Another Year Has Passed


2019 was a fairly typical year in that it had both its ups and its downs. We lost some wonderful family members and friends who will be missed for some time to come and yet we celebrate the impact they had on our lives. I suppose that with the passage of time we will eventually consider only the joy that they brought us rather than the pain of their deaths.

Mike and I took a trip of a lifetime with my brothers and sisters-in-law. We saw the sights of London, York, Bath, Cambridge and the Cotswolds. We laughed our way across the English landscape and grew closer to one another than ever. I realized on our journey that I indeed have the sisters that I always dreamed of having. We shared good times that we will never forget and hopefully we will reunite for more travel in the future.

Mike and I enjoyed two semesters of classes at Rice University from our favorite professor, Dr. Newell Boyd. We learned all the dish about the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, reinforcing the idea that history repeats itself again and again. We humans are a quirky bunch indeed. We are on a waitlist for a trip with him to Scotland this June and I have my fingers crossed that we will get an opportunity to actually go.

We were able to watch our grandson, Eli, compete in the Track and Field Junior Olympics in Sacramento over the summer and steal away for some sightseeing in Napa Valley, San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. It was an unexpected journey that was great fun.

Speaking of grandchildren, ours continue with their educations and dreams for the future. We are immensely proud of the people they have become. They are thoughtful and concerned about the world’s problems. They give us great hope for the future,

We celebrated the ninetieth birthdays of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. We should all be as healthy and active as they are. They continue to inspire us and with their optimism and wisdom. They never seem to slow down. They have truly found the secret to a good life,.

A dear cousin celebrated her eightieth birthday as well. She seriously doesn’t look a day over fifty. Somehow the beauty of her soul shines forth in her gorgeous countenance. Her special occasion gave us an excuse to have fun with our cousins and to make plans for more meetings in the coming year.

We ended  2019 with a mega party for one of our nieces that was the event to top all events. The theme was Camelot and to say it was a stunning occasion is an understatement. We enjoyed three days of eating and talking and laughing and recognizing how wonderful family truly is.

I had tea time each week with another niece that became a special highlight of the year. We used my various teapots and flavors of tea along with special cookies that a former student brought me as a gift. I enjoyed those weekly gatherings in which I learned just how much my niece and I are kindred spirits.

Some of our friends and relatives had a very difficult year dealing with major illnesses and losses. It was hard to watch them suffering and feel so helpless to do anything that might change their situations. All we have been able to do is pray for them and let them know the we care,

We had many fun times with friends and neighbors throughout the year. Mardi Gras, time at the beach, fun in the backyard, lunches and dinners spiced up the routine or our lives. Those were great moments when I realized how truly blessed we have always been.

We checked a few more things off of our bucket list like seeing the Rolling Stones, Mark Knopfler,  a Game of Thrones concert, and Willie Nelson. Now we look forward to watching Elton John this  summer. We also saw our Astros make it into the World Series and up until the last minutes of the final game we thought that perhaps we might win that match one more time. Maybe we will have an even better baseball year in 2020.

We have learned to roll with whatever each year brings and snatch as much happiness as we can. Life roll on with abandon beginning every January 1. Here’s to the coming year. May it bring you many blessings and few sorrows.


Opening Hearts and Minds


I am what is sometimes known as a people pleaser, not so much because I want to impress anyone with my goodness but because I have an uncanny ability to sense people’s feelings. I have spent most of my life striving to help others to be their best selves and making great effort to see differing points of view. My work has included titles like mother, teacher, peer facilitator, dean of faculty. In those roles I focused on walking hand in hand with my charges rather than being an authoritarian. I prefer being a diplomat to executing orders. To my utter dismay I more and more often find myself in a kind of new world order in which I am constantly challenged to choose a side or be considered outmoded and ineffective. The middle ground where I have long stood so that I might extend a hand to each side is now considered the choice of wimps, those unwilling to take a stand. I find it more and more difficult to please anyone and I am often accused of being the kind of person who has actually caused most of the problems of the world.

We appear to be in a phase during which manners and decency toward all is considered passé. Tough guys, bullies, those willing to hurl insults are thought to be the new saviors of the world. Being polite and soft spoken is out. Being brash is in. Passive resistance and peaceful assembly has lost its lure. Instead shouting and insistence that all agree to a kind of tandem manner of thinking is the way of the new heroes. Sound bites have replaced thoughtful discourse.

As a teenager I read John Kennedy’s Profiles In Courage with an almost reverential mindset. I saw the heroes that he described as role models for my own life. I liked the stories of fortitude in the lives of the saints that had so fascinated me as a child. I wanted more than anything to be a fair and just individual who held tightly to the belief that each of us has an important purpose in this world. I read and reread tales of men and women who changed the world without harming others. I came to believe that the most glorious aspect of living where I do is the unalienable right of individuals to have the liberty of their own thoughts. I enjoyed the idea of bridging gaps between diverse groups. It is who I am and what I do.

It seems as though a perverse stubbornness has invaded the world. We are at an impasse with one another. Society has become judgmental without taking the time to analyze situations devoid of prejudice. Our favored leaders often hurl insults at one another. We blame entire generations for our problems with sweeping pronouncements. Some taunt the “snowflakes” while others dismiss the “boomers” as the lot that has destroyed the earth. Anger is even invading families and rending friendships in two. There is a kind of worldwide psychosis that is making all of us sick.

It has become almost impossible for me to use my diplomatic skills. Of late I seem to anger everyone whenever I attempt to consider all sides of a discussion. My efforts are derided as useless and perhaps even counterproductive. I am reminded of how souls like Mitt Romney are not the heroes I think them to be, but spineless cowards who are of little use to the world. People are demanding action and those who attempt to broker compromise and peace are thought to be a large part of the world’s problems.

As a student of history I know how dangerous such thinking can be. While mankind divides itself into winners and losers suffering prevails. The power brokers unwilling to give an inch one way or another wreak havoc on innocents. Problems fester and grow in an atmosphere unwilling to consider compromise. When people no longer listen to one another grave mistakes are made. Divisions like north and south, left and right, red and blue, Christian and atheist, Sunni and Shia, Israeli and Palestinian, educated and uneducated, rich and poor are the sources of conflict and war. It is only when we truly attempt to work together that solutions begin to arise.

I was quite taken by an image that one of my friends posted on Christmas Day. In the photo were two women, sisters from a loving family. One of them stood in front a blue car with a “Warren” sticker and the other posed by a red car with a “Trump” sticker. Both women were laughing and obviously quite happy with one another, unwilling to allow their political differences to change their feelings of warmth and affection. It was a hopeful sign for me, a reminder that when all is said and done we humans may have differing opinions of how to solve problems but we are united by love.

I’d like to believe that our current state of rage is only a temporary phase and that the peacemakers will come into fashion again. In the meantime I pray that relationships that have been broken by differences in points of view may be mended. We need each other now more than ever. Life is far too short to spend time quibbling when we might be better off finding ways to get along. All it takes is a willingness to open our hearts and minds. Perhaps that is the best resolution that anyone might make for the new year and new decade of 2020.

None of Them Are Stupid


We humans are curious sorts. We love to ask questions. We wonder about things and we seek answers. Children are especially attuned to fining out more about the world and its people. They lap up information with a kind of unmitigated thirst. No topic is out of bounds for them in their innocence. As we grow older we become more circumspect. We are less inclined to be thought of as too inquisitive or lacking in common sense. Experience teaches us that our questions might elicit annoyed or angry responses, maybe even ridicule or laughter. We’ve all heard the chastisement, “That’s a stupid question!”

I taught at virtually every level of the learning ladder. The youngest were always filled with wonder and an unmitigated need to understand every aspect of life. They had so many questions that being with them was sometimes exhausting but always gratifying. I loved their almost divine innocence and their acceptance of each other. They were so joyful in their pursuit of knowledge.

I noticed that the fourth grade is often a kind of turning point at which youngsters become a bit more self conscious. Some of them even feel that they have become the proverbial “fourth grade nothing.” If the teacher doesn’t chide them for their questions the other students sometimes do. It is a time when society begins to beat the openness and guilelessness out of them. They eventually learn the sting of laughter at their comments and realize that their own ways of learning or seeing the world may be very different from those of others. Not wanting to feel strange they begin to be less likely to admit that they do not know or understand something and so their questions become more infrequent lest they become the focus of laughter or ire. 

Over time people become more and more circumspect unless they have great confidence. They hide our confusion and sometimes even forget how to ask a meaningful question. They silently hide what they view as their ignorance rather than understanding that those willing to admit to confusion by asking questions are the most courageous among us.

So much of our human potential is thwarted by an unwillingness to ask questions. Our inquisitiveness slowly begins to whither away and instead we simply think of ourselves as being slow or dim witted. We begin to recite defensive mantras like “I’m not good at math.” We settle for less in our lives because we don’t want to annoy others with our incessant questions. We hate to admit to a lack of comprehension that requires a seemingly endless stream of inquiries that try the patience of everyone around us.

I suspect that our journey into the frustration of silence begins the first time that we hear a teacher or parent declaring in exasperation that we ask too many questions or that the ones that we do utter are stupid. When our peers groan at our inquiries we sense that we are somehow inferior and so we begin to open our mouths less and less. Eventually our everyone begins to assume that our silence indicates that we have no confusion. They attempt to assess our mastery with queries that may have little to do with the ideas that are sending our minds into a tailspin. We get by with hiding our concerns so many times that we begin to erroneously believe that not only are many questions truly stupid but so are the people who ask them. In other words we unwittingly encourage ignorance.

If we were to develop one incredibly important trait it would be to have more patience both with others and with ourselves. Learning develops differently in each person and optimizing it requires a willingness to view questions as a key component in the process of mastering skills and knowledge. Each of us can be teachers if we encourage our natural human curiosity to remain vibrant throughout life. We should be overjoyed when anyone seeks to learn no matter how low it may take them to break through the barriers that are preventing them from understanding,

Long ago I read a book by physicist Richard Feynman. He told of his own journey to becoming a premier scientist and how it began with simple lessons from his father who encouraged young Richard to wonder about the world around him. The simple inquiry, “Why?” became the bedrock from which Dr. Feynman explored the physical universe and later inspired countless students by making physics more understandable.

I was recently appalled when I heard someone pronounce that most people are dumb. That is simply not true. In fact I have learned that most people are capable of far more than they ever dreamed as long as they encounter others who are willing to patiently work with them until the holes of their learning are filled. Question are the means of reinforcing the cracks that are holding them back. No inquiry is unnecessary or stupid. We would be wise to teach our children that questions are a glorious way to the fulfillment of our potential. None of them are stupid.

Let Your Light Shine


There was a time when I dreamed of being famous. I imagined someone like Ellen or Oprah discovering my writing and asking me to appear on one of their shows. I thought of how wonderful it might be to have a grand following of readers who waited in anticipation of my next commentary. Once I thought things through I realized that I am a person who enjoys my anonymity. I like being able to blend in with a crowd and remain unseen. It allows me to be free to explore the world without worrying how I will be viewed. I don’t want the pressures of fame in which my every word and action is dissected and sometimes misinterpreted,

It used to bother me that I was somewhat invisible. I’m not the kind of person who catches the eye of the hosts on The Today Show even when I wait in line at six in the morning to get a good view of the show. Nobody throws beads at me in a Mardis Gras parade. I have to pick them up from the ground. I’ve been ignored in stores while waiting for help. I actually believe that I am so quiet and uninteresting looking that I don’t shine forth as someone who is outstanding in any particular way.

I’ve actually had teachers and professors tell me that they had to get to know me to realize that I had something worthwhile to say. One even admitted that his first impression of me was that I was dull. He apologized for getting thing so wrong. My appearance is that of common folk something that I used to hate but now seems like a kind of blessing because I can observe the world without interruption. In that role I get a window into truth. My ordinariness is a wonderful gift.

I don’t generally evoke jealousy. People feel comfortable around me because I don’t appear to be competition for attention or promotions or awards. I earn the kudos that come my way the good old fashioned way, with a great deal of hard work. Somehow I have reached a point of utter contentment in my life the allows me to celebrate who I am. I shine in the uncomplicated essence of my being.

Each person has something wonderful to offer the world, We have our stars who seem to outshine everyone around them, but it is often in the most humble ways that we find people who provide exactly what we need. I think of a lady in Arkansas who entertained me when I visited her with my grandmother. She lived in a tiny home devoid of decoration or modern convenience and yet she made us feel so welcome and so special. She was a great and beautiful person even though her circumstances were difficult beyond anything that I had ever before witnessed.

As humans we spend our lives attempting to find our true purpose in life when sometimes it is in the smallest of things that bring great joy into the world. The nurse who lovingly tucked me in with a warm blanket on the night after my surgery had a smile and an aura of kindness that I shall never forget. The neighbor who rescued frightened children from a terrible tragedy while the rest of us sat back and watched will always be a hero to me. The woman who sang like an angel at my wedding means more to me than a Grammy winning artist. It is indeed true that we each shine at something without even realizing the impact that we have on others.

The truth is that every person is extraordinary and it’s important that we let everyone see the light that illuminates them. Too many live with a feeling of worthlessness, never understanding the beauty that is theirs and theirs alone. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone to see their own greatness, especially when that individual does not realize the wonder that lies within. Many lives have changed for the better simply because someone saw their potential. They no longer had to wonder why they were ever sent to this earth.

I have many talents that I have attempted to cultivate for the betterment of mankind. My impact has been small but as my influence on others is paid forward the rewards become incremental. It is not in fame and fortune that we find our true identity but in the impact that we have on family, friends, acquaintances. We never really know if a smile, a bit of help, or a wise word will help to reshape a life, but we should act as though it will. It’s unwise to dwell on what we don’t have. Instead if everyone understood what was best about them and then shared that talent or trait we would all be the better. Let your light shine. Someone needs exactly what you have to offer.

Merry Christmas


It’s Christmas Day! Few people will be reading a blog this morning but nonetheless I will offer my take on this glorious holiday. It is rather incredible that so many are celebrating the birth of a child who came into this world over two thousand years ago. He grew into a remarkable man with a simple but profound message that we should always strive to love one another This was the essence of his teaching, something that we all too often forget as we focus on rules for behavior and judgements of those who don’t comply with our own beliefs.

From the humble beginnings of that baby boy came a ray of hope that has transcended time. Whether or not we accept him as the Son of God there is great power in the example of compassion, sacrifice and forgiveness that he gave us. His words resonate in any time just as they have for thousands of years. Celebrating his birth is fitting, but more important is following his commandment to love.

If there is one gift that we should offer on this day it should be understanding even of those who drive us to the brink with what we view as faulty thinking. None of us have a corner on the love of Jesus of Nazareth. He offers it to all just as he wants us to also do.

So enjoy this day and remember the true founder of the feast even it you think he was little more than a very nice man. We should call this holiday Christmas because it would not be here without him. We have yet to fulfill the crux of his teachings. Perhaps one day we will get beyond the frailties of our humanity and bring the light of his love into the world for all to feel.

Merry Christmas!