With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Banned-Words Poem

A last act of defiance to end 2017 - a poem containing words recently banned by the current administration (marked by asterisks*). Suggested by my writing group. Happy New Year to all!


Feline Disregard

My cat disregards *evidence-based claims
"There's food in the bowl,"
"The clock does not say dinner-time."
He prefers *science-based assertions -
"My stomach grumbles,"
"I'm bigger than the other cat,"
To justify his larger share of kittle.
His sense of *entitlement
Fuels impassioned cat-clamor,
Loud meows, discordant scrapings
Demands for *diversity in the chow line.
Paws trod gently on the biology text
Open on the table, steps squarely on
Pictured *fetus, showing no concern for
Inanimate offspring as he (neutered,
not *transgender), hungers only for
Sustenance and not for intimacy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

From Blog to Book

I haven't posted very faithfully over the past two months, as I was working on a "secret" Christmas project to turn selected blog entries into a book entitled Wild Specific Tangent: A Mother's Musings from 2009 - 2017.  Through Amazon's Create Space I was able to create the book and cover myself. The selection process - culling from 676 blog entries over eight years - took a long time. I went through several edits, and published a first edition for my family for Christmas before the Works Cited pages were done.  After a few more iterations of edits and writing my citations according to MLA format, I am ready to let a few other folks know about the book.

While my children and extended family are the obvious focus and a significant intended audience, friends and community members are also central to the theme: we can't get through our lives without help.  Though I've been blessed with three amazing children, a wonderful husband and financial resources, I found motherhood to be exceptionally difficult. It wasn't an immediate match with my personality, and when I went to exercise for stress relief, I overdid it and almost permanently ruined my health. If it weren't for friends, faith, family, and our larger neighborhood and church communities,  we wouldn't have made it.

So if any of my faithful blog readers are interested in the story of our journey through rough times and joyful ones, the book is on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form. Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Specific-Tangent-Mothers-Musings/dp/1979959404/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514400370&sr=8-1&keywords=wild+specific+tangent. Or you can do  search on Amazon and it comes up, to my amazement.

My family received their Christmas copies graciously and have so far withheld any but the most loving commentary. Happy New Year to everyone - may it be full of peace, love, friends and family.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Alexa, NORAD and Santa

Daniel read in this morning's paper that he could follow Santa's progress through Alexa - the latest and best application of her abilities. After I gave my permission for Daniel to use the NORAD tracker, Alexa informed us that Saint Nick is currently in Djibouti, Djibouti. Then she warned Daniel that Santa could only come to our house when he is asleep. You go, girl!

Courtesy of the internet, Daniel informs me that Santa has already delivered 3 trillion presents. He's a busy dude! What would my grandparents have said to our following Santa via robotic "smart speakers" and internet? Would they have realized that despite the fact that we follow Santa on Alexa, play traditional carols through our "Classic Holiday" TV channel on DISH (instead of records on the old player), and send Christmas cards with our faces emblazoned on them, the spirit is alive and well?

Presents are wrapped and laid under the tree earlier than usual (which led to an outbreak of greedy gimmes), gluten and dairy-free scones are baking, the birthday cake for Jesus nearly done. Siblings have restrained from too much fighting, Rob's feeling jolly, and I'm so grateful for family near and far. We miss all of you celebrating in other locations, but feel your presence and give thanks for you.

Peace, joy and love this Christmas and always.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Alexae

We have two Alexa stations in our downstairs area. One portal sits in the kitchen, in convenient range for grocery list additions or questions from the dinner table (who's winning the Villanova game? How many days until Christmas?). The new Alexa is actually on our smart thermostat, lying in wait in the downstairs hallway.

Daniel loves the Alexa (plural: Alexae? Alexas?) and riddles them with questions, begs for jokes, plots the ten-day weather outlook, and requests songs from our entire playlist.  William is neutral, and Aden despises the Alexae, particularly the one in the hallway that she feels is "spying on us." She's most likely right, as Rob validated the theory that Alexa listens to all of our conversations. I need to watch my political commentary.

The spying ladies speak up whenever our verbal output approximates their name. So far they've responded to "next to," I'll getcha," You betcha" and "Achoo." Aden feels sabotaged when the hallway thermostat speaks up when she walks by, as if plotting her movements and leaping at her in the most vulnerable moments.

I'm fairly positive on the Alexae; they're great for grocery lists and playing music, plus they stop making noise whenever I say stop. That's a highly undervalued characteristic in house occupants.  I also admire their ability to unexpectedly go on the fritz, getting out of work with no further ado.  The standard, "I'm sorry, I can't understand you right now. Please try again later," might work for me, too, when confronted by excessive familial demands. I'm going to try it out this holiday season, when demands of food, entertainment and companionship pile up too high.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Truisms from Target

We were in Target yesterday, collecting our usual widespread and various assortment of items (candles, packaged rice, monogrammed mugs, baseball cards), when I overheard this conversation:

Adorable dark-haired child, "What should we get Mommy?"

Similarly dark-haired daddy, "I know what we should do! We should make a coupon book. You know, when each of us promises to do something for Mommy."

"Like what?"  Suspicion colored the boy's voice.

"You know, like do dishes, or put away your toys, or clean your room...."

"Ugh, no, that's a terrible idea!"

I dove into the sheets and bedspread aisle to hide my chuckles, Aden following. We then found Daniel in the toy section, comfortably loaded up with puzzles and Hot Wheels.

"I've got everything!" He announced cheerfully.

"Did you buy for your Dad and your brother?"

"Nope. I spent all my money on me!"

And thus the pickle of Christmas.  How do we teach them to love giving, when - in a child' eyes - it's all about getting?  I know one thing, the secret's not in the aisles of Target, though you can find just about anything else.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Art Therapy

Met with several friends last night in the basement art studio of a neighborhood artist to drink wine and make art. Though focused mightily on making water colors behave, we had a chance to laugh and admit to the tons of various stressors affecting us. We joked about having to avoid news at this time since holiday stress + national / world news = meltdown.  Each had a different tactic for staying sane, and I offer the tactics below.

Avoid television news at all costs. If you must stay updated, start the morning with NPR or other news radio, then gradually move down the preset list to sports, jazz, or pop as desired. When even those options start to grate on the nerves, find COSI 101 and it's non-stop Christmas music.  Also, make time to exercise and sleep. Go to bed as early as possible (the dark evenings make it easier, if we can find time). Help other people. Stick to the basics. Laugh. Be creative.

I left with a semi-respectable water color of a succulent, which I duly showed off to Rob and the kids. It has little artistic merit, but as therapy it was divine.


Monday, December 4, 2017

Still Shopping?

Now we're past the named days but into the season of advent and the "twelve days of deals." The mixed messages of faith and consumerism: "wait patiently" vs. "shop now!" What a strange holiday we have wrought over the years, from Norman Rockwell fireside scenes to frenzied store lines or manic typing away at keyboards.

Over the weekend, in between sport practices and temper tantrums, we put up a live tree. We haven't had one in three years due to traveling the past two Christmases. The kids were delighted, and Aden proved to be a master of patience with the lights, one strand of which was a bum deal. We didn't realize the problem until all strands were on the tree, of course, but I let her take charge of the re-do and all ended well.  We enjoyed pulling out all of our old ornaments and reliving the memories, from my kindergarten crafts to Rob's angel from his great-grandmother, to the nursery school successes of our kids to souvenir baubles from Costa Rica. I found myself in tears several times at the speed of the passing years, and had to hide my face in the curious cats before I exasperated the kids.

My kids surprised me by calling for silver icicle tinsel to top off the tree. My parents always decorated our childhood trees with the flimsy, floating stuff, which catches light in beautiful and mysterious ways but also migrates all over the house and sticks to kids, cats and carpet. For the latter reasons, I've never had it for our trees, but I was tickled yesterday when they asked me to buy some. I'll take a throwback to the old magic any time I can get it, though I can promise we'll still be finding tinsel come Easter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Every Day of the Week

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, a mellow Black Friday, a supportive Small Business Saturday, a deal-winning Cyber Monday and a generous Giving Tuesday.  For every other day this "Cyber Week" I hope both you find both bargains and a desire to share the bounty. Here we are, flung into the whirlwind that is the holiday season, struggling to order cards, plan the gift-giving, bake the cookies and trim the tree. Is it really the most Wonderful Time of Year? Or simply the most named, planned, proscribed and dizzying?

This morning, I was busily clicking away at the computer when Daniel came downstairs, and he greeted me with, "Oh good! I thought of more things I need to buy!"  This from the child who has already spent all of the gift money from both sets of grandparents and directed his parents to spend their allotted treasure on an Urban Meyer - signed mini helmet.

"Oh, no. There's no gift-buying today," I said. "This is Giving Tuesday, and today I am only giving money away."

"Why?!" He asked in horror. "Does everyone have to do that?"

"We don't have to do it, but we want to. Part of the season of Christmas is giving. It's not all getting."

"Humph," said my little Scrooge, picturing a shrinking pile of presents. "Well now I need two packets of oatmeal for breakfast."

As Daniel fortified himself for a long day of not shopping, I thought how strange it was to model giving by clicking a mouse on a screen. Daniel is apparently not getting the message that we value generosity, and who can blame him. We'll have to come up with more concrete ways to demonstrate our values and center this crazy holiday world so our kids really know what's important.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Confirmation Day

It didn't bode well for my hankie when we heard "Once I Was Seven Years Old" on the way to church. William and Aden were already there, supporting the early batch of confirmation candidates, and Rob, Daniel and I rode in silence to meet them at the 10:30 service. Our contemplative mood was broken only by the sound of my sniffles.  Kids grow up too fast, and the pace of milestone markers continues to increase.

William was confirmed at 10:30 alongside several of his best childhood friends. Carstenn, Adam, Will C, Ryan and William all attend a youth breakfast group together on Wednesdays (some have been going for three years) and have been on sports teams or in classes together since kindergarten. Emotions engulfed me as I heard Rev Mark intone their names one by one as he moved slowly around the semi-circle of kneeling teens. Parents crowded behind the candidates to place hands on shoulders or shiny heads. I could barely reach William and had to hook my finger into his collar to keep from tumbling over the long legs and big feet of the young man next to him.

At the end we were happy and relieved. The confirmation classes started in February, and both parents and youngsters attended a class per week, with a break over summer. William and his friends were so lucky to have a tremendous youth leader and volunteer instructors, and they stayed the course despite time constraints and pulling obligations.

At the end of the service, we sang "Seek Ye First," one of my favorite hymns and one that we played at our wedding. I expected more waterworks but was surprised to find my voice strong, as William turned toward me and directed a high-wattage smile in our direction. It was beautiful that the confirmation class sought membership in the church and I hope they will always find community and support in its embrace.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Exit or Voice

"Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit - stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice - complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed."

"Americans have always preferred 'the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.'"
- From Hirschman's Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) as quoted in The New Yorker, November 13, 2017. "Our Town" by Larissa MacFarquhar.  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/13/where-the-small-town-american-dream-lives-on)

I nearly recoiled when I read about the neatness of exit and how it is unlikely to result in a solution to any problem. My life has been defined to some degree by neatness of exit. When I was between the ages of six and eighteen my family moved six times. We became the masters of exit, of leaving before deep roots planted, before long-term friendships became problematic, before the house developed roof, plumbing, or driveway issues (with the exception of the house in Medfield, which distressingly developed all three before we could escape). Even our cars were lease vehicles. My father worked for Nissan Motor Corp, so we received a new car when we received a new neighborhood, never concerning ourselves with new power trains, fan belts, or long-term warranties.

Moving brought its own difficulties and traumas, but our exit-oriented lives left me in some ways unprepared to deal with the thirty-five year old house I now live in, or the battered van with 120,000 miles that I now drive. All of my siblings have likewise settled in a place where they now have homes and cars and ties that bind. Now we have to use voice to solve problems, wrestle with friendships and roofs and fan belts that weather over time.

It's been an adjustment to plant my feet and stay. My first instinct is flight, and I probably would have left any number of troubling situations over the past six years if it would not have been detrimental to my children, my valued friendships, my relationship to this place. American history has always valued movement - to the frontier, to the cities, to the new places, and perhaps slightly less glamorized the work of staying home. As we all wrestle with troubling divisions and large-scale problems that our country faces, we could use a reminder that only our persistent use of voice and our determination to stay can really solve them.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Reading the Past

I've been re-reading blog entries for a project, which is similar to watching your life flash before your eyes, if by "flash" you  mean distracted review over several days.  Some entries make me laugh, some make me hit "skip" and some poignantly evoke memories that had been buried.

There's a post on my shock at Aden's entry into Cherry Creek High School, ending with the line "so glad I have these four years ahead before she goes off to college." Even earlier posts note her adventures in fifth grade, navigating bullies on the playground. Now our precious time has been cut to a year-and-a-half, and my recent posts focused on college tours.

I read about my Just Faith class and our travels together. I used to see those friends and classmates for hours each week and now rarely encounter them as we move off on our separate threads.  My friend Jeri and I used to share Just Faith and Spiritual Direction and now are busy in different spheres. So many posts in those years wrestled with the books and articles we read in class, as I tried to incorporate the wisdom.

Over the past eight years I noted births, baptisms and marriages; anniversaries, birthdays and reunions. There are many common threads in these posts relating to the importance of family and traditions - and having lots of fun.

Each season brings repetitive posts on the joys and struggles of summer break, or the relief of kids returning to school. Christmas and Easter are well represented, as are vacations and camping trips. Winter cold and illnesses take up space just prior to musings on the growing green and spring optimism, before giving way to the May-hem that takes over the lives of everyone connected with schools.

My year of illness was hard to read in blog form, though I glossed over the worst of it in my writing. Certain phrases trigger the pain and fear that held me in thrall while I typed away, pretending at a kind of normalcy. It's hard to believe that I could forget any part of that experience, but I want to forget, to pretend that I am now and have always been "normal."  Undoubtedly that desire is what lead me to swim extended hours over the past few weeks, leading to migraines, excessive fatigue, and joint pain.  Reading over all that I've learned and forgotten comes at a good time. I need to re-remember both the lessons and the blessings that made me who I am now.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Tell Me Something Good

I have bad-news fatigue. Memo to the media: tell me something good!

In search of positives I went searching through Google and found the website called Global Good News (http://www.globalgoodnews.com/). I pulled the following three headlines from November 3, 2017. Inspiring, uplifting and just downright rare enough to make you smile:

Carmakers join forces in Europe to make electrics widespread 
3 November 2017 - A group of major automakers plans to open hundreds of fast-charging stations for electric cars in Europe in coming years and use a common plug technology in what they hope will be a big step toward mass acceptance of battery-powered vehicles. BMW, Daimler, Ford, and the Volkswagen Group with its Audi and Porsche brands ... said Friday [3 November] that they will open the first of 20 stations this year in Germany, Austria, and Norway at 120-kilometer (75-mile) intervals along major roads. They plan to expand the network to more than 100 stations next year and have about 400 in place across Europe by 2020. (more)

Earth's ozone hole shrivels to smallest since 1988 
3 November 2017 - The ozone hole over Antarctica shrank to its smallest peak since 1988, NASA said Thursday [2 November]. The huge hole in Earth's protective ozone layer reached its maximum this year in September, and this year NASA said it was 7.6 million square miles wide (19.6 million square kilometers). The hole size shrinks after mid-September. This year's maximum hole is more than twice as big as the United States, but it's 1.3 million square miles less than last year and 3.3 million square miles smaller than 2015. (more)

Largest US port complex passes plan to reach zero emissions 
3 November 2017 - The largest port complex in the nation has set goals to drastically reduce air pollution over the next several decades. The plan approved Thursday [2 November] at a meeting of the governing boards of the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach outlines strategies for improving equipment and efficiency to eventually move cargo with zero emissions. (more)

Now that wasn't so hard! Let keep some good news and positive vibes circulating. We all need to be told something good.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hallow What?

At risk of resembling the evilest of killjoys, the wickedest of witches, I confess to strongly disliking this black-and-orange, candy-crazed holiday. In my decades-long journey to stamp out sugar cravings I have accumulated way too much knowledge about the downside of candy. Such is my repulsion that I've offered to buy Daniel's haul for the princely sum of $40. In exchange for two twenties, he will forgo the eating of Kit-Kat's, Reese's, Almond Joys and Hershey's.  I've allowed him four treats - and the rest is going to the orthodontist.

The older kids have outgrown trick-or-treating and their consumption of holiday treats at school or at parties is out of my purview. But they tell me that they avoid the shiny wrappers, white-crusted, wax chocolate candies that abound among their peers. Both teens break out after eating sugar (just like their mom), and are usually concerned enough about their appearance to break off any new and exciting relationship with addictive desserts.

Before you add me to your "do not read" list for my cruelty and anti-Americanness, let me assure you that I love little kids in costumes. My nephews as firemen or sporting Tigger costumes and monster masks - delightful. My nieces as red MnM's, bumblebees or trolls - adorable! At our church's Trunk or Treat I was charmed by the lambs, wizards, Things 1 and 2's that toddled around in confusion, mutely offering us their empty pumpkins. (They're cutest before they understand the basic transaction, before they override your offer of Kisses and reach down deep into your bucket for a handful of the biggest pieces they can find.)

Pumpkins do blink and grin from our porch, and strings of orange lights guide children in from the street. Aden and I bought masks to wear while we handed out treats . . . . I guess I'm more deeply divided than I thought. With the music of Saint Saens playing in the background, pumpkin muffins on the counter and a fire in the fireplace, I feel the enchantment of the day.  If we could just eliminate the toxic sugar, Halloween would be as purr-fect as a black cat in a pumpkin costume.


Friday, October 27, 2017

College Visits

Three college tours this fall break and I feel a range of emotions. Disbelief that my daughter is less than two years away from attending one, wistful desire to go myself, relief that we don't have to drag two argumentative boys on any more near-term visits. Above all of these reactions is sticker shock: the private Colorado College would cost $68,000 a year for tuition, room, board and God only knows what else. Colorado State University and University of Colorado, Boulder, are much more reasonable, around $28,000 per year for everything (though I'm sure extraneous fees would add to this total). College costs currently rise at 7% per year, which is completely outrageous. I can't help but wonder where they spend all that money. As we walked through newly renovated dorm rooms and gyms, I could see the ghosts of dollar bills flying down the chimneys.

The prohibitive cost of college raises other issues, particularly for low-come students. According to today's  Denver Post, "since the late 1990s, almost two-thirds of selective public universities have reduced the share of students they enroll who come from families earning less than $37,000 a year" (http://www.denverpost.com/2017/10/26/new-america-report-top-public-universities-shutting-out-poor-students/). Not surprisingly, analysts found that "a near-identical share of these schools have increased the percentage of students they enroll who come from families earning at least $110,000."  

Grant money has failed to keep up with the increase in tuition, and families are increasingly stretched to send their children to a public university.  At every school we attended, diversity was an issue. Admissions counselors showed pretty presentations highlighting a diverse group of students, even as the student tour leaders admitted that diversity "was an issue" that their school was addressing. Particularly at private schools - which advertise small class sizes and deeper learning - staff and students recognize that small group discussions which lack a variety of perspectives are less valuable. Students who receive only one view of the world fail to understand the complex causes and consequences of today's issues. One young lady told me that her school "does a good job of studying the issue (of diversity)." 

We are incredibly fortunate to be able to send our children to public universities, and are grateful to have excellent schools in our state. I would like to push our country to acknowledge higher education as a core value for all students who want to obtain a degree. The young people who led our tours with enthusiasm and expert knowledge made me hopeful and enthusiastic about the future. The learning opportunities on these campuses are wide-ranging, cutting-edge and exciting. Aerospace engineering, environmental design, leadership, medicine, art, international studies (some abroad). All students should have a chance to go and to learn.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wise Women

My spiritual director, my healer, my friend. Three wise women who teach me about myself, and I had a chance to be with them all in the past week.

I haven't called my spiritual director in over five months. Life got busy, money was dear, I was holding it together on my own. But in the aftermath of an energy-changing trip to Spain and the resulting challenge of bringing joy back to my daily life, I felt the need for her counsel.

We discussed the weight of daily news in America, the sense that life as we know it grows every more fragile. How teenagers today feel the frequency of our country's disorganized and somewhat negative energy and how I desperately want to color my children's days with hope and positive energy, though I often feel weighed down by its opposite.

Dominie mused on this for a moment. "You know, there was one generation before that grew up with the weight of knowledge of nuclear power and tense relations between countries. I can't remember what they called that generation but they're now age 26 - 54..."

"That's me!" I broke in. "I think I'm generation X. And it's true - I grew up in the age of concrete bunkers and disturbing viewings of The Day After (a portrait of nuclear devastation visited on the heartland.)  I remember being worried a lot."

"Yes, it was a difficult time. Because you grew up in that environment, the threat and concern is in your DNA, permeates your subconscious.  It's understandable, but you should realize that not everyone feels the same way, and that you might be able to talk back to your fears."

Wow. Relief to think that not everyone worries quite as much as my generation, to absorb the thought that I can talk back to my fears . . . . but how?  I can't just wake up and tell myself life is perfect when I know otherwise.

"How does it feel to tell yourself that no matter what happens, you have the skills and resources to guide your family through it?"  Now that felt authentic, positive, real. I can do that. And in the meantime, Dominie encouraged me to return to the things that brought new joy in Barcelona: art, walking outside, exploring, looking for beauty.  I can find those activities here in Denver, too.

My next wisdom encounter was with my healer. She's not a western MD but more of a functional medicine practitioner, would have been a shaman in ancient times. Jean has helped me coax my body toward health for over ten years. This past week I took Daniel in to see her, and we found that he is highly reactive to gluten and dairy, just like me, just like his siblings.  The coincidence was startling, given that we are not genetically connected.

My healer said, "Daniel fits in your family, and your awareness of these exact issues makes it a perfect place for him. It's not a coincidence that he's with you."   As Daniel fought back tears over losing ice cream and Domino's, I battled similar tears over our new bond, our ability to help him.

And my last wisdom encounter with a good friend, urging me to follow my heart, to look past percentages and numbers and the business of daily life toward peace and joy, toward guiding my whole family toward the same.  It was such a blessing to receive these reminders and support this week as the calendar grew monstrous again, the to-do list so long that I broke it into several smaller lists, and stress mounted. With the help of my wise women I was able to breathe, coach myself back to consciousness, and look forward with positive energy.

Monday, October 16, 2017

My Country, 'Tis of Thee

This post has been surprisingly difficult to write. It's a love letter to a troubled partner,  a bit of an "it's not you, it's me" vibe.

I recently wrote about my enchantment with  Spain, a new county, like a new crush, that beguiled despite its own ongoing political drama and discontent. Returning home to the United States, I felt a weight drop onto my chest, a resistance to resuming my life as a responsible American citizen. It has been a troubling year, a difficult eighteen months. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you have felt the divide here, the anger, frustration and resentment that constantly simmer, frequently exploding into a boil.

When I regaled my Spanish teacher with stories of our week abroad, I ended with the disconcerting truth that it was hard to come home, and not just because we moved from vacation to real life.  She responded, "our country is like our family. We notice everything, react to everything, and feel each new development emotionally. Other families, like other countries, can be as dysfunctional as they like - if it's not ours we're not judgmental, not invested. It's because we care that we hurt."

Recognizing the truth in her words helped me find the deep well of caring for my country that stays stubbornly full. In the fullness of gratitude, I've made a list of the many Americans who make me proud and thankful to be a citizen of this country. I'd like to include part of the list here:

- The firefighters and first responders who fought the fires in Northern California over the past week. These men and women worked tirelessly without respite for days on end to rescue countless civilians, animals, structures from the flames.
- The first responders and heroes who came to the rescue of injured during the Las Vegas tragedy. Those who carried the wounded away from the scene, donated vehicles, addressed the needs of the victims. Those who comfort the traumatized, the grieving.
- Hotel owners and staff in Las Vegas who gave rooms for free.
- Staff at the museums and libraries and destinations in Northern California who scrapped entry fees over the weekend for people to come in out of the smoky air.
- The first responders, friends and neighbors who came to the rescue of hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, as well as the US Virgin Islands and other locations. Many courageous acts light the way for many more that need to follow, particularly in Puerto Rico.
- All those who have donated money to relief efforts.
- Reporters, researchers, aid organizations that do the work on the ground in devastated areas to report back the needs of those affected.
- My extended family for caring and contributing whenever possible.
- The Willow Creek community (where I live) for its lemonade stands for hurricane relief, clothing and food drives, Caring Bridge and Meal Train offerings for those who are ill.
- The St. Andrew UMC community for packing hurricane relief kits, organizing fundraising for those in need, including all people under the umbrella of caring, creating opportunities to connect.
- The Casa de Paz community who raised bond in short order so that a husband and father could leave immigrant detention and return to his family.
- The teachers at my children's schools, for their hard work, emotional strength and support of the children, goal-setting, leadership, and perseverance.
- All teachers everywhere.

It's a long list, and it's just the beginning. It's my country, my family, and I love it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Engaging the World

Our time in Barcelona reminded me that travel is a raison d'etre, a "reason for being." When life gets difficult, when bad news crowds the front page and my mental space, when daily routines become a slog, sometimes we need a reason for being, a flame of hope and optimism to light our way.  For me, travel is such a light, and the possibility of adventure and exploration later on in life helps my chin stay up now, when each day brings news of a fresh catastrophe.

Learning, exploring, finding new information, a fresh perspective, openness to different peoples and languages, these inspire and fuel me.  I need that lift when I face daily news of our national leaders shutting our doors, closing their minds, turning their backs on travelers, on those of us who want dialogue, clean air / water, a new direction.  We're all in this boat, on this planet together, and it seems to me that we should work much harder to get along and to find a way to sail into the future with some degree of hope and optimism.

Writing this blog before 7am allows me to retain a bit of positivity. I haven't yet retrieved the newspaper from the driveway or opened the headlines on my phone. I write while my daughter does homework at the kitchen table, the quiet darkness a soothing bubble out of which any future can be born.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Returns

Rob and I made it home after almost fourteen hours in the air. Crossing eight time zones with the sun kept us sleepless for almost 24 hours .... and then after a six-hour nap I was up at 3am. More cross-eyed than bright-eyed, but still with some quiet time to express my gratitude to Bill and Connie for taking such good care of the kids while we were gone. I could never have gone on my adventure-of-a-lifetime without their help, and I'm so thankful.

On our last two days in Barcelona, Rob and I explored Gaudi's Park Guell and had dinner near the Sagrada Familia so I could say good-bye to that spectacular monument. I walked fifteen miles that day and was all kinds of a mess by the time we got back to the hotel.  Fortunately, Friday saw us rebound with some shopping, a tour of the Paulau Musical de Catalan, which looks like a music box on the inside, and a trip to the roof of Barcelona Cathedral. I've never been on the roof of a cathedral before - peering down at thousand-year-old masonry (some crumbling around the edges) from a scaffold was nerve-wracking. When the tower bells went off, all nerves went out the window as we could only treasure such  unique moment.

We lunched on the sidewalk next to some local elders, who laughed uproariously at each other's antics and yelled across the square for their grandchildren to come carry the groceries home (up five flights of stairs, no doubt!). In the late afternoon we took a bus tour out to Montserrat Monastery, on the "serrated mountain" of Montserrat. The views and Cathedral there were splendid, and we waited in line for a half-hour to touch the Black Madonna at the front of the church. It was a holy, sacred moment, and undoubtedly blessed us as well as the many travelers with us.

Now I'm home with people I love and feeling so grateful, but also sad to leave such a special place and time behind. I've promised Rob and the kids that we would return to Barcelona, rent a place there for a year, and have them come out to visit us some time during the college or post-college years. I hope they learn to love travel, to absorb histories, cultures, and languages, and to experience this beautiful world around us.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Me Encanta Barcelona

Barcelona takes its place as my favorite city in the world. I told Rob that we have to come live here for up to a year when the kids go to school and we semi-retire. In just one morning, I have been awed by  the precocious genius of Picasso at his namesake museum, delighted by the thick hot chocolate at the Museu la Xocolata, listened to a conservatory-trained trumpeter at City Park and prayed for peace at Esglesia Santa Anna. All before 2:00 pm (or 6:00am at home).

Whether through rubbing shoulders at the protests yesterday or engaging in conversation with my friendly Catalan trumpeter, I feel connected to the Catalan people. The spirit of solidarity and positive strength at the protests reminded me viscerally of the Women's March in DC, and invigorated me to get to work on behalf of our country when I get back to Denver. I have a few days yet to stock up on the international energy....

I love to practice my Spanish whenever possible, though usually people here take one look at me and speak in English (or once today, French, which I took as a compliment). If I start convincingly enough in Spanish, they might keep going, at which point I understand about 80% of the conversation. Enough to order coffee, not enough to follow the commentary  about Chinese v. Japanese tourists. It's a delight to be surrounded by languages and cultures - even our driver from the airport spoke four languages. If speaking another language opens the mind to empathy (as several studies indicate), then being in a European capital feels like a breath of fresh air.

Now off to rest and read and write before heading to Rob's work gala this evening. Only two more days of idyllic travel before returning home. I miss everyone there and I am so grateful for this unique opportunity to fall in love with a new place.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Faith and Hope at La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona has to be one of the world's greatest wonders. Largely designed by genius Antoni Gaudi, the church is only 70% completed after one hundred and thirty-five years of construction. Scheduled for completion in 2026, in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death, the cathedral is a testament to extreme faith, hope and love. When asked how he could stand to work so long on a building that would not be finished in his lifetime, Gaudi reportedly answered, "My client (God), is not in a hurry."

Gaudi provided the overall blueprint for the cathedral, but left the design of the unfinished facades  to the vision of other architects and sculptors. Open to collaboration and cooperation, Gaudi named as his successor Spanish artist Josep Maria Subirachs, who died in 2014 and thereby turned over the master planning and directing to Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese artist profoundly influenced by Gaudi.

I was extremely moved by our visit to  La Sagrada Familia. From admiring the modernistic exterior and contrasting examples of sculptures, towers, language, and symbols, to resting flabbergasted inside the cathedral, captured by the stained glass, the cascade of sunset colors, and the soaring towers, I had a hard time keeping it together. Rob studiously refrained from looking at me each time I teared up.

Prior to La Sagrada Familia, I had only seen such patient, dedicated and humble efforts from the architects and builders of medieval cathedrals. Today's world moves so rapidly and hinges so much on instant gratification, that I couldn't imagine such a patient faith existing in modernity. Yet Gaudi and his successors belong to our world, at least in space and time. The splendor and beauty of their work convinced me again of what is possible when belief, patience and effort come together.

The light and hope of that visit sustained me through the news of a bloody rampage in Las Vegas, through other news of our lost and searching country. It lifts me up as I watch people of all ages and genders march today through the streets of Barcelona, seeking democracy and independence for Catalonia. We're all searching, seeking freedom to work and believe in our cherished ideals. I hope that with belief, patience and steady effort, we all climb toward the light.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Bon Dia, Catalunya

I haven't written for over a week because I was preoccupied with a writing project and because I wanted to write about our pending trip to Barcelona, and couldn't, because I didn't want to worry my mother about the referendum vote for Independence that took place yesterday, October 1.

But we're here now, and my mom found out about the vote (not from me) and was duly worried, though she shouldn't be. Rob and I are not frequenting the polling stations and steered clear of the squads of Guardia Civil (police from the Spanish capital of Madrid) that guarded the government buildings and schools all day yesterday. They're still present today, and the helicopters are still flying over Barcelona, which is the capital of Catalonia (or Catalunya in their own language), but the simmering tensions do nothing to dissuade the hordes of tourists thronging the streets, pursuing their holidays.

We can see the bright yellow and red striped flags of Catalonia hanging from balconies all over the exquisite buildings, occasionally placed with the blue triangle / white star combination that signals a desire for independence. Pastel banners with the word "Si" (yes for independence) offset the flags on the surface of many buildings and a few signs urging the vote are hidden in corners where they were not torn down.  This morning, our tour guide, A, asked us politely not to talk to her about politics because the events of yesterday were too close to her heart and she just could not speak of them.

The vote yesterday was complicated. The head of Catalonia wants to be independent from Spain, and a significant minority in the region agree with him. (The minority probably grew after yesterday's events).  This region has been occupied for over two thousand years, has a rich history, it's own culture and language, and a disproportionate share of the Spanish economy. It's understandable that the central government wants to hang on to Catalonia and it's incredible capital, Barcelona. Less understandable that Madrid's police felt the need to forcefully disrupt the vote by dragging civilians down steps by their hair, firing rubber bullets into peaceful crowds of would-be voters, and blocking polling places with vans and machine guns. Such was the hostility that squads of local police (Mossos) and firemen found themselves torn between the two sides, and in some cases chose to protect Catalan voters from the clubs of the Guardia Civil.

Up until forty years ago, Spain was under the thumb of dictator Francisco Franco. Today we saw a church that had been bombed by Mussolini's air force in 1938 - with Franco's permission the bombers used Barcelona for target practice. Under Franco, no region could speak it's own language, observe it's own culture, or discuss it's unique history in schools. And that epoch, as A noted today, was so recent as to be virtually "yesterday."  Since Franco's death, Catalonian schools teach Catalan, Spanish and English, and all residents are fluent in both Catalan and (Castilian) Spanish. The violent suppression of yesterday's votes must strike fear into the collective heart of the Catalan people, whose buildings and collective psyche are still scarred by the events of the Spanish Civil War, Franco's dictatorship and cultural suppression.

I don't know enough to take sides in the vote. I wanted so much to tell A that we supported her right to vote and wished for the best for her people, but my feelings are irrelevant.  I do know that violence rarely wins supporters among the oppressed, never wins hearts. My fervent hope is that the leaders of all countries, regions and unions - Spain, Catalonia, the EU, the United States - de-escalate their wars of words, their hype and their threats, and learn to communicate effectively and non-violently. This is the most beautiful city I have ever seen (and I promise to post more about tourist activities tomorrow), and violence has no place here, no place anywhere.


Monday, September 25, 2017

A Bad Example

Yesterday afternoon, after a weekend filled with 45's tweets dissing NFL and NBA stars who exercised their First Amendment right to free speech, after his use of crude language, after his complete Tweet disregard of American territory Puerto Rico and it's hurricane-beseiged populace (composed of American citizens), I threw my hands in the air. "Whatever the president does," I told my children, "do the opposite. He is not a role model, he is a bad example."

They grasped the concept instantly. 

"You mean, don't hate on people who think or look different than you?" asked the older son.

"Yeah, and don't get mad if someone's better at basketball or football," said the younger son.

"And don't get in a shouting match with a bully  and make stupid threats," said my daughter, who is keeping a watchful eye on North Korea.

I'm glad they understand me, that their knowledge of right and wrong makes clear the prejudice, immaturity, impatience and disrespect inherent in every move that 45 makes.  Yet I am so frustrated that their country is run by this man. That my eleven-year-old comes home every day and tells me "the world is going to explode tomorrow."  That my daughter balances her concern about college applications with the knowledge that "nuclear war could break out." That  American citizens in Texas and Florida receive proclamations of mercy and visits from leaders while the American citizens in Puerto Rico receive no public attention, even when their country's infrastructure has been set back by decades.

I don't even have the heart to tell my children about the worst stories, like ICE arresting a mother and father while they sat in a hospital waiting for their infant child to have lifesaving surgery. That my friend Ingrid is being deported and her children will either be motherless or have to go with her to Peru, where their chance of education and advancement is slim to none. Desperately seeking some sense and positive direction for my children, I have to look elsewhere. Maybe to Angela Merkel of Germany, arguably now the leader of the free world.  Or Justin Trudeau of Canada or the Pope.  Anywhere but the White House, where they will only find the cautionary tale of a bad example.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Shine a Light on the Casa

What a heart-warming surprise to open the Sunday Post and find an article on Casa de Paz, a non-profit run by our friend Sarah Jackson.  The Casa does amazing work, picking up men and women released from immigrant detention and providing them with needed clothing, food, shelter, and a ride to bus or plane that can take them to family. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) releases people with only the clothes they were wearing at the time of arrest, oftentimes a tee-shirt and jeans. That doesn't work well on a cold or wintry Denver day.

Sarah also provides shelter for families traveling to visit mothers, fathers, sons, or daughters in the detention center. She has help from over two hundred volunteers who are continually inspired and moved by the stories of the men and women they assist. I've been lucky enough to provide some help - though I would say that the immigrants have blessed and affected me more than I have helped them.  Here's the story link: http://www.denverpost.com/2017/09/17/ice-detention-transfers-immigrants/

I interviewed one of the individuals in the article for my Master's capstone. Shoeb Babu was imprisoned (for that's what detention is) for over two years before he was released and granted asylum. His only crime was turning himself in to the Border Patrol without papers.  Shoeb is bright and funny; it's difficult to read how his long imprisonment wreaked havoc on his hopes. He's free now, but we can't restore the two years we took from him, or help him repair relationships that suffered while he was confined.

"Welcome the immigrant, the stranger" says the Bible in  both Old and New Testaments. Sarah takes that directive at face value, doing the work of Christ from Casa de Paz. Her example lights a fire under me and I hope that readers of the Post will find a similar light of truth and strength to inspire them.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Not Fair - Thee - Well

My friend Ingrid is being cast out of the tribe today, evicted from the country she has made her home, separated from her nine-year-old son and her husband, the aunt who raised her, and her community of friends. Ingrid came to the U.S. from Peru when she was only 17, fleeing trauma. She told me once, "There was nothing left for me there."

I met Ingrid when she was in Sanctuary at the Mountain View Friends Meeting House.  She lived in Sanctuary while pursuing a court case that would hopefully allow her to overturn an earlier conviction and remain in this country. With Ingrid was her one-year-old son, Anibal, who learned to walk on the wooden slats of the meeting house floor. Every weekend her older son Bryant would join her, sacrificing soccer games with his friends and much of his casual outdoor time to sit inside the church with his mom and his brother. The children were good-natured, but confused at the way in which their lives had been turned upside-down.

That confusion will mount to emotional distress and pain when Ingrid has to leave for Peru today.  She applied for U.S.  passports for both of her boys months ago, fearing and preparing for the worst while always hoping for the best. At the time, Anibal napped while she completed the applications with the help of a volunteer, and I sat quietly by, wondering how she would support herself in Peru with two young children. Anibal received his passport but Bryant's documents have not yet come in the mail. He will  - at least temporarily - lose his mother today.

Ingrid made a life for herself in this country. She worked two jobs, built a family and community, and crafted her own version of the American dream. Her major error was purchasing a social security number that belonged to another person.  Ingrid did not know that the number she purchased belonged to Daisy Navarro, a woman who lived in Colorado. She didn't know where the number came from, only that she needed it to get a job. Our system is set up so that she couldn't obtain citizenship, couldn't work, couldn't become a full-fledged member of society. We all know the system is broken, and now a family will be torn apart because of our lack of willpower, our inability to solve a widely-recognized problem.

Because our broken immigration system doesn't always affect our own friends and family members, because we can hide from the costs of the brokenness, we don't fix it. Meanwhile, citizens like Navarro are hurt when their identity is stolen, and families that are undocumented or of mixed status are torn apart because we couldn't extend a guest worker permit, visa of path to citizenship.

Governor Hickenlooper denied a pardon for Ingrid after she fasted and waited outside his office for seven days. He said it was one of the hardest decisions he had to make, and he was grim-faced and unwilling to discuss it with reporters. Ultimately, our country could not forgive Ingrid her crime, though we forced her hand when we would not allow her to work without papers. We took her years of hard work, her dedication to family and community, her loving spirit and her positive attitude and then, because we are broken, we cast her out.

**On her scheduled deportation day, ICE granted Ingrid thirty more days to prepare herself and her family for the move to Peru. Ingrid still needs Bryant's passport and medical appointments for Anibal at Children's Hospital, and hopes to have everything in order by her new deportation date,

Thursday, September 7, 2017

So Much Good

I just listened to a voicemail from the Cherry Creek School District, informing me that students from multiple high schools in our district are planning a walkout tomorrow to protest the President's decision on DACA. The district office wasn't asking parents to stop the kids, just to talk with them about safety and plan routes that don't follow busy "multi-lane thoroughfares."

Tears stained my glasses (darn peri-menopause) at the thought of students in our huge (55,000) district standing up to support other young people in their struggle with our immigration system. All of our young people want an education, want to work, want to make a difference. I don't know if my two high school students are planning to walk out, but I will support them if they do.

My congresspeople also raised my spirits this past week as Colorado Senators Bennet and Gardner, along with my Representative Mike Coffman, all expressed their support for the DREAM Act and urged Congress to act to protect the over 800,000 Dreamers who may lose protection when DACA expires in six months.

Here are some other voices that spoke out, and convinced me there's so much good in the world.
  • "I have met these DACA recipients. They are bright, committed young people just like the other young people you know. They aspire to be doctors, nurses, lawyers, scientists, astronauts, teachers and preachers. They are determined to grow and learn, to care for their families, to contribute to their communities and to make a difference in the world. I believe they will do great things that will continue to benefit all of us — if we will continue to support them."
  • - Minerva G. Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church and the Bishop for the San Francisco Area, in TIME (http://time.com/4927600/daca-dreamers-donald-trump-christianity/ )  In the same article, Carcaño said, "According to a recent study from the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, removing DACA recipients from the U.S. workforce would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade." 
  • "This is about young people who grew up in America – kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag.  These Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.  They were brought to this country by their parents, sometimes even as infants.  They may not know a country besides ours.  They may not even know a language besides English.  They often have no idea they’re undocumented until they apply for a job, or college, or a driver’s license."
Microsoft and Amazon responded to the DACA decision by pledging to join a fifteen-state lawsuit against the US Government for its recent decision to cancel DACA and further asked Conress to restore DACA - and do this before tackling tax reform - a major issue for the technology industry.
  • “We say this even though Microsoft, like many other companies, cares greatly about modernizing the tax system and making it fairer and more competitive,” explained Brad Smith, the company’s president and chief legal officer. “But we need to put the humanitarian needs of these 800,000 people on the legislative calendar before a tax bill.”
  • In a note to employees, meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook similarly said he is “deeply dismayed” by Trump’s decision — and pledged the company would “work with members of Congress from both parties to advocate for a legislative solution that provides permanent protections for all the Dreamers in our country.”
  • Cook also said the company would provide the roughly 250 at Apple affected by the decision with the “support they need, including the advice of immigration experts.”
  • https://www.recode.net/2017/9/5/16255490/microsoft-satya-nadella-offered-aid-employee-worker-trump-daca-dreamer-deport
Now we need to add our voices to the call for justice, for liberty and equality.  The individuals brought here as children had no voice in the matter, and their future was the reason and fuel for the parents who brought them on long and difficult journeys, leaving behind family and all that was familiar. They are our children now, and we must protect them.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Week of Turmoil

Our minor flooding issue  (as described in "Eclipsing the Eclipse") comes to an end today as our wonderful contractor redoes the drywall, insulation and paint in the basement bedroom. His friend came and fixed the carpet last week, and so we've dug ourselves out of that particular hole for less money and hassle than expected.  Let me rephrase: the amazing immigrants who have done the work for us, giving up their Saturdays and family time, have dug us out of our hole.

My stress around one inch of water in one small basement bedroom seems ridiculous in the face of Biblical floods in Texas and Louisiana. I heard this morning that Houston residents may have to watch their homes flooded again when reservoirs are partially emptied to reduce structural stress. How can the nation's fourth-largest city dry out, restore and repair from such devastation? I am grateful for first responders, the "Cajun army" rescuers, and all the people who are helping to care for victims of the flood.  Perhaps our administration can set aside empty rhetoric around border walls and similarly focus on helping those who lost everything in Harvey's wrath.

Mexico sent money and troops and supplies to help victims of Harvey, just as they sent aid to Louisiana in the wake of Katrina. My friend says that the government of Mexico acts "like grownups." This generosity and putting differences aside fills me with hope, just like the acts of the Cajun army did throughout every (otherwise sorrowful) newscast from last week. We are stronger together, and we can do amazing things when we focus on our common goals.

In contrast to the generous giving of both US and Mexican citizens sits the U.S. government's threat to take away protected status from people who came to the United States as children. President Obama created DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) to provide young adults a two-year (renewable) window in which they were safe from immigration enforcement and could work.  Over 800,000 people in this country have registered, providing all contact and personal information to government. Now they wonder if that was a bad move, as the current President has said that he will decide the program's fate on Tuesday, September 5. If the individuals covered by DACA were to go underground or be forced to leave the country, not only would they suffer from the loss of family, opportunity and education, but the United States would suffer from the loss of their productivity, creativity, hard-working ethic and income. A huge loss on all levels - but let's hope that the President protects the program and that Congress works toward making status more permanent with the latest proposed DREAM Act.

I met a young man protected by DACA the other night at a meeting. He was student body president at Metropolitan Statue University of Denver and would like to go to med school to study neurobiology. His mother brought him to this country when he was 3, and he has been "standing in line" for citizenship since that time - almost 20 years. Can we stand to lose him, and others like him? Let's pray for the spirit of unity to move our government on issues around Houston and immigration, just as our citizens have tried to band together to lift up those who need our help.

 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

"a" for amazing

Aden had a preliminary 16th birthday party in our AirBnB, a renovated barn in Polson, Montana. Her Aunt Carol made a tasty pasta dinner with meatballs, and her cousin Julia worked with Nana to craft a delicious and allergen-free chocolate cake. At dinner, my dad sat at the head of the picnic table on his reversible walker, and the benches were lined with siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. The assembly sang three different versions of "Happy Birthday:" the basic version, the Finnish / Murdo epic "Happy Birdle-dadle toodle youdle-doodle" (spell-check recognized none of those words), and a downtown Chicago rendition provided by that city's Clavadetscher clan.

After food and singing and the requisite candle extinguishing, Nana handed out the first gifts. As Aunt Pam whispered to me later, "We should have saved the best for last!"  Nonetheless, Aden began her sweet 16 by opening a homemade afghan with hearts, and a special Tiffany necklace.  Nana Ann told us, "That's the first Tiffany jewelry that I ever got from Papa." Dangling from the fine silver chain was a lowercase script letter "a." Aden held it together but I shed a few tears as I fastened the clasp behind her neck.

My dad has been giving my mom Tiffany jewelry for many years. Bracelets and earrings, but mostly necklaces adorned with crosses or symbols for the five children. My sister Karen and I have been fortunate recipients of his Tiffany habit, as well. As I write this, it dawn on me that Rob has recently begun a similar tradition with platinum jewelry for me - since my autoimmune disease I have trouble wearing anything else. Excuse me for a sec while I round up a handkerchief....

In any case, the poignancy of the moment has stayed with me, leaping out at odd moments when Aden reminds me of my Mom. They're both "artistic" and "altruistic,"  "amusing" and "able."  Both ladies have a strong positive "affect" on the lives of others. Both "adore" using Emojis, particularly hearts. Aden and Nana share a good Spanish "accent" and have "academic" leanings.

Before I slide further into maudlin sentiment, let me end on the fine humorous note provided by my brother, Michael.  The head of the Boston Clavs presented their card to Aden, and when she opened it to reveal a $20 bill, Mike leapt into the void. "That's the first twenty I ever gave to your Aunt Pam," he said jovially, "and she kept it."  My dad burst into guffaws, the emotional tension lifted, and we proceeded to karaoke and dancing.

But Mom, every time I see that "a", I think of you.  *Hearts*



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipsing the Eclipse

I went to water the flowers yesterday morning full of excitement for the solar eclipse, ready to start Monday on a positive note. The universe had other ideas.  Upon reaching for the hose, sitting at an odd angle directly above the casement covering to our egress basement windows, I noticed the steady drip, the inches of water in the bottom of the window well, and realized that the hose had been left running all night.  

My eleven-year-old came running at my sharp scream, and realizing that he was the one who had left the water running, turned to me with eyes wide and the words "I'm so....." emerging from his mouth. I had already pushed past him to run to the basement, where the wall dripped from under the window and the carpet stood under water.  Too late, I remembered Daniel spraying the garden and then his brother, running for the house as William emerged from the trampoline to chase him. The hose must have been flung in the exact spot where it could do the most harm, and in the melee, no one thought to turn it off.

More screaming ensued, as the culprit and I used every beach towel in the house to mop up water, dry the windowsill and walls. That basement room has flooded twice before, which is why Rob and I paid thousands of dollars to have new windows put in, and thousands more to replace the concrete behind the house so the water would drain away from the foundation. We had thought of everything - except the errant ways of children. "Ha, ha!" said the universe. "I can take away both the sun and your sense of well-being in one well-planned morning." 

Rob took my desperate phone call as he entered the morning status meeting, and had to deal with my wails as several execs looked on in astonishment. Post-meeting he rushed to meet me at home, where we tore up the carpet and pads, set the carpet to dry, and established fans in the basement bedroom.  We finished just in time to apply our eclipse glasses and watch the sun nearly cover the moon. It was quiet and cool in our backyard as all but a sliver of light died out in an eerie stillness. Despite the awe, it was anticlimactic. The main event of the morning had already occurred, and all I could think was that I needed the sun to come back out and dry my carpet.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Charlottesville and Aspirations

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ---- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
- The Declaration of Independence, The Want, Will and Hope of the People http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ 

36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"37 Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your Go with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version of the Bible


I keep thinking of something my friend, Harvard Professor Dr. Tim McCarthy, said this spring: "There is a paradox of progress and prejudice in our nation's history."  Tim noted the high ideals of the Declaration of Independence, cited above, which were  out of balance with the 18th-century practice of slavery, the eradication of Native Peoples, and the denial of the right to vote for women. Our country aimed high despite its faults, looked for the best it could become as opposed to staying mired in what it was.

I feel the same way about the New Testament.  I believe in the commandment to love and the exhortations to serve in Matthew, despite how I fail again and again in attaining these goals, which seem to fly against my actual nature. I fail completely to love my enemy. Yet my failings do not invalidate Jesus' teachings. The law of love, the attribute of compassion, are aspirations. Though falling short repeatedly, I can't hold myself to a lesser standard.

As both an American and a Christian I am wrestling with the recent events in Charlottesville. Photos of Nazi and Confederate flags held side-by-side, of sieg heils thrown to an evil ghost --- delivered gut punches, roiled my stomach with a combination of disbelief and fury. How do we face the domestic terror inflicted upon an innocent young women and her friends, and upon officers trying to do their job, without losing compassion for the perpetrators? Seething with frustrated anger against the alt-right movement that uses the tired, artificial excuse of skin color as a barrier, against a president who chose not to condemn the violence with speed and conviction, I start to question how I am better than those who marched.

Two days after his initial lukewarm statement finally condemning the violence and hatred of the neo-Nazi and alt-right groups, our president backtracked and tried to lay equal blame on the peaceful counter-protestors. Pundits tried to blame the alt-left for equal proclivity to violence. When I think alt-left, I think Julia Butterfly Hill chained to a redwood tree, think marchers for equality being sprayed with fire hoses. Offering your body as protection for others and sacrificing yourself does not equate with making an attack upon others with a car or Ak-47. Our president is morally deficient, if not bankrupt, and since my government no longer provides me or my family with happiness or safety, I would like to remove it per the Declaration of Independence.

I denounce our president and many in his administration and stand against hate groups, but will try to fight without violence or descent into hatred.  I believe in the aspirational values expressed by our forefathers. Last spring, Dr. McCarthy asked his listeners to "be fierce and generous, speak and listen." These are difficult goals, a high standard. But I find strength in others - much farther along the path than I- who continually turn to love, good works and service, and I hope to evolve and join them in the movement to turn the tide in our country, and myself. 


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Home again, home again, jiggety jog

We returned at 1:00am on Thursday morning from four days of lake swimming, sibling bonding and cousin love in Polson, MT.  Nana and Papa welcomed us to their house above Flathead Lake and we spent a delirious Sunday morning snapping photos of the seven original Clavadetschers, then spouses and ten of the eleven grandchildren (to be lucky number 13 in spring of 2018!).  Smoky skies couldn't prevent Montana sunshine from penetrating, and the lake blew up celebratory whitecaps behind us.

After brunch the California contingent departed, leaving us with time to paddleboard, ride the golf cart, take a few strokes at the driving range, and prepare a BBQ feast of kebabs and burgers. As the days progressed, the temperature stayed perfect in the mid-80's and our outdoor activities continued unabated. William and Aden swam across the bay with me on Monday morning, though the cold water got to William's ears and Aden had to guide me back across the wavy, cold water. Next day saw William volunteering to paddle for me in slightly calmer seas, and on our last swim, Aden and I had flat water and a guide in cousin Julia.

I first tried the lake swim with Aden and William six years ago, when their little bodies shivered in the cold and the murky lake depths intimidated my daughter, who refused to go farther than fifty meters from the dock. It filled my heart with joy to see Aden (now sixteen and an officially licensed driver!) swimming strong next to me, spotting the dock across the bay with professional open-water aplomb. I was the duckling paddling behind her.

On Tuesday night we celebrated Aden's birthday with the family at a renovated barn where the Chicago Clavs and the Dravenstotts bunked each night. Decorated with splashes of color (sunflowers on the fridge and weeping willows on the loft floors) and highlighted by a disco ball and karaoke machine, the barn provided a perfect spot to snap last group photos, eat cake, and open presents. I haven't seen my father laugh so hard in a long time as he did at my brothers' antics and karaoke rendition of "Pour Some Sugar on Me."  Papa also joined in at our group delivery of John Denver's "Wild Montana Skies," belting out the chorus with the best of the grandchildren. We missed Karen, who knows all the lyrics, and Molly and James, who have the best song delivery, but it was a wildly satisfying night. Aden could not have started her sweet sixteen any better.

Thank you to our hosts of late summer: Bill and Connie, Ann and Jules. We could not be more fulfilled or restored.  In the last weekend of reflection before the whirlwind of school descends, we'll review photos and send thank-yous and be grateful for the many fun times we've had.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Travel Vertigo

At home briefly between adventures, I woke up one morning with vertigo. Lurching from the bed to the bathroom door, then to the sink, I looked at my haggard reflection and thought, really? I don't have time for this. A long list of at-home chores beckoned: mow the lawn, dead-head the flowers, find the kids something to eat, do ten loads of laundry. It seems that all of the travel had left me both literally and figuratively dizzy.  I called the chiropractor as soon as it opened and squeezed in a visit. Turns out I had "positional vertigo," which he corrected as best he could. In my mind, it's travel vertigo, caused by airplanes and strange beds, foreign pillows and a tinge of stress.

From water polo and beach going in Orange County to surviving Hurricane Ridge under Niagara Falls, we're in "drive" mode. Arriving at Denver International Airport just after noon on Thursday, we went directly to middle school check-in so that Daniel could get his locker location and school ID. As we went from station to station, paying for track, lunch, and school activities, the volunteers kept asking our group if we had more people to check in. "Just the one," we replied, and explained that the whole family had come straight from the plane. Daniel had his crew with him as he set up locker shelves and practiced his new combo.

Despite setbacks, I'm so grateful for the blessings of vacation time and resources. Our summer travel has provided opportunities to dine with my sister and  Aunt Jennifer in Orange County, and then to create beautiful memories with both sets of grandparents and a plenitude of cousins from Ohio to Montana. Family takes precedence over early school registration, meeting the August budget, work schedules and convenience, because our reunions provide opportunity to weave more memories into our life-quilts and find hope for the future in the babies' faces. (Not to mention time to celebrate the miraculous and oh-so-surprising Clavadetscher twins expected in Spring of 2018.)

So I'm grateful, dizzy, tired and pretending blissful ignorance of upcoming deadlines and schedule changes. When the climate shifts and renders southern locations unlivable, my fondest hope is that all the Clavadetscher - Dravenstotts will relocate to a green and cool locale, and spend our days in reunion. Until then, despite vertigo, I'm thankful for the travel.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back in the Buckeye State

Cicadas buzz like a horde of mini helicopters over the trees in a nearby wood while clover and Queen Anne's lace flower loudly from sides of highways and culverts. The mildly humid air closes around us laden with the green smells of wet grass and nameless wild undergrowth. The Ashland Times-Gazette, only six pages long, covers troubling stories in brief or not at all, a welcome change from constant bombardment of news bytes at home. Removed from crowds and traffic, besieged only by jays and chickadees catcalling from the oak tree, my pulse has slowed and my spirit rests. With the worst of temperature and humidity at bay, Ohio beckons like a resort.

Today the males and Connie are off to Cedar Point, an Ohio amusement park that entranced the boys when we visited two years ago but which represents too many people, lines, and hours in the sun for me and Aden. We stayed home to walk, catch up on emails, websites and blogs, and possibly to shop for her new school backpack in local stores (only Ashland University bookstore and Fin, Feather and Fur Outfitters as alternatives to WalMart).

Connie pointed out that I have infrequently updated my blog this summer, an unsettling truth. I don't know where to lay the blame for my writing collapse; is it early Alzheimer's? heat distress? a too-busy summer schedule? or possibly just lack of structure and motivation? Over the last three summers I have at least taken one writing class for my MA at Regis. The need to complete my homework provided motivation to write, which expanded to blog entries. With the degree complete, I find myself temporarily bereft of motivation.

The kids will be back in school in less than two weeks and I'm hopeful that extra time and energy will be spared for further writing endeavors. If I died tomorrow, my only regret would be that I did not write more. It seems that I should remedy that before the regret takes root. For now, I'll put it on the calendar during the first week of school along with all of the doctor's appointments that I postponed, and I'll enjoy our last summer day in Ashland.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lavender, Streetside

My auto-immune system does not relish heat, and I fall limply to couch or bed each afternoon in peril of not rising again in time to make dinner, pick kids up from camp, make some sense of the ravished house. Here's a brief ode to this roasting period of the summer, when air conditioners heave in exhaustion, kids flee the burning pavement pool-side, and shade is a gift from the gods.

Lavender, Streetside

Forks of lavender tine the air,
Spearing bees as those buzzers
Dive-bomb the purple pollen.
Flowery limbs season heated gases
Exhaled by asphalt,
Secreting peace as they rise sky-ward.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Swim Team Finale

Our Willow Creek Wahoos tent always sits in a swamp outside the Finals pool, a murky mess that grows more squishy and stinky over the course of an 11-hour day. From pre-dawn warm-ups in the chill of a misty summer morning to the final screams of a 15 - 18 200 Free relay, we lived an eternity. Somewhere between FaceTiming my parents for Aden's and William's 50 M freestyles and prepping for Rob's volunteer timing shift behind the blocks, several lightning strikes within a 1-mile radius put Finals on a long delay.

The swimmers played cards in the tents and swallowed rainbow-colored Icees in blissful ignorance of passing time and swirling storm clouds. Parents scanned the horizon for dropping funnels and more electric upheaval, vacillating between a strong desire to pull up stakes and go home, and the competitive urge to get those last swims in before the end of the season.

After an impromptu dance party on the pool deck to funky chicken and electric slide, several meetings of parent reps and swim league board members, and some near-drownings in our mud swamp, the meet rallied for a re-start. I took Rob's timing shift while he jetted south to Colorado Springs to buy a car for Aden, who dropped time and improved places in all of her events. We told her not to expect a new car for every successful swim meet.

William also dropped loads of time (seven seconds off his time from three days prior - how do young people improve in such leaps? Did that happen for me at 14?) He took as his reward the knowledge that our new car will be his in two years. Daniel enjoyed his time with dad and the stop for Wendy's on the way home from the Springs. The Frosty has been elevated to its own food group in our family - despite most of us being sugar-intolerant and dairy-free we just can't resist.

And there was more to the day - our annual party and celebration of coaches, swimmers and parents. We rolled down the hill in raincoats and prepared to retreat home immediately after eating, but were pleasantly surprised when a strong Colorado sun re-emerged and sent us to alternately shading our eyes and clapping loudly throughout the evening.  Today was recovery day, my mud-stinking sandals banished to the porch for a hosedown, piles of towels washed and dried and tired kids sleeping in through sunrise and catcalls for breakfast. Another season down, a few more grey hairs sprung, and many good memories planted. Many thanks to the Wahoos.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sanctuary

I've been apolitical this summer, exhausted by headlines and cable news horror stories. Though I can largely drown my concerns in the kids' swimming and water polo, several immigrant stories have ripped at my heart.

A father of two was deported out of the blue. He had no criminal record and was  flown to Indonesia within two days of his detention. His wife and teenage son are left to mourn their husband and father, as well as the son and brother who died several years ago. The boy's grave is here.

A young mother arrested and deported to Juarez, leaving behind three tiny girls under the age of four. She writes of her shock and heartbreak from a distant cousin's twin bed, trying to make a path to reunite with her babies. We contribute to a fund for childcare.

My daughter returned from a mission trip to Nogales, Mexico, telling stories of a man who was deported from Las Vegas. He lived in the US for 47 years and had his papers, including a green card. They were at his house when he was arrested, but ICE would not make a detour. He awaits his court case from Mexico.

I wrote the poem, Sanctuary, using the common wording of invitations from the American Friends Service Committee, or Quakers. The AFSC's local invitations to eat, dance, sing and participate in action all begin with the phrase, "In the shelter of the people." The AFSC is a driving force behind the Sanctuary movement, and the miracle of community protection, of sanctuary provided to fathers and mothers and children awaiting court cases, provides hope for immigrants and residents alike.


Sanctuary

Take refuge in the shelter of the people.
Sagging upper arms and aging bodies
Hold stronger than drywall or doorframe,
Support without suffocating,
Brace the locked door or swing open in welcome.

In the shelter of the people
Elders karaoke to Juan Gabriel or Beyoncé,
Swap off-key notes in alternating accents,
Salsa across wood floors, hips abrading pew benches
Or hoisting brown-skinned babies.

In the shelter of the people
No one can be discarded,
Thrown away like fingernail clippings,
Coffee grounds or last week's news.
No. We're connected by sinew, smile, heartbeat.

In the shelter of the people
Migrants live in welcome, not “go back where you came from.”
Visitors play tag with toddlers on church steps,
Prepare passports for babies we accept
To visit parents we reject.

In the shelter of the people
Mourners grieve the ones deported to Jakarta or Juarez,
Encircle the left-behind, hold hard around the gap.
Remembering shoulder-shape, a body’s warmth,
Linked arms pretend weakness, a nest knit from twigs.

The church building, a shell,
Echoes with forgotten mercies.
From aging windows a boy watches bulldozers raze
Next-door. Cottonwood roots claw the sky
Over earthen scar where family home once stood.

The boy hides like justice,
Refuses to play when cameras pry,
Frowns as reporters nod sagely,
"All countries need a scapegoat."
He knows this truth -

In the shelter of each other, the people do not.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Fun on the Fourth

A little free verse and haiku on this blistering Tuesday morning. Preparing red-blue-and-white jello in honor of my mom's annual Fourth offering. Towels and sun-shades are holding our spots at the pool, and ice chills in the cooler. Bring it on!


Independence Day
Blue frosting red fingertips smooshed melon corn chips
Bike parades pool games waving flags firework flames
Sunburned shoulders cold beer firetruck hoses kids cheer
Sundown sparklers rockets flare kids nod off in smoky air.





Pool Games

Children dive for coins
Parents guzzle sweating beers

Lifeguards posed for flight

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Water Polo Champs

Water polo tournaments - bevies of half-dressed teens and tweens parading poolside, parents spectating from bleachers or slipping on wet tiles in search of the right game and time. Team tables heaped with healthy snacks while the players mysteriously squirrel sugar-candy into their backpacks. A constant barrage of whistle-blasts and shouting, punctuated occasionally by a hard shot rebounding off the metal goal (a bar out). Team cheers and cowbells, mad sprints, bruises and stretch marks on the backs of boys growing too fast, highlighted by the scratches of nails that slipped past inspection.

Having just returned from a successful Mountain Zone Tournament in Southern Utah (Cedar City, to be exact, about one hour from the largest fire currently burning in the U.S.) I wrote a short tribute to the sport.

Water Polo Game

Bar out
Yellow orb streaks skyward
Legs churn, players push while
Tracking the trajectory, plotting
Rebound to set offense or race to defend
Breakaway down expanse of sleek aqua
Deep, holding hip or shoulder
Working in place while uncertainty reigns
A moment suspended, shot-clock frozen
Until whistle blast dictates possession
Elbows drive ribs
Knees find groin
Pool churns, drivers slice through whitewater
Defense shadows, hole-set wrestles
Grim goalie lurks behind
Marking the shot.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Cool air, cool water

Record-breaking temps here, nearly cooked us all when the A/C stopped working. Plumbline told us that it would cost too much to fix and we should spend $7,000 on a new unit (at minimum). Bill from 1st Call came over and fixed it in a half-hour for less than $500.

To celebrate the cooler air in our house and the cool water of the pool, here's a swim poem:

Mom Watches Child Swimming

Can you be what I cannot?
Sinuous, flowing, far-reaching, fast.
A creature of water, exhaling silver circles,
Watching light bounce off your fingertips
As you extend from the shoulder,
Hips rolling, chin turning.
Your inhalation finds 
Narrow channel of oxygen between
Body and wake.
Flexible feet beat in six-eight time
Through turquoise medium, 
Splitting the atoms
So chlorine releases to air –
A jet trail of clear water marking your flight.