Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back To Paris: Barbie At the Louvre

I was somewhat shocked to see a bigger-than-standard size flag image of Barbie hanging from the Louvre museum in Paris. Actually, it wasn't right in the center of the old grand palace--more at the end. And yes, I wrote "Barbie," the American toy icon of the 1960s to the present. Exactly. What is Barbie doing at the Louvre? Had she become status worthy of a Louvre museum exhibit?

I dismissed the exhibit because it felt trivial, and I didn't see any mention of her exhibit while in the Louvre. But, Barbie and I go way back. And Ken, Skipper, Alan, and Midge. Barbie cars, houses, and the most glamorous wardrobe that would rival a Vogue magazine fall fashion issue.

It's what I looked most forward to at the annual church bazaar where Mom helped the ladies prepare for months and months. I would save my money and spend my money on two things: a rice krispy peanut butter bar and a homemade Barbie outfit. On the one occasion I clearly remember, it was a brown knitted pullover and skirt with a creme colored yarn flower embellished on the front. The hours my sisters and I spent dressing our Barbie dolls might equal half of my childhood playtime.

My father had a wealthy accountant who had one daughter and a mind boggling collection of Barbies, When she outgrew playing Barbies, my father traded two Swiss watches (he'd picked up on a recent trip), for all of Cricket's Barbie collection. For years, we were in Barbie heaven.

The day came when my sister and I outgrew our Barbies too. For five dollars, we sold our Barbie collections to two sisters in the neighborhood, who were just a younger version of ourselves. It felt good to see the same pleasure I'd once felt, but sometimes I wish I still had that Barbie collection.

Sometimes I wish Dad was still here.

When Elton John played Vegas back in the late 1970s, tickets were sold out before my sister or I could act. Dad came home with two main floor tickets.

Just like he came up with the dinner money for my ninth grade friends and me before our first dance.

When I wrote that he traded those watches, heretofore just a part of the story, I realized he was quite the father, and I imagined the humorous scenario of Dad and his accountant, both in their late thirties or forties, one an astute accountant, the other a successful businessman, negotiating for Barbie dolls.

"Hey Reid, my wife mentioned your daughters enjoyed Cricket's Barbie collection when you came to swim."

Did Dad have to pause to wonder what Barbies were? Of course not, he'd seen them spread out all over the living room, or he'd watched us unwrap Barbies for Christmas. Maybe Mom complained about the shoes left in corners and maybe she told him how she just vacuumed them up too.

"Sure Ken, I remember."

"Well little Cricket isn't so young anymore and she's outgrown her Barbies. We thought your daughters might enjoy them. It's quite a collection."

"I'm sure they'd love them. What would I owe you?"

"Ah, I don't know what they're worth. Give me whatever you think..."

"Well, I just got home from Switzerland and I bought some extra watches."

"Gee, that would be swell...."

As the days passed, my curiosity grew over the Barbie flag. I'd almost gotten over my French art snobbishness and wanted to know where the exhibit was. Tony agreed to see it. I looked again, but it was no where in the Louvre. So I went into action; I made Tony ask the information desk because I was too embarrassed to ask where the "Barbie" exhibit  was in a world renowned museum of fine art and antiquities.

Barbie, I let you down.

The Barbie exhibit was in a separate part of the Grand Palace and was not part of the Louvre. We never saw it, and in this moment, I wish I could turn back time~~ to Barbies, to Dad.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

An Idea

It started with an idea.
A partner.
A book.
Someone read the book. Was inspired. Shared the ideas.
The ideas planted firmly in sparse and fertile soil. The ideas were strong enough to survive opposition.

It started with a small group of people. Thirsty for change.
In 1897 the Socialist Democratic Labour Party formed in Russia. The Tzars arrested, jailed and exiled the proponents of change, but eventually they lost. It took 20 years, but in that time, Marxist ideas had grown deep roots.

In the beginning, one of the believers, the doers, a revolutionist for change, Leon Trotsky had given everything to the idea of revolution. In one of the first uprisings in 1905, he was sentenced to Siberia where he served until 1907 before he escaped. He fled to Vienna, to Paris, to New York where he continued with hope in the ideas of communism. When he learned Tzar Nicholas II had been de-throwned, he hurried back to the motherland to participate in an overthrow of the provisional government. The feverish want for communism had been burning for 20 years. When the communists did overthrow the government, they'd succeeded because Trotsky had helped raise an army of 200,000 to 5,000,000. He had fought at the side of Lenin and Stalin, two of the biggest game changers of the 20th century for better or for worse.

I have to believe they started with the best of intentions. Their beloved country had been under the poor leadership of aristocracy for 300 years. The Romanov legacy had proved its lack of care for the peasants. In the ideals of Marx and Engels rested a possibility of a just society, and at all costs they would see the possibility through.

It didn't take long for opposition within the revolutionists to rear its ugly head. Only seven years later when Vladimir Lenin died and Joseph Stalin took over, did the blood and horror begin. Two thirds of his comrades who fought for communism were either arrested, shot, or exiled. Then the artists and the scientists, because they too knew how to think. The top military generals were persecuted next--because they possessed two weapons: the ability to think and attack.
Leon Trotsky. Him too. In 1927 he was banned to the outer USSR. A few years later, he was banned from the country he'd so invested in. He roamed from Turkey to France, to Mexico City where he persisted in fighting with his ideas, with his writings, the evils of Joseph Stalin. In 1940, his health failing, he sat at his desk, when an assassin came from behind and bludgeoned him with an ice ax.

In that 30 years following the Russian Revolution, between 17 and 22 million people died from the effects of an idea.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The New Policy

We are a school that wears uniforms. Like any policy or rule with punitive consequences, it is hard to enforce when a student decides to defy it. Oh there's the small, hardly noticed infractions which the school no longer fights: shoes and socks. It used to be that brown or black, standard close-toed school oxford-type shoe was required. Once in a while a pair of boots, even UGGs, showed up in the winter.

Sitting in a meeting one day discussing yet again the uniform policy, an administrator mentioned the UGG problem. He added, "Can you believe how ugly they are?"

I piped in, "Do you know how comfortable they are?"

After a few years, the brown shoe policy went by the wayside. After a few years, we were seeing red sneakers, rhinestone studded slip-ons, ruby reds and all kinds of boots. Policy changed because it was a harmless way for students to express themselves and declare some independence through bright green loafers. Then came the socks.

Honestly as a teacher, the vivid bursts of personality were quite refreshing. Students could maintain the rules with a little bit of swinging from the vines like a monkey in the wild.

Then there is hair. And beards and mustaches, and afros, and, streaks of blue, and interpretations beyond comprehension. For young men, the hair is supposed to be behind the ears and above the collar. But what if that young man can tuck his hair behind his ears and pull most of it back in a man-bun? What if the streak of magenta is underneath the regulation brown.

The worst part is being the teacher who is supposed to nail the students and write them up. For years I had a reputation of not enforcing the policy; I am so focused on teaching, communicating, and inspiring, that I didn't see, or chose not to see the little infractions.

Administration had a new idea. Let's enforce the principle of uniforms instead of the rule. Let's look at why we have uniforms.  In the new magna carta a buzzword emerged. Sacred. Education is sacred and we want to create an environment in which nothing interferes with or distracts from the sacredness of learning.

Now the question emerges among students: Is learning sacred?

We must first get to the bottom of what sacred is...and it has a lot of variety in its meaning according to how a particular student views sacred.

Three definitions for Mirriam Webster:
1.Worthy of religious worship: very holy

This doesn't work in a public school sanctioned by separation of church and state--which I am grateful for.

Definition #2: relating to religion--ditto

Definition #3: highly valued and important: deserving great respect

Learning as sacred is supported by the third definition.

But some of the students don't comply with learning as sacred.

  It's mandatory and therefore doesn't meet the description of sacred.

Yet, if you ask Malala if learning is sacred...
If you ask my grandfather who ran away from home because he wanted education instead of a position in the family business...
If you ask a woman, a black man, a native American, a Chinese, who may have been denied the opportunity to learn...
If you ask a child in Africa who doesn't have the money...
If you ask a child who walks miles, or takes an hour long bus ride...
If you ask a college student working two jobs if learning is sacred...
If you ask a teacher...

Sunday, August 28, 2016

It's Not Even Mother's Day

"Hi Mom. Do you have a minute?"

"I do."

"Well, I have to tell you how your words influenced me to do something good."

"And it's not even Mother's Day."

She laughs. "I don't know who said it, but you used to say, Never suppress a generous thought. "

"Spoken by Camilla Kimball."

"Yes, and because of those words, it prompted me to do something I really feel good about."

How ironic that I had just hung up the phone and thanked my own mother for her example of patience and love.

"A few days ago, I saw the police following a young man as he and another man pushed his car down the street and into a parking place right across from our house. Apparently, if a person lives in his car, he has to move it every few days."

I think of the rough neighborhoods just blocks away from her pleasant Chicago neighborhood.

"So the next day," she continues, "it was extremely hot, and I wondered how he was doing. I had a generous thought of taking him some ice water, but I hesitated, cause here I am with a four year old and a newborn. I hesitated. But then I saw a neighbor talking to him and it gave me the courage to follow through. I made him a sandwich, filled a cup with ice water, and walked out to see how he was doing. I found the older gentleman was trying to help him, and I suggested that he may want to find a neighborhood cooling station (set up for the homeless during hot Chicago summers). Between the two of us, I felt we gave him some hope."

In her actions, she also found a boost to her own hope. She clings to this hope that all will be well in her Chicago neighborhood, in which crime keeps creeping closer.

The majority of citizens in her neighborhood keep searching for solutions to help two feuding families who threaten the peace with gunfighting in spite of some of the toughest gun laws in America. Her community has a facebook page, and they are working towards peaceful resolutions.

As a doctor of psychology, I think she can solve any problem, but she laughs and tells me she doesn't specialize in conflict resolution. She planned to go to the first meeting not as a professional but as a concerned citizen. Again, irony comes into play: she ended up staying home because the meeting was held in a place, at night, where she didn't feel safe.

In the meantime, she will abide the situation by living the principle, never suppress a generous thought. Possibly the only hope for a troubled city.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Cut Loose and Be Thankful!

Last night, during family prayer, I wanted to thank Heavenly Father for watermelon, but I started to smile and even worried I might laugh, and worst of all, that I might sound silly. So I didn't express my gratitude for a sincere, authentic appreciation for watermelon.

A few minutes later, when I said my personal prayer, I thanked Heavenly Father for watermelon. I did smile, almost laughed, but felt I was in good company for being authentic. I even felt that little endorphin kick for sincere gratitude. It was a lovely way to end the day (gratitude and laughter), before I thankfully crawled into bed.

There are multitudinous studies on gratitude and each one confirms the benefits of gratitude: better health, less attachment to material goods, a trigger in the brain for good feelings. For teens, the benefits are just as great: more friends, better grades.

Last night, at the end of a long week, Tony and I sat down to watch an episode of Master Chef. It's a demanding cooking competition, with a profanity flinging Gordon Ramsey, but the show has a lot of heart. Each week, the home cook who flubs his dish, is voted off the island. Last night's flub was a cake and the offender was a man from Venezuela. When he was asked to respond to his banishment from the kitchen, he said with the most sincere heart, "I am grateful." Tony and I were touched, the other competitors were tearful, and even THE master chef Gordon Ramsey choked up.

Knowing the effect of gratitude on teenagers, I decided to begin the school year with an exercise in thankfulness. The very first day we formed two gratitude circles. The concept is a speed-dating set-up where two people facing each other have 30 seconds to express their gratitude for...anything. After switching, students had to express a new thing for which they were grateful--no repeats.

Each year I do this exercise with students, though never on the first day. Every time it has produced the same results. At first, students wonder if they will be able to come up with so many things to be grateful for, or the students start off nervous. Sometimes it is quiet---at first. At the end of the exercise it is always loud and happy...oh so happy. I even had a student burst out, "Let's continue!"

Last year was the first time I joined the circle, and I will never miss out again. A conversation that begins with sincere gratitude, is a conversation set on the right course.

I am wondering what would happen to my own marriage if each morning I greeted Tony with, "I am grateful for you."

After an entire summer of mediocre watermelon, I was soooo grateful for the juiciest, possibly sweetest watermelon I had ever tasted, that I didn't stop eating until my belly was in overload. Yet, I hesitated to express my gratitude in prayer, thinking of the possible ramifications for doing so. I think of all the things for which I am grateful for, but hesitate to express. I hold back. I don't know why, but I want to cut be free, to be grateful--to be happy!! This is going to change my life...

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Grace of Shared experience

I am running the trail behind my house when a fox crosses my path. I know this fox. I resent her; I am enthralled by her. Her quickness. Her independence. That she dares to mess with me.

 I found her paw prints in the sand tray I placed in front of the hive when I discovered the  queen had stopped laying eggs. A fox will stand and swat at a hive, terrorizing the queen and aggravating the guards into action-right into the fox's mouth. The hive had almost dwindled to distinction. I barricaded the front of the hive with chicken coop wire, and the hive recovered.

 Since I last saw the fox and her pup, she's gotten bigger; her tail is longer, growing bushier as the temperatures descend into fall. From a short distance, she looks domesticated, like an unleashed dog who's run ahead of her master-- But yet, she is wild, frightening--capable of sinking her rabid canines into my fleshy thigh.

I fantasize taming her; walking into the garden and saying, "Why hello there little fox." She crosses her arms and reports she's been leaving the bees alone. "Proud of you," I wink. It seems so possible, but anthropomorphism is only a literary device and Dr. Doolittle doesn't talk to animals.

 When a mountain biker pushes up the hill, fox's instincts are quick, and she disappears from my path.  I could have observed her a little longer had it not been for the biker, yet I now have another distraction, and I watch him close.

His peddles pause as he watches her on a trail I can no longer see. He stays upright lingering, lingering, watching the fox.  He is fascinated too; I see it on his face.

He looks up at me; his glance stalls, and in our eye contact, he reminds me of a person on the beach who happens to catch the split second magic of a dolphin springing from the sea. The lucky observer's countenance lifts and he immediately turns, searching for his child or companion, or even a stranger with which to share his delight. It's as if awe is to heavy to hold and it must be shared like an unexpected taste or sound.

Encounters with the wild are serendipitous, even moments of grace; when we are touched by grace we feel compelled to share its light. It it is the very nature of grace, the unconditional giftt that bestows upon its recipient the desire to share meaningful  experience.  Grace requires grace of its recipient. Grace is a gift because it inspires us to give.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Spectacle of Greetings

Her name was Patty and she allowed my funny little child to come to her house and pick one rose a day--for as many days as were left in the season.

Her name was Lisa and she went out of her way to talk with my daughter, to ask her about her injuries, to suggest a treatment.

Her name was Mindy and she went out of her way to make the daughter who wasn't confident, feel like she was her best friend.

She was my Aunt Esther and every time I walked into her house, she'd grin and say "Well hello there Patty."

It's why I greet my grandchildren with gusto. Why I make a fuss over the shy boy who had to change to another class and teacher. As I explained to his teacher after making a spectacle over losing him, "I think it's great Davey's in your class, I just wanted him to know that I'd miss him." Cause it was best for Davey.

Tony and I were sitting on the floor playing with 16 month old Theo, when his dad walked in from a bike ride. The little guy started yelling "Daddy," with tremendous delight. He toddled over into his father's arms who couldn't resist picking up the guy who'd given him such a welcome home. I saw my son-in-law's face light up.

After 30+ years of marriage, Tony and I hardly acknowledge each other's comings or goings, and it has me thinking I need to make a change.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Underwater Children

In the imaginative painting of the playful underwater children, the little boy in the green pajamas started junior high yesterday. The little girl holding on to her blanket is on an intense trail ride this morning in the company of her father and brother.

Yesterday, I realized that the summer went so fast, I didn't even put out the cushions for the porch swing or pull the dining chairs out on the lower deck, and I'm thinking about calling the pool man to close the pool in two weeks.

When I saw a colleague for the first time after summer break, it seemed like there'd never been a break and I had to remind myself to give her a hug cause I hadn't seen her all summer.

Is time speeding up?

Is it? Two different thoughts:

Theory #1: If life is like a pie, when I was four years old, I had lived one fourth of my life. A fourth of a pie is a generous and enjoyable chunk.  As I aged, each year diminished the portion of the pie. When I'm 90 years old, each year of my life will be the equivalent of 1/90th of a piece of pie. If the pie stays the same, 1/90th is a pretty slim portion of pie or of time. In comparison, 1/4 of time is a much bigger chunk than 1/90th and would therefore seem to go much faster. Right?

Theory #2 Time flies when you're having fun. Am I having more fun? Absolutely. Does time still fly for an older person suffering ill health? I wish I would have asked Dad.

The warp speed of time-passing may have several positive effects. Knowing time is fleeting gives it a higher price tag. Each moment, encounter, each day is more valuable. We tend to protect and care more for the valuable. When Tony bought his first "nice" car, he treated it well. When we only have one day at the beach or have the company of a far away cousin, we put a high value on that time.

The warp speed of passing-time may help us endure the difficult. While sitting in the dentist chair, I try to recall a different difficult experience. Pregnancy may pop into my mind--that my last pregnancy was 24 years ago, and where did those 24 years go? helps me to endure the little bit of time with the whir of a drill.

The tricky part of time is that it is--tricky. The most precious time with the most precious people can't be anticipated or valued because we don't know how much time we have with one another. Tony's father fell and was gone within an hour. His kind, sweet mother lamented, "I wish I'd been better to him." She couldn't have anticipated time was so short.

It's a hard way to motivate ourselves to treasure time by dwelling on how little we may have left. The better motivation may be to remind ourselves how much time we may have left.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sting of Vulnerability

The aforementioned yellow jacket nest is thriving. So it was a now or never day to arm myself and take care of the problem.

Towards the end of the summer when insects are trying to fortify themselves for winter, when there is a dearth of resources, they become more desperate. You may have sat outside with a plate of food on a nice, late August evening, and almost immediately, you were bombarded by yellow jackets trying to get at your ketchup.

Yellow jackets become a nuisance and threat to beehives, and since my hive had already taken a hit from the skunks, their numbers are low and I question their ability to defend their honey stores from their hungry counterparts.

Determined to defend the hive, I put on three pairs of pants, added a jacket, pulled on my thick rubber boots and headed for the yard. I added a beekeepers jacket, requisite hat and veil, along with thick leather gloves.

Maximum dressing had protected me before.

I stood in front of the hive with my weapon. Not even a second had passed before I was attacked. It's disconcerting to look down and see yellow jackets trying to get at my legs and thighs. I backed off. Swatted at the monsters. Stepped away. Waited. Returned. This time, I found the entrance to the nest and placed the racket in front of the nest. I could see them swarming, angry, ganging up on their threat. Again, I backed away and decided I'd had enough. Too spooky to have the wrath of yellow jacket hell come full force.

A distance from the hive, almost ready to unwrap the armor, I felt the hit. Right in the stomach. I'd left myself vulnerable! The thickness of three pants must have weighted them below my belly. I must not have pulled the jacket and the shirt completely down, or I had, but the thickness wasn't enough. A lone yellow jacket had found the chink in my armor.

For the past few hours, I've been chiding myself for missing the one vulnerable spot. That an insect so small, so cunning, could move about my body until it found the right spot-- is to feel vulnerable, outsmarted, and foolish.

Feelings I try to avoid.


I stay out of dark alleys. Won't drive on icy roads. I avoid cruel people. I don't scale mountainsides with ropes or mountain bike down steep trails. I will never bungee jump, lecture my doctor on best practices, or go to Syria. At least right now. However, those are the extremes, and in some cases vulnerability is key to staying humble, aware, approachable. Circumstances of limited vulnerability are replete, so I choose to be vulnerable under safe conditions and every once in a while ~~a sting is inevitable.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Ode To Legacy

If Hillary Clinton becomes the president, daughter Chelsea will have the distinction of the daughter of parents who both served as president. The odds of having one's father serve as president are already staggering, but to have a mother too? For Chelsea's children to have two president grandparents? What a legacy.

My cousin's father, a man I never knew, married a woman who was the granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.

One night while visiting her father, she stayed up late watching television and happened to catch a documentary on the Roosevelt family. She always knew her step mother was a Roosevelt, but when she saw photos of her as part of the presidential family, it was surprising, and somewhat exciting to see her link with the Roosevelt legacy.

With the recent passing of an acquaintance's mother, I've been thinking about legacies. Wendy P. was a committed patron of the arts who spent her time on school boards and helping to raise money to build a cultural venue for the ballet, the opera, and other performers of merit. Upon her death, her legacy was applauded, appreciated, and brought great comfort to her daughter.

I recently bought a short story collection by Lucia Berlin. I had never heard of her, but her friends went to a lot of trouble to publish her stories posthumously. Their praise is lavish, but they do mention one of her legacies: alcoholism and eventually beating it. Though plagued in life with a disease, her greater legacy is the defeat of her demon. The triumph, without the failure, wasn't possible.

Few of us will ever have the distinction of presidential-connected legacies; it is more common to hear our friends' claims to horse thieving ancestors, or to have had an Archie Bunker loving father, or even  a legacy we try to ignore. When I inquired about the accent of a woman sitting next to me at breakfast, I learned she was a Jew from Poland. Given her age, I suspected she had lived through Nazi atrocities. When she said her past was painful, I knew her legacy was private and all her own.

So, I've been thinking of my own family's legacy and of course, my own. Hopefully, we all consider our own legacies; it may seem vain, but we should want to leave behind a positive history of our life. Yet, our actions should be motivated by more than wanting to leave a legacy; it should stem from a desire to make the world, however small, a better place. With this approach, true legacies are created. There is a difference between historical figures and the designation of a legacy.

 Author, speaker Rasheed Ogunlaru captures the essence of this best: "Legacy is not what’s left tomorrow when you’re gone. It’s what you give, create, impact and contribute today while you’re here that then happens to live on." 

With this in mind, probably the greatest legacies are not crafted, pondered or calculated~~ or even written about (mea culpa).

However, a few more thoughts on legacy since we can't help leaving a part of us behind:

Your legacy grows with each new experience, with each previously untested idea and bold ideal that you are courageous enough to deploy, and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition. Glenn Llopis, Forbes magazine

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Theresa

Sunday, August 21, 2016

In Our Own

One of my favorite all-time books is Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, in part because of a single chapter titled, The Grand Inquisitor, and because of a single quote, "Be kind to animals and children, for God gave them the beginnings of thought."

Fyodor nailed it: the beginnings of thought. It is why we must protect children, be their advocates, look out for them.

After a few years of work with a children's organization, my time had come to an end. A certain sadness rested in my heart until I happened upon this painting. I was walking through a bookstore and boom, I saw it; it claimed me. Many years later, it hangs over my bedroom fireplace and fills the room with a spirit of love and solace.

Sometimes, it takes a jarring incident to remind us to help children. The New York Times video below insures you are jarred. Like me, you will probably feel helplessness and desperate sadness because you cannot stop suicide bombers intent on death and mayhem. We can do nothing to bring peace to the Syrian Assad regime aided by Hezbollah, Iran, Shiia militias, and now Russia, who together are fighting four rebel factions of which one has ties to al-Quaida. In this knowing, we must discover a way to help within our own sphere, in our own neighborhood, in our own schools, in our own state, in our own country and if possible, in our own world.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Teacher Week

It was a week of laughs, learning, and getting to know some amazing educators--Teacher week. Thanks to school parents, we even ate better than most of us had eaten all month. Each day after three hours of classes, we walked into the cafeteria to see a mirage that was real: a table laden with fruit, salads, and lunch staples of sandwiches, lentils and soups. Even a table filled with desserts.

Each morning began with an on-time drawing. Gift cards for book stores and restaurants. Friday morning, I rushed out of the house to be on time; I hadn't won anything yet, but this day I had a feeling. Sure enough: $25 for the local Israeli restaurant.

A presentation and discussion on the reasons for a liberal arts or classical education reminded us of our main mission: teach critical thinking skills and provide opportunities for students to think critically so when they enter the world they will have the skills to analyze and discern between truth and error.

I was asked to teach writing. I focused on writing to discover (!!) and encouraged teachers to think of writing as a learning skill and not an end product. A PE teacher's final would never require a student to do 200 push ups without ever having done a push up in the preceding weeks. Teachers of other disciplines tend to teach a unit then require a paper at the end-- equivalent to 200 pushups with no training. The challenge for teachers is to use the paper to explore the unit's learning so the students are building knowledge and understanding, gaining in strength, doing 20 pushups on day one, 40 on day two, etc.

We talked about accreditation, the mission of our school, we even had a book club discussion from our summer read. And then it all crashed...

Friday morning topics were sexual harassment, defense and protocol in case of a school invasion, and suicide prevention. At any point in the three hours, I felt I could cry...just cry. The realities, the evils, the possibilities, had entered into the sacred ground of teaching and learning.

Friday, August 19, 2016

What Do We Aspire To?

This morning I awoke, rolled to my side and read the clock: 7:11. I smiled and said to myself, "It's going to be an auspicious day.

Why? I'm not a numerologist, a fan of the convenience store, nor am I superstitious. It just felt good to start the day day on one, positive, smiling, note. But perhaps, the morning smile was triggered by a quote and the consequent observations it has induced over the past few days.

I'm studying an excellent piece of journalism written by Scott Anderson for the New York times. The title is Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. In the piece, Mr. Anderson highlights the lives of six people from different Arab countries who have endured the upheaval of rebellion, war and loss of safety and peace. In the stellar introduction, I read a short paragraph that has resonated and caused me to pause and ponder over the past few days. Mr. Anderson proposes that one problem of the Arab world was the tendency to be a culture of grievance. They were defined less by what people aspired to than by what they opposed. They were anti-Zionist, anti-west and anti-imperialist.

The statement of reflection has caused me to be more observant of my surroundings and my personal attitude. Although the reference is macroscopic, many nations, millions of people, hundreds of years, it also has a very microscopic allusion--to the individual, to the one person~~to me.

My friend in an eastern state has volunteered to work the polls on November 8. At her orientation meeting, she was warned to expect angry voters. Angry because they are not happy with the candidates. It is not only the presidential contenders with a propensity to be their own culture of grievance, but our entire political system is turning into such. Instead, we NEED aspirations. We are crippled by focusing on all that is wrong with the other candidate, with the democratic or republican congress; we must, in order to survive, we must aspire to: reducing the national debt, creating equality among all people, bringing peace to inner cities. Mr. Anderson also believes that a culture of grievance is a smoke screen to deter from what is wrong, what we don't want to fix, or even what we believe we cannot fix.

The senior class at my school is currently plagued by a small group of students who had a grievance with a change in the curriculum. In the beginning, their intent was to facilitate a change for the better, but when it didn't change according to their naive demands, they evolved into a culture of grievance with all the offshoots of disrespect, stubbornness and the possibility of damning their own ability to learn.

The Arab Spring of 2003 was looked upon with great hope for the liberation of the Arab world. Countries such as Syria and Iraq had thrown off the heavy cloak of oppressive dictators, yet instead of embracing a functioning and fulfilling form of democracy, they created a fertile environment for Osama bin Laden's al-Queada, which gave way to the incarnation of ISIS.

How do we overcome this culture of grievance, and more especially a personal culture of grievance which may tempting and hard to resist? First of all, legitimate grievances can be an important course correction and culture of grievance vastly differs from a grievance. We discover a problem, or we're apprised of a problem; then we grieve and in that grief and complaint, we search and ultimately find "the fix." This is how relationships end, bad bosses are fired and the leaky roof gets patched. Fix becomes the antidote, not just an anecdote to the aspirations that lift us from tenuous, even dangerous, situations that lead to episodes of great whining and finger pointing.

When we stay put in our culture of grievance, it means we have accepted the misfortunate, but accepted it with dire consequences.

What happens when we can't find the fix? Or we may be too small to influence and inspire? Some circumstances, like the presidential election are beyond my ability to change. But after November 8, there should be a respite, or the worst possible scenario: a substantial growth in the culture of grievance. If only we could come together as a nation and aspire to overcome our different political views and become a culture of support, cooperation and success.

We've seen what happened to the Arabs.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Princess

I have a great story I love to tell about a dear friend.

One of Tony's graduate students, used to have us and his fellow graduates over to his parent's house for an annual barbecue and swim party. The student had a sister-in-law and at one of these parties, I saw her pass through the yard. She was beautiful and exotic looking. Later, the graduate student told Tony that his sister-in-law was a princess from an island off the coast of Africa.

The story was like a magnet to this woman, because in every way, she fit the description of what I perceived as a princess. Since we live in a somewhat small town, I would see her every once in a while. Once it was at the grocery store with her three beautiful children. I always felt a little awe; I had never known a princess before.

Years passed and one day, I realized the princess had moved into our neighborhood! It was easy to get to know her; she was open, kind, and didn't have any of the socially exclusive behavior I would expect of a princess. After getting to know her, I felt comfortable to ask her about her princess status.

She laughed. Unsure why her brother-in-law had told the story, but it wasn't true. After all those years, it was disheartening to learn the truth.

This is the story I love to tell our mutual friends; it always ends the same: everyone agreeing it doesn't matter whether or not she has an "official" princess title, because she still a princess in our eyes.

Tonight's rendition of the story, told to a table of female friends, ended in the usual way, but it was punctuated with another thought,

"What if," I posed, "We thought of all our friends as princesses?" It was barely dusk; the weather was perfect, the food was splendid, the company divine, and together we sat in the garden surrounded by love, beauty, and twinkling lights. It wasn't at all hard to imagine that everyone was royalty.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Opportunist

Tammy answers the phone.

"It's time to kill," I whisper.

"I'll be right there," she answers.

I run down the stairs and turn on the outside lights. I meet Tammy, my neighbor, in front of the hornets nest in between our fences. Every time I walk down the garden path, the insects threaten my very existence.

Tammy stands armed with her peppermint and rosemary, oil-filled spray pump. I hold the flashlight. She stands above the nest; I stand below. Both of us ready to run. I point the light into the crevice.

"Ready, aim, fire."

Tammy furiously pumps as if it is a five alarm fire. She stops. We wait. Not an insect to be seen.

"It must have worked."

Earlier we had bombarded the nest, but the hornets were furious and we had to run for our lives.

"Let's try the other nest, closest to the bees."

We cautiously approach. I flash the light into the space between the steps. Two, three and then four hornets poke their sci-fi heads up, sizing the enemy.

"Ready, aim, fire." Tammy lets loose again. The little band emerges, but they aren't flying. Each one waddles away like a drunk. They disappear.

"Where did they go?" Tammy asks.

I brave enough to walk forward and investigate with my flashlight. I see movement. So quick! I move in closer. Closer. An opportunist, a spider has already seized a hornet and is circling, circling, in a frenzy, tying down its prey.

"Come watch this." Tammy moves in close. "It's fascinating."

"Nature is a cruel world."

"Tis true, and fighting nature even more so."

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to Paris: Secrets to Navigating the Louvre and How I Came to Love the Louvre**

1. Download the Louvre App. It's free.

2. Know important French and ancient world time periods: The Louvre palace was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century. It became the Louvre Palace and was home to the queens and kings of France, excluding those who lived at Verseilles, until 1793--which if you noticed and made a connection, coincides with the French revolution when the have-nots said, "Enough!" and "Off with their heads." At this time Le Louvre entered its first phase as an art museum. Post revolution, Napoleon, a lover of all things lavish and fearless enough to get it, made himself welcome and occupied a part of the Louvre Palace. So did his nephew Napoleon III who brought the Louvre to its current glory and lived in the Napoleon III apartments--can't miss these!

One must know the important Louis: 14th, 15th and the infamous 16th, as much of the arts and decorative arts are associated with these kings.
Cultivate a minimal knowledge of the Mesopotamian world, the height of Greek art and culture; know the Etruscans preceded the Romans--and know their time periods.

3. The Louvre has three main entrances that I know of (a fourth not always open). One afternoon while leaving the Louvre, we were appalled at the length of the Carrousel du Louvre line through the underground shopping mall. The pyramid entrance can be extra long too, so: the secret entrance is: Richlieu--off the Rue de Rivoli. The secret, secret entrance if you are daring and security is distracted, is the pass holder's and employee line. If you make it past the lone security officer who checks for credentials, you are home free.

4. Never, never wait to use les toilettes on the main floor: long lines and too few toilets. Top floor bathrooms are empty.

5. Near closing time, some rooms you will have all to yourself. The Louvre is closed on Tuesday and stays open late on two nights of the week. The night crowds were less that the day crowds.

6. Don't even think about covering every exhibit in your one day visit; near closing time, these one-day-see-it-all people mechanically rush past, eyes glazed and pale faced, resembling zombies in a cheap horror flick.

7. If you have one day or even two, pick exhibits carefully according to your interests.

8. When Paris weather is rainy, the lines are longer, the crowds are bigger.

9. You  cannot, absolutely cannot miss:
*The Grand galerie of Appolon
*The Assyrian giant, mostly flat, but 3 dimensional sculptures. Some are reconstructed but they are a can't-miss marvel.

*Napoleon III apartments--gives new meaning to lavish and plush. Photos cannot do justice to standing in the grand salon, or walking into the dining hall.
*The mummy in the Egyptian sarcophagus section is the best mummy I've ever seen. The sarcophagus' of Sidon are also spectacular.

*You've come to far to not see the Mona Lisa--though don't be disappointed when you're kept at six-arms' length and have to wait in the crowd. Nor can you travel that far without standing under the magnificent Winged Victory of Samothrace, or Venus de Milo--look close and you'll see she's two halves.
*The oldest acquisition on loan for 30 years is a 9000 year old figure/sculpture.
* Keep in mind the rooms are as grand as the contents. Stop at each window to get a lay of the land.
*Previous to your visit, choose an artist, a time period, a great work, and study it. When you see it in person you will have an educated love for it.

Even more suggestions:

*Be open to discovering and falling in love with an unknown artist, an unknown sculpture, time period, or culture. Surprisingly, I immensely enjoyed an exhibition of clocks.
*My visit was enhanced by finding themes. One day I looked for my favorite art of the Madonna and child. Another day it was couples and another, it was children. I may not have noticed the mischievous cherub had it not be "children," theme day.
*When you enter a room and it has thousands of Grecian urns on display, pick one and enjoy its beauty. Skip the rest. Learn to skip certain art--you cannot absorb it all in one day or you will be a zombie incapable of appreciating the gluttony of delicious art.
*I enjoyed the stories about art acquisition as much as the art. There was a temporary display dedicated to Alexandre Lenoir who was bold enough to try and save religious art the revolutionists were trying to destroy.
*The donor of many works was "The Camondos," often Isaac- the cousin of Moiise whose descendants were killed during the Holocaust.
*If you enjoy religious art, you will find recurring motifs: know the story of Saint Sebastian (a favorite of painters; know the story of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, and Katherine of Medici. The life or rather the death of Christ is possibly the most oft painted religious scene.
*Jacques Louis David was the court painter of Napoleon III~an answer to why there are so many David's during this time period.
*Don't miss the Coronation--an exquisite commission of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine.

Quirky things:

*German works are displayed in small rooms with bad lighting and inadequate ventilation.
*The best paintings of the impressionists are not in the Louvre.
*Some of the great and very large works have preliminary smaller renditions hung in different rooms.
*Your mythology knowledge will pay off.
*The Louvre was started before America was discovered.
*If you take the time to learn about dining protocol, through exhibitions and an electronic display, you will understand why France was the coveted place to be appointed ambassador.
*Persian art has no religious architecture.
*The Louvre is a living museum~~every once in awhile sit down and enjoy the people. This grandmother of a large and happy (maybe Italian?) family enchanted her posterity while explaining The Raft of Medusa--a painting Harriet Beecher Stowe was enthralled with. The little boys in the family had long before thrown in the towel and were sliding on the floor in front of one of the greatest works of art.

I made two discoveries that will stay with me forever:

 In 1839, Francois Biard visited Antartica and painted the magnificent work above. The stark beauty heightens the horror of the travelers trapped by ice.
 This 1520 painting is titled Charity--to see the face of the woman who embodies this gift is to understand charity just a little bit more.

**We come to love in what we invest.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

How Do Teachers Feel A Week Before School Starts?

It's 10:53 a.m. and I'm sitting in front of my computer writing, in my pajamas. Breakfast was un-rushed, alfresco, and not in my car while trying to make the green light.

It's a luxury I do not take for granted, for like you, still in your pajamas at 11:00, it will end soon. Too soon, and for teachers, a week before you.

Yesterday, when I was invited for a double feature movie, Nerve at 5:00, dinner, ice cream, then Suicide Squad at 8:25, I indulged--didn't go to bed until after midnight and slept in until 8:30. This extended Friday night is a rite of passage before school, before the discipline, the responsibility and the tremendous focus begins.

In answer to the question How Do Teachers Feel A Weak Before School Starts? I'd say we don't feel a whole lot different than most of you.

We're scared and though we're older and seasoned, those back to school feelings return as if it were our first day in high school too.  We're making sacrifices too, some with joy and some with feet-dragging resistance. We wonder about new friends, new challenges, and discoveries.

Here is where we may differ:

Almost every other day, I check our rolls to see how the class is stacking up. Who's moved? Who's added? Ahh, I know will he affect the class chemistry? Ahh...I know her; she's sharp. Will she make great contributions to the conversation after reading the literature? Who will I have to coax, who will be the next Devin G? The Eliza C? The Patrick M? The Nike F? The Hollis B? The Sam Carl A?  The Austin-Randy? The James H? Will she come out of her shell? Will he gain confidence as a senior?

How can I help them all reach their potential? I am standing on the edge of a diamond mine with an open invitation to discover all the wealth, beauty, and value of the diamonds within. I am expected to polish those diamonds. I am required to help them shine. I rejoice in this gift.

And unlike you...I have a bit more fun deciding what I will wear (the students in my school wear uniforms).

**In helping to change the focus to your back-in-school self, what is the misused word, or the incorrect homonym in the piece?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Hammock Invitation

A hammock has usually hung in the yard, except when the squirrel shredded it beyond use and when I hung another one, he got that one too. I also caught him pulling apart a towel left at the pool. When he was in a hammock shredding mood and came out to work, he was quite startled to find two bodies inhibiting his work for the day. Heaven knows the hammock was more empty than it was occupied, so he made up for the intrusion. The squirrel was however, so entertaining, the loss was almost worth it.

Craving another hammock to escape to, I succumbed to purchasing the cadillac of all hammocks from the big warehouse store where we seem to justify purchases we would never make elsewhere.  It didn't last long either; the heat and sun wore down the hammock bed, and now it rests on the bottom deck useless like carcass bones in the desert.

Recently,  I found another hammock. This time the investment was small (19.95!) and I didn't have to carry the thick rope and wood dowel bundle back from Costa Rica. It came with its own attachments, is made of parachute material and is even machine washable. Son-in-law set it up in minutes.

There's something about the call to be swaddled and rocked. To ignore the ever present demands, the tension, the to-do-list; power is found in walking away, if just for a minute, to swing in a hammock.

A few days ago, when I heard a bump of thunder, I had to answer the hammock call, if only for ten minutes. I grabbed a book and dashed through the house, out the door, and into the blue swinging-in-the-light-wind hammock.

At first the raindrops were just like little mice running across the top deck, but it soon turned into a whole field of clogging mice.

Cocooned in the hammock, listening to nature's gentle wash, the cool breeze on an August afternoon--ahhhh, I was renewed.

Keeping hammocks in my yard is a struggle, but so is finding time to relax. I'm thinking the invitation to swing in a hammock should be at least number five on the to-do list. Maybe number two.

Heaven in a hammock
Ahhh, had I been a noble child swung in this aristocratic hammock, I too might have said to the poor in their want for bread, "Let them eat cake!"

If moments of relaxation aren't a priority, let this ten second video inspire you to consider making it so.

Friday, August 12, 2016


Almost 15 years ago, I planted a grape vine and for a few years I meticulously pruned and shaped it. My hope, like all farmers, was to lie on a chaise eating grapes while a servant fanned away the heat. Ha! All I ever wanted were grapes. My hope was never fulfilled.

Perhaps the plant isn't in a good spot, I thought, so I dug it up and moved it. It continued to grow long green vines, but never a grape. I kept pruning and shaping like a good lord of the vineyard.

The tree perplexed me. It lived, it seemed to thrive. But it never filled the measure of its creation. One year it had a few strands of green balls and it looked like they were going to be my first grapes! It didn't happen.

I moved the grape plant again. This time, I had the landscaper build a special arbor.  I wound the vines carefully through the wires that we're screwed into wooden stumps. Two years later-- you know.

I moved the apiary into the small space from which the grape vine was about to be removed. What should I do with this grape vine now? I was through pampering and pruning. I still wanted grapes but I was more casual in my care. It didn't seem to matter anyway. I dug a hole in a small space and wished it luck. I consciously decided to let it roam and grow however it wanted to. I hoped it would get enough water and sunshine; it was now up to the grape vine to nurture and grow itself.

Which brings me to a student who was as perplexing as the grape vine, yet I only had one school year with this boy, not fifteen years.

"James" was a popular boy and seemed to hold a kind of power over his friends. They'd all come into class, sequester themselves in the corner surrounding him, giving him the privacy he needed. Despite the deception, it was easy to see his bent head was looking at the phone within the spine of his open book.

 I am not the kind of teacher to lock horns with a disobedient student-- especially when he was 18 and needed to start making better choices on his own. I let him know I was aware of his behavior. "James, what game are you playing?" Or "How do you convince your friends to circle the wagons, to protect you from the teachers sight?" I'd give short lectures on the importance of being present, on the importance of letting a phone serve the person and not the person serve the phone, and the threat of selling one's soul to a phone.

Always, my teaching partner and I waited for him to take responsibility; his rebellious behavior needed to change from within. We were patient and tried to provide the environment to do so. We gave it our all, we taught the best we knew how.

At summer's end two miracles happened.

The first was several vines filled with plump, juicy, delicious grapes. Unexpected. Appreciated. Reason to feel awe.

The second was an email from James. A short note of gratitude for being such an amazing teacher and teaching him so well. Unexpected. Appreciated. Reason to feel awe.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Life Is A Dishwasher

I'm on a Tuesday morning hike with my friends. Oh how I love my friends!! As usual we share movie and book reviews, teach one another about science, pop culture, the arts, and we are very good at solving the worlds' problems, and sometimes our own.

On this occasion we are sympathizing with K who is trying to fit everything that needs to fit into her limited 24 hour days.

I have this little vision of myself, standing at the kitchen sink trying to fit the last bowl or plate into the dishwasher. I often spend more time rearranging to fit in a large bowl, than the time it would take  to wash, dry, and put that bowl in the cupboard.

Life is a dishwasher.

Just like life, I often have more dishes (responsibilities) than I do space (or time).

This lack of space or time is often because I forgot to start the dishwasher when it was full and now there is a backlog (painful recognition that I have procrastinated the reading I need to complete in order to teach a certain subject this fall!!).

Ultimately, there's only so much space in a dishwasher, so many hours in a day, so many days in a week. When a dishwasher is overloaded, dishes don't get cleaned. When life is overloaded, life stays messy. We shortcut, fall short, fake our way through-it, we crash.

My least favorite chore? Unloading that dishwasher. Fortunately, unloading my life is a favorite: decluttering, eliminating the fringe, reducing the time I waste.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Making It Work

My parents wouldn't have dreamed of taking us children to Europe. Instead, we stayed home with Grandma and Grandpa for six long weeks. These days, not many people have a grandma and grandpa team that would move in and take over, so most people take the kiddies with them.

We traveled with our children, but it was never to Europe--we took them to cays in the Bahamas where they could swim with fish and discover the delights of a different culture. We took them to live on a Fijian coconut plantation on the sea, where our four year old preferred to hangout with our gracious Indian hosts in their outdoor kitchen with chickens running about and giant blue crabs waiting in a covered pot. I'm not sure museums and fussy Frenchmen would have meshed well with our children. The opportunity has long passed, yet I find myself sort of wishing we had tried the European adventure with children. Could they have appreciated the culture?

I marvel when I am told about an acquaintance who regularly took her children to Europe and started doing so when her youngest was two.

"Did she take a nanny?" I ask the storyteller.

"No!" and we are both bewildered by the woman's adventurous spirit. "She and her husband just made it work. He took the kids to the park and she went shopping."

Last November, we ventured out of the country for a wedding and took the whole family along. We made it work, but we did run into a few glitches with our airline. Unbeknownst to us, and without any warning from the airline, we learned there are special exceptions to taking under-two-year-olds out of the country. It came down to standing at the departure gate, almost everyone having boarded and still not knowing if the almost two-year-old could go. The gate agent told us everyone could board but him...really? The problem was resolved by buying, literally, in the last minutes, a full fare ticket for a child who was supposed to fly free. Another member of the wedding party flying from another state wasn't so lucky. The glitch caused a delay they couldn't solve in time and she missed her flight. Her family went on and she was left alone, crying, to figure out how to get to the wedding with a six-month-old.

The irony was that the airline workers on the way back into the country poo-pooed the stringent requirements and didn't require the urgently needed papers we were told we must have to bring the children back.

It happened again this week on our way to Florida in the company of a two month old and a one year old. The airline agent needed proof of the newborn's date of birth since she was flying free as an under-two-years-of-age lap child. Looking at her isn't proof enough? 

The only proof of her birth my daughter had, was a video on her phone, of her C-section birth. Yes, Mandi stood at the airline counter showing her c-section video to the airline agent. Bonding. It only worked because the video was dated.

"This really should be posted on your website when we purchase our airline tickets."

The gate agent responded that it was.

But we didn't see it.

Hence the warning and the reason for this piece. If you are bold enough to travel with children, if you lack a grandma/grandpa team to take over, by all means take the children. Enjoy them...make it work, but caveat emptor...check and double check the airline requirements, supposedly FDA mandated, but not universally enforced, to carry that precious cargo on and off the plane.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Thrice Blessed

My daughter's neighbors are an older, retired couple. As the birth of my daughter's second child neared, she and her husband asked Joe and Linda (the older couple), if they had an emergency and needed to go to the hospital in the middle of the night, would they be willing to come over and stay with their three year old?


As the mother thousands of miles away, I appreciated Joe and Linda immensely. So one day, when I discovered a delightful artisan bread shop in downtown Evanston, I bought a loaf of bread for Joe and Linda. It would be a simple but grateful gesture of appreciation.

As I contemplated delivering the bread, I decided it would be best if three year old Ezra bestowed the gift. I already know how it feels to give, and I wanted him to have that feeling. I wanted to share the blessing.

Over the years of my life, I've seen over and again, confirmation of the aphorism It is better to give than to receive; and I've observed the greater joy in the givers; have observed the happy dispositions of people who are givers, who think of others before themselves.

I handed the store-wrapped-and-tied bread to Ezra and followed him across the driveway and up the stairs to Joe and Linda's. He pounded on the door and when Joe opened it, the little guy blurted his rehearsed line, "Thanks for being good neighbors," then threw the bread at Joe's feet.

The little guy needed some work, but---in his awkward delivery was the sureness of his pleasure.

Practice makes perfect so I headed back to the bread store for two more loaves for each of his pre-school teachers.

When I met him after school on the playground, he was pretty excited as I handed him both loaves. We went back into the old church, the stairs creaking as we hurried to the next floor. Ezra ran down the hall and into the room. I stood behind the door and watched. This time he did a little better standing still long enough for each of his teachers to give him a hug.

By giving to someone else to give, the blessings stretched to include three levels: two givers, one recipient.

When the nine year old twins in primary (church Sunday school for the children) found out their dog had died, they were devastated. I remembered what it felt like as a child to come home and learn that Hildi, our beloved mini dachshund had dashed into the street and been hit by a car. I called my friend down the street and wept as I shared the news. I just wanted someone to know and care.

I wanted the boys to know someone knew and cared, so I went to the bakery and bought a treat, but I paused in the delivery. I had already been blessed from the joy of thinking, caring and acting. Could I stretch those blessings to include others? Of course. I called the twins' primary teacher and asked him if he could deliver the treats because it would mean so much more if it came from him.

The phone call helped me to discover how to extend the blessings of giving. And now, if we can go from twice blessed to thrice blessed, why not thrice to four times? Working on it.

Monday, August 8, 2016


A decade ago, my sister's ex-husband died unexpectedly. Though their marriage had ended ten years earlier, he was still a part of our lives because of their daughter, my niece. I no longer saw him, but in the years of their marriage he had been a friend.

Several weeks after his death, my sister and her daughter decided to have a memorial. There wasn't much time for me to plan, and the memorial was held on a Monday morning in a different state.

My father's health had recently begun to decline and in this state, he told me not to come to the memorial. He was quite adamant, and I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life; I listened.

I still live with the disappointment of letting my sister and my niece down.

Recently my niece and I were talking and she expressed her anger at her grandfather for insisting we not come. I walked away from the conversation with several insights. The first insight was that no matter the circumstances, the forces that oppose our thoughts and actions, we still have a choice. Though I would like to blame it on Dad, I always had a choice to act differently.

In a follow-up conversation, I explained to my niece my thoughts and learning from the consequences of not coming to the memorial. Foremost I learned, we always have a choice, and in the misery of my wrong choice, I knew I had to change. I needed to become more sensitive to death and funerals, and memorials, and to mourn with those who mourn.

Consequently, we should be more forgiving of the trespasses against us because in those offenses may come the greatest lesson to the offender. Climbing out of the pit of regret may bring the greatest effort to change and become better. Mistakes can be sanctifying. Even sacred.

In forgiving we become a part of the sanctification. In essence, we reach into that pit and exclaim, "Hold on and I will help you out."

In doing so, we rise too.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Perfect Sand Is the Fountain of Youth

I awake to the flash of surrounding lightening like pops of fireworks on the Fourth of July. I can see it in a forever sky from a balcony overlooking the sea.

We discovered the Florida Emerald Coast after a strong recommendation from a friend, and we were immediately taken with its beauty, it's warm and clear water, and the actual emerald color of sea. Every inch of white sand has been weathered to the texture of brown sugar or if the sand is dry, to powdered sugar.

This sand is impervious to the beating heat; while the sun pauses in its highest position, the sand warms but is still walkable. I've heard it called air-conditioned sand.

In this sand, we've spent hours playing spike ball, a mini, twisted, version of volleyball. It includes a  yellow rubber ball and a round netted base that resembles the rage of the eighties, the mini-trampoline! The paddles or rackets are the palms of our hands, and in an especially deft move, the slap of a backhand. Our son-in-law first introduced us to this game in the neighbor's front yard, which had a wider space of green lawn than our two little patches. We soon realized we'd wear down their grass if we continued playing, so our early evening games moved to the park down the hill.

It was an amazing thing that two athletic, quick, twenty-year-olds would invite the fifty-year-olds to play, and sure enough, we lost game after game after game. As the playtime hours rack up, we sometimes get lucky and give the young-uns a scare--we may be tied up to the last point, but we've never conquered. Just when we think we may be getting better, son-in-law number four flashes around the net and smacks the ball at an angle we can never reach in time.

The funny thing is that we, Tony and I persist. We don't give up. It's as if Tony believes every game holds the potential for victory.

I know better.

But herein lies the victory of every game and why we keep on playing: we are getting better. The better we get, the more fun the game. Never mind that the young-uns are getting better too. I am at peace that they will always win. We could hire a coach, dedicate hours to practice, and we would still lose, because we lack the agility, the speed, the ability to throw ourselves at an angle to spat the ball and roll to safety...until we played in the sand of the Florida Emerald Coast. The deep, soft sand, had me moving like a Kerry Walsh Jennings~~or rather, imagining we have the moves of the Jenning-Ross duo.

When it came time to leave, it was hard to say good-bye. To Mom, my sister, and the Chicago babies we won't see for months. I am used to saying goodbye; it is one of the most consistent episodes in my life. I've learned there is no point in hanging on, nor wishing it wouldn't end. However, one reason existed for not wanting to pack up and get on with life--the powder sugar sand and its delusion of youth.

Oops...sometimes I ask Tony to read a piece for accuracy...this time he found a huge inaccuracy. According to Tony, we've won "Lots of times." So, I asked my daughter who said, "Maybe once or twice." Son-in-laws' memory was "You've beat us three or four times and it only seems like we've never won because we've lost hundreds of games."

Friday, August 5, 2016


It was impossible not to notice all the new recruits going to San Diego to be in the Navy. Twenty or so men, dressed in regulation blue, sat in the boarding area waiting for their flight. They surrounded another navy man--but this man seemed to have a higher rank and was dressed in white pants and a traditional white navy shirt. I wanted to lean in closer and listen to the advice he was giving his juniors.

When they boarded the plane, the blue clad lads made their way to the back; the white-uniformed man traveled solo.

It seems to be a regular event when army or navy personnel are on a flight, the attendants acknowledge their service to our country with an announcement over the PA system. Everyone claps, especially if the soldiers are returning from active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. I often see other men and women reach out to give personal thanks.  It's warm and fuzzy respect for the men and women who make such sacrifices.

An hour and a half later, we are close to landing, and the flight attendant is rattling off the usual: seat backs forward and the tray table in the locked position. Seat belts secure. All carry-ons stored beneath the seat. This day however, there is an addition to the same old announcements. Our navy man in white is returning home after a year of duty. Applause makes its rounds, but there is more than just a man coming home; it is a homecoming, and his intentions as soon as he reaches the outer bowels of the airport are to ask his girlfriend to marry him. I am only a row away and I hear the congratulations and the good lucks.

Our soldier admits to everyone around him how nervous he is for such an important occasion. "This is crazy, but it's easier getting shot at in Afghanistan than asking my girlfriend to marry me."

He has a unique perspective. I had assumed she would say yes, but maybe not.

That he's more nervous today than he has been dodging the enemy in a war zone, speaks volumes about the opposite potentials that lie ahead.

Relationships require vulnerability. All relationships.

Whether it's marriage, sisterhood, parenthood, friendship, or a work relationship, each one requires care. The moment in the airplane has made me pause and reconsider what it's like to approach me.