Am I A Tree?

After reading a poem by Chris McGeown on his blog Short Poems and Other Nonsense, I started thinking about life experiences.  And whether they fling us to the ground or help us to soar, we keep going forward and hope to learn from, or at least survive, those experiences.  Or if it’s been awesome, we try to figure out a way to repeat it or continue the experience.  Another opportunity to grow.

It kills me when people say “grow as a human being.”  Well we aren’t going to grow as an elephant.

So then I started to think about the rings of a tree and that each experience is like collecting another ring on a tree.fall-foliage-at-saneteachers

So I realized I want to “grow as a tree.”

I have a lot of rings on my tree-self and I hope that I will continue to experience the good and the bad and then mostly good and good again.



Now to work on looking willowy…….

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Time For Some Humility

Everyone has good times and bad.  That sounds trite, but we all know it’s true.

My bad times have seemed pretty bad to me at the time.  Not all rosy in my childhood, not all easy in my divorce, dealing with sobriety, and the death of my child.

All difficult.  But I’ve had so many good periods in life, but most of all, just normal periods.

And those I take for granted.

I’ve been whining about my eyes.  I had cataracts removed and had Restore lenses put in so I won’t need glasses anymore. And my vision, which even with glasses hasn’t been 20/20 since forever, will be better and clearer.  Let me be specific.  The cataract surgery part is covered 100% by my insurance.  The lenses are incredibly expensive.  My husband and I discussed it at length and decided they were worth getting.  And we can afford to pay for them.

While I have been going through this, which I’m adjusting to perfectly and my eyes should be totally healed in another 4 weeks, my brother had heart surgery.  HEART SURGERY.  A little more serious, don’t you think?

But here’s the clincher.  Our church, in conjunction with four other churches in our area, runs a homeless shelter during the winter.  The women and men who are in these desperate straits are given warm meals, a place to stay indoors overnight, an opportunity to shower and to wash their clothes.

I’m a part of this shelter, am on the committee and have signed up to provide dinner a few times over the winter.

Last night was my first time.  But I had it on my calendar for next Saturday.  So they waited for me and I didn’t go.

Luckily, the women in charge always stops by to make sure everything is running smoothly.  Well, obviously it wasn’t last night because I didn’t show up.  The lady in charge texted me and I said “Hi! How are you?”  She told me they were waiting for me. Of course, I had no food ready, so they scrambled to get dinner for the shelter visitors.

I was so upset and appalled that I had the wrong date.  I am the most Attention Deficit person you will have ever met (that is not an exaggeration) and one of the skills I have learned is to check everything a few times and to write important things down.  I had checked, and I had written it down.  For the wrong date.  So hadn’t checked well, or often, enough.

Here is where the lack of humility comes in.  These people are desperate.  They could literally freeze to death.  I can’t imagine what they have gone through in their lives.  And I forgot their dinner.

People in my own small community are dying and I forgot about them.

And the biggest thing?  I have been complaining to anyone who will listen about how I’m not getting a good night’s sleep because I have had to wear a plastic shield over my eyes to protect them when I sleep.

I haven’t lost limbs in accidents or war.  I haven’t been born with a congenital problem that requires me to wear, and function with, life altering prosthetic devices.  My husband and I are gainfully employed and have many choices in housing, don’t think twice about grocery shopping or clothes.  We have the money to go on a vacation every year.  Between us we have four healthy adult children.

All I did was complain about my eye surgery and the plastic shields to protect my soon-to-be-perfect eyes.

These events and realizations have humbled me.  For now.  Until life goes back to normal and I only give a fleeting thought to those in situations different from mine.  For those about whom I should be thinking, praying and helping.

May I remember this lesson and carry it with me daily.  May I not fall easily back into complacency.

It’s time for some humility.



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Media Blackout

Not counting WordPress (which would be biting off my nose to spite my face), I’m on a media blackout.  That covers yesterday, today and tomorrow.  I don’t want to hear about the inauguration.  I don’t want to see news about it.  I don’t want to look at photos of anyone.


I’m not pouting, I just feel super-saturated with the election coverage that seemed to last for 5 years.  And, on top of that, is the spectacle of the inauguration.

I’m politically exhausted.

Let’s see if I make it until Sunday.


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A Debutante And A Soldier

I know the proper way to set a table for a dinner party for 20 people.  Where each type of spoon, fork, knife, butter dish, salad plate, dinner plate, cake plate, cup, saucer, soup bowl, napkin, wine glass, water glass and you name it goes.  We didn’t measure the distance between place settings, like you see on Netflix’s The Crown, but I was taught to see it instinctively.  I know how to seat people by military and/or social rank respective to the host and hostess.  I can still execute the perfect curtsy.barb-formal-picture

My mother went to finishing school instead of high school and wished for me to be presented at the Debutante Ball in NYC. That was going to happen the week after never.


I was raised with u-trou, up-and-at-’em, rise and shine, yes sir and yes ma’am, the proper way to stand at attention, the proper way to salute.

A debutante and a soldier.

air-force-angel-flight-little-colonelI was raised to be a debutante and a soldier.  It’s more accurate to say I was raised by a debutante and a soldier.  My mother wanted me to be a debutante and my father wanted me to be a soldier.

Actually he wanted me to marry a soldier.  Until he decided he wanted me to be one.

When it was time to think about colleges, I asked him if I could go to West Point.  My father, my uncle and my grandfather were graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  The problem was that in 1971 they didn’t accept women.  The real problem was that it would have taken me a million years to be in the physical condition necessary and I’m scared of loud noises. But I thought it was unfair.  I remember saying to my dad that “It’s 1971, we could fight this on Constitutional grounds.”

I might as well have said the moon was rolling down our driveway.

He was astounded and furious.  “How dare you say that! How dare you think that the United States military would ever let a woman into West Point!!”

Until, that is, July of 1976 when the first women cadets entered West Point and then graduated in the class of 1980.  My father said “Why didn’t you go to West Point?  You should have tried harder.”  Ummmm….Dad, have you met you?

It wasn’t until high school that I learned people were depressed.  No one understood me when I asked them if their morale was low.

I took, and passed, the Air Force Officers Qualifying Test my senior year in college then decided not to enlist.

I have never given a large dinner party in my life but man do I know how to do it.

I can handle myself with grace in any social situation.

I am neither a debutante nor a soldier.  I could not be either of my parents.  Instead, I’m an amalgamation of their dreams and my reality.

mom nyt weddingharry c harvey class of 1941 photo




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Who’s Ted?

If you search your memory banks back to yesterday, I laid claim to the fact that I think I have a lot of general knowledge.

One thing about which I have almost zero knowledge is TED Talks.

I had never even heard of TED Talks until a colleague was mentioning it to me last year. He thought I was kidding when I said that I didn’t know what he was talking about.



I thought he was talking about that talking teddy bear from that movie that I never saw but heard it wasn’t a movie for kids. Shhhhh…….don’t tell him.

Talk about being clueless.  But I checked it out because I was embarrassed that I knew nothing about this wildly popular phenomenon.

Yuck.  I looked at a bunch of different ones on topics that interest me.  Utterly boring.  I found myself concentrating on the microphone/earbud thingy they were using.  Then I saw you could read the scripts.  So I did that.

But it isn’t like reading books or articles.  Everyone has different tastes, and mine don’t run to TED talks.  I feel guilty because as I researched, it was like, Barb, do you live under a rock?  How do you not know of this?ted-talks


Are you guys fans of TED talks?  If yes, and you can pinpoint why, I’m really interested to know.  I’m thinking the reason I don’t like them is my wildly short attention span.

Please let me know your opinion on TED talks.


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Do You Think You Know A Lot?

That’s a real question.  Do you think that you know a lot?  I think I know a lot.  Not a lot, a lot, but a lot.  Wait, what?

I don’t mean I’m good at much, but I think my general knowledge of a lot of things is pretty good.  Although, as I write this, I’m starting to think maybe not so much.

Here’s an example.  I come from a military family, so I have a better than average knowledge of American history from a military standpoint.  I’m not an expert, but I have a good working knowledge.  I think I know a lot.  After the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941, many Japanese-Americans were sent to internment camps in California.  That’s what I know about it.  That’s it.

Thanks to a recommendation on my blog a couple of days ago by Sunny Lanning, I started reading Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jean Wakatsuki Houston.  This story is a memoir about a family sent to an internment camp in the U.S. after Pearl Harbor.  Guess what.  They weren’t all in California.

It’s incomprehensible to me that I didn’t more about this important part of American history.  And that I was satisfied in only knowing that much.  This book is wonderful reading,  but even the timeline at the beginning of the memoir shocked me.

I don’t know a lot.  But I’m learning.


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List of Stories To Read… Part 2

What wonderful suggestions you have all given!  I won’t be publishing lists every day, but especially because we are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States today, diversity in literature seems especially important.

The books, stories and poems recommended by the readers here run the gamut from Black, Native American, Caribbean, Latino, Asian, White, male and female writers, and are fiction and memoirs about cultural, mental health, religion and gender issues.  And the stories are wondrous, funny, romantic, mysterious……you name it.  All worth giving a try.

This list is in no particular order.

  1. Sky Burial by Xue Xinran
  2. Haruki Murakami – Japanese author
  3. Khalad Hosseni – Khaled Hosseini, Afghan born American novelist and physician
  4. Eating Bull by Carrie Rubin
  5. A Girl Name Zippy by Haven Kimmel
  6. Langston Hughes
  7. Erica Spindler
  8. Leonard Pitts Jr.
  9. Sherman Alexie – a Spokane-Coeur d’Alene Indigenous American author

Okay, here is the last one.  The description left in the comment section of my article An Embarrassing Personal Admission was so great, that I’m writing the whole thing here. Almost Iowa wrote “My favorite novel from You-Can’t-Get-Anymore-Diverse-Than-This department is The Suffrage of Elvira by V.S. Naipal. It is an older book, written in 1957, but the blend of Hindi-Muslim-African-Carib-Spanish culture yields a spicy stew of humor.”

I have only read a few of these books/authors.  They are here because they are recommended.  They are not necessarily appropriate for students, so use your discretion if you are looking for books for high school students.

Happy reading, and thank you all for giving the rest of us ideas for interesting literature from such a large range of authors and genres.  Please continue to recommend and to read some of the books listed here.

I value your opinion.


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Reblogged – Your Digital Diet in 2017: On Blogging, Reading, and Social Media

This latest post, reblogged from Discover, is great reading. Congratulations to all, but especially to Paul at The Captain’s Speech for being a part of this feature.


Writers, photographers, artists, and site owners recently shared their goals for the year: some challenged themselves to write more. To write honestly. And also, to allow themselves to fail. Others hoped to find a clearer focus for their blog or to deepen connections.

The start of a new year is also a time to step back and reevaluate our online routines: to trim the fat from a bloated media diet or to focus more on the people and things that matter to you. So, we asked a handful of writers: what’s your digital diet in 2017?

Rebecca Gelding, Music on the Mind

meLast year when I wanted to get physically healthier, I tracked the number of calories I was eating (using MyFitnessPal). It’s amazing how much less I ate when eating became intentional rather than a habit.

The same is true for cutting down on social media.

Snacking constantly throughout the day on…

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List of Stories To Be Read…..Part 1

Thanks to all of my readers who gave so many fabulous suggestions of favorite books, poems and authors, in response to my post An Embarrassing Personal Admission.  I thought I would share some of the suggestions here, so you might find a new author or title.  I have read a number of these, but a lot are brand new to me.

You have shared way more than I can reasonably put in one post, so here is Part 1.

  1.  Hidden Figures by Margo Lee Shetterly
  2. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
  3. Everything ever written by Gabriel García Marquez (that’s not a title, I just love everything I’ve ever read by him).  The title suggested was One Hundred Years of Solitude
  4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  5. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  6. Thoughts on Death, a poem by Stirling A. Brown
  7. Toni Morrison
  8. Maya Angelou
  9. Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jean Wakatsuki Houston (about life in a U.S. internment camp)
  10. Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co.:A Road Novel with Literary License by María Amparo Escandón

Thank you again for these wonderful recommendations.  Please let me know if this list inspires you to try something new and let all of us know if you give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.


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An Embarrassing Personal Admission

Image from Goodreads

Image from Goodreads

A month or so ago, in the middle of our department meeting, the supervisor of our high school ENL department asked us to go get the books or short stories that our students were currently reading.  We laid them on a table and she asked us what they had in common. These book, poems and short stories represented different genres, historical time periods and topics.  It immediately became obvious to what she was referring.

All the authors were white males.

We were all shocked.

Our district represents a diverse population.  We have a little over 50% Latino students, most of whom were born in the US, and have more or less 15-20% Black and 25-30% White students and a small percentage of Asian students.  Those numbers are not exact, but the gist is right.  I don’t know the male to female ratio, but it must be more or less even.

Obviously, we all “teach” some stories, novels etc by minority writers.  But I’d have trouble coming up with a list on the spot.  This is not including our elective courses exclusively devoted to racism and sexism.

But it is even more startling in our department.   The English as a New Language Department is, by definition, comprised of students from other countries.  Almost all of those students are from Spanish speaking countries, along with some Asian, African and Caribbean students.  And I have them reading mostly stories by and about white teens and white male adults?

The school district wants to ensure that the reading choices and materials that we give our students include more authors of different races, religions and gender.  Perfect.

As I was driving home from work and contemplating this discussion, I thought about what I read in my personal life.  I’m a voracious reader and yet almost everything I read is by white authors.  Not exclusively male authors, but dominantly male authors.

I started to tick off a mental list of favorite authors as I drove.

  1.  Simon Winchester
  2.  Lee Child
  3.  Jonathan Kellerman
  4.  Louise Penny
  5.  J.K. Rowling
  6.  George R.R. Martin
  7.  John Grisham
  8.  Ray Bradbury
  9.  Agatha Christie
  10.  Robert B. Parker

This is by no means an inclusive list, but these were the authors who immediately came to mind.

How is this possible?

Yesterday, I opened a Goodreads account and started browsing.  Of course I have read books by authors of diverse backgrounds.  But my default list is comprised of books by white authors.

I added the following books to my “want to read” list.  And I’d like your opinions if you have read any of these.

Their Eyes Were Watching God  by Zora Neale Hurston

Fatal Shadows by Josh Lanyon

Iguana DreamsNew Latino Fiction by Delia Poey (editor) and Virgil Suárez (editor)

Native American Fiction Stories by Grey Eagle Thornton

Please recommend other authors and titles to me.  I read all genres, but love spy novels, mysteries, detective stories, sci-fi, historical fiction and fantasy the most.

I am thankful to be able to remedy this glaring hole in my reading choices.

It’s an embarrassing personal admission.


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