How to Use This Issue (July/August 2016)

My summer column for response magazine. Collaborate. Cooperate. Build consensus. Do not seek to divide. Do not insult.

response: the magazine of women in mission

HowToJAG

As summer arrives I am finishing my first year as a teacher of middle and high school students. It has not been easy, and I have discovered I have a lot to learn. It is thanks to my connection to United Methodist Women that I took this career risk-knowing that I love learning, children and collaboration.

In our society, especially during the election season when it seems the loudest and most outrageous voices are the ones most frequently heard, how do we value collaboration? How do we cultivate the still, silent voices of consensus and community building? How do we keep our own identities when we collaborate? And what does collaboration mean for us as United Methodist Women members? Read this issue for examples of members of United Methodist Women sharing their true selves, collaborating and adding to the common good.

I was drawn to the idea of “To…

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4th of July Picnics

 

 

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What ever happened to our picnic table in Riverside Park?
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A while back, with my sister in law Nicole
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Last year with my nephew G, H, JCJ

There is nothing like a picnic in Riverside Park. The green on an early July evening. Central Park is for tourists, but Riverside is for New Yorkers.

For 20 years, my backyard has been the grassy slope in Riverside Park. We used to spend endless hours in the Elephant Playground. Then, the path between 79th and 96th, riding our bikes around that loop and taking in the garden near the Hippo Playground.

Although our recreation spots have changed, our picnicking spot has not. This field.

The girls are at camp. I miss them, but I console myself with friends and family. And picnics in the park.

For picnic recipes and to meet my Nicole, check out My Delicious Blog.

last night

How to Use This Issue (April 2016)

Sometimes growth happens, even when we yell at our seeds to grow! A lesson from Frog and Toad (and United Methodist Women).

response: the magazine of women in mission

AprHowTo

When my kids were little, one of our favorite story collections was Frog and Toad. In one story, Toad receives seeds from Frog and is surprised when they don’t immediately grow.
Frog tells Toad, “Leave them alone for a few days. Let the sun shine on them, let the rain fall on them. Soon your seeds will start to grow.”

But Toad exhausts himself, yelling at the seeds, commanding them “Grow!” Eventually so tired of exerting himself, he dozes off. And, while he sleeps, the seeds poke through the earth.

“And now you will have a nice garden too,” Frog says.

“It was very hard work,” Toad says.

Are we a little like Toad? Working hard? Exhausting ourselves by yelling and encouraging growth and then finding things grow without us, or even in spite of us?

In this month’s issue you’ll find many calls encouraging us to grow. The…

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How to Use This Issue (February 2016)

My latest column. We are more than a spot on the map.

response: the magazine of women in mission

FebHowTo

“The map is not the territory.” This quote reminds me that while maps, like the ones in this issue, can be seen, there is more to a place and a person than meets the eye. We use our sense of sight when we follow a map. But the reality of a place is experienced through our wider senses—our senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, intuition—all ways of experiencing places beyond our vision.

If you were to visit the territory described by these maps, you might feel rain on your face, smell baked bread, hear children’s laughter, hug away tears, taste a cool sip of lemonade, feel a soft blanket against your face or experience some unforeseen joy.
Don’t get me wrong. I love maps. When I traveled by car in my 20s from college in New York City to my family home outside Chicago, I followed a route outlined by…

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White Dresses

white dressesWe read this White Dresses by Mary Pflum Peterson with my book club. And then Mary came and chatted with us, her readers.

The book is written by a Catholic Midwesterner journalist named Mary — See where I’m going here? How can you not love her?! She tells the story of her mother, a former nun, who had a hoarding disorder.

The white dresses are the markers of our girl Mary growing into womanhood.
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The real-life Mary is a super charming, authentic Upper West Side mother. She listened to us as we asked questions about her journey — Why did she never seem to get angry at her mother? Why did her mother not value her daughter’s work as a TV producer and journalist?

Mary loved her mother unconditionally. I loved the way Mary loved.

Eventually in the story of Mary’s adulthood, there was no room for anyone to visit the family house — only newspapers and mice could fit in a home where people should be. The book definitely made me think about my own relationship with stuff. I always want room for bodies — big, small, old, young.

I related to Mary’s mother who was a teacher. As a fairly new teacher, I wondered, How did she keep track of all the essays, papers, quizzes? I recall one scene where her car is littered with fast food bags and lesson plans.

We no longer have a car. Yesterday I decluttered the laundry area and I found one jug of anti-freeze and one jug of car window washer fluid. Big jugs taking up space. We live in a Manhattan apartment. What was I doing hanging onto the car paraphernalia? It’s been four years since we had a car. Ugh.

I was mad at those jugs, mad at myself. Mad at Mary’s mother who saw no difference between the jewels of her students’ work and McDonald’s wrappers in her cluttered car.

The things we save have value. Collect memories. Not things.

 

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me and my girls

This book is a keeper. But friends matter more. Through this book I made a new friend.

I hosted a party recently and one friend told me she’d never seen my apartment so minimal. That’s how I like it.

Incidentally, this week the book is offered for .99 cents on Kindle. white dresses on kindle

A Piece of Me

I love to run to the Britney Spears song “Piece of Me.” But I haven’t been running lately.

Like Britney, everyone wants a piece of me — a piece of ass or a pound of flesh. No one seems to add to me. No one but chocolate and wine and cappuccino. They give without asking and I love them for it.

My kids want the $20s in my wallet. I’m the bank. My husband wants me to replace the ink cartridge in his printer — because now that H. has gone to college, I’m Tech Support. Yes and when H. comes home, he wants clean laundry; I’m the laundress. He also wants a dinner bigger than Trump’s ego. As for work — my writing job wants my stories written last week and at my teaching job, my students want to be entertained and given straight As.

Don’t they all know I could be fricken’ Hemingway if only I had the time?

Well, let them extract their pound of flesh, I could use to lose a few pounds. But take from my hips, not my brains or heart. Not my wallet. Go ahead, take. I still have a lot to give. I am not a placemat. Do I mean doormat? In any case, I am not a mat that you put dirty dishes or dirty boots on.

I am a doily — a small, pretty, lace thing. Delicate and grandmotherly. I survive this period of my life because someday, I’ll be a grandmother. By then, maybe my kids will no longer pick my wallet or expect a meal or clean laundry. They will see in me the things I am really good for. And do really well. Play. Tell stories. Make jokes. Sing silly songs. Write poetry. Walk (not run) in the park. Sit on a park bench.

I do look forward to growing old and returning to my childhood. A second childhood when no one extracts a pound of flesh.

2015 in Review

I have not written in a while. I have been very down about national and international events. Honestly, I came unhinged with the lack of civility in our nation’s political conversations.

And yes, I’ve been occupied with my own personal business — producing A Christmas Carol to raise money for refugees, finishing my first trimester teaching, churning out articles for response magazine.

But I want to look at 2015 first nationally. And then, personally.

One sadness is the way politicians live in the pocket of gun lobbyists. I thought our representatives were supposed to represent We, the People. Not the Moneyed Interests.

Don’t take  my word for it. guns kill people every 16 minutes. Read Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times (August 27)

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

The Paris shooting and the killing of civilians sickened me. We are to live the Golden Rule, regardless of religion. I will never forget the message from one of the three who died in the Boston marathon bombing in 2013. The message was pretty straight forward.

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The racism in society — the killing of innocent black people, children, women is ridiculous. I was especially upset by the killing of Sandy Bland, who seemed to me, someone whom I would have been friends with. She should not have died. Nor a child with a toy gun. WTF is the world coming to? Thank God for advocacy like Black Lives Matter.

If I were president, I would make every police force in the country train every one of its officers in diversity. When I was on jury duty last year — in the voit dire — the two majority opinions from the hundreds of ordinary New Yorkers — who were being grilled to become jurors – “I hate guns. I distrust cops.” It is more than a PR problem. Police departments are not seen as protectors of the people, they are seen as the enemy.

It may be that we are not attracting our best and brightest to the police force or to our political arena. Many of our candidates are not that bright. But Hillary is and so is Bernie. I support Hillary because she has experience in the Senate and as Secretary of State. Hil (and yes, Bernie, too) speaks civilly of and to others.

I met Clinton in ’95 at the Women’s Conference in China, she impressed me then — speaking on women and children’s rights. And she impresses me still.

I would not tolerate the meanness, closed-mindedness and xenophobia of our Republican candidates’ words in my classroom or on the playground. I certainly do not want it from my country’s chief executive.

When I was in Dublin this summer, a chatty Irish gent told me he used to dream about visiting the U.S. but not any more. He said, “Too many guns in the U.S.” We are on the verge of losing our international street cred.

I love when we tear down walls, not build bigger ones. Look at Germany. I love Merkel. Those Germans are amazing in their welcome and hospitality of refugees. Taking in a million. And our vast country, our America the Beautiful? We cannot even take in ten thousand? Please.

On a personal level, this year I have tried to engage in small acts of kindness. And make a positive difference right where I am.

I am proud Chris and I raised $850 for refugees through Rutgers Church and Church World Service at our staged reading of A Christmas Carol with Chris as Scrooge.

Professionally, I accomplished a lot. I am now a high school English teacher. And also managing editor of response magazine. I am blessed to end this year with two part-time jobs I love. I worked hard and put in my time, but career-wise, I was also lucky and at the right place at the right time in 2015.

Another personal achievement – I blogged every single day of October on mindfulness.

I got my first child off to college which has been bittersweet. Overall, I’m proud. Some days, I’m lonely. The family dyanmics shift.

This was a good year for my family and travel. I enjoyed my writing workshop in Dublin. My daughter Char traveled to Costa Rica and Bermuda. Catherine went kayaking in Alaska. Hayden went to Patagonia, Chile. Chris went fishing in Canada.

About Chris

This is often an interesting topic for people. But I am reluctant to share. As if it is not my story to tell. Let me say this.

Chris’s health is declining. Daily tasks, like shaving, are becoming more difficult for him. This is the nature of a chronic disease like Parkinson’s – it is not his fault or our family member’s failing. It is not that he is not loved enough or does not love enough. It is the way this disease unfolds – no one stays the same.

Yes, we all change, slow, grow, decline. We are not in stasis. Unless we die. Then we are done. And we are all dying but we are not all done. And though Chris is having more difficulty in tasks like moving from sitting to standing, he still has a great fighter’s spirit and a raging intellect. He still has much love to give and receive. He is not done. But we are getting to a point in our family where we need more help. (I have to finish this post so I can get to physical therapy for a bad back.)

Asking for help is anathema to me. I started counseling a couple of months ago to work on this.

I started a Caring Bridge blog for Chris (Although neither Chris nor I have updated it.) as a place to update people about Chris’s health in a smaller more private setting than this blog or on Facebook. (If you want me to include you on that, you can send me your email address.)