Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Early Morning Athens

For many years, I have brain-accumulated references to Italy as "the boot." When first learning geography, I learned it was the boot. When a student draws Europe on the board and stumbles around Italy, invariably two or three students shout out, "Draw a boot." When I study a map of Italy, I can't help but see the 1600s story of Puss-in-Boots, including that classic heeled-boot one of the Three Musketeers would have worn along with his wide brimmed feathered hat, atop a full head of luscious dark curls.

While in the air, destination Athens, we pass over a land mass that looks like a boot! But it couldn't be Italy, because the fastest route to Athens would, no, it has to be the boot of Italy. When I check the flight routes, I'm mildly ecstatic because I SAW THE BOOT from the air and it looks just like the boot I've seen and imagined.

Lack-of-sleep dazed, I walk the airport and start observing. As I pass two men having an exchange of words, it is so familiar--their way of communication. It reminds me of my father's associates: Jimmy the Greek, Nick the Greek, and my childhood friend's family. The Greek way of speaking: inflections, hand gestures,--even in America, is so distinct.

Michaelis meets us and we climb into his yellow Mercedes taxi. Not the yellow of a New York cab, but a softer yellow one would paint a baby's nursery when the gender has yet to be determined. It makes me laugh. This fleet of curbside cabs are all baby-nursery-yellow compact Mercedes.

As we move from the airport into the heart of Athens, Michaelis, which is "Just a form of Michael," teaches us a few Greek phrases we will surely need: please, thank-you, and hello. It is amusing how quickly I forget them and Tony's comments about the ease of language acquisition for children. The proof comes from my own easy recall of Greek swear words learned from my elementary school friend Val, born of a  Greek mother. I don't use Greek swear words, yet they roll off my tongue 40 years later like they reside in my conversational canon.

"Look, there's the Acropolis," Michaelis points out like a proud Greek. I can't wait for Tony to see it lit up at night. I can't wait to walk through the Acropolis everyday, to climb Mars Hill, to walk among the ancients. We've found that a one entrance fee is EU 20 but a five day pass to the acropolis and the surrounding antiquity and museums is only EU 30. This same kind of bargain is what allowed us to savor Le Louvre when we became members of the Louvre Society.

Our Athens flat is an artist's loft in the heart of an artsy, bohemian district called Psiri. Ten large windows flood the apartment with light and put us practically in the streets. Her paintings hang on the bare walls, her black kitchen, her sparse furnishings, attest to who she is. In the summers, she can be found in Crete. Her working studio, canvases, ladders, paint paraphernalia, are  walled off with a "Do Not Enter." However, the cracks in the temporary dividers are an invitation to sneak a peak at creativity.

We are directly across the street from a bakery and a hookah lounge. The contrast is quite amusing because we will frequent the bakery but ignore the lounge. At 5:00 a.m. Athen's time, the streets are quiet except when a truck rumbles and comes to a stop. I peer out our windows to the world and see the bakery is already a buzz. Its lights and movement are the only activity on this quiet street--from my lofty view, I see within the bowels-- the baker moves back and forth, the shop woman is already arranging. Before I adjust to the new time, the bakers will be my morning companions.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tired Ruminations At Amsterdam International

The departure marquee in the Amsterdam International Airport reads like a world map: Istanbul, Madrid, Nairobi--all the places in the world, just a plane ticket, a departure gate away. The intercom system makes announcements for KLM, Air France, Thai Airlines.

I sit at the internet connection kiosk/table and the woman across, less than three feet away, speaks in Dutch.

We are tired, Tony and me; it's 1:38 a.m. at home, we have a nine hour flight behind us and a three hour delay before we board for another three hour flight to Athens.

Curled up in my economy seat with annually shrinking legroom, I have doubts and regrets for international travel. I just want to be home in bed.

Yet strangely, once we land and step into the international airport, that old thrill returns much too quickly. It's true there is no place like home, but even more true, there's no place like unexplored territory--which eventually leads one to the conclusion that there is indeed no place like home.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Glad You're Here

After years of studying Holocaust history with an emphasis on people who defied authority and rescued Jews, I continually asked myself the question, What would I have done during this tragic time? Impossible to answer, I have tried to forward that question to the present. Given the tragedies that beset our world, I ask, What am I doing to help now?

The question motivates me to act, so one day I will not look back and ask, Why didn't I help?

The question has led me to this day. Sitting in the airport waiting for our flight to Athens Greece, where we will take an Algebra program to a refugee school, where I will teach teachers at the No Border school, where we will travel on to Lesvos, Greece, one of the hardest hit islands by the influx of refugees-- where we will help in a refugee camp.

It took a year to find a place to volunteer. The desire sprang one afternoon in the comfort of my car, listening to an interview on NPR.  The woman who was interviewed was an American in Macedonia helping register refugees fleeing Syria into a transition camp. Because of her English language and one woman refugee who also spoke English, she was able to keep the woman and a crippled older man together, simply because he needed her. The chaos had almost separated the two.

I wanted to help too.

I had no specific skills to share--only a desire fueled by compassion for a displaced people.

My grandparents were immigrants who came to America for different reasons, but the journey, the new country, the rejection, is part of my heritage.

Years later, when my father wanted to buy a nameplate commemorating his parents' arrival on Ellis Island, New York, my grandfather said, "Don't you dare. I've never been treated so poorly in my life."

Dad was surprised. He didn't know about this part of his father's entrance into America. I pictured my grandfather--proud, capable, unsure in a new land--treated poorly.

I try to think how refugees feel, fleeing for their lives, fleeing their bombed-out cities, yet the doors all around the world have been closed to them. Such despair. Could I possibly make a difference? I have to go and find out, because I'm not prepared to look back ten years from now and ask, What could I have done?

I am encouraged that small efforts are meaningful from a student's story told just last week. His grandparents had immigrated to America from Sweden. They were driving on the east coast, surrounded by the insecurity of a new land. They'd stopped to get gas, and a fellow customer engaged in conversation with his grandfather while they both stood at the pump. When their conversation ended, the American said to Bennett's grandparents. "Welcome to America, I'm glad you're here."

The story kept its meaning through three generations. That one friendly expression meant everything to the immigrants; it still had meaning to their grandson.

I will be standing in a refugee camp by week's end. I won't be able to say "I'm glad you're here," but I will have the responsibility to lighten the load just a little bit, enough to take a deep breath and say, "I'm glad I'm here."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

In the Parade

How do we send off our children, our students, into the gaping-ready-to-swallow-them-whole, world? When they have been cocooned within classroom 147, where their opinions were validated, where they were hugged, given second chances, asked to write just one more paper? How do we send them off to reality or college which will often ignore their opinions, where they won't be hugged, will have only one chance, and that last paper will come with a demand?

The day before they walk into the graduation ballroom following the bagpiper is not the time to administer a final they could flunk. So, one of their two finals, is a tutorial from Don Miller's A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. We challenge them to Live a Better STory. Or Mrs. F challenges them and I get to be a student again--a student of life improvement.

In the front of the room, Mrs. F has set up a table with the tools we need to begin our book.

We will write a story about making life a better story.

Part 1: The Story

Mrs. F asks the introspective questions: What do you want? What keeps you from getting it?

Then she reads, asks more introspective questions and highlights suggestion diamonds like: Invite your family into a better story, and reads quotes from the author, "Enjoy your place in my story," says God.

May we become unwilling victims and become grateful participants.

If a good story is about character change, then the point of life is transformation.

Humans are alive for the point of a journey.

What is the point of the search? Does the search create the transformation?

Part II A Character

Creating character is about transformation. A story should transform a character.
It is impossible to not change--the actual physical body transforms-cell wise/regeneration--every six months.
We are designed to live through something rather than to attain and collect.

The thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of story.
When you're a better character, you live a better story.

A character is what she does--not what she thinks and feels.

Imagination enhances life--life enhances imagination.
If you want to be a good character--pay attention to the details. Create the details.

After more reading and emphasis on certain quotes, Mrs. F asks more questions which the students must answer: What do you do on a daily basis?

What do you spend your money on? What you spend your money on is what directs your life.

Students take time to answer the questions. Then more quotes. Hands raise. I watch and listen from the corner of the classroom while students sort this all out in their own minds and with each other--on the last day of sitting in the little desk where they've sat for what seemed like it would be forever--at the beginning of the year.

Part III The Journey

A great life requires us to face our greatest fears with courage.

We're unwilling to embrace the hard things we are living among now.

God is the master storyteller: he understands conflict and growth.

What creates a better story: risk and sacrifice.

A good story is someone who overcomes an obstacle.

And then the ultimate questions: What differentiates a good story from a great story?

Music obeys form and structure. Obeying the form and structure of life is inherent to a good life too.

Like good writing, you can edit your life.

The story is about relationships.

The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.

A story is based on what we think is important.

The trying is more important that succeeding.

Telling a better story sounds great--but we resist when we realize it takes work.

Joy costs pain.

What are your inciting incidents?

Human design is for comfort and stability, but instead, we need inciting incidences --an inciting incident may solely be "getting off the couch."

Fear is a manipulative emotion that can make our life boring. Fear is not only a guide to keep us safe.

Part IV The Crossing

Great stories go to the characters who won't give into fear.

Ambition creates fear but it also creates the story.

Great stories are not ambiguous.

Are our stories being stolen by the ease of life?

There is no conflict man cannot endure.

A really great story invites people into the story.

Go to the extra effort to make a scene memorable.

Trying hard is better than trying easy.

What is the difficult think I want to obtain?

Stories empty like a stomach and need to be filled again. Our need for stories is constant.

Mrs. F reads a story from the book, about a man who lives in a town that doesn't celebrate New Year's Eve. He starts a parade, but as people come to observe, he insists they become part of the spectacle--there are no bystanders allowed. Everyone must participate in the parade.

Your life is a blank page--just start writing!!

Be a part of the parade.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

One Slight Distraction

Graduation. It happened. It was amazing. The valedictorian sounded like a seasoned president; the salutatorian spoke like a high school Oprah Winfrey.  The closing song was a choir, symphony, organ, rendition of Come Thou Font of Every Blessing leaving the audience wanting more. With less than a 100 seniors, the calling-of-names, diploma handing, cheezy photo-op with the principal, it didn't last forever. It went way too fast. So did the year, so did our time together. So goes life, like the flash of a camera.

There was only one minor snag: a prank, and it was hardly noticed. It came from our star-dissident pupil. The one I had to pray over, ignore his drawing on the board, hope to uplift, and eventually not worry about. One's fate is in one's own hand--and the sooner you give it to an 18 year old, the better. In the nano-seconds after he received his diploma, he pulled a trigger that inflated his gown, as in cap and gown. One minute he was the skinny high school nuisance, and the next he was Fat Albert.

The director grimaced, the academic VP ignored, and unfortunately for the boy-who-craved-attention, the audience missed the subtlety of his well-timed prank. It took me a second to realize what had happened and it wasn't that powerful of a gesture...but this morning every time I see him inflate in my mind's eye, I giggle, laugh, and giggle again.

Kudos to him, for reaffirming what he's proven over the last nine months-- he'd be the first man voted off the island.

Then why am I laughing? Because he's a kid, and science has shown that the pre-frontal cortex (the brain's decision making center), in teenagers isn't fully developed and won't be for a few more years. He was acting like a kid, a teenager, the demographic with outrageous insurance driving rates, and with statistics that prove they are most likely to incur injuries and even die from accidents--they miscalculate, assume invincibility, and jump. Into shallow ponds.

This is why it's easy to laugh at a prank that pumped air into his graduation gown. The consequences were fleeting, the notice was almost nil, and I'm thankful I can replay the moment when he doubled his size.

If I could, if it mattered, if he even had a sniff of possibly valuing what I said, I would thank him for choosing wisely in his moment of glory.

And possibly...our jokester wouldn't get voted off the island--he may be just what we needed, what I needed the entire school year--the harder the journey, the greater the moment of arrival.

Chuckle, chuckle. I have the best job in the world. I can't wait for next year's seniors.


Friday, May 26, 2017

The Modeling Agency

My cell phone rings...should I risk answering?

It's a no-name call. An unrecognizable number.

I answer.

"Hi. Is this Mrs. Martinez?"

"Who's calling please?"

"Is this Mrs. Martinez?"

This is my phone and this person called me; the least he can do is answer MY question. I don't back down. "Who's calling please." My voice takes on a bit firmer tone and it's no longer a question but an imperative.

The solicitor gives in, "This is the Royal Modeling Agency. I'm calling to see if you received our flyer."

Click, click, click, go the cogs in my brain. Modeling agency? I grew up practically down the street from the Lenz Modeling Agency which advertised and even had free introductory classes. But, at my age...this is ridiculous, and I'm going to use this to my advantage with this nice phone solicitor.

"I'm almost sixty years old (an exaggeration by a few years-ha vanity!), and I'm really not interested. But,"

The man who's interrupted my day starts laughing, "We're a RE-modeling company and we're offering a special." He keeps laughing.

Which triggers my laugh, and the phone solicitor is no longer the enemy. But still, "I don't need remodeling, so thank-you, and goodbye.

In the days before caller ID, even answering machines, when phone solicitations were more frequent than phone calls from the neighbor wanting to borrow eggs, my dad figured out a way to deal with the incessant calls for credit card offers.

Phone solicitor: "Hello Sir, this is John from the Apex credit card company. We are offering an introductory rate with just an 11.9 % APR. Are you interested in applying for our card? Free first month interest?"

"Yes," Dad responded.

The inquiry continued, but not for long. The minute Dad could, he interjected how he needed the credit cards because he just got out of jail, and couldn't yet find a job. The enthusiasm ceased on the other end of the line.

"What were you in jail for?"

"Credit card fraud."

The phone call always ended.

In time, those land-line phone solicitations ended because everyone started screening their calls.

Then came the cell phone, and we had a reprieve. When it rang, I knew who it was. The public was under the erroneous assumption that no one had access to cell phone numbers. Maybe for a while they didn't, but that a while, didn't last long.

It used to be the door-to-door salesman who interrupted our mother's lives. Mom bought our beloved encyclopedias from a man who rang the doorbell. She also bought a set of illustrated Bible stories. She didn't have a car, and she probably welcomed the interruption to her day and the chance to bargain with the vacuum salesman,  the Fuller brush man, and the Avon lady.

Then people stopped answering their doors.

Then came the in-house parties scheduled by a sales-woman, or sales-man friend. A bricklayer in Texas told me if he drove by a house mid-day, and it was surrounded by suburbans and station wagons, it was surely a Tupperware party.

Then the station wagons disappeared.

The ultimate right is privacy. The ultimate right is free enterprise. What happens when they clash? When one is a nuisance to the other? When they work together, free enterprise will figure out how to maintain privacy, and free enterprise will follow on its heels with the code to enter.

Until another genius comes along and figures out how to eliminate cell phone solicitations-- beware the modeling agency.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A New Normal

It was an adventurous week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was just another week...that included toddlers, teenagers, more responsibility than usual.

Eight periods of listening to and judging seniors' Last Lectures, then driving to help care for two toddlers, a tween, a teenager, and a worn out Tony.

A few weeks later, waking up in my own home, things back to normal, I can look back to evaluate, reminisce, and feel gratitude that my normal was only delayed by a week.

Sometimes the return to normal never happens. It disappears when a driver fails to stop at a red light, when a baby is born, or when a medical test comes back positive.

This is when life orders a new normal.

I had never thought of normals as mutable until a wise friend described the new normal after she got cancer. She didn't want the abundance and joy of life to change---but it had, so, she changed her expectations.

She couldn't expect to have her regular hair appointment for awhile, or even have hair.

She couldn't expect to pop out of bed with her regular call to "Charge!"

She couldn't enjoy the taste of macaroni and cheese, or apples, or homemade bread for awhile without losing her stomach.


she could enjoy the new normal of wearing fun hats and scarves;
she could enjoy the contemplation of bed rest and the gratitude of those who cared for her;
she could look forward to the day when her appetite would return;

she could enjoy the new normal because she shifted her expectations.

Twenty years later, cancer in remission, even long gone, she's facing a new normal:

Her husband's failing health, her own slowing down, her diminishing ability to hear.

Her new normal is gratitude for the days her husband gets out of bed.
Gratitude for her growing grandchildren.
Gratitude for her own attentive children who have cared for their father as never before.

~~~Last night, as Tony and I were sitting at the bank, notarizing and buying EUs, I noticed the details in his face were vanishing. He was fading, or rather my eyesight is fading. My new normal, to which adaptation is really quite easy, includes the more frequent wearing of eyeglasses, or a new life metaphor. English teacher that I am, the new metaphor brings a smile as I contemplate this new normal.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

From a Hostage's Perspective

That our terrorism-simulation final fell on the morning after  the Manchester terrorist attack was a poignant tragedy, and a reminder that terrorism's goal to terrorize, is unpredictable and terrorizing. Yet, the odds of being in an attack are almost negligible--which brings no comfort to people who have experienced otherwise.

My learning objective for the simulation was for students to use critical thinking skills--and they did. Contrary to what images terrorist-simulation may evoke, it was a role-play that was also intended to bring understanding to complicated issues of nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and negotiation.

The simulation results were open-ended, but at the end, the students felt it was pointed--only because, I believe, they are extraordinary people whose possibly unconscious desires were to preserve life--even those playing the terrorists.

The simulation was created by two men who'd known what they were doing. Terrell Arnold was a one time consultant on terrorism and crisis management to the Department of State, and a former senior foreign service officer who had served in the Middle East.

The second creator brought a more interesting perspective to the simulation: Moorhead Kennedy was an economic analyst in 1979 when angry students stormed the Tehran Embassy and held hostages for 444 days. Instead of bitterness towards the Iranians, he sought and came through the experience with a deeper understanding of political helplessness, and his own role (along with his country's) failure in dealing with foreign entities.

Hence, now my students had a chance to experience in a very surface way, all the complications of international relations--and as previously mentioned, the terrorists reduced their demands and the president and his cabinet softened foreign policy to negotiate the captive's lives.

In the debriefing and Socratic discussion following the simulation, we took Kennedy's further writings to deepen our understanding of this terrorism conflict that is still with us.

We began with the roots of the Iranian crisis: the Shah of Iran has been in power for 30 years with the support of the United States. This friendship supports our oil and business interests and keeps our fist in the middle of a volatile area. Over time, amidst opposition and a growing tide of religious fanaticism, the Shah evolves into a despot. His creation of the secret police SAVAK, furthers his unrighteous rule. In part, the great unshared, unequally distributed wealth from oil revenue is the problem. The Shah's wealth and lavish lifestyle when people are still illiterate, when the infrastructure lacks amid abundance, it all causes discontent. Discontent (and a lot of other factors),created a schism for Ayatollah Khomeini and....chaos. The Shah's life was in danger and it was the US that brought him to safety in America.

First diplomatic problem the students must relate to: what are the obligations to America's allies and friends? What happens when those friends turn into dictators?

Festering anger and protest drove students to storm the embassy in November of 1979 and take the hostages. They wanted the Shah to be accountable for his crimes, they wanted America to return him. Fifty two hostages was their bartering power. History teaches us not one life was lost and all hostages  were eventually returned---but never the same.

The students' simulation result mimicked what had happened in Iran 37 years earlier.

An especially haunting prediction came from Mr. Kennedy: the copyright of his book, The Ayatollah in the Cathedral, was written in 1986--he predicted terrorism would be with us for at least another decade. Three decades later...

With the fake-experience under their belt, with just a little bit of understanding, they would now listen to some of Mr. Kennedy's advice.

1. Travel. Learn and know about other people's cultures, sufferings, and triumphs. In travel comes compassion and understanding of the human family.
2. Parts of the world disdain our country's dominance and success. It is important to let people see that actual people represent the "America," they categorize as an entity void of people who feel, laugh, and suffer as they do.

And a few thoughts from the teacher:

3. Never has a greater responsibility rested with Americans to be good representatives of their country than in this century. Great blessings require humility and respect of others.
4. Acknowledge the shortcomings and mistakes of our country's past--it doesn't diminish from its greatness--greatness comes from learning from the hard-to-reconcile past if we implement it into the present and the future. Mistakes can be a catalyst to greatness.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


This year is Mom's 80th birthday year. She doesn't turn 80 until December 21st, but in her habit of living large, she's declared the entire year her birthday celebration~~and she's sharing all the fun.

So in September, we will gather with all her granddaughters for a pre-December extravaganza, and the question came up, What's Grandma's favorite cake?

We all knew she loved cookies, but when it came to cake, we were a bit stumped.

The first suggestion came from my sister who said, "I think it's German chocolate or sponge cake."

When I read her response, I laughed. I almost couldn't believe it. For German chocolate cake is my sister's favorite cake; sponge cake was our dad's. Yes, Mom made those cake annually for their birthdays, so my sister erroneously assumed.

The next suggestion was "ice cream cake."

It came from Mandi, another granddaughter. Again I was stunned, because I happened to know ice cream cake is Mandi's favorite, and for Mandi's birthday in March, Grandma ordered an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins.

I felt a little sad I couldn't definitively name my own mother's favorite cake, but I had a hunch.

I called Mom. "My neighbor made the best carrot cake, should I get the recipe?"

Though we were speaking on the phone and a thousand miles apart, I could see her leap from the couch. "I love carrot cake. It's my favorite."

The mystery was solved, but not without some amusing conclusions.

1. Projection. Not a bad thing, but the things we love, we project and assume to be everyone else's favorite too. It's why I'm always surprised when Jillian says she hates something and I respond, "No you love it." She really doesn't; I'm the one who loves it, and I have to be reminded even after 20 years of her reminders.

2. Cake is trivial. But be aware of the more important likes and dislikes of loved ones.

3. One year is not enough time to celebrate. Hence, life should be a continual celebration of all things good.

4. What are you doing for your mom's birthday this year? Do you know her favorite cake? If you are no longer blessed with the presence of your mom, find someone else to be the recipient of your child-self love and devotion to Mom.

5. Be the kind of Mom, or person, that deserves a conversation about the cake you love.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pass The Torch

I slip into a pew at the back of the church. The church is full, and the predominant color is black. I search for my friend and her family, and recognize the backs of their heads. How familiar they still are when I cannot see their faces.

We are gathered together to mourn the loss and to celebrate the life of Jean--a woman I hardly knew except that she was my friend's mother. Even though she was in her eighties, her death is a shock. She was a vibrant lady who'd played her weekly golf game a few days earlier.

Jean's life's ambition was to do three good deeds a day, and she impressed upon her grandchildren to do the same, not only by suggesting it many times, but in doing it herself. The five grandchildren who spoke mentioned her aphorism "Do three good turns a day," and all could recall a story of receiving a "good turn," or being with Grandma when she did a "good turn."

She passed out bushels of apples from her orchard; she made phone calls and connected to the disconnected everyday. She refused to use a cell phone, which often put her on the doorsteps of strangers asking to use their phone. After one of these encounters, she spent the next hour warming the heart of a downtrodden woman.

Grandma Jean reached out to so many people, loving them, cooking them breakfast, attending their sports events, calling to check on them,--one grandchild wonders how the world will go on...but Grandma Jean accounted for that, intentionally or not.

By her life's example, she is an inspiration; not one person could leave the funeral without wanting to serve more, love more, live more. Her good example is clearly a torch in need of other strong hands to bear the weight.

When another friend's mother died unexpectedly, she promised her nieces and nephews she would carry on their grandmother's Christmas traditions she'd brought from Germany as a young girl. The advent calendar, the stollen, the cookies, the lighting of the tree. Her job, her torch to carry, was clearly defined.

Grandma Jean's torch is not so specific.

It's as if the world is supported by Greek columns: the Doric, the scrolled Ionic and the Corinthian. If one column collapses, thirty people must rush in to hold up that square foot of the world. Jean's work was the work of many. She was a stable column, a torch bearer, a care bear, yet 300 people heard her legacy and we now know there will be a sagging part of the world if we don't rush in to hold it up.

Reach out your hand--a torch has been passed.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Graduation 1949/2017

We gather for brunch (chez moi) with four young women who've been part of our advanced placement literature and language composition class. It's a special group of students who love literature and language, and who were willing to push themselves academically.

We've had a great year. We read Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre; a myriad of short stories, and the poetry of Milton, Shakespeare, Yeats. They wrote essays--boy did they write essays. They looked for literary terms and searched for universal truths within the imagery, the diction, the tone, the structure. They read to understand logical fallacies, to discover the ethos, pathos and logos in time-tested communication.

The class culminates in two nationally administered tests. On both May 3rd and May 10th, they answered 55 multiple choice questions and wrote three essays to demonstrate their understanding of literature and the nuances of rhetoric. We won't know their test scores until mid-July, when hopefully they can apply their high scores to college credit classes.

Once the test is over? It's party time: reading Pablo Neruda just for fun; gleaning Free Fruit for Young Widows, just for the profound life lessons...and brunch on the regularly scheduled final, because it would be cruel to give them another final after the AP tests.

Yuri has brought an insulated bag full of crab, salmon, vegetables to make sushi. She has a portable rice container with sticky, flavorful rice. I am the crepe maker and Sarah helps me cut up strawberries, bananas, and squeezes the lemon juice.

Deb has brought beautifully wrapped presents: books. She scoured the used book store for antique classic treasures. She even brought a new edition of The Great Gatsby, stamped with the coveted Paris Shakespeare book store quatre corner from Notre Dame. It's for Jocy who adores F Scott Fitzgerald's iconic, tragic hero.

As the girls open their classics and ooh and ahh, I ask for a closer look at a beautiful, old Wuthering Heights. Except for the dated cover, it could be new; I suspect it's never been read, but the owner did leave a piece of her past within the pages. When I pull it out and open it, I gasp~!

"You're not going to believe this!" I exclaim to the girls. The moment is pure serendipity. The paper has been folded and hidden for 67 years. It reads: Graduation Requirements June 1949- a mimeographed list of instructions. Perhaps the book was a graduation present.

We are in a circle on the floor. I place the copy in the middle of the six of us. We bend over and twist to see how graduation requirements might have changed for these modern women.

Indeed it has. Their graduation requirement list will not mandate that:

*Hair should not be visible on forehead
*Girls must wear starched collars which must be basted to the neck of gown
*Length of gown:should be anywhere from 6 inches to 14 inches from the floor
* (caps gowns) will be turned in to the checkers in the Barn and the Student Body Office

On the eve of graduation, that we have found a young girl's graduation requirements in a book---is lusciously coincidental.


I have always loved margin annotations. I have always loved surprise notes left in between the pages. Love notes, a poem, even a to-do list. I've decided to personalize my bookmarks~~ and hope that someday~~50-100 years from now, someone will open a book I once owned, and squeal, "Look what I found!"

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Simple Thought

It started with memories and wanting to share.

Memories are like a train. Each car connected to the next, pulled by the engine and followed by the caboose. But sometimes, we lose our train of thought; the train cars unhitch and are diverted to a different track leading to a different destination. Mom wanted to keep her memories, record them, send them to her daughters and granddaughters. Mom's memories have become a file in each of our emails.

She started with the memories of Dad, then skipped to parents, her grandparents. Her college studies. When the brightest of memories faded, she moved on to different themes: cars, travel, special occasions.

 As Mom's memories were counted and checked off, the weekly Sunday emails transformed into Mom's ruminations. The blessings of granddaughters. Birthdays. Then a niece unexpectedly died, so she shared her thoughts on the precious, fleeting nature of life.

As the weeks passed, as I've read her thoughts, I've noticed they always include and conclude with gratitude.

Yesterday, in a group of friends, we asked each other, "What's the secret to a good life?"

When it was my turn, I paused--because to reveal the secret of life requires thought. After fifteen seconds of waiting for the right answer it came: gratitude.

Almost 80 years of life later, Mom is an example of having found the secret to a good life and then she made good use of that secret. Gratitude is at the core of her train of memories.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Will You Remember Us?

It's amusement park day for the seniors, which means, only four seniors are sitting in class while the others are braving roller coasters, frozen bananas on a stick, and unexpected cold weather.

Students are supposed to be doing make-up work, but the atmosphere turns casual. It's difficult to stay serious with four, when the other twenty are far from the classroom.

One student asks if one day I will accompany her and a few other students to Paris.

"Of course!" We can make it happen.

"But will you remember us?"

"Of course."

The crowd still looks dubious.

As their teacher at the eleventh hour, I still feel the need to convince them.

"I'm still friends with the grocery store manager who was one of my ninth graders eight years ago," I tell them. He shows me photos of his wife, his beautiful daughter, and when I asked him if he still hated writing, he responded that he writes poetry now. And lyrics. A coup.

Young faces flash before my eyes: the resistant, the sponges, the jokers, the kind. Students I have loved.

Then one of the four reminds me of limited teacher capacities, "I remember once an old student came in and you and Ms. F didn't know who he was."

Ouch. This seems impossible. She is proof that it isn't.

Because, we can't connect to everyone. But to some we connect and I share with the four, a connection to bolster their hope, that they won't be forgotten.

We had a student. A kind, sensitive, bright young man who is plagued with choices that seem unfair. They tumble him as if he were a wet pair of sneakers thrown in the dryer. The bumps are loud and we wonder if sneakers even belong in the dryer.

I saw the young man, and then a day later, I felt an impression: I needed to tell him I loved him. I needed to thank him for being who he was. Only through a Twitter direct message--the way we stay in contact.

The impression was important enough that it came again. And because former teachers hesitate to tell students they love their students, the impression had to come again.

So I tell the students, "We don't forget you, we don't stop caring about you. Just last night, I wrote to a student to tell him I loved him. I could never have imagined a year ago, that a year later I would feel this need."

They're quiet, perhaps surprised, even worried that I'll send them a message a year from now.

"And you know what? He needed to hear that message, and he wrote back how much it meant to him at a difficult time in his life."

No, we don't forget those who need to be remembered--I hope. I hope and pray.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Step Inside

Almost a year and a half ago, the stars aligned and convinced me to become a vegetarian.

A few of the stars were:

1. My daughter's experience with  flesh in the anatomy lab.
2. Three students I admired who were dedicated vegans because they truly cared about animals, and they were some of the sharpest and kindest people I knew.
3. Having read such books as The China Study, Diet for a Small Planet, and listening to and reading the words of health advocates.
4. I'd never been much of a meat eater; I'd never liked hamburgers, was repulsed by chicken, but still loved a filet mignon.

Given the infrequency of a filet mignon on my plate and the exorbitant cost, it was easy to abandon meat..

So it's with a minimal amount of pride (when I meet up with any one of the three students), that I always mention, "I've been a vegetarian for a year and a half now."

I anxiously anticipate their approval and affirmative head nodding, which usually ends with a "Wow," or a "Good for you."

 I must admit that I bring the subject  up because I enjoy their accolades and respect for adopting their enlightened way of life--you know how teenagers are! The conversation usually ends with "We'll have to go to lunch. I know a great vegan restaurant."

I saw one of the above-mentioned students yesterday, and again, I bring up my enduring vegetarian lifestyle expecting the usual accolades and comradeship in a world that "Needs to be enlightened."

But things have changed.

My cheery heart sinks just a little when I hear, "Oh, I'm no longer a vegetarian."

"What happened?" I ask trying to mask the disappointment I feel.

Nothing definitive, he just changed.

Change is good. Change is a privilege.

I can't foresee the day when I'll eat meat again, but it is possible, so disappointment changes to curiosity, to support, and then to wonder. Wonder at what piece of meat could have enticed such a change in my young friend. Imagining a glorious fresh caught, freshly filet-ed piece of salmon from the wild rivers of Alaska, or an adventure when he ran out of food and had to slay a rabbit for life-sustaining sustenance, I ask, "What did you break your vegetarianism with?"

"Chicken nuggets."

I am speechless.

 "My dad changed too."

"And what was his enticement to the carnivore world?"

"A hamburger and a hot dog, all in the same day."

"Did he get sick?"

He laughs, "No."

Then as if to let me know my eating habits are no longer esteemed, he adds that the purist of the group, is no longer vegan.

"But still a vegetarian?"

"Yes." He laughs, indicating that maybe she's gone rogue too, but he's keeping it secret as to spare me from further shock and suffering.

But, what would the shock and suffering come from?

Judgment. My judgment.

What if we wiped judgment like we wipe mud from the bottom of our boots on the doormat--before we step inside.

When we truly step inside each other's minds and hearts, leaving judgment outside, enlightenment arises. Relationships become rewards. Ideas are sparked, and we are motivated to become more than we are. When we step inside without judgment, we step into sanctuary. We enter into the warmth or the comfort of air conditioning. We remove a coat, or layers that keep us bundled and distant.

A young man gave a powerful message when he admitted how he thought everyone  was judgmental and foolish... until he realized he was the one who was judgmental and foolish.

Then he could step inside.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Just What I Needed

Senior prank day. Who started this tradition?

Eight years ago, seniors broke into the school and filled thousands of dixie cups with water and placed them in every square inch of the common areas. It was a shock walking in and discovering the mined floor. Everyone got to work emptying cups. It was kind of mind boggling, kind of sweet.

But they'd taken the prank just one step too far and broken into the headmaster's office and laced it with underwear. The headmaster was more concerned about the private documents in his office than the underwear---or was he?

So this year when the mumblings of senior prank began, I held my breath. Hoped their enthusiasm would wither like it does with end of year assignments. They seemed to get creative as the days loomed closer.

Each senior English/history class decided they would create their own prank.

One of my classes decided to build a blanket fort in the main hallway.

They had spoken so openly in class, I thought each prank was already sanctioned by administration. Maybe they just trusted me or took me for a fool. As soon as class began, they were off! Dashing out of the school to their cars, to bring in a tent, blankets, stuffed animals and pajamas!

As they enthusiastically began to patch, string up, and create, a thought came to mind.

"Did you get permission for this?"

The previous class had played loud music from the in-class phone-intercom system. I heard the director was furious since students were still testing. Oops. My room. The responsible teacher had faltered.

When the answer was "Yes," I believed the little darlings. Paranoid from the previous prank's interruption, I went to administration just to be safe.

"Who did they get permission from?" the academic advisor asked.

Oops. I called the director; she answered: "My concern is if the fire marshal came; is it obstructing any doors?"

I didn't think so, but I told her I'd give them ten more minutes. But they hadn't finished and hadn't had a chance to enjoy their daring creativity.

Feeling like a traitor, I went to the next level. I needed someone to see it and okay it. I needed support. The operations officer's door was open. She was in a good mood and came out to see the fort. She smiled.

I relaxed. We let them have their fun.

When the bell rang, the younger students gathered in the main hallway to gawk with surprise. I was left to stand guard next to the sign that said "Seniors Only."

I knew it was all worth it, when a middle school student, gawky, braces, gold colored polo shirt that flatters no one, stood beside me, in her tense days before finals and sighed with relief, "This just makes me happy."

I turned to acknowledge her happy state all the while thinking of my own panic and reserve. "Can you tell me why?" I pleaded.

She shrugs her shoulders and says, "I don't know; it's just what I needed to day."

And she is just what I needed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Things Fall Apart, Things Come Together

I can't think of the phrase things fall apart, without thinking of Chinua Achebe's Nigerian novel with the same title.

Things do fall apart--not just African tribes, but tangible, organic and inorganic objects. An unused muscle will atrophy, dead roses will turn to compost, bikes at the beach will tarnish with rust, the Roman Empire fell. Eventually. Motors quit, tires wear, vertebrae lose their cushions--and we become little old men and women.

But...things do come together, and when we are a part of the miracle, we know it to be true.

When I learned about the No Border school in Athens, created for the refugee children who washed up on shore and didn't have an opportunity for schooling---energy, love, and concern came together. People came together and created a school that knew no borders. When I learned about it, I wanted to help it come together too. I'll be teaching teachers for just one night, but one night may help just enough.

When a math teacher colleague learned where I was going, he asked if I wanted to take a brand new box of math curriculum to the No Border School. I'm not sure how I will cart it all the way to Athens, but I have faith it will come together.

When a group of students learned about Kara Tepe refugee camp, they came together to earn money for a needy situation.

We are in the last days of high school with our seniors. We gathered the seniors and juniors together for a spontaneous question and answer session concerning the senior project. The conversation evolved from the capstone to their last lecture writing. After a year of sometimes-resistance to assignments and learning, our seniors testified how the year's learning had prepared them for this final assignment. They gave high regards to the beginning-of-the-year essay-a-day; they even saw the value in the poetry unit and how it helped them with choosing details and making careful word choices.

It was a clear reminder that things do, eventually come together.

Friends forgive, children return home, Nazi-stolen artwork is recovered; even ISIS is losing ground in Iraq. We can't lose hope or focus. Persistence in the mundane and the most dire of circumstances is a must. Hang on, hold on, after things fall apart, things come together.

Monday, May 15, 2017

It Wasn't Quite Right

I got a glimpse of how a despot may come to power, and it was only through the dynamic presentation of a teenager. Let me reiterate the word: dynamic.

He or she, because it doesn't matter which (despotic power is not immune to gender-though I believe a she may do it more gently), gave their speech with the roar of a lion. The lion pounced to the front of the class and held its classmates in the stance of silence. His voice commanded attention. Her direct look into our eyes demanded rapt attention. When our speaker closed with a clever, power punching thrust, the room fell silent with respect and awe.

A student couldn't help but utter, "Now that speech will make it into the top ten finalists."

I too walked away thinking  I had been among greatness--then why didn't it feel very good?

We adults gathered in a private corner of the school.

"That was great," I said, "but why didn't I like it?"

Mr. V, the young teacher of Chinese, looked sick to his stomach, "I couldn't figure out what he was saying in the middle of his speech. The end was great though."

There were a few other nit picky reasons to eliminate the essay. It was gone from the list of viable contenders.

But, it haunted me in the night, enough to wake up the next morningwith the speech on my mind. Had we been fair in dismissing it without reading? I needed to get my eyes on that speech; the written words would reveal the truth.

I read it slowly. I absorbed. Some of the writing was as eloquent and well delivered as the speech. Still, the nagging discomfort. I needed a new pair of eyes. Tony.

With no preface, I asked him to read it and tell me what he thought.

"It's good."

But he wasn't moved. He had that same uneasy look as Mr. V.

I stayed quiet and waited for him to process the information and articulate what was wrong, what made him uneasy.

"She makes a discovery, and then she dismisses the discovery about learning, only in the end to say that is the way to learn."

"Thank you, you nailed it."

I hurried back to the computer screen to study the essay further. Once I understood its inherent flaw, that it was indeed flawed, I could easily see the other fallacies in the writing. The paper actually espoused some grave misperceptions about learning.

Yet, we had all been captivated by the bravado, the confidence, but something just didn't feel right...and it wasn't.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day

On the eve of Mother's Day, I find my self standing in line at a cookie store next to a young mother I don't recognize, until she calls out my name.

"Megan!" She is visibly pregnant, and I learn that in three days she will be giving birth to twin daughters.

A lump in my chest forms every time I think of her. I am overwhelmed for her.

On this sacred day set aside to honor mothers, she has become my poster-child for everything this day embodies.

I see her, the discomfort her enlarged stomach testifies of, her willingness, even joy to bring forth--children. It's a brave thing to ride the motherhood train clear to the end when there are so many stops along the way.

Without mothers, there would be nothing. Literally. Life would stop.

Hence, it somewhat puzzles me that missing from the Christian narrative is the story of Mother.

I truly believe without a Heavenly Mother, there would be nothing.

Life on earth follows the pattern of God's glory. The ideal Christian life is composed of a father, mother, and children, brought together by the sanctity of God, or Father in Heaven. We live this life in preparation for eternal life where we are promised the joy of eternal family and associations.

Heavenly Mother cannot, absolutely cannot, be missing from the heavenly family equation written in our hearts, practiced on earth, life perpetual impossible without that mother.

~~It is on earth as it is in heaven.~~

~~Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.~~

My own religion acknowledges her existence no more profoundly than in a hymn we sing with regularity. Eliza R Snow wrote 173 years ago: In the heavens, are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare; truth is reason--truth eternal, tells me I've a mother there.

Yet, why is she seemingly absent from the Christian narrative?

Traveling as a teenager, in yet another long airport layover, I met a travel-seasoned American man who worked in Saudi Arabia. He opened his passport like a magician and a tumble of extended pages rolled out, each page stamped with countries of admittance.  Having recently earned my own driver's license before leaving the states, I asked him why women couldn't drive in Saudi Arabia.

His response was genuine. "The Saudis so revere their women that they cannot allow them to drive. What if they got into a car accident? What if they had to go to court? Saudi women are above such reproach."

His statement has stayed with me for forty years, yet it is not a complete answer. There has to be more of an answer than a comparable practice in the culture of an Islamic society.

The images that clarify the possibilities come from the memories of my own experiences.

I sit behind the child we are helping learn to walk. My hands are firmly planted around her waist, until she is ready to venture out. She takes her first step. My grip loosens. She takes her second; my hands slip away. She takes two steps forward. I am right behind her waiting to soften her fall.

I am behind the child on the bike without training wheels. We just unscrewed them and walked the bike to the open road. She sits on the seat-it wobbles, but I am behind her steadying, keeping her balanced. I am there. I push her off, let go-- she's riding the bike--if only for two seconds, so I am right there to steady her way...again, and again. Always behind, always ready. She will only see me if she stops to turn around. But she can't look back; it's not in the nature of learning to ride a bike.

My child insists on walking to school alone for the first time. It isn't far, but I can't let her go all alone. So I stay behind, just enough to see her to safety, just enough so she won't know I'm there.

My mother's heart is an inherent part of who I am; it is inherited. I know she is there, behind me, even holding on and guiding me. That she is missing from our prayers, our regular religious discourse, from the paintings of a loving Father in Heaven and his son...her absence leaves a void that tightens my heart with an ache and a longing, but a clear affirmation of her existence.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wisdom From Babes

At the end of the school year, our seniors write and present a Last Lecture speech. It came about after I found a small heartfelt book written by Professor Randy Pausch, who after he was afflicted with cancer, gave a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

This is our fifth year of all seniors presenting a last lecture in their classrooms. From the classroom presentations, ten finalists are chosen to present their speeches at the end of year, Last Lecture essay contest. Students don't know who will be chosen--it's a television game show kind of atmosphere--the  New Price is Right kind of feeling--students' names are called, and they run to the pulpit to dole out wisdom to underclassmen.

The fifth year effect of seniors' reflections and wisdom has been cumulative. There is an unprecedented level of excitement, engagement; alchemy is brewing. Many seniors have written double digit drafts. The wisdom in their words has been impressive, heartfelt, even overwhelming.

As I listened, I scribbled down notes from their insights. So impressed by some of the aphorisms, I would approach a student and ask if the thought was original, "Yes, I came up with that," or "It took me an hour to craft that one line."

After one poignant, resounding essay, I was so impressed, I jumped up like a preacher filled with fire and brimstone calls to repentance, to tell the class how much I had learned from them and how I longed to learn more.

How I wish I could share all of the essays. Here are a few snippets from our seventeen and eighteen year-olds' wisdom-filled essays :

"Even though the truth hurts, I don’t have to let the truth hurt me."

"Weakness is like a thought, no one else can tell you what it is, no one can see it."

"Perfection is procrastination in disguise."

"Greatness is the ability to overcome the normality of not trying."

"Your world is only as cold as you make it. I nearly froze myself to death; all those (negative) things I thought about my peers, was me."

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dining Alone

"The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal." CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 1949

I had somewhat taken the family meal, complete with laughter, taste comparisons, and stories, for granted. I'd grown up in a family, had a large extended family and most of the time our gatherings revolved around meals. Even now we gather for Sunday afternoon dinners. Even our funerals end with a meal. 

Years ago, on a solo trip to New York, I became aware of how much the enjoyment of my meals depended on company. For the first time, I was eating out consistently and alone. Sure, there were other people eating alone, but the contrast between the silent, book reading or phone tapping patrons, and the tables of merriment, were not so subtle. I wanted to join the big Italian family or the girls' night out.

The day came when I did return to New York with company. It started with two families and became three when my friend's sister and her husband the veterinarian, Dr. Pet, joined us from Boston. We were six adults and seven children eating pizza at a late night diner, waiters were combining tables, and yes we had laughter.

The Velvet Taco and family, Chicago Illinois, March 2017

However, the need to eat is more frequent than the availability of friends and family, so I've learned to enjoy, even saturate myself in the pleasures of solo dining. 

Requisite is gaining comfort in my aloneness. Eating alone doesn't mean I am friendless. Nor should I be self conscious while participating in what is usually a group activity.

Choosing the right table and immersing in the ambiance is another enjoyment factor. If dining alfresco, I try to choose a table front and center to sidewalk traffic, so I can people watch.

While waiting for food, I do like to have a task: making notes, mapping out a location, reading a pamphlet or an article, deep thinking.

Gratitude is at the foundation of every good meal. While gathered around the table at home, it's prayers before forks. It's a moment to pause and show gratitude for the abundant blessing of not going hungry. A chance to acknowledge God in so many aspects of life. Yet, I'm not often comfortable with outward prayer in public.It doesn't mean I don't pause and bow my head or not show gratitude for those who have made it possible to relax, eat, and not clean-up.

When the food arrives, I try not to make it a task to get through, but an enjoyable moment of celebrating taste, texture, and time. By myself.

 And...when food becomes the only company, make it worthwhile!
Mom, sister and I are eating at a fine restaurant. We dressed up for the occasion. At the table across from us is a woman, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, dining alone. Since this subject is on my mind, I glance in her direction every so often. She eats slow. She seems to enjoy each bite. She savors. She drinks. She doesn't appear to be conscious of eating alone. She's my hero.

Thursday, May 11, 2017


London and Paloma are in San Francisco riding on rented bikes for a SF adventure. They are climbing an arduous hill, standing up, hunched over, huffing and puffing. An older, large woman, whizzes past. Stupefied, they glance at each other.

When they reach the top of the hill, panting, they catch their breath.

Having assumed the superiority of their youth and fitness, they question if they're the ones who are really in shape compared to the obese woman whom they assumed wasn't. What was her secret? Does  physical fitness belie body appearance? Does obesity always equate lack of fitness?

The hill was a steep incline. They continue to ponder the possibilities. Was the woman riding an assisted bike? The bike with a motor? Mystery solved--they conclude that no other way could she have moved up that hill so easily.

~~A few years ago, Tony and I biked the Netherlands during tulip season. Glorious. Glorious. We also decided to take a ride to the coast from our barely-inland town. We were on separate bikes and for me, getting to the sea was an ordeal. It took two hours. Once there, we enjoyed the beauty, the sea breeze, a nice lunch.

When it was time to return, Tony shook his head and got to engineering work. It is customary for every bike in the Netherlands to have a rack and a few bungee cords to strap on a paper wrapped parcel of tulips, a loaf of fresh bread, or books. Tony finagled the bungee cords together. He attached the cords from his bike to mine. Yes, my husband was going to pull me back. And it worked. So well that we were the entertainment for half of Holland. The success of the adventure is measured in the time it took to return--one half hour.

Yes, it's humiliating. Students absolutely love the story.

So, we got a tandem bike. In Holland and when we returned home. But...Tony at the helm, has started to make me nervous. I hate to think it's related to age, but it probably is. Flying down those hills, the vulnerability on the back of the bike, unable to control the brakes, to control the possibility of a car turning unexpectedly, it just plain makes me nervous.

Let me introduce you to the woman with a power-assisted bike: me. Glorious. Glorious.

On our first ride together on separate bikes, it gave me great pleasure to pass Tony on the hills, to turn around and see him standing, hunched over, breathing heavy. Too bad we didn't have a few bungee cords.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The One

It's the annual school walk-a-thon, and at ten minutes to eight o'clock, Anni calls me for a last minute pledge.

"Of course I'll sponsor you. How about a dollar a lap?"

Her mother had predicted Anni could make between 15 and 20 laps in the 20 minute time.

I hear Anni's mother in the background telling her to, "Say thank-you."

Anni responds to my dollar-a-pledge, "That's what my teacher pledged."

I'm not sure if this is a disappointment or if the teacher is a rock star.

In the background, I hear Anni's mother Say again, "Tell her thank you."

But Anni doesn't.

"Sometimes," I tell Anni, "I do something really nice for my students, and only a few say thank-you out of the many. I really appreciate the students who express gratitude."

"Like Jesus and the ten lepers," she surprises me with her biblical wisdom, "only one came back to say thank you."

"Always be the one," I reply.

"Yeah," she says, "thank you," and then she's off to school.

Given that Jesus' messages were the very bread of life and often accompanied by miracles, one concept was important enough to be included among the promises of eternal life--the need to give thanks, to show gratitude, to acknowledge the giver, to simply say, "Thank-you."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project,
All your thoughts break their bonds.
Your mind transcends limitations,
Your consciousness expands in every direction,
And you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world.
Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive,
And you discover yourself to be a greater person by far
Than you ever dreamed yourself to be!~~Patanjali

 We gather in my kitchen on an unexpectedly cold, after-school, April afternoon. I have purchased over 200 eggs, eight bottles of Nutella, nine cans of whipping cream. We will multiply the crepe recipe by ten.

 I am joined by two students who will help make crepes into the night or until we're worn out, or until we reach at least 200 crepes.

Their company is delightful, but most of all the effort, the purpose of our effort is what brings delight.

Our high school seniors are required to complete a capstone project, a community service endeavor. We introduce the requirement at the end of their junior year and they have the summer and eight months of their senior year to complete the project.

Why then, do half of students still not know what to do until the fourth and final term?

Because they're kids. School is a place to learn, not a place to already have life, decision-making and organizational skills down to a tee. So in the April panic, we help the students choose a project. At this point administration is shaking their heads and there's a panic to fix, even drop the capstone conundrum. somehow always turns out, because this is how we learn, and some learn in the eleventh hour. Many learn the eleventh hour isn't the best time for execution--this is important.

As I listened to students make presentations, show photos, express feelings and pride, I was inspired.

If not for this capstone, how would I have known that Carter helped set up and take down the Moving Vietnam Memorial? How would I have known that he used the leftover lumber to build a small house for a US war veteran? How would I have known that Braydon started quilting with senior citizens? Started playing games with seniors on Saturday afternoon? Or would he have ever done it if not for the capstone? How would I have applauded Emma for holding after school yoga class every Friday and even when most often, no one came? How would I have known Max and Christian studied the effects of poverty and hunger when they held a canned food drive? How else could they have learned to encourage people to donate? How else would Kaitlyn and Shaun have learned how important blood donation is without running their own Red Cross sponsored blood drive? I am moved when I learn Sarah has been teaching special needs children how to swim since she was 14 years old.

And the young women who gathered at my home to make crepes? The next morning we sold 250 crepes in one half hour--proceeds designated for a refugee camp on the island of Lesvos Greece.

Keep the capstone! How else will we learn? How else will we learn about each other?

Monday, May 8, 2017


When I saw the flyer for the storytelling gathering, I was intrigued. Mom and I attended and enjoyed the company of once-strangers.

I applaud the woman who organized the event.

In the weeks following the gathering, I've been thinking about the formalized effort to gather people together to tell stories. It's a reflection of our 21st century disconnection from one another and our yearning to reconnect.

You see, my grandmother would never have thought to invite people to tell their stories, for they already did. On the porch, in the church foyer, around the quilting frames.

Mr. Shultz from down the street would mosey on over to Grandma's porch every night when the sun went down. They'd soon be joined by Mrs. Jones, the happy red-haired neighbor, and the renter in the back.

As a child, my mother's favorite place was under the quilting frames when the neighbor ladies gathered to quilt. Oh the stories she heard and repeated. How those stories got her in trouble when she repeated them to the neighbor lady who was the subject of one of those stories.

Almost everyday, Aunt Helen sat in the kitchen with Mrs. Wright over a cup of coffee. I loved my best friend's mother and her aunt, and will never forget the way Aunt Helen said my name with her Greek accent, "Patreeesha." They brought Val and me into their stories, their conversations, because there was time and the need to engage without realizing that need. It was just a way of life.

Busyness is as detrimental as lazy-ness.

It's that misperception of busyness that keeps us on a train track that never stops. But there are stops, and at each station are benches. We are meant to pause and to tell our stories.

My mother doesn't know her neighbors. My sister knows the neighbor on one side. When an acquaintance heard a child crying, he didn't try to find who it was, because he didn't know the families. He later learned the child was in an abusive situation.

I am most thankful to my friend Lisa, who texts us every Monday night to see who's hiking on Tuesday morning. I cherish those hikes not only for the exercise, but because it's storytelling time. Our one friend characterized the hike as "Manna to her soul."

Manna is the food miraculously supplied to the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. It was a forty year journey, and the Lord knew they needed sustenance.

He gave them manna, and they had to collect it everyday except the Sabbath.

Our relationships, our stories, are manna to one another. We must collect it six days a week, and double up for the seventh, to nourish our existence. Just as it was the Israelites' gift from God, so is our need to connect a gift from God.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Flow

At 7:45 a.m. Nikki will be at my house. I sit down at the computer to write. It's 7:05.

I have plenty of time, even though I'm still in my red flannel pajamas, and I haven't brushed my hair nor teeth.

At 7:44, my eye catches the digital clock at the top of my screen. EEEK!

I am completely bewildered as to how 40 minutes escaped my grasp.

I dash to throw on pants, shirt. I peer through the window--sure enough Nikki is waiting in the driveway.

At 7:47, I'm opening her car door.

There's no need to hide the truth from her. She'll just laugh.

 "You were in the flow," she does laugh, because she totally respects the blissful state.

"Yes, the flow," I answer with respect to our topic.

The flow is magnificent.

It's the unmistakeable total engagement in a task. It happens to Nikki on a long run. It happens to both of us while immersed in a good book, or when I sit down to write in the early afternoon, and when I stand up, the sun has set. We forget hunger, the laundry, and that we are under the auspices of time.

The flow is the best place to be--ever.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi couldn't agree more. The psychologist is the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, which introduces and analyzes the state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work, which Csikszentmihalyi coined as the flow.

This state is what helps us realize what makes a life worth living. The very things that joyfully possess our focus, are the things that make us happy.

I spot it in children immersed in a sandbox; I see it in students during writing time---and it's absolutely magical when the bell rings and they don't flinch or make a move--they're unmistakably in the flow.

The flow can be a communal effort- a discussion when questions are asked and the answers bring truth. It can be a brainstorming session when new ideas are groundbreaking. The flow can bring epiphany, and expressions of "Oh I get it," or "Ah ha."

When it does happen, it refuses the conformity of having been planned. Its origins are organic--it----just---happens. It's unmistakeable.

It's unmistakeable because the flow is magnificent, and very few things are magnificent.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Shoes on the Danube

I am almost finished reading Amos N. Guiora's book The Crime of Complicity, The Bystander in the Holocaust. On page 169 out of 205, he mentions Raoul Wallenberg. Even the mention of this selfless man brings a pain to my heart. Very few people know who he is.

Budapest Hungary didn't start deporting and mass killing its Jewish population until March 1944--very late in the Holocaust tragedy, less than three months before the Americans, English, Canadians, Australians and the allied forces landed at Normandy. The war was essentially over, the Germans had lost; the last minute killing was as senseless as all of it. But it still happened, and it was madness.

Hungary had joined the axis powers but had maintained a certain autonomy that allowed a lesser degree of Jewish persecution, but when Germany invaded in March 1944, Adolf Eichmann visited Budapest himself to make sure the final solution was implemented. After all, Hungary was behind schedule. The Hungarian Fascist Party, the Arrow Cross, was complicit with Nazi Germany's plan.

The United States by this time was well aware of the extermination order against Jews, and President Roosevelt in January 1944 created the US War Refugee Board. The board recruited Wallenberg**, a Swedish businessman, a man of privilege to go to Budapest as a Swedish diplomat. He didn't arrive until after the first tide of deportations of 440,000 Jews, but when deportations resumed, Wallenberg worked like a pit bull to save Jews--he clamped down and didn't let go.

He issued Swedish certificates of protection, established Jewish safe houses; he learned about deportation marches and drove his car, pulling people out of the columns claiming he had certificates. The one story that sends chills up my spine and restores my faith in humanity is retold by a woman who worked in the Swedish embassy with him. She explains that one night he came to the embassy and asked who knew how to swim. Wallenberg had learned the Arrow Cross and gestapo were tying three Jews together on the banks of the Danube, then shooting one Jew who pulled the other two into the river to drown. Wallenberg and his companions positioned themselves downriver to save the people from drowning.

Shooting people at the edge of the Danube was a more common practice than I had known until reading The Crime of Complicity. In a footnote Professor Guiora mentions the Shoes on the Danube exhibit.

I rush to my computer to learn.

I am shocked by the realistic portrayal of suffering through shoes.

On the edge of the Danube are 60 pairs of period shoes cast in iron, to memorialize the loss of life at the hands of terror and evil. There's something about a person's shoes. It's a personal testament of existence. There's nothing like a pair of baby shoes to remind us that Nazi atrocities were no respecter of persons.

There's nothing like art

To show. To Evoke. To remind.

Photos taken from:

**Raoul Wallenberg issued passes to Professor Guiora's grandmother and mother.

Friday, May 5, 2017

A Better Use

I am driving four friends to  dinner and a play. The forty minute drive is a bonus, because we get to talk.

I love my girlfriends. All of them. It wasn't until after I was married when I realized how important women friends were. Especially in light of how we understand we are needed by other people. At the center of our homes, our families have priority~~girlfriends understand this~~so when we do make time for each other~~sneak away to dinner and a play~~we understand its unique designation as bonus time, playtime, rejeuvenation.

On this occasion, since I am driving, my friend's offer to pitch in for gas and help pay for parking. A kind gesture, an expected gesture, for I would do the same. But knowing their stories, reimbursement seems...

just wrong.

One of the women in our company has been collecting used clothing, household items, books to sell to goodwill, to finance her summer reading program for refugee children. When the first offer comes to share the gas bill, I remember those children and respond, "Take the gas money and give it to K for her reading project."

No one refutes my suggestion.

On the way home my front seat partner tells me her dreams. She yearns to make her children aware of circumstances beyond their own environment, their own abundance. Her children don't know what hunger is. She plans to volunteer, with one of her children, at a food pantry as a first step of awareness that people in their own community need help. She hopes to take them to distant places to serve people, to learn from other people.

I remember the days of my heartfelt desires to make my children aware of others, of trying to make them socially conscious, of trying to make them decent human beings who would think of others their entire lives. We visited the elderly, the infirm, helped provide Christmas for families in need, and traveled to understand different cultures and people.

I remember trekking down the road of a coconut plantation to the outdoor kitchen where chickens ran free (for a time), to retrieve my five year old daughter. She loved hanging out with the plantation caretakers. They were happy, loving, and accepting of this bold little American girl who would sneak away to be in their company. At an impressionable age, she learned that cooking a chicken over an open fire, or cooking it on the stove, brought the same results. Though we lived and looked different, we were all the same: everyone ate chicken.

So when my front seat passenger-friend tells me she has applied for a job teaching English via the internet, and she hopes to use that money towards teaching her children about the world, and then she insists I take the money in her hand to help pay for gas, I too insist.

"Let that be the first deposit into your children's learning-about-the-world account."

A few dollars for gas, though appreciated, becomes trivial when compared to its better use.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Our neighbors have the same problem as us--a steep hillside with ever present weeds.

All of us slope-homeowners had ambitious hopes for our hillsides--in the beginning.  I've watched new owners come in, mow down, terrace, landscape, and plant. One new homeowner (us) even built a staircase accessing the slope they planned to conquer; that homeowner planted fruit trees, a linden tree, ground cover, and scattered wild flower seeds not once, but twice, but thrice. If the deer didn't obliterate the nursery stock and seed, the lack of water did, not because we didn't water but for eons of time, the weeds, the native grasses learned to dig deep and steal that precious water.

Daffodils and iris have done fairly well in the early spring, but later plants can never keep time with the wild grass that's king of the summer.

The good thing about our hillside is it slopes below our house. It is its own territory. One can exist in the backyard with nary a glance at the wild weed infested slope. Our neighbors below, are in a different situation. Their slope is upward from the flat part of the yard and cannot be ignored. Those neighbors are having a wedding in their backyard.

That's where technology comes in: they hired nine goats. The goats came for two weeks and chomped the weed problem away.

Which is why I have been thinking about hiring a cat.

On my way to yoga, I run through a large office park with acres of grass, pathways, and hmmmm...a constant need to keep the weeds in control. The dandelions in the grass are shriveling; they've recently been sprayed. The growth along a pathway is brown and dying; a perfect line between healthy and dying vegetation makes it apparent it has recently been sprayed too. Has this massive application been the annual cause of our bee loss?

Time for better technology. Goats.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I'm Ten Points Ahead

If only...

What the title really means is I've let that proverbial ten pounds creep up again.

So, I make a new plan. Again.

1. Mindful eating. There are a multitude of wonderful people who make videos, who ask you to join their mindful eating challenge, who really care that you break through the unconscious eating that allows those ten pounds to creep back on your my body. Find one of those people and learn about mindful eating. It's about being present and aware of the food you I over indulge in. It helps you me discover real hunger and the reasons for eating other than hunger.

My first meal of mindful eating--I couldn't believe how distracted and mind-wandering I was.

2. Learning to trust myself. Easter weekend was family, love, fun, and food. Too much food. Candy and treats. Sunday morning I vowed to eat better than I had on Saturday. I did well until Sunday afternoon when Tony baked two Williams Sonoma's croissants (chocolate and plain), just for me. I'm such a sucker for hot croissants. And then Tammy, the best cook on the block, brought over the most incredible carrot cake I'd ever tasted. Sprinkled with a hint of orange. I meant to only eat one bite, but like I said, it was uber-delicious.

Close to midnight, I was still awake because my stomach was too full.

On Monday, I listened to Oprah Winfrey retell a Brene Brown story about trust. Ms. Brown's daughter's school teacher kept a jar of marbles. When the class did something good, she popped in a marble. When the class was disobedient, she took a marble out. The goal was to fill the marble jar, and then the teacher would reward the class with a party!! Ms. Brown's daughter was having trouble with her friends and Ms. Brown used the marble jar to illustrate trust. When friends are kind and dependable, they mentally earn a marble in our trust jar. If a friend violates the trust, we mentally remove a marble.

Oprah suggests that the person we need to trust the most is ourselves.

I have a tender epiphany. By overindulging on Sunday (and the other days that have allowed ten pounds to creep up), I have broken my own trust. The most important person to trust is myself, and I've let myself down.

I need a marble jar.

I find one. I find some white, pearly marbles.

Even though I'm a middle aged woman, I'm thankful I can still treat myself like a kid.

And learn to trust myself again.

After a day of making great food choices, the next morning, I smile and pop a marble in the jar.
I'm only eight and a half points ahead.

~~Last night's birthday party included two pieces of delectable chocolate cake with salted caramel frosting. The day before Kristi made a chocolate cake with 1.5 pounds of dark chocolate, 12 eggs, sugar, and butter equal to the weight of the moon. Each bite was a dream come true. If she hadn't served only one piece, I could have eaten two.

I pull two marbles out of the jar.  Not so easy come, not so easy to see it go, but today is a new day. Consciousness is the beginning of change. Always.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

A Booster

On a half-sunny morning, I walk the beach. Ahead of me--baby blue skies. Without a specific reason, I turn around and behind me is an entirely different morning: haze and fog. Shadows darken and silhouette people and dogs.

I turn quickly forward. Colorful and clear. The contrast between the two scenes, just a pivot away is shocking. Looking ahead differs from looking behind. It is a metaphorical moment: Sometimes, we only need a slight turn for a different perspective.

My sister had only purchased tickets for Come From Away a few weeks in advance, so the best tickets she could procure were front row. I was excited but nervous. So was she. We knew we might need a chiropractic neck adjustment the day following.
But we'd never think of complaining. This was Broadway.

As we entered the theatre with mystery and apprehension, we strode towards the front row. Oh my, I thought as I sat down. We could barely see over the edge of the stage. However, I stayed optimistic,--"It's a new way to experience theater," I assured Mom and Sister.

I remembered long ago sitting in front of children who had booster seats. We mentioned it to our theater neighbor also concerned about neck adjustments, and she took off to find the boosters.

We slid the hard plastic, made-for-child-size-bottoms under our own, the scene changed drastically. Once hidden and barely visible, we were now part of the play.

When the play ended, I realized this front-row experience was now my favorite. With the slightest adjustment, I could see clearly and my enjoyment tripled.

With our boosters, we had created another metaphorical moment. Only this time, instead of changing one's point of view by a shift in exposure, the metaphor finds its meaning in changing our physical surroundings--literally by lifting oneself higher.

A booster is: anything needed to see things better and more clear; an apparatus to change one's perspective; something that lifts.

A booster is also defined as an enthusiastic supporter. An enthusiastic supporter will always help us to see things more clearly. She will point out the positive among the negative. A booster will wipe away our tears, clarify our fears, and if needed boost us onto her shoulders for a clearer view.

Everyone needs a booster in their lives, so find one~~~better yet~~~be the booster.

Monday, May 1, 2017

New Bees

Last year, my two beehives succumbed to a pesticide kill. It was a sad moment when I found hundreds of dead bees, maybe thousands, outside the hive, their proboscis, or bee tongues, hanging out of their wee, little heads.

The county bee inspector came and shook his head. He gave me a stack of flyers to pass out to neighbors warning of the indiscriminate use of insecticide.

What to do...

Order new bees.

I couldn't give up the fascinating rendezvous with one of nature's tiniest, most important, and vulnerable creatures--one we are so dependent on, but seem to ignore the possible impact of their loss in years to come.

A new package of bees comes with a caged queen. This practice is so bees get used to their new queen's pheromones--after days of her presence, they adjust and accept her reign. Upon receiving the package and caged queen, it is my job to remove the plug and replace it with candy. The bees are supposed to dig away at the candy until the passage is opened for the queen to exit and become a country club member of the hive, and to start laying eggs, which is critical to the life of a hive. The worker-bee life span can be as short as six weeks. It's critical the colony is in a perpetual state of reproduction.

On the third day, the queen was still caged. The workers had made progress but it was time to let her out. With gloved hands and beekeeper protection, I held the cage and pried at the plug. When it came free, I waited and watched. If the character trait shy can be applied to queen bees, then my queen was shy. She held back, she waited. Did she wonder?

The bees seemed to be as reticent as her. They moved close, backed away, skirted around, moved in again. A waiting game. I wanted to hold on, to keep watching, but I needed to place the cage in the hive and let her emerge without me. I needed to replace the lid, close it down, and let them be.

It is this very fascination with nature that inspires us to be a part of its workings, yet it's often the thing we forget about nature: the lesser interference, the greater odds of success, but it seems to be against our nature. We feel the need to meddle, manipulate, and that our creations are superior. And perhaps a few of them---are.

Beekeeping is a my reminder of nature's perfections and the need to respect and resist interfering.