Sunday, February 23, 2014

Love the One You're With

So I’m more than half way through my high school odyssey and it’s been a little rough. All my life I've had a desire to be close to joy, and an Elementary school is an extremely joyous place. Young children just have a capacity to exist in the moment and find pleasure in small things. High school kids. . . not so much.
As the school year progressed I complained a lot about the differences between the kids in high school and elementary.  I told everyone who would listen that these children were not cute anymore. And they're not. I lamented the lack of self control, the sullenness, the constant low level disrespect.  But still.

 Recently I had a conversation with a child whom I've known since she was in first grade. And here's the thing, I hadn't recognized her at the beginning of the year. In first second and third grade she was not a lovable child. In fact those of us who ushered her out the door in fourth grade had visions of her as the star of a mean girls movie. So imagine my surprise when the light bulb went on and I realized that the quite charming and very personable teenager that I was talking to had been that obnoxious little fourth-grader that I waved so happily out the door.  

There have been other surprises this year, too. Some kids who seemed really hyper have turned into serious students. A few boys who terrorized the faculty all through fourth grade have become very nice young men . . .  It’s been an object lesson for me, and a good one. They tell me I'll be going back to the elementary school in a year or so and I fervently hope that is true because I still think little kids are cuter than big ones. But I'll be taking a message back to my colleagues over there, and it's this: Sometimes even when you are absolutely certain you can predict how a child will turn out, you can be dead wrong. That one who seems disinterested and maybe a little sullen, can blossom into a curious kid with a surprising interest in technology, little ducklings turn into swans, mean girls find another path, late bloomers come to flower. 

Those of us who choose to teach younger kids often say that we do it because that is when you can make the biggest difference. And then we turn around and write children off at 9 years old. I want to remember not to ever do that again. Students tell me all the time that they remember things I told them in elementary school about how to be a friend, how to behave, even how to study.  I didn't think some of them were listening; and it's obvious that it took some of them a while to take the lessons on board, but they did.  Of course some of them have turned out exactly as you would expect, but so do most of us. And fourteen is hardly the end of the line.  I’ve watched them change even in the first half of this year. We forget how very young a high school freshman is; and how much influence adults still have over them (though they would never admit it).
 Everyone keep your fingers crossed that I will get back to where I want to be.  And in the meantime, I’ll keep trying to love the ones I’m with.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The more things change...

So just three weeks before the beginning of school the principal of my elementary school called and told me I was being reassigned to the high school. I would go from teaching technology to kindergarten through fourth grade to teaching computer applications and personal finance to ninth graders.  OK. The folks in the business department at my high school have been really wonderful, and I teach in a small suburban district, so the kids are pretty harmless as teenagers go. But still, it's a shock.  Or maybe not. I started teaching 7 years ago after a long career in IT. Before IT I did other things, but that's another post. Anyway the ninth graders I'm teaching were at the elementary school when I started.  So when I got to the high school Monday, they were all pretty excited to see me. Especially the bad ones. I am a magnet for bad children. Especially bad little boys. They love me. It's a curse. Here's the thing... They're just the same. The ones who could not sit still in third grade still cannot sit still. The ones who blurted out comments in the middle of class still do that. The class clown is still the class clown. It's really funny. They are just great big old toddlers with hormones. I miss the little ones, but this will be fine for a while. They say it's only for a year since I am there to replace a teacher who is fighting a serious illness. These things have a way of becoming permanent, but we'll see. Meanwhile, I'll try to figure out the high school equivalent of the quiet chair.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Waffles, recipes and the evil convenience food industry.

So just to prove exactly how hyper feminine I am:

This afternoon I got a Real Simple email (I'm a subscriber, but I get the e version on my iPad so I don't feel guilty about killing trees).  Anyway there was a link to a new recipe for waffles.  I was excited. I got a waffle maker for my last birthday. It has been one of my favorite gifts, right behind the complete set of cookware I got one mother's day.  (I know, it's weird, but what can I say. Ask me about my teapot collection sometime). Anyway, I was excited because this recipe promised to be new and exciting.  I clicked on the link and this is what I found:


WTF??!!!  This is not a recipe. A recipe has real ingredients like flour and eggs. This set my June Cleaver alter ego all atwitter.  It doesn't help that I am currently reading Michael Pollan's latest book, Cooked. Pollan wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food, The Botany of Desire and other books about how we eat, our relationship to the natural world, and how we live. In this latest book he talks about how we cook. But really he talks about how we don't cook. Then he explores all the ways that humans extract nourishment from plants and animals. He divides the book into the following sections:  Fire, Water, Air and Earth.  In the fire section he talks about Barbecue and takes you on a tour of southern BBQ joints. He apprentices to a southern pit man and eats more pork than anyone should.  Apparently Michal has come to terms with being an omnivore.  By the end of the chapter I wanted to go out and get a BBQ sandwich with coleslaw and a side of cornbread.  I have been a vegetarian for 25 years.  The man is good.  Now I'm reading the water chapter which has to do with slow cooked casseroles, braising and waiting. While he talks about food, he also talks about how our society has changed. One of the things that has changed radically is our definition of cooking. He takes on the received wisdom that home cooking went out of fashion when the women's movement got women out of the kitchen and into the work force.  He makes a good case for that not being entirely true. Pollan points out that meal replacements were created during World War II to feed the troops. With the war over manufacturers looked for new markets and focused on American housewives.  He talks to an industry insider who points out quite callously that Americans will never start to cook again because we are "cheap and lazy". This same guy acknowledges that home meal replacements are pretty abysmal as far as taste, are not that healthy and help contribute to the obesity issues in this country. Then he basically shrugs and says "oh well".  

But back to the waffles. If you want to make really good waffles, all you need is your favorite waffle recipe (please no Bisquick).  The waffle recipe in The Joy of Cooking is a good starting place. If your recipe doesn't include this technique add it: Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. After you combine the wet and dry ingredients, fold in the whipped whites. Your waffles will be light and irresistible.  People will offer to marry you just to get more of them.  Seriously. But whatever you do, step away from the supermarket freezer section.  Waffles are for slow Sundays. Preferably slow Sundays spent with family, friends or a really cute significant other.  I happen to have a really cute significant other and a blessedly empty nest, so I think I'll make waffles tomorrow.  You should join me.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The MMPI Never Lies

Early in our relationship my husband had occasion to ask me to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). He was still in graduate school and taking his assessment course. He needed a practice subject and I said, sure, why not.  Since my undergraduate degree is in Psychology, I knew the scale but had never taken the test.  Let me explain:  The MMPI identifies personality structure. Basically you answer a bunch of questions about your interests and feelings and then get scores on various personality traits. The test has been used by the Department of Defense and the CIA to screen applicants.  One of the many personality traits it identifies is femininity.

In reviewing my results my husband said that I got abnormally high scores on the femininity scale. He kept looking at me askance so I asked him who else would get scores like that and he said, "Well sometimes drag queens score that high."  That will make you take a beat.  So now thirty years later I guess I'm still pretty high on the femininity scale. I say this because of my latest obsession:  hostess aprons.  I saw a pattern for one online and ordered it. Then during a particularly stressful period this past winter I shut myself up in my sewing room and made not one, but two. Then I sent email of one of them  on Zelda the dress form to my friends.  Now every time I am in Williams Sonoma or Sur La Table or any little boutique I am drawn to the aprons.  Apparently I have my finger on the pulse of the female consumer market because there is a whole cottage industry growing up around hostess aprons right now.  There are blogs about them. I'm not making this up. 

So, here is Zelda in my first apron:

It's a sickness I know.  Now I am planning to make a really fancy one like they used to wear in the fifties.  And I almost bought one in Sur La Table last week. I did buy a washed linen chef's apron at William Sonoma because it was on sale and it was so pretty and I don't have a washed linen apron.  I can imagine the 12 step meeting for this:

Hello, my name is Jackie and I am addicted to household linens. Last week I bought six sets of lace doilies and counted them as staples.

Actually I wouldn't be caught dead buying lace doilies. They are way too fussy. I prefer to spend my money on ethnic print place mats.

It's hopeless, I know, but look it's so pretty...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Graduation Day

So Her Highness graduated this past week.  I know that every parent of a college graduate breathes a sigh of relief, but I think Ed and I deserve a major sigh.  If you know any part of the story of raising our daughter (fondly known as HRH by her uncles) then you understand why. She is a beautiful girl with a sparkling personality.  And a degree of stubbornness unseen in generations.  I won't go into details, but let me just say that as a toddler she brought trained professionals to their knees.

All that aside, let me tell you all about the Howard University graduation. If you don't know Howard is an historically Black University (HBCU) and has a long history of graduating highly successful and service oriented folks.  Thurgood Marshall received his law degree there.  Since it's located in DC its students are in the thick of all things political. It was amazing to me that Chloe got to attend a premier HBCU in DC during the term of the first Black president.  But Howard turned out to be so much more than we hoped for.  For the entire time that she was there, Chloe has been told that her job in life is to be of service. I think that's why she was drawn to the school in the first place. She has always had a strong sense of justice, and her father and I have tried to give her a sense of obligation.  We visited several schools before she made her choice, but from the moment we stepped on the Howard campus, it felt as if she belonged there. Even though she was accepted to 3 other schools, there was never any question of where she wanted to go.  I'm so glad she did.

Even knowing all this did not prepare me for the graduation at Howard. It's a big enough school that the various departments hold separate awards ceremonies before the main commencement. The school of education is one of the smaller ones. This is partly because it is a  very selective program.  In fact, you are not allowed to major in education as an undergraduate.  You must choose another major (secondary teachers major in the area they wish to teach, and elementary level teachers choose from an approved list) then in your Sophomore year (I think)  you apply to the graduate school of education. If you are accepted, you will begin taking graduate courses in your Junior year.  The Education ceremony was on Thursday, so we drove down Wednesday night after work.  We spent Thursday morning listening to a series of remarkable speakers.  The Dean of the education department and various students spoke eloquently of the mission of the University and of the education graduates. They spoke of the need to make a difference and of the tradition in the Black community in general and Howard in particular of reaching back to pull others along. What struck me most was how happy all the faculty looked as they gave out the awards. I attended a large state university as an undergraduate and the professors barely knew our names. Both my husband and I got our graduate degrees from larger mainstream schools. (Northwestern and Loyola).  I don't think any of those professors particularly cared whether most of us finished or not.  My husband had to actually disband his dissertation committee and start over.  At the Howard ceremonies, the faculty hugged the students as they got their degrees. Doctoral candidates were greeted onstage by their dissertation advisors, and you could see and feel the joy and pride the faculty members had in their proteges.

On Saturday at the main commencement we got to see the entire graduating class march in, and we listened to a speech from the class representative that was as moving and eloquent as any of the ones that came after, including the one by Bill Clinton who was the main commencement speaker.  We sat on the "yard" in intermittent rain and watched some of the best and brightest of our children walk into the future.  It was wonderful and scary and thrilling. 

And so she's off.  She has one more year of study to finish her master's and she has to take the Praxis exam, but for the most part she's launched. I joke with Ed that I get a catch in my heart every time I see her walk away from me. But it's no joke. It's been like that since she took her first steps. I have  a really hard time with it. It's silly but there you are. So I thought it would be really hard to see her walk away from me in a cap and gown.  But oddly, it wasn't.  Maybe it's because I know she's ready now. I've seen her overcome a lot of adversity, and her own limitations, to accomplish something remarkable.  She has fought her own tendency toward defiance, she overcame a serious bout of homesickness and inner doubt in her freshman year, stuck it out even when her grades weren't that great, worked hard to bring them up so she could make it into the graduate program, and held down a job to boot.  I'm really proud of her. I think she'll be fine. And so will I.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Help

I don't know if anyone else has read the novel The Help which has recently been made into a movie. It's written by a White southern woman but told largely from the point of view of two Black maids. It's set in Jackson, Mississippi in the sixties right in the middle of the civil rights struggle. I had been circling this book for a long time. It came on my radar earlier this year and seemed interesting but I just didn't want to read another tragic Negro story. Then I saw the previews for the upcoming film and thought I might want to see it. I do not read books after seeing the movies, I like to read them before. So I thought about the book once again, but hesitated. Then a few nights later my Zumba instructor, a Black Northern woman in her mid to late twenties was raving about it. She said it was really an uplifting book. So I bought it. It's 4am and I've just finished it. I started reading several days ago and had to stop.

I don't really know what to say. I had to stop reading halfway through because it was just too hard to take. I can certainly see why my Zumba teacher thought it was uplifting, but I found it very disturbing in the way I found Schindler's List disturbing. At first I figured that it was just that I couldn't see the"triumph of the human spirit" because I was mesmerized by the ugliness. And that might be partially true. But it's more than that.

When I teach the fourth graders at our school about the first Thanksgiving I start by introducing the Social Studies theme for the year. I tell them that we are going to be history detectives and work on various cases. To start, I define the difference between history and the past. The past, I tell them, is what actually happened, and history is how we talk about what happens. The past is always the same, but history changes across tellers and time.

I think that's why my instructor and I essentially were reading two different books. She sees what happened between 1958 when I was born and the 90's when she was born as history all neatly packaged and tied up with a ribbon. I see it as the past. I lived parts of it. I knew women who worked those jobs. My grandmother was a maid and laundress before finally becoming a restaurant cook. I remember the stories. I remember White ladies being condescending to me assuming that I would eventually clean their houses. And I remember the point at which I realized I never would. It's not history to me it's my past. History is written in books, the past is etched on your soul.

My Zumba instructor's inability to feel the way I do about this book gives me immense joy. I am happy that she can't quite get where I'm coming from. I'm happier still that my twenty year old daughter cannot even fathom why I would be upset over a book about some maids. My daughter has a White Jewish father and a Black Southern mother. She became a bat mitzvah at 13, and at 18 chose to go to a selective Black college after being accepted at an equally selective White one. She is just as comfortable working with homeless black children as a volunteer in DC as she is helping wealthy White Jewish kids learn their Hebrew as a camp counselor.

I am happy about all this but it frightens me too. I can imagine now how scary it must have been for my mother and grandmother to watch their children sail off into a racial landscape they never thought they would see. Even though they helped create that landscape, they must have worried about us just like my great, great grandmother (a former slave) worried that the slave catchers would come and get her family. We worry because we can't quite believe it's over. We worry because we still see the traces of the old ugliness everywhere around us. Our president tells us that those people are on the "wrong side of history" and I believe that to be true. My husband, with the supreme confidence of a White man with a Ph.D., tells me that there's only so much that crazy people will do. I wonder if he realizes that his own history tells him that's not true. But of course he doesn't. The Holocaust is history for him, and past for his parent's generation.

So here I stand on one side of the great divide watching my daughter with relief and fear. I am so happy that the children I teach are mystified later in the year when we get to the Great Migration and I try to explain why there were colored toilets. I am thrilled that my daughter's friends look like a UN delegation. I'm happy my Zumba instructor thinks this book is just an uplifting story about things that happened a long time ago. I wish with all my heart that I could jump across the abyss and live where they do, but I can't. I can't anymore than my grandmother could jump to my side or her grandmother to hers. I hear Dr. King's mountain top speech in my head at times like this. I understand the reference to Moses in a different way. People say he was predicting his own death, and perhaps he was. But I've learned by now that the people who build the bridges often can't cross them. We are stuck with the baggage of the struggle. Once people have sunk to a certain level of ugliness toward one another, you can never truly fix it. You can't, as my husband says, unring the bell. That's why I'm careful in relationships. I know how ugly sticks. And that's why I've come to see the continuing struggle for racial equality in this country as so vital. I get angry when I hear Black people making rude comments about Asians or Latinos; or when they make those comments about us. I want to grab them and shake them and tell them they are tying chains around their legs that they will never be able to get off. That they will look up one day as their sons and daughters move to other ways of being and know that they cannot follow them. I want them to see how terribly sad that is. In the end that's what makes The Help worth reading. Depending on where you are on the timeline (and the color line) you may find it uplifting or disturbing; infuriating or depressing; or some combination of those things. But it will make you think about that divide and which side you want to be on going forward.

I'm going to bed now. Thanks for listening.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

My House is Winning

I have been waiting and waiting to have something deep and meaningful to say. But alas that will never happen because I am renovating my house. My house was built in 1906. It is a beautiful craftsman, and it has taken over my life. We bought it because we wanted to entertain friends and have people stay with us for long periods of time. We fell in love with the woodwork and the leaded glass windows, the third story servants' quarters, the history, and the potential. Let's not forget the potential.

This is our second older house. We should have learned by now. They woo you with promises of returning them to their former glory. They reward you for your first tentative tries. You remove carpeting and find beautiful oak flooring in wonderful condition. You take down wallpaper and see that the plaster is in great shape. You paint a few rooms, maybe revive a flower bed. It all goes so easily. The house whispers "come on, do more, it'll be fun, what could happen?" Then you get into the hard stuff. You start opening up walls, workmen come in and leave large bills. But it's too late now, you're hooked. Finally you go for the big one: the kitchen renovation. You become obsessed with finding period reproduction hardware for the kitchen cabinets. You stop blogging, or going out with your friends. All you talk about is whether it's OK to put vinyl tile in the laundry room or would that ruin the integrity of the house; and whether the cabinets need to be quarter sawn oak or will cherry be fine. People stop calling. You feel that you must spend every waking moment in service to the house.

Then you know it's happened. You are a slave to your older home. When will it end? Who knows. Perhaps if I can get the perfect slab of uba tuba granite for the kitchen I'll be able to stop.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm back from Ghana!

I am finally over my jet lag and can give a reasonable account of my trip. It was amazing. I am not the best photographer, but it's hard not to get some good pictures in Africa. Lonely Planet calls Ghana Africa for beginners. I'm not so sure about that, but I did feel very safe there and it was nice to be in an anglophone country. Most people learn English in school, so even though Twi and Frafra are their first languages, English is familiar to every one. I went with a group called Beyond Boundaries which partners with a grass roots organization in northern Ghana to work on issues of gender equality. We spent a week with the sister organization and a week being tourists. I'll tell the story in pictures.


This is my group just after getting off the plane in Accra. 11 hours in coach and we still look fabulous. We were met by a group of very helpful guys including Pakwesi who is married to an American and whose main job was to keep us from doing anything stupid.

That's Pakwesi in the plaid pants helping me out at the Cape Coast slave castle.

We drove to Cape Coast the night we arrived in Accra and stayed at a guest house called The Mighty Victory. It is run by a Ghanaian woman who lived in the US for forty years and then went back to run her father's guest house. In Cape Coast we visited and toured the slave castle. it was a strange experience walking where all those Black folks walked. This would have been their last sight of Africa. The tour guide starts every tour by showing a plaque installed by the current Ashanti chiefs apologizing for the role that Africans played in the trade.

Here are some shots of the castle.

These are the cannons that protected the castle.
This is Denise and me in front of the cannonballs. Don't I look like that aunt you had who went all these exotic places and never wore pants? Picture me in a dress on a camel...

It was eerie how beautiful it was there. The views over the Atlantic were beautiful, and there were fishing boats on the shore outside the castle, much as there must have been when it was being used for slave trade. The guide said that there was a chapel where the White people who ran the castle held services. It was located right above one of the dungeons.

The view from the castle

At any rate there were children outside the castle selling some of everything. You can buy anything, and I mean anything on the streets in Ghana. In the cities people walk through traffic carrying things on their heads -- food, clothes, phone cards, dog leashes, toilet paper... it's amazing. They are a very entrepreneurial people. It struck me how true this was when Pamela and I were walking on the street in front of Kwame NKrumah's tomb on our last full day in the country. A woman walked up to us with a baby on her back and began to beg for money. We were shocked since we had literally not seen a single panhandler for the entire trip and Pamela had not seen one on her previous trip. As we were standing there a Ghanaian man came up and began to berate the woman. "You are just asking for money for nothing, do not do this! Someone in a car passing by asked why he was yelling at a woman, and he said "She is just asking for money!" Turning to her he continued "Find something to sell!" For us that said it all.

This is a picture of the kids outside of Cape Coast castle. The girl is selling plantain chips. I am addicted to plantain chips. If you go to Ghana, you will also become addicted. Accept it. You will find yourself hanging out the side window of a tro tro frantically waving down a plantain chip seller trying to get your next fix.

From Cape Coast we began a two day trip to the northern border of the country just across from Burkina Faso. We were headed for Bolgatonga where the Center for Sustainable Development Initiatives (CENSUDI) is headquartered. This is an organization headed by a woman named Franciska Issaka. She is a force of nature who started the organization with her sister. They focus on helping other grass roots organizations make changes in the everyday lives of villagers. Their particular concern is gender equality -- education for girls, getting wives full ownership of land that sort of thing. They are doing wonderful things. We visited some of the organizations they help, made a donation and had a wonderful dinner at Franciska's house where we heard from the young people who work with her.

While up North we visited a women's cooperative that produces rice for resale. The same group also makes baskets. We bought Bolga baskets while there, and talked with Stella who runs the organization. She is an amazing woman. I left promising to help her produce some specialty labels for small runs of the rice. Franciska will take the labels back when she visits at Thanksgiving. Here are some pictures of Stella at work. Yes this is how Ghanaian women dress to go to work! I am humbled.

Me, Stella and the label!
We also met the women of the Kanada women's association (they produce the baskets) and visited Kantia school. These are all organizations that work with CENSUDI. Everyone was wonderful and the Kanada ladies even let me dance with them. I was out danced, but it was fun. Pamela has the pictures, so fortunately no one will see my shame.

The Kanada ladies.
Kantia School. The children were amazing. They are focused and serious. The school is really just a cinder block building. Each classroom faces out on to a hallway and the fourth wall is open. The headmaster and teachers can walk by and see everyone. The amazing thing was that while we were there the sixth graders were studying for a national science test. They were working on things that I cannot understand now. I know I never saw that stuff until high school. We stood outside the classroom while the teacher reviewed the material. Talking (quietly) to the headmaster and senior teacher. Not a single one of those children lost concentration or looked around. I was awed.

One of my traveling companions, Denise, is also an elementary teacher. This is her teaching some of the younger kids how to play tic tac toe.

Traveling in a developing country had its challenges. Apparently paving roads is optional and we spent hours in bone jarring motion on the trip north. Also, the sanitation infrastructure is really, really bad. Let's just say that when we came back we felt a compulsion to flush toilets just to watch them work. But that's to be expected. There was one incident involving lizards in a bath house that Pamela and I will share forever.

After our week in Bolgatonga we started the drive back. Going both ways we stopped in Techiman and Kumasi and on the way back we stopped at Mole national game preserve where we had close encounters with elephants. Let me tell you it's not like the zoo.

The requisite elephant pictures

Safari guides and Pakwesi. The little guy in the middle had a very large gun. I stayed very close to him. Especially after the guy on the right uttered the following sentence: "You know I was in Kenya and they are so lucky. They have the big five. And since they are on the savannah, their lions are easily seen. Not like our lions who hide in the trees." Yes, I stayed close to the man with the big gun. He was my friend.

We also visited Bonwire which is a village which specializes in kente cloth. Kente is only woven by men. Let's just say that driving into a village where every single vendor is male, they are all more or less related, and they all want to sell you something is a unique experience.

Here are some pictures of the wonderful cloth. I bought a piece of black and white kente which is traditionally worn for mourning. I went there specifically to buy it. Kente is very expensive, and I was determined to buy the mourning cloth and nothing else. Then I saw this.

The picture does not do it justice. It is beautiful. I wanted it, but did not buy it because I needed to have money to get home. Seriously, it is that costly. However if you happen to be in Bonwire and want to make me happy, buy this for me. Seriously.

Kente weaver

Kente heaven

We had a great time, and I will probably go back one more time with Pamela. This time we'll take Ed and stop in London to see the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Here's hoping that works out.

Well I won't bore anyone with more pictures. I'm glad I went, and I'm glad to be back home.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bathroom urgency

I am just a few days away from my trip to Ghana. I am now positively humming with excitement. My husband calls it bathroom urgency -- that feeling you get when your goal is in sight. At any rate, I have handled it by sewing furiously. I cut almost all the fabric my friend brought me from her trip to Ghana and made it up into dresses. I am taking at least two of them with me on the trip. One which is very elegant will be for a fancy party on day two. The remaining ones are casual and light. I have a dress form which can be adjusted to fit your exact measurements. I call her Zelda. Zelda looks exactly like me except she's not quite as lumpy. So I make fewer mistakes in choosing patterns and making adjustments. Also I can hem without help. Mostly, though I like to put things on Zelda because she never has water weight gain, her stomach is always sucked in, and she never gets those weird wrinkles in her neck. The clothes look like they do on the mannequins in the store. Then when I put them on I think they still look like that, so it's all good. Here's Zelda in the dress.
Doesn't she look gorgeous?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Africa Bound

Since my college days I have wanted to visit Ghana. I have had several opportunities to go to Ghana and one to go to Senegal. Both fell through at the last minute. Now I finally am going! I have my visa, I have my group of girlfriends and come the end of July we are Africa bound! The group I'm going with is out of Syracuse, so I will be driving up there with my very patient husband to meet them. VPH will then spend a couple of days surrounded by bossy, talkative Black women. Since he is a very quiet person, this is always a challenging experience. Oh well, afterward he will get two weeks of peace and quiet to recuperate. Meanwhile I get to travel through the country visiting a school, a women's cooperative and lots and lots of fabric vendors. We will go to a party hosted by a UN representative, visit the Elmina slave castle and shop for fabric. We will stay at a national arts school, visit a village that specializes in basket weaving and did I mention we will shop for fabric? I am, as many of my friends know, addicted to textiles. This was the big draw for me. Previously a friend (who is going on this trip a well) went to Ghana and I pressed money and instructions on her. She came back with gorgeous fabric for me which only served to whet my appetite. I recently visited Syracuse and received a bargaining tutorial from an experienced shopper, so I'm all set. I'll be sure to blog about it and post pictures when I get back!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tales From the Trenches

We're into day 7 of the big snow. Our mayor whom I refer to as Opie has finally figured out how to deal with snow. Opie was president of city council when our real mayor passed away. No one really cares who's mayor of Pittsburgh except when something goes wrong. Opie is this young dumb guy that they made president of city council when they couldn't agree on a real person to do it. So Opie was just standing there and the mayor thing fell on him. The sad part is that the citizens of the burgh recently reelected him because -- let's say it together -- nobody cares who is mayor of Pittsburgh.

But I digress. Anyway, Opie finally got all the roads cleared but my suburban school district is still suffering with downed power lines and broken water mains. So I have no school tomorrow. A full week off is great, but we will pay for it next week when all the little ones come back wound up like tops. It will be like the first week of school all over again. It's a good thing they're cute. My beloved and I went out today to run errands, mail bills and go to the gym. We were scheduled to drive to DC to see my daughter at college this weekend. Beloved was revved to go because he will drive in anything, but I chickened out so we called and moved our hotel reservations. HRH was disappointed but bounced back when we said we will reschedule for two weeks from now. So for now it's more books, more food and maybe a nice dinner for Valentine's day. Life is good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow days

I have been snowed in since last Friday evening. I left school around 2:00 and made my way home after stopping for a few supplies. I got in just ahead of the storm. Pittsburgh is a northern city but apparently our city fathers are in denial about that. We are never fully prepared for snow and a blizzard of this magnitude pretty much shuts us down. The suburban school district where I teach but do not live suffered major power outages and water main breaks which have yet to be repaired as the snow continues to come down.

My husband dug us out and we had a couple of opportunities to go out between snows to get essentials: books, food, books. The beautiful northern magnolia in our front yard lost several large branches and was responsible for the loss of cable service. I mourn the tree more than the television. I hope an arborist can save it. Meanwhile I am discovering something disturbing about myself. I do not want to leave my house. I am enjoying just puttering around fixing things, cleaning, cooking huge pots of soup, baking bread, inviting the next door neighbors over for waffles. It's fine with me if I only get out twice in 5 days. This is scary. I always thought of myself as more social than this. My husband is the perfect companion as he is quiet and likes to read even more than I do. He eats what I cook, helps me work on things, and thinks my company is just fine. We got out one day to go to the gym and a movie, and then yesterday I bought an exercise DVD to keep myself going. I spent yesterday afternoon at the book store spending my birthday money which had been burning a hole in my pocket. I already had a stack of books from the library and from paperback swap. I could last at least another week. Food is not a problem as I have stores of ingredients and shelves of cookbooks.

I'm not sure what this says about me, but I have decided to enjoy my solitude and wait for the thaw.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Driving Lessons

We were in Tennessee for a while over Christmas and when we came back I had to return the rental car. Since our 19 year-old daughter is now driving she followed me in her father's car while I drove the rental. I had studiously avoided driving with Chloe since she got her license last year. Her father and her uncle kept telling me what a good driver she is, but having witnessed one too many toddler (and teenaged) melt downs on her part, I just didn't have the confidence I might have.

Well, I was driving along and periodically glancing in the rear view mirror. She was following at a safe distance and a reasonable speed. She had her hair piled in a messy bun on top of her head and her new very cool glasses on. She looked like the responsible college student she is. When we left the rental place I got in the passenger side and watched as she navigated the roadway. She drives like a grown up. It's amazing. She stopped for a bagel and asked very politely if I'd like anything. I waited in the car and thought about this change. Chloe had a rough and characteristically dramatic adjustment to college. But in the past few weeks she's had one of those miraculous maturity leaps which have become her trademark. I'm getting a glimpse, now, of the kind of adult she will be. She is always going to be flamboyant and probably headstrong. I'm sure she'll be high maintenance in relationships. But she's also extremely generous, funny, loyal and kind. Her first semester of college went fairly well. Her grades aren't terrible, but there's room for improvement. She was upset but not unduly so about that. Chloe has always had a remarkably positive outlook and a good sense of self esteem. Those are two of the things I've always loved the best about her.

So I guess I'll be riding in the car with her on a regular basis now. And when I'm too old and senile to drive myself anymore I can sit back and let her have the wheel.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nerd Genetics

I was aware when I was in high school that I was a nerd. Really, how many teenagers could give you the hierarchy of all the kings and queens of the entire British Isles? What I didn't realize was that it's not something that you outgrow.

According to Wikipedia a nerd refers to a person who passionately pursues intellectual activities, esoteric knowledge, or other obsure interests rather than engaging in more social or popular activities. Oh, God, I really didn't need the confirmation, but there it is. While I hope that I have learned to throw a realistic cloak over my social awkwardness, I still find myself drawn to obscure, esoteric pursuits to the exclusion of most normal activities. (That may be one reason that I was hesitant to start blogging--the possibility that I might take it to some bizarre extreme.)

My friends, both then and now, are very sweet and understanding about my peculiar disconnect from reality. They even treat me like a normal person, but despite their kind efforts, I am frequently reminded that I am a nerd. There are those awkward moments when I hear myself making inane conversation because I know the moment calls for conversation but I have no clue what I should say! Then I scurry back to playing my brain games until something or someone forces me out again.

If I thought it was tough being a teenage nerd, I didn't reckon on what it would be like to be a middle-age nerd! I really didn't mind getting caught wearing two different color socks when I was sixteen. Now I have to adopt a whole persona that acts like it's cool to wear mismatched clothing and forget what day of the week it is. I'm aware that I'm not totally dysfunctional, but I have more than my fair share of moments when I'm not completely in touch with what's going on around me. If it weren't for the fact that I was exactly the same as an adolescent, I might think I was slipping into early senility.

Stressful situations, an abundance of which seem to fill my life currently, bring out my nerdy tendencies. It is so much easier to scuttle into my shell and play word games and read books about existential questions regarding consciousness (An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman--great book). Social is hard. Pretending to be normal is hard--pretending being the operative word. Someone pointed out recently that my tote-bag with its side pocket full of pens was exposing my inner nerd--if they only knew!

As if all of these revelations were not disturbing enough, I have had the dismaying realization that nerdiness may be genetic. My eldest son, who has always exhibited too many similarities to his mother, threw a birthday party this week for H.P. Lovecraft, dead sci-fi, horror writer. The party included streamers, partyware, and themed food offerings--including a Cthulhu cake (creepy tentacled monster creation of Lovecraft's). While I was delightfully tickled with his bizarre creativity, I had a thump-your-head-V8 moment when I realized I had given birth to a next generation nerd. Wow, I wonder what kind of karma you accumulate for that!

Empty Nest

The day before yesterday I went to visit an elderly relative who is dying. She is my husband's cousin by marriage. When I married into this family there was a bit of tension seeing as I was not Jewish and not White. Other than that they liked me fine. Several of the older women in the family welcomed me and made me feel as if this was going to be fine. Shirley was one of them. She herself was something of an interloper having been married before and not being Jewish. Even though she was accepting of me, Shirley was never easy to be friends with. She has always been very guarded and sometimes a little paranoid. I told my husband a while back that trying to be her friend is like hugging a porcupine. But I like her just the same. I tend to like difficult people. That's a good thing since my daughter is also extremely difficult in a different way. She is the poster child for oppositional behavior. Said daughter left for college in DC last weekend. She is four hours away. The separation was as full of drama as every transition HRH has ever endured or made us endure. It was not pleasant.

So yesterday I was in Whole Foods and suddenly was overcome by this terrible feeling of loss. I realized that it had to do with Shirley and my daughter. I teared up and this very nice lady asked me if I was OK. I do not do public displays of emotion so I was very embarrassed. When I got to the car, though, I started to laugh. Here I was tearing up over the loss of two of the most exasperating people in my life. I should be happy that my daughter is on her own. I mean raising her has been like riding a wild bull. And Shirley is 84 and having the end of life experience she has always said she wanted -- no fanfare, no heroic efforts. She looked peaceful when my husband and I went to say goodbye. I understand being upset about Shirley -- no one is ever really ready to lose someone they are fond of. But I could not at first understand why I got so emotional about my daughter. Then I realized that I am mourning the fact that I have exhausted all possibility of having that fantasy mothering experience we all want. You know the one where your every move is perfect and you have this magical, mystical bond with your sweet compliant daughter. Ah well.

I remember a boy from Northern Ireland who was my friend in graduate school at Vanderbilt. Mike used to say "You can't pick who you fall for." He was talking about romantic relationships. But I think it goes for parenthood too. We don't pick our children. They come to us and we love them. As soon as someone puts a child in your arms or in your life and says "This one is yours" a switch goes off and you are lost. My daughter is adopted and when they brought her out and we looked at each other, we came to an agreement. She promised to be my child, and in return for the privilege of being a mom, she reached in my chest and took out my heart. And then she proceeded to stomp on it. She didn't mean to. It's just what children do. When they get hurt you bleed, when they get sick you nearly die. When they turn into teenagers and say the things that teenagers say you are devastated. There is a casual cruelty of which only a well loved child is capable. They are so supremely sure of their parents' love that they don't feel the need to guard their words. I realized this the first time I reprimanded my daughter for saying something hurtful to me. She looked confused. Mommies' feelings don't get hurt.

I have never loved another human being with the intensity I feel for my daughter. It is the same love I felt coming from my own mother to me. It is the only way I know to be with a child, and it is the most painful experience I have ever had. I had my daughter out in public when she was about five. We were in an ice cream shop and Chloe was being her usual self. I was constantly having to correct and corral her. This required a delicate balance of firmness and cajoling in order to avoid a scene. There was an older Black couple sitting there and the husband kept looking at me with that smile that made me know he wanted to say something. Finally he said "You need to have another one so you don't love this one so much." I think he might have been right, although at the time I barely had the energy to deal with the one I had.

So she's in DC holding the better part of my heart in her hand. I have a picture of her walking away with her roommate. They walk away from us without any idea that we are frightened and worried and sad. If had known what my mother was really feeling when I left home I would never have been able to go. I think mothers are the strongest people on earth, and the best actresses. We let the most precious thing we have walk away from us to a place where we can't protect them and we smile while we do it. My mother did it more than once. That makes her a super hero. If she were still alive I would call her up and apologize (again) for all the times I must have stomped on her heart. But being Mama she probably wouldn't even acknowledge that it hurt.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Deep Space Anomalies

This week I feel almost as if I have fulfilled a childhood dream of being launched into space, but unfortunately something has gone very, very wrong. Instead of soaring through the stars, I seem to have been propelled into a losing battle with a black hole. School started back, and, despite rumors to the contrary, teachers are just as reticent as students to return. It has been particularly stressful this year since our system is going through a number of substantial changes. Lots of rethinking and replanning, not to mention lots of paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. This week has been crazy busy, and the 175 little darlings that have wandered in and out of my room have merged into a blur of t-shirts with questionable slogans and names like Kaitlin, Katlyn, Katelynn, Catelyn, Caitlin, and . . . well you get the idea. I have spent so many hours at work that I am now making less than minimum wage--an encouraging use of my master's degree! I moved way past exhausted somewhere around 9 am on Monday. I have discovered muscles that I didn't know I had and ways to make them hurt that I didn't think were possible. Who knew that glaring over the top of your glasses could make muscles in your neck seize up? So I find myself tired, in physical and emotional pain, and adrift amidst the darkness of a deep space anomaly. What could be worse? I could have the realization that it's only Wednesday!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


It appears that I am getting closer and closer to being that crazy old woman with cats. I putter around my house grousing at the world in general, the state of my finances in specifics, and my ex in expletives. No one listens. Well, occasionally the cats will deign to appear interested, but I know better--I may be crazy, but I'm not senile. . .yet. I've managed to work myself into a near-constant state of anxiety. What I really hate about it is that my brain still functions fairly well, and I'm quite aware of what I'm doing. I just can't seem to stop.

I believe I'm about to corner the market on imagining unique worst case scenarios--like being bitten by a rabid possum while putting garbage on my back deck or drowning in my shower or giving myself brain damage by pulling a five-pound trifle bowl off on my head. I'm up to at least a half dozen apocalyptic fantasies per day. I'm not sure why I feel compelled to borrow trouble as it were. Like most of us these days, I have the prerequisite amount of trouble and hardship--personal, work, financial, etc.--without imagining anything! But, no! I have to go and be paranoid and create bizarre possibilities for death and destruction. Okay, so maybe not death and destruction, more like miserable mayhem.

Regardless, there is obviously something wrong with me. My youngest son delights in telling me to chill. He has no idea how much I would love to do just that. If I weren't certain that I'd end up in the emergency room, I'd try yoga. Drugs just make me see things, like fluorescent green spiders. Many of the more common stress relievers are not possible or not working.

Maybe I should just face the fact that I'm nuts and enjoy it.

Here kitty, kitty!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Finding My peeps

I have been working really hard to come to terms with my appearance as I age. This is not as bad as it sounds. I actually look pretty good. But I used to be a dancer and weighed 117 pounds. I also used to be 22 years old, so I shouldn't be surprised. Anyway, I have been taking various aerobics classes at my new gym and trying to get used to moving a considerably larger and much older body around. Since I also have a very twisted sense of humor this has led me to burst out laughing a couple times in class. It's ok, though, since I'm taking zumba classes and people just think you're really happy to be there.

A couple of Sundays ago I stumbled upon an 8:30 am class taught by a professional dancer in her fifties. I went in and everyone came over and gave me what turns out to be their standard interview. It's like a secret little club over there and they don't let everyone in. It's made up of former dancers in their fifties. This woman's movement vocabulary is very similar to the one I was trained in (Graham, Cunningham, Dunham). It was wonderful to hear those words and see that my body remembered what is was supposed to do even if it took some adjustments to do it. To have someone say "feet in fifth please" rather than "ok put your right foot like this" is a relief and a wonder. To have someone know what fifth looks like and appreciate the need to modify it to third was beyond my wildest dreams. It was like when my daughter and I found the zumba class populated entirely by big girls. We walked in, everyone looked at each other and we all burst out laughing. It was great. We spent the class smirking at the skinny teacher and laughing. Most fun I've had standing up in years.

Anyway, I'll continue the search for my cohort.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Child of the South

My father celebrated his 74th birthday today. He's amazing; both he and my mother can run circles around most of the people I know--both physically and mentally. They work hard and enjoy the fruits of their labors in their own special way. Once they've put in a full day of work, they like to chill on their porch, reading or just enjoying the surrounding woods and wildlife. They endowed my sister and me with their love of reading and their enjoyment and appreciation of the beautiful southern landscapes that we call home. They gave us every possible opportunity to be unfettered southern children, at home with the sun and the wind and the woods. They inspire me in so many ways.

I am a child of the South--
rural child on the porch,
with lemonade and calloused feet,
grass-stained knees
and sun-bleached hair.
I hug warm breezes close
and slap laughing kisses
on each sultry, sun-blessed day.
I am my mama's child--
kitchen imp
with doughy fingers
and flour-dusted hair,
fashion queen
in lavender taffeta,
floppy high heels,
and jaunty hat.
I am Daddy's darling--
high priestess
held aloft on broad shoulders
to worship sun and sea,
precious cargo
tucked in with downy covers,
kisses, and whipsered prayers.
I am a child of the South--
rural child sleeping sound
with starlight and moonlight
in the magnolia-scented evening.

Happy birthday, Dad!

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I've decided that I want to be as resilient as wild chicory. Every spring I watch those beautiful pale blue flowers bloom along the roadsides and wild places. Inevitably as they reach their peak, road crews come along with their monstrous mowers and strip them away. It always makes my heart ache a little to see them disappear. But I only have to be patient and give them a few weeks to regroup, and then there they are again, their periwinkle faces bobbing on their spindly stems.

I feel as though I have been run over by a mower or two during the last couple of weeks. A conference, a workshop, hours and hours at my desk scrambling to get ready for a new school year and a plethora of changes. I love teaching, but life as a high school teacher seems to become more difficult with each passing year. I can deal with the changing nature of the young people I teach--life changes and so do the creatures that inhabit it! It is often a challenge to translate the current adolescent mind and its accompanying angst, but that keeps the job interesting! What I have more difficulty with is the apparent illogic and ineptness of the policy makers in the field of education.

There is such a focus on student performance on high stakes testing that true learning often gets lost in the shuffle. These two things are not mutually exclusive, but I can't understand why it's not obvious to everyone that the focus has to first be on learning--then the testing takes care of itself. Many of the policy dictates that educators are dealing with right now have a tendency to be counterintuitive. We are often asked to use convoluted methods to tackle problems that would be better confronted head on. It can all be exhausting and potentially demoralizing.

So I think about chicory. It is so beautiful and seemingly fragile, but it doesn't give up. Maybe I should plant a twig or two on my desk as a reminder.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I've been doing my homework--reading blogs, lots of blogs. What I'm struck by is the supreme self confidence with which people blog. They post the good, the bad, the mediocre, even the drivel, and, let's face it, we all descend into drivel now and again. It doesn't seem to matter what the content or quality; bloggers are remarkably self-confident and bold. They throw themselves and their ideas, itineraries, and ignominies right out onto the web for all to see. I am amazed, intrigued, and inspired. But not quite emboldened yet. Hence I am posting on a blog that has seen no traffic for about nine months. What can I say--I'm an inveterate coward. (Baby steps, Joy, baby steps!)

The repressed cultural anthropologist in me has become totally fascinated by the blogging phenomenon. This is human communication unlike anything we've ever known. It has created human communities unlike anything we've ever known. I am fascinated that individuals are allowing so much access to themselves, opening themselves up to a world of strangers in ways we seem incapable of doing face to face, even across our dining room tables!

While I find myself sitting here on the edge of the pool, unwilling to do more than swirl a toe in the water, I am absolutely enthralled by the swimmers--the fearlessness, the grace, the occasional antics. Blog on, blithe spirits, blog on!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fear of Writing

I still find myself overwhelmed by the sheer nakedness of posting. Joy does so effortlessly, a blithe author on the web. I find the whole process almost painfully arduous. Of course, it is this very fear of exposure that has kept me scribbling in notebooks and journals all these years--scribbling that is always tucked away in drawers rather than shared. It is very possible that I have never been published because I have never truly made an effort to be. Apparently I find that more palatable than not being published because my writing has been found wanting! Just to prove to myself that I can break bad habits, I offer up a scribbling to share.


Sometimes it's hard
to even contemplate
the commitment
of pen on paper.
It's frightening
to allow the flow of ink
to shackle you
to word and thought.
The bold gallop
across parchment
scatters shadows
and rends your veil.
It drags you shivering
and exposed into the light
and chides you
for your reticence.
No matter how weighty
the poetry or prose,
the letters are too spare
to hide the quivering soul
and the fiery mind
whose coupling
gave them life.


Saturday, September 27, 2008


Growing up I didn't dance. This was not because I didn't like to dance. It was because I was shy and had been told by a more assertive cousin that I was without rhythm. I rarely danced in public until I went away to college. During my freshman year I took a modern dance class to fulfill my P.E. requirement. In that class I discovered that not only could I dance, but I was fairly good at it. Over the next four years I developed a dancer's body and a dancer's sensibilities. I continued to perform with a small regional company after graduation and even took classes during graduate school.

There were problems from the start. I had been a very thin and extremely sickly teenager, and my physical problems continued throughout my twenties and thirties. In my late twenties I had to stop dancing altogether because I just didn't have the stamina for it anymore. Meanwhile I married a man who couldn't dance and didn't like to embarrass himself, so even my social dancing days ended.

Over the years I had surgery to correct my chronic health problem. I developed a thyroid problem that caused me to gain and lose weight capriciously; I adopted a child and changed careers several times. The career changes necessitated my going back to graduate school twice. All this led me to where I am now. Looking at me you see an overweight middle aged slightly frumpy Black woman. No one would ever believe that I used to be a dancer.

I remember reading years ago about a therapist in New York who specialized in helping dancers get over the trauma of ending their careers. I remember thinking how silly that was. Life goes on. People who use their bodies must realize that they can't go on forever. I didn't think about dancing again except in passing.

But this afternoon in a moment of idleness I engaged in a very dangerous pastime. I googled a long lost friend. Therese was a dancer with me in college. She had had an interesting life even then. She was in her mid twenties and I was 19 when we met. Like me, Therese came to dance without a lot of prior training. But she was really good. She was also strikingly beautiful with pale skin and masses of curly red hair. When I typed her name into the Google search box, she came up immediately. I clicked on the link and there she was. She is still dancing. In the pictures she looked as if her body had barely aged. There were beautiful shots of her soaring through the air. She does aerial work now. She looked strong and graceful and completely at home in her body. As I looked at the pictures and read about Therese's life, I found myself overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and loss. I remember what it felt like to be able to move that way. I remember being able to rise off the floor and fly across a room. Sometimes, when I dream, I still can.

These days I take Zumba classes. I follow along with the class leaders and ignore the fat lady in the mirror. I spend a lot of time on treadmills and elliptical machines. I fight against my endocrine problems trying to hold the line against morbid obesity. Most of the time I'm okay with this, but sometimes I'm hit by just how much I miss that other version of myself -- the one who was light and strong and graceful; the one who could fly.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Becoming 50

It's My Party

by Tina

I am about to turn fifty. With my students and friends, I joke about being old, but alone, in the eerie silence of dawn, I find myself agonizing over where I am in the span of my life. My anxiety actually has nothing to do with being x-number of years old; other than a handful of minor complaints, I don’t feel that I’m at death’s door or any such morbid thought. Instead, what I find myself anxious about is what I am not doing at age fifty. My anxiety is little more than unfulfilled expectations.

Looking back over the span of my life, I have to chuckle at myself for dragging this cloud of disappointment around with me. If I am honest, my life has been a series of unfulfilled expectations, almost from the beginning. Why I would choose only the latest in the series to go into a major decline over probably bears some contemplation.

If we are honest, most of us would probably find that our childhoods, no matter how idyllic, were a series of unfulfilled expectations. It is in truth the nature of the beast. Children can imagine almost anything and usually do. This, in turn, leads them to expect almost anything. Few if any of those childhood expectations will be realized. At six, I truly expected one day to discover within myself the mental and physical ability to fly—without benefit of machine. Needless to say, that expectation remains unfulfilled. On a more prosaic level, I expected to be a brilliant, awarding-winning doctor—didn’t happen. It is normal for us to go through an entire gamut of expectations as children—about our futures, our families, our own abilities. It is equally normal to have the majority of those expectations unmet, unfulfilled. It’s not considered a tragedy; it’s growing up.

Even as we leave childhood, however, and venture into adolescence, the threshold of adulthood, we have expectations which more often than not are never realized. Whether they be meeting and marrying prince charming or having an award-winning career, rarely do the road maps envisioned in adolescence hold up to reality. There are always unmarked obstacles and detours. In high school, I was overwhelmed by offers to attend colleges such as Bryn Mawr and Northwestern. I ended up at a local public university. By late in my teens, I envisioned myself on a quest to achieve fame and fortune as an award-winning writer. Two years out of college I was married to a local airplane mechanic, trudging along his chosen path to fame and fortune.

While in retrospect, the results of many of these unfulfilled expectations may sound dull and depressing, in reality we are very adaptable creatures. We compensate and adjust and most often try to carve out the best niche for ourselves in whatever pond we land in. I created an entire universe around family and children. Idyllic it was not, but it was for the most part busy and full and interesting. I still found time to write, and I still entertained notions of one day being a nationally-recognized author. Along with that expectation, however, I had discovered an entirely new set of expectations—watching my children grow and thrive and succeed, growing old with my mate, achieving enough financial security to sit on the back porch and watch the sun set in peace and tranquility. Those expectations fell victim to betrayal and divorce.

Now on the precipice of fifty, I sit contemplating the plethora of unfulfilled expectations that have adorned my life. The crotchety old woman in me wants to wag her finger and shout, “See, see! Just one disappointment after another!” There are moments, days, that it is not only easy to hear her, it is impossible to shut her out. I sigh, I sob, I fret over how I got to be where I am now. I blame life, I blame my ex, I blame myself, and I wallow in despair. I can throw an absolutely brilliant pity party.

Fortunately for everyone, however, my optimistic super-ego comes to the rescue. It picks me up, dusts me off, and gives me a firm whack on the back. “You’re not dead,” it points out. “There’s life in the old girl yet!” Despite everything, I find myself chuckling over my own doom and gloom. Everyone has unfulfilled expectations; they are a part of the human condition. They go with the territory, like birth, death, and spoiled milk—they happen.

So I reexamine this anxiety I have about what I’m not doing at age fifty. It’s true enough that I’m not doing what I expected to be doing—not what I expected when I was ten or twenty or thirty or even forty. But, then, neither was I doing what I expected when I was any of those ages either. Life truly is an unfolding mystery that most often defies game plans and road maps and even simple expectations. What can I expect as I turn fifty? Who knows? What do I hope as I turn fifty? I hope that I can greet each day with joy and curiosity and the energy to tackle the unexpected.