Italy, the Agony and Ecstasy

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Last fall my thirteen year old grandson surprised me with a reminder that I had given his sister a trip anywhere she wanted to go with a friend for an eighth grade graduation gift before she started high school in the fall. Alexis and her friend Haley had chosen a trip to Ft Lauderdale for the week before school started in August. Giuliano would graduate from eighth grade the next May and join his sister in high school so it was his turn.

“Oh that’s right,” I said,  never dreaming what would come next. “Where would you like to go ?”

“Italy,” he quickly replied.IMG_3621

I was stunned. My mind awhirl, I swallowed hard. As the shock began to wear off I warmed to the idea. I had been thinking about another Italy trip for the last couple of years since mom had died. Why not one with the kids?

“Sounds great!” I said , “but we’ll have to include your sister.”  I had told her about her trip gift in June when she graduated and she never thought of anything outside the US. Neither did I. It would only be fair to include her now.

“Sure,” he said. He and his sister had always been as close as a brother and sister could be.

So it began. I had seven months to put it together. I knew I wanted the trip to be long enough to make it worthwhile and allow them to truly experience the beauty and depth of Italy.

A few weeks later I was talking with, Joan, my sister in law and told her what I was planning. She was excited and wanted all the details. The more I told her about my tentative itinerary, the more involved she became.

“Would you like to go with us.” I asked, “how long could you be away from your work?”

“I’d love to, I could probably be gone for three weeks,” She said. “I’ve always wanted to go to Padova. You know St Anthony  is from there and has been my patron saint for a long time. I remembered how over the years Joan had always called on St. Anthony whenever she needed or lost something. “Have you been to Venezia or Roma,” I asked. “No, neither one, but I’d like to.” I cautioned her and asked her to give it some serious thought on what it would be like traveling with a 14 and 16 year old. She had always been great with my kids and grandkids one on one but this would be an intense three weeks living intimately together. “That will be okay,” she said. “We can share some of the expenses and it will be fun.”

It was settled, we would leave as soon as the kids got out of school in May 2016.  I dug out all my old Italy travel books and took them to the kids to peruse and choose things they wanted to be sure and see.

The first thing I discovered was that airfares went up dramatically after May 15th. The prices started over $2300 apiece. I was shocked. I hadn’t dreamed it would be that expensive. When I had gone the last time it was $8-900. roundtrip to Milano. I’d definitely have to work on my budget with three tickets to buy. I had always traveled off season in the past.  I started checking all the angles including fares from major cities. I could save a couple of hundred per ticket going from NYC, Phoenix or even Denver. Phoenix would be the most practical since it was only a 6 hour drive and I wouldn’t have the second airfare leg. These flights were all on foreign airlines and I checked their safety ratings online but install left me feeling a little nervous. I decided to wait to book anything until we got closer to May. We still had six months.

I started thinking about an itinerary and accommodations. I wanted to move as infrequently a possible. Packing and unpacking are my least favorite activities when I travel. Joan agreed and I began looking for central locations to areas we wanted to visit. If we stayed in Padova we could do day trips to Venezia, Verona and. Bologna.

My previous trips in Italy with my youngest son when he had graduated from high school and later with my daughter when she finished her Masters degree  had been road trips. Thanks to my son who was adamant that he wouldn’t go on an organized tour I learned how to plan and organize  an itinerary that suited our interests and allowed for flexibility for when we wanted to linger and when we wanted to move on quickly.

Hotels were costly and only included breakfast. With two teenagers meals would be my biggest expense after airfare. I started looking for timeshare trades through RCI, a timeshare organization I am a member of through my timeshare ownership. Although I’d had friends who had done these types of trades I had no luck. Then I thought of extended stay apartments like we have here that include a small  kitchen and living area. I found a website, http://www.Booking.com  that had a filter for apartments and quickly found just what I was looking for. There were numerous ratings to read from other travelers that were very helpful. I searched for ones that had no complaints about the things really important to us. For the grand teens WIFI was number one since they wouldn’t be able to use their cell data while we were gone. We had to have parking for a rental car and I was also hoping for availability to laundry facilities at our later locations. We would be packing light in order to fit the four of us and luggage into a reasonable sized rental car and a laundry would be essential at least once in three weeks and preferably twice.

I checked the school calendar and saw the last day would be May 25th. My airfare searches revealed that the cheapest day to leave would be Sunday, May 29th and that would give everyone a chance to get packed and see friends after school let out without unnecessary pressure.

The first accommodations I booked was Apartmento Rosa in Padova for May 30-June 4.  It was a two bedroom with a kitchen. I was a little nervous but the website advertised no charges in advance and no cancellation fees if cancelled a week before our scheduled arrival. I scheduled it for five nights since we had several places we wanted to visit nearby.

At this point I decided to check in with the kids to see if they had found any “must see” places. It was like pulling teeth. The only thing I could get out of them was that they wanted to attend an opera and they wanted to see the leaning tower in Pisa. My work was cut out for me.

I started checking opera seasons near the areas we would be visiting and  places to stay. It looked like Rome would be our best bet and we would be there the longest since there was so much to see in the vicinity. The next challenge was to find a place close enough for a day trip to both Pisa and Firenze.

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Our trip would begin at Malpensa Airport near Milano. Most flights I’d found would arrive in the morning so we’d have plenty of time to pick up a rental car and head to our first stop in Padova. From there in the days that followed we’d be able to take a day trip to Venezia after exploring Padova and Verona nearby.

With our first stay booked and the next stop near Pisa and Firenze planned I chose a wonderful location on the west coast in Castiglioncello. It was a short walk to the beach and had a swimming pool. The kids will love this. I thought. Villagio Mietta was a complex of duplex style apartments and we found out when we arrived, it even included a garage for the car! It was a two bedroom like Apartmento Rosa and, of course, wifi was included.

I was on a roll and decided to move ahead and make the reservation for  our stay in Roma. There was a lovely apartment building near the transportation terminal that looked , in the pictures online, like a great location and included parking. This was a real premium since parking could be as much as $25+ a day in Roma and of course,it had wifi. With the the booking completed I decided to email their office and ask about proximity to the opera theater. Laura replied “you’re so fortunate, La Traviata is being performed NOW! I’m sending the online ticket link.” I jumped on it and immediately went to the site. There were some excellent seats still available in the sixth row from the orchestra at a great price. June 5th was the last performance until July and I snapped them up. This was going to be such an incredible trip. I sent the confirmations and opera ticket news to Joan in California.

The tickets were sent UPS and arrived in THREE DAYS. I was blown away and re-ignited to finish up all the reservations. I wanted to make a stop in Ravenna to see the Mosaics again. I remembered how amazing they were when my son and I had visited twenty years earlier. When I went online to research what else was in that area that we might like to see and do I discovered that the Ferrari Museum, track and factory  was less than a hour away. The kids would love that. There was even a driving simulator available!  One of the resorts was a short drive outside Ravenna on east side of the peninsula on the beach. After a week in Roma it would be great to get away from city life and be near a beach again. This stay would be at Lido Adriano, Aurora Residences,  also a nice two bedroom, kitchen, parking, laundry facilities and wifi.

That left one last booking. I wanted to be close to the airport to keep our last day as stress free as possible. In searching Booking.com I found an Agriturismo site just 15 minutes from the Malpensa airport.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s, small scale farming in Italy became less profitable, and, as one might predict, farmers abandoned many farms to search for work in larger towns. But Italians value highly the traditions and produce of small scale production of food, and by 1985 a law defined Agriturismo, and many abandoned buildings and estates were restored, some for vacation homes, and many for agritourismo.  These aren’t just B&B’s or rural restored accommodations. They are active farms of many varieties. The one I booked near Oleggio, Cascina Aguzza, is a working farm that grows all sorts of berries and other produce as well as chickens for fresh eggs. It had wonderful reviews and I decided to book it for two nights and allow for a possible day visit to Milano before our trip home.IMG_5563

The snow covered Alps could be seen in the north in photos of the farm. It looked like the perfect end to our trip that would allow us to relax and breathe before the long plane trip home.

About two months before the trip I finally booked our air reservations. It totally took me by surprise when I discovered the ticket prices had dropped to just under $1400 apiece on American Airlines. No need to drive to Phoenix or fly with a little foreign airline. I was really delighted and relieved with the news and immediately booked our flight for May 29th returning on June 21st. I also booked the car on rentalcars.com and chose one that was advertised to hold 5 passengers and one large and one small bag. It was $357 for the three weeks and a day including  unlimited miles. For four of us that was a bargain as opposed to train fares. Of course we’d have to add gas to that.

The anticipation was delicious over the next two months. Finally the day came for us to go. We had an early morning flight to Dallas, a connection to Miami and then the flight to Milano to arrive at 9:30 AM on the 30th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pacific Northwest by Trains, Planes and Automobiles

After a short one hour flight San Diego complete with a free drink on Southwest Airlines due to the St. Parrick’s Day holiday, I changes planes to a flight to Seattle. All was going very well, I was pleased. With a 20 minute layover the gate for the second leg was half of a city block away. There was time for a pit stop in the ladies room and a few minutes before the boarding call. As I stood there waiting to board I considered my drink options. You’d think I was a real boozer but the truth of the matter is I’m a frugal bargain hunter working to get the biggest bang for my buck.
I decided on a Rum-Rita, a delicious concoction of Rum and margarita mix the had a nice kick and a delicious tango citrus. After the drink, some peanuts and a cracker/pretzel snack pack I stretched back as much as the tight seating afforded and took a short nap. I’d been up since 5:30 AM in order to get my almost 4 mile daily walk in, finish up the last minute prep for the trip and await my youngest son’s arrival to ferry me to the airport. I was definitely due for some z’s before landing and the 140+ mile drive to Vancouver BC.

I had booked a rental car so I’d have transportation available to do some sight seeing while there and the care and air fare to Seattle were a better bargain that air to Vancouver.
We landed to a brilliant sunny day, blue skies unheard of in March on the coast of BC. I was really lucking out. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. The car pick up went smoothly. They gave me “pick of the litter” in my price category after trying to talk me into an upgrade and adding additional insurance. I chose a nice shiny black, freshly washed Nissan Sentra and headed out toward I5 North to Vancouver. After two hours on the road I had only traveled as far as Burlington . Traffic had been bumper to bumper on I-5 at no more than 25 mph. I could’t imagine where all the traffic was going or where it was coming from and by then it was after 4 PM. The GPS was predicting another two and a half hours to Vancouver. I hadn’t been able to figure out how to move the seat back into a less than perpendicular position and my hip joints and back were screaming in protest. I couldn’t pull over due to the heavy traffic and difficulty with making a lane change.IMG_4132
Finally traffic thinned out and I kicked it up to 65 or 100 kpm as the sign indicated once I crossed over into Canada.
I finally arrived at the apartment I’d be staying in for the week and after unpacking and a few moments to regroup I set out to a grocery for some provisions for the evening and breakfast. After a day of nothing but airline peanuts, crackers and a hard boiled egg and cheese stick I’d packed I was famished.

I checked with the front desk and found an IGA grocery only four blocks away. It felt good to get out and stretch my legs and breathe the moist crisp air. The sidewalk was filled with other walkers and I noticed there was a true bicycle lane with separating curbing from the motorized traffic. Many cyclists passed by as I strode toward my destination. I opened the door to a complete deli and produce department with a great variety of fruits and vegetables. Prices were a bit steep but I had to do a quick mental gyration to convert Canadian dollars to US currency. The exchanges rate was about $1.28 Canadian to $1.00 US. I selected some berries, avocado, romaine and zucchini. They had an extensive baked goods area that included multigrain breads and rolls of all kinds as well as muffins and pastries. I chose a lovely warm loaf of seeded multigrain bread. Across from the breads I discovered an escalator to an upper level where there were all sorts of dairy, meat and canned offerings. I decided on a box of linguini and a jar of sauce, a container of Greek yogurt, some butter for the bread, a nice dark roast, fair-trade coffee and some lemon curd for a treat.

After paying for my choices, I headed back to our room. The day had been a sunny one. The sidewalks were dry and there was still a slight bit of sunlight peeping through the clouds at the horizon. I loved the room we had gotten. It was on the 21st floor and on the southeast corner of the building with a view down the street to the waterfront. The dining table sat in an alcove with floor to ceiling windows on two sides and breathtaking views of the city lights.

View at dinner

View at dinner

My companion on the trip had a full itinerary of things she wanted to do and see. Since I had been to Vancouver before I was willing to have chose our activities for each day. I’d met her about three years earlier but had only seen her on an occasional basis. I felt confident that we would travel well together.

When I got back I started a supper of sautéed zucchini in marinara sauce over the linguini. Delizioso! We sampled some of the bread toasted and it was outstanding too. It was a perfect end to the day. We decided to light the gas fireplace and curl up on the cozy chairs to read and listen to music for a little while before retiring.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny and we headed out to the University of British Columbia camp to visit the Anthropology Museum and the Nitobe Japanese tea gardens.

The museum was amazing. I highly recommend the docent tour. It was rich with information about the Pacific Northwest native peoples, their art and culture.

Traveling to new places can be very relaxing and mind expanding at the same time. I’ve always loved to travel and see new places and people. When I’m away I can really let go of all the day to day responsibilities. When I’m home I can’t sit still. There’s always some chore calling me. This trip will be just what I needed.

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Indigenous Peoples Map

Fathers

It was Christmas eve and I knelt in the pew facing the candle lit wreath behind the altar. There was a warm glow surrounding everything and the nativity display was in place. The church was filled for the first time since Easter.
The warmth of families and love radiated from every direction. After the infant Jesus was placed in the manger we all stood for the opening prayer. There was a family of four in front of me, soon to be five from the looks of the mom.
The mass proceeded on track and after listening intently to the readings, there was a beautiful homily about family. My mind started to drift to my own family and the tremendous gratitude I felt for this blessing in my life. The ritual of the mass allowed me to drift into thoughts of the years of small children filling our home and many past Christmases.
The young boy in front of me snuggled up to his father and reached his small arm across his back, barely reaching halfway. All of a sudden I as filled with the awareness of the comfort and love this boy felt for his dad. There was a sense of security and constancy in his gesture.

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I reflected on my four children’s childhood without a father and what that loss had meant in their lives. I could only be aware of the outer manifestations and not how their inner thoughts and feelings were affected. They had said very little even when I brought it up. My own father had been emotionally absent and that absence gave me some idea of that lack in the lives of Nicky, Arlynn, Tony and Eddie.
A sense of grief and longing filled my heart with pain and my eyes with tears for what that absence had meant in my own life. Never feeling loved unconditionally or good enough as a person, not being worthwhile.
My relationship with my faith and Jesus grew in my early teens and gave me the comfort and security that had been lacking in my heart. Later I was blessed with a husband who gave me the total acceptance I had longed for that filled me and allowed me to find my gift and the confidence to become all I was intended to be.
Soon I would become a single parent after my beloved husband was lost in the war in Vietnam and our beautiful children would experience life without a father.
No matter how much I wanted to fill that emptiness for them, it just wasn’t possible. I was the mom and that was all there was to it. I had my own personality and character traits and their dad had his. We were a good balance of introvert and extrovert, quiet and noisy. My children needed that balance and difference of characteristics to bounce off. They also needed an emotionally present parent full time. I couldn’t always be there for them with a home and job to manage. The many responsibilities of parenting are too much for one person and the perspective of a dad is critical to forming a well rounded child.
Sometimes this void can be filled by grandfather, uncle or other caring male family member but that isn’t always possible. Somehow my boys knew internally what was needed and are wonderful fathers to their children. It gives me great joy to watch the play and spend learning and quiet times with their children, both boys and girls.
Fathers are a blessing to their children that we must always recognize and value.

Sleep

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We all need it, sometimes long for it, delight in it and relish the sweetness of it. Some need eight hours or more and some people get by on six. There are medical studies devoted to sleep now. Doctors have realized how important sleep is for all of us and even the impact it has on weight management and the functioning of our endocrine system. I’m more interested on what it does for me and how it makes me feel.

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Sleep has been many things to me. It’s my escape when life overwhelms me. I can sleep eight to ten hours at night and then nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon when life becomes more than I want to face. It can also be a delicious end to a long physically challenging day. Sliding between the soft embrace of the 800 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets I indulged in a year ago is the next best thing to a real hug from a dear friend.  Those sheets are as soft as velvet, smooth against my skin, like the skin of a newborn. The sensuality of sleep is only one of its delights.

Dreams are also a big part of sleep. Some nights I’m not aware of dreaming and at other times my dreams help me sort out the myriad problems and decisions of everyday life with friends and a large extended family. My dreams even sort out how I feel about what I should be doing with my life. When I wake, my first thoughts are thoughts of gratitude. First I voice my gratitude for my health and a good night’s sleep, next my thoughts turn to family, those who are doing well and those who are facing a variety issues, I offer prayers for them and all of those in the world who are alone, hungry, cold, without a warm bed and roof over their head. I’m overwhelmed with awareness of how fortunate I am.

Some nights when there are too many things roiling around in my mind, but not enough to keep me awake, I sleep for a few hours, 4-5, and then get up to go to the  bathroom and sometimes read the scripture readings for the coming day that arrive in my e-mail overnight.. The readings calm my mind and substitute meaningful thoughts for the worldly shallowness that were stressing me out. Afterward I go back to sleep for a couple more hours and wake up at peace. The worries of the world have taken a back seat and seem much less important than they did a few hours ago.

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I remember my dad and his struggles with insomnia. We didn’t dare make a sound after he retired in the evening or we’d really hear about it and suffer the consequences, usually some onerous chore like sweeping out the overheated garage filled with moth carcasses or washing out trash cans, stinky with the residue of leaky garbage bags. I often wondered why he struggled so much with steep, both getting to sleep and staying there.

I’ve watched my children when they were small just drop into a deep sleep anytime and anywhere. Sometimes they were in the most uncomfortable looking positions possible for their tiny bodies and I was sure they would have aches and pains when they awoke but they never did.gallery-thumbnails-2.php

Now I have to have the right place, the right temperature and a peaceful mind and an empty belly. I’m at an age when I can’t eat a full meal within a couple of hours or going to bed. It has to be dark and it can’t be too warm or I toss and turn trying to get comfortable. I’ve seen mattress pads to warm a bed but I need something to cool it surface of the sheets and have the ceiling fan running all summer.

gallery-thumbnails.phpI needed black out drapes in order to sleep when I visited anchorage in May and I had to pay attention to the time or I would just keeping and going as long as it was light even twilight. The nice thing about my light affliction is that if I follow the daylight and go to bed after sunset wherever I travel I never get jet lag. My body automatically adapts to the light cycle.

Our bodies are amazing creations, each different from others and if we make it a point to know ourselves intimately and accommodate our individual needs we can be optimally happy and healthy. The challenge is to make our accommodation fit in a life within our living community.

Finding a Life Partner

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Most of us hope to find a partner for life to share experiences, good and bad.  My friends and I have shared these efforts and strategies for years. Back in my teens and as a young adult the process consisted primarily of hanging out where we thought the boys were. We learned to enjoy sports, learned about cars, and all sorts of activities traditionally the prevue of young men. As we got older we learned to talk business, politics and world affairs and learned we liked it and had ideas and opinions of our own. Many of us found our soul mates and some were fortunate enough to form lifelong relationships but some of us lost that first love through accidents or war and went on alone hoping we wouldn’t spend the rest of our life alone.

With the advent of the proliferation of the internet and social media the whole picture changed. We no longer limited ourselves to the boy next door. We have access to the whole world. this can be seen as a good thing or not. Many of the things that help make relationships work come from mutual social, geographical and cultural backgrounds. That mutuality helps each of us to understand our partner’s point of view and provides some degree of safety through mutual acquaintances. But the world is getting to be a smaller and smaller place and with that comes new risks and some danger. Single adults are bombarded with innovations to join a plethora of dating sites that portray themselves as the ultimate way to find the perfect match. There is a specialized site for Christians, Jews, Catholics, Seniors and on and on.

Meanwhile relationship satisfaction doesn’t seem to be flourishing. Marriages are at a all time low and schemes to get your partner to commit are everywhere. For under fifty dollars you can be guaranteed a plan to land your dream man and it all hinges on a secret method of getting inside his head, learning how men think and saying the  “right” thing and avoiding the “wrong” words or phrases. In the introduction hype the promoter, a man, explains that many women lose out to “the bimbo across the room” because he longs for respect and admiration. He goes on to say that men value respect over love in surveys conducted to find out what men want and frequently express that they’re the same thing.

That was my Ah ha moment. Okay, I get it, men want respect but what’s a girl going to do when the men who are available are really hard to respect. From insecure, arrogant types to Poor me, I need a caretaker types it’s been a real challenge.

 

Plough, Something Wonderful to Share

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I can’t remember how I encountered this quarterly journal but I am filled with gratitude. The winter 2015 issue is packed with articles and essays about topics that have been on my mind and in my heart for some time. The first half is devoted to articles about our children, their education and their upbringing. I have been concerned about the public education trend away from educators to government oversight for the last decade. I’ve supported Catholic education and homeschooling because of my concern for the children who are being mechanized and homogenized by the educational trends beginning with No Child Left Behind and the Common Core. Although these concepts appear to have an admirable goal, they address children as machines to be developed and uniformly released into society as productive automatons. Where is the humanity in this endeavor? What is happening to dreaming and creativity? Children are the future we will never see. A young child learns at their own pace by experiencing the world and people around him or her. They learn language, to use the toilet, social behaviors through experience and need. Yes, they share  milestones that can be expected but not set in stone as spelled out in these prescribed expectations. Today many children are exposed to technology for a large part of their day. They rely on machines for their daily interaction, tablets, phones and televisions are their companions. Where is the thinking, touching, smelling experiencing life in this? To dictate at what age each child must learn a particular concept or be labeled a failure is absurd. We are individual human beings. To measure a teacher’s effectiveness by how he or she trains these little minds is not only absurd it is cruel to the teacher and child.

In his article Discovering Reverence, Johann Christoph Arnold  reminds us of the awesomeness of the life of each child. He reminds me of the innocent delight each child experiences in encountering his or her world. Do we really want to squash this with our rules and regimentation of how he or she learns and when? Arnold reminds us  that our children aren’t objects to be wedged in prescribed slots in our world. He stresses the importance of revering each child’s unique mind, soul and body and by doing so we teach children to respect and treat each other with reverence. What a beautiful thought, how relevant to our world of violence and competition for some worldly material prize and not the joy in living and doing. Our world needs all of them and their uniqueness. Experiencing each child with reverence teaches them not only to respect each other but to love themselves for their unique gifts that only they can offer to the world.

If you are a person of faith you know that each child is a unique thought of God and has a role to fill and gifts to share with the world. Eberhart Arnold says in his words at the dedication of a newborn in 1934 “we can only teach a child when we “‘understand the thought of God for each child, a thought that God has had in eternity and still has and will always have just for this child. God knows what each child is intended to become.”  This concept hardly meshes with standardized testing and measuring each child as a commodity to reach each level of education at a prescribed time or be considered a failure and prevented from moving on in his or her education until that particular milestone is achieved and his teacher effectiveness is graded based on this accomplishment as well.Are you beginning to get the sense as I am that the eduction system is not in the best interest of the child but designed to create a person who will be a contributor to the economy of the country?

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Joan Almon is also a contributor to this topic with her article Kindergartners are Human Beings,and Other Facts in the Age of Common Core. She has been an early childhood educator for over thirty years. She tells us that standards are necessary when we want to create a uniform product but children aren’t to fit a common mold. Each child is a unique individual and although there are commonalities among children of a certain age they cannot be calibrated according to our sense of timing. Almon says “If a child today fails to develop at the pace prescribed by the standards, there are apt to be serious consequences-the child may repeat a grade or enter special education classes, or her teacher may be penalized or even fired. It’s hard to see how an education based on fixed standards and high stakes testing can help children achieve their full humanity.”   Common Core standards for kindergarten aged children are particularly poorly matched to a child’s development. Long periods of classroom instruction and testing as well as worksheets that dress specific skill leave little time for creativity and exploration when a child’s mind is at its greatest potential for development. Many schools are providing tablets for these children to use in the classroom to further develop their ability to take computerized tests. This emphasis on mechanized teaching and technology sends a message minimizing the individuality of the child. Unconsciously he or she loses confidence is his or her own imagination and creativity when it comes to experiencing and learning about the world. Our teachers need to be compassionate thinking people who can give a child enough guidance and freedom to learn and create at their own pace while keeping them safe in their world. Children have an internal sense of their need for learning, development and growth of their minds and bodies. We need to be able to give them the freedom and the guidance as well as exposure to materials to do what they need to do. It is time to be grateful and awed by each life that comes before us for our support and guidance and support as adults in their world whether we are teachers or parents. Protect these tender, vulnerable gifts we’ve received and allow them to fulfill their life not as mechanized beings chasing after outer things and material goods but seeking their own passions and satisfaction in following their dreams.

Learning to Read

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This morning I read an article written by the Secretary of Education designate, Hanna Skandera of the New Mexico Department of Education about the efficacy of the practice of social promotion.

On the surface I agree with what is said in the article because I believe that purely social promotion does a disservice to the student as well as teachers and classmates. However, none of the pertinent variables in learning, practices in the school district or programs available and offered to students are addressed or even mentioned. In the article she faults lawmakers and schools for not stopping the practice of promoting students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade. She tells a story about a second grader when recognizes the importance of learning to read to his future and implies that even a second grader is more astute than the lawmakers and educators in this state. She asks what would happen if we all work together to benefit our children and again I ask the same question.

It’s at this point I move away from her direction. It is simplistic to think that by retaining students in the third grade until they read we will produce children who will achieve their dreams.

I am the mother of four children who graduated from the Albuquerque Public Schools and passed the literacy/competency exams in the eleventh grade. I also happen to have a Bachelors Degree in education and have taught remedial reading and writing and am licensed to teach English to non-English first language speakers. Each of my children were individuals when it came to learning. One of them was reading at college level at the end of fifth grade another excelled in science and math as well as writing and language skills. One of my children read well but struggled with spelling and was an exceptionally hard worker who holds a masters degree today. My youngest child is bright and incredibly creative. He was a good student and none of his teachers ever complained to me about his behavior. His first grade teacher was concerned that he didn’t like to pretend in the make believe kitchen in the classroom but she didn’t know that since he was the youngest child he had already been participating in actual cooking and baking at home ad found the pretending uninteresting. In spite of being very bright he struggled learning to read and even his teachers didn’t realize he wasn’t actually reading the texts in class because he had found ways to compensate by carefully listening and using cues in the pictures for understanding.

When I discovered that he wasn’t actually reading at the end of third grade I started taking him to private tutoring and learning centers. The only alternative offered by the schools was “special ed” and he already expressed concern about being thought of as dumb. I was determined to support his abilities and help him overcome his different learning style. Like the child in Ms. Skandera’s story he understood the importance of reading but the process in the classroom didn’t work for him. It would have made no difference to retain him that year of for several years using that same methodology. After five years of working weekly with private reading specialist using a variety of methodologies he achieved a level that enabled him to read at his classroom level. His reading was proficient but slow. As he discovered more and more challenging books he was interested in reading, like Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, he would sit for hours reading just a few pages.

The Title One reading programs in the public schools come closest to what is needed to help those students with reading learning differences. To defeat a child at an early age by retaining them and sending the message that they are not equal to other students in their class is harmful. What is needed are reading programs to address different learning styles. This cannot be addressed in the regular classroom due to class size. These differences must be addressed by a teacher who has no more than 6 children at a time and ideally no more that 3 or 4, meeting for an hour or so two to three times a week.

What I was able to do for my child is not available to every parent for a variety of reasons and shouldn’t be necessary in a country that is committed to providing an equal education for all children. Retention of all students who fail to read at grade level in third grade is not the answer. It is necessary to adequately fund and provide programs to address the educational needs of each child or provide funding to parents out of their tax dollars to provide that education themselves.

A New Year, a New Life

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I’m not one to make New Year Resolutions. I’d rather think if this as a time to reflect and re-evaluate the past year, my goals and what I’ve accomplished as well as what needs to be revised or added. This year I’ve done some research on what other people think and do, a first for me, usually I rely on introspection (how narrow, how dull!)

I love getting older (except for the physical aspects). It makes the world seem bigger somehow. There’s so much to discover and many Aha moments. Christmas shopping this year was one of those times of realization.

I always wondered about my mom’s lack of enthusiasm for shopping after she reached the seventh decade of her life. She didn’t object to the crowds or noise, in fact she enjoyed the excitement and the visual stimulation of the holidays. She was very careful with her finances and it did inhibit her spending but it was a trait that served her well. She had come from a background of want. For a period of time she lived in an orphanage with her sister and never had dental care or enough to eat. Over the years though she had loosened up and had spent substantial amounts on decorating a new home she and my dad built after all but my youngest brother had left home. She enjoyed looking attractive and occasionally would have her hair professionally groomed. But after my father decided he wanted a divorce, her careful management of finances served her very well. Over the next forty years of her life she bought and paid for a home, maintained a little VW bug for getting around town and lived comfortably if not luxuriously. I noticed that she became less and less interested in material things as the years went by and often wondered about this loss of interest.

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This year, while out wandering through shops and strip malls I realized I was becoming my mother! I still enjoyed “window shopping” but saw very little I wanted to take home. Almost all of my purchases were of gifts for my huge and wonderful family. Many of my friends and relatives had cut off ages for gift giving to children and grandchildren but my delight in finding something special for each one was the highlight of my holiday season. Since my list of recipients had reached 30, all family except 2 dear friends nearby, it was a especially fun challenge to find just the right gift for each one and keep my spending under $500. This year I made it just under $400 ($393.07)! A couple of times friends and family asked what I’d like for Christmas, what a challenge. I realized that like my mom I had everything I wanted that was in the realm of purchasable. I still was longing for world peace and brotherly love but didn’t think anyone could pull that off. Now I understood where she had been coming from! Part of it was that a lifetime of acquiring stuff had satiated my hunger and had also taught me what a burden all this material stuff really is. I also realized that I am truly blessed to be able to get most anything I really want for myself.

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Another realization was how important goal setting is and a map of where I I’d like to be by the end of the year. Sure I’d like to lose 25 pounds but more importantly I really want to continue to be as healthy as I am now. So what will it take to meet this goal? Activity, eating and sleeping are important but so is a sense of purpose in life. What are the things i need to adjust to in these areas to accomplish the goal? I know I don’t want to drift through the days, weeks and months to the next New Year. It isn’t pleasurable for me to spend most of my time recreating. I need to accomplish things.

This year I want to become a competent communicator in a foreign language and I want to walk the Coastal Portuguese Camino de Santiago. After the pilgrimage I want to travel to France and Italy for a month or so. This year I want to finish a book I started writing three years ago and to that end I must set aside at least two hours a day writing, not necessarily on the book but writing to oil the machine and develop a habit. I would like to write stories and articles for publications because I think I have a lot of experiences to share that may be helpful to fellow sojourners through this life. With these goals in mind my next step has to be information gathering and planning. What are the next steps?

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Reflections on Veterans Day

IMG_2228We’ve had over 100 years of war in this country. One Hundred years…think of that. Very few people have lived that long but i wonder what they would think and say about what they’ve seen, the changes they’ve experience, the losses they or people they’ve known have suffered. Mother and fathers lost children, women have lost husbands children have lost parents and brothers and sisters have lost their best friend. We’ve spent unfathomable amounts of money in addition to the lives sacrificed that could have been used in so many other humanitarian ways. What do we have to show for it, has it been worth it, are things any better?

Veterans come back with physical and emotional scars that may never heal resulting in lives that are cut short and maimed beyond repair resulting in addictions to ease the pain. Families suffer less visible scars that have the power to do as much psychological harm as the veterans wounds. Do we recognize these needs, do we do all we can to help, to heal? Or are we too preoccupied with our own wants and needs?

Does our government really represent the people of this country. the voters, or are they also preoccupied with their own wants and needs? Is democracy working for you, does it really exist anymore? What do you hope for for yourself, your family and friends, this country or have you gotten beyond yourself yet?

Do you look around at how the rest of the world lives? are you really grateful for your life here? Do you think about what more you can do to make it better for EVERYONE? Have you really tried to put yourself in the shoes of a mother or father in El Salvador where the gangs outnumber the police three to one and they run the country? Would you feel safe allowing your children to go to school or the park or a movie? These gangs originated in Los Angeles and were deported in the early 80’s by our government without a thought for the people on the receiving end.

Human conflict is created when one person feels threatened by another either through violence or fear, fear of abuse, hunger or oppression.What can we do to stop this behavior? How do we create a peaceful world? When can our troops really come home for good and live the American Dream?

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Wop Sauce

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DSCN1888After Paul and I were married and after my father had told him all the reasons he shouldn’t marry me; I was worthless, couldn’t cook, keep house, clean or even be counted on to make my own bed and take care of my things I made it a point to prove him wrong.

For the first few months we subsisted on cans of Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Chef Boy Ar Dee. Finally Paul decided he’d had enough and made what he called “Wop Sauce” one night. It was delicious. I had no Idea pasta sauce could be so heavenly. My mom had always made sauce with catsup and I never thought much of it but then I never thought much about food or eating while I was growing up. It was just a means to an end, necessary to survival.

It took awhile for me to start moving forward on my commitment to show my father I wasn’t a loser. I started with some simple cooking. I experimented with herbs and was excited with the results most of the time. It seemed I had a natural gift for putting flavors together. Paul was delighted and pretty soon we started having guests for supper. I often used the recipe I had begged Paul to write down for me and over the years I embellished it with touches of my own.

I discovered so many gustatory delights during our brief years together. I had never had a mushroom or an artichoke or even asparagus in my life. Salads had always consisted of iceberg lettuce and tomatoes or sometimes a few carrot nickels. I never cared much for salads then. All vegetables had been cooked beyond redemption, all the flavor washed out of them and the only ones we had ever had were green beans, peas, corn and, God forbid, the occasional rutabaga, nasty and bitter. I learned sautéing and steaming. I tried romaine and leaf lettuce with a touch or parmesan or feta and a few olive and maybe some walnuts. I was in heaven and I think Paul was relieved although he never complained and always encouraged me.

My parents were both from rural Wisconsin and my mom had spent most of her later childhood in a orphanage after her parents had divorced. My grandmother couldn’t provide a home for her and her sisters so when the relatives had gotten tired of them they went to the orphanage and she paid what she could so they wouldn’t be adopted out. My mom never had the chance to learn to cook or do the other things women in those days were expert at. She had taught herself to sew and knit and was an amazing housekeeper but cooking never was her gift.

I continued to use that sauce recipe over the years even after Paul was no longer with us. The kids grew up with it and all the beautiful foods he had introduced me to. They are all accomplished cooks, especially my youngest son. Eddie went to culinary arts school after high school but decided that it was an art and not something he wanted to make a living doing.

One Christmas after they were all grown and had their own homes I make a cookbook for them of all their favorite recipes. I found the original copy of the Wop Sauce recipe their dad had written down for me in his own handwriting so many years ago and made copies for each of them. It was yellowed with age and had a few spots of olive oil and tomato on it but was still legible. As I held it a lump in my throat formed and tears stung my eyelids. Paul was my mentor, my best friend and the love of my life. Even after thirty years I missed him terribly, it was like a piece of me was missing.

Last week as we all gathered for a family dinner the menu was the usual, pasta, wop sauce, garlic bread and salad. We each take turns making the sauce and each of the sides. Our dinner tradition has been as frequent as every other week or as seldom as birthdays and holidays. There are now 31 of us with the grandkids and their spouses or partners. So birthdays and other occasions for celebration are frequent. We aren’t always able to have everyone there at one time but it’s usually a house full. The aroma of the sauce pungent with oregano, tomato, anise and parsley fills the air, whets our appetites and mingles with the voices of soft conversation and shouts and squeals of the little ones. I’m sure Paul would be as delighted as I am at how our beautiful family has grown together and shared his gift from so long ago.

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