Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Restless

I am aching a bit for change.  Maybe it's the Gemini Full Moon arriving tomorrow, or Winter Solstice in a week, or the pretty new 2017 planner and goal setting workbook that's waiting to be filled in that's prompting me to think long and hard about the state of my life, my home, my relationships.

As I approach my fifty-first birthday, I don't feel like I'm at the top of the hill, about to roll down; I'm only halfway up the mountain I've been climbing for the last fifty years.  When I reach the top, I want to be free of anything weighing me down.  I want to fly off that peak. 

It's got to begin with the physical clutter.  I've always been a start-at-the-bottom kind of person when it comes to housekeeping.  Clean the floor when it gets sticky, clean the desk when I don't have room to navigate the computer mouse, clean the table when I don't have a place for my plate.  It's been my unending, unmet goal each year to purge and clean and simplify.  But now I'm looking at the mess from the perspective of legacy--and this is not what I want to leave my children.

Bad habits must be replaced to be eradicated, so I'm making a list of ways to limit physical clutter.  Purchases of things will be replaced with purchasing experiences. I'm cutting subscriptions to emails touting the next big sale.  Catalogs are being tossed in the recycle bin the same day they arrive in the mail. Book purchases will be put on hold (gasp) while I tackle the mountain of unread books on the coffee table.

By this time next year, I'll be able to see the top of my desk again, the top of the coffee table, navigate the living room and bedroom without stubbing a toe.  I'll feel more connected with people, not things.  I'll make space for what's really important.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Thinking about inking

I got my first tattoo nine months after my mother's death.

I had planned to get it sooner, but for one reason or another, didn't commit to the idea until just before my 31st birthday.  

I remember the details of that day.  These were the times before internet access, and I had prepared by calling tattoo parlors to check on their weekday hours.  My husband worked evenings and I worked weekends, so I needed to get in before our daughter finished mothers' day out at one-thirty p.m.  There was only one tattoo parlor in the area that opened before noon--our only choice.

My plan was to get a claddagh symbol in honor of my deceased Irish-American mother, but the artist said it would have to be at least four inches in diameter to maintain clarity over the years--and that was far bigger than what I had in mind.  My husband asked if I wanted to leave and come back, but I was bound and determined to walk out of that parlor with a tattoo.  I chose a four-leaf clover from the images pinned to the wall, and within thirty minutes, it was done.

Our daughter had told her preschool teacher what mommy was doing that morning, and several of the teachers wanted a peek at my new ink.  They liked it; my daughter, not so much.  She kept asking if I could wash it off!


Eight years later, I decided I needed another tattoo for my 39th birthday, since threes figure heavily in my history.  This time, I took one of my best friends, and she sat by my side in the back room of a repurposed 40's house near campus while I sat with my leg in another tattoo artist's lap.  This time, the Celtic symbol was a bit more sophisticated--a triquetra knot, with a circle entwined in the loops.  The shape has many interpretations:  the Holy Trinity, maiden-mother-crone, even as a symbol for Pisces, my birth sign.  It's my favorite so far.


Tonight, I visited yet another tattoo parlor, to begin the process of getting my third, and last, inking.  I've asked for the design to incorporate an owl, a book, and the number fifty-one--the age I'll attain next March, the age of my mother at her passing.  

I want it placed in a location that I can glance at easily, a daily reminder of that invisible line drawn in the sands of my life's hourglass; a circle that lasts but a moment on the day of my fifty-first birthday, erased as the grains of sand continue to fall, expanding my experience past that arbitrary boundary.

Horizon 51.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Christmas in a box

This is our first Christmas as a family divided by geography, country, one deep ocean.

Our college-grad daughter is living, working, and thriving in Japan, while the rest of us live, work, and thrive in Texas.  We would love to have the means to be a jet-setting family, dropping work and school obligations to hop over the Pacific and spend a Japanese holiday with our daughter, but that is not within our reach at this moment.  So we have spent the last two weeks deciding what to send to her to make her winter comfortable and connect the Christmas dots between Choshi-shi and Austin.

This is not a simple care package project.  Not only is it expensive to ship boxes to Japan, but we have to think about the time when she will return.  The airlines allow two suitcases of fifty pounds or less for free; any more luggage carries a hefty price tag, and we're already anticipating an extra suitcase will be needed.  We don't want to bog her down with fragile items that she will worry about packing, or aren't really useful.  It's already assumed that like many JET employees before her, she will be selling or giving away many of her household items when she prepares to return to the U.S.

There's a pre-Christmas box heading her way right now, and we'll be sending gift-wrapped items next. There won't be as many presents as are usually found under the tree, but our love will be packed in tight with the parcels.

And lucky her, she'll get to open them fifteen hours before we arise for our Christmas coffee.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Going through the motions


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pandora's box

It is day five, and I'm still emotionally wrought over the election results.

Still in disbelief that, as rarely as it happens, the popular vote went one way and the electoral college another.

I work in an elementary school, and it feels like an alternate universe.  Every day, I reinforce values of kindness and compassion.  We hold children to expectations of "please" and "thank you", "Good morning!" and "I'm sorry." Expectations that until election day, I thought were universal in our country. 

Apparently, they aren't.  And now, I have to battle the idea that sure, it's okay to act like a playground bully--look, you can still be elected president!  As if educators' jobs weren't difficult enough....

It's ironic that I read Last Stop on Market Street to my students this past week, a Newbery-Caldecott-CORETTA SCOTT KING award winner, at the very time when a man who publicly, blatantly, unkindly spoke about people of color, of disability, of women, is now supposed to represent this country, which is inhabited by people of color, of disability, and millions of women.

I started writing this post three days ago, and paused after the paragraph above, waiting to see what the fallout would be this week.  It is, unfortunately, just as I feared.  I strongly believe that people are responsible for their own actions--but I also know behavior does not occur in a vacuum.  And now that racism, sexism, and intolerance have been legitimized by electing this man,  acts of hatred and bigotry are on the rise. Pandora's box has been opened, and the effects are being felt in schools nationwide:  PBS Newshour: How schools are dealing with post-election fallout

I've read and heard people say that this is just like any other election.  Your side lost, so just get over it and move on.  Every person I've heard say this has been white, Christian, heterosexual, and for those I know personally, in a loving relationship with a spouse who is kind and caring.  Their lives are not directly affected by bigotry and sexism; their religious beliefs and marital status are not being questioned.

This is not a "temper tantrum".  I am not upset simply because "my side" lost.  My side has lost plenty of times, and I have never felt this disappointed before; at least I could respect the winners of those elections.  If this man is supposed to be the best we can offer to lead our nation and represent us on the world's stage, then I am convinced we have lost sight of our American ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. 

I have personal friends who are in marginalized groups.  I have a daughter who is thankfully living overseas now, in a country that is still working on equality for women, but where respect is a societal norm; I worry less about her being assaulted there than if she lived stateside.  I worked for years in special education, meeting the needs of the students who were mocked by the very man who is set to move into the White House. I have friends who have benefited from the Affordable Care Act. 

I have been on the receiving end of sexual harassment in the workplace.  I have been bullied.  I am also aware that, by a matter of birth and luck, I am on the receiving end of so much privilege.  While I don't feel guilty about it, I feel it is my ethical duty to stand up for those who don't have access to such privilege.  

I'm going to start by displaying books in my school library that feature diversity, kindness, and compassion, and adding more to our collection.  I will smile and welcome all who enter my workplace.  I will continue to donate money and time to organizations who espouse ideals of acceptance and personal freedom and environmental stewardship.

I'm going to force myself to watch the interview of the president-elect this evening.  And then I'm going to tune out any media coverage that involves him directly.  Instead, I'm going to pay attention to what happens as a result of this election.  Actions speak louder than words; facts speak for themselves.  I'll be even more careful about my sources of information, and loudly promote news of goodwill and good deeds.  

That's where I want my energy and efforts to go.  Thankfully, no elected official, no matter how disrespectful, can stop me from doing that....yet.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Looking through my fingers

I have a dental appointment today after work, and the timing couldn't be better.  For one hour, I won't be in front of a TV or computer, won't see political posts or listen to talking heads, won't be squinting at numbers rolling across the bottom of the screen.

Students at my school will have the opportunity to vote today.  Teachers have talked about voting etiquette, and a call went out last night for parents to do the same.  The discussions should have happened months ago; children have already been threatened by their peers with deportation, should the election swing a certain way.

Yes, the ugliness has reached our youngest citizens.  I blame media, and those who deem such talk as appropriate for children to hear.

I know I voted from a place of love and hope--love for my family, love for the rainbow of people who make up our country, hope for those who struggle, who aren't Malcolm Gladwell's "outliers", who still have artificial barriers to success and happiness based solely on the skin and gender and class into which they were born.

I won't be wearing a pantsuit today, but I will be wearing blue, blue, blue.  And tonight, I'll be watching TV through my fingers.   

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tuesday Slice: TV or sleep?

I need sleep.

My quality of sleep isn't lacking, just quantity.  My alarm goes off pretty much at the same time each workday, so it's the bedtime that's been abused lately, for various reasons.

I need to mother myself, talk myself into shedding work clothes and donning pajamas within minutes of arriving home.  Except not tonight; my favorite TV shows are on (and we don't have DVR).  Or tomorrow--I need to sit down with my son and help him finish his college applications, the parts where he needs my credit card information. On Thursday, I've set my sights on breaking out the vacuum and attempting some semblance of housekeeping after work.  I've already asked for a half-day off on Friday to drive to San Antonio to see my son's marching band competition--and it continues through Saturday.

Now that I've written this out...it seems ridiculous to choose TV shows over sleep.  An early bedtime is now my evening's agenda.

Thanks, mom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Birthing butterflies, part two

Two weekends ago, I was fortunate to watch the "birth" of six butterflies over a three-day period.  They started off as caterpillars, eating away at my potted milkweed on the back porch.  This is the last installment of my experience as a butterfly "mom".

The second monarch emerged outside, not long after I took my makeshift chrysalis box to the back porch to allow the first monarch and second queen to finish strengthening their wings to fly.

I sat on the porch for a long while, waiting for wings to dry and get strong, hoping to keep the birds away.

After a couple of hours, the monarch was ready--and away, flying first to the north, then circling back to our tree.

Four down, two to go!

While checking on the remaining two chrysalises Sunday morning, I noticed one was getting close to emerging.  

I was worried about the last chrysalis.  It was evident that it hadn't formed properly, and I really didn't expect it to complete metamorphosis.

The third monarch emerged indoors.  I now knew that it took several hours for the wings to unfold and strengthen, so I wasn't in such a hurry to get it outside.

After my coffee and usual Sunday t.v. time, I headed once more to the back porch to expose the butterfly to fresh air, sunlight, and open sky.

Keeping watch on the last chrysalis, I was surprised to see the stripes and spots so clearly; maybe it would be okay!

The third monarch surprised me by crossing the wire to the opposite side of the box, before climbing to the edge and flying off!

By Sunday night, it was evident that the last chrysalis would be emerging the next day, so I fashioned a new box in case I had to take it to my work meeting.  

The next morning, I loaded my car with work necessities first, then came back inside to check on the chrysalis one more time before moving the box to my car.  It was already emerging!  Luckily, my husband had taken the day off from work, and he took over the duty of watching it and moving the box outside.

Everything seemed to go smoothly, until it left the box.  That's when my husband noticed it wasn't flying well.

Closer inspection revealed that the left wings weren't working together.  The incomplete chrysalis must have caused the problem.

We left the butterfly to flutter outside, moving it every so often to a stable resting place.  By dusk, it was gone.  I'd like to think it made it's way to the tree and climbed up...

Five out of six chrysalises fully formed and flew away; not bad for a first time butterfly breeder!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Birthing butterflies

And now for the continuation of last week's post on raising butterflies...

When last we saw our intrepid metamorphosing insects, they were hanging out in the laundry room, green chrysalises sporting beautiful gold metallic dots and lines.

One of the smallest chrysalises began to darken, and turned a solid black hue by last Thursday.  Reading up on the care of butterflies, it seemed I may have lost this one.  Saddened, I went to work, and came home to this:

Still thinking the caterpillar hadn't made it, I thought the chrysalis had simply burst, and the brown spot below it was goo from the remains....Until a shout came from my husband Saturday morning.  "Butterfly in the dining room!"

Between the two of us, we rescued it from our carpet and got it outside--our first queen! 

It fluttered about near the ground, and wouldn't fly; it kept nosediving into the grass, despite attempts to move it upright on sturdier ground.  I worried it had been damaged in its escape from the net-covered box in laundry room.  Later, my husband felt bad for the poor thing, and decided to move it to the flower bed as a final resting place.  In his hand, it walked to the tip of his fingers, and flew to the tree!

Meanwhile, my teenager, husband, and I witnessed the eclosing of the second chrysalis--a monarch!--standing in awe over the box on the washing machine. (Pardon the color; I took the picture through red netting.)

It wasn't long before a third butterfly, another queen, emerged!  In between "hatchings", I watched a video from a research center and learned that the brown "goo" was actually meconium, the remains of the fluid the butterflies pump into the veins on their wings to unfurl and strengthen them.

Not wanting a replay of our "firstborn", I carried the box outside and watched over the monarch and queen as they hung out, drying and strengthening their wings for flight.  It was exciting when they finally started flapping, first slowly, then faster, letting go of their husks.  A tilt of the box to help them climb to the edge, and they were off!

Three new butterflies to brighten the world!  I'll cover the last three butterflies in the next blog post.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Tuesday Slice: Wings to fly

My school year began with a dress of butterflies, so maybe it was a divine wink that sent monarch and queen caterpillars my way a few weeks ago.

This was actually the second round of caterpillars that hatched on my potted milkweed on the back porch.  The first set, all queens, presumably got eaten by birds while I wasn't looking.  I was sad, but too busy dealing with the aphids that followed to dwell on their demise.  I (mistakenly, I found out later) chopped back the milkweed to get rid of the aphids, and forgot about my aspirations of butterfly nurturing for the season.

My husband needed help moving the patio furniture three weekends ago.  There were a few new leaves sprouting from the stubby milkweed stems.  Lo and behold, more than a dozen caterpillars were munching away--and this time, there were monarchs in the bunch!

I hurriedly concocted a shield of sorts from two chairs and a frost cover, in hopes of keeping the birds at bay.  The sparse leaves were rapidly being eaten, so I visited the local nursery to purchase a healthier milkweed plant, and spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon carefully transferring my charges to their new buffet.

Each morning and afternoon, I checked on my "children", as my husband was now calling my crawlers.  Sixteen caterpillars dwindled to ten, and ten to six, before I decided to intervene by collecting them in a jar. 

Within days, they started hanging in a J-formation, and turned into chrysalises within twenty-four hours--the first four in unison, and then the last two, after a few more leaves and molts.

The jar was getting moldy from the frass (caterpillar poop), so I had to relocate the chrysalises to my crudely made butterfly-hatching box.  Thank goodness for the internet, as I wouldn't have known how to extricate the two that were attached to the glass.

And now, we just wait!  It could be another week before we see the chrysalises darken and the telltale stripes and spots appear.  Fingers crossed that I've done a good job "parenting" my caterpillars, and they all get their wings to fly soon!