Thursday, May 29, 2014


     I stand, staring at the wall. Up close. Back away. Squinting my eyes to see if there is anything that doesn’t look right. One thing that stands out amongst the rest.
     I built this literal wall. It is built of Styrofoam insulation covered in flannel. It is a design wall in the room where I do my quilting and it’s in continuous use. As I create my quilts I put up the individual blocks, as I sew them, turning them this way and that; moving them from one side to the other. My wall gives me the opportunity to change the pattern, and redirect the colors, and depth of colors, until the entire project is pleasing to my eye. I have come to this wall late in life. On this wall I pour out my creativity for anyone to see. But this wall is different than my past experiences with walls.
     I believe everybody builds walls. They protect us from a myriad of things in our lives. I built a wall around myself when my mother died, of cancer, at the age of 49. It was easy then. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. It was so easy to put up that wall and hide in the joy of an impending baby on the other side. That wall did not come down until many years later as I was faced having to deal with another relative with cancer. Both my children had been born by then and I had nothing to support the wall any longer. I grieved then and for about a year after that. I still grieve sometimes for my mother, missing the relationship we could have had as I grew older.
     My son built a wall once. He was in high school when he was forced to dissolve a friendship with a good buddy. The young man in question had been new to the school and had lied about basically his entire life to gain friends and sympathy. David felt betrayed when the lies and pretense all came to light; when the young man got in trouble with the law. The courts sent David’s friend to another state to live with his mother, and as far as I know, David has never heard from him again. So my son built a wall in my kitchen. He started baking. Every day: after school, on the weekends and school holidays. Cookies and brownies and more cookies and muffins and yet more cookies. For several weeks this went on until it slowly died away, the wall crumbled and he stopped baking. He was grieving for the loss of a friend and for the loss of trust his friend brought into his life.

     As I was going through my credential program I was lucky enough to have some excellent master teachers for my student teaching assignments. My first class was with a Mr. Carson who taught seventh grade English at a local middle school. I thought it odd that he had taken yellow tape and marked off a square about two feet out from the edges of his desk. When I asked him what it was for he told me that it was his invisible wall and students had to ask permission to cross it. It kept students away from his grade book on the computer and his personal stash of teaching supplies. I marveled at how well his students respected this tape on the floor. A very short wall, but a wall never the less.
     When I first started teaching I built an emotional wall in my first classroom. I was determined to be taken seriously by the teenagers in my classes (yeah, I know… do teenagers take anything seriously?) and so I put up a thin emotional wall and made sure they were on one side and I was on the other. Every once in awhile one of my students would jump over that wall, and I would be taken with their humor and honesty, and their wonderful outlook on life. Once the wall was breached by a student that enjoy stealing from me; sodas out of my fridge, my special bathroom pass, nice pens off my desk, whole sticky pads, hall passes, water bottles and probably a lot more things I never noticed. He was good. I knew who this student was but never could catch him in the act.

     My second year of teaching I moved to a new school within the same district. As I dismantled my old room I decided not to put up the wall in my new school. I felt like I could hold my own without a wall. But it turned out, as much as I didn’t want to, that I had to construct a very short, thin, almost translucent wall that sits around me. As one gets to know teenagers, one gets to know their struggles and difficult lives. I have had students living in cars, locked out of their parents’ house, living with their entire family of 6 in one bedroom, sleeping behind city garbage cans. Ones that only come to school because it is one of the only places they can get food for free. Ones that come to school bruised and battered; ones that wear the same clothes day after day. The wall is to stop me from gathering these children up and taking care of all of them, which would truly be impossible. And now, as I go into my eighth year of teaching, I have let most of my students breach my wall. I have let my students into my territory because I have found that if you don’t let them in, you cannot expect them to respect you and learn from you. They have no patience for people who do not want to get to know them. I want my students to know that I am approachable and that I really do like them, or I wouldn’t be standing in front of them all day. And I have learned that for the most part they respect my personal space, even though there is no wall.
     So, now, as I have finally deconstructed the wall in my classroom, I begin to use a new wall in my sewing room. But this wall isn’t to keep things or people out. It is to release my creative spirit so that I can share it with others in my quilts, my art. I am happier using this wall than I was using my old walls. Maybe it’s age or wisdom, I don’t really know, but I have finally peeked over the emotional walls I used to build in my class room and found out that, for the most part, they‘re just not necessary. I’ve tried to impart this idea to the student teachers I have been honored to guide over the years. Tape on the floor is O.K. but anything taller than that their students won’t be able to jump over. You’ve got to reach ‘em to teach ‘em. (Wow, that was kind of poetic!)


Friday, May 9, 2014


     'Tis the season. On my way home from San Luis yesterday, on the back road, there was a home-made sign advertising blueberries. Yep, must be blueberry season. I didn't have time to investigate but I am assuming that these people have a fairly large area planted in blueberries, seeing that they want to sell them to the general public. Their sign was out last year, for the first time, and I contemplated stopping then, but never got around to it.
     I like blueberries. But I like them raw, uncooked; blueberry muffins were not my favorite back in the glory days when I could actually eat a Costco muffin. You know...those wonderful muffins Costco bakes, that you can smell from a mile away, as you're filling your tank at their gas pumps? Costco does that on purpose, you know...They do live up to the sensory hype. Even the basic ones have something like 45 grams of fat in them. With all that fat, and then added sugar; what's not to love? But the blueberry ones were not my favorite. In the fall, just in time for the holiday season, they put out a pumpkin with brown sugar streusel topping. OMG! And even though I am not a chocoholic, I must admit that the memory of the chocolate with chocolate chips was pleasant. Especially eaten with a nice hot cup of coffee. And their carrot cake cup cakes...oh, wait...I digress...we were talking about blueberries.
     So, I like my blueberries fresh from the vine, so to speak. Don't mess with them. O.K. you can put them in a fruit salad but no fancy dressing!
     Before I moved to Massachusetts, when I was in 4th grade, I don't recall ever having a blueberry. They are not indigenous to the West Coast. We talk oranges out here and in the Central Valley we talk almonds and melons. So, when I got to Massachusetts blueberries were exotic, new, revolutionary. I remember the first time I ate them. We had gone on a camping trip. And in a culvert under a bridge my mother found a patch of blueberry bushes. Me, my sister and mother spent the entire afternoon picking them off the bushes; my mother instructing us just which ones were ripe and juicy. How she knew so much about blueberries, I will never know. Maybe they grow in Minnesota, where she grew up? The gardening books do say they grow best where there is a natural frost, although you can buy varieties that grow well here on the coast of California.
     Anyway... back to the summer of my childhood. We ate blueberries with cookies that night; sprinkled with sugar and topped with some whipped cream my mom purchased from the little store at the campground office. And my mom put them on our cereal in the morning. We snacked on them for the time we were camping and before it was time to go home we revisited the patch and gathered enough to take home for my mom to make cobbler. Yum!
     But for most of my adult life, blueberries came at a premium, not free, on the side of the road. So up until a few years ago, I did not reacquaint myself with blueberries. I have come to the realization that I like them as much as I did when I was a kid.
     This year, as we were making improvements to our rather large backyard, I decided to have our handyman make me a raised planter. I wanted to plant boysenberries, another favorite of mine that can be costly. About the time the planter was finished I was at a nursery and, there in front of me, stood a display of blueberry bushes. It was late in the season (they had been bare root) and were discounted to half price. I picked the best one out; they were all pretty scraggly, (think Charlie Brown Christmas tree) and took my prize home to plant in my new planter box next to the thorn-less boysenberry plant. The plant I chose had a little cluster of berries, green and immature on one of its branches.
     Every couple of days I go out and check the bush to see how they are coming along. I had a dream the other night that big black crows had made a nest under the bush. A silly dream seeing that I have a cat and no bird in its right mind would make a nest on the ground in my backyard. But in my dream they were waiting for the berries to ripen. I went out in a panic to check on the bush the next morning. All was well, but I thought maybe I should prepare for the birds and get some netting or something. Maybe the cat will keep them away. All this for a handful of berries.
     But I look forward to the day, sometime in the not-too-distant future, I hope, that I can harvest enough of those blueberries to make a cobbler. I will have to see if I can find my mom's recipe.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A Little Boy

     I love summers. One of the reasons I love summers is that it gives me extra time to make little day trips with my husband, Doug.When my husband was still working for Union Bank I would go with him, into The Valley (Fresno, Visalia, Hanford, Porterville, etc...) on his calls as an IT Servicer. We would download books from Audible and listen as we traveled for the day back and forth across California (usually about a 3 hour drive, one way.) We have gotten a ton of books read this way over the years. I like it because even though I am actively listening to the story I also get to watch people on the city streets and sight see along the way.
     We were heading home one afternoon from Lemoore, a small town in The Valley that is home to Lemoore Naval Air Station. I was tired, probably from eating too much at lunch and the book was droning on. I could feel myself beginning to have that desire to nod off; a little afternoon nap while Doug drove. We were driving on the outskirts of town through an area with a lot of apartment buildings; many of them looked to be low-rent. We stopped at a corner and waited for the light to change in our favor when out of the corner of my eye, off to the right, I caught a movement.
     In one of the apartments on the ground floor a curtain had moved. It was so hot outside, not many people were about; none in the apartment complex, as far as I could see. Doors and curtains were shut to the blasting heat of the early afternoon so common in The Valley. Temperatures of 100+ are a fact of life in the summer. People stay inside and tough it out. When the sun finally goes down, the temperatures do also, making outside activities mostly bearable.
     As we sat there at the light I continued to watch the window where I had seen the curtain move. A fraction of a minute went by and more movement. I could see a brown haired child doing something under the window. And then I saw the full view. The curtain parted a couple of feet wide, the back of a chair appeared and on the chair was a little dark haired boy, probably about 5 or 6 years old. In seconds he made himself comfortable, kneeling on the chair and propping his elbows on the windowsill. He then put his hand up to rest his cheek on, and proceeded to look this way and that, to see what he could see. As his eyes met mine, he smiled and waved and as the light turned, I tried to wave back but don't know if he saw me or not. I hope so.
     As we drove on and the story we were listening to unfolded, I thought about that little boy. His mom had probably told him it was too hot to go outside and play so he was stuck inside. It looked like the motions of his actions were well rehearsed, like he did this everyday, just to see what there was to see. A true people watcher.
     I will probably never get that way again now that my husband is retired. We still take day drives and listen to books but it is at our leisure now and certainly have found more comfortable places to travel in the summer. But every now and again, I think about that little boy and his happy face in the window. The heat wasn't bothering him. He had found something exciting to do. Who knows what he saw through that window every day? Maybe it will spark a desire to travel and meet people outside his little town. You just never know. But it was great having that singular, happy moment with him. It made my day :)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Bit of Randomness

     Today is Thursday. Well, that doesn't seem too important or momentous, I know. But this morning as I was driving to work, through our neighborhood, I saw the drink. There it was. I smiled.
     Since Sunday afternoon there has been a cold drink glass from Starbucks sitting on the side of the street, on the curb to be exact. Sunday, as I was driving somewhere, (I have no idea where now) I noticed it. I came over the hill on 12th street. Someone had left a totally full glass of an iced drink on the curb. It was sweating like it had just come out of a television commercial; cool and full of ice. It was dark pink in color; maybe a flavored ice tea? It sat there, a Vendi, looking like it had just been ordered; with the green straw and everything.
     Monday morning I was surprised to see it was still there. Tuesday: still there. Wednesday: still there. This morning, Thursday: still there. It stands, a little lighter in color from the bleaching glare of the sun, full and refreshing to look at.
     Now, I must add to this little story that the weather has been extremely hot for the past week. The beaches have been in the high 80's and low 90's. The inland temps have been in the triple digits.
     I don't know who left the drink on the side of the road. I wonder why, after 5 days,  it hasn't been disturbed. People walk up and down that street often, walking their dogs. Has no one touched it because people are holed up in their houses waiting for the heat to subside? Why hasn't it disappeared in the name of a cleaner environment? Or are people letting it stand to a testament of wishful thinking. Will it bring the cold weather back? Is it an offering to the rain Gods? A clever advertising gimmick by Starbucks? Maybe it is a fake glass of tea; glued to that spot on the curb. Subtle. It seems strange that even the wild animals that inhabit a near-by water preserve haven't bothered with it. Maybe the green straw freaks them out? I really don't know.
     It will be interesting to see just how long it stands. A lonely sentinel of hope and refreshing coolness. But more importantly a reason to smile in the early morning as people drive to their daily routines. I can hardly wait to drive to work tomorrow. I don't know how I will feel if it is not there.
     Isn't it funny how, sometimes, the smallest things just get to you?