Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Gift of Candlesticks

We watched Les Miserables today, and oh, I cried, probably more than I did when I saw the musical on Broadway in 1988.  We emerged from the theatre red-eyed and wrecked.  This, I thought, is what the Greeks had in mind with catharsis.  It felt kind of good to sob for something not immediate and real right now, but images of oppression and reminders of the oft-futile nature of war made my mind wander to Syria and gang rape in India.  I've been thinking of the story all afternoon, rife with examples of what it is to be human.

I carried a glimmer of the hope promised in the film's poster out with me, too.  When Jean Valjean is offered food and refuge in a parish shortly after his release from two decades of imprisonment, he betrays his host by stealing silver from the church before he flees.  Police capture him and turn him over to the Bishop, who claims that the silver is not stolen, and that Valjean had, in fact, forgotten the candlesticks and adds them to his sack.  After the authorities leave, the Bishop admonishes Valjean to use his bounty to make an honest man of himself.  

The unexpected generosity and grace of the Bishop is passed on by Valjean, who refuses several opportunities to kill his dogged pursuer, the Inspector Javert.  Javert, though, is immune to paying it forward, never himself showing mercy for Valjean, and barely redeems himself by the end of the work.

I recognized Valjean's gift from the Bishop as one we have the choice to give, too.  It requires a complete selflessness and utter lack of desire for vengeance.  The Bishop, after all, could have manifested a defensible righteous indignation; smugness at his guest's predicted behavior; at the very least, grave disappointment.  Instead he offers kindness and opportunity, without any way of knowing or need to confirm that the silver will be well spent by Valjean (versus, say, on drugs).  The bishop's gift requires true gift-giving spirit:  that which demands nothing in return, that which looks past any notion that gifts are earned or deserved.

I am thinking of the ways we can pass the candle in our daily lives:

Cheerfully refusing to engage with road rage.

Declining opportunities to be locked in battles of wills:  giving in because it's the right thing to do, even if it means letting someone feel like she's "won." Everybody wins when we let go.

Biting a lip instead of biting back.

Resisting envy and the judgments which accompany it about who has or gets what, and whether they need or deserve it. 

Offering generosity in the form of compliments, attention, and favors to those who most challenge the giving parts of ourselves.

Acknowledging the wisdom and value in views and beliefs that aren't our own.

Doling out random acts of kindness. 

Practicing forgiveness.  Letting go of grievances and grudges.  Accepting someone else's burden. 

Here's to more candlesticks circulating in 2013.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

List: Christmas Wonderfulness

1.  Friday was the first night of Winter Break, and we grabbed an auntie and headed to the mall to sit on Santa's lap, eat dinner at a restaurant where you order food with an iPad, and do a little shopping and a lot of soaking up the spirit and songs and window displays.  We started the evening with rockstar parking and ended it by finding a few funny gifts for friends.  It was the perfect start to some time off with family. 

2.  BFF Missy and her kids established an assembly line of toiletries and snacks at their house to make sock care packages for folks who are homeless. Big and Little Sis got to participate in the creation of a few of these stockings and we gave them out to brothers and sisters camping out under the freeway by our house. Thanks for the inspiration and opportunity, buddy.

3.  We came home from our annual Christmas Eve dinner tradition of red and green soups at Mammom's and Bampa's (minus Mammom and Bampa, who are with my sister and her husband and their three boys in Oregon) and I headed down the block to drop off a gift at our neighbor's house.  "Come back in ten minutes!" my neighbor/coworker exhorted us.  "You'll be just in time for Grandpa to play the accordion and our Christmas singalong!" 

I'm not one to turn down an accordion occasion, and it was as awesome as I thought it would be, with Grandpa accompanying and shouting out cues before various verses, "All the ladies now!" and a house full of family and friends.  Just when we thought the festivities were over, The Talent Competition was announced.  The first act was a family of red-nosed reindeer playing "Rudolph" on a keyboard.  Big Sis stepped up to be the second and last act, and won the competition with "If I Only Had a Brain" on the keyboard.  The prizes were scratch-off lottery tickets, and our neighbor host promised instant cash-out.  Big Sis walked away with $11 (from a party we crashed), while the second-place act reminded us that if it weren't for their keyboard...

4.  And then we returned home for construction time.  Christmas Wonderfulness features the cooperation and enthusiasm of determined Auntie and Honorary Auntie as well as Husband in the assembly of a key Santa gift, which we completed at midnight.  And note:  Honorary Auntie had already assembled one of these items in her own workshop at home the week prior, before we determined it was too big for the girls' bedroom.  And she still agreed to assemble one desk more.  Love.

5.  Big Sis has been asking for her own room.  And though we contemplated making a move to a different house this year, it wasn't meant to be (and wouldn't necessarily result in "own rooms," either).  Though she asked for a Kindle, Big Sis got "room of her own" for Christmas this year, in the form of a desk, lamp, blotter/calendar, bulletin board, and retro-refurbished chair set up in a corner of the bedroom which is now all hers.  I haven't been so excited about a gift in a long time. 

6.  Big Sis and Little Sis independently thought of and chose very thoughtful gifts for each other, and it made me teary to watch them exchange presents and observe their reactions.

7.  We spent mid-Christmas Day with Husband's family at our niece's house, where she hosted a scrambled-egg-and-bacon breakfast a la Grandma Shirley.  In keeping with tradition, we were packed in a small house and spilling out of doors, where there was scooter-riding, remote-control-helicopter-flying, and all combinations of relatives sharing conversations and love. 

8.  One of the coolest gifts received this year was for Big Sis--a set of juggling sticks from our niece.  Our niece demonstrated her crazy stick skills, inspiring Big Sis, who spent a good part of the morning practicing until she could catch one after flipping it in the air. 

9.  My dad's sister, Auntie, has stayed at our house this year--on the futon couch in the living room as that is the only "guest room" we've got.  That puts her front and center for all our goings-on and it's been great to have a guest so game.  Also, we went for a jog her first morning here...and she kicked my tail.  Note to self:  be fit like her when I'm 62. 

10.  We headed back to Mammom's and Bampa's for Christmas Dinner, which was actually breakfast made by my chef brother:  waffles, apple-cider doughnuts, and the family tradition of huevos rancheros (with fresh avocado).  We ate till stuffed, exchanged gifts, and then played Catch Phrase with the kids.  We came home with hearts and tummies full. 

Though our families couldn't all be together, we felt a special appreciation for the efforts of everyone near and far to create connections and continue traditions. 

And...another year of believing:  Magic.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The God of My Small Thing

One of the best gifts I give myself is one-on-one time with Little Sis, who expresses exhilarated bliss at having me to herself and babbles joyfully in thoughtful, inquisitive, and reflective monologues. 

Little Sis has been thinking a lot about God lately, and running her thoughts by me.  My best role here is Listener as she poses and answers her own questions and develops and modifies independent understandings. 

Here's a transcript of some of Little Sis' musings on the Maker; I'm leaving my responses out, so imagine me, nodding here, cocking my head there, and asking a few clarifying questions as she works out the mysteries of the universe...and pays tribute to her grandma.

Do you believe in God, Mom? Little Sis asks as I roll enchiladas.

I'm just not sure I do.

I don't think God created the world; I think the world made itself.  Also, didn't God die, and if he was really a god, how could he die?

A girl at school told me if you don't believe in god you will die when you're a child.

But I don't believe that.

I told her that's not true because I know people who don't believe in God and they're not dead.  Some people in our family believe in God and some don't. 

Do you think Mammom believes in God, Mom?  Little Sis asks as she scooters alongside me on an evening walk. 

I might ask her, but I don't know.

I am not sure I believe in God.  I think he died.  You know, up on those sticks?

And I don't think God can make dead people come back, because when people die they can't come back.  I mean, why would he make his son come back and not Grandma Shirley?

I don't get that.

That wouldn't be fair. 

But if Grandma Shirley did come back, it would be so wonderful; we could go to her house and swim with her and play with her toys. 

That would be great, Mom. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Illusion of Control

My thoughts aren't far from the families and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary and community of Newtown, Connecticut. 

How we react to tragedies like these is so informed by our own experiences, backgrounds, baggage, and circumstances.  Because I work at a school, my initial responses to events that involve schools, including my own, are generally informed by my position as vice principal:  responsibility for the safety and well being of staff and students, plans for care for affected students and staff and messaging to parents and the community, anticipation of changes to our own safety procedures and protocols. 

So my own feelings are deferred.  I've learned to not be surprised when my emotions don't surface as others' do.  It wasn't until I was at the kitchen counter talking with my mom about those parents in Connecticut, who had to leave their children lying at the school when they went home Friday night, that I wept.

We're talking at school about normalcy and safety and learning and routines and comfort and support.

We're talking as parents about discussing this with our children and protecting them and letting them go and what if what if whatifwhatifwhatif and there but for fortune go we

We're talking as a nation about guns and mental health and communication and you should and you shouldn't and good and evil and innocence lost and what will we do next

But what we're all talking about is control.  What we can control and what we can't control and what we wish we could.  We will try to wrestle something down to the ground now because we think we failed to do just that on Friday.  In times of uncertainty, helplessness, and insecurity, we assert controls. Gun control, access control, parental control, information control, innocence control, freedoms and restrictions control all at the same time.  We want to be the ones in charge and we want someone to take charge, and honestly, it's all confusing.

We're considering reasonable next steps to increase our children's safety, and trying to avoid overreacting.

A friend of mine asked on Facebook, "Parents, do you ask if there is a gun in the house when your kids go on playdates?"

A great question, because it reminded me of a time when I was nine years old, playing at a friend's house, and that friend told me her dad had a gun.

"Really?" I asked.  "Yep," she answered.

My memory tells me that my buddy reassured me the rifle was unloaded as she retrieved it from under her parents' bed.  I have no memory of her parents' whereabouts, but I remember thinking that my parents told me NEVER EVER to play with guns and though I was a fairly enlightened child, I went ahead and ran around the house in giddy thrill, chased by my friend and her brother and That Gun.  That I was ever near a gun was a secret I kept from my parents, because guess what:  I would not have been allowed to play with that friend at her house ever again. I'll never know what other outcomes were possible from that scenario, only that I walked away unscathed. 

And that I played with a gun despite knowing it was dangerous and I was forbidden to do so. 

That question, "Hey, do you have a gun in your house?" also reminded me of my friend whose husband learned there are ways to deter potential sexual predators from targeting your child.  Because the likelihood that the person who victimizes your child is someone you know, experts suggest front-loading adults who care for your child with a statement explaining that your child is aware of his/her body and has had conversations with parents about healthy boundaries. My friend's husband had frank, sometimes awkward discussions with friends and parents of his children's friends about his daughter's safety in their homes. 

I ask myself if I have the guts to be so bold--do you?

And where else might I be a little lax, too trusting, or holding on too tight?  Are our windows locked every night?  Are my children in the right car seats, every time; do I own the safest car?  Do I have parental controls on the TV and computers?  Am I choosing the correct developmental stage for solo bike rides around the block, walking to school alone? 

Ultimately I rely on gut and decisions that help me sleep a little more assuredly at night.  But my head hits the pillow knowing no amount of bubble wrap, practical precautions, or exertion of my controls amidst the uncertainty protects my children from the potential of random chance or determined and dangerous deviants. 

I sleep with gratitude and sadness tonight, wishing rest and peace for the residents of Newtown, Connecticut. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On Fairy Bundles and Fleeting Moments

It was a warm September afternoon, and we were in the backyard entertaining friends while our kids busied themselves scurrying in and out of the house.  They hula-hooped and jumped rope and petted the rabbit and carried dolls and dragged one another around in the wagon and drew and glued and made herb potions from the garden and created habitats for creatures and hung fairy bundles from branches.  We paid half attention to their comings and goings and doings, oohing over artifacts they shared, applauding their short performances, and admiring feats of skill. 

But children leave wakes that demand our examination and I don't mean wet towels and dirty socks. I mean carefully-laid-out tea parties and Lego-Squinky-Polly-Pocket-dollhouse-furniture complexes and toys lined up outside the bedroom in orderly avoidance.  These are the ephemera we absentmindedly tidy up, trip over, and vacuum.

On that September evening, though, as I swept the backyard for dishes and glasses and wayward dolls,  I found a potted tree on our patio adorned with elfish ornaments:  coconut husks filled with cotton, leaves, and flower petals; bows tied on branches; tufts of dried wild grasses and blossoms wrapped in ribbon.  By night the breeze would blow at least one of the delicate packages asunder.  So I grabbed my camera.

May you find fairy bundles in the backyard...and magic all year long

Our holiday card this year features a photo of that backyard fairy bundle, my reminder to myself and friends that beautiful moments occur beneath our noses, and we might miss the magic if we look away (or at our phones) too often.

I'm acknowledging that "dragons live forever, but not so little boys."  That fairies fly away and "painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys."

But I also have to fight an urge to mourn the passing of days and childish ways.  Wonder, I'm noticing, is around the bend at every stage if I resolve to put nostalgia in its proper positive place and embrace the present.

This season, I celebrate the fairy bundle:  my daughters' gift of now.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

List: Not-So-Serious Stresses

1.  Stall Stress:  When there's no toilet paper...and it's too late.

2.  Dress Stress:  When you're trying something on that is too tight, and you can't easily get it off.  You start sweating and wriggling and doubling over in the dressing room.  By the time you're safely out of the article of apparel, you're genuinely afraid of it. 

3.  Store Stress:  When you get to the cash register and:

a) realize you don't have your wallet, or
b) your credit card is rejected, or
c) you have to write a check and hold up the line.

Another version:  When you have a full cart of groceries and a tantrumming child you've threatened to carry out of the store.  It's so hard to abandon those groceries; it's so hard to endure the stares and sighs. 

4.  Stylist Stress:  When your haircut starts looking bad, but it's too late to say something, so you struggle to maintain small talk with your hairdresser whilst cringing inwardly. 

5.  Sent-Message Stress:  When you're pretty sure you just sent that email/text to the wrong person. 

6.  Steering-Wheel Stress: When you're lost, and your navigator's directions to "turn west" so don't help because you've made 13 turns in 10 minutes (and it's dark or high noon).

7.  Stain Stress:  When you spill coffee on your shirt and then blot it with a wet towel and now you have a coffee stain bordered by a water stain and the compulsion to explain it to everyone you encounter.

Similar:  Blemish Stress

8.  Lost Keys Stress:  Self-explanatory.

Similar, in needing no explanation:  Doctor's Appointment Stress.

9.  School Stress:  So many options!  Pick one.

10.  Sunday-Night Stress:  When you can't enjoy part of the weekend because it's Monday Eve. 

Add your own, friends!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gratitude That Made Me Gulp

On Saturday I found a letter in the mail that looked like a holiday card (isn't it fun to open mail this month?).  I recognized the surname in the return address area and ripped open the envelope in anticipation. 

It was a thank-you card.  It was a thank-you card from Florence's parents, the cousin of one of my close friends from college and his wife.  It was a card from their family, expressing gratitude for a donation I made in 2010 to COTA, the Children's Organ Transplant Association. 

It was the kind of thank-you note I suggested writing a few weeks ago.  Except that this note came from the parents of a little six-year-old girl who died in March of a rare disease called autoimmune encephalitis.  Florence's spark, and her life and her battle, inspired all sorts of support (see Mom-101's plea on behalf of her family here and here and here, and the COTA page to read Florence's story). 

Her family's blog is a poignant and inspiring glimpse of their journey with Florence, her big sister, and each other.  And still, they March Forth (as they plan an event to honor Florence that "evokes moving forward, focusing on children, improving medical care, curing rare diseases, and helping families and kids.") 

I imagine Florence's mom and dad writing hundreds of notes of gratitude to donors and supporters during a season when many of us are scribbling signatures on photocards featuring healthy families. 

They're reaching out to their village. 

In this time of giving, here are two ways to honor the life of Florence and other children needing  transplants:

Duke's Pediatric Bone Marrow Unit's Family Support Program:  Checks should be made out to Duke University with "In Memory of Florence McDow" in the memo line. They should be mailed to:

Family Support Program
Duke University Medical Center
1400 Morreene Rd.
Durham, NC 27705

You can also donate to COTA (Children's Organ Transplant Association) here

Thank YOU, McDow family.

Friday, November 30, 2012

If You Can't Write Something Nice...

I challenged myself to write for my blog every day in November, and phew! Today is November 30.

I'm glad it's not my job to write every single day, because sometimes, I got nothing.  And then writing is a stretch and posting feels a little like a sham.  Despite a few days of inspiration deprivation, I spared you accounts of dog diarrhea, my aching knee, and ever-accumulating grey hairs.

I don't want writing to be a chore.  My blog generally springs organically from seeds of inspiration that nag at me until I plant their roots at the keyboard.  It feels good to be compelled to write in that way.  On the other the hand, this month I experienced every day with one eye on what I could riff on, and I found myself noticing things I might not have otherwise.  I'm hoping I'll take my eye for more ideas into December as I take my foot of the gas.

Good night!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hope Helps (and Heals)

Today our high school had a "Mental Health Awareness" assembly featuring our own courageous staff members sharing their and family members' journeys through depression, anxiety, substance abuse, suicide, and grief.  A teacher shared the secret she carries, that she has a third son who died 33 days after birth.  She told our students that mothering him has made her a better teacher and person.  Another faculty member recounted her battle with agoraphobia and anxiety, reassuring students that since therapy, she's been nearly panic-free for 20 years.  The daughter of an alcoholic mother, one teacher urged students in similar situations to take care of themselves, and believe in themselves.  A charismatic teacher on campus surprised students when he shared his history of depression.  Students learned that struggle is common, and that you often can't tell who is fighting internal battles.   Student filmmakers aired inspiring public service announcements about positive coping skills and the power of reaching out to one another.

The program was so powerful students walked out saying, "Thank you..." and "That was amazing."

Some staff members admitted the presentations unearthed unexpected emotions.  There were listening ears, compassion, and hugs in the hallways.   

Our principal followed up with this email to parents:

"Dear Parents,

Mental health issues impact individuals within our campus community, and these struggles influence how many of us navigate our daily interactions with peers, teachers, colleagues, parents, and friends. Today our students participated in an assembly to promote Mental Health Awareness. We hosted this event to bring information and resources to each member of our school community, to let everyone know that there is help available, and to let our staff and students know how to ask for it.

Please ask your child to share his/her thoughts about today's presentations. Our school counselors are available for your students and you and are equipped with expertise and resources to share; we encourage you to contact us with any concerns you have about the well being of your student.

 We may not always understand one another, but we have a shared responsibility to treat each other with empathy and compassion.  We are proud of the community we continue to build at Coronado High School and look forward to more opportunities to emphasize to our students that they are not alone. With care and respectful consideration, we have each other."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I Learned Today: Constraint Breeds Creativity

This morning at our school's staff development, we rotated through three different teachers' classrooms to sample their instructional approaches.  It's my favorite form of staff development, as teachers are invariably inspired by experiencing what their colleagues do with students, and it's free and easy. 

I was volunteered to "hold fire" in the chemistry class as we learned about combustion:

But that wasn't necessarily the most exciting part.  We learned that our woodshop teacher is not so much running a "shop" as a studio. 

The first thing he asked us to do was design a table using pencil and paper.  Then he collected our sketches and displayed them.  Like his students, he noted, most of us drew rectangle tables with four legs. 

His curricular challenge is to move his students beyond the "rectilinear," and move his course beyond the board-and-glue birdhouse. One way he disrupts students' thinking is by creating profiles of potential users for their tables.  When Mr. H asks his students what kind of table they'd design for a 16-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair and lives in an igloo, he inspires intriguing results.

This is because, he shared, constraints breed creativity. 

We see this all over, but I don't always appreciate how rules, restrictions, and limited resources arouse ingenuity, innovation, and beauty.  People living in small houses find creative ways to store stuff.  Reality cooking and fashion shows provide contestants with similar ingredients and materials, but the resulting products demonstrate the work of distinct, imaginative minds.  Cities and buildings find ways to use pockets of space, walls, and roofs. 

Back in the day, MacGyver showed us how to jury rig cabbages and shoelaces into lifesaving devices. 

It's sort of what I was trying to demonstrate to Big Sis with her spelling sentences:  we are often more motivated by tasks with a restricting challenge. 

Our world will increasingly benefit from this kind of thinking outside the rectangle, particularly as we grapple with increasingly limited resources, sharing of space, and the challenge of reconciling our natural environment with new technologies. 

Mr. H showed us slides of students with their tables of varying shapes and sizes and functions.  And in the back of the room, we could see the skateboard decks they were designing. 

Another day I'm proud to be an educator.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

College Essay

Helping students with college essays always reminds me of mine.  I joke that my father and I almost "got divorced" over my essay--he kept challenging me to be more authentic, and I kept stomping off in frustration.  But I remember that when I handed him this one, he told me I finally got it right.  Twenty-four years ago!  How I still adore the people featured here, not so little anymore: 

If you knock on the front door of 310 D Avenue you'll hear a thunder of little feet stampeding to answer it.  Finally you'll see breathless, expectant faces greeting you, and before you have a chance to speak, they'll show you a new pair of high tops, a hole in a smile where a tooth used to be, or hand you a scruffy-looking hamster to hold.  These little people are my brothers and sisters, an important part of my family and my life.  In this family of seven, I am the "big sister," sometimes babysitter (sometimes bossy), usually friend and leader.

My family is large by Southern California standards, and my parents have been careful not to let us fit the mold of many of the families around us (divorced parents, self-involvement rather than family unity).  For this reason we regularly hold "Family Meetings," where the topics of discussion range anywhere from where the next family vacation will be to how to deal with a chronically empty cookie jar. 

The role I play in my family is important.  I share a bedroom with my ten-year-old sister, an experience that has taught me patience, compromise, and the lyrics to hit songs by Tiffany.  My sister is often the first person to notice when I am depressed, and cheers me up with a hug and kiss and "I love you."

There is nothing like being on the sidelines of the soccer field watching your seven-year-old brother score the winning goal, only months later during high school soccer season to hear a little voice piping, "Go Fer!" when you are out there yourself.  More than once I've felt a surge of embarrassment as guys at my front door are greeted with, "My sister wants to marry you," or "Are you going to kiss her tonight?"

Since my fifteen-year-old brother and I go to the same high school our relationship has grown stronger.  I watch him struggle with the same conflicts I had and find myself wanting to protect him.  When I ran for Student Body President last year, he campaigned relentlessly for me, wearing "Fer for President" tee shirts and badgering his friends until they were at the booth casting their votes. 

Some Friday and Saturday nights I am at home babysitting while my friends are out.  But the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus who have disappeared from other homes are still alive in mine.  Taking my brothers and sisters to the matinee performance of Bambi and clutching sweaty palms during the "scary part" leads me to believe my friends are the ones missing out. 

My family has made me whom I am today:  a leader, confidante, and good friend.  When I am at college, I will miss my family most, especially the seemingly insignificant things like dinnertime, crayon drawings on the refrigerator, and the scuffle of pajamaed feet on the sidewalk as my little sister runs out to kiss me goodbye when I leave for school.  I will be spending the next months preparing to leave, as they prepare to let me go. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Be Awesome to Yourself

There's a student I counsel from time to time who is a wonderful young woman:  kind, self-motivated, cheerful, funny, earnest, generous, sporty, hard working, easily excitable about big ideas, and a joy to be around.  I'd be proud to be her mother, mainly for her indomitably optimistic spirit and humility.

But once in a while, her confidence falters.  She questions herself; she doubts her abilities; she succumbs to overwhelm and loses sight of the big picture. 

Pay attention to how you're speaking to yourself, I tell her.  Be kind to yourself.  Accomplish the task right in front of you, and forget the SATs you're taking in a week, for now.  Remind yourself that you didn't fail your last calculus test.  Make a list of all you've accomplished and what you've done for others, give yourself a high-five, and then make your to-do list. 

Give yourself a break.  Treat yourself to something.

And then get back to work, because it's often going to be hard.

And then I have the same talk with myself.  Because couldn't we all use those reminders?

This afternoon we had Big Sis's Parent-Teacher Conference followed by her counseling appointment.  She's shed her third-grade troubles for some fourth-grade fortitude, which is cause for celebration.

Now her therapist is working with her on celebrating herself, and had her declare, in front of me:  "I'm awesome!"  The moment made me a little teary, as I thought of the adolescent girls with whom I work who often lose faith in their own awesomeness.  And I remembered the video of this little girl, affirming herself in front of her mirror

Big Sis's Achilles heel this fall has been the flute.  Fourth graders can choose violin, choir, or band, and she has always wanted to play the flute.  But she's learned how difficult it is to play, and has avoided practicing because it's hard.  We forget how important Struggle is in learning and the development of grit and tenacity.  At a family dinner last night, Baby Teddy grappled with a spoon in his hand that he couldn't get to fit through the space between his belly and the high-chair tray.  My sister was about to help him when my father admonished her to let him work it out. 

Seems like no matter what stage we're in--baby, fourth grader, fourteen, or forty--we struggle with embracing exertion and rewarding ourselves (versus seeking extrinsic motivation and praise).

But tonight after dinner, with new determination, Big Sis closed herself in our bedroom with her flute and practiced "Hot Cross Buns" a dozen times.

And each time she got the notes right, I heard her put down her flute and clap for herself. 

What's the sound of two hands clapping for oneself? 

It sounds awesome. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

One Is Silver and the Other Gold

I met a friend at a charming little neighborhood wine bar tonight and departed feeling so satisfied with the wine, our conversation, and our friendship which is relatively new.

Earlier today the girls and I visited one of my oldest friends, and I left feeling similarly content.

We talked about Santa, our parents, fourth grade, husbands, our kids' behaviors and natures, food and cooking, our latest projects, parenting, exercise, stress and overwhelm, friends, movies, Thanksgiving, fundraisers, puberty, electronic devices, lice, work, and family time.

I love family for the ways they make me feel like myself, how I feel at home.

But I love my friends for the ways they make me feel normal.

No matter a friend's background or beliefs, I find myself in each.

Finding self + feeling normal = fundamental to happiness.

Thank you, friends.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Life of I

Rally the family for a morning hike at the State Park by the beach.  Forget snacks.  Feel properly vindicated by signs at Park which read, No Food or Drinks:  Fragile Habitat.

Force hikers to add loop down to beach despite protests.  Feel natural high of Fun Family Time. Cheerfully encourage tired shorty hikers back up the hill to the car.

Host one friend each for daughters' playdates.  Facilitate painting, snacks, clay baking, fairy house construction, snacks, rabbit holding, rock tumbling, snacks.

Nix TV during playdates.  Nix hide-and-seek in the house.  Remind Little Sis about Tone of Voice.

Commence holiday photo-card project.  Upload photos.  Choose design.  Forget to save project.  Start over.  Determine wording for card.  Recognize that square card requires additional postage.  Consider:  start over or who cares?  Save project and decision for tomorrow.

Send Husband and girls off to deliver playmates to their homes.  Think about date night and movie which will start at 8:20.  Wonder who will stay awake.  Wonder if there will be parking at the mall.

Enlist Little Sis, who is harassing Big Sis, to help make pizzas and salad for dinner.  Lose help to a sibling game of Battleship.  Be impressed with Big Sis's tutorial and patience for Little Sis.

Change some clothes for date night.  Marvel at fuzzy and greying hair and how marriage comfortably endures such realities.

Find the mall and its throngs of shoppers festive and uplifting.  Find smell of Abercrombie and Fitch store disturbing and possibly poisonous.

Learn there's a 40-minute wait at new restaurant.  Spot two seats at the bar and high-five.  Order food and drinks on an iPad.

Scurry through Anthropologie while Husband waits outside.  Exit store unscathed, notice how handsome Husband looks.

Find out it's a 3-D movie.  Grab glasses out of recycle bin.  Express disbelief at number of previews.  Nudge Husband awake, twice.  Cringe and writhe in seat during storm and sinking ship scenes.  Remind self that greatest fear is lost at sea.  Note that most of movie features struggle to survive at sea. Vow not to see Unbroken, the movie, should there ever be one.

Appreciate Pi's remarkable life, the author's clever allegory, and how people choose the story they prefer:  "So it goes with God."

Drive home and find two slumbering sisters and drowsy, generous neighbor/friend who offered to  hang with the girls.

Go to bed too late, glad for one more day of break.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday, Move Over for "Make Something" Day

Last year on the Friday after Thanksgiving we took some friends up on their offer to visit their house for "Make Something" Day.  We ate and crafted and had a truly wonderful time with neighbors.  Alas, at the end of the summer, our friends moved to the East Coast.  And though I wasn't prepared to host a neighborhood party this Black Friday, I was determined to shun the malls--and even online shopping--and embark on a creative project with the girls.

We knew we would want to share our made goods.  But what could we make that wasn't sweet, which capitalized on resources already available, and that others would appreciate?

Succulent bowls:  we have a surplus of ceramic bowls and planters (from good causes!), plus, we could hit up two local businesses for the soil and plants we needed.  We stopped by the awesome flower shop where Cousin Travis works, and our favorite nursery/landscaper friend's neighborhood outpost.

While I set up our succulent assembly line, the girls launched independent projects:
Little Sis painted and tiled a wooden box

Big Sis sculpted oven-bake clay "charms"

Then, together we put together twelve little planters to deliver to neighbors and friends.

Re-purposed container, soil, plants, rocks, and glass "stones"

Complete with a note explaining our mission.

Little Sis hand-wrote twelve of these!

Here's where I admit we could use a new computer (ours keeps shutting down at inopportune moments), and I'm sure I'd be tempted by deals to be had on flat-screen TVs (we still have a box).

But today, we had a great day despite their absence.

Happy Leftovers (and Make Something) Day!!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

List: First-World Gratitude

Some luxuries I'm appreciating:

1.  Havarti cheese.

2.  My first-generation iPad.

3.  Live music.

4.  Artichokes, blood oranges, butternut squash.

5.  Soap.  So many kinds.

6.  Books.  Books I can read right now on my iPad.

7.  Art supplies.

8.  Fun party shirts.

9.  Holiday outings and doings.

10.  New running shoes.

11.  Programmable coffee maker.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Disney Family

We are in our Anaheim hotel after a day of Disneyland with my sister, her husband, and her boys.  What I love about Anaheim hotels, besides their ubiquity, evident wear-and-tear, and competition for proximity to The Happiest Place on Earth, is the kids.  You can count on kids being everywhere:  all over the parking lot, traipsing back from the pool, running along the corridors.  It's the sound of kids and vacation and it's awesome.

It was a busy but happy day in MouseLand, decked for the holidays.  We did some required park activities, like bob our heads in the Enchanted Tiki Room, stand in a long line for Autopia, and lose Big Sis for 20 minutes on Tom Sawyer Island.

A spirit of cooperation reigned; the woman sitting next to us during the Holiday Fantabulous Parade Extravaganza offered us wipes for Little Sis's sticky hands, and there was polite stroller navigation and long-line waiting.  We got to cuddle cousins in various combinations on the rides, and give the nephews' parents a "date night" so they could return to Disneyland after dinner.

Five cousins and I snoozed to the sound of fireworks and the Disney Channel, Baby Teddy asleep on my chest.

Ahhh, thankful.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

List: Final Thoughts on TEDx

Here are a few of the exciting new technologies and ideas being developed by presenters at last weekend's TEDxYouthSanDiego conference:

1.  You can actually own a 3D printer for as little as $1200, which uses drawings to produce 3-D models in plastic (or other materials).  One of the speakers is researching the regeneration of organs from cells, using 3D printing to create a soluble sugar frame for blood vessels within them.  He uses a hacker space to share ideas and developments with people worldwide who collaborate on this lifesaving project, meant to lessen our reliance on organ donors for those in need of transplants.

2.  Jim Mumford is building green roofs and researching new ways to bring more plants inside buildings (plant wall/air filtration systems) to improve air, aesthetics, and quality of life.

3.  Rocio Ortega is a freshman at Wellesley College who is championing girls' education through organizations such as Girl Up and Global Girls.

4.  David Carroll is developing a kind of felt pouch that charges cell phones using nanotechnology.  He made a shirt that charges phones, but the military is borrowing it right now.

5.  Caroline Heldman spoke on the objectification of women observed that men are "being sold that they are sexual subjects (in control), and women are objects.  Moreover, boys are raised (by society) to view their bodies as tools for mastering their environment, while girls are raised to see their bodies as projects to continually work on.  What if we raised girls to view their bodies as tools for mastering their environment?

6.  Alex Day, YouTube phenom, chronicled the saga of his success, explaining that he really wanted to achieve something he didn't know how to do.  But, he pointed out, not knowing how to do something doesn't affect one's burning desire to do it.  Go for it.

7.  Charity Tillemann-Dick sang an aria for us, and then revealed she'd had two lung transplants.  She paid homage to her doctor, who told her that doctors are meant to make safe choices when it comes to patient care, and "we're measured by outcomes." But, her surgeon confided, he measures himself by whether or not he did what he felt was the right decision for his patients.  She's a result of courageous medical care, and generous folks who donated their organs (not to mention her own amazing talent and determination).

8.  Daniel Wilson challenged us to consider what a "bionic human" is anymore, with so many of us with replaced hips, prosthetic limbs, and even neural implants.  He didn't shy away from asking us to consider how society will respond to the possible "advantages" provided by body technology--Oscar Pistorius was allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympics with prosthetic limbs, but what about next time?  What does it mean to 'level the playing field', anyway?  Questions we will increasingly grapple with as new technologies develop.

9.  Representatives from the Right to Play organization encouraged the notion that games and play help learning and community building.  They train educators across the globe in their methods, which transform schools, kids, and communities.

10.  Finally, Esther Earl's father spoke to us about the importance of life, even in grief.  He lost his daughter Esther to cancer when she was only 16, but, he argues, life is the most significant part of life, not death.  Make it so, he  urged his young audience.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Party with Yourself for Life

When we and our students arrived at TEDxYouthSanDiego yesterday, we were given goody bags with a pen and notebook inside for taking notes.  I knew ahead of time that I'd want to write down memorable quotes and ideas, and when they discouraged use of devices in the theatre, I went to town with the little notepad.

The concept behind TED (technology, entertainment, design) Talks is the power of "ideas worth spreading"--the notion that sharing ideas provides the potential for seeds to germinate, people to collaborate, and exciting innovations to change the world.

I'm spreading the ideas I wrote in my notepad with you here.  Click the video links to watch--you'll be glad you did.

We watched two videos by Jason Silva; the first was "The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck," in which Silva explains that our senses of awe help us survive.  Feeling awe increases our sense of well-being.  I know this to be true because when I behold a breathtaking natural setting or witness or hear goosebump-inducing moments of human kindness, generosity, or insight, I feel both in awe and really good about myself and our world.  I love that someone is sharing the idea that awe is important.

Silva's other film (watch it to see how excited this man gets about riffing on deep thoughts), "Radical Openness," encourages the "free exchange" of ideas, so that ideas can "have sex" (via Matt Ridley) and spawn new ones.  "Imagination allows us to conceive of delightful future possibilities...and pull the present forward to meet (them)..."  Silva's wonderings about what would have happened if oil paint hadn't been invented by Van Gogh's time or musical instruments by Beethoven's era made me think about all the people whose creativity might have gone one leap greater with new technologies.  Nevertheless, the evolution of ideas spurs generations of awesome innovations forward.

Three Lego designer/builders spoke to us about why they chose their jobs and how Lego workshops function.  One of the women was an art major, but added film to her degree because she "wanted to create worlds."  Now she designs Minilands for LEGOLANDs worldwide.  The designers explained that they remind themselves to "think outside the brick" with the saying "Studs Not on Top."  SNOT supports the notion that Lego doesn't always stack vertically--many constructions feature sideways stacks, too--think about that for a minute! They left our students with the advice to "find your support team and the right state of mind to build your future."

Derek Siver's video "Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy" struck a chord.  He demonstrates that it's the "first follower" of a goofy guy dancing in public who transforms that "lone nut into a leader."  We see that the new followers tend to emulate the first followers versus the original leader; the groundbreaker may have thought of it or done it first, but his first followers actually create the movement.  Siver reminds us to "nurture" our first followers "as equals," because "leadership is over glorified."  I interpreted his message as advice to be on the lookout for opportunities to be first followers for leaders with a really good idea or positive movement waiting for the crowd to take notice and mobilize.

Amidst each of four speaker series, a man promoting a free meditation movement (in prisons, for example),  led us through brief, simple meditations.  He urged us to work on changing our own minds versus trying to change forces beyond our control, and we marveled at how much better we felt when we only closed our eyes, focused on breathing, and let our minds wander for a few minutes.  "Who made you feel better?"  he asked us, pointing out that since we are always with ourselves, it's quite convenient to help ourselves have better days.

Which reminded me of speaker Grant Korgan's words to our youthful audience:  "You are the person you get to party with for life, for better or worse.  Choose positivity.  Love.  And push on."  Korgan, paralyzed in a snowmobiling accident, trekked to the South Pole after two years of physical therapy, urging himself over and over to "push on for just ten more feet."  We all have ten more feet in us.

The photo is blurry, but message is clear

Sunday, November 18, 2012

No Place Like Home

I spent today at TEDxSanDiego with our principal and a group of inspiring students from our high school.  We joined 400 other youth from all over the county and a bevy of provocative artists, musicians, inventors, scientists, and heroes.

One of the most memorable speakers of the day for me was Andrew Slack, founder of The Harry Potter Alliance, a non-profit determined to mobilize young people to support missions of equality and equity worldwide.  Slack believes that "the story of the orphan and the empire has the power to be a gamechanger in the story of humanity and how we see ourselves as human beings."

Because we, like Andrew Slack, can all identify with orphan-heroes and their noble quests.  His speech was a plea for us to remain undaunted, and join forces.

Slack cited a long list of narratives which subscribe to the 'Orphan vs. Evil Empire' archetype, including The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Superman, and of course, Harry Potter, explaining that the protagonists all face obstacles.  But the walls they encounter tend to have literal or figurative secret doors waiting to be found.  Slack acknowledged that the problem is that many of these doors "are very good at hiding."

Harry Potter, he reminded us, was just a "boy who lived in a cupboard who hoped that somewhere over the rainbow there was someone" who valued him.  The sadness we carry--the orphan parts of ourselves--can be the "doorway to a loving world."

He described a Jewish saying which observes that the mundane "routines of life can block the radiance of the world," urging his young audience members to indulge in daydreams and fantasy, which are not escapes "from the world, but invitations to go deeper into it."

Finally, Slack explained that reaching out, bonding, and establishing interconnectedness, "makes us not orphans, but siblings...who...from Gaza to Jerusalem...sleep together as a family of heroes under one sky, and we are home.  And, there is no place like home."  He finished his talk with a slide of the earth.

I was agape at this man's ability to link his personal story to popular literature to archetypes to a call for global service, like a nerdy young professorial rock star.

Just the kind of human I hoped would be speaking to and connecting with our students.

Here's his talk at another TEDx event:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

(Can't) Let Him Eat Cake

This evening we celebrated the baptism of our youngest nephew, Teddy, and decamped to our parents' house for a party afterwards.

The ceremony, complete with a priest who insightfully represented baptism as "immersion in a relationship" for life, was a wonderful family-and-friends affair.  It wasn't lost on most of us that it was pretty amazing that the baptism happened at all.  My sister and brother-in-law and their three boys drove down from Oregon, and only made it to Medford before it was clear something was wrong with (middle) Cousin Charlie's catheter.

I wrote before about my nephew and his feeding tube.  I haven't written since to explain that he is now on a more serious regimen of Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), a central line which carries much greater risk for infection and whose management involves lengthy daily rituals and regular nurse visits.

Charlie receives ALL his nutrition--food and drink--through his line.  He does not eat or drink. He cannot digest food as we do, though he lives in a world of rituals around food and has taste buds that work just fine.

When something is wrong with Charlie's line, something is potentially wrong with his mortality, so work, school, even baptisms, might be interrupted in favor of ensuring that Charlie is okay.  The family van pulled over to a hospital en route to San Diego to repair the line, and tomorrow Charlie will have a blood transfusion to treat some anemia.  But in the meantime, Charlie's little brother Teddy became "the newest Christian in the whole wide world."

We celebrated Teddy's baptism with salmon, meatballs, cheese and crackers, potatoes, and cake.

As my daughters admired the beautiful fondant cake and we cut it and distributed slices to the crowd, I didn't anticipate how much almost-three-years-old Charlie, too, would want his own piece.  That might seem like a "no duh," but I was struck by not only how hard my sister and brother-in-law work to maintain his line and sterile conditions, but how they struggle to preserve his health by managing his desire to eat like everybody else.  It's not unemotional, and it's a daily heartache.

For a moment there I felt like clearing the world of cakes for Charlie's sake.  But my sister reminded me that he wants meatballs, too.

During this week of gratitude I'm thankful for some things too easy to take for granted:  tasting, chewing, swallowing, and the fact that my daughters can eat whatever they want without incident.  But I'm feeling particularly grateful for the special, strong, and sweet boy that is my nephew Charlie, and that my sister and his husband are his parents:  an incredible match.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Back in the Shark Tank

It was a nice run we had for a few years, fish free.  Since the arrival of Spot the Bunny, we haven't had any requests or yearnings for gills and fins.  Which is fine by me, since I'm still atoning for the death of Lily three years ago. 

A few days ago, a student shared that she had a present for me.  She couldn't bring it to school yet, she said, but it was coming. 

"Cookies," I suggested hopefully. 

"Nope," she grinned. 

"A gift certificate to Souplantation?" I joked, referring to the restaurant where the student in question had dinner with her volleyball team after their playoff loss, in the same room as the triumphant team.  Awkward

"Ha," she answered.  "You'll see." 

I was deep in conversation at lunch today when I spotted the student trying to catch my eye.  Her mom was right behind her, carefully holding a box. 

"We have your present!" she nodded at her mom excitedly.

"Wow..." my eyes widened at the box and her mom, who was clutching it gingerly.  "Does it...crawl?" 

For a minute there, I imagined a kitten, or a puppy.  It would be a bold gift!  But I'd take it. 

"It doesn't crawl!" Mom replied. 

I peered into the box, where a fish bowl was nestled in some bubble wrap. 

"A fish!" 

"We were in charge of the decorations for the volleyball banquet and we brought you one of the centerpieces--look at the Tiki in the fishbowl!  We knew you'd love it!  You can keep it on your desk!" 

I love the Tiki (our school's mascot) in the fishbowl.  I even love the Betta fish--a deep reddish purple.  Gorgeous. 

But I didn't love the realization that I'd have to take our fish home for break--he had to be fed over the next week, right?  And then I'd bring him back?  It was too much to think about, so I asked for feeding guidelines and thanked my sweet student/friend and her mom. 

Lucky for the fish, there was heavy traffic on the way home, so sloshing was kept at a minimum.  He/she made it home safely with me, and I don't know that he'll return to my desk during the period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break.  That's too many dangerous round trips.

As for names, I'm considering "Spike," "Setter" or "Side Out." 

Please, no "Shank."  Gonna try to keep this little digger alive.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thank you...Again!

One of the challenges of weeding out toys and stuffed animals from our daughters' room is that they have an uncanny memory for who gave them what, and when.  The impassioned pleas tend to wear me down.  Hence, the constant need to purge. 

They come by it honestly, though.  In my own daily life I find I, too, have great affection for stuff other people have given us. Generous friends gave us beautiful wedding gifts (paintings and a homemade quilt come easily to mind), but there's also a dish towel I use that was part of a gift from my high school physics teacher and friend, and water goblets chosen by a fellow book club member who loved hers so much she had to give us some.  I know who gave us the fluffy Pottery Barn bath towels, our KitchenAid mixer, and our salad bowl set. 

From time to time I've sent a second thank-you note to someone whose gift keeps giving, so they know their wedding present was more than another box we opened post-Honeymoon, more than another plate or towel on a shelf.  But maybe what I'm really communicating is, "Hey, you've been significant in our lives for a long time, and I'm thankful for you."

So, with a week left before we celebrate gratitude with our family and turkey and mashed potatoes, I'm going to send out some thank-you notes.

Remember when you were waiting on the doorstep of our newly-purchased home with a six-pack of beer as we turned the keys in the door for the first time?  We do too; thanks!

I'm going to thank the friend who sneakily bought me a necklace I admired--the same friend whose  patience and generosity with me manifests in so many ways.

There's a colleague of mine who reads this blog and listens to me carefully, finding ways to encourage my interests with books in the mail and other unexpected gifts.  I'm grateful for him and people like him. 

What about you?  Whom can you thank for their enduring gifts this Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

List: Ten Spelling Sentences

It's a weekly tradition, now, in this fourth grade school year thus far:  child sits at computer and sighs in exasperation over the task of writing ten sentences, using her spelling words, of at least ten words each.  It takes a Long Time, people, to pull the requisite 100 words from Big Sis's brain before bedtime.

Which drives a former creative writing teacher bonkers.  C'mon!  I say.  Entertain your teacher and yourself!  Write some wacky clauses, kiddo!

Rolling eyes, deep sighs.  Counting words on fingers.

So, tonight I suggested a new strategy.  For each of her spelling words, I would offer an unrelated word, and she'd have to write sentences connecting the two words.  A new level of intrigue and hilarity potential.  For me, at least.  For me.

So here is my homework:

1.  Spelling word:  Ghost.  My word:  Capsize.  When my schooner capsized, I blamed the Ghost of Cruising Past.

2.  Thumb.  Pickle.  Last week, I ate a pickle that was the size of my thumb.

3.  Known.  Meatloaf.  There are the known knowns in meatloaf, and then there are the known unknowns.  Beware the unknown unknowns.

4.  Often.  Eggplant.  It is not often that my children do not stage major nuclear meltdowns over eggplant.

5.  Folks.  Squirrel.  Folks, don't let the squirrels eat your dogs.  Or, Most folks don't like it when their dogs eat squirrels.

6.  Wrist.  Rainbow.  I can spurt rainbows from my wrist when I push this nifty button on my arm.

7.  Halfway.  Gallop.  I gallop halfway to Grandma's house, and then I take the bus.

8.  Listen.  Chicken tostadas.  If you listen to your inner voice, it tells you to eat more chicken tostadas.

9.  Knuckle.  Salsa.  In the South, people like their pig knuckles with salsa.

10.  Comb.  Chocolate.  When I use the chocolate comb, I have to wash my hair again.

Bonus (wherein I use all the spelling words in one sentence, which I what I always wanted to do instead of write ten):  Listen, folks, while it often hurts your wrist and knuckles and even your thumb
to write ten sentences, don't give up halfway or use a ghostwriter; comb through the cobwebs of your creative mind and let your imagination be known.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Oops, Green Monster Does It Again

I often remind the girls in my care--my high schoolers, my daughters--that feelings like anger, insecurity, and envy spawn bad kinds of behavior.  Particularly between women.

I point out that while they often come from very dark places, those emotions are normal.  It becomes, however, our responsibility to identify when we're feeling them, determine their origins, and work through our anger, insecurity, or envy.  Or Think Very Hard before acting upon them.

Most hurtful emails; most damaging Facebook and Twitter posts; most passive-aggressive and petty acts stem from that Green Monster Envy or her cousins Jealousy, Covetousness, and Insecurity.  Most spontaneous bitchy behavior, in fact, can be traced back to those demons. 

And while none of us is immune, the hope is that we've learned to manage the monsters sometime between middle school and middle age. 

And yet, we've got the Real Housewives reality TV series to demonstrate that adult women can behave like sixth graders. 

Oh, and there's Paula Broadwell.

See, it wasn't exposure of her extramarital affair that brought her down.  It was that she had to go and send anonymous "harassing" emails to a woman she perceived as competition, asserting, in effect, "You'd better back off my (ex-)man."  And because they were "anonymous," an investigation ensued. 

Let the wincing commence. 

We do dumb and hurtful stuff when we're infatuated and obsessed (like have an affair), but we often do forehead-smackingly lunatic stuff when we're jealous and insecure (like write "anonymous" emails from multiple fake accounts).  Paula needed a friend to talk her down from the keyboard, at the very least. 

Nevertheless, I think many of us could own up to some ugly behavior birthed by envy. 

Okay, I will start.

It was sixth grade.  I had a hopeless crush on a guy who paid me no mind except when he was making fun of me and my friends in a way only middle school boys can (and I and my friends endured the mistreatment in a way only middle school girls can).  I knew deep down that this was destined to be unrequited love, but I was reassured by the fact that though he wasn't "going out" with me, he wasn't "going out" with anyone else I knew either. 

But then came Sixth Grade Camp.  Sixth Grade Camp is a rite of passage in our parts.  It involves spending a school week in the mountains with sixth grade peers from your school and Another School.  The "Another School" in question back in 1982 brought a girl who within a day purported to be hot for my love interest.  And I knew this because girls from both schools slept in a huge room of bunkbeds together, and my friends told me they heard her friends say that she liked him. 

I clearly remember the moment when a pack of my buddies approached me with this news, pointing out the girl in question, over yonder, and awaiting my response. 

A mild but territorial outrage tinged with green envy crept over me.  But I also felt safe among my "supportive" peeps, and emboldened by the independence of being at sleepaway camp.

"She's kind of a dog,"  I offered. 

And then the next part happened.  Either one of my friends told her or one of her friends the gist of what I said, or one of her friends overheard me.  All I know is that soon enough, I was surrounded by a group of her peeps, who were accusing me of calling their girl a "rag." 

"I did NOT call her a 'rag'," I asserted confidently, while sheathed in a cold sweat, relieved that one factual lapse saved me from lying, at least. 

"She wants to fight you," they added.

"Well...I didn't call her a rag..." I repeated, weakly, and walked away, in search of my friends. 

And that was that, as far as I recall.  I have vague memories of sanding a piece of Manzanita wood and being freaked out by counselors' ghost stories.  But mostly I remember that I spent most of Sixth Grade Camp living down that I acted like a mean girl and got called out. 

So, that was a low point.  In retrospect, I am so very glad I couldn't text or tweet or post my thoughts about that girl.  Because I might have. 

And though the scandal in Washington (and Virginia and Florida and North Carolina) is a hot, hot mess (the latest:  emails with shirtless photos from an FBI agent??  That poor choice is inspired by another kind of age-old monster...), there's something we should all recognize, amidst the snickering and judging: 

You can be valedictorian AND homecoming queen AND fitness champ AND Harvard grad AND bestselling author AND...Still.  Feel.  Insecure.

Whatever it takes for us to love ourselves a little more, or enough, it sure isn't having an affair with a four-star general.

It's an elusive elixir, and I hope Holly Petraeus has quarts of it in stock. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oh Beautiful Day

Feeling so grateful for where we live, and for how we live.

We had a wonderful family day at the beach with friends:  frisbee, sandcastles, rock climbing, tidepools, sand-bombs-against-rocks throwing, chasing, basking, dancing.

Thank you, veterans, for this day of being free and together. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Falling Back...into Bed

I don't remember the time change kicking the arses of our psyches quite so thoroughly, but the past two days we've all needed naps to recover from the regular weekend fun we're having.

We hosted an early "Fall Back" dinner party last Sunday and invited some neighbors to fight the darkness, which was a cheery way to start the week, but seven accidental-early risings after, and we are all done.  

Thank goodness for one day more this weekend.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Promoting Pantsuits, One Palazzo Pantleg at a Time

Last summer when we were in the Virgin Islands, my sister-in-law took me to the St. Thomas Kmart. Besides housing a stunning array of swimsuits, the store was featuring a Sofia Vergara line of apparel, including black and olive-green polyester pantsuits.  I tried the green one on, and it wasn't even outrageous.  The width of the pants?  Almost.  But the length was just right for petite me, and it felt like destiny.  I had to have the jumper, on sale for $19.99.  As I carried it out of the store, I began imagining all the places I might wear it.

Tonight was our big annual schools' foundation auction, and people wear everything from tuxes to Hawaiian shirts, sequins to sweater sets, to the event.  My pantsuit would work.  I even tried to curl my hair back in Farrah Fawcett feathers, but I needed a few more layers to pull it off.  I donned metallic wedge sandals and pale shimmery lipstick, and felt almost fabulous in my all-at-once clingy and flowy outfit.

But when I paused to go to the bathroom before my ride arrived, I recalled the drawback to the one-piece pantsuit.  It's a hassle to pee.  And then I also remembered the last time I wore such an ensemble:  August 1989.  On the cross-country airplane ride to college.

I don't know why I chose the black rayon tank-top jumper-deal with buttons from top to waist to wear for my college debut, but there are more than a few choices I made in that era which puzzle me now. All I know is, it was a stupid, stupid choice for travel, and it's taken more than twenty years for me to recover enough to consider one-piece apparel not designed for swimming.

It was an emotional day and departure; I was the firstborn, first to leave the nest, flying from California to Connecticut, leaving my parents and four siblings--one as young as five years old--behind.  My dad would make a video montage of the trip to the airport and my boarding, later, complete with my and my family members' crying, and my little brothers and sisters peering out the window at my plane as it departed, set to "Leaving on a Jet Plane. "

I was a puddle on that plane, trying to pull myself together, wiping my eyes and pretending I was just fine, thank you very much, as I hiccup-sobbed.  I waited for my first opportunity to escape to the loo, grateful for a moment of privacy.  Sniffling, I unbuttoned my jumpsuit, which gathered around my ankles on the floor, and sat on the toilet.

Amidst the pathos and passion of the moment, I forgot to lock the bathroom door.  And soon enough, someone opened it wide.  Wide enough for not only that person but a few rows of passengers opposite that head to get a glimpse as I shrieked and attempted to fold up my very bare-looking body.

Apologies ensued, door closing and locking, more crying, and the realization I would have to eventually come out of that bathroom and face those people and be in their company for the next four hours.

And then go to college.

I buttoned up and braved the cabin, hoping they would all notice the pantsuit as an explanation for why I appeared so undressed in the restroom. 

It all worked out, somehow.

But I will tell you this:  I always lock a public restroom door.  Always.

And sometimes wear pantsuits.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Braised Pork Paired with Peach Pilsener

Once upon a time, a dear, dear friend brought some Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer over to my house. First, I'm kind of an omnivore with a willingness to try stuff, and second, the cherry beer was also known as "Free Beer," so it tasted exceptionally good to me that evening.  I'm sure I expressed appreciation for the beer, and for my friend, whom I love. 

Somehow, though, fruity beers made their way into a conversation at a neighborhood gathering some time later, and I was outed for loving them.  It was that little awkward moment where I could have disavowed all enthusiasm, like a high schooler might loudly exclaim, red-faced, "What?  I am SO NOT a Justin Bieber Fan!" but truth is, though I prefer IPA, I won't deny an offer of Raspberry Hefeweisen. 

But here's the deal.  I've been to a party or two now where a helpful host has bought some fruit beer "just for you, Fer."  Another generous friend saved the bottles of fruit beer (someone else brought to their house) just in case I come over. 

It's time to come clean about fruit beers and Fer:  there's just too many other tasty beers to drink. 

I was in a teacher's classroom today admiring his socks (yep, that's how we evaluate teachers at our school), and then realized I've complimented his socks before.  He admitted to having a "socks thing."

"It all started one Christmas," he explained, "when I put socks on a few too many gift lists."  The socks keep coming.  And he rocks them. 

Another teacher mentioned that she's awash in rubber ducks since once offhandedly remarking on their cuteness.  Her dad now makes it a mission to find one for her every time he travels. 

The third colleague in the room has a problem with braised pork, and the problem is that too many people think it's his favorite food.  People push the pork at family dinner parties; they make extra Just For Him.  He doesn't have the heart to let them down, so he chokes it down. 

The climax of the conversation occurred when our extraordinary-sock-sporting friend admitted he also went through a Thomas Jefferson Phase.

"I think you already know that I can be obsessive.  I was really into Thomas Jefferson." He shrugged, "Now I have about five books about Thomas Jefferson, which other people gave me, on my shelf."

I've been to the homes of people who whisper  a little too loudly that they have a penchant for pigs, baskets, shot glasses, angels, or old license plates.  Sometimes we grow out of our interests (though I wish I still had some of my Miss Piggy paraphernalia), but the world won't let us forget them.

One of the teachers predicted better results by expressing great interest in things like expensive wine, or cash. 

"You know me!" he joked, "I really appreciate a pricey Pinot!  And I collect it, you know, in case you have any cases lying around." 

Socks, fruity beers, rubber ducks, braised pork, Thomas Jefferson:  from which fan club do you need to unsubscribe yourself?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Easy Autumn Sauté

Tonight's dinner just couldn't be one more night of leftover chicken from Way Too Much Chicken that I grilled on Sunday.  

So I searched the freezer for an anchor ingredients and found chicken apple sausage.  I sautéed the sausage with refrigerator remnants:  an onion, kale, and sliced Roma tomato, then added a dash of olive oil and thyme.  I threw it all over quinoa:  one bowl and one spoon per person. 


Like daylight savings time, the elections, soccer season (almost), summer weather (maybe), and me. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Brandi Snifter

There are live musical acts I never pass up if they're in town (why yes, The Indigo Girls, for example), but Brandi Carlile just might be my favorite live performer:  petite but packing powerful pipes and radiant positive energy.  She plays moving ballads and rocking covers ("Folsom Prison Blues" is a favorite) in a show that only disappoints if her set is short because she shares the headline.

(Look:  she's in my minivan, too!).

I bought tickets for tonight's concert months ago, and doesn't everything sound like a good idea months ago (like marathons and pregnancy).  Truth was, at about 2 PM I imagined myself in a standing-room-only venue this evening and felt exhausted by the notion.  So I went home after work for a tall cup of coffee, and rallied.

What's awesome about follow-through on commitments is that it rarely disappoints, even when it's  an early-morning workout. My niece and I got home at 11:30, inspired and exuberant and not even achey after hours of standing.  She had never heard of Brandi Carlile; here's to hoping you become a fan, too:

"I sometimes lose my faith in luck; I don't know what I want to be when I grow up..."