With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

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.