start the day.

It sounds a little shallow (I know).

When my daughter received word of her second interview for her top choice school, silly me, I thought the first outfit would be just fine. But the season and locale had changed. It was now too cold for a skirt and she was ready to embrace the required blazer. She needed to shop again and needed my help. This time I wasn't too compliant and resisted until it hit me hard how important this was to her. How did I almost miss out?

This time the shopping was even more blessed! The perfect black blazer with an unusual cut complimented her figure perfectly. We found a cropped matching pant and both of us pictured the ensemble complete with a pair of camel pumps with silver studs around the heel that belonged to me. The only glitch this time was my shoes were one size too small. We had to find the same shoe, and we did--on the sale rack!

We did it! We'd created the perfect outfit. Again. She was ready.

We even had a couple of unexpected bonuses: the blazer was also on sale and the pants were deeply discounted, so much that since I already had the shoes and an old black blazer of my own, I bought the pants too. I'm now prepared and excited for the occasion (as yet unknown) to wear the perfect outfit!

And...we could go out dressed like twins.

Postscript: She attends the interview and feels it went well. She worked strategically with other applicants in a mock scenario and had answers for all the tough questions. When she finishes filling me in on all the important conversations and events of the day, she mentions a funny anecdote about her well planned outfit: "One of the professors who didn't interview me, pulled me aside and said, '"Your shoes are bad a..."' She laughed and thanked him. I imagine if this school sends her a rejection letter, they should at least do so with an explanation, You were a great candidate, but this isn't a school to earn a degree in fashion.

Postscript II: She got the phone call this morning; she's been accepted into the program of her dreams!!!