Category Archives: Lavish Praise

Joyful, Joyful

happy baby in the park

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
― Rumi

Lately, “joyful” seems to be my favorite term of high praise. Earlier favorites were “passionate,” “fascinating” and “lush.” In my fifties, I definitely gravitate toward people and animals who are joyful. I find myself drawn to

  • Little children and babies. This is probably my grandmother instinct kicking in; I don’t have any grandchildren yet, and I certainly don’t want to rush my daughter or step-son into producing the next generation. But I just love the giggly, wide-eyed, wondering way that little children look at the world around them. Is there anyone more joyful than a little kid in the park, picking daisies, examining bugs, running and whooping and climbing and loving life?
  • Dogs. Joyful is the default mode of most dogs. I like cats too, but dogs are just SO. HAPPY. TO SEE YOU! And if you deign to toss a ball? Ecstasy! Dogs have a tremendous capacity for joy. I know that one important key to happiness is to take joy in ordinary things; after all, our days are full of ordinary things. I strive to be more like a dog in that respect, joyfully enthusiastic about life’s little treats.
  • People who’ve found the right job. This is very hard to do, given our need to pay the bills, and most of us grub along at a job that’s OK, but doesn’t express our essence. But now and then I meet someone like Phil, the man who runs our YMCA. He loves his job, he loves people, and he just beams humor, welcome and joy. The mission of the YMCA is “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all,” and Phil embodies these attributes so well. He has a great big joyful heart.
  • Kat Ross, my former belly dance teacher, is another. Look her up at if you’re in Tacoma. I’ve always emerged from her dance classes feeling energized, mellow, and like a luscious, saucy wench. In fact, most dance teachers I’ve known have had this kind of joy and knack for spreading it. Dance class is always a reliable quick joy fix.
  • My former Spanish teacher at Tacoma Community College, Dan Call. How I wish I’d met this joyful young man back when I was teaching foreign language classes. He so much enjoyed guiding, tugging, and encouraging us toward speaking Spanish, and his enthusiasm was contagious. His full-immersion classes were filled with games, puzzles, cartoons, films, and lots of conversation. If only we could teach all school subjects that way, there’d be no dropouts.

I guess that’s the key: find something you love to do, and then find a way to share that joy with others via teaching or mentoring—or playing in the park. I think I’ll take a walk to the park right now. I need a joy break.

Inspiration Abounds

Diane Nash

Since retiring from my teaching job in Germany and returning to the US, I’ve had the good fortune to meet many older women who inspire me with their achievements in the arts, in fitness, and in community activism. I don’t have to look far to find role models for my retirement years. But recently, I had the privilege of meeting a lady who truly inspired not only me, but an auditorium full of students.

Last week, at Tacoma Community College, we were honored with a visit from a pioneer of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Diane Nash, then a student at Fisk University in Nashville, was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a leader of sit-ins that resulted in the desegregation of Nashville lunch counters, a leader of the Freedom Riders movement and of the Selma Voting Rights Movement campaign. She was arrested many, many times, spent time in solitary confinement and, like Henry David Thoreau, refused to post bail when arrested for breaking unjust laws. She is now a gracious, soft-spoken lady of 74, and she spoke to the students of TCC about her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement and how the principles that inspired her then can be used by young people today. I was struck by her gentle sincerity, and I did my best to scribble down the many gems of wisdom that she shared with the gathered students.

Ms. Nash explained how she and her fellow student activists used “agapic energy,” a term taken from the Greek word agape, meaning a love of humankind. She prefers this term to “nonviolence” simply because nonviolence is a negative term, signifying the lack of something, whereas agapic energy refers to applying the power produced by a love of humankind – very positive indeed. Her goal during her struggles for civil rights was to wage war using energy produced by love instead of energy produced by violence. According to Ms. Nash, Mohandas Gandhi developed a technique for thousands of people to focus their combined love energy on their opponents, and she and her fellow activists applied this same technique to achieve desegregation in the South. Ms. Nash explained to us that agapic energy helps teach or heal the opponent. This first principle of agapic energy particularly struck me: “People are never the enemy. Unjust systems, attitudes and actions are the enemy, but people are not. The proper attitude toward an opponent is, ’We love and respect you as a person, but we won’t tolerate what you’re doing.’” Wow – I don’t believe that many partisan politicians share Ms. Nash’s views, but imagine what our government could achieve if those partisans focused agapic energy on educating and healing their opponents.

According to Ms. Nash, “Oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed. The only person you can change is yourself. And when you change yourself, the world has to fit up against a new you. Very often we give away our power and waste a lot of energy trying to change other people.” So simple, so true. Dear reader, will you permit me a personal example? Thanks for your indulgence: I could not change a family member who was bent on making me feel as lowly as possible, and the effort exhausted me. But when I instead focused on changing myself, well, my life became a lot better. I’ll bet you have a story like that as well. So – Amen, Ms. Nash, and thank you for your elegant simplicity.

Alas, my notes became pretty garbled, since I hadn’t thought to bring along a notebook. Here are some of the legible bits from the tangle of notes I took on the front cover of the Weekly Volcano (newsletter of hipster happenings in Seattle):

“History’s most important function is to cope with the present and the future.” We educators are encouraged by our – er – leaders in the field to make the subject matter relevant to the students. Brava, Ms. Nash.

“Voting is important, but it is not enough.” “If we had waited for elected officials to desegregate lunch counters, 50 years later, we’d still be waiting. “

“The most critical question is, ‘What can I do?’ For anything to work, you must do it.” Ms. Nash reminded the students that, although Dr. King was an outstanding spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement, it was not his movement – it was a people’s movement. Any campaign for social change must be a people’s movement.

“Freedom is not something you get, and then you’ve got it; it’s a constant struggle.” Does that ring true, ladies?

And finally, her parting remarks: “I’d like you to know that, although we hadn’t met you [referring to the students in the audience], we loved you. Future generations are looking to you to do the same for them.” What an inspiring challenge! Here’s to the students of TCC, and to their fellow students across the country. May we find inspiration in the words of this great lady, and may we direct agapic energy toward building a better future for ourselves, and for future generations.

Looping Back

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Recently, my laptop died – something had gone wrong with a start-up program and, lacking a CD drive, the machine had to be sent back to the manufacturer for re-installation of the faulty program. Alas, this meant that many files and programs were wiped away, cast into oblivion. The “customer service” person I spoke to in some faraway foreign land read to me from her script:

“Before sending in the computer, Ma’am, we recommend that you back up all files.”

“Well,” I replied, “I can’t start the bloody computer, so how could I possibly back up my files?”

“Oh, well – nevertheless, we recommend that you do that. It’s what we recommend.”


Anyway, one of the lost programs was Microsoft Word; since my computer runs Windows 8, I have no choice but to pay about a hundred bucks every year just to write and to save what I’ve written, assuming that I continue to use Word. One hundred smackers! Well, it turns out that there are other options. After much grumbling about corporate greed, I downloaded OpenOffice. Allow me to sing their praises for a moment – huzzah for OpenOffice! A free word-processing program that can open Word files that would otherwise be denied to me by the Microsoft gatekeepers – what a lovely gift!

Anyway, realizing that I’d been foolish and lazy about securing backup copies of my writing, I set about recovering many bits of a novel in progress, some of which I’d written out longhand in various journals throughout the last five years.

I’m a great believer in the therapeutic value of keeping a journal. The kind of grumbling, grousing, musing, imagining and navel-gazing that goes on in my journal would bore the most loving and patient listener. But I’ve had so many “Ah-ha!”moments while reflecting in writing, especially during difficult times. People pay a therapist good money for the kind of insight that we can get from writing out our thoughts, dreams and troubles, with no audience in mind but ourselves. Patterns emerge, vital questions arise, and we can try out answer after answer until one finally rings true.

And I truly believe that there’s a power in declaring one’s intentions, in detail and in writing – “putting it out there in the universe” so that our heart’s desires can begin to manifest in our lives. Yes, it sounds a bit woo-woo, but in my experience, writing about my goals is a big step toward achieving them. For example, during the last, unhappy years of my previous marriage, I wrote in detail about the kind of life I wanted and the partner I wanted to share it with. Et voilà! I now have the freedom I longed for, the time I need, and the most wonderful partner to share this new life with. Is there some cause and effect at work here? Well, knowing what I want and where I’m headed certainly helps.

But I digress. In order to piece together the missing bits of this novel in progress, I looked back into my old journals, going back to the last few years of the aforementioned unhappy marriage. I skimmed through three volumes of determined declarations, tearful regrets, and then reread the joyful beginning of my current relationship with my now-husband. Wow! Even more than photos ever could, the words scrawled in hurried, careless cursive on those pages took me right back to my sunny backyard in Germany, to hotel rooms and waiting rooms and train compartments where I planned a better future. Reading those pages, I relived those painful endings and joyful beginnings. A lot of what I wrote was repetitious, and a lot was bluster, a way of propping myself up with firm declarations at a time when my life was resting on a wobbly foundation. It did me good to revisit that not-so-long-ago version of myself. I wish I’d been a better journal-keeper back in my 20s and 30s, but my 40s and 50s (so far) are well documented.

An important part of this journey of reinvention, of crafting a new life after retirement, is remembering who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do – long ago, and recently. There are threads running throughout the narrative of my life, and reading through those old journals reveals the strongest, brightest threads (dance, the joy of movement, the importance of creative self-expression, the love of reading), as well as the tangled threads that have tripped me up again and again (impatience, being judgmental, procrastination).

How about you? Do you keep a journal? Has recording your life’s journey helped you? Do you ever revisit those pages you wrote long ago?

Giving Thanks


Alas, I’ve let this blog project sit fallow for a while now; my job has been doing its best to consume all my time and energy. That’s the dilemma that originally prompted me to begin this blog in the first place: how to fit the good life into my busy life. Thanksgiving is upon us, once again, and so I take a moment out of my griping and grousing to reflect on my many, many blessings.   I am thankful for

  • My good health. I’m getting older (51), and my knees and hips ache a bit after a hard workout,  but all in all everything is functioning well. My body carries me around to where I need to go without pain.
  • My tremendous wealth. By modern, Western standards I’m far from wealthy, but hey – I have all the modern conveniences. The little bit of housework I do is done indoors, with the aid of shiny machines that wash my clothes, suck up my dust, cook my food, heat my house… And, unlike so many of my sisters around the world, I have too many clothes, too many books, too much food, too much stuff. I’m working on simplifying and reducing waste – and what a blessing to be in the position of dealing with surplus, rather than scarcity. I’m grateful for that.
  • My sweetie. I have the great good fortune to be engaged to a wise, funny, healthy, sexy man who loves me. More than that – he sees me, hears me, and knows me, without assuming that he already knows all there is to know about me. He takes good care of me – for example, making sure that I don’t have to worry about dinner when I come home from a late rehearsal. He is open and honest about what’s on his mind and in his heart. He has no plans to change me into the partner he had in mind – he takes me as I am. I’ve learned so much from this good, good man, and want to spend the rest of our time together on earth taking good care of him.
  • My daughter. The more time you spend with other people’s children, the more you appreciate your own – and I’ve spent 25 years teaching other people’s children. My beautiful 20-year-old daughter is spirited, determined, creative, smart, strong, kind, funny, and determined to make a good life for herself. She is working damned hard, and making great strides despite some trying    circumstances. I’m so proud of her.
  • My mom. A widow since my dad’s sudden passing two years ago, she has shown remarkable strength and grace throughout this time of transition. She’s not only coping, she’s thriving. She has surrounded herself with friends, support groups, family, and creative hobbies that she loves. She is taking excellent care of herself, providing a wonderful role model for my daughter, whom she has generously taken in since my daughter was forced to leave an unhealthy living situation. I’m so grateful to my mom for mothering my daughter just enough – giving her a safe place to stay, and nudging her gently but firmly toward good decisions.
  • The rest of my family. We’re a bunch of characters, to be sure, and have all worked through some serious hardships and hurdles. My brother and sister are great parents; their children are gorgeous and smart; and my aunts, uncles and cousins are fun, open, loving and joyful people. My dad taught me much about priorities, responsibility, intellectual curiosity and love. And      though they are long gone, I’m still benefiting from my grandparents’ examples of enjoying life and loving family.
  • My looks. Go ahead, call me superficial. Now that I’ve shed some excess weight that I’d been      carrying for many years, I like what I see when I look in the mirror. I like the planes and angles of my face. I like my cheekbones. I like my spare shoulders, my firm arms, the newly unearthed curve of my waist. I like my little hands and feet. My face is lined, but lively and interesting. I have a nice smile. I’m grateful that what I see in the mirror is pleasing to me.
  • My friends. I don’t have as many as I’d like, but I do have some jewels, and they are teaching me a lot about living the good life. Wise, funny, smart, creative, interesting friends add so much texture and beauty to the fabric of my life.
  • My job. I grouse about it, but the paycheck is good. My job has permitted me to be self-supporting for the past 25 years. Being financially dependent on a man can force a woman to make hard choices that do not serve her best self-interest, and I haven’t had to make those choices – at least not for that reason. Also, my job has given me the opportunity to live in Europe; though far from rich, I’ve been able to make some trips that I otherwise would never have been     able to afford. I’ve spent lots of time in France – enough to feel rather at home there – as well as some great trips to Belgium, Spain, Italy, Holland, England. Thanks to my job, I’ve had the experience of living in Germany and getting to know another way of living. By learning another      perspective on “the good life,” one more based on tradition, I’ve also learned a great deal about the American perspective, good and bad, and about myself. Plus, they have the BEST Christmas cookies over here! And how I’ll miss the bread, the beer, the Christmas markets, the wine      festivals, the architecture …
  • The 21st century. Oh, we have our problems, but I’m so grateful to be living in a place and time when being female does not limit my possibilities for full participation in society, for equal rights under the law, for financial independence, and for self-determination.

May your Thanksgiving be full of good friends, family, good food, good fun, and gratitude for all the good things in your life.

The Wheel Turns

Autumn announces her arrival in the trees and in the kitchen.

Autumn announces her arrival in the trees and in the kitchen.

I’ll bet you’ve had a moment like this.

We don’t feel the wheel turning – it’s a wheel after all, and its movement is smooth, subtle, rolling us from season to season with no clear borders between them. And yet the wheel of the year turns, and today it turns us toward autumn. Oh, we’ve been noticing the beginnings of autumn color in the trees for a few days now, but it’s been so hot, the skies so clear, that no one’s been thinking of autumn. We’ve been wearing our summer outfits, sitting outside, soaking up the gift of late-summer warmth and sunshine like a bunch of contented lizards.

But today I knew without knowing that the wheel had turned. The proof appeared in my kitchen. A few days ago, a friend had given me a bag of green apples from her backyard tree – much too sour to eat out of hand, but perfect for pie. And today, those apples called to me – gleaming like citrines in their bowl in the pantry. Low and behold, there was a frozen pie crust in the freezer – and now there’s apple pie in the oven.

And my magnificent fiancé looked up from his computer screen to remark that somehow soup sounded better for dinner than the grilled salmon we’d been planning. Well, my sweetie makes the best grilled salmon in five counties – or whatever the German equivalent would be. He’s always in the mood for – yes, that too, but I was going to say salmon. And he was right – it is the perfect day for soup: high overcast, light drizzle, and a certain rich, warm tone to the late-summer light. The big linden tree outside my kitchen window is still green, and at 7:30 P.M. it’s still light enough outside to read, but something is whispering “autumn.”

For me, autumn is heralded by cravings for soups, squashes, apple pies and plum tarts, and lots of walks in the crisp, cool weather. My lizard brain knows that I’d better stock up on outdoor time while I can, because winter will be knocking on the windowpane all too soon. And winter announces herself with the urge to bake cookies and rich, cheesy casseroles. Spring is heralded by cravings for fresh green things. Summer rides in on the sudden urge to grill – veggie kebabs, chicken, fish – anything cooked outdoors suddenly seems like an excellent idea.

It’s not that I don’t notice the outward signs of the change of seasons; they’re pretty hard to ignore. Every spring, I scan the sky for the swallows’ arrival, and my heart leaps a little – OK, a lot – when I see the first sky-borne acrobat performing her aerial swoops and swirls. And it’s pretty hard to miss the piles of autumn leaves that suddenly rustle under our feet. It’s a thrill and an honor to glimpse a big V of geese crying high above as they make their way south, or north again. You can’t help but notice the first time that frost glazes the windshield of your car. And, no matter how old I get, the first snow of the year is always remarkable.

But mine is mainly an indoor existence. And so my primitive lizard brain reminds me of the change of seasons – she smacks her little lizard lips and ponders a new menu. And I see no reason not to indulge her.

I hope you enjoy your soup this autumn.



Lavish Praise for the Fast Diet

It started with a colonoscopy. “TMI!” I hear you scream. Well, dears, I’m over fifty, and when one is fifty, one must have the nasty procedure. Better 24 hours of nasty than colon cancer. So I booked an appointment with our excellent local gastroenterologist, picked up my packets of poop-o-matic, and – being the research nut that I am – proceeded to Google all the advice I could find on preparing for this nasty procedure.

            And did I ever find advice! God bless all the generous people who share such advice on the internet. So I followed the advice of those who had gone before me and consumed nothing but clear liquids for two days before the test. I dreaded the discomfort of fasting, but much less than I dreaded the night of a thousand waterfalls. 

            Well, imagine my surprise when two days of white grape juice (so tasty!), green tea and veggie broth turned out to be not so bad. I was uncomfortable, but just a bit, and tired, but not too tired to function at work. Hmm – I’d always thought that when I went without food for any length of time, I’d feel cranky, headachy, and miserable. Not this time. And – after having recovered from the anesthesia – I got to thinking. I remembered having read Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat and Dr. Will Clower’s The Fat Fallacy, both of which remind us greedy, snack-grazing Americans that the French do not snack between meals. Hmm. But don’t our fitness magazines tell us to eat several small snacks a day to avoid dips in our – what, insulin levels? energy levels? weight? pants size?

            And then, in one of those God-thunks-you-on- the-head weekends, I ran across several mentions of intermittent fasting, both online and in magazines. Didn’t Dr. Andrew Weil, that wise and jolly health guru, also advocate a once-a-week fast for health benefits? And mightn’t my angry belly benefit from an occasional rest? I was intrigued – not enough to book a week-long Fasten Kur (supervised fast) at a German spa, but enough to download Dr. Michael Mosely’s The Fast Diet on my Kindle. Well!

            The Fast Diet is a quick and easy read. I won’t bore you with a lengthy review – there are plenty of good reviews online, such as here: Basically, Dr. Mosely says that by consuming only 500 calories (600 for men) on two non-consecutive days each week and eating normally on the other five days, one can lose weight steadily and reap other health benefits. I was intrigued. I liked the idea of exercising strict control, but not all the time – and I really liked the idea of once again being able to wear those size 10 pants I’d stashed away in the attic.

            Now ten weeks into the routine of Monday and Thursday “fasts,” really more like mini-famines, I feel dandy and have dropped thirteen pounds. Wow! And that includes a month of visiting friends and family in the U.S., during which I managed only five fast days. A typical fast day looks like this for me:

  • No breakfast, just black coffee with Splenda. I’d never been a breakfast-skipper, but I find that I really don’t miss it that much and feel pretty good until lunchtime.
  • For lunch, a salad with tuna, lots of greens, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, green onions, dressed with lemon juice and lots of spicy seasoning. Not the best salad I’ve ever eaten, but filling and tasty-ish.
  • For dinner, lots more veg., either roasted, grilled, or “stir-fried” in cooking spray and some broth, along with a bit of boiled chicken breast, boiled shrimp, or a small portion of broiled tofu or fish. No alcohol, no starches, no sweets. Not gourmet fare, but not bad!

             My body seems to like this routine; I sleep great on fast nights, and my twice-weekly fast days fit well into my work routine. Do I pig out on non-fast days? Not at all! If anything, this new (for me) way of eating has sharpened my awareness of calorie counts, of real hunger v. eating out of boredom or habit, and I seem to crave starchy foods less often – I, the former pasta junkie and slave to crackers! Sweets were never really my thing, but salty crunchies? I was helpless before them. Having lost the weight feels so good that I don’t want to screw it up by over-indulging.

            But the most important benefit of this experience is that I’ve lost my fear of hunger. I used to be convinced that if I allowed myself to get really hungry, I’d …what? Feel really awful? Bite someone’s head off? Lose my mind? Curl up and bawl like a baby? Actually, none of that happens. So far, there are moments during “fast” days when I feel a little tired, a little unfocused, but those feelings pass pretty quickly. If I acknowledge the hunger, remind myself that I can eat a little this evening and I can eat whatever I want tomorrow, this much-feared discomfort goes away, and I get on with my day. This is a revelation! It’s a type of freedom. And I’ve shrunk back into so many cute outfits that I couldn’t zip up two dress sizes ago. Who’da thunk it was so simple? Thank you, Dr. Mosely!

An Open Letter to My Students

I wondered what I would say to my senior students on their last day of high school. I had only a few twelfth-graders this year, but they were a special few. There were three extraordinary young men in my drama class, one of whom had been my student for all four years of high school. Teaching in a small school like ours, one gets to know some students quite well, and it’s been a privilege to know these three. So, what can you say to the departing seniors on their last day of high school? Well, through misty eyes I looked at this group of thespians, and what I said was,

            “Don’t forget how creative you all are. Don’t neglect that creativity as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up. You are all deeply creative people, and if you don’t respect your creativity, it’ll bite you on the butt.”

            “Remember who you wanted to be.” So says the bumper sticker on my classroom desk. I can’t find the original author of this quote, but it’s an apt thought for our departing students. But there’s a problem here: many of these young people don’t really know who they want to be, or even who they are. And – even if they do have that insight – how can they remember those youthful dreams after decades of raising kids and paying bills and getting by?  So, with that in mind, I’d like to expand my advice to this year’s students.

            My advice to you, dear young ones, is to keep a journal. It doesn’t have to be a written one, though I certainly treasure the time for reflection that writing in a journal fosters. Perhaps you’ll sit down in front of a video camera and record your thoughts of the moment. Perhaps your journal will contain as many images as words: drawings, paintings, photos. But however you choose to tackle it, you should pause often to record your thoughts. Who are you, and who do you want to be? What do you love, and whom? What brings you joy? What brings you peace? What stirs your imagination? What do you yearn for?

            Let me tell you, darlings, as the years roll on and the adult responsibilities pile up, you don’t want to lose focus on these questions. Oh, the answers will change over time. For example, at your age, my greatest thrill was to go dancing in nightclubs. Now? Meh. But dancing is a thread that’s woven through my life, and it still brings me joy. As you keep your journals, you will notice strong threads woven in among the changing colors of your life’s tapestry. And those threads, some bright, some dark, represent your truest nature. Do not lose these threads, my loves. If you do, they’ll weave themselves into your dreams and strangle your peace of mind.

            And I promise you, you’ll enjoy looking back at those journals and hearing the voice of your younger self. The passing of time can make that teenage self seem like a stranger, but – I’m not sure whom I’m paraphrasing here – in your older self exists every age you’ve been: child, youth, young adult, and so on. The passing of time sometimes makes my younger self seem like a stranger, blurring memories and blending details into a fog. But hearing my own voice from back then, seeing my words on the page, brings it all back. In my journals I see patterns, themes, battles begun long ago and only now showing signs of victory. It’s the cheapest therapy you can buy – for the price of a pen and a notebook, I regularly have the kind of epiphanies that others pay thousands of dollars to achieve.

            So buy yourselves a graduation present, dear ones: a journal. Spend some time getting to know yourself better. Don’t forget to check in regularly and continue this vital conversation with yourself. Don’t forget who you wanted to be.


Rottendorf Castle 

When the sun shines and the leaves are green, there is no place more beautiful than Germany. After a long, cold, wet, dark spring (the longest on record for over 100 years), the sun has blessed us with three warm, clear days in a row. And tomorrow we’re expecting some summer thunderstorms! I’m giddy with anticipation.

Isn’t it funny how affected we are by the weather? We surround ourselves with electronic accoutrements, but really we’re just little animals burrowed into our hidey-holes, waiting for the sun to return at the end of winter. This evening’s walk around the neighborhood revealed people gathered on patios, in courtyards, anywhere a wee patch of sun could be found – and all of them basking like lizards, laughing, sharing drinks and stories as the children pedaled their little go-mobiles around like busy bumble bees. As the Germans say, “herrlich!” (glorious!)  Welcome, summer. Thank you for loving us again.


Motherly Wisdom

Mothers’ Day is once again upon us.  In honor of my strong and lovely mother, and all the mothers out there who have shaped our lives with their wisdom, love, and guidance, I’d like to reflect on the most valuable lesson my mother taught me, and do my best to pass that lesson on to my own gorgeous, brilliant daughter.

 Dearest Daughter,

            So it’s eight A.M, and you really want to sleep a few more hours. Tough shit. Working grown-ups are out of bed and on their way to work by now. So you’ve had a hard time concentrating through a dull lecture, and now you have an assignment that’s due next week. You’d really rather hit Facebook, and then go hang out with some friends this evening. Tough shit. You need to get started on that assignment right now, while the instructions and information are still clear in your mind. Suck it up. Woman up. Put on your big girl panties, drink a cup of coffee, and get to work. You’ll feel so much better afterward, and you’ll have truly earned a little free time – just a little, and probably far less than you’d like.

This is a lesson I learned from my own dear Mom, and I want to once again thank her for this priceless wisdom. When my sister and I were little (brother came along later), we would whine, complain, mutter and groan when asked/told to take care of our responsibilities around the house: vacuuming, dusting, setting the table, and – especially – stripping the dirty sheets off our beds on Saturday morning. I mean, Saturday morning was that special, golden time when children were meant to watch cartoons, eat sugary cereal, and then spend the rest of the day outside playing with friends, right? Oh, how bitterly we complained. But did Mom get upset? Did she yell? Did she take our grumbling personally? Not at all. She merely reminded us that the work had to be done before we could go out to have fun, and if it was not done my X o’clock, we’d face a punishment. Thanks so much, Mom! Because what she was teaching us was reality – the work must be done, period. Why waste emotion protesting about the basic, grubby chores of daily existence? Why not just pitch in, get the work done, and then go play?

I don’t think I consciously digested this lesson until my twenties or thirties, but this frame of mind fueled my successes in my younger years, and continues to do so today. Is it fun to get up every morning earlier than I’d like to, stumble through the same old routine of shower, dress, eat, gather work things and drive off in the dark? No – it’s not fun, and sometimes it gets me down. Tough shit. When I put on my big girl panties and remember how lucky I am to have a job, live in a nice house with a lovely bathroom in which to do the same old morning ablutions, have plenty of food, plenty of money to pay for fuel, shelter, and medical care, and plenty of free time after work to play – then I realize how fortunate I am, and I stop grumbling and get to work doing what I have to do. In fact, when I start to sag during a necessary task, I say aloud, “You can do this. Keep it up. Keep moving.” OK, I might seem a bit nuts to an observer, but I need the reminder. You see, dear daughter, that feeling of wanting to take a break and just relax doesn’t go away, but that’s the voice of a spoiled little child. I give her a pat on the head, say “Tough shit, dear,” and move on with what I have to do.

            You can do that too – in fact, you must. We all must. Life is full of grubby, un-fun work that must be done. You have to do your chores before you can go out and play. If you chose not to do your chores by the deadline, you’ll face a punishment. Tough shit.

 (P.S. My mom never used such language when we were little, and does not today. She did not succeed in teaching me that sort of class. Sorry, Mom.)

 (P.S. #2: I’m extraordinarily proud of the way my daughter is putting this lesson into practice lately. She’s going through a tough period and a major transition, but she’s wearing those big-girl panties and showing us all what perseverance looks like. With guts like that, you’ll go far, baby!)


Bitburg, Goa, Malaga

Today is April 5th, and the thermometer on my car’s dashboard reads 1.5 degrees Celsius – that’s 34.7 decrees Fahrenheit. Damn! The sky is the color of old sweat socks; the daylight is feeble and dim; the trees and shrubs are clenched tightly – nothing has budded out except the snowbell flowers. The crows flap and scudder across the brown lawn outside my classroom window, grumbling and complaining. Today I feel like a scruffy old crow, my feathers puffed out against the never-ending cold.

How are we to keep our spirits up during a prolonged cold spell like this? I wonder how people in Finland do it – or Alaska, or Saskatchewan. The cold and dark sap my will to do anything but veg on the couch with a good book, or perhaps with some bad TV. I’m gaining weight – who wants to go out walking in this crappy weather? And our base gym isn’t heated. I know, I know – there are plenty of things I could do to raise my spirits and my energy level. I could put on some salsa music and shake my ass like Shakira. I could throw away the lesson plan and put my students into groups to write horror stories. I could put on every bit of bright-colored clothing I have, all at once. I could cook up a spicy Thai curry.

But I digress – I’m actually sitting at my desk listening to Suburbs of Goa Radio – funky, soul-warming South Asian music. It tamps down the frayed edges of my pre-flight nerves. In a few hours I’ll head to the airport and fly to the Costa del Sol for spring break. Malaga, here I come. All week long I’ve been annoying my students by humming “Que Viva España” – badly, I’m sure. The prospect of this vacation has kept my spirits up all through the frantic last week before report cards.

But for now, I’m huddled at my desk, wrapped up in a big turquoise shawl that I bought last spring break in Rhodes. It’s the color of shutters on whitewashed Greek village houses. It takes me back to a happier place and time, and the possibility of sun, warmth, relaxation and fun. I think that if we didn’t have spring break, the students would just put their heads down on their desks and weep – surrendering to the cold-weather blues, the interminable march of school day after school day, and the snarky commentary of the crows. I know that I would.

Happy spring break, everyone!