Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Search!

Our 22-year daughter hasn’t lived at home since the summer of her freshman year in college.  Four years worth of clothes, books and apartment life are now jammed packed in her small 15 by 10 foot bedroom.  I can tell this transition will be much more challenging for her than it will be for us.

With one week under the same roof together, we have not yet gotten into a rhythm. Routines seemingly so insignificant are noticed once again; sharing a drawer in the bathroom, making a full pot of coffee instead of a half, parking in the driveway.  And more.

For us, it’s making small adjustments to space.  For her it’s making large adjustments to her independence, or at this time, lack of it. The fulfillment of successfully completing college in four years with a double major has taken a backseat to “what will I be doing now?” and “when will my education begin to pay off?”  She’s too young to know that it already has.

Because she’s sensitive and considerate, there is an obvious effort to do extra chores and help out.  I appreciate that, but I see a longing in her eyes for her own space, her own daily routine, her own financial independence, all the while trying to be grateful and appreciative of her opportunities. 

The daily search for a job has become her job.  Too bad that doesn’t pay. A rejection letter feels like a personal affront, yet there is an understanding of the competition and the general malaise of the economy.  Every positive response and interview is what keeps her going. 

Many years ago I too was searching, and not just for a job. What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? And, most importantly, who am I? These were the thoughts that would drift in and out of my head as I turned the to the Wanted Ads in the newspaper. 

So as she fires up her computer, clicks on Craigslist, Monster Jobs, and all the other clever job posting sites, I’m sure she’s thinking the same things. 

Do we ever really know?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Noisy Neighbors!

            I’m tired today.  After a 4-hour lengthy hike in high altitudes, I was looking forward to a good night sleep.  So was my husband. Not to sound like Debbie Downer, but sleep we did not get.  Waa.  Waa.

The air in Tahoe is wickedly thin.  So thin in fact, that a whisper can carry down the trail, through the pines and land on someone’s ears miles away.   We’re careful, so very careful to be aware of that. And anytime our voices reach a decibel that might be heard from more than 6 ft. away, one partner gives the other partner the signal to shush, too loud.

            Our neighbors up here do not employ the same set of rules.  Last night for hours they sat on their deck visiting, loudly, late into the night.  We tried to ignore it.  We put pillows over our heads.  We put on the sound of soft music. We considered shutting the window, except it was warm up here. 

            At one point around midnight, I could hear our neighbors talking about another couple.  I tried not to listen, but admittedly was intrigued with the infidelities of our neighbors friends, thinking, wow do people really do that? Shame on me for listening. That was about the time when one of us, trying desperately to drift into a blissful, restful slumber, had enough.  Guess who?

            No, not me, but papa bear stormed to the window and loudly implored “WOULD YOU LOWER YOUR VOICES? PLEASE?”

            As incredibly tired and frustrated as I was, I just couldn’t take it any longer.  I buried my head in my pillow and laughed.  Fatigue will do that. The look on his face, the sound of his voice, the absurdity of it all was funny.  Not sure if my husband thought I was laughing or crying while the bed was lightly shaking.  He was so tired, he didn’t even ask.  Bless him for that.

            What do most people do in situations like this?  Is it socially acceptable to say something?  Is it more mature to ignore and hope it doesn’t happen again?  I need advice here.  Anybody, please!

            The loud talking continued for about another hour, probably until the wine ran out.  Perhaps they didn’t hear the request from 40 yards away?  Or, most likely decided to ignore it.

            I’m all for people having fun.  I love conversation.  Partying and enjoying the company of others is fine.  But, please, just a little civility and attention to the needs of others would be so very much appreciated. 

            As I walked by their deck this morning on my way to run the dog, there my neighbors sat, happily drinking coffee, smiling away, their little mutt barking at us through the deck posts.  I considered saying something clever.  I thought perhaps I should implore them to lower their voices in the future. 

            But after a pleasant good morning salutation from these chatty partiers, I just couldn’t do it.  I nodded, smiled and silently chuckled, as I knew more than I cared to about these people. Let’s see what happens tonight.

Monday, August 16, 2010

One Year!

I did it!  I took on the challenge of chronicling our first year alone without teens underfoot.  The challenge was to explore this life stage and post one weekly blog for family, friends but mostly for me. 

The questions considered for exploration, How is it?  What’s different?  How did the coeds do?  And, most importantly, how have I changed? 

The funny thing is, I found myself reading (more than writing) other blogs from women of all ages.  Young moms write a lot and sometimes I wonder where in the world they find the time.  Menopausal women, god bless them, write a lot and I wonder from where do they get the courage to expose the changes in themselves in such a public fashion? Single women write without contempt for the moms of the world. Men don’t seem as into it and I wonder, when do they share their stories?  Or does it matter?

My own posts just touched the surface of our first year as empty nesters.  To avoid getting too personal, I kept looking for the humor in the daily grind and laughed out loud frequently as I am so easily amused.  Occasionally, I would attempt to chronicle the humorous and every chuckle was like balm for the soul.  It helps to have a husband with a funny sense of humor.

But, I just couldn’t publically share my deepest, darkest, brightest revelations.  Those are tucked away in the privacy of my desktop folder for me and only me.

So, what’s it like?  At first the magnitude of silence is deafening, but then the silence quiets too.  There is still chaos, life is messy after all, but that also takes up less space in the heart.  Time is what really stands out, there’s more of it to become self-obsessed, hence the narcissistic blogs. Less cooking, less laundry, less conversation, less, less, less.  That’s not so bad.

How did the coeds do?  There was the typical euphoria of something new.  There was the honeymoon period when all is well.  There was the moment of homesickness that all kids must work through.  There was the excitement for a future graduate.  There were lessons of all kinds, clean, messy, good, bad, shallow, thought provoking, easy, not so easy.  In other words, they changed and matured and learned how to maneuver through the ups and downs of life independently.  Well, mostly independently. 

How have I changed?  My identity as a parent took a major shift.  Parenting from a far requires an acute skill in listening.  I started listening for nuances that are subltle, a change in text or phone patterns, a shift in tone, what’s not being said.  And then there’s the temptation to give advice and the inner voice that screams STOP, they are not asking for it. They just want to be heard.  Such self-control and often I wasn’t very good at it.  I think I’m getting better, however.

At home as the quietness increased, the tension decreased, which is normal when there are fewer personalities afoot. I do like the energy though with a house full of young people.  That I still miss.  A lot.

I found joy in playing scrabble, dominoes, watching a ballgame with my mate.  I loved the freedom of spur of the moment meals, an evening walk or bike ride.  I learned to quiet the chatter of my mind.  Where initially there was agitation in that stillness, now there is peace.  Mostly.

So just as I got use to this new way of living life in its typically fantastical fashion, changes again. 

Advice to family and friends who are transitioning the kids out of the house, it’s really fine.  Really.  Enjoy it while it last.  Because it is likely they’ll be back.

Next up, home again home again giggity gig!  I cant’ wait.

Monday, August 2, 2010


Although it places a near second, the weather is not the universal language.  The subject of food, food and more food is the language we all speak.  At least that’s how it is for our family and friends. 

Weeks before their arrival, we began discussing what I would be preparing for a 9 day visit from our Italian friends, who by the way, own a restaurant below the lovely ancient city of Sermonetta.  They know how to cook and they certainly know how to eat, hence my anxiety.

Beginning in June, I started thinking about the menu.  I knew I didn’t want to serve pasta and compete with their native cuisine.  In fact, I thought it would be better for them to taste the local flavors of California, vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, fish, cheese, great bread and wine.  We are so lucky here. 

Around middle June I noticed our garden would have an abundance of zucchini, squash, basil, lettuce, arugula, parsley, too early for tomatoes, however, with our cool summer weather. The thinking of food progressed to perusing cookbooks, recipes and web sites. 

An obsession was beginning to take root.  Here I am 52 years old worrying about feeding two 20 something visitors.  Little did I know that I did in fact have something to worry about.

End of June, I carefully tended to the garden, watered, picked, plucked, cooked.  Still wasn’t sure what I was going to prepare for them, however.  I experimented with what was available locally.  California cuisine (thank you Alice Waters) would be the deciding factor based upon what was in the market and garden.  What was available would be what got prepared for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I shopped the day before they arrived and had my plan in place for the most part. 

On the day of their arrival, I was informed that one of the visitors had recently developed severe allergies to most fruits, some vegetables and all nuts!  Her allergies were so severe that her mate was afraid to taste the foods in fear of kissing her may spur on an attack.  Much to my dismay, the dried fruit and almonds purchased were placed in the back of the cabinet.  I did, however, bake the fresh peaches in wine for a dinner party in their honor and served them vanilla ice cream instead. 

There were two near disasters.  The first was in Virginia City.  Italians love the romance of the “old west”.  Here we were clopping along the wooden walkway when we came across an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.  Friend with allergies wanted a scoop.  Her mate was adamantly against this idea because of the possibility of fruit and nuts contaminated on the scoop would be transmitted to the ice cream.  I implored the worker to scrub the spoon with hot water in the event she decided to risk it.  Mildly annoyed the worker obliged.

An argument ensued in Italian that only native speakers can understand, but one can only imagine the exchange.  Allergy girl trumped her boyfriend and vigorously attacked the cone like it was her last meal.  Boyfriend in broken English looked at me and said, “the problem is now hers.” We all watched, tense and ready with epi-pen in hand.  Apparently the scoop was in fact cleaned properly. Disaster averted but not without drama.

The second episode was during a visit to a local coffee shop.  In search of an innocent muffin without the problematic ingredients we spotted what looked like a decadent chocolate brownie sans nuts, perfect with strong coffee. Five times I asked the barista if there were nuts in the brownies and five times she answered NO.  I emphasized how horrible it would be if this young Italian ingested nuts while the customers waiting in the ever increasing growing line were watching with mildly amused expressions.  Like my husband reported to a waiter during dessert on another night, we cannot have nuts, look at nuts or even think about nuts. The waiter laughed and I’m sure thought it was we who were nuts. 

I was 99.9% sure after the 5 emphatic No’s that the brownie was ok.  Brownie purchased, our friend began walking out of the cafĂ© and carefully placed a very small portion in her mouth.  The barista, in the meantime, was having second thoughts and pulled out the book with the ingredients of all the pastries.  Last ingredient, WALNUTS!  STOP EATING!

I cannot describe my horror.  Apparently my faced blanched, one could see my heart thumping in my chest.  Italian friend quickly ran into the bathroom ingesting large quantities of water, finger down throat to regurgitate what was the equivalent of perhaps 1/8th a teaspoon of brownie.  We all sat nervously waiting for a reaction, praying that there would be none.  So upset was I, I could not eat my own brownie. 

Oh Dio! It took me hours to recover.   

In the end, much to my delight, our visitors were furiously writing down the recipes of their favorite meals during their visits, all of course without nuts, dried or fresh fruit.  Translating some of the ingredients proved a bit difficult with me gesticulating, miming and using sound effects to describe goat cheese, Dijon mustard and Herbs de Provence for a French lentil salad that was a big hit. 

I love food.  I love cooking.  I love the watching those I serve enjoying every morsel eyed, sniffed, swallowed and digested. 

Our friends have returned to Italy, delighted in every aspect of their visit, including the food.  I miss them already.  Am I nuts?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

“Sunny, with a slight chance of T-Storms” By Gary

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were enjoying a warm weekend at Lake Tahoe.  I opened the paper to the weather section and saw the forecast: sunny and warm, with a slight chance of T-storms.  I chuckled out loud as I reread the forecast to her. “Sounds like your personality sometimes!”  The girls and I have  jokingly described her very rare outbursts as “T-Storms”, short for Teresa Storms.  We both laughed,  easy to do when it’s summertime and the livin is easy.

If I had to describe a place with a climate that represented my day to day life with Teresa, I’d look for the warmest, most tropical place on earth--Hawaii or Fiji, perhaps, and still declare it not temperate enough.
I’m the first to admit:  In the Super Pick Six Lottery of Marriage, I had all six numbers and the bonus. I have friends who remind me of this all the time. Just earlier this year, after a sensitive faculty meeting in which a particularly stylish Teresa made a couple of incredibly apt and to-the-point suggestions benefiting the entire staff, a young charismatic Social Studies teacher leaned over to me and said, “DAMN, Oefinger, you really married UP!”  He was right.

With that said, every once in a long while, amidst all the obligations, expectations, caring, counseling and doing for others, even Teresa reaches a breaking point where she proves she’s human after all.  If pushed just a bit more at this time,  she morphs into a character that my daughters know I refer to as her “Cruella De Ville” mode, the villain from “101 Dalmatians”. In the movie, Cruella acts harshly and in a state of frenzy. There is fire in her eyes as she grabs her steering wheel and zooms off looking for vengeance.  Around here, on the rare occasion when Cruella arrives, Teresa is uncharacteristically short in compassion and long in directives.  It’s not a time to look for sympathy (she once told one of our daughters to ‘get off the pity-pot’ during the T-Storm of ‘09).  Asking what’s for dinner is practically a capital offense .  These are treacherous times that try men’s souls.  These are  “T-Storms”.

A Cruella-infused T-Storm lacks all of the usual patience, kindness or logic of the normal climate.  A T-Storm can’t be reasoned with, coerced or lessened in intensity.  A T-Storm must simply be endured; after all, it was deserved.  T-Storms come when the unbelievable expectation we assume in this incredible person are momentarily unattainable as the giving well runs temporarily dry. One should be able to see a T-Storm coming, but in our self absorbed focus we don’t.  If not recognized early, our only recourse is to allow it to pass, to stay safe and out of harm’s way and to know that eventually the sun will return.  An enlightened person will learn about their own short comings and perhaps, minimize the chance of a similar T-Storm returning in the future.

Last Friday, after a day of golfing with my buddy while Teresa was home with a myriad of chores,  I averted a T-Storm.

After golf and post-round libations,  Teresa drove down and joined us at our friends for dinner and card playing. The night was quite enjoyable, as it always is with these very dear friends. By midnight, though, I was quite tired from a day that had been full of fun. My fatigue probably showed.
As we were leaving,  Teresa announced that she’d be driving home. I didn’t have a problem with that.  In the car, she questioned my ‘sportsmanship’ during the card games.  I explained that the long, full day may have contributed to my less-than-chipper demeanor near the end of the evening (not to mention the thrashing we absorbed at the hands of our competitive friends). I thought I heard the rumble of a distant cloud. Teresa then announced that we would be leaving the top down on the little miata.  Hmmmm, quite chilly.... My request to put the top up was immediately vetoed....very unusual.  I’m pretty sure I caught a glimpse of Cruella, nearby, in the shadows, and definitely noted the flash of lightening in the distance.   It was only then that I realized the possibility of a storm. I hadn’t really given much thought to what my wife’s day may have been like. But lately they’ve been long on caring for her mom, commiserating and listening to others,  short on the supposedly carefree days of summer.   While I was out seeking pars and birdies, she had been doing laundry, baking a pie, gardening, preparing for our incoming Italian guests all while giving her sister some relief by entertaining her mom for the afternoon.  She never complains, but I sensed an impending gully-washer.  I quickly calculated the approximate time it would take to get home and inventoried the clothing I had with me.  Suddenly it seemed like a right fine night for a convertible ride home.  Resolutely, I sighed, put on my golf jacket,  entwined my arms around my midsection for warmth, closed my eyes, and nestled in for the chilly ride home.  Back at home, my reward was knowing that I had, at least this time, circumvented an impending storm....a T-storm. I hope I’m enlightened enough to learn from it.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Easy Living Yellow!

Uh oh! Oops!  Think I may have blown it.  Not a huge deal, but kind of a lot of work for what might be a mistake not likely to be corrected for a while.  It’s the paint.  I love the color, bright, cheerful, and fresh.  But…. the room might just be a tad too bright.  I hope our guest will be able to sleep.

When we moved my youngest daughter into her apartment, the only furniture left in her bedroom was a pine cabinet and small end table.  With Italian guests visiting for 9 days this summer, and to inspire our daughter to come home from time to time, we bought a new bed, sheets, and bed cover.  I’m refinishing a very old, but cool end table that’s been sitting in my garage since my dad died. 

The walls were definitely in need of painting.  It took me a total of 3 minutes at the hardware store to choose the paint.  The color “called” me to it. Paint sample on wall, I made sure my husband, who is actually quite good at decorating, liked it.  Giving me the thumbs up, we zeroed in on getting the job done one week before they are to arrive. 

Day 1. Being the good painters that we are, we first primed the god awful purple walls.  (We did let our kids pick out their own paint colors as they got older.) We carefully covered any floor space with old sheets and moved the new bed to the center of the room.  Walls primed, the excitement to open the beautiful new color was palatable, but the primer needed to dry.

Day 2. What a team we were, music blasting, fan buzzing, husband meticulously feathered in the corners, and borders, careful not to get paint on ceiling and blue taped covered baseboards.  I rolled, loving every sunny stroke.  One wall down, pour more paint, two walls, pour more paint, the odd corner by the window, three and finally four walls complete.  Stepping back and admiring our work, it looked lovely.

Perhaps it was the time of day, but later on as I walked by the room, I stopped in my tracts and actually had to squint from the blinding brightness.  Into the room I went, examining the color and lighting from every angle.  Perhaps if we strategically place the bed over there away from the window, the color will be subtler. On the bed I plopped, pretending to nap.  No can do.  Too bright.  Well, when the window covering gets back on, maybe that will reduce the intensity?  But what about the sky light?

Oh dear.  Tomorrow, Day 3, we will apply coat number two.  No turning back now. 

I’ll make a point of checking it out at different times of the day and pray for the late afternoon and early morning cloud cover during their visit.  Hay, their from Italy, they’re use to intense brightness.  

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A 4 Day Visit From Two!

My children.
They come home. 
How much I love them. 
How they drain me.  As how it should be. 
How they energize me.  Always a miracle. 
How I can still after all these years vividly see their sweet, cherubic faces in my minds forever imprinted memory. 
I inhale these babies, even now, it’s hard to resist. 
My hand reaches for the back of their necks, soft, holding up a head that needs me no longer to support it. 
I instinctively reach for them, in sleep, in wakefulness, in an insatiable need to nurture these young adult women. 
They leave. 
Back to a place without me. 
I bless them. 
Pray for them.
Know I am with them.
Be safe.
Come back.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I love ballroom dance.  Twyla Tharp is amazing.  And Frank Sinatra is very cool too.  Yet, the three of them together?????????

We were not disappointed in our dinner at Carmines the night before we went to our last show. We should have listened to James though, our effeminate waiter with an attitude.  James was rather aloof until we started talking with him about theater.  We had just seen MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, enjoyed it and over a garlicky, pasta con vongole began planning what production we should see next. 

On a hunch, I thought James just might be the guy to give us the inside scoop and sure enough, we find out he never misses an On Broadway or Off for that matter, show.  In between bites, our conversation was peppered with plays we loved, those we weren’t too impressed with and those we haven’t yet seen. 

Our next choice for our New York stay was to see COME FLY AWAY, but James emphatically suggested that we skip it.  With a flick of the wrist, he said, “don’t be bothered”.  Since we seemed to have similar taste, his advice was very much appreciated, until, he suggested we see AVENUE Q, the Muppet play.  Oops, all credibility instantly evaporated, even as he enthusiastically tried to pitch the artistry and humor of this show not unlike a Broadway critic.  Upon leaving the restaurant, we decided to wait and see which productions would be available at the half price window.

My husband is not your average jock.  He speaks Italian fluently, is well read, invests wisely, possesses an uncultivated musical aptitude and is an adept conversationalist.  Dance wise, he’s better than the average joe (translation, I don’t have to lead when we dance together).  He also appreciates a good show.  So, when the half price tickets for COME FLY AWAY came available the next day at the ticket booth, we bought them.

Not 3 minutes into the show, my husband was wriggling like a first time, bridled colt.  He kept looking at me with a pathetic frown, appalled that we just spent our money and last night in New York to watch what was essentially a ballroom dance production with not a word spoken from the cast.  What was Twyla thinking? I had a sinking feeling this was not going to be enjoyed by all.

Throughout the first “act” on and on he went, voice just a tad too loud, “this reeks, this is NOT what I paid for, or give me a break”.   My daughter was amused by his antics not bothered in the least.  Sinking lower and lower in my seat, I was not amused, but put up with his venting, shushing him only when it seemed to disturb our seatmates.  I kept reminding him every time he wanted to boo instead of clap that we were not at a ballgame.

At intermission, he stormed out with daughter in tow to see if they could “sneak” into the play across the street, THE ADAMS FAMILY.  Again I reminded him we were not at a ballgame. I was secretly hoping he could get in though as I was embarrassed of his gesticulations, mutterings and cursings. He came back at the end of intermission.  ADAMS FAMILY SOLD OUT until September. Shoot!  That explains why it was not available at the half price window downtown.

Second “act” begins.  The eternal optimist, I was hopeful for a stronger finish. By the end of the first number I had to acknowledge that my husband really did have a point.  The dancers were very skilled; the orchestra was fantastic, who doesn’t love Frank’s crooning.  But the choreography, it was like watching the same dance over and over and over again.  For two hours!  Very disappointing.

At the end, some people actually stood up to applaud, reminding us of the varied audience and what some people hate, others love.  For us however, we should have listened to James.  Next time, Muppets!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Graduate!

I did not cry at my daughter’s college graduation.  People told me I would.  I thought that I would.  I just sat through 3 hours of pageantry anxiously awaiting a 5 second announcement of her name as she walked across the stage, shaking hands with dignitaries, a radiant smile across her face.

The pavilion was lovely with banners, beautiful plants strategically placed to conceal the risers leading to the stage.  The symphonic band played a piece from Carmen as well as the traditional Pomp and Circumstance March while graduates filed in, all with black tassels, some with black and gold, the distinguished gold representing some outrageous cumulative GPA.  All 1250 grads bounced in, lightness in their steps, tassels swaying side to side.  I scanned the faces of the diverse audience, people from all backgrounds, all colors, all proud of their own children, with their own unique stories. 

In the 90 degree heat while waiting to enter the pavilion, my husband ever the competitor, would quietly whisper in my ear as grads in their gowns walked past, black, black, black, black and gold, black, black, black.  A bit of comedy, a relief as we anxiously awaited our entrance.  Our daughter wore black and gold.

I wish I weren’t so critical of speakers.  I tried to find some degree of inspiration in the welcome and keynote address.  After all, these are well-respected individuals, accomplished and worthy of being selected to speak to the masses.  Nothing.  I sat there frustrated hoping that any of them might say something that we don’t already know. Honorable in their intentions, I kept searching for something, anything subtle that might inspire these graduates.  Rather, the message in part, was bleak with global economic concerns peppered throughout.

Attention all family, friends and anyone who happens to interact with a recent college graduate.  Please do not mention how bad the economy is.  These kids know this all too well. This does not motivate or inspire them.  They should be basking in the glory of their accomplishments, hopeful for their futures.  Ready to put their knowledge to task, eager for financial independence and to make their way in a world that is ever changing. Not be reminded how difficult it will be. At least not on the day they graduate college.

After the ceremony, she told us about the blue stole she wore over her gown.  It is the stole of gratitude to be given to someone who has inspired and supported her throughout her life.  She gave it to us. 

Our family celebration was memorable, good food, tasty drink, laughter, toasts to our daughter and her roommates.  Many a memory passed through my mind as the night wore on.  I felt myself drift back at different stages of her life, of my life and of how I’ve loved every moment of it.  And then came the letter.

She handed us a hand written letter she wrote back in September 2009, on the first day of her last year of college.  The contents are too intimate to share, but just imagine what you’d want a child you’ve raised to say to you. 

My daughter has had a blessed life.  And she recognizes that.  We are partly responsible for that. But mostly, she is, with the options she’s considered, the choices she’s made and the lessons she’s learned. I am profoundly proud of her and not because of her accomplishments. I am proud of her curiosity.  I’m proud of her kindness and compassion.  In all that she does, there is evidence of excellence and grace.  I am proud of the young woman she has become.

The stole drapes our mirror.  The letter sits on the dresser to be read and reread over and over.  As I looked at it before I shut my eyes after a very long day, on the day that I did not shed a tear, that’s when I cried. I cried my own river, tears of love and gratitude.

On our refrigerator is a well worn poem from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.  I have it’s essence memorized.

            For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
            You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
            The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
            with His might that His arrow goes swift and far.

            Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness:
            For even as He loves the arrow that flies so He loves also the bow that is

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Putting Digits In Places They Shouldn't Be!

Had a student today who got his finger stuck inside a test tube.  It was really quite stuck.  I knew something was up when I saw about 12 different shoulders around the room shaking as they heroically tried to conceal their laughter.  This young man’s finger continued to get whiter and whiter right before my eyes.

Remaining calm, I tried to dislodge the tube.  Nothing.  I suggested he carefully rotate it.  It wouldn’t budge. He tried soap and cold water.  Still stuck. Meanwhile chaos is breaking out in my class, as my lesson becomes completely derailed.  Finally, I sent this wily young man to the office.  Our secretaries are miracle workers raising six kids between the two of them.  With them in charge, I was completely confident all would be ok. 

Forgetting about the lesson du jour, I masterfully got the students back in some degree of order by sharing my own story of getting my knee stuck between the rails of a balcony.  Same kind of curiosity, I remembered wondering at the time how far I could thrust my knee between the rails.  Inch by inch, I kept pushing and before I knew it, my knee was stuck and swelling right before my eyes and in front of lots of strangers at a popular Las Vegas hotel!  

Many of the students listening to my story of humiliation shot up their hands eager to tell their own stories of heads, arms, fingers stuck in places they shouldn’t be.   The laughter was refreshing while we waited for finger tube boy to return.  We returned to the science lesson on "total internal reflection" careful now to use the equipment properly.

Shortly after he left, the young man reemerges grinning ear to ear, test tube in tack and finger returning to a lovely shade of pink. 

I just couldn’t get mad at this kid.  He’s only twelve after all. I too got my knee unstuck, but not without a tremendous amount of embarrassment. The excuse for me however, was not youth but sheer stupidity.  I was after all 51 years old when this happened. 


Friday, May 28, 2010

Move In Day!

Last weekend we moved our daughter into an apartment in her college town.  She’s 19!  I have this sinking feeling that she will never live at home again.  Like I was at that age, she is fiercely independent. This makes me happy for her, sad for me. 

I took such care into setting up her new bedroom. I lovingly made up her bed with clean sheets, a new comforter, bed positioned against a wall in a room that some stranger had occupied just days before.  I resisted the urge to crawl in with her beside me, stroking her hair as I did when she was little.  I kept these thoughts to myself.

Her dad hung shelves.  He tended to the cable hook up for the TV as Giant games are a must for her. He was quiet with an occasional reference to the Giant’s hitting slump and possible preferred line-ups that might remedy the problem.  He kept his thoughts private busying himself with what dads do. We were not novices at this, having gone through it with our older daughter.  Yet it didn’t make it any easier.

I didn’t want to leave, but couldn’t stay. We left her with her older sister helping her plan her first dinner at home.  That was comforting.  They’re very different, personalities worlds apart, yet close as only sisters can be.  Just a town away, they will enjoy spending time together as summer approaches.  I am so very grateful for their relationship.

Daughter #1 cooked for daughter #2 that night.   They continued to unpack, visited and laughed a lot, probably at our parental faux pas. 

She survived her first year without us, not without drama, many ups and many downs.  The learning continues for her.  And it continues for us. 

For the last 10 months, we’ve adjusted to the rhythms of a home without children.  We got reacquainted with free time.  We became pleasantly accustomed to a clean house.  Yet, oh do I miss my girls. 

Year one as empty nesters is coming to a rapid close as I write.  Giants game in the background, I hear my husband talking on the phone about Matt Cain’s one hit game.  He’s talking to her.  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Suzie Smart, Timmy and Willie!

I wasn’t the kind of young girl who played with dolls.  One would find me more likely playing with worms.  I was never impressed with the collections my friends had, and I once traumatized my poor sister when I beheaded her Barbie.  The only doll I remember from my childhood wore a plaid school uniform, glasses and had a string on the back of her neck so when pulled she could say something smart. Weird!

So imagine my utter surprise when my 52 year old husband informs me we have to leave the house FOUR hours early to go to the Giants game! Why? To stand in line for a Bobble head doll.  He claims he’s saving them for our grandchildren.  Grandchildren!  Our daughter’s don’t even have boyfriends at this time.

The first time I agreed, I not so tactfully bailed out when the line stretched to parts of San Francisco I had never seen before.  See ya.  Into the stadium I went, book in hand, butt in seat while I happily waited for the game to begin, sensa doll.

That same game by some fluke in the ticket line, my husband got redirected and ended up with the much-coveted Tim Lincecum doll.  As he joined me in our seats, I made him hide it as I just couldn’t bear the look on all the little guys faces who didn’t get one.

This last Sunday, it was Willie Mays Bobble head day commemorating his famous back to the plate, over the head 54 World Series "catch"! My husband bribed me with breakfast out, a massage and any other “favor” he could think of.  Because he’s a nice guy and does a lot for our family, I agreed.  But for the life of me can’t understand the appeal of these dolls.

The morning went something like this:
            Leave house at 9am
            Drop me off to get in line by 10 am
            Stand in line.
            Do New York Times crossword puzzle (easy version)
            Shiver, blow on hands
            Give dirty look to the bald guy who tries to cut in front of us
            Glare at husband to not confront big bad bald guy
            Shiver, and blow on hands
            Begin walking to gate with other fans 11am (sweet relief)
            11:15 not one doll but two in hand
            11:16 hide dolls in bag
            Avoided all eye contact with children who didn’t get coveted doll

The rest of the day was lovely.  Breakfast followed by quite an exciting game.  Gave away extra doll on way home to a good friend who also likes bobbles.  That was nice. We certainly don’t need two.

That night while reading in bed, I glanced over and who do I see perched on the cabinet staring at me, head moving like it has tremors from Parkinson’s disease, Willie!  Creepy, but the image made me laugh.  Still don’t get it though.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mercury In Retrograde!

I can laugh at it now.

Mercury and I are not on good terms.  Apparently, this planet has been in “retrograde” for the last month.  And, when it’s in “retrograde”, it appears to move backwards.  When it appears to move backward, all hell breaks loose here on earth. I didn’t know that, but I’ll take any explanation for the spate of challenges these last few weeks, even if it means compromising my scientific reasoning.

The list of annoyances went something like this: daughter 1 drama, daughter 2 drama, husband drama, mother drama, drama, drama, drama.  And that means teacher, mother, wife, woman (me) running out of steam to “fix” anything and everything.  More drama.  

It was really very pathetic as I tried to negotiate my way through the maze of issues.  I pulled out all of my self-help stops, visualizing, praying, laughing at the absurdity of it all coming at once and then trying to convince myself that lessons were to be learned and personal growth was right around the corner.  Still waiting on that front.

That’s when out of the blue, I heard about this lovely hot planet wreaking havoc on our wholesome water planet.  Oh, that explains it! This little tidbit of information came to me from an unlikely source whose identity I will not divulge.  

The good news, starting today, Mercury is back on its orbital path.  And I’m on my way to a problem free couple of months.  Finally!  

Monday, May 3, 2010

Home For Dinner!

Be home in time for dinner!  That’s what parents of the boomers said on warm summer days, prior to the 1970’s. And that’s what many of us did. We’d leave early and emerge late at age 11, 12, 13!  What parent in their right minds would say at 10 am, “be home for dinner at 6 pm”?  Many. There was less worry about safety then, or perhaps ignorance about it. We rode bikes without helmets.  We’d play in abandoned barns.  Or play pick-up games in the street, making up the rules of the game whenever we could stage an advantage, ignoring bloody knees and grass stained jeans.

As an awkward 13 year-old teenager, the freedom was intoxicating.
Dee-Dee, Linda, and Michelle, were all friends with horses who generously shared their steeds with me. I would ride side by side with them through the apple orchards, along the long country roads, in the middle of the railroad tracks, clip clopping along, fantasizing that it was my horse I was riding, wishing that the day would not end. 

And we took incredibly stupid risks.  This one still makes me cringe.

Horse galloping at full speed across the corral at Linda’s was a thrill I remember vividly.  Hanging on for dear life, completely out of control, there was a fleeting moment when I thought about how this may not have been a good idea.  I couldn’t stop the enormous beast.  I was not a skilled rider. There was no choice but to surrender to the horse, the goal being not to fall off.  I’ll never know what possessed this animal to finally stop running at full speed.  Could it sense my paralysis?  Did the impending fence do the trick?  I hung on and lived to tell my mom years later.

We were all reckless, risk takers, oblivious to the potential irreparable damage from our careless decisions.  By the grace of some higher power, there were no serious accidents.  And we all reminisce about the freedom, how lovely it was.  We laugh at our idiocy. 

None of my peers grew up to be parents who trusted their kids with complete abandon, including me.  We were all in varying degrees protective, demanding to know where our kids were at all times when they were 11, 12 and 13.  We made them wear helmets, play within the boundaries, check in with us constantly, even before the days of cell phones.  And that is how it should be. I wonder, however, if we deprived our kids of the same kind of freedoms that we enjoyed during our youth just to keep them safe?  My guess, that particular deprivation left no lasting deleterious effects.

 Now that my girls are 19 and 22, would I parent differently? Would I extend the boundaries beyond my neighborhood for my kids in retrospect?  No, I can live with my decisions, just as my parents are living with theirs.

Even though times dictated that we kept a closer eye on our children, my kids have their own stories to tell, their own secrets to confess to me when the time is right.  Adventures and childhood fantasies to which I am not yet privy will one day emerge and take me by surprise.   

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I felt wrapped in a blanket of fatigue this week.  Despite my efforts just couldn’t shake it off.  Even though I am at an age where things are a changin, I’m usually pretty stable.  But this week, it was ugly.  I went into quiet mode, don’t talk to me mode, I hid to protect my love ones and other human encounters from the gloom.

The bike revived me last night.  Finally! I took off by myself out the country road, just about 2 blocks from my house.  About 1 minute down the road, the chains came off.  I must have looked silly, helmet askew, bent over grimacing to get the darned things back on. Got it done and off I continued through the hills of Sonoma County, breathing periodically labored at each new steep grade.

About 10 minutes into my ride, chains came off again.  Back off the bike, I proceeded with the now familiar tug of war, my oil stained hands evidence of the struggle to get the chains back on the spikes. 

I pedaled on. The hills challenged, but the beauty of the fresh green grasses, inspired me to keep going, to complete the loop from start to finish.  Passing several dairies along the way, I ignored the stench of manure from the cows.

Further along there was a spot in the road where my dad many years ago was sure there was a dead body.  We actually believed him and went on a hunt to find it!  Our search fortunately encountered an unidentifiable decomposing animal, a squirrel perhaps?

Five miles into the ride, I passed the stable where my daughter took riding lessons when she was in her “American Girl” phase. It made my heart ache with a longing to be that young mother watching her innocently posting, riding high on the huge animal.  I remembered the joy and trust in her seven- year old face as she rode the horse around and around the covered stable, never tiring of the repetitiveness. I remember trying to hide the anxiety in mine.  It was a sweet memory. I biked on. 

The route we take every day to work, the blackberry patch we raid every year to make jam, the hills we hike to enjoy the spring wild flowers softly passed in and out of focus with every revolution of the wheel.

The cool air, the setting sun, the almost painful beauty of the countryside began slowly to replace my blanket of fatigue with some kind of unidentifiable peace.  A kind of lightness that my spirit was craving, a blessed relief, until the chains came off a 3rd time! The metaphor of the chains did not escape me.  The laughter ensued and rang for only my ears to hear.

I try to be happy.  I have every reason to be happy.  And most of the time, I’m incredibly happy.  Last night, I found that hour of relief that lifted the veil of gloom. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


My husband absolutely, visibly, without a doubt cringed today when I suggested we clean the snow off the car with a dustpan.  He also could not hide his disgust when I used a knife to open the tough plastic on a container. It also bugs him when I turn the ladder the “wrong” way to climb onto the rafters in the garage.  I like the way the ladder closes this way and could instruct the manufacturer on what, in my opinion is a better design.  I think it annoys him that I want to get into the rafters in the first place.

He sees these actions as careless mishaps, blunders, or taking “short-cuts”.  I see them as resourceful, making due with what’s available, or not wasting steps.  Why go for a pair of scissors in the bedroom when there is a knife in the kitchen, even if it does come a little close to my nose on the upswing? Perhaps that’s the difference between males and females.  That extra X chromosome women have carries more genes on it than that wimpy Y, thus giving females an advantage on things that the guys think they have the upper hand in.

His motto, “anything worth doing is worth doing well” My motto, “get the dang thing done”.

I love my husband.  I really do.  And if the truth were known, sometimes I do take those “short-cuts” just to amuse myself with his reaction.  I can be very immature, that’s for sure.

So, today, as he was hanging some new draperies, I couldn’t resist instructing him on how to use his eye to hang the draperies straight.  Who needs a level when the eye sees the truth?  Three hours and many a patched hole later, the drapes look fantastic!  

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Worm Food: Liver For Planaria! By Gary

The early morning empty nester routine at our house has evolved into a graceful dance in which each partner knows the moves and timing of the other. What was once a chaotic, unstructured series of events that included coffee brewing, showering, dog feeding and lunch making has settled into a comfortable pattern with all expectations fully known.  I pre-program the coffee the night before and deal with the morning 'open'. This includes feeding the dog, getting the paper and making lunches. I also produce Teresa's perfect cup of coffee (three sugars, heated in micro for an extra 16 seconds). She waits for this in bed before tackling the day and hopping in the shower. My payoff for this is 15 minutes of quiet time with CNBC, two newspapers and an adoring Fox Terrier gazing at me less than 24 inches from my face. It's a good trade, though.

By the time I'm done with lunches, (of which I shamelessly ask for reviews every day on the ride home) the bed is made, the shower is completely free, the sink area all mine, and the fear of fighting for space, hairdryers or something similar, completely removed. Teresa moves on to tidying up the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, doing some laundry or some other task outside my area of expertise.

This waltz continues for days, if not weeks, without a hitch, until unexpectedly, and shockingly, I will walk out of the shower to find Cruella De Ville waiting on the other side of the door shouting something like, "HURRY UP, WE HAVE TO GET LIVER FOR THE PLANARIA!!!" This is normally voiced with obvious displeasure and frustration, and incredulously to me, a tone of accusation. Apparently I should have realized this or at least anticipated the possibility that our morning routine was going to be disrupted a microscopic creature's thirst for organ meat.

The ensuing scene at the grocery story would be pretty humorous if it didn't involve me.  It normally finds Teresa race-walking up and down the meat and fish counter in search of the liver 'department'. Invariably, liver is never prominently displayed.  I am normally 2 or 3 paces behind, and still 'in trouble'.  On a recent search she employed the services of a willing shelf stocker whose accent indicated English was not his first language. I cringed as she took the time to explain what she wanted, and incredulously, WHY.  Apparently, 'planaria' is not a common word in the Spanish language, and as Teresa started to gesticulate on how minute these worms are (and how small a portion was really needed--perhaps the size of a dime) I could see that somehow, the time take was going to be added on to my morning transgressions. Eventually she was presented with a three piece, cross sectional one pound frozen package of Safeway's finest. I was going to ask if perhaps the planaria would like some onions frizzled up with that, but thought better of it.

After hustling through checkout, we made it to school with minutes to spare. The planaria would have their liver, would regenerate again and again after being sliced and diced (as they do) and our routine would return to normal tomorrow. The morning dance would again be graceful, until the next call for elodea, perch (incidentally, there is a direct correlation between the stench a fish emits and it's usefulness in middle school dissections) or my all time favorite, an entire cow eyeball. At least these specimens all require an advance order....and I'll be fine if I can just keep track of what Science unit the 7th graders are studying.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Lent's Over!

Lent.  Not my favorite time of year.  The weather is dreary.  The branches are bare.  And, darned if I hate giving up stuff.  I don’t mind prayer.  In fact, I find it soothing and meditative.  Alms Giving is fine too.   Making a conscious effort to do for others is something that should be emphasized beyond the 40 days in the desert.  I’m all for that. But I just can’t seem to take the fasting seriously.

Year after year I trick myself into thinking that what I give up is difficult.  Last year for example, it was candy.  Candy?  Easy.  I’m not at all obsessed with that.  The year before that I gave up desserts.  Also not hard.  There have been years that I would sacrifice breakfast.  Please, I never eat breakfast.  So this year I thought long and hard about my “sacrifice”.  And then it came to me like manna from heaven.

Every day between 4 and 5 pm I’m ravenous.  I raid the cabinets for anything to satisfy the pleasure centers in my brain.  The part that releases those oh so satisfying chemicals that tell me I’m content.  I noticed a pattern that had to be addressed. Chips.  Salty, deep-fried not baked good old-fashioned chips.  That’s what I decided to give up.

Boy has it been a long, wet, cold winter.  I plunged into the challenge with such high expectations.  I strategized on my shopping list.  I avoided treat day at work. I hoped for divine intervention or some kind of sign that God was watching over me.  Here’s what happened.

I did great with prayer.  Daily and nightly I prayed for healing, said prayers of thanks, prayers of petition and intervention.  Quite frequently I prayed for guidance.  And I got it. I was good to go with prayer.  Alms giving came easy to.  I’m pretty much tapped out with the financial output to various charities and fund-raisers.  And, I try to spend as much time as possible doing for others.

Fasting on the other hand continued to be difficult.  Several times I tricked myself into thinking that those “baked crackers” didn’t count.  I hit the nuts like they were going out of style.  And I began adding salt to everything.  No divine intervention here.

I failed, faltered, and berated myself for my lack of self-control.  Is it that hard?  Is it that bad to not really buy into it?  Do I have to be so hard on myself?  Does it really matter? Just couldn’t succeed on any level with fasting.

So today I celebrated Easter with wonderful friends and a loving family and I let it go.  I’ll think about it again next year.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remembering Sy

Pay Attention.  One never knows how a seemingly common event can leave a lasting impression.

I was 26 years old when I began working at Del Mar.  Sy was nearing the end of his teaching career while I was in the early stages of mine.  As the youngest staff member, I was lucky to be surrounded by seasoned veterans who to this day have no idea how they helped influence my career, and Sy was one of them.

There is not a recipe for outstanding teachers, but if there were, it would be bottled and sold under the Sy Feldman brand. This was a teacher who had it all; patience, kindness, talent, creativity, intelligence and an uncanny ability to make science meaningful and real.  Sy challenged his students to think.  And he challenged me to think as well.

While observing Sy teach one day, a young man shot up his hand eager to ask a question during a lesson on mass.  “How much does the earth weigh?”  Quite an impressive concept for a 12 year old I remembered thinking at the time.  Without missing a beat, Sy responds, "the mass of the earth is 6 sextillion, 588 quintillion tons.  And it’s getting heavier he added."  He then proceeded to engage the kids on why they thought the earth was getting heavier.  The dialogue was intriguing as he continued to pepper his students with questions. At 26, I was becoming more and more keenly aware of what I didn’t know.  Like a 12 year old, I leaned forward in the desk, mouth agape, curious to know the answer. 

After class, I walked over to Sy and mentioned how impressed I was with his knowledge and the way he engaged the students.  He blushed, thanked me ever so humbly as he prepared himself for the next group of students to enter.

26 years later, I still remember vividly that one lesson of that one day.  I remember him writing the number 6 sextillion on the board, trying to squeeze in all the zeros in such a small space. I remember how effortless it was for him to impart his knowledge.  I remember the excitement in his voice as he talked with the kids.  I remember his sense of awe. He inspired me to be a better teacher.  Sy passed away this week.  I’m so very grateful I got to witness a master at work.

The answer by the way is meteorites!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Moon!

“What is that up in the sky?” asked my mother.  I was driving her home from an evening visit that we’ve come to enjoy on Fridays. I looked through the window silently acknowledging the tightness in my chest as I answered as casually as possible, “that’s the moon.” These kind of questions are becoming more and more frequent.

I wasn’t clear if she forgot the word for moon or forgot what the moon is.  How would I ask that?  Mom, do remember what the moon is?  Mom, did you forget the word for the moon?  Or perhaps more discretely, what do you think about the stages of the moon?  Jesus!  Any of these inquiries sound so condescending to ask a 71-year-old woman.  I just couldn't ask. I simply said, isn’t it beautiful tonight in all of its full, luminous glory?  She gazed and shook her head up and down all the while not taking her eyes off of it, a silent yes.

I then unbuckled her seatbelt waited and watched as she walked to the elevator, emerged onto the third floor balcony and let herself into her apartment, relieved as she crossed the threshold into her cozy sanctuary.  I drove away thinking.

The moon.  The forgetfulness of this beautiful, orbiting rock has taken the memory issue to an entire new level.  Its significance in our history is grand.  We were the first generation to watch rockets orbit it, men walk on it, people dream of what’s on the other side of it and then to find out. The moon is memorable. 

My mom watched these historical events.  I remember her sense of awe and wonder while she gathered us around the TV to take vicarious part in the experience. She read us stories about the moon and how it lit the path for Hansel and Gretle to find their way back home only to be lost in the woods as the birds ate the crumbs that marked the path.  I loved the stories she read to us. My mom’s story telling voice, rich with inflection mesmerized me. And that’s what upsets me.  She is unable to retrieve the words for these significant memories. Will she one day ask,"who are you"?

It took me about 3 minutes to drive home as these thoughts were racing through my mind, praying that it was the word moon and not the concept that was forgotten. And then, I thought about her reaction when she saw it hanging low in the sky.  She found the words to ask me about it.  That was a good thing. She was curious enough to inquire.  I’m happy about that. And she was again awed by it like it was the first time she had witnessed something so outrageously beautiful. 

So, two nights ago, I saw the moon in a different light. I saw it from the eyes of innocence, from the eyes of experiences long forgotten and from the eyes of someone who continues to acknowledge beauty in everything.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

52 going on 13!

I had the opportunity to chaperone a trip with 33 thirteen year olds to Washington DC and New York.  My non-teacher friends thought I was nuts.  My teacher friends wished me well with a wink and a nod.  My family blessed me and asked if my Living Trust was finalized! 

After the first day with a 3:50 AM departure I had my doubts.  We met the kids and took a bus to the airport.  We weren’t out of town 2 minutes before the first teen reached in his pants for a handful of candy. Gross. You’d think the early morning flight would find kids tired, not so, they were bouncing off the narrow walls of the plane, talking, laughing, and being silly as only 13 year olds can. 

On the bus from the airport to the sights of the first Memorials of the trip, I couldn’t conceal my annoyance at the kids who were singing 99 bottles of beer on the wall while others were burping to the beat.  At the Memorials, the kids were more interested in playing in the snow than paying tribute to the men and women who have served our country.  My mantra was “they’re only 13, they’re only 13, they’re only 13”. 

My challenge: Keep my own mercurial hormones in check and not go head to ever-pounding head with them.  The mantra helped.  Day 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 were better.  In fact, sometimes I was downright impressed with their insights.

I enjoyed the trip immensely and felt privileged to receive such individual attention from our tour guide.  Every “attraction” from the Capitol to the Holocaust Museum to the Broadway production will never be forgotten.  Despite my duties of herding teens from place to place, I learned a lot, which was my original intent for going in the first place.

But the learning for me that I did not expect came from being around the kids.  It was an exercise in patience that hadn’t been tested to that extent, ever. I tried to remember the angst at wondering what others thought of me when I was a gangly, not too pretty 13 year old.  I forced the memories of this age to come flooding back to me. It was uncomfortable.  Was I kind to others, including the “have-nots” of the world?  I think I was. Was I thoughtful?  Probably to adults, but not to my mom and stepfather. Was I interested in anything other than my own social status?  Good God, no.

I vaguely remember the trip to our own State Capitol in 1971.  I can’t recall much of the details about the trip, just that I wanted to sit on the bus by the cutest 8th grade boy.  So shallow. 

It’s not easy being 13.  It’s not easy being around 13 year olds.  And it is certainly not easy to admit our own narcissistic behaviors past or present.  I discovered, through this trip that I had my own memories to attend to and my own self-absorbed sins to atone for. Perhaps it’s karma that I find myself working with this age group.  I can live with that.  Glad I’m no longer 13 though. Pass the aspirin.