Wednesday, June 18, 2008


My favorite old girl is celebrating one hundred years of life.

A ball was dropped on New Year’s Eve in Times Square for the first time to herald her coming. She arrived on the planet the same year as Simone de Beauvier, Rex Harrison, and Oskar Schindler; and she has outlived them all. The Grand Canyon was established as a “National Monument” the year she was born, (although Arizona itself was still a territory and would not be a state until 1912,) and Henry Ford produced his first Model T. Like this year, 1908 was a Leap Year, an Olympic year, (London Games) and an election year. Teddy Roosevelt was President when 1908 began, and William Howard Taft was president-elect when it ended. Butch Cassidy and Sundance were gunned down in Bolivia three days after that election.

A lot of things happen in a year. And a century.

Although she is turning a hundred, you won’t hear her name announced on the Today Show, or read any write-ups in the paper; because the exact date she came into being is sadly undocumented.

We will host a birthday party for her here in December because by then we will know she has had her birthday- but because we aren’t sure of the date, I thought she deserved some mention at this mid-point of the year.

The place that I call home is crossing into her second century.

She was built by a pair of schoolteachers, the Fergusons, who came from the Midwest to teach at the mining camps north of town, and later bought by one of Yuma’s founders, E.F. Sanguinetti, whose own (smaller) home is a local museum, and who rented her to the chief clerk at his store. Later, she was home to a Southern Pacific railroad engineer, was a boarding house during the depression, a piano and organ store in the fifties and sixties, and who knows what all else. She has survived earthquakes and major flooding on the Colorado, (six blocks away) she has stood calm- and as coolly as possible- through a hundred years of desert heat.

I am passionate about this old girl.

I don’t hear a train whistle in the night and not think about what that meant to another woman in this house who was waiting for her man’s return. I feel the flutter of relief in my own bosom that I know she must have felt. I don’t walk up the front steps, or touch a doorframe or a window, or stare through wavy panes as I wash my dishes, but know somewhere in the back of my mind that it’s all been done before. I don’t cross over the threshold from the outside world without feeling the burdens of the day leave me, and the welcome home of generations of people; strong, desert people; people whose names I will never know- but whose spirits I understand in ways beyond knowing- embrace me as I close the door. I am another link in chain of the living in this place, the loving in this place, the finding shelter in this place, that will continue far into the future.

And in return, I give her my devotion.

To me, this old house represents all the things I value most. It embodies the qualities I seek for myself, for my children, for my students, for the world. To me, a hundred years of eighteen-inch-thick, white-painted, concrete diamond-blocks stands for-- Integrity. Tenacity. Fortitude. Patience. It combines a respect for heritage with the ability to look beyond today to the future and know the foundation is strong enough to weather whatever may come.

And it feels just like home.

I am proud to be a link.

Happy Birthday, old girl.

And many, many more.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

When I am in Charge

When I am in charge, spring and summer mornings will be cool and quiet. We will look out to discover the shadowy remains of a light rain still puddling the earth. Flowers will unfurl as the sun rises, and bees and hummingbirds will begin their work. The rest of us shall come slowly awake to a dulcet symphony of birdsong and breeze.

When I am in charge, fall days will be crisp and bright. Beams of sunshine will slant through leaves of red and gold and purple and brown. They will dazzle the eyes of all who stop to stare in wonder.

Everyone will stop to stare in wonder.

When I am in charge, children will hurry eagerly to school, their tummies warm with breakfast, their little shoes crunching through ripples of fallen leaves. They will pause in their journey to laugh and point as a pair of squirrels spiral up the trunk of an old oak, chattering and scolding each other, leaping like monkeys from bough to bough.

The children will gather a small pile of acorns, and leave it at the foot of the tree. They will leap like monkeys the last few blocks to school.

When I am in charge, winter snowfamilies will adorn every front yard. The top-hat-and-corncob-pipe snowpeople will live next door to the hijab and turban snowpeople who wave across the street to the yarmulke-wearing snowman whose wife is just sitting down to coffee with the sculptors of a beautiful pair of rainbow-shawled snow-women so they can watch from the window as their children race flexible flyers down the sparkling street.

Scarves and mittens flash in a tumult the color of laughter against the backdrop of a gray-scale day.

When I am in charge, we will all take a page from Whitman. We shall begin and end our days conscious of our power to contribute and achieve. We will rise in the quiet calm of confidence, sing what we know best through the course of the day, and lie down again at night with a sigh of satisfaction. We will rest soundly in the knowledge that we have sung our part well, and that the parts beyond our range have been sung also.

Soft echoes of the chorus will reverberate harmoniously in the velvety blackness of the night.

And we shall sleep.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dear World...

Dear Colombian Coffee Pickers,
Muchas gracias.

Dear Substitute Teacher Who Fell Asleep While My Kids Watched A Movie,
You’re lucky they didn’t get the squirt bottle and spray you awake like I do them.

Dear Crossing Guard by the Elementary School in the “Hood”,
Watching those little kids jump and laugh trying to high-five you in the crosswalk made my day. You have a beautiful rapport with them, and they obviously look forward to seeing you every afternoon. You have taken an invisible and thankless job, and made it crucial.

Dear Hummingbird in the Backyard,
Come back tomorrow. The hibiscus will be in bloom.

Dear MySpace Tom,
Why does everything get prioritized above the “fancy new” rich-text generator we bloggers were promised last summer? I don’t want apps or to videotape my own karaoke, and I don’t need Friend Subscriptions for 264 more people.
I just want to italicize my comments.

Dear Red Rosebud Hanging Low from the Planter Who Never Got to Bloom,
Sorry about that. We’ll remember to feed the tortoise next time.

Dear 1980’s Family in the Framed Olan Mills Portrait at Goodwill,
What happened? What went wrong? What secret pain was hiding behind those orthodontically-enhanced smiles?

Dear Eighth-Grade Skip-Assembly Basketball Players who Beat the Faculty Team for the First Time in My Memory,
You ROCK!!!

Dear Kids in the Stands who Messed Up My Hair with Pom-Poms Every Time I Cheered All By Myself for the Teachers,
You rock too.

Dear Last Day of School,
Hurry up!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

HeartSong (with disclaimers)

In the umpteen zillion blogs I have posted between here, MySpace, and MCMM, there are two that had to do with writer’s block. Both of those dealt with frustration and resolve to correct. With the whole blood-on-the-keyboard, head-banging exasperation that comes from an ill-timed combination of actually having the time to let the words pour forth but lacking inspiration.

What I am experiencing right now is different. There is no doubt in my mind that if I opened the file that contains my WIP I could pick up where I left off and add pages. No doubt at all. I could do it.

But I don’t.

There is a part of me that scowls at my not-writing self in the mirror and scolds in her silent mean-teacher-voice, “How dare you call yourself a writer! Every book on writing you have ever picked up said point blank on the first page: ‘Writers write.’ It’s as simple as that. Are you a writer, or not? If you are, you’d better get your butt in the chair and prove it!”

But right now I don’t feel the need to prove anything.

Because there’s something else happening in my head, and I don’t know what it is yet. It’s misty. Hazy. Still opaque. Unformed.

With everything that’s happened in the last few weeks, it’s no surprise to find my brain full to bubbling over with unformed thoughts. I could set them on my desk at school next to the unformed lesson plans I’ve taught, or on the kitchen table next to the unformed meals I’ve fed my family and I would have a perfect matched set of-- unformed stuff. (Okay, I swore I was going to write this blog without any disclaimers whatsoever. I read an article in something- probably “O” magazine- that talked about the way women precede or postscript their ideas with disclaimers or appeals for consensus, as if their opinion alone wasn’t enough to count. I decided to watch myself in my speech and writing and eliminate that tendency, because I knew when I read it that I am guilty of doing that to myself. BUT- I need to reassure anyone that has made it this far into my ramble that the kids did get taught, and my family has not starved while I have wandered through the world for two weeks in this slightly oblivious, obscured, amorphous state.)

And again with the disclaimers in case any of you are worried that I may be in need of psychological help or medication: I am okay. My family is all fine. Allen -AKA- FGEB/BFF is okay and we will be together for a long weekend in May. My occasional MySpace guest-blogger and very most favorite Cousin B is recovering from a huge, dangerous, blood clot in his leg following a minor outpatient hernia surgery last week, but he’s okay too.

There has been so much occupying my mind and heart these last few weeks, that the not-writing right now isn’t a concern. I feel like a mama bird sitting on the nest, incubating a clutch of precious eggs that will hatch soon. The little birds that emerge will not be wrinkly and naked; they will be beautifully formed, with iridescent feathers in colors from a spectrum heretofore unperceived by the human eye. When they open their tiny golden beaks to sing, symphonies will break forth and the world itself will pause a moment on its axis to revel in the glory of their song.

But for this moment I must be still. Patient. Serene. I must absorb the sounds and colors that surround me. I must close my eyes to memorize the play of light as it dances through the prism of my heart.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Knowing Doesn't Matter

It didn’t happen the way we wanted it to happen.

We didn’t want it to happen at all.

But even though we didn’t want it to-- we knew it eventually would.

We were intelligent people. Artistic. Witty. Gifted. We had the keys to intellectual knowledge at our fingertips and we used them. We read the papers, the articles, the textbooks, the websites. We educated ourselves in the way that we were taught to- we gathered information. We did our research. We asked all the right questions even as- deep inside- we knew the answers had the power to defeat us.

We knew.

But the knowing doesn’t matter when it tangles up with love. No level of scholarly education can intellectualize emotion or focus on statistics when our heart’s desire is finally, finally, Oh, thank you, God, finally! finally within our reach.

A few years is better than none, we tell ourselves;

…the sun came out and we were flying down the freeway with the top down…”Aah, I shrieked, “my hair!” “Your hair?” he yelled, over the roar of the wind, “Do you have any idea what this cut cost?”…

they will be good years.

“…Today I went shopping. With my partner’s ex-girlfriend. We bought a hat. Now, we’re slaving away cooking dinner together while he destroys the centerpiece and uses the flowers to decorate the hat so she can wear it to our wedding…”

We will laugh together,

“…and I wonder where Jerry Springer gets his guests?…”

we will love together,

“…‘now abides Faith, Hope, and Love. These three. But the greatest of these is Love.’ …”

we will build the kind of joy together that will live beyond the pain.

* * *

But nobody told us- not one article, textbook, or website- bothered to mention how much pain there would be to live beyond.

My sweet, funny, gentle friend David died of AIDS-related complications last week.

It didn’t happen the way we wanted it to happen…

We didn’t want it to happen at all…

But the knowing doesn’t matter when it tangles up with love.

I will be traveling to Minnesota for a memorial service in a few weeks. In the meantime, if you would, I ask that you please let me know that you were here. In lieu of any comments, please take the moment it would have taken you to write, and instead send out a prayer of whichever sort suits you best. A thought, a song, a meditation; simply send a moment of acknowledgement of David’s too-brief life.

Send it out to the farthest corners of the universe,

in to the minds of research scientists,

and send it extra soft-cushioned to my poor, darling, grieving Best Friend.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Once Upon a Time

Once upon a time there was a mommy and a daddy. They lived in a house in the United States of America with their little girl. She was a wonderful little girl, and they were wonderful parents, and they decided that their family was such a happy one that their little girl should be a big sister. Within a few months they learned that the mommy was going to have a new baby, and they began to get a room in their house ready for the wonderful girl’s little brother or sister. Everything was just right.

But then one day the mommy felt that something wasn’t just right. She felt a pain in her tummy and went to the doctor. The doctor told the mommy that she would not be getting a baby after all. "In fact," said the doctor, "you will never be able to have any more babies at all."

The mommy and daddy were very sad.

Even though the doctor had told them they couldn’t get any more babies of their own, the mommy and daddy knew they were wonderful parents and still had lots of love to give another baby. Plus, they had a room all nice and ready. They called an Agency and asked if they had any babies who needed a wonderful family.

"Babies are hard to get," said the Agency Lady, "but if you want an older child, there are lots and lots of those to choose from." The mommy and daddy said that would be fine, and so they filled out forms in triplicate and got their fingerprints taken and had CPS come and look through all the cupboards in their house.

One day the Agency Lady called and said, "You are wonderful parents and we think you should come and look at pictures and see which older child you want." So the mommy and daddy went and looked through stacks and stacks of files. They found a picture of a little boy who was six years old. He lived far away across the sea in a country where there had been a war. The little boy had pretty brown eyes and black hair, and the wonderful mommy and daddy looked at each other and said, "This one is our little boy."

It took a long time for the little boy to come from the country across the sea to the United States of America. So long, in fact, that the mommy woke up one day while they were waiting for the boy to come and told the daddy that she needed to go to the doctor again. The doctor ran some tests on the mommy and looked at the results.

"But you told me I couldn’t get any more babies," the mommy said.

"Oops!" said the doctor.

So the wonderful little girl got not only a new big brother but a new little sister too.

And they both arrived within one little week!

The wonderful family lived very, very happily ever after.

* * *
I told my class during a discussion recently that my family must have looked like the United Nations getting out of a car. There was my dad, blue-eyed and blonde-haired with a red beard; my mom, auburn-haired with brown eyes; my brother, the black haired, brown eyed boy mentioned above; my surprise sister, with curly brown hair and blue eyes, and me, the wonderful green-eyed blonde. For a few years our varied palette became even more colorful when we had a foster brother and added one of African descent to the mix.

Looking at my family- at my parents especially- now, I see that in the shadow of the shameful age of this nations worst racial strife and intolerance, they were among the first- certainly the first in the Midwestern towns my father pastored, to walk the talk of their belief. Not that they did it to make a statement- oh, no. They did it because it was he only thing to do. Yet, simply by looking at us together in a restaurant or in church, I’m sure people were forced to consider: "If they can do this in their home, why can’t we do it in the world?"

At least for a moment.

It’s really not a difficult concept. Just shut your damn eyes and live together in peace. Listen. Depend on each other. Open your arms. Nurture each other. Love every person for who they are. Don’t make any judgments based on anything but the beauty that shines from within; because believe me-- shine it will.

My parents humble me.

At the time, I didn’t see them as revolutionary; that came later. Because they were, after all, my parents. They were just like everybody else’s parents: they expected me to do well in school; they came to all my plays and concerts; they fed me three times a day, flipped the porch lights on and off obnoxiously if I sat too long in the driveway with a date, and fussed if I got home past curfew. And they did the same for the rest of us. They were simply my family. Maybe we looked weird to other people, but we didn’t see it. All we knew was that in the eyes of our parents- we were the same. Equal. As I grew, that extended itself until that’s the way I looked at the whole big, beautiful world.

Call me a Pollyanna, but I still do.

There are very few things that truly frighten me, but one of those things is the inexplicable fact that there are still people on this planet in the year of our Lord 2008 who can somehow justify to themselves that it is right to make distinctions based on genetic difference rather than character. There are some people who have the power to conjure enough fear of melanistic diversity to ruin individual lives, thwart fractions of our society, and change the course of a nation.

Oh, come on, people. Forty-four years after the wonderful mommy and daddy went to the Agency, we have to be better than this!

Just shut your damn eyes, and--


Monday, March 24, 2008

Birthday Magic

(My son will be 19 tomorrow. This is an edited repost of a blog I wrote a year ago when his 18th birthday fell on Easter.)

My son is 18 today.

Today he will see what the bunny put into his Easter basket and accompany us to church. (he has already expressed sparkly-eyed resentment about spending “his” day in Jesus’ shadow) He will then eat a typical holiday feast at Grandma and Grandpa’s, (prime rib, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, cranberry-pineapple salad, grandma’s sweet-thyme carrots, green beans, and rolls; with lemon bars and cheesecake for dessert.) He will open birthday gifts, spend some time with distant relatives via phone…then he will register for Selective Service.

And I will watch the evening news and shudder.

I’m sure there has never been a time or place in history when parents were completely at peace with the politics and politicians that might govern their children’s destiny. But I am so uncomfortable with the leadership this country is under now that sometimes it’s all I can do not to google real estate prices and teaching jobs in oh, say, Canada. Or Switzerland.

Don’t get me wrong here. I love this country. Passionately. And I support the brave men and women who serve her. I was a Marine Corps wife; I believe with my whole heart in the principles of the foundation of these United States. I have often marveled in wonder at the likelihood of those minds, those leaders, those Framers all being in that one tiny corner of the globe at the exact right moment in history to build a government of the people, by the people, and FOR the people.

If Paul Revere had galloped by on his stallion in the middle of the night last night and called for volunteers? I would -with a heavy but willing heart- have sewn that last wooden button on my son’s homespun Minuteman jacket and laid it out next to his father’s.

That, I understand. And other eras in our military history as well. But this? Must I sit by idly and watch as my only begotten son adds his name- that name so carefully considered by me eighteen years ago for meter, implication, and strength- to a roster of potential sacrifice? In the name of what?

The irony of this critical juncture falling on Easter is not lost on me.

The night before Snooze turned four, I was overcome with the significance of that age. No longer really a toddler, his increasing sense of humor and independence was compounding daily; he was growing too fast. I held him and snuggled him and told him I needed to hold on to my three-year old. I asked him if he would consider staying three; if it would be okay to just forget about his birthday. “No, Mom,” he giggled. “Tomorrow is my birthday. We’re having cake and presents. I’m going to be four.”

“I know!” I cried, “I’ll make a potion! Come with me! Maybe if you drink it, you’ll stay three!”
We went to the kitchen.

“Mommy, that’s just Sprite and orange juice. It won’t keep my birthday away.” He drank it down. “Yum.”

Every birthday-eve since, I have concocted a “potion” (now with sibling help) to try to slow the passage of time. Although it never works and despite many recipes,(no two years or potions are ever the same) if I should happen to forget to brew one, the birthday-to-be always reminds me. “Don’t I need a potion?” they ask. Both my children understand I want to hold them forever in my heart, exactly the way they are. They love and look forward to this tradition.

The “eighteen potion” was a passionate red. Hot, bitter, sweet, and vitamin-packed.

Oddly reminiscent of adulthood itself.