Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

December 24th is magical.  There is no day that quite lives up to this one.  The feeling is universal on Christmas Eve.  Anticipation trumps chores and expectation is king.  Maybe it's residual little kid stuff because, after all, children hold this day as sacred.  Miracles happen on Christmas Eve.  The jolly fat man flies through the air and delivers toys and candy.  Lightness wipes darkness away for the day and people smile as if they mean it.  All is good in the world.  Why can't it be Christmas Eve all year long?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Keep It Simple

     What's up with this Christmas bah humbug?  I just want to keep it very simple - There is value and good stuff in the holiday but it can seem like so much work.  My ideal Christmas would be one of two scenarios.  The easier scenario is to leave town - go to the beach somewhere and pause for two weeks -- and then come back to January's stillness.
     The more difficult to orchestrate is to stay in town and take it down so many notches.  No need for a Christmas tree - what is that about anyway?  You go out and get a tree or a part of a tree and then you set that in your living room and put lights on it - huh?  How about a few pretty lights here and there - that's okay but scratch the "Christmas tree"  - don't get that.
     And these presents?  These guys don't need anything and most people in my world are trying to scale down on "things" - yet I go out looking for more things to spend hard earned money on.  Then I take precious time to put funky paper and ribbon on them so that other people can act surprised and take the paper off.  Really?
     And then there is the food thing - ugh.  No one needs all that sugar and fat - I don't even want any around.  I don't want to bother with cooking anything - can I just have pb on ww toast. please?  And, for a change, can we go out?
     My ideal Christamas holiday time would be some hikes or, if it is raining, a movie or two.  I would like to paint and to read, maybe futz in the yard, take a bike ride or a walk with the dogs.  I do enjoy hanging out with friends and family.  I enjoy that a lot - but no strings, please.  No expectations - no find a gift or get a gift or clean up the house or get dressed up.  Just keep it simple.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Oh Tannenbaum

December catches all
Bright and gray
damp fog
fills the mornings,
erases the fall trees
paints  the road wet
changes fall into bare winter.
Orange and yellow
turn to
red and green,
turn to
sparkles and metal,
starlight  and moonlight,
heat turns to ice.

Carols and drums and wind at the door
jingle bells
welcome the
Christmas tree.

Santa Claus is

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas - Now and Then

     A friend of mine has me thinking about Christmas, vintage 1960, and the contrast to Christmas 2010.  Forty years makes a big difference.    1960 era Christmas was about going to Church, visits with the relatives, sacred Christmas music and the joy of anticipation.  2010 Christmas seems so artificial in contrast.  For me, personally, Christmas is still about the relatives, the music and the lights.  It’s about the human warmth on cold days and connections among people.  But it seems so much less than it was back then.
     I do miss the Church part.  Back in the day, Christmas at Church was magic. The music was haunting, the colors were rich, the words were poetic, and the connections with the holy were palatable.  I haven’t been to church much in the last 25 years but when I have gone it feels like the music has lost its haunting beauty.  The colors seem more neutral, the church less dark and solemn.  The words are more accessible but they have lost some of their poetry.  I miss that world.
Christmas was only slightly about getting presents back in the day.  For several years I pined for the Angela Cartwright doll on page 412 of the Sears catalog but she never made it to my house,  Truth was , presents were frosting on the cake of Christmas.  My parents scrounged to secure Christmas gifts for all of us but beggars can’t be choosey.  The thing is, it didn’t really matter.  After Mass on Christmas morning, there would be the once a year, sit down breakfast.  Eggs, sausage, toast, and homemade coffee cake - a rare breakfast feast!  And finally, papa would say something along the lines of, “Shall we see if we caught Santa in the chimney?” and that was the cue to assemble in the living room.  We didn’t do stockings but colorful packages would be arranged in piles around the room,  one collection for each person.  Thus would begin an hour or so of oohs and ahhs - each person attacking their own stack but all watching the others at the same time.  The presents were not fancy.  Typically, there was one “big” one for each person - maybe a fishing pole for one of the boys, one year a bicycle for several of us (used and refurbished by Uncle John), one year a bride doll for me, something that was impressive - and then six or seven smaller gifts.  These would include a book, a piece of jewelry maybe for me, some new colored pencils or crayons, a board game or some small toy - all good.  It was also important to open the gifts from siblings and to be effusive in your appreciation for the thoughtfulness of your brother or sister. The air in the small living room was electric and unforgettable.
There are still many wonderful moments associated with Christmas.  These years I choose not to go to Mass but my four family goes out to the coast on Christmas Eve and  acknowledges all for which we have to be grateful.  I play the sacred and the fun Christmas music and I look for the Christmas vibrant colors everywhere.  I fail to take time to find the poetry in Christmas but I can change that.  I am disgusted with the commercial and plastic elements of Christmas 2010.  I hate that the paper is full of ads starting in October and it seems to be only  about getting stuff  I hate that people go into debt trying somehow to buy love or comfort or forgiveness.  That sucks. 
December is such a dark, wet , and cold time.  Christmas can bring warmth and light into the world and for that I am grateful.  I don’t need nor want the big hoopla -- way too much energy and squandered resources for that.  I just want to connect a bit, rest a bit, reflect a bit, and wait for spring’s return.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Middle School Rocks

    Some years back I was the parent of two elementary aged school kids and simultaneously taught in the K-2 OA program at Park Side School.  I loved my days.  I was in my element as a mom in  a family with young kids.  I was also passionate as the first public school teacher that many families would encounter.  I hugged those children on their first day as mom left or I hugged mom as she cried and her kindergartner grew up in an instant.  I lived kids all day.  I celebrated with them as they mastered their ABC's and read their first chapter book.  I spent happy hours planning engaging math lessons,  exciting science stuff, fun PE games and so cool art!  The best part was creating a community.  We - kids, parents, and teachers - studied and played together,  wrote each other notes and drew pictures for each other.  We got frustrated with each other and with ourselves..  Sometimes we stomped our foot and sometimes we held each other as we cried tears of grief or fear.  It was a safe world where we all, kids and adults, learned from each other and took care of each other.
     After close to ten years of primary teaching, I was given an opportunity to return to an earlier double passion  of mine:  the adolescent and school counseling.  Earlier in life I had been a teacher and counselor in a middle school and now I was going back to that role at Brook Haven School.  I had doubts about this role of school counselor because it meant that I would no longer have my sweet Room 28 world.  Instead of interacting with 20 families every day, I  would now be interacting with  over 500 families daily.  How was I doing to feel connected to all these people?  How could I possibly create community here?
     Guess what?  I didn't have to create it.  It was already there.  At BHS, I found a caring and fun group of adults who all enjoyed the middle school kid. These adults liked laughing with 12 year olds.  They liked seeing the potential in an 11 year old and then watching that child mature into a confident high school student.  These adults sometimes behaved like silly middle school kids themselves, playing practical jokes on each other or singing in rock bands together.  And, most importantly, they wanted a safe community in which the kids could  learn, grow, and find their adolescent selves.  Gradually, I came to see that the community was here and I needed to find my place in it.
     About ten years later, I am still thriving at Brook Haven.  My son and daughter have grown up and left their dad and me cleaning our own quiet home.  I spend my days in the company of about 320 kids and their families now.  BHS has expanded its grade levels to include about 25 4th and 5th graders in the REACH program and they have added dimension to our BHS world.   The highlight of my day is often lunchtime.  I am out on the yard every day and always head to the 4/5 yard first.  I love checking in with the youngest of our students just because they give me my little kid fix.  They are so outright affectionate and joyful.  Next I tour over to where many of our 8th graders eat.  I love that part too because they always intrigue me.  What are they wearing today?  Who is visiting with whom?  Who seems isolated or upset today?  How is the kid whose grandmother is in the hospital?  Did that girl pass her science test? Lots of greetings and brief check ins happen in that walk through their chosen lunch spot.  Next I walk on to where my 6th and 7th graders eat lunch.  Typically I find lots of goofiness there and plenty of silly questions (Can we get hair straighteners in the bathroom ,JT?) and I notice the same things that caught my eye in the earlier walk arounds.  The rest of lunch I continue to move, greeting every child by name (how better to demonstrate that I care about who they are?), poking my head into the girls' bathroom (everything okay in here?) and generally assuring myself that all kids on campus are safe.   Sometimes a student will confide in me about a problem they are having or a friend about whom they are worried.  They know I will follow up.  They know I care about their world.  They know they can trust me with their secrets.  They trust me to help them navigate middle school and I take their trust seriously.  I believe I almost always deliver.  
    Middle school can be a tough time for kids and for parents.  Everything is changing for everyone and it’s tough to make friends with all those changes.  Middle school students sometimes seem as open, joyful, and young as the little kid 4th graders.  At other times, their fresh perspective and relatively new eyes reveal wisdom that jaded adults have long left behind.  Just as in the adult world, you will find an occasional bully but steps are taken to both prevent or stop such behaviors when they are reported.  Middle schoolers need community as much as they did as kindergartners.  They need friends to talk to, peers to reflect back their world to them, a culture to call their own, and trusted adults to watch out for them.  That sounds a whole lot like what I find at BHS.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good night

white bone tired
cold damp dark tired
could fall asleep right now tired
headache tired
achy WTF tired
eyes happy closed tired
go away tired
when is the weekend tired
I don't care tired
jaw rigid tight tense tired
pajama tired
silence tired
neck on a spring tired
and it's only Tuesday

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Friends With Winter

    Okay, so we aren't to winter yet but the question is already being posed: How do I make friends with winter?  How can I embrace the cold and ice, the grey dampness, the early darkness?  I have never been a fan of winter but it won't go away until it is ready so how to embrace what is?  Well, for one thing, get the right clothes.  I am not just thinking of warm clothes but also, frankly, stylin' clothes.  The cold weather usually has me feeling like a truck driver - bundled and teddy bear-ish, heavy shoes and fly away, electrical hair.  Bleh.  Meg got me into some cool boots that fit well and that helps - out of those truck driver hiking boots and into the "I've got power" boots.  She also has me wearing skirts more (with tights) and that definitely makes me feel less like a truck driver.
    Of course, there is also the natural world - admittedly, the stark beauty of fall and winter can be very persuasive.  I can be held captive by fall's brilliance and then winter's bareness.  The ice and rain make the world even more visually interesting and I can remember to keep my camera with me at all times.  Eyes open is the way to make it through the dark times.
    And November and December have the holiday mood to either bring me down or bring me up.  The plastic commercial stuff - thumbs down.  The cigar stands and traditional music can either add to the ride up or push me off the edge - depending on the mood of the moment.  The cold and rain make the inside warmth and colors more appealing and maybe that's why the whole Jesus's birthday thing was created. I am not really coming up with any new ideas here.  Once again, the bottom line is everything changes.  Bundle up and before you know it, February will crack winter's shell and we will begin to feel spring.  Yahoo!



Saturday, November 27, 2010


lies that were
and a life that is
covered in deceit but not lasting
long that way
roller coaster ups and downs
cracking, breaking, shattering
scattered like shards of bone
clean white and dead
and the life that was
is gone

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Change Is Good But It Sucks Too

Ten reasons why change is good:
1)  Change shakes things up and changes the cadence.  You know you are alive.
2) It opens doors and lets in fresh air.  It can warm life up or chill life out.
3) Your world is broadened when things change.  Out of your routines you go.
4) Sometimes change makes you happy.
5)  Change can be invigorating and exciting.
6) New routes can lead to new discoveries.
7)  Change often provides perspective on the past and direction for the future.
8)  Small change adds up.  You can cash it in for bigger things like bills or a better life.
9)  No one ever grew by staying the same.
10)  Change can bring new people into your life.

Ten reasons why change sucks:
1) Hey!  I liked my life just the way it was!  Don't mess with it!
2) Change can be exhausting.  More sleep needed.
3) Change can be frightening.  What now?
4) Sometimes it leaves you feeling empty - for a while.
5) Sometimes it makes you angry.  Why me? or why this? Life is not fair.
6)  Sometimes the new route turns out to be too long or too short or too boring or too hard.
7) Change can cost a fortune - in so many currencies.
8)  If things are good the way they are, change will probably make things less good (at least temporarily).
9)  Change is difficult and sometimes a person just needs to take it easy.
10) When you stop changing, you die.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Caretaker: Part 2

    In the last post, I thought aloud about how enriching and satisfying the role of caretaker can be.  It also occurred to me that my own children have had very little experience in this role.  For one thing, there are only two of them and their age difference was not sufficient enough to make one the caretaker of the other.  And, again, there were only two of them - no little siblings to watch over.  Our friends tended to be couples with kids about the same age or older than ours so our children didn't even get a chance to care for the small children of friends.  Their dad and I were self sufficient and the kids  seldom, I am sure, thought to take care of us.  Sure, they made cards and acknowledged occasions but Michael took care of his chores, I took care of my chores, and the kids pretty much did their handful of obligatory chores and their homework.  Somehow, I doubt they ever thought to take care of us in the way that kids in big families often pitch in as a necessary caretakers for parents or siblings.  My kids didn't even have an abundance of pets.  We had a couple of kitties but these were outside animals who essentially only required food, water, and attention.  In short, they went into young adulthood with few opportunities to experience the role of caretaker.   I wonder, now, how much my grown children have missed by not being able to take care of someone.  I wonder if it is harder for them to ask for help because they don't realize how wonderful it feels to be able to respond to someone who needs you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Importance of Being a Caretaker

   I grew up as the oldest daughter in a large family.  I think it is for those two reasons - oldest daughter and being in a large family - that I have always been cozy with the role of caretaker.  As the oldest daughter, I learned early about taking care of younger siblings.  I also learned early on that sometimes we are called to be a caretaker for parents or older siblings.   When my son came on the scene, I was not at all intimidated by the care and feeding a newborn.  Seriously, it felt very familiar to me since having little siblings and being a community babysitter had given me plenty of experience.  I also remember that, as a high schooler, I could see my mother's exhaustion. I could also see the stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen which would be sitting there when she came down to the kitchen to make my dad's breakfast at 5:00 am.  It was not uncommon for me to clean up the kitchen and wash the kitchen floor before going to bed myself.  I wanted to make her morning.  I wanted her to start her day with a happy moment.  Again, as a high schooler, I would - really! - spend Saturday nights baking  a chocolate cake for my older brother, who would arrive home at 10:00 pm after putting in a twelve hour plus day working at the local grocery store.  I was so jazzed to do that, to bake the cake and then to wait up and watch Mannix with him for an hour.  He generally seemed happy to have the cake, the tv program, and the attentive little sister.
     I went on to become an elementary classroom teacher, a mother, and a middle school guidance counselor.  Recently , I found myself reflecting on this role and its value to the individual and to society.  What I realized is that being the caretaker is good for YOU, not just the person of whom you are taking care.  When my mother had a pacemaker implanted a few years ago, she stayed with me for about three weeks.  I took her to the hospital the day of the procedure and then remained in her room with her as long as possible that evening.  The next day I brought her back to my house, and made sure she was a comfortable as could be.  Over the next few days,  I did all those little things to both help her recover and help her be comfortable.  It was surprising how good that felt to ME.  I felt needed, appreciated, stoked that I could make her feel better.  In a way, caretaking is selfish.  Yes, the caretaker does help another person but he or she also is given a gift of sorts.  The caretaker can know they are doing the "right" thing, the thing that makes a difference to other people.  Certainly, this can bring an internal smile to most good people and that internal warmth has got to go somewhere.  How about out into the community?  How about that ripple effect?  How about the caretaker's self satisfaction turns into goodness in the world?  How would THAT be for our society?

Thursday, November 4, 2010


    So here it was Thursday 5:00 am.  I was out on a brisk early morning walk with two very active, very happy dogs.  As I walked,  I considered the tasks in front of me for the day.  I also noticed the yards, the homes, the sky, the foliage.  My thoughts drifted to Thanksgiving and then to the upcoming weekend and to my kids, my friends, my life.  Happy, happy happy.  Downright perky!  And it was just the top of the day.
    As I was coming into the home stretch, I saw a man approaching us on the sidewalk.  Aware that the dogs were a tad feisty, I  stepped into a driveway to allow the guy to have the sidewalk.  He was maybe thirty years old, lots of dark hair on his head and face, wearing athletic clothes,  with ear buds dangling but not plugged in.  As he approached I greeted him with a perky "Good Morning" and he scowled back, "Can you keep your dogs off of me?".  Mind you, Ellie had bounced up as he walked by but had not touched him.  I replied. "That's what I am trying to do!" and gave Ellie an extra little attention.  What I noticed, though, was the instant deflation I felt, as if someone had just taken away my good morning.
      That downward dive lasted about a block or so as I regrouped.  It occurred to me to wonder what had been going on in that guy's life.  Perhaps his girlfriend kicked him out yesterday or he was hungry or he was pissed because he wasn't a morning person and he didn't want to be out taking a walk at this hour.  It also occurred to me that now I COULD go home and be cranky with Michael or, if I had little kids at home, scowl a bit at them because my good morning had been seized away.  I do believe that I have a choice about these sorts of things, though.  I refused to get caught in the ripples of that dude's cranky morning.  But someone else might have been carried away by his cranky ripples and that's the way negative stuff spreads out in the world.  I recovered within a block but someone else might have taken his scowl and moved it further along in the world.  I would rather create ripples of smiles and cheerfulness.  Life is just better that way.  Agree or disagree?

Monday, November 1, 2010


    Like a bunch of other people in the greater Bay area, I have not been a faithful  Giant baseball fan for years and years and years.  But because I am married to a guy who pays attention to the Giants, I have been made aware of their accomplishments (or lack of same) for years.  Again, like so many others, I started paying serious attention in August when things started looking up for the Giants.  As the season began closing down, I became more familiar with individual players and their stories.  And then I got hooked.
    I got hooked on their stories.  I got hooked on their humility. I felt their determination.  I got hooked on their teamwork.  NO one is the star.  Everyone is the team.  There is something wonderfully delicious about being a part of something much bigger than you are.  Those players might inspire the rest of us.   Embrace something bigger than you are.  Become part of a team that won't stop believing.  Be a misfit.  Be a winner.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

"The More Routine, The Less Life" Agree or Disagree?

     I was walking the dogs early this morning and I saw that quote on a card in the window at Copperfield's.  My first reaction was one of agreement.  Three cheers for busting out of the routine!  But then, I had to step back and consider the notion that routine offers me so much life.  My job is routine in that I get up every day, Monday through Friday, and take myself three blocks to work.  I have my stuff I need to do but my work there makes my life.  And there is also the routine of after work and the weekend.  That is my life.  Michael, Alex and Meg, bike rides and walking the dogs, reading and painting, laughing with friends and family - all of this is often routine but is also life.
    Busting out of routine?  Is that the way to live?  Yup, sometimes.  Embracing the little moments that are part of routine? Yup, that's life too.  I suppose I could use more of the busting out but I also know that I love my work, I love my life at home, and I consider myself incredibly blessed.  What more can I ask of life?  Is a trip to Nepal or New Zealand, or even San Francisco, essential for me to live life?  Do I have to "do something" every weekend or even one weekend a month to live life?  I think not.  I certainly want to be alive but I can know I am alive when I am tending to the emotional needs of a 12 year old.  I can know I am alive when the bike ride tells me that.  I can know I am alive when my face lights up and I dance while I am painting.
    Disagree.  Life is as much about the routine as it is about leaving routine behind.  Find it where you live it.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ten Things That Light My FIre

My friend Stacy recently posted a blog entry in which she delineated ten things that make her extremely happy.  She threw down the gauntlet:  What are your ten things?  I am accepting the challenge.

My favorite things are in no particular order and are not limited to the following:

1.  Sometimes when I am painting, the colors and the shapes make me laugh and skip and sometimes dance a bit.  I don't understand it - they just do.

2.  When the temperature hits 70 to 75 degrees and the sky is clear and blue and I can push myself into the moment to soak up the sun, I imagine that this is heaven.

3. When the day has been long and difficult and my body craves rest, crawling under the covers (no matter what time of day or night) , and completing relaxing on our most comfortable bed feels so right, so valuable.

4. Take that 70 degree temperature and transport me and it to the coast - add in the lonely foghorn, the seagulls, a slight breeze, a good book and time for a nap - I am happy.

5.  6:00 am bike ride, seriously good music, clear sky, no traffic, and lots of energy - I know I am alive.

6.  Alex, Meg, and Michael all  here at the house, all light and laughing, all smart and kind, pizza on the table, bit of wine in the glass, warmth, history, and family - those who have lived my daily life with me for many years now make my life worth living.

7.  Memories of Fellowship and home, summers and Christmas, brothers to embrace, a sister to mirror, family gatherings -  anywhere when laughter and love are all that matter.

8.  There's a moment on a school day when a kid smiles and says hi and I say something goofy to them and there is a connection - bingo! The work makes me part of something bigger and that makes me happy.

9.  Ellie on a leash and the work day behind me, we stroll downtown - just to get out and meander, notice the trees, notice the flowers , wave to the neighbor, breathe and be.  Who could ask for more?

10.  Back to laughter - laughter so hard that the tears come -- that indescribable time with friends when bonds are cemented and you know you will climb any wall to save your friend.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ball Game

TV talking
about baseball
baseball  summer nights
playing in the field with warm skin, short pants, and dust
dirt and sweat
alive and alive as a child can be alive
lights turning on
summer night light moves
over the house
breeze bouncing with orange tree blossom
Vin Scullly on the radio
Mark and KFI in the kitchen
summer nights that turn into deep sleep
safe and sweaty
and now Giants baseball
just for fun
no sweat
no hot night
talk about tension and how that boy can run
and love California and the boats in the bay
and the notion that life is baseball
baseball life is ups and outs,
runs and fly balls out to left field
catcher to catch what life pitches
and some umpire to rule on the close calls.
we all  strike out
or walk.
and we all need a fan or two,
a seventh inning stretch
and  a home run
from time to time
take me out to the ball game

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Isabel Way

Try writing
the Isabel way.
Write whatever wants to be written
grateful for the moment,
the moment that is.
Write the moment when the fall sky shatters
and  the dark starts caving in.
Carve the moment when the clock ticks, the siren cries,
and the baseball flies across home plate.
Bury the moment which is scared, which is dying,
which is calling, which is mine.
And what is the moment
but silence anyway.
Look into the core
of the world, the steel of the eye.
Examine your father's face
and avoid the tragic
and find the magic.
Hear nothing.
See everything.
Stay awake.
Be kind.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


     Today is the October I know.  It is warm, quite warm, yet the leaves are straggly and some brown and yellow mingle in with the not so bright greens.  I rode the bike early this morning but at 6:30 am it was still very dark.  And by 7:00 this evening , the curtains will close and the lamps will go on. October means that summer's light is disappearing and the late afternoon October sky has a harsh edge to it.  October's light is in no way soft.  It is edgy and sharp and reminds me of lightening.
     Spiders are everywhere!  Big spiders in webs on the front porch, on the back deck, hanging from the rose bushes, strung across the steps - not here two hours ago and yet very much here now.  Spiders!  I found one in the shower this morning and there were tiny ones near the kitchen window yesterday.  I need to paint spiders.
      I can hear the crowd at the soccer game down at the school.  Little kids in soccer uniforms were running and playing as they made their way down to the game earlier and now I can hear the cheering.  This will be the background noise for much of this weekend day.  Very familiar, very okay, and I am glad I am not there!
      October is not my favorite time of the year.  I think I miss summer and I know the edgy light bothers me.  I don't like the dramatic shift in temperature most days - with mornings being cool and damp or even clear and chilly but mid day becoming hot, dry, and sparky.  I think Octobers are also like Mondays..... the school year has just begun and it is a long haul until summer's relative freedom.  Be that as it may, I can still appreciate the colors!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Computers - Yes or No

     Ugh - my computer is misbehaving.  I have installed and uninstalled and reinstalled programs up the wazoo - to only further frustration.  Makes me long for the pre computer days!  Can I go back there?  What would I miss?  Daily email chats with my sister.... silly texts with my daughter.... serious emails with sonny boy.. convenient planning with friends..... reading news on line .... that one isn't so big deal.  I have always been a daily newspaper reader.  Grew up in a household where money was tight but where two dailies were delivered:  LA Times (mornings)  and San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune (afternoons). But I like browsing the newspapers!
     What else would I miss?  Sending emails to people.... playing with photographs without the expense of developing film.... touring the aisles of Amazon, reading book reviews and thinking about books......looking at photos of babies and little kids on FaceBook.  Would I miss FB?  Nah, not so much... it is kinda fun but no big deal.  I like that I can stay in touch with people and find out what is going on with them but it is not my life line, my must have.
    I would definitely miss the word processing elements of computers.  I love the ease of writing, the ease of corrections, the copy and paste features.  I love blogs and reading and writing them.  I love the feel of the laptop in my lap and my fingers dancing over the keys.... so much friendlier than those silly old typewriters.
    Okay, so I guess I give in and say yes to computers, yes to MacHenry (my Mac computer).  If only I knew everything about taking care of him.....

Saturday, September 25, 2010


     A former student asked for reflections on my own success in life.  I wrote her back immediately, focusing on my academic and professional successes.  Since she is a determined, strong, smart young woman, it seemed as if she would want to hear about academic success.  Perhaps my success stories dealing with the work and academic world would encourage her as she considers those very real challenges in her own life.
 Spoiler alert!  Here comes the trite part... I sat back and looked at those accomplishments, all decked out on paper and knew that they weren't the real successes of my life.  Alexander and Megan were both the most important work of my life and the grandest successes, hands down.  Of course, I can't look at these two socially responsible, kind, thoughtful human beings and claim the credit but I can acknowledge that they mattered more to me than anything else.  Parents can't take credit (really) for genetic gifts or flaws.  Parents are only one of many influences on children.  And parents are best off when working tandem with another parent -which I joyfully did - and the combined effort of both parents, on the same page, is critical. No matter.  What I know is that I gave them my all and hoped for the best.  And they have not disappointed in any way.

     Recently, I've thought of another measure of success that is off the beaten track. In this, the final third of my life, I am finally discovering creative endeavor.  I have always been focused on work and family.  I have certainly depended on creativity in both of these arenas but, lately, I see some of my writing, painting, and photography as success vignettes.  Clearly we are not talking fame and fortune as a measure of success but rather personal satisfaction.  Earlier in my life, success seemed to be about recognizable and culturally approved measures.  Now, not so much.  Now I am happy to be reflected in acrylic or keyboard and mine is the only approval I want.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Fences Around Life

"You can't build fences around life."

This line was part of a larger quote about recognizing that everything changes but I am also drawn to this one sentence.   There is a painting here and the image is clear.  You can't build fences around life and you can't put life in boxes.  Sometimes it is easier or preferable to try to do this but it won't work.  The fence will fall, the box will burst or you will break trying to hold the fence up, the box together.  Those fences are about thinking you are in charge and you can fence in (or out) all that you want to manage.  Boxes are a convenient way of storing things that you don't want to think about or don't want to deal with.  Guess what?  Fences do break.  Boxes can burst.  Life will be richer when you stop building fences and when you leave the lid off the box.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Screaming like a red rubber band
stretched to the max,
sharp stabs of a thin paring knife,
my neck does not like being told
to move.
She complains in a most effective way
and then she commands the shoulders
to do the same.
But I can still make them
I am the boss
of me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September Revelations

      Any revelations as yet another year spins off my life?  For one thing, I have a grasp now on the fundamental role of change in life.  It is the only thing that doesn't change and it is best to embrace it since change is non negotiable.  That certainly doesn't mean change is welcome, though generally life seems to work its way through a maze of change to find some meaning. I have discovered that anything can be tolerated because, given enough time, it will change.
      I want to say I have learned that life is short and then you die but I don't think I have fully learned that.  It comes and it goes.  The lesson depends on the day.  Clearly, though, I have a beginner's understanding  of the concept and the older I get, the more I understand.
     I might be learning some amount of self acceptance. I saw a photo of myself taken last summer and I was instantly disgusted with the image that I saw.  Not pretty.  At first I was angry and annoyed with myself.  How could things have gotten so bad?  And then I remembered.  I am now 57 years old. Good grief!  I am not 23 years old.  The body, like everything else,  does change and you can't stop that process.  I want to remain healthy and, to that end, I will make wise eating choices and I will exercise daily.  I can't stop my skin from getting loser or tighter or whatever causes the lines and wrinkles.  I can't stop gravity from working on the musculature or the skin and making puffies or softness where once there was tautness and smoothness.  It is what it is.  So accept and even embrace the changes.  Softness can be nice.
    I am learning to laugh more.  Love it!  I am learning that life does not have to be so serious.  I practice amused detachment at those times when the world seems to be over the top crazy or unreasonable or unmanageable.  Observe what is happening, take the moment as it is, and laugh  (in my head, if necessary). Painting makes me laugh!  Such craziness I can create with a paint brush and lots of bold colors.  I love showing the paintings to people and observing their reactions!  My little joke on the rest of the world!
     So another birthday tucked away.  I am happy to put the year to rest.  Who knows what truths are to be revealed in the new year but I am sure lessons will be proffered and I plan to take advantage of them.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Things That Break

       "The things that break - be they bones, hearts, or promises - can be put back together but will never really be whole."

        I saw this quote somewhere a week or two ago and I cannot get the image out of my head.  Most things DO break if given enough time. I'm like most things then. For a long time, I have felt as if I am breaking.  My memory shows cracks and the cracks  shake my sense of me.  My mind  twists as it searches for sleep at night, potentially breaking into fragments.  My heart feels strung out and thin, skating on slippery expectations, looking for warm.  My body moves as a million units, all screaming their own names, all poised to break, one piece at a time. Can I be put back together again?  My friend Megan suggests that these images are hopeful, that some things can  be broken up and can be reassembled.  How would that look?  My memory reassembles as a whole different person, the play of childhood replaced by the taunting of adolescence or the disappointments  of employment.  My mind shatters on its way to sleep one night and I wake up as  brilliant artist who loves math and can speak French. My heart?  My heart attaches itself to sweets and softens up, thin no more and wrapped in a cozy rich blanket of fat. My body units go to Esalen and take a workshop in interpersonal communication and start hugging each other.  So I am put back together again, maybe not every piece, maybe not whole, but recreated in some new way.  And a new part of life begins.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Morning musings

     Early bike ride - no fog but the late summer chill was in the air.  I was surprised at how cold my legs were (should have worn sweats, silly woman) but I figured if I rode harder, they would warm up (and eventually they did).  I was also surprised to see grapes.  I am well aware of the vines and the beautiful vine colors but, damn! there are really grapes that hang off the bottom of those vines.  I must have always driven by in a car and been blinded by the leaf colors - so much so that I never saw the grapes!  But there they were this morning.  All gathered in clumps at the base of the leaves.  
     There must be a lesson in that.  Blinded by the show and not noticing the substance, not seeing the product.  Somehow I want to tie that in with the treadmill that has ramped up now that school has started.  My days at work are full and I go go go, failing to breathe, catching every task that is tossed anywhere near me. And then I get home and all I want is solitude and silence.  ZOOOOOOOM - there goes life - she is moving fast!  If you are going to catch up with her, you have to move fast!   I am running out of time with life and is this what I want to be doing?  Going so fast and packing so much into days?  So much so  that I can't breathe?  I imagine that endless summer would be delicious but I think I am also afraid that it would get rotten.  Endless summer is good for the summer but how would it feel in November or February or May?  Is the pleasure of summer in part due to its brevity?  I imagine days when I could get up between 6 and 7 and take the dogs on a walk and futz in the yard and ride my bike and keep my own house clean and make real dinners and read my books and take photographs and paint and write and enjoy walks at the beach with Michael and go up to see Pauline and hang out with Alex in the city or Meg in town or go down to Kev's -- or or or or or.  Sounds just fine to me.
     I told my friend Megan about the zooming sound I hear and about how it is life and how she moves fast.  I said I needed to move fast in order to catch up with her (life).  Megan's answer?  "Or sit still and let her light on your shoulder".  Odd thing is, even though my bike is zooming along, I think I am more still than fast when I am on these morning rides.  Maybe that is one reason they are so appealing.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Veritable Knots

      I was trying to put words on the way my neck and shoulder muscles feel this week and two words fell  off my fingertips and into the text message I was writing:  veritable knots.  Of course, my mind went immediately to the painted image of veritable knots.  I can see it on the paper and, at some point within the next few days, I will  get that image (or something close to it) out of my head and onto the paper.  In the meantime, I am living with both the image of the veritable knots as well as with the real thing.  The muscles in my upper back feel so tight that they should be cutting the skin.  But I am still not sure how they make themselves into knots.....
     Maybe it goes like this.  Maybe the tension surrounding life becomes like a lava flow.  It starts forming when the energy gets squeezed out of the body and melts the muscle tissue.   This lava flow keeps moving as long as the body is in the tense moment.  When the body starts to breathe again, the lava flow cools off and becomes those steel shoulder blades.  But every time the tension starts up again, the lava starts moving again but not in a straight line.  In order to get started, it has to twist a bit and every twist helps make the knots tighter.  And this body becomes tied up in a twisted maze of knots that will not be satisfied until she has had a minimum of two weeks of silent warmth and rest.  Sounds like a wonderfully accurate imaginary explanation to me!
      Why the tension?  Getting up too early, keeping the brain in the computer at work, not getting to walk the puppy, not getting to take a nap in the afternoon, not reading, very little writing, scant painting - ugh.
Mostly I can blame the tension on having to go to work again.  Love the job, hate the lava that the treadmill releases.  Maybe what I need to do is paint Veritable Knots and put it in my office so I have a visual to remind me to walk away and breathe once in a while.

PS:  I will put a photo of  Veritable Knots on this post when I get it done!

 Veritable Knots #1   :)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bell Springs

     I just returned from a couple of days at the family homestead on Bell Springs Road in Mendocino County.  What a world away from Sebastopol this place is!  I actually grew up in an unincorporated section of eastern Los Angeles County.  My father was a steel worker who got fed up with the his work, his supervisors, and the way the semi rural neighborhood had changed  in the twenty plus years they had lived at that residence.  What had once been a safe, quiet, rural road , populated primarily with elderly neighbors and surrounded by orange groves had transformed into a tough neighborhood that was starting to show signs of serious urban crime.  Where once he had a spectacular garden and raised steers, pigs, rabbits, turkeys, chickens, and children, my dad now had to fear for the safety of his children and his property.  One winter in the mid-1970's, my father found his escape in a twenty acre parcel of undeveloped land, five miles up a dirt road off Hwy 101 between Laytonville and Legget.  It wasn't long before my parents  sold the house on Fellowship Street and began the real pioneer phase of their lives.
     It wasn't just my parents who moved to the primitive but beautiful rural Mendocino County.  Several of my brothers also purchased adjacent twenty acre parcels on Bell Springs Rd and together then have forged a simple and sustainable life in this often harsh country.  After over thirty years of living and developing the land, my parents, my brothers, and their families have become an integral part of the rural community.  Two of my brothers were popular and strong teachers in the Laytonville schools.  Another brother served as counselor and later program director with the Mendocino County Mental Health Department.  All three of these men are also very capable carpenters and builders (one has a contractor's license) and they have, over time, build comfortable and cozy homes for their families.  They have spectacular gardens, with veggies galore and always fresh flowers.  All the families have planted trees, both fruit and shade, and the families together have created a pond.  The pond not only provides water storage but also fire protection and a resting place for migrating birds.
Did I mention that this land was undeveloped?  Specifically, that means that, when purchased, the land had no electricity, no phone, no water system, no graded building sites, no nothing.  One of the first tasks was to get the building sites selected, graded, and a road graded to the sites. Simultaneously, an underground spring needed to be channelled into a useable, gravity fed, water system. Indoor plumbing needed to be put on hold while more immediate concerns were addressed (outdoor privy certainly can work ....).  Although it would eventually be possible to hook into the phone system (this was pre- cell phone days), PG&E would never be putting power lines up here - way too remote.  For years, power was provided by propane, a gas fed generator (used sparingly for many reasons) and candles.  The heat source was (and still is) woodstove.  Later a twelve volt battery system allowed more access or power and, more recently, solar and wind power systems have been developed.  The water system has been refined, reducing the need for the privy and enabling the residents to enjoy hot baths and showers.
     My father died in 1996 but my mother and brothers continue to live off the land.  It is not an easy life as much time and energy goes to sustaining daily life.  Valves for pumping water must be open and shut, firewood must be cut and hauled, brush needs to be kept trimmed (the ever present fire danger is a serious threat),  the pond and the septic tanks must be maintained, snow in the winter brings its own collection of issues, and, of course, gardens are always in need of something.  As much as possible, food that is eaten is produced in the garden and canned for use all year.  Keeping the garden going all year and preserving the veggies is a monumental task.  There is no quick trip to the grocery store to get lettuce for the salad.  It is 18 miles to Laytonville,  which has a grocery store, post office, bank branch, a couple of gas stations, a number of stores that are useful for those living a rural life, and several hamburger type joints.  The larger town of Willits is about an hour's drive and affords more opportunities for errands but, either way, that is a lot of driving.  And, since Bell Springs Road is not paved, the first five miles of the driving is done on a dirt road.  That also means that residents on the road need to make friends with dust.  You will never be able to completely get rid of it for long so embrace it or die trying.
     I  enjoy visiting on Bell Springs Road.  It is a relaxing drive, at least when it is not raining or snowing. No matter what season it is, the hills, vineyards, trees, and small towns along the way provide plenty of eye candy.  The gardens, no matter the season, are inspiring and the land is breath taking.  Sunrise, sunset, and nights are especially notable.  You want to see a star filled sky?  Spend a clear night on Bell Springs Road and you will never be satisfied with the night sky in Sebastopol again.  I deeply admire my parents and my brothers for making the choice to live in such a place.  I don't believe I have what it takes to be happy there - not yet, anyway- but I can be an appreciative and joyful visitor.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Everything Changes (again)

I know, I know, I've done this before but the truth in "everything changes" never ceases to amaze me.  I don't think I really got that idea until maybe 5 or 6 six years ago.  Before that time, I knew it on some level but not enough to really understand and accept it.  And it's not good or bad.  It just is.

                                                            Seasons turn,
                                                            bodies evolve
    and minds change.
   Attitudes adjust,
   families are born and die.
   Health comes and goes.
   So does love.
   Laugher one morning,
   tears the next.
   Awake and asleep,
   cranky and silly,
   alive and dead,
   everything changes.
   That's all that doesn't change.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Middle Schooler? Middle Child?

So I was thinking this morning about how, in many ways, middle school kids play the same role in the American educational system that middle children play in the family.  In families, first borns get a lot of attention.  They have also been around longer and know how to work the system.  Sounds like the high schoolers to me!  High schools, in California anyway, are funded at a higher rate than lower grades.  More money is tantamount to more attention.  HS kids  know how to work the system whether that means getting more out of education or getting out of more education.  The younger kids in families are cute and attractive to pretty much everyone.   The little elementary kids are cute too.  Their behaviors, their classrooms, their artwork:  cute, cute, cute.  Parents and teachers are focused on core academics.  The younger grades are often when learning disabilities are first discovered and addressed.  If a little kid is acting out, thoughts go immediately to some sort of "issue" - as in ADHD, learning disability, vision or auditory issue, or some such thing.  And then we have the middle child in a family.  These kids can easily be lost in the middle.  They can be relatively invisible, particularly when compared to their cuter younger sibs or their more saavy older sibs. Or, they can make themselves seen by choosing a more visible role in the family (no matter how troublesome that role may be).  That's the thing about middle school kids, too.  They are good at hiding, if they want to.  Or they can make themselves very visible in ways that make many adults uncomfortable.  Either way, I love them!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Act of Faith

     I've been thinking about what it is that could be encouraging for 20 something year olds these days.  The price of living is sky high, jobs are scarce, the environment is being assaulted on every front, the Middle East constantly threatens to explode (If North Korea doesn't beat them to it) , and there are mean people out there everywhere.   I sought a little input from friends on this question, hoping to boost the spirits of a couple of 20 somethings I know who are struggling with the "Why Bother Blues".  Specifically, I wondered how to encourage these post college kids who wonder about the value of graduate school when it is so costly and there are limited jobs.  I got some answers.
     For one thing, have you ever heard anyone declare that he or she regretted furthering their education?  Wether we are talking about finishing high school, getting an undergraduate degree, getting a masters degree or completing a professional degree, no one seems to regret the expense in either time or money for such an endeavor.  Education opens professional and career doors as well as personal doors.  The people you meet while studying tend to be engaging and intelligent and often strong friendships evolve out of shared passions.  These educational and personal experiences also build strength, confidence and the ability to take on new challenges. What's not to like?   Money.....
      My focus group and I seem to agree (from our vantage point in life) that money should not be an obstacle to continuing one's education.  Yes, it is scary and cumbersome to take out yet another $50,000 - $80,000 in student loans but money will take care of itself.  There are ways to get some of that debt forgiven, if you don't mind being adventuresome and contributing time to undeserved communities.  And loans can be reconfigured to be paid off in smaller increments over 20+ years.  What the heck!  Without the higher education, your career opportunities and earning potential are limited.  So what if it takes 20+ years to pay it off?  You are working in a field you enjoy and you are being adequately compensated.  There is also hope that the Obama administration will offer some relief, one way or another, for people with student loans.  You never know what the future will hold and it is possible that, again, one way or another, your financial situation will improve.  People marry people who have strong earning potential and no student loans.  Inevitably and morbidly, parents will someday die and a house may come into your hands.  Who knows what is out there?
     And that very nicely plays into the bottom line: faith.  Tough one for me to accept but it's true.  You really do have to have faith that things will work out.  You have to dream.   You have to plan.  You have to find and feed your passion. You have to take chances  You have to act as if.  And, as my friend Megan says, in the end, you have to let go because the outcome is always unknown. As frightening as letting go can be, it can also be freeing.  Letting go is the top of the roller coaster.  Eyes wide open or eyes shut tight, it doesn't matter.  You are free falling and you can enjoy the fall or you can worry about the fall.  So let the wind fly into your face and jump into grad school, jump into life.

Monday, July 26, 2010


     Dam!  It's tough being a twenty-something year old these days.  Frankly, maybe it's always been hard - or at least since the 1960's when opportunities and choices began to explode for young people launching out on their own.  In the 1970's though, you could still go to college for a reasonable price, you could pay $75/mo to share a two bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley and it might cost you $5 or $6 to fill up the 1965 VW bug you purchased for $650.  Sure, you went to college, generally clueless about the next step post college, but there were jobs that you could land that would give you some direction, some idea if this field was a fit for you.
     Not only is the cost of living sky high now, but the job market is discouraging.  To complete a BA or BS is simply not enough to get a position that will allow you to live in the community in which you work and pay off the student loans you have likely acquired.  To know yourself and to predict what sort of work will make you happy is asking a lot of a 20-something year old.  Many of these people simply haven't had the experience to know what opportunities are out there or what field might be best suited for them.  There are few resources available to assist them and little room in the budget to explore carer fields.  I imagine they feel a ton of pressure to get on with life but the overall picture is discouraging.  Tough to find a job, impossible to buy a house, daunting to pay off student loans.  What is there to encourage these kids?  Let me think about that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


what a lie
how is it possible
how is it okay
how can real be
when deception
blocks the way

wear a mask
pretend to be
like the other wants
to see

is there really a me
that I want you to see?
I know the you
is not who
you said you were

and how can I see
how can I know
the truth
in me
in you

Friday, July 23, 2010

Holey Moley!

     Yikes!  There is just too much to do! Some things never change.  But twenty years ago, it was too much to do as in laundry, read to kids, bathe kids, go to grocery store, take kids to the library, make dinner, snuggle with kids, eat dinner, clean up kitchen, read to kids, snuggle with kids, clean the bathroom, take a walk with the kids, do some exercise, take kids to the park, snuggle with kids, play legos and barbies with kids - you get the picture.    Make no mistake about this:  those were good days but busy, busy, busy days, building a family days, being a responsible parent days, good days.  Kids have flown the coop so why so busy now days?
      Okay, then, let's start with a job and bingo, you can say good bye to  40+ hours a week.  I hasten to add that they are good hours.  I love my work and wouldn't want to change that at this time - I appreciate the paycheck too (since the kids have flown the coop to college).  Next, consider that the aging body needs time and attention and I am not referring to botox and boob lift time!  No, general maintenance for good health necessitates, for me, at least an hour daily of physical exercise.  Again, I don't object to this as I generally enjoy the physical exercise, particularly when it involves my bicycle or walking with a friend. But besides the cardiovascular workout, I have to do some weight lifting (you gotta be able to lift yourself out of the bathtub!) and I should be doing more flexibility stuff. The years make the joints stiff and stretching the body appears to be the solution. The whole exercise package can easily add up to another twelve hours a week. Bye bye, precious time. Besides exercise, I do choose to use time to keep myself reasonably presentable, ie, shower, wash hair, slap some sunscreen and foundation on, figure out what to wear, get an occasional haircut and, yes, color the hair every so often - Bingo! average another 6 or 7 hours a week just to attempt to not present like a bag lady.

     While we are on the topic of maintenance, let's consider house, laundry, and food.  Enough said.  Chalk up ten hours a week and know that none of them gets the attention they demand.  If my time were without borders, I wouldn't mind futzing with the house or doing something beyond salad and some kind of protein for dinner but, for now, these are called chores and the least amount of time I spend here, the better.

     What next?  Now the fun stuff!  Read, read, and read some more!  There is never enough time for me to read all that I want to read.  I enjoy contemporary novels,  I gravitate to a lot of non fiction work (including the social sciences and biographies), I have discovered several very engaging on line reading sources (Huffington Post could easily take up an hour of my day), and I am still a subscriber to the daily newspaper and 6 or 8 magazines.  In my ideal world I would have several hours a day devoted exclusively to reading but this is the real world.  So, leisure reading (not reading for work) gets only maybe 8 or ten hours a week of my time but it could get a whole lot more.  The same can be said for writing.  I enjoy writing, even writing for work, but now I am getting into the bits and pieces of discretionary time and so writing gets shoved over there on the fringes of my daily life.  The same applies to painting and photography for fun.  LOVE LOVE LOVE both of these pursuits but they simply don't get to come to the party very often.  I have found ways to incorporate the photography into my work - create a yearbook! And I leave all the painting stuff set up in Alex's bedroom so that I can always have work in progress.  Sometimes I steal ten minutes to add to a work in progress and, because I have the luxury of leaving everything set up, I can do that quite nicely.  And ten minutes is all it takes to remind me that, yes, I am an artist.
     And why exactly do two dogs live at my house?  Because they were once  irresistible and now they are friends, fun, and a part of the family.  And they require time...... But they do bring us to my last category for now:  people.  People are the best and the reason that all the rest of life exists.  And people is where I choose to put my time too!  Family first followed by the best friends a person could want.  Remember that list from twenty years ago?  Did you notice that "friends" was absent from that list?  Not an oversight but the way it was.  Yes, there were friends and family with whom I shared time but growing healthy kids didn't allow much time for growing strong friendships.  And the older I get , the more I want to envelope myself with connections.  I thrive on conversation and laughter, on shared confidences and tears.  I need my friends.  I need my family.  And they can have my time.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Create, Not Copy

     Until very recently I considered myself a "fake artist" because my style of choice is very abstract.  I have a tough time painting the real world as it is.  Frankly, I don't know how to do that and when I take classes or read and try to learn how to paint realistically, I mostly only get irritated and frustrated.  About a year ago, I just let go of that need to paint for real and began to paint what I saw in my head or what my hands felt like painting.  I painted to get images out of my head and into the world.  I painted because playing with paint and brushes made me smile.  I also painted when I was angry or sad and somehow that process tempered my anger or sadness.

    A few weeks ago I discovered a book that changed my perspective about my painting. Written by Rolina van Vliet and entitled "The Art of Abstract Painting", this book actually made me feel less foolish about my artistic endeavors. It gave me some credibility as an artist! The artist was able to clarify for me what I have been doing. She writes about how the realistic painter is using external information to guide the painting. Things from the outside influence the painter's work. An abstract painter, on the other hand, uses the same elements as the representational painter (shape, color, and line, for example) but the abstract painter's art is not meant to represent "something". The art comes from the painter's imagination and feeling; there is no relationship with reality. Bingo! The light went on! 

    When formerly I saw myself as a second class painter (just messing with paints), now I see myself as creating something, not merely copying something that is already out there in the world. I like it when someone looks at my painting and sees something in it. That's fun and I am always interested. But I don't generally expect that kind of reaction. Sometimes, I know exactly what it is I am putting down on paper (although no one else may be able to recognize it) and I keep it a secret just because I can. I don't paint for an audience; I paint for myself. It gives me so much to think about (or not think about).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skateboards, Teddy Bears, and Mascara

       So I had this wild brainstorm while riding my bike in the very early hours this morning.  I am going to write a blog about middle school!  I LOVE working at a middle school.  I enjoy the kids, I sympathize with the parents, I hear the teachers' frustrations -- I was born to be in middle school.  The blog will be pitched to parents and to people who work in middle schools (capturing the ah-ha experience) and will always end with something along the line of: and that's why I know I was born to be in middle school.  It is not about dissing the middle school child.  In fact, it is about appreciating the middle school child.  It is about celebrating their spark and their humor.  It is about acknowledging their sometimes unrealistic picture of the world but appreciating the eyes that see that world.  It will recognize the in between space that middle schoolers find themselves in:  too old for teddy bears, hot wheels and constant supervision,  too young for   driving, sex, and no supervision.  Middle schoolers do, however,  find themselves the right age for confusing crushes, for parents who don't understand, for teachers who expect them to care about English grammar when their best friend is in crisis.  They can care passionately for people suffering after a horrific tsunami, they can dream big dreams of playing major league ball or dancing with the Joffrey Ballet, they can be worried about their friend who is drinking on the weekends.  They can do those things  even as they are failing every class and serving detentions for leaving their gym shorts at home day after day.  They are such a mixed bag.  And that's why I was born to be in middle school.  This all makes sense to me.  The one difference is that  I can see it with the perspective that is generally lacking in a twelve year old.   Middle school kids let you see them if you look for them and at them.  I  go to work every day looking forward to seeing the kids!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Everything Changes; Nothing Changes

     I was recently surprised to receive a six inch high bundle of letters and cards that took me on a reflective journey.  The bundle was sent to me by my uncle and the cards and letters were the messages that I had sent to him over the years.  He is in his late 70's and, as he said, he is going through stuff.  I was amazed to learn that he had saved all those letters and touched that he thought to send them back to me, all bundled up and ready for discoveries.
     The earliest one appeared to have been sent in 1962, making me 9 years old.  Funny to read it and see my "best guess" spelling!  What!  You mean I didn't always know how to spell?  There are one or two from high school but the majority of the letters were sent while I was in my twenties. Through my thirties and forties I sent him one or two a year - mostly chatty updates about how the kids are doing.
     The most interesting collection came from that twenties decade.  While reading through them, I was struck by how much has changed and how much remains the same.  That was a tumultuous decade for me, beginning with a confusing marriage that turned into a messy life and ended with a wrenching divorce.  But talk about discovery!  That's when I found out who I COULD be.
     The decade played out with travel, education, a developing career path, a grand assortment of new friends and new connections and ended as it had begun: marriage at 29!   And, even though my path was convoluted, the cards and letters demonstrate that I was forever and always wanting to examine it.  Ah, some things never change!  And, even in my 20's, I was lonely and reflective while still pushing ahead with new challenges, willing to put myself out there and see what happened.
     In reading the correspondence, I meet a trusting, bright eyed, change the world sort of girl (and she was a girl).  There's the everything changes part.  The girl is now a grown up, an adult - no matter how much she wants to still be a girl.  She's not so trusting although the bright eyes can still be seen when she is engaged in biking, painting, or uncontrollable laughter with friends.  She does still welcome new challenges, hopes for surprises, and knows she can only change the world one tiny moment at a time.  Life is more realistic and responsible now, kinda deflating, but she is much MUCH stronger.  She can hold up anything that needs to supported  and knows enough not to worry too much about her future.  It will be what it will be and she will survive (or not).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Holding Out For A Hero

    This whole idea of a hero has been on my mind lately.  Are there any heroes in today's world?  Before drawing any conclusions, I have to define hero.  A hero is not to be confused with a person who performs an heroic deed.  To act heroically in the moment is commendable but to be a hero involves more than momentary action.  So what would that look like?
    As my dear friend and confidant Megan Rooney noted a hero is courageous.  As she also pointed out courage cannot to be confused with fearlessness.  Courage means the ability to confront fear, pain, uncertainty, danger in the face of hardship, suffering, or even death in order to benefit the greater good.  A person with moral courage is able to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, or discouragement.  Fearlessness isn't quite so noble in my mind. Danger may be confronted but the motivation behind the action is more egocentric as opposed to community based.
Uncle Frank
    So, a hero must show courage in some aspect of his or her life.  My father's courage in the face of WWII has always impressed me.  He was a 19 year old boy and he went off to places remote and scary (the South Pacific).  With very little training, his assignment was  to fix the bodies of friends and others who had been blown up (he was a medic).  I can't imagine how frightened he must have been and yet he went and did what he believed to be right.  My wonderful and loving friend Frank Schiavo showed tremendous moral courage in the way he lived his life.  Frank put his care for the environment above anything else.  He LIVED environmentalism and could tell you the why and how of everything environmental.  It wasn't easy to live modern life Frank's way but he resisted so many of the popular trends in favor of a life style that would sustain the planet.
    I think a hero also has integrity but integrity is tough to assess.  A person with integrity has the courage to say no and to face the truth.  He or she does the right thing because it IS the right thing to do.  Again, referring to Frank, he was a man of integrity.  He lived his life very honestly and openly.  He had strong beliefs about the right way to live and he stuck with them even when I am sure it was a hard thing to do. From what I have read and seen about Fred Rogers he was a man of pure integrity.  He had strong beliefs about what was in the best interests of children and he worked hard to make that happen.   He could laugh at himself and the caricatures that SNL and others made of him but he knew what was right for kids.  I am sure his intentions might have been questioned for a variety of reasons but he was steadfast in making media healthy and  tender for small children.
    A hero also inspires others to strive to be the best they can be.  By their words and actions, heros encourage other people to become more courageous, more compassionate, more deeply involved with the world, no matter how small or how complicated that world might be.  Christopher Reeve and Gilda Radner come to my mind when I think of inspiring people.  Both of these young celebrities were handed tragic surprises by the universe and yet they turned those tragic circumstances into something that has inspired and benefited so many other people.  Both Gilda and Christopher wrote about their afflictions and how their lives were dramatically changed and their words and actions have made a huge difference to many other people.  Michael J Fox is doing that now.  I read Michael's book Lucky Man when it first came out in 2003.  Prior to reading his memoir, I assumed he was another rich celebrity with questionable integrity (my cynical nature showing through).  However, my assumptions were shattered after reading that book. I now eagerly listen to Michael when he speaks or writes because I trust him.  His experiences and his attitude about his life make me want to be a better person.  There's a hero for you.
    I still need to ponder this for a while - I want to get it right.  I have answered that earlier question:  are there still heroes today?  Yes, I would say that my heroes include (but are not limited to)  all of the people mentioned above.  But this doesn't really feel finished.  It is as if I am missing something.  What about the notion that a hero has something much bigger than his or her own self as their driving force?  And what are the avenues that create heroes?  With the exception of Frank Schiavo and Fred Rogers, the people I referenced above  had the opportunity of being a hero thrust upon them.  They were just going along doing their lives when something disrupted their plans.  It is what they did, how they handled the disruption that made the difference.  Mr. Schiavo and Mr. Rogers made choices and acted on their beliefs.  To advocate and watch over something of value made them heroes.  They weren't given a disruption to direct their stewardship.  They chose to take a harder path and that choice elevated them to heroes in my opinion.  I am seeing that heroes do take on something bigger than themselves, if only to allow themselves to find meaning in tragedy.  What else am I missing?

       Saint or hero?  That's another conundrum -- I prefer hero.  Saint feels all perfect all the time.  Hero feels more human, more not perfect just struggling to get it - something - right.  I would rather hang out with heroes than saints!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

How to Write a Blog Entry

     Typically before you know the title of a blog post, you have to do the writing.  And that means you have to be in the mood to write.  Sometimes, it takes a little warming up - maybe reading something you've written before or maybe looking over some quotes or pieces of writing from other writers you enjoy.  Next, the room  has to be SILENT - not just quiet - SILENT.  It is best to write in a room entirely by yourself.  When there is another person in the room, you have to deal with their paper shuffling, their comments and coughs, their breathing.  Very distracting and VERY irritating. 
     When you are writing, you have to read over what you just wrote - over and over and over and over again.  You don't have to read the words aloud (although that is entirely permissible) but you do have to listen to the way the words flow.  Do they sound good?  Do they make sense?  Is there a more descriptive way of saying it?  Is the thought simply expressed?  Are the sentences short?  Are the phrases original or did you go for the hackneyed?  Change things and then change them again and then, yes, change them yet again. Be open to dropping the word or phrase that you just fell in love with ten minutes ago because now you have discovered that the word or phrase doesn't work. Set it aside.  You will use it some other time.  Sometimes you will realize that you started in the middle and you will need to go back and add on the beginning.  No worries.  It happens.  The beauty of word processing - so easy to write the middle before the beginning.  How interesting!
      Don't be too worried about length.  Say what you have to say and then wrap it up.  I usually think I am done and then publish the piece but come back to look at it in a day or two.  Of course, as you might guess, I want to clean it up again -- and that is how you finally finish the blog post - clean it up and move on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


       These early morning bike rides require me to dance with trust.  This morning I left the house around 5:00.  Yes, I had my red light flashing to alert cars behind me and I had my high beam cat eye to both light my way and show approaching cars that I was there.  Truth be told though, there are very few cars out at that hour (at least not on the roads on which I am riding) and the sun is already rising.  Within 20 minutes the lights are not really necessary and they are pointless in a half hour.  However, that doesn't mean it is a risk free ride.
       Here's the thing.  The drivers who are on the road early are often in a hurry.  I have to trust that they will not see the rural roads as a speedway.  I have to trust that they will graciously concede to me my right hand edge and that they will know that there often is glass on the edge of the road.  I have to trust that even when I stray away from my assumed lane the vehicle drivers will make room for me.  I also have to trust that when they are coming down their driveway, they will give more than a glance to the road.  Sometimes that skinny far right side of a country road can be obscured by trees or brush.  If the driver is looking for the glint of metal or the two big headlamps from an approaching car and not seeing that, I have to trust that he or she will also pause for the instant that it takes to know that there isn't an odd pedestrian or bicyclist coming down that hill too.  It can be tough to trust people but I do it.  It's trusting the universe that really gets to me.
      Trusting the universe (or whatever you want to say) is, perhaps, more difficult.  On my early morning bike rides it means trusting that those deer that I see along the way won't choose to leap onto the road the instant I go by.  So far they either leap away from me or take the plunge while I still have time to brake.  A deer/bicycle collision would not be pretty (especially if Lady Luck were still sleeping and a car got involved too).  Deer are not the only wildlife on the road at that hour but likely they present the most danger.  The other morning something small and furry (a fox?) darted out just ahead of me.  I think I could survive a small animal/bicycle collision - that is, IF a car didn't get involved too.  I truly am trusting nature when the glare from the rising sun blinds me.  There are brief moments here and there (sometimes veritable seconds) when I am riding directly into the sun as she moves into her day.  For that instant, I really cannot see where I am going and who or what might be in my path.  It also occurs to me that if I am blinded by the sun then so too might be the drivers who are rushing off to work.  Heaven help me!
       So why bother with riding with the risk? Because the air is invigorating, the colors are brilliant, the lungs and legs love the workout, and I know I am alive.  The risk in the ride only confirms that my life is happening.  And I suppose that's the thing about trust in life.  If you don't let go and trust something or someone other than yourself, you can pretty much curl up and die for all the living you will be doing.  Not easy to do and full of possible accidents and heartbreak, but what's the point of life it you aren't living it?