Thursday, November 4, 2010

Brush Stroke or Watercolor Class Cont...

You may be wondering… Why on earth would I return to a class with such a chaotic beginning?

A strong desire to learn to paint and a heavy dose of genes swimming in optimism convinced me to give it another try. During the down time of the last class, I also spent time walking among the students observing their paintings which were very impressive. So I thought maybe this guy has some artistic wisdom that outweighs his lack of teaching skills.

I arrived about ten minutes late. I was banking on the pace of the last class. My tardiness actually placed me ahead of schedule. I sat down next to the woman I befriended the previous week.

During our first encounter we had a lengthy conversation and discovered many similarities. We recently retired, taught first grade, and loved teaching literacy. So once I settled in with my painting board, paper, and paints, I was surprised when she turned to me and asked if I was retired. I paused. Is she kidding, I thought? Quickly I searched her face. It was obvious that she wasn’t. Then I smiled and repeated my response from the week before.
She commented, “Oh, you were a teacher too?
Then she proceeded to ask the same litany of questions as before and was equally surprised by each of my answers.
Hmmm I thought the “senior” in Senior University is becoming a reocurring staple.

Just as I began to resolve the fact that a lapse of memory is likely to be frequent among this population, the instructor stood up.

In the same booming voice, he called the class to order. Holding up the identical book from last week, he delivered the same speech. I was stunned as a moment of self doubt sunk. I began to think that perhaps I was in error and simply experiencing a case of déjà vu. While seeping deeper into confusion, the person on my left leaned toward me and whispered, “He already said that last week.” I stifled a giggle. After my head cleared, I nodded resolving to make this guy my new cam padre.

And  despite the quirkiness of the class environment I'll conclude with my first painting which is featured below.

Yeah, I know. But it's a start!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Retired On Course

I worried. I planned. I partied.  

And now I’m retired!

Am I having a blast? Well, a blast is not the coined phrase I would use. However, it is d*** delightful. Stress has nearly disappeared. I can awake each day at will. The freedom to structure my day at whim is exhilarating. And I often find myself bemused.

I signed up for a beginning watercolor course at the senior university. On the first day, I entered a room filled with people. I looked around but couldn’t see the instructor. For a moment, I thought I was in the wrong class. So I sat down. Thirty minutes later, a man stood up and called the beginners to the front of the room.
He wrote an illegible list of materials on a white board. A person n the back of the room shouted, “I can’t read it.” Then the instructor said he had a hand out but couldn’t find it. He paused, and scratched his head. Another person said they had a copy from a previous class. So he sent someone to make copies for us and began walking around the room talking with various students. Ten minutes later, he reappeared shouting for our attention and held up a book of illustrations. He gave us a history of his friendship with the author and some TMZ like tidbit that his mother in law had been a showgirl on one of the featured riverboats. This was followed by an announcement that if he suddenly left the room, not to take it personally. No one said a word. Finally he said he was incontinent and chuckled.

I sat stunned. Egad, I thought. I’ve taken a plunge down Alice’s rabbit hole. Is this what is meant by the “senior” in Senior University? Then I heard the words ring out, “Class dismissed.”

And so my retirement adventure’s begun…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Sur

I braced myself against the twists and turns of Highway 1. Leaning over the dashboard, I hoped to soak in the expanse of blue sky as it brushed the ocean waves. My reward was an advancing fog.
S***, I thought. I bragged for weeks about the incredulous scenery. I even emailed links with pictures of Big Sur to lure friends into celebrating my retirement. So what’s with this FOG! I vacillated between my ever present realism and conflicting optimism. Maybe it will burn off soon. But what if it doesn’t? I hope no one will be disappointed. Oh it doesn’t really matter. But, NO, it will spoil the view from Nepenthe. Then I heard Carolyn’s voice in the background happily chatting about the beauty of the redwoods and wild flowers. At the same time Robin was admiring the vastness of the rocky cliffs. I let out a sigh of relief. Accompanied by the soothing lyrics, of Carol King’s song “Way Over Yonder”, we coasted into the Big Sur Inn. At last, we arrived!

way over yonder
is a place that i know
where i can find shelter
from a hunger and cold
and the sweet tastin' good life
is so easily found a way over yonder, that's where i'm bound
We drove down a short bumpy road to our cottage nestled among the tall Redwoods and road dusted ferns. I looked up at the balcony and smiled as Tara and Cindy greeted us. Surprised, I wondered how they got there so fast. They must have left at some god awful hour. I was sure we would arrive before they did. It seemed strange to see them outside the utilitarian walls of Alvarado.

i know when i get there
the first thing i'll see
is the sun shining golden
shining right down on me
then trouble's gonna lose me
worry leave me behind…

After unloading, I walked up the narrow wooden stairs to join them. The disappointment of the fog was still ever present. When I got to the top of the stairs, I found them engaged in conversation while sipping on wine. Tara looked up with that familiar warm smile and commented in her southern drawl, “I love this place.” Downstairs Carolyn searched for a bottle opener to uncork some wine. Robin began to nestle in and organize the small cottage, while Maureen collapsed into an overstuffed chair and began to unwind. Soon we could hear Leslie’s jeep approaching. After spending a good part of the day pedaling along the northern coast she was bubbling with energy.
We began exploring the nooks and crannies of each room and claimed our beds. Like the buzz of a pesky mosquito, I still couldn’t swat my obsession with the fog out of my mind. Then I looked out of the window and saw the final five guests; Melina, Sovy, Lily, and Celeste. Their dear spirits and
laughter were approaching the cottage threshold to join us. And who was the fifth guest? Why that would be the soon to be born Samantha who was receiving an early indoctrination into celebrating life’s changes in style.

and i'll stand up proudly
in true peace of mind
talkin' about
talkin' about
a way over yonder
is a place i have seen
in a garden of wisdom
from some long ago dream
oh yeah

After greeting everyone, I walked along a footpath to a nearby water fall.
I stood quietly observing. The only audible sound was the water trickling into the ravine. Staring at the flowing water, my preoccupation with the fog gradually disappeared. I realized that much of my life has been wasted holding on to the past rather than focusing on the present. The cool air surrounded me along with the warmth of knowing so many dear friends took time to join me.Then I turned and followed the light emanating from the cabin windows vowing to welcome this opportunity to celebrate and let the weekend unfold in its own unique way. I wasn’t disappointed!

maybe tomorrow
i'll  find my way
to the land where the honey runs
in rivers each day
and the sweet tastin' good life
is so easily found
a way over yonder
that's where i'm bound
oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh oh
a way over yonder
that's where i'm bound.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Preparing to Party

Ditch day was packed with indulgences and definitely a success. But it was over. So the next morning I caught myself drifting into reliving the details. But, let’s face it, life doesn’t always allow us to remain at the pinnacle of our highs. My retirement potluck would begin at 5:00 p.m. which in translation meant I better get my **** together. I had to get moving. Preparing for a house filled with family and friends, ultimately would reap pleasure, but required WORK. Oy vay!

I fired up my cappuccino machine and decided to skip breakfast. The evening would be a caloric packed excursion through trays of appetizers. No need to start eating early. Then in my pre party manner, I began to spin while a litany of chores nagged me. I couldn’t decide if I should polish my nails or cut up the ingredients to my shrimp and mango appetizer. Should I rake the leaves in the backyard or iron my wrinkle free blouse? Maybe it would be better to trim the flower beds and sweep the leaves. Then clear out the refrigerator. YIKES! I needed to put an end to this. In order to avoid slipping into a walking comma and skipping the essentials or engaging in repeating the same tasks over and over again, I better get organized. So I sat down mid morning and forced myself to make a list.

Like the neurotic Toad in the children’s book, “Frog and Toad Forever”, I focused, gathered pencil and paper in hand and created a list including the following:

• Rake yard, sweep leaves, trim flower beds

• Iron 4 huge table cloths

• Clear out refrigerator debris

• Place Prosecco bottles in refrigerator

• Set out serving platters, napkins, plates, and eating utensils

• Make appetizers

• Iron outfit

• Put CD’s in player

• Relax

Yes, relax was my last item. There isn’t anything worse than a wound up hostess who is a buzz kill. If I didn’t include it, I might get confused like Toad and think I would have to skip it if it wasn’t on the list. Then, after getting dressed, I applied my face “I keep in the jar by the door”. (love those Beatles lyrics) Then I assumed a yoga posture and practiced some Asana breaths.

A shuffle of footsteps on the porch could be heard above my breathing. Then my sister, Carolyn, Judy and Robert entered, it warmed my heart to be greeted by those so dear to my heart. Offering to help, I directed them to the backyard and asked them to set up the tables. Did I mention I have tendonitis of the elbow? Not a convenient ailment to have when you have chores ahead of you. Dutifully they hauled the tables to opposite sides of the yard and under the tree. Snapping them in place, they spread the table cloths and placed a bouquet of spring flowers in the center of each.

I stopped and scanned the garden. Years of labor greeted me which now appeared whimsical and peacefully inviting. The arbors were laden with a peach blossom variety of bougainvillea. Sprinkles of yellow calliopsis surrounded the Saint Francis of Assisi statue, a commemorative to my mother. Wild irises guarded the herb garden while begonias stood at the base of the peach tree. The bathtub, a relic of the original bathroom, sat overflowing with a vine of tiny white and pink flowers. All were interlaced with an assortment of filler ferns, day lilies, and ground covers. Collectively they represented years of trial and error plantings generated by what caught my eye while on a walk or touring a garden. Some survived while others did not.
I entered teaching around the same time as I began tinkering in my garden. Both required long laborious hours. I spent much of my time cultivating lessons that could meet student needs. At the same time, I began to lay brick pathways in the garden to support comfortable walks from the house to the garden and out to the garage. I felt invigorated when planting, weeding, watering, and trimming each plant yet exhausted. I felt similarly when assessing student need and preparing lessons. I grew in my knowledge of how to maintain and care for my garden as well as my students. Sometimes my efforts were thoughtful and well planned. Other times I simply got the job done. I didn’t realize how the garden paralleled my own journey toward retirement. I gradually developed skills to nuture both This garden that looked back at me was now at a maintenance level and so was I.

Satisfied I went back in the house, slipped in a few nostalgic 50”s and 60’s CD’s and prepared to party on with the wonderful family and friends I collected over the years.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Not so Ritzy Ritz

Our next stop was the Ritz Carlton which required a change of clothes. I hoped the silk blouse I brought would blend in with the elegance of our, soon to be, surroundings. We coasted into the parking lot.

I scoped out a secluded place under a shade tree and pulled into the designated spot. My plan was to change in the car which was, oh so, tacky but reflective of my ying and yang personality. Karen served as my lookout. I began yanking and tugging my t- shirt over my head while attempting to preserve some form of discretion. Once it slipped past my chin, I held it in front of what is commonly called racks, but in my case, would be more accurately described as miniscule shelves. I grabbed my blouse in the other hand and proceeded to clench, squeeze, and pack my flesh into it. It was not an easy job. In my youth I had much less mass to maneuver. At this age I felt as comfortable as an elephant seal attempting to slide across the shore.
We grabbed our purses and headed for the entry. I couldn’t believe that I was about to enter this region of royalty. Considering that the dining experiences of my youth consisted of eating at Newberry’s faux marble linoleum counter, I was mesmerized. Karen and I were dwarfed by the majestic arched ceilings. To the right and left of us were enormous planters containing larger than life tropical flowers of perfection. We wondered if they were changed daily, such opulence. The carpet was deep and rich in color. I expected that, any minute, someone might tap me on the shoulder and shout, “Imposter”, while escorting me out. Then I caught my image in the floor to ceiling mirror. UGH!!! It had to be an illusion. I know my girth has increased over the years, but not to that degree. Then I looked at Karen’s reflection which clearly indicated the images I perceived were, in fact, the real McCoy.

We stepped up to the hostess and gave her our name. While I felt confident at our previous two stops, here I hesitated. Yet I bravely stepped forward and announced with the same enthusiasm, “This is the first day of our retirement.” The hostess, who could be my granddaughter, responded with a vacuous look and replied, “That’s nice.” Then we were told that our table wasn’t ready yet, but we could have a drink and appetizer in the patio overlooking the ocean.
OK... so I wasn't successful at the not so ritzy Ritz. Who would have thought an organization dripping in obvious wealth could be so tight fisted in the light of our accomplishment. I would just have to drown my sorrows in a martini.
We continued down a corridor in pursuit of the patio. I half expected the Queen might make an entrance at any time. While playing out the details of my fantasy, I realized the pity of it all. Isn’t she still working? And how old is she anyway? Why that broad will never experience the grace of retirement while I am free to live a life of whimsy. So now who has the power?
A cool breeze greeted us as we entered an elegant outdoor patio. A martini seemed the perfect way to celebrate while enjoying the extravagant surroundings. Once we ordered our drinks, waves of pure joy washed over me. Up to this point, my life was locked into meeting my obligations. It seemed unbelievable our day of indulgences truly marked a transition into freedom. Freedom of opportunity and choice. I remarked to Karen, “Oh my god, the only pressure I will feel from now on will be self imposed. I certainly know how to manage that.” Then the waiter returned and set our raspberry and lemon martinis before us. We lifted our glasses and sealed our day long adventure with a customary clink and mouth-watering sip. Perfecto!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On to the Shacks

Once our breakfast was inhaled and dessert consumed, we began the required trek up four rickety flights of wooden stairs to the parking lot.
The sun was now unrelentingly beating down upon us. Karen appeared dry browed and unfazed by the heat. I, on the other hand, was determined not to be deterred by the beads of sweat that were simultaneously pouring down my brow, midriff and underarms. Instead I called upon that steel core reserve of mine and pressed down upon each step in anticipation of the last. Sometimes while on the road to pleasure we have to pay a price. Verdad?
At last we arrived at the top. I took several deep breaths, grateful that I would soon be seated in the comfort of the car and off to our next stop.

Within minutes we approached, what appeared to be, a pocket sized museum.
As we entered, I looked toward the counter prepared to pay our entry. Standing behind it was a young man who appeared to be getting smaller as we approached. A blond surfer type, he looked up. You could almost see a residue of salt from the sea perched upon his upper lip. How could someone this young be employed at the museum I wondered? He smiled. Hmm…My recent experience at the Beachcomber emboldened me. I paused. Then stepped forward, and with my most enthusiastic voice blurted out that this was the first day of our retirement. And, I added, we chose to come to your museum. I swear the salt residue disappeared as he smiled broadly and inquired about our professions. Again we replied that we were teachers. Our response elicited the same reaction as our hostess and waiter at the Beachcomber. He turned to his coworker. They both gave each other a knowing glance, and then agreed that the admittance would be wavered. Once again we rode on a wave of fond memories they held of teachers or members of their families who served in the profession. It was a refreshing welcome after being exposed to years of misguided and unflattering media coverage. Gratefully, we entered with a new sense of importance.

At this juncture, it might be helpful to mention one of my flaws. Although I am oblivious to them, my closest friends and family can easily point them out. I tend to deny most, but have recognized and learned to live with others. One, in particular, is incurable. There is something in the core of my essence that creates an aura of expectation that far exceeds reality. In essence I am a dreamer. Before our jaunt down the coast, I anticipated a colorful vibrant display of paintings much as one would encounter in the Jeu de Paume. Yet as we began our trek through the postage stamp museum, a flood of disappointment shrouded me. These were not the anticipated Impressionist colors flashing before me. In fact this exhibit was quite dull in comparison. My eyes scanned several rooms filled with shacks. That’s right. SHACKS!!! Shacks as in shanties. A collection of wood strewn debris reconstructed into dwellings of various themes.
Which brings to mind another flaw, my attention span. It is fleeting when faced with obscure art. I struggled to focus while my internal dialogue became fixed on, “What is this? Is there a point? I don’t get it” Eventually I gave in and climbed the steps into another wing which surely would feature a different theme. Instead I stumbled across yet another SHACK!!! I paused and noted that this one was different. It held my attention. A postcard of donkeys, emblazoned with the word Administration, was displayed above the entry. I laughed out loud. I had something in common with this artist, a shared opinion of management. I held the same visual of the upper echelon of the school district. I noted each artifact the artist used to build his dwelling was a collection of discarded objects. Then I stopped in front of the placard of the artist George Herms. Apparently he was the creator of Found Art during the beat generation. His love for the discards of society, trash, resulted its reassemblage into a work of beauty. I had been under the impression that Found Art was a contemporary art form. Instead I discovered it was a by product of his association with the Beat Generation. I walked away from the museum with a new appreciation for this art form. In fact I contemplated contacting the artist to offer my self up as a found sexagarian who wished to be reassembled in to a new improved object de arte.  It was well worth the entry fee.
A Hermes Creation

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two Cheshire Cats

Karen and I climbed the wooden steps and on to the deck of the Beachcomber. We were seated at a corner table that overlooked the ocean. I paused for a moment and watched the rhythmic crashing of the waves and their slow retreat. It was a clear day. Glancing up and down the coast, I delighted in the view of the shallow tide pools and jagged steep bluffs.

The hostess set our menus down before us, but the glare of the sun sent me scrambling through my purse in search of my sunglasses. Clutching them between my fingers, I slipped them on before scanning the breakfast choices. Conveniently I forgot my obsession with losing weight and decided upon the, everything on it, Beachcomber omelet.

Then a tall lanky young man with a shock of dark curly hair introduced himself as our waiter. He was polite but impersonal. His tone couldn’t penetrate my glow as I reflected upon the fact that my colleagues were now working in their classrooms while I sat in the sunlight contemplating whether or not to order champagne. He quickly took our orders including my request for champagne at nine o’clock in the morning.

Just before he turned and left, I looked up and announced with a lilt in my voice, “This is the first day of our retirement.” He looked surprised. Then with such warmth, he asked us our professions. When I responded, teachers, his previous indifference diluted completely. His mother was a teacher too he replied with obvious pride. Then he congratulated us. Shortly thereafter he returned with the hostess and introduced us. They both stepped closer and set a slice of their famous cinnamon French toast with a single candle in the center. I didn’t think anything could heighten my sense of joy, but this gesture from strangers who delighted in our passage into leisure brought me to a higher level. Sometimes our southern California culture with its impersonal walls creates a sense of remoteness reinforcing our separateness rather than our commonality. Moments like this remind me of our connectedness with others.

After making a wish and blowing out our candles, Karen and I sat perched on the edge of our new adventure looking like duplicates of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

It caused me to recall the exchange between Alice and the cat. “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree, ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go,’ was his response. ‘I don’t know’, Alice answered. ‘Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.’” And so it seemed as we sat in the afterglow of our breakfast. Indeed it didn’t matter. This freedom offered more opportunity than I ever imagined.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Texting on a Ditch

I awoke tingling with excitement. I clicked on the light and rushed into the kitchen to brew up a cup of cappuccino which is one of my “can’t skip it” routines.
Then I shuffled upstairs for one of my early morning rituals, a bath; gotta clean up for ditch day. I needed to hurry, slip on some clothes, and grab a piece of toast. This was a beat the clock morning. The plan was to meet Karen, my chosen partner in crime, at 7:30 a.m. The crack of dawn departure was to avoid any of my colleagues from showing up at my house and dragging me to the last day luncheon. I played the sly undercover game with them. When anyone would say, “You’re coming to the luncheon, right.” I would reply, “Uh `huh,” while delivering it with an affirmative tone. Yet a careful listener could detect that an evening out of the accent could actually produce, “Uh Uh,” which is a subtle, but barely discernible, no. Lying is not a comfortable position for me. But I can slide into a Clinton version of the truth or lack of it and walk away with an unscathed conscience.

When the idea of a ditch day was first presented, Karen got busy and chartered an entire day of fun including: breakfast at the Beachcomber, a visit to the Laguna Museum of Art, and lunch at the Ritz Carlton.
I pulled up at Karen’s house.
She approached the car with an expression of someone who had won the lottery and with good reason. She retired as well as I, but her day of freedom started two days earlier. She slid into the seat next to me. I turned and announced, “O.K. Thelma. We’re not going to careen off the edge of a cliff, but are you ready to push the accelerator to the floor board and grab that breakfast at the Beach Comber?” “I’m always ready to eat, Carol”, was her reply. You could feel the mounds of tension from our combined 63 years of service as teachers evaporate as we sped down Pacific Coast Highway. It was as if we had hit the fountain of youth and dropped back into our early twenties with its accompanying vastness of opportunities spread before us.

Soon I turned and asked if she would take over the wheel. I explained my plan to text my teacher friends a salutation timed to go off during the faculty meeting. Then I chuckled over the vision of all the messages pinging and ringing at once while the principal was delivering his message. Karen threw me a barely tolerable look. I’m not sure if it was my immaturity, inappropriate tech obsession, or both that elicited her response but she agreed to drive for awhile. I giggled on and defended myself with an, “I gotta be me,” statement. Transparency is the companion of good friendship.

The trouble I faced which is not uncommon among texters is a new phone. I couldn’t figure out how to punch out the message. I knew I better solve it soon since the meeting was about to begin. The stop and go of the brakes reflecting the recent construction in the area set my stomach into queasy. That motivated me into getting the job done quickly. Eventually I pecked out~

I ditched. I’m following Tara’s footsteps. On my way to the Ritz Carlton.

Then I clicked the names of the recipients and pressed send. What I noticed was that the message was sent sequentially rather than simultaneously which was even better. The cacophony of ringers would create a crescendo effect of distraction. Content, I sat back and enjoyed the scenery.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Dork No More

Fortunately, over the years, that uptight teenage girl was transformed. Blame it on the fact that I liberated myself from my parent’s influence and actually moved out. This happened during the sixties which launched a lifting of my world view. The culture, music, strivings for equality and efforts for peace, pushed me beyond my black and white thinking.
I had no desire to sit at attention in a stark room with peeling paint again simply because it was the right thing to do. Once I tasted choice, I never went back.

So how does this tie into my retirement? I realized the last day of my career would be spent pupil free. I would be expected to enter data into school records, prepare work samples to give to all the student’s new teachers, and attend the last day luncheon.

Ugh! It was the luncheon that revulsed me.I knew the score on that one. People would stand up and say nicety things while I cringed. Then there would be the goodbyes. And I hate goodbyes. I would rather be drizzled in fat, pan fried, and served as the main dish. I wanted to leave quietly. 

This wasn't the time to slide back into my old childhood ways. I had a alternate plan. I could negotiate for what I wanted and, at the same time, redeem my dorky past. Fifty years later, I would join those with the spirit of adventure. I would  DITCH! That’s right I would fling aside my compulsion to act appropriately. I would escape. I knew just the right person to accompany me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Digging up the Bones

The final day of school was fast approaching I began to dust off the artifacts of my past in order to  piece together the essence of the "me" before I chose teaching as a career. While digging up these old bones, I uncovered a relic that reflected the crescendo of my teenage life as a dork. That's right dork, one who experiences uneasiness living in one’s flesh. A person who doesn’t beat to one’s own drum but can’t even find a drum to beat...

It was the last day of my junior year of high school, I sat in choir waiting for class to begin. A voice rang out over the loudspeaker.
It was rare to be interrupted during instructional time. It sounded official, but not familiar. The voice started by congratulating the senior class for its academic excellence and outstanding citizenship. Other accolades were mentioned of which I can’t remember. Then it exclaimed that, as a reward, the entire student body was dismissed. At first, an eerie hush swept over the class. Then a deafening cheer rang through out the school. Students bolted from their chairs. I watched familiar bodies pressing to squeeze through the door frame. Some carried expressions of disbelief while others looked as though the just pressed off on a descent down a Raging Water slide. But a few of us lingered. Dutifully we sat in our chairs and looked up at our teacher. He was stunned. “That wasn’t official,” he announced. Then he reached for the intercom phone and called the office. "Uh huh. Yes. Really, who was it? A student! Unbelievable.” When he hung up, he turned to us and said, “You need to stay here. Go to your classes as usual.” A military brat, it never occurred for me to do anything but what I was told. The dork in me stayed. Yet as I eyed the other students back sides racing through the door and out into a world of freedom, another part of me wished I had joined them.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Count Down

It was 7:50 a.m. As I walked up the grey slanted ramp to my classroom, a feeling of disbelief overcame me. Gees, I thought, just thirty more turns of the key in the lock and tugs on the door, and I’m out of here. These last few months seemed like a blur. Then, while balancing my coffee cup, I slipped the key in the lock and yanked the door open. Once inside the students clambered around me vying for my attention. “My momma’s gonna have a baby.” “Look at my new shoes.” “Teacher, I like your dress.” A little finger with a miniscule scrape is thrust in my face as a voice rings out, “I’m bleeding.” One child offers me a smudged and crumbled piece of paper. “Here’s my homework.” My chest tightened as I absorbed the call of so many. I always wished I had the energy and stamina to meet the needs of each scrubbed and unscrubbed face that looked up at me throughout my career. Today was no different. I took a deep breath.

My eyes circled the room. The white board, word wall, art work, student writing, math, and science bulletin boards decorating the walls of this bungalow, that housed so many students over the years, soon would be torn down and enter my past. A sense of relief mixed with hesitancy overcame me. It marked the beginning of shedding “the teacher” and reclaiming the person that lived years before deciding upon a teaching career. Then I walked to my teaching chair, called the class to order, and began the day.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pontificating Potluck

Once I reached the stage of celebrating, it kept on growing. I knew I wanted others to join me including family, friends, and colleagues who worked at my first school. What could be casual enough for me to feel comfortable and enjoyable for everyone else? Immediately I thought of a potluck. Potlucks have always held a warm place in my heart. They have been a way to mark changes and share food, as well as, catch up on each other’s lives. Since we have grown in closeness, age, and broadening girths over the past twenty five years, a potluck featuring everyone’s favorite appetizer seemed perfect. Nibbling on small morsels of tasty food would be just right.

I envisioned everyone gathering around the dining room table, sampling the shared treats while joining in on conversation. When my sister heard of my plans, she immediately offered to provide Prosecco, Italian champagne. Now that would add a party spirit and a little reminder of Tuscany. The plans seemed solid, so I created an Evite, and watched the names in the confirmation column roll in.

Weeks later, my plans kept growing. I began to chuckle, as a thought occurred to me. Wouldn’t it be great to have a corner of my yard devoted to “Old Geezer” games? Everyone could play these games and help me transtion into the spirit of retirement. I knew horse shoes is typically an older person’s game. So I spoke to a friend who loaned me her antique set. That made it even more fitting. I considered shuffle board, but that was too complicated to set up. Bingo was a must. Again, my sister stepped up. A few days after she heard my idea, there was a knock on my door. There she stood with a retirement bingo game. Great!  I decided that card games were another must. I caught myself laughing whenever I was hit with a visual of my friends playing a circuit of geriatric games.
While in public, these giggles would raise a few eyebrows. In the past, I would have felt a tinge of embarrassment. Instead, I thought, Who cares! Aren't seniors allowed to live outside the typical social constraints? I can laugh myself silly if I want.
The anxieties I experienced in the earlier phase of my decision to retire faded. I was too busy for that nonsense. I had to  immerse myself in preparing for these parties

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hmmm How to Celebrate!

Over the years, I have hosted many retirement parties in my home. Typically the invitation was posted and all were welcome. Former principals were contacted and gave testimony to the person’s career accomplishments. In some cases it turned into a hilarious roast. Yet I’m not one for pomp and circumstance. Nor do I like to be the center of attention. Thoughts of a traditional party caused me to want to duck and cover.

Each day I glanced at my retirement clock and watched the numbers move to the negative. Time was closing in. I hadn’t formally let the entire staff know of my plans to retire. Although I didn’t want to go out in the typical way, a small voice echoed inside me. ‘You can’t just walk away, go home, and read a book. You know the value of acknowledging important crossings. Where is that person who planned a party when turning 50? What happened to the woman who invited friends to reign in her 60th at a farmhouse in Tuscany?’ Then I quickly shoved the issue into the recesses of my mind and went on about my day.
One morning I awoke with such clarity. Big Sur was it. I could invite those who shared a kindred spirit to join me. That is where I wanted to celebrate. It was the perfect place. The contrast of the soothing sound of the ocean crashing against a craggy weather beaten coast was metaphorical. In my life, there were times when I faced overwhelming challenges only to be soothed by the comforting support of others. When standing on the edge of the Big Sur Coast, the synergy of these forces has always energized me and, at the same time, brought me peace. A sense of excitement overcame me. I couldn’t wait to travel up the coast into this piece of paradise.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


I can recall the slightest nuances of my surroundings the morning of 911: the darkness of the room before sunlight, the fabric of the blouse I wore, even the color of my shoes. I turned the T.V. on and left the room as the newscaster’s startled voices rose to a pitch. I rushed back to witness the impact of a plane as it hit the Twin Towers. I watched the replay over and over again stunned. When an image of the second plane entered the screen and crashed, its impact was more devastating than the first. It was clear that our country had been attacked. Then those massive buildings collapsed into an enormous cloud of dust, a moving remnant of the remains. The horror on the faces of those it chased throughout the New York streets, stole my sense of security. While they raced for refuge, I longed for a retreat as well.

With most disasters, one can file away the images and return to routine. The impact is short-lived. This was different. The reports of security blunderings and rise of extremists were alarming. Our lives were not temporarily changed. This was permanent. The constant diet of report after report left me feeling disheartened about humanity and the future. The political world appeared disconnected from reality. There was a residue of uneasiness and uncertainty. The remnants of 911 spread from days into months into years.

Some years later, on a Saturday evening, I turned on CNN. The images of ordinary people moved across the screen. It drew my attention. I leaned in. These people were being honored for extraordinary contributions to humanity. Their humble backgrounds were being outlined along with the pivotal point in wich they decided to make a commitment to relieve other's sufferings. I choked up hearing how each had taken a step outside themselves to notice a unique need. Not only did they see a crack in our social strata but their hearts lead them to take the necessary steps to make a change. Each one’s contribution was unique. Each brought comfort and help to the forgotten. My spirits lifted.

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
- Mother Theresa
My Retirement Plan would be incomplete if I failed to make a contribute to others. How could I make an impact upon the world even if it were microscopic? The heroes and I were separated by one factor. They took action. I wanted to do the same. Volunteer became my last column.

I am drawn to working at Crystal Cove as a docent in the tide pools. The intricate balance of life in those habitats and the the geology surrounding them interests me. I could combine my teaching background with a new adventure. Teaching children a reverence for living things would ripple into the future. So I included Crystal Cove in the column.
The lack of financial support for teachers, due to our current financial crisis, leaves many of my teaching friends without support. Since reading is my area of interest, I plan to help organize their reading programs. I typed Alvarado under Crystal Cove.

There is another area I would like to explore. I have a desire to volunteer for an organization or political cause that advances the welfare of children. Right now it is an unknown Yet as I volunteer in these other areas, I will wait for it to reveal itself.

Stare into a bucket of water until your reflection appears. Then gently pour the reflection out onto the ground. Soon it will evaporate and become a cloud. Then it will rain and you will be part of the great cycle of replenishments and growth.

--Michael Leung

The structure of my plan is complete. Yet it is just that, a plan, a start. It remains on my desktop as a guide. I intend for it to be flexible and serve as a resource. As I put it into practice, I will delete those that are not a match and include others in its place.

Hmm…I just reread it. I need a nap!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Loss and Spiritual Quest

The real voyage of discovery
consists not in seeing new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.

~ Marcel Proust ~

After the death of my mother and ex-husband, I felt abandoned. The mystery of life itself possessed me. One late afternoon, I cut a lily from a plant once preened by my mother. It's slick stem, broad venous white petal, and deep yellow stamen enraptured me. While slipping it into a water filled vase, I was struck by the inexplicable. This lily plant, formerly nutured by my mother, had outlived her. How could that be?

I traveled the old haunts my ex and I once rollicked. Sand that had seeped between our toes and swept against our faces continued to rearrange itself in the shifting currents of the beach breezes. That sand now grated against my skin.

While driving throughout the city of my childhood, the grayness of familiar concrete streets stretched out before me, a solid reminder that life ultimately betrays us. Jaunts we frequented still stood upright. But he remained a shadow in my mind. This promise of life appeared so hollow.

Late one night, while walking along the boardwalk , a cold breeze pressed against my cheeks. As the union of my mother and father’s flesh encased me, my path was lit by the soft reflection of the sun upon an otherwised darkened moon. The contrast of these bodies was ominous. Looking out upon the water that night, I reconciled with the inequity of my existence. I was determined to defy death’s separation. Although the presence of those I loved had darkened, I would serve as a source of light. I would invite my mother and ex into my new life. Not morbidly but in a comfortng way. I would live life for three.

Spirituality was another area I wanted to explore in retirement. Yet I struggled to add entries to this column. It would have to remain open. As a child I was raised in a fundamental religious household. Like all children, I was a literalist. I accepted the teachings of my childhood at face value. As I grew, so did my awareness of  the vastness of other religions. The inconsistencies of  mine began to haunt me. I do crave a spiritual community. So far I have not found one. I would have to be content with the act of exploring rather than arriving.
Carl Jung’s observation rings true…
The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.