Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Vacation Life

"I have to think of ways to keep you home," Tony sweetly jokes about my wanderlust.

An erudite friend once called me a peripatetic--had to look that one up.

It's true in part. I pine for adventure, but I love, love, being home--as long as it's not too much. As long as I'm here when the raspberries come on. Christmas is best spent at home too--though I'm open to alternatives, and as long as I'm home when it's my turn to teach.

So Tony's been thinking about life, its enjoyment, and how to keep me home. He's concocted a new theory.

While home, we aren't very adventurous. We part in the morning, meet at night, have dinner together (maybe), hang out in our respective offices, (Tony is more likely to send an email than walk down the hall and talk), maybe watch a show together, maybe once in a while go to a movie, a play, or a cultural event, maybe have dinner at his mom's, visit the grandbabes. We eat out occasionally. In essence, we have two lives: boring at home and adventurous while elsewhere. Part of his theory, I suppose, is that that is why I like to travel. We allow home to be boring, predictable....and I can't help but add, comfortable.

Already implementing his plan, he explains it over the table at a new Thai restaurant. "One of the things we really enjoy when traveling is trying new foods. Farmer's markets, restaurants, little bakeries, street food, etc. So what if we treat life more like a vacation?"

He's already investigated Yelp for unknown eating establishments, just like he does on vacation.

"Now if only we could ride our bikes here," he says.

"Or walk." Just like we do on vacation.

The suggestion comes over a cafe table in a bakery we just discovered.

But it's cold and the bakery is too far away to walk or bike to. Or is it?

If that is what we so enjoy, why not implement a different mode of transportation too?*

We can't eat like we do on vacation, because our habit is to drive everywhere when we are home. We stay fit while indulging because we depend on bikes and our own legs.


We chose this home because of its location tucked up against the mountain, accessible by two routes, each one up a steep hill. There have been a few days when I've had to park my car in a snowstorm and walk the rest of the way home. I love the location, the view, the silence, but is it time to trade for a more city centered dwelling? A condo within walking distance of a Chinese grocery, a bodega, a bakery, a cafe? A place with easy access to the varieties of life we enjoy?

This conversation couldn't have happened five years ago. This change of life, the ability to travel, to eat out, only came about because of a major life change. After years of parenting, the day to day commitment and responsibilities that we loved, seemed to just...vanish.

Life changes and the people who seem to thrive change with life.

We now have an unprecedented flexibility, lessened financial responsibility with independent children, and basically more time. How will we use it? Creating a vacation-like-life year round?

Joy from such an existence could not be sustained. That's why the indulgent vacations have worked. Each time-off period is countered with hard work and simple living at home.

We'll indulge in this new vacation lifestyle for a day or two, maybe a few weeks, but then we'll return to the simple, joyful life we've always chosen to live...and next week? Things change drastically when we take over so someone else gets a well deserved vacation. Grandma and Grandpa (us) move in to take care of the grandbabes: a two year old, a three year old, a pre-teen and a thirteen year old.

The perfect balance of joy and hard work. When we return home after a short week, our home may very well be the new vacation hotspot.

*Pedal bikes with motors?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Secret Lives of Teachers

 When I open the door wide to welcome my students, I sense an air of excitement. It's the kind I used to have when invited to a teacher's home,--though this only happened twice.  From my long-ago student perspective,  this mysterious teacher/person was revealed; inviting visitors into one's home, allows a glimpse into one's secret hiding place. A student can't help but notice neatness, decorating tastes, art, --Picasso or little can reveal too much.

Last year, while studying Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, a student discovered that Dostoevsky often began a new chapter with details of a character's living quarters. In that description the character's mind was revealed: a dark and damp rented room represented the chaotic, confused, and murderous mind of Raskolnikov.

Seeing into a teacher's home, opens a crack in the door to the private spaces of her mind.

The first home I visited as a student, belonged to Madame Mongeot. She invited us to share a French meal. Her heavy French accent belied who she really was: a pioneer on an American homestead: acres of property, chickens, a cave entrance to her domain. She was a lovely person and her home revealed more loveliness than could have been imagined within our French II classroom.

Then there was the visit to Ms. Alderson's home. She was one tough cookie who refused to speak to the entire Biology class except when she barked out instructions to memorize the periodic table.

 "On day three you will be tested on every single element. Humph!" She buried her face into the urgent work on her desk, her face into what seemed like a permanent scowl. She just couldn't be bothered with us. After a week of begrudging silence, she finally spoke; but we were too scared to answer.

Surprisingly, she became a favorite teacher/person and when I was invited to her home, and when I asked to use the restroom, she showed me to the F-bomb wall-papered bathroom. This taboo word was printed in every imaginable font and covered every inch of la toilette's walls. Worst bathroom reading ever.

I am conscious of these memories as I prepare to receive my student guests. The couches in the family room are out of balance. I rearrange. I remove the juicer from the counter. The last miniature daffodils and forget-me-nots stand in a slim vase. All the window shades are drawn. I'm thankful Tony reorganized the pantry.

What will my home reflect? What secrets will it tell? What do I want students to feel in my sanctuary?

I step back and try to imagine.

Days later, I realize the public part of my home doesn't reflect who I am at all. There is not one bookshelf, not a trace of a book, and I am an English teacher.

But in fact, there are three bookshelves in my home, all fully loaded. Tony's are ordered, mine are messy, loosely categorized and tucked away in my upstairs study.

My books, my private self, still hidden away.

Later, while reflecting on the encounters, it comes to mind~the image we wish to convey is often construed, calculated, arranged; who and what we really are lies in the messy bookshelf hidden in the upstairs study.


Friday, April 28, 2017


We receive a Saturday afternoon text from our daughter: Thanks for always being such forgiving parents.

Tony responds matter of factly: Our pleasure. You are easy to love!!

I have a different and somewhat silly reaction: Ho ho ho. Always Christmas when we forgive. Meaning, it would have been a burden not to forgive a child, our child.

Then I worry she isn't talking about the past. I shoot back, What did you do?

Nothing now, just when I was younger. 

Best time to make mistakes, I respond.

Best time to make mistakes was In our youth--when I was younger.

But really, the best time to make mistakes is in the past. Yesterday, last month, years ago. When we recognize, repent, recoup, the mistake is in the past, behind us. We've learned the lesson, apologized, made amends.

Here is why it's so important to exile those mistakes to the past--because, we will always make mistakes, and if we fail to acknowledge and act, the mistake becomes a side car to our present. The mistake lingers, tortures, and it can't be left behind--and behind is the best only location for mistakes.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Year Long Birthday Party

Dear _____(Friend),
I'm so sorry I missed your father's funeral,...I was out of town celebrating my mom's birthday. It's a year long event--with good reason: she's almost 80.
Love Pat

Mom's always had a loose attitude about specific dates and we often spend the entire month celebrating birthdays. Her December 21st actual birthday usually starts on December 1st. I once received a present six months before the official day.

Since this is a seminal year, Mom decided back in January it would be a year-long celebration. The kick-off started in New York in April. September we'll gather with all the daughters and granddaughters. November brings the whole family together, and December--the plans are just beginning. In between, I'm sure I'll head down for a weekend or two for a birthday surprise.

When I lost my father, suddenly Mom became "losable" too. We understand based on experience, and until I'd had the experience of parent death, it was un-imaginable. No longer, no need to imagine. I know. My friend understands now too. She writes back:

How wonderful that you are celebrating with your mom! That is just as it should be. Our fleeting time with loved ones (especially parents) is so precious. 

So precious.

Only one of the reasons to celebrate life and the loved.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Proustian Moment Go-To

Forgive me.

I'm writing about black and whites again. I can't seem to let go of one of my first childhood favorite food experiences. By the grace of the black and white, I become Marcel Proust connecting to La Madeleine, the cookie from his childhood, whereupon, one bite of a Madeleine dipped in tea, would transport him back to his aunt's kitchen. Black and whites transport me to my childhood. For this, I am indebted to the bakers and purveyors of the black and white.

Typically when visiting New York, I search for the best B&W. This time, simply by sending into the universe (google), the question: Who makes the best B&W in New York City? I was rewarded.

The universe responded with a plethora of answers--pages of debate, raves, and recommendations. But one stood out...I just had a feeling. My intuition was on point.

It was 46 blocks from our hotel, but I was undaunted. One of my favorite adventures is walking Manhattan. It might take a half hour each way. But then Mom and Sister wanted in on the adventure, so I was stuck in a cab, albeit with my favorite people, and the cab took as long, if not longer than a swift walking pace.

The cab dropped us off right in front, and I stepped out of the car with awe. I'd been dreaming about these cookies for six months, and I was here at the doorstep of possibly the best B&W in the city. The interior didn't let me down. Shabby. Shabby. Authentic. Old. Delightful. No remodeling needed here. The goods brought the customer, the goods kept em coming.

Moishe's had only opened the day before because of Passover. Everything was awesome-fresh. Mom picked out a cherry danish, a slice of cinnamon bread, Loraine a rugelach, and for me a black & white. Mom looked at me like I was lacking intellect: "Order three." She wasn't coming all this way for me to buy only one B&W.

With our bags in hand, we crossed the street to sit at a sidewalk cafe. Loraine ordered an espresso, Mom a hot white-chocolate, and for me a steamed milk. I pulled out my fresh and soft cookie--anxious, worried, it wouldn't live up to its expectations. Ahhhhh, it melted in my mouth. I was a child standing at the Jewish bakery during my lunch break from Crestwood Elementary. Linda, my best friend, a recent immigrant from Paris, was at my side.  I started on the second cookie, dipping it into the hot milk. Heaven and earth met at the corner of 7th and 2nd Avenue.

The next day, at a play, we sit next to a woman who grew up in Manhattan, left, then returned in 1979. Assuming she knows the city and its delights well, I ask, "Where can I find the best black and white."

She smiles, "Moishe's."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Darn Good Chow

We have a half hour until we leave for the theater. I head out to 53rd and 6th where The Halal Guys are on both corners. This is some of NY city's finest street food. Tin containers, plastic cups of sauce and plastic forks. Men with heavy accents who scoop and dish with as much confidence as a persnickety French waiter.

Unfortunately, I've arrived at a shift change and sweeping, scooping, cleaning, has stopped service and a short line has formed. I'm running out of time. I make a swift and painful decision. The halal food cart on the corner of 52nd and 6th isn't The Halal Guys, but I have to hope their falafel and rice is just as good. The service is so fast, I leave a tip and cross 6th Avenue at a sprint. I continue sprinting down 53rd to our hotel and tap my toes while waiting for the elevator. At ten minutes to go, with three forks, all three of us positioned, I pop out the silver top. The smell is pungent and mouth watering. We dig in without reserve, without chairs, or place settings, napkins or real cutlery. This is African animals hunched over prey without mindful eating, reserve, or manners. This is rush or go hungry. With a minute left, Mom slides the lid on and insists on coats and shoes.  How could she?

How amusing our dinner is compared to lunch.

A three star rating from Michelin means a restaurant has met the highest standards possible. It is a coveted designation beautifully explored in the film, The Hundred Foot Journey. Beautifully explored in person if one is lucky enough.

A description torn from the pages of the Michelin guide explains the three star honored description:

 Exceptional cuisine worth a special journey.
One always eats here extremely well, sometimes superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed using superlative ingredients.

There are only six such designated restaurants in New York City.

Come with me...

to a three star Michelin restaurant with a nine course tasting meal, but a restaurant that also offers a five and seven course option on a Friday afternoon.

We are seated at an elegant table overlooking Central Park. Our head waiter introduces the concept, the theory, the options. He places the menus delicately. He promises us the moon and leaves us to explore. I gasp when I see the menu has been printed with a Happy Birthday greeting for Mom.

We expect this experience to take up to three hours, and we are intent on enjoying all of it!!

We gently place our stiff linen napkins over our laps. The first course is a piece of mini-art. To insure we are all beginning and finishing at the same time, each course is brought by its own pair of waiters.

We take miniature bites. We chew slow. We make every morsel of taste a pleasure. We compare notes of possible spice. Mom raves over the fish; I swoon over the vegetable puree. We savor. We giggle. We feel like princesses. The attention is as lovely as the food.

The paradox of experience.

Each one as memorable as the other.

Garbanzo Bean Falafel 
Jingle bell peppers, gem lettuces, romesco, Moroccan olive oil
Bread and butter: bitter cocoa laminated brioche and Straus family creamery butter

Mascarpone-enriched broccoli agnolotti-Piedmont hazelnuts, sourdough mousseline, and sauce vin jaune

Tartelette of muscat grapes-aged comte

Monday, April 24, 2017

Double A's

We are sitting in a glass-walled restaurant when we notice an older woman across from us enjoying a piece of birthday cake. She looks fantastic, and the conversation turns to aging. Or rather stopping the effects of aging--cosmetically.

Most of my sisters' friends are dabbling in invasive skin care: botox, eye or face lifts, or the newest technique. She's starting to feel like the only woman who's aging.

Perhaps I am naive, but I don't think my friends have started down that vortex of sequence, neither do I think I am ready for such folly. Or perhaps, they all look great, and since friends of the same age are often our mirror, I don't see myself aging--when I really am. Perhaps they have started down that vortex of sequence.

Definition: vortex of sequence. A vortex is a mass of spinning air or liquid that pulls things into its center. A vortex of sequence is triggered by the first move in a sequence which often isn't expected to be a sequence. For example, if I were to paint my bedroom, the fresh paint would make the carpet look old; after replacing the carpet, the furniture would look shabby; after buying new furniture, I would surely notice the light fixtures are outdated. Vortex of sequence: being pulled into an unexpected sequence of needed change. As for aging, the results of a chemical peel would emphasize sagging eyelids. Once the eyelids were lifted, the patient would notice her sagging neck--the vortex of sequence would suck the woman into realizing her breasts also needed a lift, her tummy a tuck, and so forth.

"Jane looks fabulous, and everyone knows she's had plastic surgery, but no one is supposed to know," my sister refers to a friend. "Talking to Jane about plastic surgery is taboo." At least to Jane's face. I'm several circles removed from Jane's friendship, but now, I even know.

My sister references another friend by touching the back of her ears, "She has tiny scars behind her ears where they pulled the skin." The references follow their own vortex of sequence--they descend into gory, macabre procedures of cutting and rolling.

By the time lunch is set before us, I've lost my appetite.


When my daughter was in her teens, she suffered from a bout with acne. With the help of a dermatologist, we were able to get her skin cleared up, but it took time. In that time, she suffered. In that time, she heard an inspirational speaker who gave some advice to young women around the world. The woman said, Before you leave the house, do everything you can to present yourself well. Fix your hair, dress beautifully, be clean and be neat. Take care in putting on your make-up. Check the mirror to make sure your clothes fit well, and you are presenting your best self...but once you walk out the door of your home, forget yourself. Entirely. Focus on others. Smile, show concern, be genuine.

My daughter took the advice to heart, and later, while writing her college essays, she included this story and realized that forgetting her looks and focusing on others' happiness, had saved her.

What worked for a teenager, could surely work for an aging woman.

I step in to the lunch conversation, "Well, here is my approach," I tell my sister and Mom, my daughter's story.  I repeat the advice, but apply it to myself. "I'll do my best to make my aging self presentable, but once I leave the house-- I'll forget myself, my wrinkles, my sags. It's my time to forget how I look and focus on others."

 I'll be content in my own vortex of happiness.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


My daughter is a registered dietician. Foremost, she loves food and people, and when she can put the two together to nurture and heal, she is happiest. A food doctor of sorts.

She's had a well developed palate since birth and even had the boldness to quadruple an orange roll recipe when she was only ten years old. She has more cookbooks than a culinary library, and it's always fun to peek in her pantry.

She has been the ultimate travel food guide. From her armchair at home, she has directed us to gourmet restaurants and bakeries from Paris to New York to ______(who knows where else we shall discover from the recommendations from her inner circle?) So...when she asks me to bring home cookies from Levain (the yeast) Bakery, I ask "Where is it?" then planned accordingly.

167 West 74th.  I'm only 21 blocks away and it will make a lovely morning walk--most of it through Central Park. I emerge at 81st and backtrack through the quintessential NY old city streets lined with trees and cars. It's the stage of romantic comedies, and I've discovered yet another corner of NY city heretofore unexplored.

As usual, the yummmy foods of New York City are found in an unpretentious basement shop.

No fancy marble floors, no seating except for a few stools, only a descent into a warm, sweet-smell-filled shop. And the kindest, polite people who are waiting to purchase a morning chocolate brioche, a blueberry muffin, or gasp, a decadent peanut butter chocolate cookie, or double chocolate chip as thick as a block of wood.

From the first peak through the cookie case window, I can see the cookies are dense, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink, filled with nuts and chews. There's a 99% chance they will be delicious.

 I walk out of the warm basement with a box that must weigh 15 pounds.

As I walk, it starts to sprinkle. I cover the box with the bag; I can't risk my coming-home surprise getting damp.

I send her photos of the bakery: Mission accomplished. Let's have a cookie party! Invite everyone over. 

She responds, I'll pick up extra milk. 

Waiting for my flight, ignoring my normal anxiousness to get home, instead I will stop at my daughter's; hopefully Tony will have come, another daughter, a son-in-law, two grandchildren will be allowed to wait up for cookies fresh from New York!

Ah, this brings back memories. Four years earlier, Tony and I bike to a bakery in one of the outer arrondisements of Paris. Again, this daughter's recommendation. The loaf of bread we purchase is beautiful, dense, artisan--it has piece of art ( bundled staffs of wheat sculpted from dough) on the top--no wait...that was the loaf that cost $34. Instead we chose thick bread without the art. After our trans-Atlantic flight our first stop is our daughter's house, where she has cooked for the return-home party--and we have brought the bread, from Paris.

Mais, quoi d'autre?

Viva le bonheur!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Come From Away

"It's a play that's good for the soul."

When I read the play synopsis, I knew we had to take a risk. I hadn't read a review, no one had made a recommendation, it hadn't created a Hamilton buzz. The play was simply about people caring for strangers in crisis. A 9-11 crisis. The 9-11 crisis. 

After the planes crashed into Twin Towers, the pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania, all flights are banned from landing in the United States; for the first time in history, the FAA closes American airspace. Over three thousand planes are forced to land. Thirty eight land in Gandor Newfoundland. 

This is the story. A population of 9000 people who take in 7000 strangers, foreigners, babies, animals. Gandor and the surrounding towns, feed, clothe, and house the stranded travelers for four days.

I spend the entire play with tears in my eyes or laughing with gusto. The playwrights have perfectly blended comedic relief with sorrow.

As the man behind us says, "It's a play that's good for the soul."

Get tickets before it becomes the next Hamilton--and you can't.

Friday, April 21, 2017

New York City

First stop is Bravo kosher pizza, a hole in the wall a few blocks from the flagship New York Macy's department store. I've been dreaming about this pizza for six months--a slice of the Grandma Sicilian. The crunch in this crust is primo magnificio! It's Italy meets Israel in a basement.

The next morning-it's a race to Central Park. The shift from city of concrete, asphalt and glass, to the hub of nature: rocky outcrops  for a fling of "par cour," fields of dark green grass, a reservoir Jackie O used to circle--ah the history, the respite, a moment of silence we wouldn't enjoy except for the foresight of Olmstead and Vaux. A climb to the top of the hill for that iconic "snow globe" view from the center of green to towering buildings. I love Central Park!

In my head I see Eva Gabor singing, "Darling I love you but give me Park Avenue," Eddie Albert on the farm.

The theatre! Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard, Bette Midler in Hello Dolly, Come From Away (more on this gem later), and Up On Your Feet.

New York City. How I miss it, how I enjoy breakfast from a fruit cart, from Norma's; black &white cookies, unparalleled stage talent, running in Central Park, waking up to horn honks, sirens; pseudo living-high at the Baccarat.

After five days, high prices, dirty streets, the sad truth of homelessness, waking up from incessant horn honking heard on the 7th floor, convincing the fruit man I don't need more fruit, the squeeze of millions of people in small spaces--I'll be ready to go home.

Six months--I'l be ready to return.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Mom and I are headed to La Jolla on the 5 North, and for the first time ever (that we can remember), we are surrounded by a sea of yellow flowers. The freeway berms, the shoulder--vibrant yellow. So different from the California drought that's left the state dry and flowerless for years. Lawns left to die, orange groves plowed under, water reserves at record lows.

It isn't just the yellow flowers trimming the freeway. Ice plants are in bloom with purple flowers. I've noticed flowering trees that have never flowered before. I even find a news article about droves of people traveling to the desert to enjoy the unexpected bloom abundance. Rain has transformed the landscape from dull greens and browns to flashy rainbow hues.

Life is a landscape too~~in need of nurturing and rain as much as the earth~~only, the rain we need isn't just moisture. We need rain, but what is our rain? What quenches thirst, what nurtures personal growth and happiness?

Could it be serving others? Earning a masters degree or attending yoga class? Awareness, acts of kindness, patience, overcoming a quick temper?

When we figure out what our rain is,

Let it rain, let it pour.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Into the Fire

 It's Deb's turn to go back to school and teach. On the morning of her return, she sends a text, "I can't believe I'm about to jump back into the fire."

"Ah, the fire burns, but it also warms," I respond.

Such great advice from someone who's wary of fire, who rarely jumps into the fire.

How I admire people who do jump into the fire, who jump to stay warm but risk getting burned: the people who start schools and colleges, who open up refugee camps. The people who take ideas to store shelves, the people who persist so they can improve lives, save lives. The people who adopt, who foster, who sponsor. The people who get out of bed in the morning and pull on their boots.

The innovators, the inventors, the inspirers. The people we read about; the people we have dinner with.

I've watched my son-in-law jump into the fire. He's been warmed by the heat, he's been burned by the heat. He's had success, he's been blistered, both important to his education, all part of becoming and learning. A way to measure whether the future fire jumping is worth the risk.

We learn from the fire-jumpers. I recently heard my son-in-law teach my students about creativity, and I paid attention when I heard it described in a new way.

"Creativity is simply asking, 'How can I take this one step further? How can I make it better?'"

Sometimes it requires jumping into the fire.

Here is how he jumped into the fire.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


Because my father, his brothers and brother-in-law went into business together, we all lived in the same city. My father, his siblings and their spouses had 27 children, and the shaping of who I am, can in part, be attributed to those 26 cousins.

Because we were a tight knit bunch, holidays and weekends were spent in the company of family--fourth of July shooting fireworks off the warehouse dock, the teenage boys always getting too close as they lit the matches. Christmas Eves singing carols we never knew the words to, and Christmas day visiting to see what Santa brought the cousins. Dinners, going to movies, spending summer nights on the patio together. Lots of swimming. Two of my cousins, Barbie and Lori were the same age and in the same grade. We even attended our freshman year of college together.

Since Dad was the youngest in his family, most of my cousins were older; when Mom and Dad left town, it was often a cousin who babysat. It was cousins who took us to the family cabin. It was cousins with whom I had too much fun even at Grandma's house as we mourned the loss of our grandfather. We got in trouble for that!

Most of my cousins were loving, inclusive, and good examples. They wrote dissertations for PHDs, became lawyers, good parents, astute businessmen and women, musicians, and led successful lives. There were a few hiccups, a rare appearance on the six'o'clock news, but for the most part, they grew up serving God and their families.

The parties and merriment, though I couldn't have realized it at the time, were just a short window of time. The day soon came when I only saw cousins at the church when me met to eulogize and bury our aunts and uncles, our fathers, our mothers. One by one, it defined a new era of family history.

At one point all of my cousins married. Almost everyone had children. That's 27 weddings and in those 27 vows, only three didn't last.

If the national average for divorce applied to my cousins, 13 would have been divorced--we beat the average by 10 successful marriages.

In no way am I ignoring that those marriages might not have been perfect. I don't have any details to support my hypothesis, but we are human, and humans tend to have blips of selfishness, unkindness, obstinance, and marital moments of non-bliss. I know this from my own marriage, but in my cousins' statistics is the empirical evidence that marriage does work--in spite of alleged national statistics.

I was once discouraged as I watched a few young students suffer through their parents' divorces. Marriage seemed to be a giant precursor to insecurity, insincerity, and heartache. My own marriage was fine, but I was seeing the glass 3/4 empty--until I sat behind three, aged, married couples. The conversation went something like this:

First happy couple: "We're celebrating our 50th anniversary this weekend."

Second happy couple: "Well, congratulations, we have another year to go."

Third happy couple: "We already reached that milestone, but we're attending my sister's 50th wedding anniversary party next month."

It was a brilliant light bulb moment. Yes, divorce was real, and maybe half of American marriages do end in divorce, but that also means half of them don't, and some families have even beaten the odds.

So, I speak to my young friend Justin, who hesitates to marry,  scarred by his own parent's infidelities, his own parent's and siblings' hurt~~he's only seen 100% failure. No wonder he's scared, no wonder he won't take the leap. We understand, but here is a different picture; a family who has proved marriage odds can be greater than 50/50.

Marriage is one of the few situations where you can increase the odds through dedication, selflessness, and promises kept, yet still, there are no guarantees, but after 37 years of persistent practice, I have no doubt, I would walk to the ends of the earth to keep and cherish the love of my life.

Monday, April 17, 2017


My cousin's daughter's was married, and weeks before the big event, I received an invitation to attend the wedding party! Friday, April 14 comes quick, and I hesitate to go,  because I don't know the bride. But I am free on this night, and the desire to attend chips away at my heart.

I contact two other cousins who live close by and ask them to accompany me. It appears they have the same hesitations, because neither of them choose to attend. But I can't dismiss that I want to go, maybe even need to go. I contemplate attending on my own, because Tony is even more family-distant and reticent.

After all the dismissiveness, I make it to the party, and what a party! After greeting my delightful cousins, my beloved aunt now confined to a wheelchair, I am filled, rejuvenated, and so, so grateful I attended. Family connections and love have reminded me of the past and the importance of the present.

Why did I even hesitate to attend?

It seems I do a lot of hesitation which leads to missing out on gatherings like the one above.

A neighbor's son dies and I have the same dismissive feelings, mostly because I didn't know the son. It isn't until the last minute on a Saturday morning when I go to Tony (still reading in bed), and insist we attend. We shower, dress, and make it on time. When we see the bereaved mother, when our hearts connect with hers, when she understands we are there out of concern for her, we are grateful.

With such renewed love and joy from the two experiences, I can hardly bear to look back on all the other occasions when I dismissed the importance of attending or reaching out. Not for other people, but for myself. Because I needed to care. I needed to make the effort. I needed other people when I told myself I didn't.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is Risen

For a week, I shopped and purchased Easter egg fillers--candy from Fizzywiggles: candied bunnies, strawberry lambs, jellied Easter shapes. I added little lego-type toys, quarters and dimes, a few bills, and Cadbury eggs. I filled a box for the Chicago kids and sent it last Monday.

Wanting something special for Tony, since he would be helping me hide 159 eggs, I ordered croissants from Williams Sonoma--chocolate and plain, the croissants that come closest to Julians, just a cobbled road turn off the Rue de Rivoli.

 Pj and I shopped for the ingredients to make cheese stuffed pears, falafel, guacamole, deviled eggs, cottage cheese pies, and sprinkle infused rice krispy treats. Holly offered to bring the Caesar salad. We were all set!

So much thought and preparation, yet our thoughts for an Easter celebration were as empty as the discarded plastic eggs.

This morning I received a poignant reminder. After a long struggle, my friend's father left his cancer racked body. I thought about her last night and hoped it would be soon, if possible on Easter so that day would always remind her of the imminence of her father's resurrection too. The Savior's life in its entirety is meant to be a pattern--a pattern how to live, a pattern for course and direction. He was baptized so we could follow his example, he served so we could follow his example; he loved so we would follow his example; he died and came forth from the grave as a resurrected being so we too may know life is perpetual--life continues. Life is eternal. There is a separation, but that separation is but a moment.

He lives. We will live, and on this day the most important thing to remember amidst dyed eggs, coconut cakes, and egg hunts, even the beautiful church choir, we need to remember is unequivocally--

He is risen.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

We Feed Our Houseguests Well

Tony and I are having a lovely, mid-afternoon, kitchen conversation. He is reclined on the comfy, green polka-dot bench; I am standing behind the counter. Domestic tranquility is interrupted onlywhen Tony sees a flash of movement in the corner of his eye.

He is incredulous when he announces, "There's a mouse in our house!"

I peek around the cupboard and sure enough, Ratatouille is a cute baby gray mouse, and he is oblivious to our deep offense. So unaware, that I move closer and see he is giving himself a sponge bath and quite content. Tony and I follow him as he scampers to the back of a cupboard and makes a herculean attempt to lift himself between the gap and the wall.

"Ah, he was so cute."

Tony was moved by his cuteness too, because he asks, "But we can't have mice in the house, right?"

"Right. There's hanta virus and all the other unsanitary things that come with rodents who move in and make themselves right at home."

"I'll get the mousetraps."

Mice are nothing new in our home. We live next to a hillside that hosts a fox, cougars, skunks, deer, and once there was even a moose in the cul-de-sac. The fox terrorized the bees, the cougars were always a potential threat to safety; skunks are well--smelly; deer eat every bit of viable landscaping, and moose can charge, maim, and kill. We once found a baby raccoon, its mother trapped and carried away by neighbors who'd had enough. My daughter pleaded to keep the creature, but after a few youtube videos, we slapped an ad in an online classified newspaper, and that raccoon had three offers in ten minutes.

So a little ol mouse? Well, that mouse probably has a mother, a father, and possibly a slew of siblings. Who knows what territory they have eminent-domain claimed already. They've built houses, apartment buildings and are trying to incorporate into a city.

Tony loads the mouse traps with peanut butter. It's always worked well before, and he's counting on it again. He checks the traps the next day-both of them. Both of them are licked clean of peanut butter.

"Okay, I'll pull out the new traps. They're a little better. Guaranteed." He tosses away the old, unreliable traps and loads the new ones. Later that afternoon, he checks the traps again with some hearty confidence, "I bet we have a mouse." I watch him from a distance as he moves closer, bends deeper to see into the dark corner under the shelf. "What?" he calls out.

He emerges from the pantry with a licked-clean trap. He checks the other trap next to the gap in the cupboard ready to proclaim victory. "It licked this one clean too!" He is even more incredulous than when he first saw the baby mouse.

Now, when Tony is outsmarted, or perplexed, he walks and thinks and speaks. This walk-about, he smiles and laughs as he walks because the mouse has thrown the gauntlet, and in the end, Tony never loses. He even eventually became the reigning pickleball champion, the tennis champion, the backgammon champ--these mice don't know what they're up against. He outplays, outsmarts, outlasts and personally, I give in. The mice will too.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Her Rightful Place

Fifteen years or so ago, my sister, in need of some furniture, went to an auction. She was enamored by a painting that reminded her of our mother--so enamored was she, that no one at the auction bid against my sister; they seemed to understand the painting was destined to be hers.

 At the center of the painting is a young woman dressed in 19th century, Sunday-black. She is walking, but she has turned around as if to convey a mysterious message, or to teasingly say she will return shortly, or perhaps, never. Yet, her look is so inviting, perhaps she beckons for the recipient to follow her to church, to a lavish party, or to board a train or ship to an exotic destination. My mother loves her ancestors, and to my sister, this woman is my mother's relative; she belongs in mother's family tree if only through her painted presence.

The young woman is surrounded by yellow leaves and a thick gold frame. It's intriguing in the same way the Mona Lisa is intriguing. No one can quite guess what she is smiling about or if in fact, she is smiling or smirking.

To further the painting's mystery, there is no artist's signature. My sister thinks it is covered by the thick frame but no one yet, has dared to take the painting apart to find out.

The painting is as unique as Klimt's Woman in Gold, the subject of a Helen Mirren film and three documentaries. It is the story of a wealthy Jewish family and the commissioned painting of Adele Bloch Bauer confiscated by Nazis during WWII. A niece remembers the painting well and she fights to have it returned to the family. Her legal battle triumphs over the atrocities and thievery of the past; the painting is returned to her.

A funny glitch occurs in this painting's history too. Though not quite as dramatic as Nazi thieves, my sister brings the painting to my mother, who loves it, but my father doesn't. So much that my mother isn't up for the fight. My sister's boyfriend has just renovated his home and there is the perfect wall to hang the painting--for now.

Fast forward those fifteen or so short years. Dad is gone, Mom has moved, and her entryway has a painting that leaves my sister feeling~~meh. Until she realizes, the painting chosen just for Mom, years ago, might be perfect for this spot. The painting is crated and shipped, and finally arrives where it should have been all along~at the heart of mother's home.

I am captivated by her presence on Mom's entry wall. She greets me when I enter, she intrigues me from across the room, from my seat on the couch. It's uncanny how well she fits and how long it took to find her rightful place in Mom's home.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Cost of Late

I am driving through the airport departure lanes when the valet parking sign catches my eye.


That's a hefty price, and I wonder who uses the service and under what circumstances a person would pay for it. I can think of only one circumstance in which I would benefit: If I were running late, I sure would appreciate the valet service.

Each time I use my bank's online bill pay service, I enjoy the convenience. It allows me to take the bill and within hours, take care of it. The bill may not be due for another month, but I fill in the payment and set the date for it to be paid. It's a free service, yet there is a $7.95 fee if the bill needs expediting. If I were running behind on my bill paying, I'd appreciate the expedited service and would much prefer the $8.00 fee over a company late fee.

Again, lateness has a cost.

My daughter's employer frequently repeats his time conscious mantra: If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late. If you're late, don't bother showing up.

She started working for him as an impressionable teenager, and I'm thankful for the impact he's had on her punctuality. I notice it's one of her strengths.

Punctuality hasn't always been one of mine. I often try to fit in one more thing before the last second when I can still make it on time. This is a foolish practice, because all the lights aren't always green, and the unexpected is to be expected.

I was mostly cured when I read: Being late is a selfish habit; in essence, it is a manifestation of a belief that one's time is more valuable than everyone else's.

Another advantage to a punctual lifestyle, is that when we are delayed, by circumstance or choice of a higher matter, the table to which we come late, based on passed performance, will KNOW, we are delayed with good reason.

A second cure comes in the realization that the cost of being late isn't only monetary. There may be a cost to reputation and to confidence other's have in us. We're no longer dependable to the people who may need us most--on time.

I still haven't figured out what the title in Thomas Friedman's latest book, Thank You For Being Late, literally means; I'm just hoping his popular commentary on the 21st century doesn't undermine the age old virtues of timeliness.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Sneaky Little Old Woman

Mom has an encounter in the grocery store.

She is stocking up on a certain brand of frozen meals. Apparently, there are two brands on sale. She chooses the pricier brand because the quality is a little better. Behind her is an aged man who is also buying frozen meals, though it is the less expensive brand.

He inquires as to why she prefers her brand of frozen dinners.

Mom explains.

"I need to buy the cheaper kind, because I'm on a fixed income," the man responds.

That's all Mom needs to hear. She whispers to the cashier, "Can you put his bill on my credit card?"

Mom hangs around waiting for the transaction to complete. His grocery bill comes to $75 and when the man realizes he's just had a "pay it forward" moment from the stranger ahead, he is grateful, grateful, grateful.

From this one encounter, Mom becomes a benefactor to people in need, and she decides she will be a patron of military personnel.

Whether we are in Target, or leaving a restaurant, if Mom sees a man or woman in a military uniform, she sneaks off. I'm left to wonder, where's Mom? I see her from the corner of my eye. She's leaning forward, sneaking in as if she were a panther sizing up the prey. She always puts her arm around the recipient, and though I can barely hear, she says something like, "I want you to know how much I appreciate your service to our country." She hands them some American currency of varying amounts. I too have no warning of this almost 80 year old woman with good intentions. I watch from a distance, and unaware of my presence, I see the surprise, the we-don't-know-quite-what-to-think of this little old woman with the big hair. They laugh, they smile, they look uncomfortable, but who could turn down Mom?

I tear up watching her do it. Every single time. She's so vulnerable serving the people whom she perceives as vulnerable.


I am reading a book called Motherwit, the story of Onnie Lee Logan, an Alabama midwife. She follows in the footsteps of her mother's midwifery practice, and most everything she learned came from working at her mother's side. After her mother's death and when Onnie has her own practice, she writes about the families she serves, "Whatever they needed and what ever had to be done I did it. I could just see Mother in me doin those kinda things. I could just see Mother all over and I still can see her. When I get to doin somethin that's constructive like that for somebody else that's what Mother would've done herself. That's what she wanted me to do."

 I see myself acting in my mother's footsteps; by the power of a mother's example, I am destined to one day become that little old sneaky lady passing on my mother's legacy, handing out money to the service men and women of our country.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


As I approach on my bike, a woman standing on the corner asks, "Which way to the beach?" She points to different streets shooting out in different angles, though both lead to the ocean.

I point to the shorter distance, though I assure her either path will do. She thanks me and moves forward with purpose.

As I peddle off, I'm struck by the irony that something so clear to me isn't to the woman. Perhaps it shouldn't be called irony. Perhaps it is simply familiarity or not.

When we know where we're going, or know where we've been, the way is clear, and if asked, we can share our knowledge.

This simple paradigm often fails in a classroom. Because I created the assignment or studied the text ten times, or expected the students to prepare, I think they have the same clarity. My familiarity fogs my ability to see others' comprehension or lack thereof. So, I appreciate immensely the student who will raise her hand and ask "What do you mean? I don't understand?" or "Could you explain that one more time?"

I repeatedly tell my students education needs a paradigm shift. Questions are what lead to truth; inquiry brings discovery, yet everyone is afraid to ask questions. Perhaps it is because we live too tightly under our own bubble. We are unaware of how much we don't know- all those tantalizing, uplifting, mind-blowing, details-facts-experiences waiting to be explored--if only we asked.

Or perhaps we asked a person who chided us for not knowing where the beach was because it was so obvious.

Obvious can be a blinding word.

Do you remember the last time you asked a question and the responder said, "Great question." It made you feel like a kid, didn't it? For just a split second it took you back to your innocent self that swelled with pride when you were validated by an adult.  It doesn't matter how old we are- everyone appreciates positive affirmation.

With the same patience we respond to a tourist, or to an inquiring student,  we need to respond to the person who makes a rude remark, a hasty conclusion, who may show intolerance of our gender, our religion, our race, our thoughts. This behavior is like answering "questions" because there is an unknown, a missing piece of knowledge. Most likely he is oblivious to his degrading behavior. He hasn't learned or hasn't been taught. He's unaware his actions are questions in need of guidance and a need to be shown the right direction.

This question requires patience and example, firmness and courage.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The CS Lewis Kind

 Mom and I spent an afternoon with Clive Staples Lewis, aka Jack Lewis, or better still, CS Lewis.

Our time seemed like it was spent with the author--for a genuine, accomplished actor or actress whether he is playing an English academic, or she is playing a teapot in Beauty and the Beast, will always convince the audience that he or she is that character.

By the end of the play Shadowlands, I desired to become a better human. CS Lewis inspired me to do so by his own ability to grow, love, and change. I was most inspired by a short phrase coined by Lewis for which I cannot remember exactly, so it goes mostly like this: kindness is the desire to see others happy. 

Yet, as I ponder this idea of kindness, it rarely is, if ever, a passive desire. If kindness is the desire to see others happy, then kindness requires an effort to evoke happiness in others.

Awareness of excellence is finding and recognizing the implementation of various ideals or in this specific case, recognizing CS Lewis' ideal of kindness through active kindness. My first example I discovered in a phone conversation with my own daughter while she prepared her husband's birthday presents.

Never having seen a Broadway play, he's wanted to see Lion King for a long time. When my daughter discovered the play coming to her city, she bought tickets and kept it secret until the designated day. She thought of his happiness and actively acted to bring it about.

Towards the end of our conversation, she said, "Hold on, I'm taping up a wall."

"What for?" I asked.

"So, he can't see his presents until Saturday."

I couldn't imagine the wall, so I asked her to send a photo.

This, I thought, is kindness. The CS Lewis kind of kindness: the desire to see others happy.

He loved The Lion King, and can't wait to see another musical. My daughter's kindness brought happiness.

Sigh. It was a lot of work.

Surely, as we age, it doesn't require this much planning and decorating. I take consolation that Tony's happiness no longer requires balloons. The greater kindness and subsequent happiness could be conjured through smaller means. A chocolate on his pillow, a genuine effort to hang up my clothes, to actually prepare dinner.

My inspiration has come through the words of renowned author CS Lewis and the actions of just my daughter; there is no greater kindness than inspiring others through eloquent thoughts and just planning a birthday---and a million other little ways.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

We All Have A Story

A child psychiatrist, a psycho-analyst from the 70s, a former college basketball recruiter, a woman who might be an accountant, another woman who lived on her boat for a year who readily volunteers to help people~~ Mom and me. All strangers. What could we possibly have in common?

*We love a good story
*We'd all seen the elevator flyer

and so we gather...

Yet, I had a further interest. Since Deb and I teach a storytelling class, I wanted to find out how other people tell stories. I wanted to tell my students a story about sitting with a group of 70-90 year olds telling their stories.

The afternoon is lovely. It is spontaneous and spirited. The only problem is steering back from the interruption of politics, for which many are vehemently opposed to discussing.

The psychiatrist and the psycho analyst have been married for 50 years--George is hunched over with a mop of wild gray hair, and his wife is adjusting to her new life as a legally blind person. Though almost 90, George hasn't given up on his physically active life. He still walks the boardwalk, but with the help of two walking poles. I love both of their mental health pioneering stories. They'd taken the first mental health services to small town America. They now spend their days trying to figure out the current political mysteries with lists, charts, and emails to their children explaining what they've figured out.

Kelsy Plum is another man's claim to story. Kelsey, a basketball player for the Washington Huskies,  recently broke the NCAA record for career and season scoring. Kelsey is his cousin's granddaughter, but accomplishment extends the family tree--we all want to claim the relatives who make us proud. With a chance at breaking a national record, our storyteller friend traveled with his sister to cheer on Kelsey. She needed over 50 points to break the record, and it seemed improbable--, but when she did, the man and his sister cried. He is also overly excited at his invitation to attend the John R Wooden awards the next day in Los Angeles. Normally I wouldn't have an interest, nor any knowledge of the upcoming John R Wooden awards, but this time I did, and Kelsey won!

Sharing stories creates human connection. Our family tree grows more limbs, it sprouts more leaves. We find commonality and shared roots with strangers. 

A few days later, I am waiting on a bench for the ocean sunset. In the distance I see a wild mop of gray hair, a wrinkled and leather skinned man hunched over, hands tightly gripping his walking poles. His stride is purposeful, and instead of seeing just an elderly man with a comic presence, he is George, the doctor, the man who raised good children, who served children all his life. I salute him as he passes and feel a surge of love for a man I hardly know but a man whose story I've heard.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Absence Of

I am part of a small group that makes important decisions about charitable giving. All four of us are spirited individuals with distinct opinions, diverse backgrounds, and, family/life situations. Most of the time we agree. We can move forward and see the fruit of our labor.

However, there are times when we see things differently, and because of obligations and different schedules, we often communicate via email.

Email communication lacks the ability to convey true feeling. Gone is the nuance in tone, or the accountability in eye contact. Miscommunication may take days to sort out. Questions are put on hold, misunderstandings flame when we can't ask on the spot, "Wait, do you understand?" or when we can't create u-turns that bring peace: "I'm sorry," or "That's not what I meant." Lack of physical contact, hugs specifically, that triumph over misunderstanding, are impossible through electronic conversation.

But by far, the worst, is to be ignored. It is why silence is often called cold, hard, silence. To respond to an email, to passionately explain one's position, knowing it may be contrary to the majority, knowing it has logic but may need further explanation, and then for it to be ignored is a kind of cruelty. The communicator deliberates, wonders. Did they not read it? Did my message never make it through cyberspace? Or worse, are they communicating among one another in a separate email thread? I can't see anyone's reactions to my thoughts; did I offend the people I love?

In the the absence of communication, an albatross* hangs around the supposed, contrary-person's neck. The dead albatross gets heavy and smelly. Having spoken up at all becomes regret. We long to fling the albatross, but it's part of the silent condemnation.

It is the same with romantic love. People describe love as painful, but this is a mis-construction of love. Love is bliss, fulfilling, exhilarating--it is the absence of love that is painful.

Communication, even miscommunication is not painful--it is the absence that makes it so.

*Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1834

Friday, April 7, 2017

Like A Ship Without A Rudder

I pulled out the bike, pumped the tires, loaded the basket for a biking adventure: water bottle, glasses, small purse,-- yet when I passed the ocean, it was smooth as glass. I tried to resist, but I just couldn't do it.

I turned around and headed back knowing time was limited, but to not take advantage of such calm water would be regrettable. Extremely.

I ran upstairs, changed from biking apparel into a swim suit and wrestled with the wet suit, tugging, pulling and continually thinking about time, rushing to be out before 9:00 o'clock. I grabbed keys, the paddle, and rushed to the garage closet. The paddle board looked bigger than I remembered. I shifted the hamper of beach toys, lifted, scooted, and tugged until the board came out. I hefted it onto my hip and carried it to the garage door. Ugh. Getting it out, angling it down the stairs so it could slide out the door was problematic. Finally I was carrying it out to the ocean.

For the first time, I looked at the bottom end of the board. I'd forgotten the rudder.

Keep going. You can still paddle board with out a rudder.

I kept going. Within steps of the sand, how could I be bothered with just a little rudder. And then--a pod of dolphins moving along the shore line! I could hardly remember dolphins being so close. To go back and find the rudder now was unthinkable. I had to get out in the surf.

Since passing on my bike, the placid ocean had shifted. I waited for the largest waves to pass and then paddled with fury-- to no avail.

Okay. New plan.

I'll swim out, letting the ankle rope pull the board behind me. But  each time I dove under a wave, it crashed on the board and yanked me back towards the shore.

Not okay. New plan needed. I'll lay on the board and paddle. Progress almost nil.

Next plan: push the board's nose up and over the wave.

Somehow I made enough progress to have moved past the breakers. I stood up and started to paddle towards the dolphins who had moved farther. Two swift strokes on the right and one correction on the left and I seemed to move forward. Maybe a foot.

I minimalized my expectations. I will be content to stand on the board and watch the dolphins from a distance. Being so far away, knowing I could have been close...made

Paddling pointless. I turned the board around and let the waves nudge me towards the shore.

I was exhausted from the almost-futile endeavor.

The life-without-a-rudder analogy is cliché. The expression, like a ship without a rudder is cliché too.

Yet, cliché becomes immaterial: the analogy and the simile become profound,  when in fact, one is on the sea, on a paddle board, without a rudder.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


On the morning of our departure from Chicago, Mandi and her family were a little melancholy until we opened the door to take out luggage, and she checked the mailbox. Waiting for her household, was a thick manilla envelope from their Disneyland coordinator.

Yes!! There is such a thing as a Disneyland coordinator. It is a free service, but there is a slew of other Disney comforts available for those willing to pay--even guides to enhance the Magic Kingdom walk-about, ride-about, experience.

Once four-year-old Ezra knew the Disney packet had arrived, the departing guests were a distraction to the future adventure of his life. Grandma and Grandpa who? Even Mandi seemed a little anxious now that Disney magic had graced their home.

The Disneyland information-packet arrival was perfect timing.

We were all home when Paloma's highly anticipated package finally arrived. It wasn't just any package, but a package containing a highly symbolic instrument to her future life.

She unwrapped it carefully. She paused. Took a deep breath, then lifted out her very own, very first, stethoscope. She examined, tinkered; she listened to her heartbeat.

When I was a small girl, illness took me from my socially exhilarating sixth grade life. Briefly bed bound, home bound, my excitement came from a new source: the mail.

I had become a stamp collector, and all too frequently the Kenmore Stamp Company sent stamps. Stuck in my pajamas, stamp collecting offered a periscope view into exotic locales beyond my pink princess canopy bed.

Even to this day, the mail brings a kind of enchantment. An unexpected letter arrives, and without an inkling, I'm suddenly aware someone was thinking of me. Days before.

Since Amazon prime, the mailbox, the porch, are frequently graced with packages.

I open the front door and bend over to pick up a brown wrapped box, Ah, what mystery could be within this box? A longed for book, tubes for Tony's bike, and look at this, Tony ordered another set of bowls with snap on lids--online shopping and mail delivery fulfill our fetishes quickly.

Knowing the surprise and fun a package brings, I need to send thank-you's to the kind people in my life--so, my gratitude will come in the mail with hopes the recipients are as delighted as I will have anticipated.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dad's Bench

Within the first year after Dad's death, a lot of changes were made. Mom sold the house, bought a new one; Dad's long time financial advisor became ill; we scrambled to find someone as trusted as Harry. We cleaned out closets, moved paintings, sorted, and gave-away.

My attitude towards the beach house changed too. It was here that Dad, in the first stages of declining health, was put on a new medication for his suspected Parkinson's disease. Within one short day, we watched him degenerate almost to the point of incapacitation. We thought we were losing him. Fortunately, someone made the connection to his physical state and the treatment--Mom called the doctor and the medication was stopped. Many hours later, he slowly regained movement until he was mobile enough. We packed hastily, threw everything in the car and drove him home as fast as we could.

 My perception of life, of death, of my father's invincibility, had been flipped on its side. A tornado had ripped through our calm and organized household.

After his death, when I thought of going to the beach house, I could only remember trying to lift Dad onto the bed. I had little desire to return to a place I had so loved.

Yet, when the family seriously considered selling the property, I couldn't let it happen.

Time passes, time heals.

When I come to the beach house now, I am greeted with tender recollections. Bewilderment and helplessness are background. I can even see Dad more clearly.

I sit down on the brown leather couch that Mom and him bought from JC Penney. To my right sits Dad. I imagine the contour of his shape, sunk into the cushion, watching his fourth hour of TV, the remote control in his hand. He looks up. He smiles. He wants a snack.

When we return to the same Mexican restaurant where he ordered a "little cup of soup," I think of all the years when that is all he ordered and frequently finished off my enchiladas.

Tomorrow, Mom and I will attend a matinee at the local theatre, where we will watch Shadowlands, and I will remember when together, we all saw a crazy interpretation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat that ruined Dad's love of theatre forever. Or perhaps it wasn't as crazy as Dad claimed it was--perhaps he was growing tired of his own stage.

The most tender and pleasant recollection is Dad's beachside bench. He would rise before 6:00 a.m and wait for the gym to open. When he finished working out, he strolled the boardwalk and sat down on the same bench to contemplate life. I tried to time kayaking with his daily meditation. If I wasn't ready to paddle/surf in, I'd wave--he'd wave back. But mostly I'd try to catch a wave in and sit with my father.

I cannot walk the beach, nor kayak the water, without seeing Dad sitting on the bench, deep in thought, deeply content.

If I could wish for one moment to have with Dad again, it would be sitting by his side, on his bench. He would ask if I'd seen dolphins. We would look for them together. We'd watch the surfers, the surf, the endless blue. He'd share a memory of his own parents long gone from his life.

I cannot separate this place from my dad who is now separated in an impossible-to-comprehend kind of way.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Comfort. Courage.

After making sure Mom is safely home, I take the long route back along the beach. The  evening mist creates a mysterious, deserted boardwalk. A figure in the distance, hooded and hunched makes me quicken my pace.

The black night sky, the black water, contrasts against the crashing waves' fluorescent white foam. It's an almost indescribable beauty, with a certain fright, like the opening scene of a macabre, 1950s horror film. The dark sea, and from the sea emerges,--a monster, an alien, or worse: a dead body.

This night, like many nights, out of the darkness emerges, something not so frightening, but rather comforting--the marines.

North Island and South island, are two US Naval bases on Coronado. It is a home base for the Navy seals and ocean/beach training for navy personnel. I have come to love the unexpected training that happens among us civilians. From the safety of the shore, I've watched seals slide down ropes into the sea; watched helicopters dip into the ocean; I've kayaked among (though at a required distance) long distant swimmers. I've seen 18 year-old boys newly recruited from the mid-west, who've never seen the ocean, try to paddle against the surf. Hoards of trainees have passed me on the beach, running in combat boots, full dress and packs on their backs.

Tonight, they are running in full dress, life jackets, and they carry on their heads, a dinghy. I assume they will enter the sea. Brrrrr....I'm dressed in one of my dad's over-sized, soft fleece jackets and wishing I'd worn a hat. How treacherous to enter the dark, cold, unknown.

I quicken my pace to keep up. Their efforts, their bravery, are inspiring. I wonder how long I will have to follow to see them do what I would never be willing to do: Paddle at night, paddle in the cold, paddle fully dressed.

Up ahead in the distance, is a flashing yellow light and a scattering of trucks and men so tall and strong, they seem like a different species. To observe naval training requires discretion. One cannot stop and watch. The tall, tall man is already asking the few people who have sat down to watch as if it  were an opera, to "Move on."

My persona becomes just a night walker. No one would suspect I followed the troops just to see them launch.

As I loop back, having expected these marines to be going out to sea, I'm surprised to see a dinghy paddling into the shore. Stretched as far into the night sea as I can see, is another and another. Each boat is loaded with marines, all paddling with the surf to beach land. A big wave rolls and almost capsizes one of the boats. Keep paddling, keep paddling, I will to the men. How many times have I been dumped by a wave? How I wish them success on this misty, dark, night. My paddling adventures are always in the day time, always in a wet suit. But I am usually alone.

We break them down, so we can build them back up, better and stronger than before. I hear the words of a colonel speaking about the new recruits. Unfamiliar with the ocean, during the night, the cold ignored, the acknowledgement of fear discouraged, certainly they are being broken. But when they succeed, when they land on the shore, they are being built.

The next morning, as punctual as a German train, 8:00 a.m sharp, the national anthem plays from both ends of the island, and if one is still, one will hear the call to patriotism. How unsettling, how comforting, this all happens while I'm still laying in the comfort of my bed.

Monday, April 3, 2017


Gabi's body was the size of a six-month-old. Yet she was two years old. Though she was Ecuadorian, she looked like a fine porcelain doll, like the ones my uncle brought back after serving in South Korea in the late 1960s. Someone had picked up Uncle Fred from the airport and the car pulled curbside to our house. In each hand was a bag. A bag with a clear box that contained the finely dressed and crafted doll. Loraine got first choice (as usual), and chose the girl in blue silk. Mine was dressed in red. I loved those dolls. I loved Gabi.

I discovered her one day strapped to a cushioned chair inside the apartment for the babies. We usually waited outside for the tias to bring out the children. I was drawn to her by something unexplainable. A purity, a preciousness, a feeling unable to be caught with words. I was content to sit next to her. To stroke her hand.

"Can you feel it?" I remember asking a fifteen year old student.

The question caught him off guard. He didn't know how to answer or he hadn't noticed "that feeling."

It was so real, that when the tias did bring her outside in a stroller or in her chair, I went to her immediately--took her for a walk, then sat down and just basked in that feeling. I worked with her clenched fists, wiggling my fingers into her grasp, trying to help her relax. So taut were her fingers, I worked slowly afraid her fingers would break.

One night, a tia asked me to soothe Gabi in her crib. I was elated. The tia knew I felt an affinity for this little girl. This little girl whose eyes couldn't focus and perhaps couldn't see. This little girl who had no ability to move. The little girl who kept her hands clenched tight. The little girl who occasionally seemed to struggle for breath. I sang to her. All the songs I could remember from when I sang to my own babies. After a while, she settled down.

A few weeks ago, one of our students, still in contact with another volunteer, sent an email. He wanted me to know first that Gabi had died. Wanted to make sure I was okay before he let everyone else know. He didn't know from what she died or the circumstances.

Perhaps her death explained the feeling. That inexplicable feeling so tangible, yet not tangible at all. Gabi's earthly sojourn was almost over. She endured two short years in a body with severe limitations. It was enough. She was watched over by entities unseen, hardly comprehensible, but with a presence that could only be described as heavenly. That feeling.

Gabi is free.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Twice in my life I have come close to getting beat up for defending a marginalized person.

The first time was junior high. I had chosen Earth Science rather than a Biology class I would have normally taken with my friends. I knew it was a less demanding class, but I didn't realize how different a class it was. It catered to students who weren't as involved in academics. The class requirements were minimal, and even though I did nothing extraordinary, I received the end-of-year award for best Earth Science student.

There was only one girl besides me in the class, and on the first day, though vastly different from one another, we gravitated to the same table.

Her name was Leslie. She had an older brother and was being raised by her father. She was tiny, spry, had defended herself for many years on account of a body anomaly. She had been super-endowed with large breasts. She was so out of proportion, walking even looked difficult. Leslie became my friend.

When a young African American man in the class started taunting her, I stood up to him. I mention race because in 1970's Las Vegas, racial tensions were high. Only recently had forced bussing/integration been implemented, and both blacks and whites were trying to adjust. For the most part, it went well, but fights between a black and a white were a regular occurrence. In a few years my high school would even be shut down because of a incendiary incident; a race riot threat was real.

When I defended Leslie, the young man called me out. He threatened and taunted me as we moved into the dark, sun absent corridor. I stood my ground. He backed off.

I had refused to be a bystander.

The second time I almost got beat up was in a park in Mar Vista California. I had a child this time and was standing at the bottom of a large rocket ship with a slide. A little boy kept pushing another little boy and when I saw the next push would send him out the door onto the ground below, I hurried up the slide to stop him. His mother, off in a group talking, watched as I moved her child away. Like a good mother who was unaware of her son's aggression, she lit into me. She was stockily built and had a biker-chic haircut. The preschooler whom I defended had an au pair who sat on a bench chatting with other au pairs and was unwilling to even stand up. It was me and the mother bear.

I could reason with her because I'd done the right thing: saved a little boy from a terrible fall.  Fortunately, reason permeated her mama bear skin. I was saved too. If either encounters had come to a physical blow, I wonder if the next time, I would have been a bystander. I hope not.

Recently, we had a class discussion about being a bystander. I posed the question: "What if I come upon an attack, and the attacker is physically superior to me and I know I can't help? Then what?"

"You scream!" Lela responded.

"You're right. Thank you." A scream is a powerful weapon.

The organizer of the Bystander Effect Conference, was spurred to do so by his own book: The Crime of Complicity, The Bystander in the Holocaust. The book was spurred by his parents, his grandparents, having lived through the Holocaust and having died in Auschwitz. Amos Guiora is an Israeli, a friend, an attorney, and his proposal is that the moral obligation to be a good samaritan is not enough. We need laws to enforce the need to help the oppressed when under attack.

It's a tricky proposal, but after listening to esteemed members of several panels, even thinking it's tricky is an excuse that alleviates a human being from his duty to help others-always.

I am only on page nine of a 200 page book. It's a difficult book to explore, but a necessary endeavor for so many reasons--if for no other reason, I need to honor the memory of my friend's family and his own connection to that stabbing pain of when people looked the other way.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Roads That Lead to Secret Waterfalls

"Where are you going for spring break?" I ask a beloved friend.

"Moab, or Zions, depends on where my sister wants to go. What about you?"


"I've only been to California once. We went to pick up some sheep."

The immensity of diversity in her response takes a few seconds to sink in. Picking up sheep. Not a part of my vernacular nor my experience.

"I've never had the privilege of uttering such a sentence," I say to my friend.

"Well now, I've never thought of it quite that way."

Of course she hasn't. Nor would I ever think of going to California to pick up some sheep.

I would love this woman no matter what, but that her degrees are in Latin and Dairy Science add to our conversations and our differences.

I have another friend I treasure. She is loud; she is the life of the party; she is funny. We tend to disagree frequently--but she always hears me out, always listens to my logic and I to hers. I once took the cutest photo of her after she slept on damp hair. It was adorable. She thought differently.

When I showed the photo to mutual friends, she said, "True friends don't show photos like that."

I had only shown the image because she looked adorable. But, her words stayed with me. A day later, I put the photo in an envelope and sent it to her house. On the return address I wrote: From a true friend.

For my birthday one year, she gave me a card with a naked man in the company of a dressed man in a business suit. The caption read, When we think alike, no one is thinking.

Which I applaud, but I've also been a participant when everyone is thinking alike and it was bliss. Synergy, harmony, love, were all present. Yet, could I continually thrive in that environment? No.

We need both. We need the elasticity and tension in a rubber band--without both, the band is useless. We need the challenge to our ideas to hatch more. We need roadblocks to hurdle, locks to pick to find treasure, untraveled roads that lead to secret waterfalls.

We need friends who've only been to California to pick up sheep.