Monday, October 31, 2016


I crack open a pomegranate, one of two I will mine as a surprise for my daughter. She loves pomegranates but doesn't have time to laboriously pick out the tiny tendrils. The two little boys are off among the bushes, weaving in and out as if they are tigers in an African jungle. They don't have the words to express what they appear to be doing, but with their small size, and the side yard covered in almost-tree size bushes, the way they move in and out, something imaginative is happening.

But when the pomegranate cracks, it's as if their sense of smell or sound is so keen, all is forgotten and me, the chair, the bowl, draws them like the pull of gravity. They plunge their grubby fists into the bowl and stuff the red pearls into their mouths; when I break off a chunk, the very tips barely connected to the skin, they rip into the fruit. They even moan at the taste they have come to love--like their mother.

My second thought is have I fed them enough this morning? Is this why they're on the attack?

No, I have taken good care of the little guys. They are ravenous because we have been outside all morning.

For two glorious days,  my Grandma-nanny self and the little rascals have lived outside, only going inside to prepare lunch and to lay down for crib-naps. If it would have worked, we would have brought out the sleeping bags. We've brought the high chair out and dined on the patio table. We've spent hours on the trampoline, under the trampoline and climbing in and out of the wheelbarrow and the water table.

We've dragged blankets to put over the climbing dome, blankets to change diapers on and blankets to lay in the pretend tent.

There've been tomatoes to gather, raspberries to find, and peppers to pick.

They wrestle, they chase, they giggle. When a helicopter flies overhead, they point and go into DEFCON 3. The passing sound of the garbage truck invokes the same attention.

And the dirt!!! So much dirt. In the sandbox and in Mommy's garden. They've shoveled and moved enough dirt to fill several miniature dump trucks and loaders. Sand has been moved to the grass to the porch steps, thrown into the window well. So much misplaced dirt, I moved the broom and dustpan to the outdoors too. So much dirt that before naptime, I pull off their clothes and throw them in the tub. They love the dirt, they love the bath, they love the outdoors.

I love the outdoors too and wonder why I am not, when home, living outdoors?

Ah, the answer comes so easy--because I am not trying to wear out three-year-old and one-year old little, adventurous, energetic boys.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Dear Readers,

My blog seems to have been invaded and consequently is connected to some interesting sites.

In a few days, I'm shutting down access in hopes of stopping the flow. I'll keep writing and will reopen access in due time.


The Other Woman

Tony has a beautiful, younger sister who shares his passion for sports. They also share the same genes and descended from some hearty stock: Montana ranchers, Park City miners and Basque sheepherders. The size of their rock-hard calves is epic!

Because of these shared traits, they have some fun traditions. Foremost is their passion for college football. Watching football for hours is unfathomable to me; I can't even stand the background noise of television football, let alone a four hour football game sitting on rock hard benches in a rain poncho. For this, I am grateful to Val, his sister.

For the past decade or so, my husband has had his sister, a friend, to share these all-important moments with. I am forever grateful to her. Their traditions include eating out before games and after games. She buys the tickets; he buys the meal. He buys the tickets; she buys the meal.

Because of their super-genes, they also share a physical endurance that leaves me in the dust. If I'm out of town, he always has a pickleball competitor. She doesn't wear out after four games either. I think their pickleball playing record stands at four hours and begs to be broken.

Recently, my daughter's employer came to her with a troubled look on his face. He's a good man who cares about his employees and their families.

"I'm concerned," he said. "That your husband hangs around with and films a certain young woman (who is often in a bikini)."

My daughter's husband is a filmmaker.

My daughter smiled. "It's his little sister."

The endodontist sighed with relief.

"His little sister just created a youtube channel (zoelazerson) and he does her films."

Now, the endodontist could smile.

My husband and his sister frequently run into people who know both of us and they too have that endodontist look.

"Hi," he quickly realizes the strange glances at the other woman and adds, "Oh, I'd like you to meet my sister."

The person sighs and smiles.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Dear Readers,

My blog seems to have been invaded and consequently is connected to some interesting sites.

In a few days, I'm shutting down access in hopes of stopping the flow. I'll keep writing and will reopen access in due time.


Emails--And This Has Nothing To Do With Hillary's Server

The important nuances of conversation are lost in an email.

Emails cannot replace the tone of voice, the interruptions inherent in face to face dialogue, the pauses that allow us to say, "Wait, I don't understand," or ask "Do you really mean that?" or even "That's not what I intended at all."

Emails allow issues to drag on. Allow the issue to fester, hurt, humiliate.

Emails allow cowards to punch their opponents in the gut with words.

The email recipient can't defend himself--especially when it's sent to a group. Prejudices root, misperceptions grow.

Emotional emails should go into a holding tank where they can cool off before they burn.

Emails allow us to write an attack before thinking through the logic.

Emails give a false power.

Just communicate face to face.

Emails build bridges.

Emails allow communication when there is no other means.

Emails foster friendship.

Emails are an easy way "to catch" someone without interrupting their life.

Emails are efficient. If I remember a message I need to convey at 6:00 a.m., I can do it without waking the recipient.

Emails, like nuclear energy, cars, and airplanes, can be used as weapons. Choose wisely when you write and respond to those emails.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Balance of Liberty and Responsibility

My first Christmas-gift art book, was the works of Norman Rockwell, and I couldn't have been older than twelve. So when the Norman Rockwell exhibit came to the MOA, I attended twice. The second visit was in the company of forty high school seniors.

Our curriculum covers 20th century American history and current events: Norman Rockwell was icing on the cake. Every Saturday Evening Post cover he'd ever drawn allowed us to walk through the history of America. It was a choice experience--twice. I wish it had been thrice.

As of October 28 2016, the general consensus among Americans, the media, and myself is that this election couldn't end soon enough. I hear it in the complaints of friends, interviews on the radio, from the candidates themselves. I begin teaching about the election, about voting rights, on November 1.

As previously mentioned, I was most concerned about this. Since gathering historical election material, since asking for outside help, since refining my thoughts~~It's going to be just fine. I've asked two respected and knowledgeable attorneys to speak to the class on two different occasions, on two different subjects. The first guest will share his knowledge about the Supreme Court. The second attorney, a dear friend, will share her expertise on election law. A sneak preview of her visit:

"Yes, I would love to come. I speak to the State Bar next week, so what days are open?"

"You know I'm an independent and do not align with any party."

"Americans have known both of these candidates for decades--known who they are, their histories, and have allowed them to rise to the two presidential candidates."

"We allow such a small minority to elect our president ( What was it?--only 9 % of the population voted in the primaries?) and hopefully these students can see this and realize how it needs to change."

We've also invited a woman who knows the grandson of Viktor Frankl who is on a quest to erect a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast to balance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. Liberty can be detrimental without responsibility.

As I strive to fulfill my responsibility to students, I have searched for the right material to teach about the elections in 2016. What I have found to my chagrin and relief, is this is not the first election to cause severe consternation. In the above Norman Rockwell painting, the year is 1944 and this everyday man who represents American voters then and now, is candidate-confused until the very moment he steps into a voting booth. The contest for president was between the ailing Theodore Roosevelt who'd already served three terms, and the Republican governor of New York, Thomas Dewey.

So the struggle continues...thank goodness it's almost over...

Until the next election...unless something changes...for the better...we have the liberty and the consciousness for responsibility to do so.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Looking Out the Window

I see the bony fingered limbs and straggly-hair twigs of a tree outside the window. Her marked trunk is like an old woman's legs traced with veins from worn out skin. Leaves scatter round her like a calendar whose past months are ripped out and tossed one at a time.

How awful to look at life through a window. To not experience first hand true love, lost love, or the shocking plunge of a glacier-fed lake. As I age, I resist the urge to sit back and watch love vicariously from my daughters; to live through letters from a distant land.

I once had a friend who went through seven years of a bad marriage before it ended. A trusted, loved one suggested  she might get through the pain by going on medication. "No," she responded, "I want to know when I have suffered the greatest pain so when I'm through suffering I will recognize it's over." If she had to suffer the lowest of lows, she wanted to soar with the highest of highs.

Why do trees undress for winter leaving themselves bare and naked against the cold? They cut down their life-generating powers and shut down to hum like a freezer.

Out the window, I see a marshmallow sky.

People are like windows. Some with drawn curtains or blinds tipped to allow only the slightest glance. Some are half drawn in declaration, "I only give a part of myself!" Some windows have decorated facades, outlined by soft green edging.

The windows across from where I sit, are like a just-started jigsaw puzzle; I see a piece of a mountain, a handful of a cloud and a chopped-in-half building.

How open are my windows?

We've all heard that eyes are the windows of a soul, and to the eyes come the soul of the earth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Come Play

Our youngest child calls from downstairs, "Will you be available until 8:00 tonight?" I check the time-almost 6:00 p.m. and call back, "Yes."

"Good. We're running to buy a game to play with you and Dad." My mind does a mental checklist of the things she could pick up.

"Which store?"


A REAL toy store.

Twenty minutes later I hear the back door shut and the patter of feet. "Mom, Dad, come play."

Ah come play.

We sit down at the table to learn the rules of "Cover Your Assets." She and her husband recently played with friends and think it's the best game in the world, though they warn us, "People fight over this game." Our first round is practice and it's mild except for the irritation I can't hide when Tony steals my assets. As we move through round two, three, four...the tricks come forth and we experience the excitement in the game. But no one fights.

Instead, I look around the table with joy and feelings of nostalgia. I see my father, mother and my grandparents all sitting on the side patio shaded by a grape arbor. It is summer in Sugarhouse, and we've escaped onto the cool patio where my grandfather slices through a plum. He is mostly silent and his stomach bulges under the belt he still wears. The conversation is slow, but there's joy as my sisters and I pretend the curved steps and the miniature evergreens are a house.

I learn on these mellow summer evenings that every Friday night my dad, as a teenager and until he married and moved away, would sit on this patio and play cards with his parents, an uncle, a friend or a neighbor joining in. When it was too dark to play, Dad would hop in his roadster and join his friends.

We too are the fillers until 8:00 when they will move on to another activity with friends.

My children and I gathered too, to play cards with Mom and Dad or Grandma and Grandpa. We occasionally played Hearts or Tonk, or Grandma's favorite, Skip-bo. We'd clear the dinner table, load the dishwasher and Dad or Mom shuffled the cards, placed them in piles, and slowly everyone sat down to play. That circle around the table is a precious memory.

As time passed, Tonk became confusing for Dad; even Skip-Bo became too complicated. We stopped playing cards. It's been two years since Dad's death and still we haven't played, but I feel a distinct longing to bring out the cards when next we gather.

In a month, Mom (or Grandma), will be coming for Thanksgiving; Mandi is coming from Chicago and everyone else will be here. After we clear the table, load the dishwasher, put away the food and sweep the floor, I'll bring out the newly purchased (surprise!) double pack of Skip-bo cards. Mom will be pleased and the memories will start all over again.

Come Play!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


At the end of my hike, I saw a biker who made a sudden turn up the trail as he yelled, "Mrs. Martinez!" Ahhhh, how sweet to be acknowledged by a student with a burst of excitement.

I received an email from a student today: Mrs Martinez? I miss you

Ahhh, how sweet it was. 

I received a different email today from yet another student-- It read: 

The music department is having a fundraiser for our upcoming tour. For part of this fundraiser, we are hoping to duct tape teachers to the wall. We were wondering if you would be willing to participate. This would be super helpful in getting us to our festival which will be a great educational experience. 

After a 10 second pause to shake off the shock, I said "Oh no," loud enough to alert Tony's worry radar.

"What?" he called from the other room with only a slight tone of distress.

When I explained the invitation, he smiled and asked, "Will you do it?"

Honestly, I didn't know whether to be flattered or insulted. Did the student send it out to 20 different teachers hoping for a jovial, good natured sucker?

I can't think of anything worse than all that attention in such a precarious position. Besides, what would I wear?

After explaining all the reasons for not allowing myself to be duck taped to the wall, Tony nailed what it was really about: dignity. "You really need to keep your dignity."

Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy of honor and respect.

As I contemplate keeping my dignity in such a humorous situation, I can't help but think about more serious times, of Nixon's lack of dignity when he resigned from the office of President for his involvement in Watergate, and President Clinton's denial of his liaison with an intern half his age and later admitting the truth.

I just watched a CNN/Anderson Cooper report on the activities of the DNC Donald Duck debacle. Cooper had the dignity to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing especially when the accused, two men caught on video, resigned. The defenders, the men in question, all seem to have traded their dignity. Apparently, dignity is an easy thing to toss around depending on the cause.

I recently saw a compelling movie: The Light Between Oceans. A husband and wife unable to have children, make a decision to keep quiet about a baby they save from a drifting boat. This one decision causes heartache and havoc for the rest of their lives and the child's life. Throughout the movie, I kept thinking, if only they'd done the right thing in the beginning...

It can be difficult to make the right decision in an emotional, stressful situation, but what if we paused and asked, Am I trading my dignity, the right to be worthy of respect and honor for this action?

In the end, I offered a compromise to the student. What if I paid my way out of this? Let me know what a teacher usually earns for the cause and I'll triple it! Not really... but I can't think of a better cause...and it's not for the music department tour; the price is to keep my dignity!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Meeting for Saturday Morning Brunch

In our family, it's critical to keep ones' ears open for fantastic food finds: restaurants, farmer's markets, specialty shops. Finding good food is good mining.

While in Paris one year, our daughter stayed ahead of us the whole time with suggestions for amazing cafes, creperies and boulangeries, as she followed a friend's posts who was also in Paris on a culinary journey.

So when a family member finds a highly rated, award winning cafe for breakfast, a plan is formed. Never mind that we have to drive a half hour and wait for 30-40 minutes for a table--anticipation of fluffy, sour cream pancakes and the Pot o'Gold egg, bacon, and gravy concoction, will be worth the wait.

The date and time is set.

The persistent daughter who wrangled everyone's schedule to match, arrives early to put our name on the waiting list. Ten people! We come to the party within minutes of each other. The mamma and her babies are waiting in the car. When we search the parking lot we see why--she's parked between two firetrucks! Almost three-year-old and one-and-a-half year old (still in pajamas) are mesmerized and happy to stay in their car seats...until we take over the van and set them free. Grandpa carries one toddler around--pointing, touching, experiencing in real life heretofore images only seen in Richard Scarry's illustrated truck book. The trucks are so big, so red and shiny, so many lids and gadgets, even I'm excited! A glimpse through a truck window reveals more paraphernalia than I could have imagined.

As we stand near the trucks, two big groups of men come sauntering along. All dressed in blue, manly, serious-faced, they present an intimidating presence. When we greet them with gratitude, they're all smiles and they pull out two children's plastic firemen's helmets and stickers that look like fire chief badges.

The little guys go inward like turtle heads into their shells.

"Would you like to sit in the driver's seat?" A fireman asks. Both are quiet and won't let go of their mama and grandpa.

"Would you like to explore the inside of the truck?" They cling even tighter.

One fireman comments, "I wish I could go to work in my pajamas."

Me too.

We say our goodbyes, at least the adults, and the firemen have an even bigger surprise. They pull out of the parking lot with sirens, horns, and flashing lights.

Our beeper telling us the table is ready, is just one more surprise as is the late and safe arrival of the dad who's been packing the car with bikes for an after breakfast trail ride in a ski resort's mountains.

When the first plate of pancakes arrives with a Matterhorn of whipping cream, carmel and pecans, a collective stomach growl emerges from the table.

The whole morning becomes an experience. The excitement over the menu, the hunger that drove us to oooh and ahhh. The possibility of new taste. When breakfast is eaten we linger. We share ideas, food feedback, plans for the day and even the week. We only break apart when we realize other people are waiting for tables and our turn to eat is done. But it's hard to part. The mama runs to get buttons, we follow the toddlers around the parking lot and watch the three year old drive the car.

We start telling riddles and jokes... but there are trails to ride, homework and Saturday shopping that needs to be done, lesson plans that need creation. We say good-bye and head our separate ways--until the next time someone finds an excuse to be together.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Paradox of Hospitality

This is the third year my AP Literature classes have chosen to read Cormac McCarthy's award winning novel, The Road, an apocalyptic story that juxtaposes survival in a horrific world with the love between a father and his son and the necessary sacrifices to keep that love strong.

One year, Professor Philip Snyder, a Cormac McCarthy expert, spoke to our class. He introduced the "Paradox of Hospitality," a completely new idea to me.

The man and the boy, who are never named, travel south with hopes of finding "the good people." The world is a gray landscape devoid of animal and plant life. Gray hovers over the earth and ashes blow in the wind. While on the constant search for food and shelter, they come upon a house once grand: sweeping porches, a door with large brass hinges that swing open for the man and boy--ironic imagery that symbolize long-gone hospitality. They cautiously creep inside to peeling wall paper, bent and falling crown moldings, a large walnut buffet with missing drawers, too heavy to cart off and burn for warmth; the hospitality the home once offered is apparent; to step inside now brings fear, but still they enter in search of sustenance or anything good and desirable they might find and salvage.

Henri Nouwen was an influential Catholic Priest, a spiritualist, a professor, a writer of 39 books. He was influenced by his love of Jesus Christ, love of mankind, art and other philosophers. He was an advocate of peace and peacemaking, and criticized the Cold War and America's intervention in Vietnam.

He also wrote about the Paradox of Hospitality. He recognized that we are all searching, continually for a hospitable place where "life can be lived without fear and where community can be found." This can be a difficult search in an inhospitable world--yet it's our responsibility to "convert the hostis into hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced."

Hospitality is a diminished term, its potency a fraction of its meaning in biblical times when it was requisite to welcome the stranger into one's home.

Hospitality is meant to be an open space, an invitation of safety and discovery. But more often than not, that empty space is filled with fear. Hence the Paradox of Hospitality.

I ask my students if they can relate to this theory. It is a bit nebulous until I ask, "What about your first day of seventh grade?"

The fright, the insecurities, rush back to vivid memories of the first days of junior high. The school was meant to be a welcoming institution of learning, growth and friendship. Before they stepped inside, it was an empty space for multiplying fears. Yet, looking back as seniors, they see the paradox--the emptiness, the fear, opened up to hospitality; it's now a place of comfort only because they stepped inside.

We all saw that one has to be willing to step into the possible emptiness of hospitality.

I hadn't thought much about the hospitality application to myself, until I was hit on the head with my own fears in the empty space of possibility. I had been invited to meet and to encourage a recent felon who had returned to society--certainly an empty space of fear with the possibility of embracing love.  At first I was reticent and asked my husband not to encourage a meeting with this young man who cannot even return to his home state because of his past crime. When I examined Nouwen's theories, I was overwhelmed with spiritual correction. I was on the threshold of the paradox, invited but unwilling to embrace my own fears and those of another human being because I chose to ignore the sweet possibilities of new experience and the chance to be more loving, more inclusive, more hospitable--on account of fear.

Today, my heroes are a group of Canadians who decided to take in Syrian refugees. The scenario epitomizes the Paradox of Hospitality--a fearful, empty place--the unknown, and yet a chance to welcome, to love, and to be hospitable. They risked it all; they saved lives and in doing so filled the emptiness and fear with joy.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Women We Visit Teach

For thirty years, I have been a Visiting Teacher. What this means is, I have the responsibility, the privilege, of looking out for the needs of other women in my religious community. The women I visit teach may need a ride to the doctor, or help with packing. She may have had surgery and would appreciate help with her home or a homemade meal. The service may only fulfill the need for friendship.

When I was a little girl, my mom was a Visiting Teacher  and she had Visiting Teachers who came to visit her once a month to deliver a short spiritual message and inquire as to her needs. They came unannounced wearing dresses with pantyhose and conservative heels. They saw themselves as representatives of the church.

I saw my mother as the Visiting Teacher to women who didn't want to be bothered with a visit. Mom still felt a connection, and I remember her dropping off a monthly loaf of pumpkin bread, muffins, extra lemons, or a cheerful note. Her love of service is memorable.

Times have shifted since the 1960s, 70s, 80s...Today, it would be hard to stop by on a weekday afternoon and expect a woman to be home with enough time to invite a visiting teacher in for a chat. My life is such that when my Visiting Teacher asked how she could best serve my needs, I said, "Please don't visit me." We both laughed and decided to paddle board together in the summer.

For the past two years, my visiting teaching partner and I have visited a woman half our age, and with more variations from us than a color chart. After two years of visiting consistency, of going through her kidney transplant and other complex health issues, the woman is like a daughter to me. I love her. But she is woman who doesn't want a spiritual message--and so we've become the Movie Club!

Last Wednesday night, there were four of us--and I anticipate our numbers will grow. It's beyond just visiting teaching. It's having fun and including anyone who would like to go. Part of the joy is being around women of diverse interests and personalities. One woman drives for Uber and has just returned to school. One woman just married; two are single. One woman is sarcastic, another sweet-sweet. One of us works full time--the rest are part-timers. We are grandmas and women witout children. One of the women was a beauty queen. And then there is me, the one who borrows a bigger car to chauffeur around the ladies.

The movie we chose to see didn't start until 9:00 p.m. and ended at 11:25. For us older women, the late night movie was a stretch to our regular habits. But because we love and care for each other, we mustered the courage to pretend we were young and vigorous and capable of staying out until midnight with our young friend--the woman we visit teach.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Look Upstream

Our hike master is out of town, and usually when she's gone--we all play hooky--no one hikes. But this week we planned an epic 3-4 hour hike, and I was most excited to prove we had hiking motivation without our guru.

The night before one of us bailed when she realized she didn't have enough time to hike before a flight. It caused a small tremor of doubt and the hike was almost canceled. We persisted--until the next morning when 30 minutes before departure, the temperature was 34. Still under the blankets, I texted Nikki and questioned whether it was too cold. We wavered and then held our ground. Once the sun came over the mountain, surely it would warm up.

I layered my hiking clothes, put on a hat, and zipped up my jacket.

As we pulled into the parking lot at the base of the trail,  a pile of boys emerged from two trucks and  waved.

"Good morning," I called out. "What are you guys doing here in the cold?"

"It's my Eagle Scout project and we're repairing the trail where it's eroding. Up by the falls."

Eeek, I'd forgotten about the eroding part of the trail.

"When we finish," the young man added, "you're invited to meet us for donuts."

Nikki mutters under her breath, "We'll be long gone."

He's mistaken us for lightweights who won't make it very far, but as we climb the trail, going back for donuts, becomes my phrase of choice when we're faced with unexpected peril.

At the first creek crossing, it is straddled with logs, branches and rocks. We both pause and scout the terrain. Two logs look somewhat friendly and I proceed cautiously. As I inch myself along, I see the logs are iced over. I bend down and hold on, skating my feet past the worst part. I'm over!

Nikki contemplates alternate routes. She chooses stones and crosses the water with wet-around-the-edge-of-her-shoes consequences.

Once on the other side, we pause to survey our conquest; had we looked more upstream we would have seen an easier place to cross where the width was only a jump away from the other side.

"If only we'd looked upstream!" Look upstream, becomes the mantra of the moment.

Before we began our hike, I'd remembered the friend who fell in the creek on our last hike. When I reminded Nikki, she said she'd made this hike in the late summer and the creek had all but disappeared--it would be no threat to today's hike. When we reach the second swell in the water, Nikki remembers since the late summer it's snowed and this is the runoff.

We find a place where crossing may be possible, but it needs some beaver construction. I head down the trail where branches and logs are strewn about. I tug and pull out a decent log and we heave it into the water. It's not enough. We meet back and maneuver our logs into a path. Nikki goes first. Agile she is, but her toes dip into the icy creek.

 I look upstream. Ah ha! A leap onto a boulder, a step onto an even larger boulder and I make a clean crossing.

When we reach the final river crossing and even looking upstream doesn't bring a better route, I suggest in jest, "We could go back for donuts."

We're not going back for donuts. This has become more than a hike; it's become our preparation for the apocalypse survival. We look upstream; we walk upstream; we keep walking and find a possible passage if we enhance the crossing. We pick out big, flat rocks, and heft them into the river trying to build a bridge. I feel like a Boy Scout in pursuit of a merit badge. We cross with ease and notice the icicles forming on the side of the creek. The weeds are frosty white.

The swollen creek is now behind us and the rest of the hike is a breeze. It opens in several places to an amazing vista. The air is clear and I can't remember a time when the valley was so lovely. The best part is walking on the crunchy leaves through the groves of aspens. The sound, the smell.

Two and a half hours later, when we reach the base on the other side of the mountain, the sun shines, my jacket is tied around my waist. I'm exhilarated by the accomplishment, and thankful we went ahead despite the obstacles.

Once again, nature has taught me another way to conquer life's obstacles: find another way, plan another route, be persistent--encompassed in the phrase--Look Upstream.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

New Thoughts On Aging

Our oldest daughter needs a babysitter.

The reliable nanny will be attending an out of state wedding. I rearrange my life, along with the other grandma (bless her, bless her), and I mentally prepare for the toddler extravaganza!

My first day starts smooth. Seventeen-month-old Bandit #1 eats his toast; almost three year old Bandit #2 manages to stay unscraped, unscathed, and intact, and he only flooded the bathroom floor with one gallon of water--thank goodness for side drains in water filled sinks.  It's a beautiful day and ever since learning my Canadian friend took her children outside even in the harshest of weather, I'm conditioned to bundle up the little bandits and brave a walk.

While buckling B1 into the stroller, B2 disappears. I find him "tunneling" under the low-set van in the garage, and I'm thrown into a panic. The oil, the grease--he's going to suffocate from fumes or cut his head in between car parts. He may even get stuck! I dial his father who works from home in a basement office and in seconds, he stands like the annunciation angel in the doorway. Hallelujah! B2 explains to Dad that not only was he "tunneling," but hiding. Horrific scenes run through my over-imaginative, worrisome, grandma mind which sees the future: B2 hiding; his family unaware he's under the car. You know the rest.

My poor son-in-law. When I return from the walk and both boys are wet from playing in the sand, the grass, and sliding into puddles on the slides, he abandons work and helps me clean-up and put the little bandits to bed. This is only day one.

I arrive home that late afternoon exhausted. I weasel my way out of playing pickleball with the terminator, aka Tony--until I ask him to help me with the boys on Wednesday. It's his work from home day but no sacrifice is too great to spend with the bandits and to save his beloved's life.

"I really can't do it," he says.

"Okay. I'll play pickleball tonight."

I see a subtle shift.

"If you help me on Wednesday, I'll play pickleball, even though I'm exhausted."

I detect another shift.

"You'll probably win."

"I'll help you on Wednesday."

"I can't believe you're going to make me play pickleball just to help me!"

A deal's a deal.

Tony 4, Pat 1.

It's best he comes anyway. When I visit the bandits, they look at me, smile if I'm lucky, then promptly ask in varying degrees of language proficiency, "Where's Bapa."

"Bapa? Bapa? Bapa, Bapa Bapa...

Today I'm thankful he's the favored son. They will only allow Bapa to change diapers (a manly thing) and scream "Bapa" when it's nap time. I am left downstairs to finish lunch while he tricks them into their naps. Big mistake. In the unexpected quiet, I get a glimpse of my former life and long for the plush rug under the desk in my study.

 As per the previous pickleball bargain, Tony only has to stay on duty until both B1 an B2 are down for their naps. When his work is finished, I wistfully walk him to the door, and remind him in twenty short minutes he'll be in the sanctuary of our home, "surrounded by silence and freedom."

He smiles like a man far younger than his gray hair reveals-- as he skips down the stairs to his car. As I watch with envy, an idea lightening bolt strikes.

"Hey, I call out. It's great getting old!"

The past two days of intense attention, cleaning up, wrestling toddlers out of wet clothes, wiping spilled milk and tossed food off the floor, walls and high chairs, have been a fraction of a myriad of years of hard labor. Old age returns the gratitude of younger days spent in the trenches with an envious schedule void of interference.

Anyone who complains about getting old needs to spend a few days with toddlers.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


The original flight was supposed to leave Chicago with a one hour stop and plane change in Minneapolis, then on to San Diego. I thought the hop north was a little off, but what could be so bad about a stop in Minnesota? Answer: a plane mechanical failure resulting in a missed flight to San Diego.

I now have a five hour stay at O'Hare International. I am left to make the most of the delay.

I park myself in a sunny window for the next few hours and all around me, I hear other people on phones, conversing about delayed flights.

Delayed flights delay life, but it's not only air travel that sends life into the unexpected.

I think of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison before he became president of South Africa.

I think of another friend who wanted and planned to be a mother. Nearly 40 years old with two failed adoptions and just as many failed pregnancies, I smile when I think of her holding her baby girl.

In the long years, Nelson Mandela became a powerful advocate of peace; my friend studied for a PHD and served the people in her community.

Their admirable accomplishments put a positive twist and possibility to the discouraging idea of a life delay.

Maybe delays are just bridges to discovery, understanding, and a deepening of the soul.

Whenever I have a short delay, I hear my mother's advice, "Always carry a good book." She's never thrown by a doctor who's behind in his schedule, or a bumped flight, because she always brings along a good book. Her antidote of adjustment is to prepare for the unexpected with literature. I've come to adopt the same attitude, and because of Mom, the five hour delay in Chicago brings opportunity to explore (physically and mentally), observe, and enjoy more golden hours of reading and writing. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Looking Forward

On a morning beach walk, I was enchanted by the different scenes depending on whether I was looking forward or behind. 

When my focus stayed ahead, the sky was clear and blue, the people on the beach were in color. When I first looked back, I was shocked to see the world behind was silhouettes in black and gray.
Hindsight, memories, learning from the past, are all critical to positive change and development. If willing to change, if willing to contemplate and reflect on past actions and events, these can be our strongest motivators for growth.

I recently was taught, "If you're too busy to reflect, you're too busy to improve." But there comes a point in all reflection when we need to move forward, when we need the color of hope, and we need to leave behind the gray--because hope is critical to change, and hope always presents itself in living color.

When I begin teaching poetry in my AP Literature class, one of the first analysis-for-poetry tools we use is Title. Students must take note of the title and how it might apply to the meaning of the entire poem. To illustrate this point, I give them a poem without the title and ask them to explore what the poem is about. It takes them a while, some never find the answer, but eventually, a student says, "Hope."

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

Without knowing the title, it's difficult to know the subject of the poem. If we start our reading knowing it is about hope, the meaning of the imagery is clear. We fall softly into the words instead of fighting the confusion before we reach clarity. 

An intimate acquaintance with hope at the beginning of every journey, of every change we try to make, makes looking forward bright with color and brings along the ultimate traveling companion of choice: hope.

Monday, October 17, 2016


On summer, Sunday afternoons, we always went for a drive after the sun had set; it was finally cool enough to sit in a car with the wind blowing through the open windows. We would check on Dad's warehouse, pick a pop from the soda machine (always Fanta orange for me), or sometimes stop at Baskin Robbins. Pink Bubble gum or Pralines and Cream. Another always.

On one occasion, Dad pulled up to a stoplight, and when it turned green, he hesitated-- I remember the moment so clearly. Without speaking, we were keenly aware of his unusual hesitation.

 And then it happened--the reason why he hadn't pushed on the gas pedal. A car came barreling through the opposite red light. Dad was stunned. We all looked to each other, shaken, relieved, but grateful. In that second of recognition, it was frighteningly obvious what would have happened if Dad hadn't hesitated.

That impressionable moment has always made me a green-light-hesitator and when I taught my daughters to drive, it always included many reminders to never proceed through a green light before checking both sides of traffic.

It was just last year, when I finished work, stopped by a sandwich shop for an avocado/veggie on sour dough (the only menu item I ever order), and I was too hungry to wait, so at the red light, I picked up the sandwich and took a bite. When the light turned green, within my mind's eye, I saw my sandwich fly across the car from the impact of another car. So I hesitated, longer than seemed necessary, and the imagined car, now in real life, ran the red light. I was shaken, relieved and grateful.

Today my daughter was driving her family, and she didn't hesitate when the light turned green. She couldn't stop in time when a car tried to sneak in a left hand turn.

Her car totaled, but her family safe, she sent a series of texts while riding in the car of a friend who drove by the accident and gave her family a ride home. The description and shock sent me to my knees in gratitude. When such news hits, it is always accompanied by the imagined possibilities of what could have happened.

The sobering moment made me reach out to other family members to remind them to always check cross traffic before entering an intersection--even when the light is green.

I received an unexpected reply that intensified my gratitude. My daughter wrote, "I actually do the same because of that advice, and one time the light was going to turn green and I heard the Holy Ghost* whisper in your voice saying to look both ways first-- regardless of it being green,-- a few seconds later a truck came speeding through and I would have been t-boned. Thanks Mama--love you."

I love you all too. Enough to remind you again and again to always check before proceeding through a green light.

*When we are baptized, we receive the gift of the Holy Ghost to prompt, inspire and warn. I believe that all mankind may receive promptings and warnings regardless of religious affiliations. I am just thankful for this gift that makes me aware of the potential guidance from a loving God.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sleep Wars

When Ezra's mom wakes in the night to tend the baby, he wakes and dashes into her spot on the bed. When Mom comes back she picks him up and carries him back to his bed. Regardless of the effort, she still finds him sleeping on the floor when she gets up the second time in the night to feed the baby. Sigh. 

Getting children to sleep, to sleep through the night, to sleep in their own the most exhausting, challenging part of childrearing.

How I remember--- finally, after rocking a child, or bouncing the child while singing One Tin Soldier with a long crescendo to silence, her eyes would shut. With the precision of carrying a bomb that might explode from sudden movement, I slowly lowered the child into the crib. I slipped my arms from under her body one millimeter at a time. I crouched to the ground inch by inch and hid next to the crib rails--just in case the child's eyes might pop open. Fearful still, I crawled, my movements as smooth, slow, and timely as a jaguar moving on its prey, towards the door.

When it's clear I've escaped, only then do I stand upright and tip toe down the hall.

Then comes sleep training. When the pediatrician asks, "Is she sleeping through the night yet?"

He already knows, that trickster. He can see it in the bags under our eyes, in the way we limp into his office, in the way our eyelids almost shut during his lecture concerning the child's age and how she is old enough to be sleeping through the night, and no longer in need of nightly sustenance or parental reassurance.

He may hand you a pamphlet or suggest a book. He may even go through the rigors of sleep training right before your eyes, because it is after all, very simple.

"The first night your child wakes, you just go in and pat the child's back, soothe her with a short presence and walk out. Do not speak. DO NOT pick the child up. The second night repeat the first actions. By the third night, the child may wake up for a minute and cry, but by now, the child has learned to soothe herself back to sleep.

As a young desperate-for-sleep mother, you believe the doctor. A 20 x 16 canvas image of his grown children snuggled at the sides of him and his energetic looking wife, hangs in the hallway. He did it. The proof is in the color coordinated smiles and clothing colors of his handsome, healthy children and the smiling proud parents sitting with a backdrop of pastoral grass and pine trees.

But in his two minute tutorial and picture lined office hallways, he never mentioned the child crying for three hours straight...or trying to outlast, outlive, the small patch of patience fast-draining from the deep recesses of the feel-good part of a parent's brain.

It is then that sleep wars has a new battlefield: the parent's bedroom.

"It's your turn."

"It's yours."

"I'm just going to pick her up and bring her into our bed."

"If you do, we've lost all ground gained in last night's two hour battle."

"I'm getting a hotel if this doesn't end."

It does end.

The next sleep war begins.

High school, first period math. 7:30 a.m.

6:00 a.m summer tennis lessons to beat the heat, that the child was so enthusiastic about when you wrote the check for $200.

It does end.

Finally, the children are raised. Somehow, on their own, they managed to graduate from college, hold a job, marry a very decent man or woman...then have children of their own....

Sleep wars begin again.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Freedom To Do So

Tio Aruturo agreed to speak to my classes again.

We are in the midst of the Cold War study and just finished with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tio and his family lived through the CMC and left Cuba during the Johnson airlifts; in doing so, they sacrificed everything for freedom. This was a sobering lesson I was so excited to share with my students.

Just the day before, a young man had written that the best way to study history was through written primary documents. When I read this line, I had to pause; I thought of the first hand stories I've been privileged to hear--I had to disagree with the young man's premise--the best way to learn history is from the people who were there. Hearing their stories can be stronger than reading their stories...yet, so few people are still alive to tell of those crucial historical moments.

The first time we spoke to Tio, we had a speaker problem and he had to shove his story into 20 minutes; this time he had two 45 minute class periods. I basked in his phone presence and the stories he told. So intent on listening carefully, I took very few notes and I'm desperately trying to hold on to all he said.

The story begins with Cuba's independence from Spain. A series of leaders led to Fulgencio Baptista becoming president. He came to power through his goodwill that toppled the previous corrupt government; he was liked and trusted and was voted president in 1940 through free elections. He served Cuba well by strengthening the economy, developing public works, and expanding education. But he had a flaw that allowed him to enrich himself--he made money from being the president. When his term was up, he moved to Florida and invested the money (reported as huge sums) he'd made from his service.

The eight years following his presidency, Cuba fell under corrupt leaders again. Baptista returned and the citizens were happy to greet him; he took control in a bloodless coup--but something had changed--drastically.

Baptista returned as a vicious dictator. He took control of the press, the economy, the university and began embezzling huge sums of money from the thriving sugar economy in Cuba. He rigged the election so he was the only man running.

Along comes the revolutionary Fidel Castro. Again the people had hope. He promised free elections... While promising he was not a communist, he slowly stacked government positions with communists. Elections weren't free, and then the devastating day when Castro joins with the Soviet Union and declares communist Cuba.

Tio's mom was an attorney who worked in the sugar industry. When she refused to join the communist party, she lost her job. They lost their home. The father, mother and Tio started listening to the Voice of America short wave radio at 4:00 a.m in the morning. If caught, the father would have been sentenced to five years in prison.

Tio's grandfather had been a farmer all his life. Each morning he rose early to take care of his farm. One morning he rode his tractor to his fields and was greeted by government officials who told him it was no longer his farm. He turned his tractor around and headed for home, but they stopped him because the tractor was no longer his either. It was a long walk home.

Tio's family held on, after all, how long could Castro last? The economy had tanked and only held on with Soviet assistance.

People started leaving Cuba in boats and very soon overwhelmed the Florida Coast Guard.

President Johnson miraculously negotiated with Castro, airlifts that allowed people to leave Cuba.

When Tio's family got on the list, government officials came to his home and inventoried all the possessions. When his family was informed they could leave, the inventory staff came again to make sure they hadn't given anything away or sold the silverware, the furniture, or any of their possessions. When Tio's father wasn't on the list, his mother said she couldn't leave without her husband. A soldier pulled her aside and said, "If you don't go now, you'll never get out of Cuba."

Imagine the weight of making such a decision.

Tio, his sister, his mother and his grandparents left that day. Tio was only able to leave because he was 11 years old. Men between the ages of 14-45 were held captive as military capable. They left with only 12 pounds of clothing and no money.

They arrived in America with nothing but their precious freedom.

As we listen to Tio, I jump up to the board to write key phrases, key truths he has expressed.

Corruption precedes upheaval.
No one wants to leave their home country.
The US could have obliterated Cuba, but they used constraint; they let Cuba be Cuba.
Castro later admitted he wanted war and was willing to risk nuclear annihilation to teach America a lesson.

When our time is almost up, I ask Tio, "Having left a country because of an oppressive regime, you know how important good leaders are. How are you feeling about his upcoming election?"

Tio laughs. "Well, like many Americans, I am torn. I haven't yet decided. But I have faith in democracy. I am optimistic. Democracy works and it may take a long time to recover from the bumps, but it does recover."

This is exactly what my students needed to hear. It's what I needed to hear. I think of the shambles our country was in during and after the Civil War. We pulled through. I think of the Great Depression. I think of the divisive 1960s and the Vietnam War. I think of the gas shortages in the 1970s, of the '08 housing market crash. We pull through. We live in a democracy. We have free elections and a constitution.

This morning I remembered I had a place in this democracy. I will no longer feel discouraged and desperate about the presidential candidates. This morning I started looking at the alternative candidates. I will no longer be backed into voting for a republican or a democrat to stop a democrat or a republican. I will vote for a candidate in whom I have confidence and trust.

I have the freedom to do so.

Friday, October 14, 2016

When We Listen

"We just had the best field trip ever."

Her name is Sarah and she's just taken two steps into my classroom. I see her excitement and so I say, "Come in and tell me all about it."

"We went and saw an old bookseller, collector, and trader. He had Louis the XV's personal copy of the bible. We saw a letter from Helen Keller and a letter signed by Mother Teresa. Oh, and a fourth folio of a Shakespeare play. He had the glass bowl from the Hunger Games and the ring used in Lord of the Rings."

"From the movie?"

"Yes, and he had a first edition of the Gutenberg Bible."

Her mind is racing and then she remembers, "He even had Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf."

What a shame that has value.

But it does, and the greater value is in the student's discovery of history, of books, great thinkers, and other people who respect the celebrated works of the past.

She pulls out her phone to show me the photo of Helen Keller's signature. By now, another student has joined our circle and together we thumb through photos that include first editions of The Lord of the Rings.

As exciting as antiquity is, I find the real excitement in the student's  discovery that these things exist and that they were accessible to her. It was a surprise. A surprise that  left her shaking with delight that heightened when she found an interested person to share it with.

When something VERY special happens, even something sacred, even something sad, I've come to understand I can only share it with a small circle of friends, or even one person. It's not because I'm snobbish about it, or protective--my sharing is completely dependent on whom will listen to me. Who will really listen.

Many of our life experiences are vicarious. I didn't live in Cuba during the missile crisis; the French resistance didn't try to recruit me on a country road; I was never hit by a car and lived to become a professional, handicapped, golfer--but I know people who lived these different scenarios, and I can listen to their stories and be enriched by their stories.

Funny thing: As I write this, the German exchange student who came back to volunteer and learn better English, meanders into my room. I listen. And learn. I learn how difficult it was for him to get a visa. I learn how his family back in Germany, a country inundated with refugees, took in a young teenager from Afghanistan who made the journey by himself.

I learn I have so much more to learn by listening. When we listen, people are willing to speak, and they often speak from the deep wells of experience.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Fuzzy Truth

While interviewing high school age refugees, I sat next to a man who was visiting from Canada. After he shared his family story with me, the conversation took an unexpected turn, "I feel so sorry for you Americans!"

He was referring to this year's election.

I was left speechless, which was fine because he'd said it all. From his objective Canadian viewpoint, he couldn't believe that we Americans were sitting ringside to such a political circus.

Last year, when Supreme Court judge Scalia unexpectedly passed away, and consequently left a huge gap in the court, and a divisive response from Congress, I asked a law professor to come and explain the importance of, the balance of, and the controversy of the empty chair.

His presentation was excellent as his specialty was constitutional law. With passion, he drew an x and a y axis and placed each judge on the chart that helped us visualize their liberal or conservative leanings. We learned that Scalia was a strong advocate of voting by the constitution; we learned other judges were swayed by current social trends and beliefs of the people. We learned that liberal judges tended to vote together, whereas conservatives tended to split according to what they considered as constitutional.

So when the craziness of this year's election was swinging from branch to branch, I called upon our esteemed law professor to help explain and to sort out the rhetoric of the day. He gladly agreed to come on November 2, less than a week from the presidential circus of 2016, or as a pundit on NPR called it, "The election that would be remembered as the election when people only voted for a candidate because they didn't want the other candidate. Or in other words, they had to choose the lesser of two evils."

I happened to run into him a month before he would visit our class. After setting definitive times, our conversation went something like this:

"Thanks again for your willingness to speak to the students."

"I'm looking forward to it."

Expecting him to be on top of all things election, I asked, "What did you think of last night's debate?"

He shakes his head. He's still shaking his head when he admits, "I can't even watch it. I can't stomach what's going on."

There was nothing further to discuss. We parted with the promise of an email reminder.

With this in mind, I was part of a text thread from one of my daughters to the rest of the family. She sent a Buzzfeed link that purported a movement to repeal the 19th amendment allowing women to vote. One daughter responded that it had to be a joke, to which the text originator said she didn't think so.

I dutifully checked the source and found it to be a ridiculous claim attributed to one party. The other party members threw gasoline on the unfounded claim and lit a match. The tweet fire burned. And my child thinks it's true.

To this I responded: This is an example of the ridiculous propaganda coming from both sides of the campaigns to incite fear through the extreme rhetoric that is so easy to perpetuate through social media. Sad. It's also a sign of deep cynicism springing from this unprecedented election.

We live in a time of unprecedented trust--a distrust of government, religion, and the political environments. We've seen presidents lie outright, only later admitting to the truth when they are backed into a corner. In the presidential debate, one candidate will speak and the other will say, "That's a lie."

When did truth become so fuzzy?

Imagine if Joseph McCarthy had had access to social media?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thinking About Christmas Gifts

It's only October 12, two and a half months before Christmas and gift giving, but I am not the kind of person who thinks about Christmas in the fall. I often postpone Christmas shopping until the very-few-days before Christmas. Often, the crowds are sparse, the merchandise on sale, and there's no better time than the present to immerse in the Christmas spirit.

But lately, I've been thinking about Christmas and more specifically the Christmas presents I will give to my grandchildren's caregivers--one woman whom I have never met. The nannies are at the top of my list because I think a lot about them. I pray for them. They are, after all, taking care of the most precious people in my life. All day, three days a week and five days a week. Somehow, I believe that my one-time Christmas gift can compensate for all their time and care.

Veronica takes care of a precocious four year old and his five month old baby sister. She takes him to preschool, coaxes him to eat and pick up his toys. Veronica changes diapers, makes sure nap schedules are met and even tidies the house. She is a year older than me.

Meagan takes care of an almost three year old and an eighteen month old, whom I lovingly refer to as the bandits. Times two, they are curious, both in diapers, and prone to dump things out, dig things up, and drag things about. Meagan is in her twenties.

When I am in charge of the grandchildren, I need Tony's help. I'm worn out after an hour, and I worry incessantly about their safety--bumping heads, scissoring off fingers, or wandering out the door during nap time. I often wonder how I raised my own children. My shortcomings help me to appreciate these women who are doing one of the most important child raising jobs possible.

And so, the caregivers are at the top of my Christmas list. Their gifts won't be elaborate or life changing--they will be just enough to express how much I appreciate their work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Today, the counselor came to class to sign-up students for college prep day. It seems like she is always having students pencil in forms.

While walking them quickly through what should have been an easy task, a student interrupted her with a question.

"What do I put for gender identity?"

The traditional options were male and female.

If the counselor stumbled, it was hardly perceptible. "Put down what is on your birth certificate."

I paid attention because I'd never heard the question asked before. I knew the student struggled with gender identity; the student isn't the first one I've had with this question.

I love this student. The student has suffered with depression and has contemplated suicide. The suffering for someone so young and tender feels like a granite rock is tied onto my heart, pulling it into abysmal sadness.

My female identity is inherent to who I am. I have always felt like a girl, like a woman. As a child I was a  giddy around the boys. I liked Blake, and Randy, and finally Tony. As I sit in the passenger seat explaining this to my husband, I try to imagine for a moment the blurriness I might feel if I wasn't so sure.

The surety feels like a gift, not because it would be wrong to feel differently--just the gift of knowing for sure.

I already second-guess myself enough over the serious and the trivial, and shouldn't the most difficult worry in high school be whether or not one is getting asked to the prom?

And so I ache for my friends, my students, people who make a change, who take a stand, who are able to ask the question in a class full of peers, "What do I put for gender identity?" On my part, there is no room for criticism or confusion, only love and acceptance.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Excitement of Discovery

I've always run the beach in the same way. I lace up my running shoes and stay above the water line, sometimes dodging the surf, sometimes returning home with wet shoes.

One summer I was with a friend who went on morning runs without her running shoes. Intriguing. I wanted to try it myself, but I'd always been a running-shoe runner.

Vacationing on St. Martin, the beach in front of our house was sand and rock. Entry and especially exit out of the water was precarious. The currents were strong and unpredictable, so timing was critical. I ended up with a bleeding knee. Not willing to give up swimming in the Caribbean, I needed to enter the water at the end of the cove that was pure sand. It was a short distance away, the perfect distance for a morning run. My barefoot beach running was born.

When I reached the end of the beach, hot and sweaty, I swam into the sea. Refreshing! When cooled off, I'd let the wave push me in, and I'd run back to the house. No need to bother wiping off sandy feet and forcing them back into shoes.

My discovery of organic, free form running changed the way I exercised.

Back on the California beach, I no longer wanted to lace up running shoes.

They stayed in the closet and my new way of running became a run-swim or a swrun. I am no longer limited to getting up early for the morning cool. It's even better to go in the heat of the day and even better when the tide is strong and high. I'm in and out of the ocean, alternating between cold and hot. When an especially strong surge comes to shore, my muscles fight the weight of the water. When the tide is deep I immerse and swim. I laugh when I can duck my head. I've never had so much fun while beach running.

The discovery of a discovery makes me more willing and even anxious to make a new discovery. That openness, that ah ha moment, curiosity fulfilled, questions answered, are invigorating to life.

I've tried to be open minded to the burqa, the hajib, the full black dress of a Muslim woman, and now the burqa-bikini that has brought so much controversy to French laws and the handling of those laws.

At different times, the dress has been outlawed in France because it brings attention and dismay to French culture. After several Islamic extremist attacks on France, the outlawing of a dress code that so differentiates one culture from the other, is understandable. In Nice, a woman was forced to remove her hajib on a French beach. The humiliation, the outcry, ended the enforcement.

It was while running/swimming on the beach that I made another discovery, a cultural discovery concerning Muslim dress.

I was wearing board shorts and a swim top purchased when I was ten pounds lighter. The swim top still fit well enough to run in, but my chest was a little bulging. I was aware of this, but it was a swim suit on a California beach. I was well within the dress code.

As I was coming down the beach, I saw her ahead. A woman in the surf wearing the burqa bikini. In contrast, she was modest and I was not. I was not affected by our differences; she had a choice I respected and I had a choice I treasured, respected and was grateful it was a choice I could make.

 As I passed her, I said hello. She smiled and said "Hi," and then I had a moment of absolute clarity from her point of view. It's as if I could read her mind. Scattered around her, were her three teenage sons, probably 11-15 years of age. I was a woman revealing more of her body than was acceptable to a mother of three impressionable boys. I understood her extreme modesty. I respected her stance and her choices.

I had made a discovery. I had an insight into the heart of another woman's beliefs and I had been enlightened.

Will I change the way I dress for swimming and exercise? No, but I will make sure the swimwear fits.

A true discovery changes the way we run, the way we think, the way we respect others. Excitement.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dreams Come True

Our AP Literature and Language Composition class decided they wanted to be chic-literary. The five young women proposed meeting once a week in a cafe for discussion and libation.

"Can we do this?" Deb asked. "Should we do this?" we both asked. "What will we call it? It needs a good name."

I turned to my limited French language knowledge. "Soiree. An intellectual, social, gathering."

The girls loved it and with administration permission, the weekly practice, Soiree cafe, began.

I was invited to the first meeting, a little cautious that real work wouldn't happen, but after the girls ordered hot chocolate  or a sweet, they settled down into their copies of Letters from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King. They had fastidiously annotated the work and knew it well. I was impressed. Perhaps this would work.

The first time I took the class to soiree cafe, we chose The Vanilla Bean. Normally, the shop opens after AP Lit but today was A Friday and AP starts a half hour later on this half school day.

I was pretty excited to walk into the bakery/cafe. Many years ago, my friend Michelle had had a dream. She wanted to be a baker in her own shop and she was going to call the shop, The Little Red Hen. 

My husband and daughter, alone one weekend had gone to dinner and decided to stop at a new establishment that served iced hot chocolate. Michelle greeted them. Her dream had come true.

When Michelle greeted the girls and me, one of the first questions I asked was, "Why didn't you name it the Little Red Hen?" Somehow, the name hadn't worked and Vanilla Bean did.

The display case was full of scrumptious. Recipes saved and savored from Michelle's grandmother were created in cookies, bars, and cakes. Chocolate croissants once a week. I wanted to taste everything.

Each student chose an item: a bottled drink, hot chocolate and ice cream. Ice cream at 10:00a.m?
I was reminded I was in the company of teenagers.

That morning, the girls pulled out their reading reflections and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. They'd read deeply, thought deeply, and now we deeply discussed the complexity of a well written American novel. As we sat in a sunny window, Michelle in the background fulfilling her dream, I somewhat realized another dream I'd never really articulated: a teacher, her pupils, engaged in the language, the study of syntax, the specific analysis of the creation of a sentence with such power--students who were at the beginning journey of a life long love for literature.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


I am dining alone.

The manager, or so he appears, comes out to the patio, sweeps past me and asks, "How ya doing Sweety?"

Really? But one thing I like less than being called Sweety is unnecessary confrontation. Maybe he was a genuinely caring manager who like terms of endearment. Bottom line, it doesn't matter.

While riding my bike around the island, I pass the golf course, and a hole that is right up against the fence.   I'm the recipient of a cat call. Or so I think. Bottom line, it doesn't matter.

I then bike past a gardener who looks up as I pass and makes the same overture. It doesn't matter. I know who I am; I am secure in who I am. I am not flattered. I am not insulted. It's a minor confrontation for which I will not be bothered.

But somehow it bothers me, it all comes back, when I hear the language, the machismo insults of a man running for president, the disregard of the sacred female body and her right to not be thought of as a physical open playground. The man who is seeking the most esteemed position in American government---should his past attitudes towards females make a difference in the US Presidential election?

Friday, October 7, 2016

French Fry Wages

A seventeen year old male student walks into class. His path crosses mine exactly, so I hear him say, "I finally have money in my account!"

His exuberance invites inquiry, so I ask, "Did you just get a job?"

"No, I have a job, I just got paid."

"Where do you work?"

"At McDonalds."

It's just after lunchtime and I haven't eaten, so delicious golden french fries pop into my mind.

"Do you get free french fries?" I ask.

"No, that's the bad thing, we still have to pay for food, but we get it half price."

"That's a perk."

I need to interject that this young man hasn't always been the most engaged in class and the work he turns in (late) has always been under par. I haven't had much time with him, so I hate to label him, but he's not a star pupil---yet.

Always preparing students for upcoming discussions, I ask him, "I bet you're happy that both candidates are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage." I'm sure this assumption will put us on the same page.

But his answer surprises me.

"No, not at all."

"Why not?"

"The economy needs jobs like I have in order to motivate us to seek more education and better opportunity. If I can make $15 an hour at McDonalds, then why should I seek for something better."

He continues to explain that if a technical engineer only makes three more dollars per hour, why would anyone go through the struggle to become more.

I'm impressed with his perspective and wisdom, and I wish someone else was listening besides me.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

When A Job Is Like Play

I try to focus through AP Lit and try to be as hands on in Competitive Writing, but my heart is racing to Socratic. Just a half hour more, just twenty minutes, just ten.

The tables are set up, the scenarios are printed, the students enter class with curiosity.

Today is the Cuban Missile Crisis simulation! Years ago, a colleague created this simulation for her eighth graders. Will it work for seniors? We have to take a chance. Maybe we will see the holes, the short circuits, a way to improve. We can improvise, raise the temperature of intellect. I'm more excited than unsure or nervous.

I review the Bay of Pigs with their help leaving off critical events and they easily complete my sentences. My confidence in them is gaining momentum like a bowling ball down Lombard Street.

Okay, this is going to work. They've listened. They've processed.

Shannon and I show the movie trailer for Thirteen Days. We pass out the deliberated character assignments. The most important was President John F Kennedy. I just feel in my heart it needs to be Anastasia. Set. Richard is Robert F. Kennedy. They should work well together. For the other characters, I have to trust my instincts and hope each student plays his or her part well.

The simulation begins after students have read their parts. I hold my breath. Mark, get set, go. They jump in and play their parts well. Curtis LeMay is pushing for a surgical strike. O'Donnel is protective. President Kennedy holds her presence. Bobby sits right by her side.

Only one student has a hard time with the debate. I pull him out on the sidelines to be a concerned citizen who is allowed to write notes and send them to the president. The student decides to be a Russian and uses the translation app on his phone for a truly authentic experience. He passes the note to the president who reads them with ease.

We all forgot! Our President Kennedy, Anastasia, reads and speaks Russian! A serendipitous moment.

Students continue to argue their causes with passion. I had yet to realize how deep their thinking skills were. It's a teaching moment of pure pleasure. When the second class recreates the Cuban Missile Crisis, I'm happier still--I wouldn't have thought they could have surpassed the first class, but they did in their eloquence and reason.

I stand back and enjoy.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Bootbox

In the last few years, each time I've received a kind note, a thank-you card, a birthday card, I've thrown it into a large, cardboard, bootbox.

In the past, when I was in the thick of preschool paintings and children's certificates of achievement (which sometimes seemed like they received for just having a face) while cleaning closets or drawers, I had an impulse to toss the extra papers away--and I did. I've even been tempted to throw the whole box away at different white tornado moments.

But now I keep the box, because I have a different image that springs from the experiences of losing my own loved ones. Each Grandma had her own box of keepsakes and cards I read while sitting on the floor with family-- mostly cards from people I didn't know. It was a last testament of sorts, of a person's life, of the people who appreciated them, of their thoughtfulness and good deeds, perhaps savored by the living when one's worth needed measurement.

So I indulgently think of my own passing, and my daughters gathered on the floor, trying to sort out the stuff of a life. I don't expect them to keep the contents of the box, for life goes on and cannot be slowed by someone else's cardboard box. But I see them learning things about their mom they never knew. It will all come through the words of people they barely know, and some they know well.

My cousin found in the back of her mother's drawer a small purse with white gloves and a marriage certificate long forgotten and taboo in her new marriage. It was a tender moment as she shared in death a tenderness her mother never spoke of.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Broken Bricks

It's been 18 years since we moved into the house at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, at the top of a hill.

Within the first few months, the neighbor and soon-to-be dear friend, walked down to show me the scars on the side of my house. She pointed out the different chips in the brick and explained that one morning, she strapped her children into their car seats, sat in the car, only to realize she had the wrong keys. She dashed back into the house. With the right keys in hand, she passed the big window looking  onto the front yard and saw her truck, with her two babies, heading backwards down the hill.

Even writing about this, makes my stomach queasy and my throat swell. It could have been such a disaster--but it wasn't.

When we first inspected the house with a contractor for needed improvements, he asked if we wanted the bricks replaced. I didn't know why, but at the time, I chose not to.

The truck could have kept going down the hill if it had followed the path it was on. It would have flown off the driveway, through our yard and continued down the hill. There were no fences to stop it.

The truck could have smashed into our garage or into the neighbor's concrete and brick front porch. The babies would have been rattled or possibly worse--but the truck didn't smash into walls or fly down the hill; the truck was gently nudged and wedged to safety against our house.

I will never have the brick replaced on the side of our house.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Please Obligate Me

A student has decided to sponsor an essay contest for spirit week. When he tells my teaching partner, she's excited and wants to support him. When she asks, "How much money do you have for the prize?"

When he says only $25 she says, "I'll throw in $20 more and so will Mrs. Martinez!"

Thanks Deb --a little cynicism creeps in...yet after pondering my forced donation, I'm thankful for the chance to be generous, thankful for a true friend who knew she could count me in.

Our cousin's daughter suffers from a debilitating disease and was the recipient of a WISH! A group of  college fashion designers arranged for little Jane to come and experience the life of a fashion designer  which included a culminating fashion show. Because of Jane's incredible experience with the Make-A-Wish foundation, she has set a goal to earn money for the organization. My mom forwarded us an email requesting donations.

I was traveling at the time and thought I was okay to ignore the request. Thank goodness for my sister.

"I'm having so much fun! I keep donating $20 in different people's names."

She'd even donated for three of my grandchildren, for the pure pleasure of seeing their names on the donation list.

"Now, I want you to donate for the other three."

What could I say except thank-you for allowing me to be generous too, and thank you for believing you could count on me.

I went to the website and made my donations. It felt good, it felt right.

And of course, little Jane was thrilled~~~

As will be another unknown child whose wish will come true. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jumping Into

The house is quiet. So quiet---like it used to be on an early Sunday morning when the children were small. I would rise before everyone else and savor, like the last drops of a shared milkshake, the quiet that would soon reach its end.

Quiet is only understood by its contrasts: noise, joyful noise, chaos, six-way conversations, jokes, laughter--often self incriminating; the blare of the TV so the person in the kitchen beating the whipping cream can still hear.

This is conference weekend. A feast of spiritual council which we believe comes from a prophet and twelve apostles patterned after the church during the Savior's sojourn on earth. It's an amazing concept and when grasped, changes the hearts of believers of such a fantastical claim.

On Saturday, the house was full of visitors, food, baking, eating, a half-time spike ball tournament. Then, Saturday night, like rain dissolving the chalk drawings the Banks' children had jumped into,  we were left all to ourselves, to create a new chalk drawing into which only Tony and I would jump.

Jump into.

I like the phrase. It conjures up various images, some rather dire, but when I focus on the positive aspects of jump into, it brings joy. It implies whole-heartedness. Devotion. Carpe diem. A go for it attitude.

I picture all the times I jumped into the water, or into the kayak, or into the car about to pull out of the garage on a long journey. A hundred miles down 1-15, there was no turning back. I even jumped from an airplane and once that jump was made, the descent, the risk, the exhilaration, the laws of physics could never allow a return.

I even jumped into marriage. We jumped into parenthood. But parenthood is its own league of jumping into, as it is one of the few things from which there is no turning back, the one thing we can never disengage from. Being pregnant for the first time in my life, was the first experience from which I couldn't get out of.

I'd had a childhood of getting out of. I was in a speech contest once and hadn't prepared well, but I didn't realize it until I was standing at the pulpit in the pre-contest practice. I stumbled again and again, and that night I chose to completely fall---I refused to attend the contest.

As a sixteen year old, I took a job and realized I was in way over my head. The tasks were torture, the hours dragged and I admit with shame, I called my employer and told her I'd broken my leg.

All my life, I tried to get out of doing the dishes, cleaning my room, doing homework.

Ironic that it was children who really taught me how to jump in. And because I loved them so much, it was even easy to change a childhood of bad habits.

A long time ago, I jumped into religion. I embraced the precepts, the theories, the truths. I committed myself whole-heartedly. That commitment doesn't guarantee ease in the kingdom; it often brings the opposite through opposition, doubt, persecution. But the willingness to jump also gives me confidence to hold tight through the opposition, doubt, persecution. It is also why I wake on conference weekend ready to devote hours to listening to a prophet, apostles and other inspired men and women.

Having jumped in, I keep jumping, but the jumping is now to higher places of understanding, higher demands on my character, higher laws to abide...and the view is better the higher I jump.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Preparation

I've always wanted to kayak at sunset, but the tide is usually rough, the air too chilly, so when the hot Santa Ana winds brought the temperatures up and the tide just right, I dragged big yellow down to the sea for a sunset paddle.

It was pleasant. The sun fanned out like peacock feathers and my hat shaded my eyes just enough to smile as I stroked into the sunset. I traversed back and forth alternating between bright orange and blues that deepened by the minute. I was alone, but it was a wish-I-could-share moment. Ironically, it was soon to be.

With the sun tucked away to visit another part of the earth, I wanted to paddle as many waves as I could before dark. Not wanting to intrude on surfers' domain, I stayed on the edge of the best breaking waves.'s always intimidating to be a middle aged woman sitting in a kayak, to paddle near the surfers. Surfers are sooooo cool and daring and energetic. They epitomize "carpe diem," rushing from school or work to shred the last waves. They watch the weather and cheer when a storm erupts or an earthquake rattles the ocean floor and sends rollers to the shore.

I positioned myself to paddle in with the next wave with plenty of distance between me and the guys. With confidence, I paddled away, but a second later, I toppled.

After a short toss-about, I surfaced to see a surfer pulling my kayak towards me. What happened? My hat, water bottle and paddle bobbed in the surf, and then I saw it. One side of the paddle was missing! That's why I'd capsized so easily.

The wish-I-could share-it moment was granted. The surfer was a kind young man who treated me like his mom. I had to shoo him away so he could catch more waves before it was too late.

I literally now know how precarious it is to be up the creek without a paddle, or in this case, catching a wave without a paddle. It reminds me of how tenuous a situation can be when I'm ill-prepared.

In hindsight, it's easy to see that losing the paddle head is what caused the kayak to flip. But I need to examine the situation more deeply in order to prevent it from happening again. Salt water is corrosive, and even though I rinse the paddle, I still lost the grip. What do I need to do different? I need to check the paddle, the state of the kayak, like a pilot does before take-off.

Reflecting on small mishaps and mistakes help us prepare for the next time. I recently attended a class where the teacher said, "If you're too busy to reflect, you're too busy to improve."