Monday, January 21, 2008

Through new eyes . . .

"Oh . . . the stars!" Tsz-Chun had stopped dead on the sidewalk to our house and was looking up, mesmerized by the brilliance of our winter night sky. I nearly ran into him with my bags of groceries. We all looked up and gazed for several minutes at the hundreds and thousands of stars crowding the Milky Way above our heads.
I thought I appreciated living in our little part of Utah, but it's taken getting a foreign exchange student from Hong Kong to remind me how really great we have it. Everything amazes him. He's never travelled and from what he says, Hong Kong is huge, noisy, dirty and smoggy by day and bright and flashy by night. The first day we stepped out of the house, he breathed in and in his limited English, gushed "So fresh! The air in Hong Kong is . . . blue . . ." The day after he arrived, we all had to work or school so he slept in and just got used to the house, just walking around our modest home that he calls "huge! Only rich people in Hong Kong have so much room." His apartment that he shares with his parents and grandmother is smaller than the family room, kitchen and master bedroom. He comments every day on the bigness, wide-openness, and friendliness of Utahns. The kids at school couldn't have treated him better; he's already famous and everyone wants to get to know him.
I know he misses like crazy his family and girlfriend and especially his grandmother's cooking (not a surprise to me), but he's completely open and absorbing this American experience. And despite the fact that he's reaffirmed my love of this place by seeing things through his eyes, Hong Kong must be a good place to live, too, because it has produced his family and this wonderful, curious, respectful young man who is already a blessing to our family.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why I teach . . .

I'm not even sure I like John Steinbeck with his "doomed before you start" philosophy, but I sure wasn't going to stay home another day no matter how bad I felt and let a substitute finish "Of Mice and Men" with my 10th grade classes. Each time I read the book I am struck by the power, pathos and sheer perfection of this cyclical, pessimistic novel; in my mind, it's probably tied for first place with "Huck Finn" as the great American novel.
And even better, Gary Sinise has done a masterful job with his recent version of the story in which he plays George, so I couldn't wait to watch my students reactions' to the ends of both the book and movie and talk them through from shock and dislike to at least a reluctant understanding. The day before, 3 kids had tried to sneak a book out of class to read on their own and finish before the rest of us; what a happy, satisfying problem to have - they'll do anything to see how it turns out!
Sure enough, you could hear a pin drop as Lenny "does a bad thing" and events lead George to the heart-breaking, inevitable conclusion; they were gasping their dismay and tearing up right along with me. "Pretty powerful for them. . . " I said to myself as the movie was ending with George remembering Lenny's face, and suddenly, it wasn't a ranch and his choice but hospital rooms and nurses telling me that we'd need to think about when to end heroic measures for Laura and then for Mom. I felt the horror of George's predicament through my eyes, and I was crying for real out of sympathy for him and relief that I did not ultimately need to make the choice as to what was best for them.
The students watched me, puzzled; I grabbed for tissue and mumbled something about this movie never failing to move me. We moved on the our discussion of why we read this difficult story and to whether George made the right decision and to their written responses, but my sense of "losing it" - the agony over the messiness of life and love and what it sometimes requires of us - was slow to leave me, and still, as I type this, prickles my eyes with tears and constricts my throat in sorrow and loss.
A few students later said, "Thanks for reading this book with us," or "I hate it but I love it." I know what they mean; great literature binds us in our humanness and asks us the hard questions. I've read this book so many times, but each time there is something new and poignant for me to discover, both with my students and in the reflections of my own heart. This then, is why I teach; why I love this profession and my subject even though the stress of the workload sometimes drives me to use sickdays. I can't thank Mr. More enough . . .

Thursday, October 4, 2007


I can blog from my little space now in privacy and in the atmosphere of creation (sans the sounds of the dishwasher and ultimate fighting on tv!)

Ben wants me to stop so we can do more cool things with this Firefox! I'm so excited I'm spitting on my screen! You have no idea how excited I am! I am having almost as much fun right now as at our oyster roast at Kiawah Island with Linda and Michele; moist towelettes and tampons - yeah, pretty much the same thing!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Not quite the day of rest . . .

"Mom, guess what?" Ty says with a devilish grin on his face. "It's Sunday afternoon!"
I'm off like a shot, but he catches me handily and before I know it, I'm hanging upside down, twisted in Ty's arms in some kind of half-nelson hell. I scream and fight as usual and Ty just laughs, teases me by almost letting me go and then torking down into some even more painful configuration. It's just like any Sunday afternoon at our house.
Ty is a kid who needs to MOVE. Always has been, but especially now since hormones and teenage angst have taken over his body. I made the observation some months ago that he seemed to be infuriatingly fidgety and "teasy" to everyone in the house on Sundays; what was up with that? Since another of Ty's qualities is his desire to think things through - rare in 16-year-olds, he actually figured himself out.
"You know how on Sundays I have to be quiet and good? Go to church, sticking around home, taking a long nap? Well, I figure by about 5:00 I'm so restless I'm ready to crawl out of my skin! So Sorry, Mom; it's either let me play all day Sunday or I'll drive you all crazy Sunday night . . . " He cocked his eyebrow as he said this, as in "Think she'll go for it?"
Well, no church isn't really an option, so we're just resigned. His sister screams and hollers at him; I've learned that just not reacting gets it over quickly. For now, since he's like Tigger in his attacks; they're unexpected and repeated. I don't know whether I love the fun and the ruckus or hate it because he's so damn strong now that I end up helpless in about 10 seconds flat. . . . the sacrifices I make trying to raise my kids right . . .

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Wondering why . . .

So my best intentions desire to add to this space every few days since so many amazing, noteworthy things happens constantly; where did that go? . . . How can the truth and simplicity of Thoreau's "going to the woods to live deliberately, to front the essentials of life" and the daily thrills of joy I feel in a life I love, swirling in my brain, setting my intention every morning, get so bogged down; no, GROUND down by the demands of end-of-the-year at school that I find myself all week operating merely by rote, numb, buzzing with irritation, this me-who-is-not-me grading, reminding, directing, feeling their confusion at my manner in the eyes of students whom I love but can't wait to get rid of?

I got off the phone from disappointing Larry by declining to join him is Salt Lake for dinner with his girls, leaned out my kitchen window and silently watched my honey locust tree grow, all green and glowing amd quiet. I don't know how long I stood there, craving silence and a long stretch of doing nothing. It was delicious. And I thought, "Does God every get tired? Does he, disillusioned with the way things are going down here, ever just want the afternoon off to zone out?" We all need Him so much; how does that not wear on Him? So I'm pondering the thought that what I'm missing is the middle of the seesaw. A subtle balance with little shifts instead of these big work-like-crazy then collapse-from-exhaustion swings that I do now, going from the jarring bump on one side to the same thing on the other. I'll have to ask about God getting tired to Laura Willette tomorrow in speech; she is surprisingly and weirdly wise.

For now, I'm posting pictures that I love from Rachel's camera . . .

Sunday, May 6, 2007

. . . a (fast) glimpse of literary mecca . . .

Larry and I have a great side job; a performance tour company makes all the travel arrangements for a group and then we "manage" the actual trip, have fun with the kids, share some history, see new sights and get paid for doing it. So last week we were leading a tour in the Boston area, and on our last full day, as we loaded the bus from Salem to head through Lexington and Concord, it hit me.
"You mean, we're going to THE Concord?" I asked the tour guide.
"Yes, but we'll just drive through and stop for a few minutes at the Old North Bridge."
"What??!!" I'm thinking to myself. Since first reading Walden by Thoreau at eighteen and because of all my encounters in literature and history with the Transcendentalists, Concord has loomed large in my imagination as a sort of Mecca of the literary and philosophical world, as important to American thought as the Athens of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle is to world thought. And here we were, approaching this place, but because no one on the bus cares much about Emerson and his friends, we were going to drive right through!
This was unacceptable! I wouldn't drag the kids into my obsession, but we departed from the itinerary as I made the bus stop at Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott and her forward-thinking father, Bronson Alcott, so I could run in for five minutes and at least buy a few books about the area and the famous residents. Coming out, I could see nestled off the the side The Chapel with a little sign "School of the Philosophers." I'm hurrying past the place where the Transcendentalists met to discuss everything under the heavens, but I have a bus waiting. It was a painful moment.
Luckily, the books I purchased haven't disappointed as I've immersed myself in their times and thought, and Larry is interested enough from what I've told him to propose that the next time we're back East, we need to stay in Concord for a few days, rent some bikes to see the area and tour the many homes ans places in which this philosophy blossomed and still affects us today. No glimpses then, but time to walk the same paths, enjoy the same rooms, and soak in what Concord has to offer.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Time Flies (such an inadequate expression)

"Wow . . . ;" the collective exclamation of Jennie, Allison and myself as we pondered how inexplicably fast the years have sped past. We'd all gathered at the neighborhood park to congratulate and wish well Brent and Jenny Cowan as they leave for 2-3 years in Switzerland with his work, and between eating, visiting and chasing kids, we'd managed a moment to just watch their children play. Jennie asked me, "How old were you when you had Ty?" "Umm," I subtract furiously. "Twenty-nine."
"Really?! You were our age when we met you? And your kids were the ages of our kids; we watched them grow up!" The Cowan family and the Hamatake family did indeed make one big family for several years there in the early 1990s.
"And now here you are at the age I was," I said, "and in another 15 years, we'll be sitting together while your Bella and Austin are off driving and with friends, watching Ben's or Morgan's kids play at some park somewhere and again wondering where the time goes!" It was an awesome thought, this realization that while we were busily living days that seemed long and tedious at times, the years were passing so fast as to leave us breathless.
I thought about this all the way home. In these past 15 years, so much has changed; our families have experienced divorces and deaths and marriages and multiplying grandchildren (well, Carolee has; I just dream about mine at this point), but through all this dizzying change, one thing remains constant: our friendship. We still get together, at homes that grow as families grow or at the park or for a blessing; we consistently catch up on and celebrate the changes. Our friendship and love for each other is the constant in this flowing river of time. That thought is a great comfort; that, and knowing I'll see them again very soon when the babies come! We're still kind of like one big family, and getting bigger all the time . . . :)