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..."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

List: Election Musings

1.  Heading to bed knowing who our next President is. 
2.  Heading to bed wondering if Proposition 30 will pass, and if we'll lose another two weeks of school for our kids. Shame on you, state.
3.  Heading to bed suspecting that we will continue to exercise the death penalty in California, despite my vote to the contrary.
4.  Heading to bed unsure if GMOs are bad or good or a little of both.
5.  Heading to bed wishing I'd taken government class in high school and trying to remember how that requirement was waived.
6.  Heading to bed sympathizing for the "only one person" in Little Sis's class who voted for Mitt Romney in her 1st grade class election.  Tough to stand alone.
7.  Heading to bed cringing at my Facebook feed.
8.  Heading to bed wincing at Big Sis's soccer teammate's comment as we walked to the car after practice, about Mitt Romney hating Mexicans, and reminding myself that people's perceptions are their realities.
9.  Heading to bed celebrating more states valuing individuals' rights to marry regardless of gender. 
10.  Heading to bed hoping that things will get better, better, BETTER for human beings over the next four years:  locally, nationally, globally. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Dear Soccer Parents, Chill Out

In my spare time this semester, I am coaching Little Sis's Under-8 Girls' Soccer Team.  Despite how much I love coaching, it's the other thing besides parenting that makes me most insecure.  I have the enthusiasm and willingness, but I always wonder about my coaching skills and also Am I Subbing Out My Players Equitably.   Pondering this can keep me up at night; that's just how I roll. 

I have to remind myself that I am not judging Big Sis's soccer coach, and not just because I know him and he's my friend.  I am truly just grateful that he is willing to take on the task (as well as 10 fourth graders), and impressed that, under his leadership, his players go out and understand positions and make and save some goals. And more importantly, have fun

I imagine that the parents of my players feel similarly:  Supremely thankful that I, and my BFF/assistant coach, are willing to run around for an hour every Thursday afternoon with goofy, sometimes completely wackadoo under-eight-year-olds and make stuff up, such as drills and games called "Coach Says," while parents watch from lawn chairs.  An hour of soccer practice, by the way, is a Long Time, even with 15 minutes of stretching at the beginning and another 20 of scrimmaging at the end. And breaks for water and shoe-tieing and injuries.

Also, it's hard to reach back to one's own rec soccer days to remember cool and fun drills.  So even though this is my third year "coaching" soccer, I attended a soccer coaching clinic in September because my insecurities hadn't abated.  I learned a lot at the soccer clinic, but mostly I hurt my knee.  An injured knee is one thing it's clear I will take away from this soccer season.  While the soccer season appears to have taken running away from me. 

And yet, I don't resent the coaching or the clinic or the practices.  I continue to love them so much that I didn't even think before I responded to the email asking for coaches to volunteer for the all-star tournaments.  I didn't even think about the fact that Neither of My Daughters Will Be Playing on This Team of All-Stars I Will Coach.  This is because Big Sis plays Under-10, and Little Sis is...not so much an all-star. 

But here's what I do resent:  today we received the league "Bad Sideline Behavior" email.  The Bad Sideline Behavior email must be an annual inevitability, because I have seen various versions of it over my five-year career as a Soccer Mom.  The Bad Sideline Behavior email is directed toward the non-coaching, non-volunteering parents of soccer players under the age of 12, and it says, basically, Stop Acting Like an Asshole.  Stop Acting Like an Asshole in Front of Your Children.  Stop Yelling at Volunteer Coaches and Refs and even your own kids.  The email actually does include a part about, if the system  makes you so angry, go ahead and volunteer and fix it

Haha!  That part surely makes people angry, because people don't like to quit complaining and fix things.  In general, they don't.  Election Day tomorrow will prove that.  I know some portion of my Facebook feed will be moving to Canada on Wednesday, which is not exactly fixing things. 

But, just like the Facebook post I saw today which says, "'I changed my vote for President based on your Facebook post',  said no person ever," emails exhorting people to stop being jerks are similarly futile.  And I know this because That Email Does Not Apply to Me.  If it doesn't apply to you, you feel guilty about it and write back and say I am so sorry did you mean me?  If it does apply to you, I imagine that you get in your car and flip off the next Slow Driver you meet on the freeway.  Or write a trollish comment in response to an online article.

But what scares me is that if it applies to you, you're quite possibly my neighbor, the parent of my kid's friend, a seemingly otherwise rational person who loses her shizzle when she approaches the soccer pitch.  Something about the ubiquity of this youth sport makes everyone entitled to "coach" and "ref" and judge soccer, though only a portion of adults have played it.  The fact that there is a reality show for Toddlers in Tiaras, which highlights outrageous stage parents, and not for "Kiddoes in Cleats," suggests that parental passion on the soccer sidelines is acceptably mainstream.  Aggressive Yelling Dad and Screamy Mom seem to show up every Saturday.  My BFF refers often to Oakland rec soccer, where they had to declare "Silent Sidelines" because of overly exuberant parents.

I get some of the passion, parents; I have had to temper my own "Go go go go gogogogogogogogo gooooooooooooooooo," which is white noise to our children who are either already gooooooooooing or not likely to get up and go at all despite all exhortations.  As a coach, I've learned that talking excessively to my players on the field raises the likelihood they're looking at me and not at the ball (a few key plays missed that way!).   

So we've got to calm down, folks.  We've got to save some of this outrage and passion for human rights abuses and miscarriages of justice more consequential than a 13-year-old ref's bad call at a U-10 game. 

I can't help but wonder if we made the parents of the opposing teams' players get out and play one other for two five-minute halves, we'd humble our fans and quite possibly knock the hot air out of them before the kids play.   

Save profanity and disgust and censures and tantrums for pro sports and the players and coaches paid to endure good and bad press.  They've even got security guards at those games. 

Spare the kids and volunteers, willya?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Snapshot: Sunday at the Park

Today was a hot November day in Southern California.  Just when I think we're finally gaining reprieve from fans and dress code violations, unseasonably warm weather returns.  We thought about swimming, but the allure weakened when the girls learned that the diving board was closed for fall and winter.  Off we went to the park instead, with scooters and helmets in hand.

I love going to the park to people watch.  And when I say people watch, I mainly mean parent watch.  I mean, kids are fun to watch too--kids eating sand, kids flying off the spinny thingamajig, kids awkwardly approaching one another to play, kids sighing and rolling eyes at kids (okay, at my daughter) when they (she) doesn't wait her turn for the monkey bars--but I watch parents, in part, to watch various versions of myself. 

I know a nanny who loves to post photos of moms at the park on Facebook:  moms who sit on a bench to the side while their children play.  She doesn't approve.  I confess that I'm one of those moms, most of the time, until my children enlist my involvement:  push me on the swing, please, MamaLift me so I can reach the monkey barsWatch me!  Watch me!  Watch me!  Once in a while I want to climb the rock wall, or prove to myself that I can't do monkey bars.  Otherwise, like yesterday, I prefer to lie in the grass and in the cool breeze and enjoy my children enjoying themselves.  And watch and listen to parents.

I eavesdropped on a dad sitting with another mom, talking politics:

"I mean, you've got to vote based on your current circumstances.  You can't vote on some unlikely possibility you're going to be some millionaire someday..."

"I just think it's kind of selfish to have that view..."

And, as they parted:  "I think you're actually more conservative than you think you are..."

"Oh, no I'm not!"

I cringed at the Shrill Mom censuring her son from across the park.  And then I realized all four of those boys seven years old and under were hers. 

Over by the swings, I struck up a conversation with a mother of two, one of whom has Down Syndrome.  We talked about school and teachers and classes for students with special needs. 

"I just want both my kids to be happy," she sighed. 

A sweet, teary little girl and her sister approached me when I flopped back onto the grass. "Where's my mom?" the eldest sniffled. I looked for a childless parent, and found my doppelganger, lying in the shade of a tree past the slide.  She lifted her head and waved. 

Meanwhile, in the burnished slanty sun marking the end of Daylight Savings Time, my girls and a friend made the most of the park, chasing each other, racing on scooters, sliding, climbing, swinging.  Laughing. And doing the spider: 

When we got in the car, I turned to the three girls with cherry-red cheeks in the backseat and said, "You know what it smells like in here?  It smells like sweaty kid."  And off we went for ice cream.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Night of the Dudus

A recent conversation about "domestic" iguanas escaping into the trees of Santa Barbara and geckos living on the walls reminded me of a night in Kenya I will never forget: The Night the Termites Came to Town.

It's only fair to directly quote the journal I kept during my year living and teaching in Kenya:

Friday 8th November (1996)

Monday was "Attack of the African Rain Dudu" night--the little-known sequel to Hitchcock's The Birds.  During an afternoon conversation, Bharti [my tough Indian landlady] offhandedly joked and said we'd all eat at my house tonight, and I said, "Fine!" (but there's a Murphy's Law in play whenever Bharti, consummate Indian wife and mother, is around: that I will look stupid and do things wrong). I tried making focaccia [Kenya-style], and didn't follow directions [duh].  My spaghetti sauce was blah.  I even almost ruined the noodles.

In the midst of preparation for my guests, it began raining hard, and big flying bugs materialized near the kitchen window. Soon, there were multitudes coming through a crack at the side of the window. I wisely thought, I will open it, and let them fly out.

Yikes!  So many flying, flapping buggies were in my face and hitting the wall and then crawling around as I shrieked and hit them with a curtain and avoided squishing them underfoot,. I found even more in the living room and hallway, pouring into my porous house. It was an insect invasion like no other I had experienced.

In a flash of inspiration, I figured out they were attracted to light, and I turned on the outside bulb and extinguished all lights inside. I opened the front door, and many flew out.

The ones remaining appeared to lose their wings, crawl around, hump each other, and inexplicably disappear. Their wings, however, were ubiquitous. I joked with my fourth-grade students the next day that I could have stuffed pillows with dudu wings.

"You should have fried them up and eaten them, Miss," a student offered. "They taste like peanut butter."

Which might have been better than the spaghetti I served my guests that night.   

That they were "dudus" and tasted like sandwich spread were the only details offered by my students about these winged invaders. [I learned later that these were your garden-variety termites, the ones who build admirable mounds above ground. Here is a similar account of Termite Horror from a San Diego Zoo conservation program specialist]. 

It's not unusual for me to find an errant dudu wing tucked in an journal or bag I used during my time in Kenya...

Friday, November 2, 2012

List: Ways I Increase the Likelihood I Will Exercise

Formerly, I was only a runner.  I did a good amount of running, and that's all I did.  But as I mentioned recently, last year I joined a P90X "club" at school, which has broadened my exercise repertoire.  We meet at 5:45 AM in the gym on Mondays and Fridays, and as one can imagine, I've had to maximize the potential that I will actually leave my bed and my home to go make my body hurt in the wee hours. 

List:  Ways I Increase the Likelihood I Will Exercise (with an approximate 75% success rate):

1.  Assign husband the role of preparing and setting coffee maker to auto-brew at 5:15 AM.
2.  Set alarm for 4:45 and push "snooze" until 5:20.
3.  Have gym bag packed COMPLETELY with work clothes (try not to forget undies, bra, towel, or dress shoes, or endure awkward results), ready to grab by the front door.
4.  Go to bed dressed in workout clothes instead of pajamas:  jog bra, tee shirt, shorts.  Place socks and running shoes right next to bed. 
5.  Lie in bed between 4:45 and 5:20 thinking about the potential for chiseled arms, contoured legs, and ripped abs.  Get up despite necessary reality check.
6.  Lie in bed between 4:45 and 5:20 thinking about how lame it would be to skip the workout and have to change out of not-even-sweaty workout clothes.
7.  Lie in bed thinking about the reward of an amazing meal. 
8.  Fear the reprisals of colleagues in the club who will be there without you. 
9.  Drive fifteen minutes to the gym with a to-go mug of hot coffee:  just enough time to wake up and caffeinate.
10.  Acknowledge, as the car engine ignites, that it's too late to turn back now--high-five self about inevitable workout!  It's almost like it's already done. 


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sugar Crashing

This morning, still woozy from sleep and high blood sugar, Little Sis grabbed her bag of candy and snuggled with it on the couch, brandishing a full-sized Kit Kat with wonder and anticipation.  On my way out the door for work, and in the gentlest way possible, I let her know we'd be talking this evening about our plan for Hallo-wean-ing ourselves off an entire cache of candy. 

Last night Little Sis was an adorable Dorothy as promised, with only a little concern about my braiding skills (she likes them tight; I confess that I am a loose plaiter).  Big Sis, who planned to be a veterinarian, had an alter-identity crisis ("But, MomNo one is going to be a job for Halloween!") and effected a late-in-game switcheroo to "Island Princess," which, despite my shallow experience with the genre, I believe she pulled off tropically and triumphantly (if not, at first, tearfully). 

Note:  one costume I won't ever try to make myself:  Fourth Grader. It's far too shape-shifting. 

I went as a bat.  Or as a cat, or a witch, depending on your interpretation and commitment to scrutinizing my accessories.  It was another year of raiding the children's costume crate, so my bat wings extended only to my elbows. 

Grandparents and aunts and uncle joined the trick-or-treating entourage through our friendly neighborhood.  We came home with only 45 minutes or so left of peak scavenging left, but threw ourselves wholeheartedly into giving the older trick-or-treaters a hard time while the girls sorted and sifted their bounty.

When a teenager wearing street clothes and a gratuitous mask approached the porch, my brother greeted him.  "That's pretty weak, man," he nodded at the kid's mask.

The young man shrugged as he held out his candy bag.  "Oh yeah, well, it's the recession."

P.S.  We told the girls they could choose 10 pieces of candy to keep, and we'd give them $10 for the rest.  How do you negotiate the gobs of gobstoppers and gummies?