So much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend

I never wear no-sleeve dresses, but I have one on. I never drink Italian sparkling water (I save them for guests), but I’m sipping a green bottle of Whole Foods’ finest as I sit under the shady gazebo protected from the 90+ Sunday afternoon temps. It’s rarely quiet at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. But it is this Labor Day weekend. No breeze. No instigating of my wee g-boy lads or vocalizing of Baby Millie. I’m here by myself and my two lovely pups, Monet and Finn, without much of a plan other than to write, create art, perhaps take a nap and re-connect with God and myself, which has been lost and frenzied of late.

One of our union reps reminded her Facebook friends to be sure to take time for ourselves, that many individuals worked hard for this much-needed day to step back and re-coup. I admit, I was going to work, dream up more innovative lesson plans, think about how I’m going to teach remotely the last two weeks of September. But her good advice made me stop. Doctor, heal thyself. Passenger, remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. That’s this weekend for me. Time to breathe-in gratitude. And take a much-needed brain break. I don’t have to solve or fix anything. I just need to be OK, not turn on the news, and say thanks for life’s blessings, create a stay-at-home spa weekend, sans the pool and pink Cadillac umbrella drinks.

* * *

It wasn’t a quiet day in Lake Wobegon last week. It was weird. The pinhole-through-a-computer-screen classroom is weird. Not enjoyable. But doable. Easy. Hard. Puzzling. One step at a time. 172 days left of this unusual school year.

But here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. I can Zoom. I am nearly an expert. Me, the person who was in tears because I was so incredibly nervous, is almost like an old pro. “Look at me! I can screen share and put students in Breakout Rooms!”
  2. Zoom Gloom is real. The technology is great for about 30 minutes a day, then it’s a brain-duller. Just a fact. Turns out, to keep students’ online attention you have to be some sort of Youtube sensation. To help liven things up, I just ordered a piglet puppet to help me jazz-up my on-screen personna. A teacher’s gotta do what a teacher’s gotta do.
  3. This week I learned that my students are terribly fearful: In a snazzy, Padlet exercise, 99% of 13-year-olds reported that they are afraid they will die. Think about that. My eighth-graders are worried that they–and/or their loved ones–will die.
  4. In that same activity, students wrote about what they are passionate about: Climate change, racial inequality, the economy, Covid-19, police brutality, the negative political energy–the same things that concern many adults.
  5. This week it became clear to me that no matter the venue or format–in person or remote–their teacher, me, is going to harness my students’ fear and keen interest in current events and channel those emotions into action. As such, I decided to postpone a groovy, hip Nearpod lesson on Story Elements/Plot and replace it with “Dear President Trump/VP Pence, presidential candidates Biden/Harris” letters. My students need to know that their voices count and Republican and Democratic leaders need to know how profoundly America’s youth is being impacted by their action and inaction.
  6. And finally I realized, now is The Best Time to be a public school teacher. Our kids need us.

My former principal, Sallie T., is smiling right now. She knew I’d find a way to do what I do. Be me. And in doing so, my very scared students will get a chance to share their truth, their reality–that they didn’t cause or ask for–and realize that in learning how to effectively participate in democracy, that they have The Power to positively change the world. I hope. I pray. That Biden, Harris, Pence AND Trump will take my students’ concerns as seriously as I do, and my fellow teachers, parents and grandparents. Adult decisions are breaking their hearts.

We CAN’T LET THIS HAPPEN!

In a few minutes I will be composing a letter to our political leaders on behalf my students, and myself as their teacher. I’m sending it via snailmail (USPS needs the $$$) and email. It will be the same letter, the same request. Apolitical. A plea. Stop the rhetoric. Stop the magician coin tricks. A whole generation of kids are counting on the nonsense to stop. Time out! Go to your dunce cap corner, take off the headphones, and listen for a change. Listen–for a change.

Can you imagine if we all set aside an hour this weekend and flooded all four candidates’ offices with respectful, yet direct, letters and phone calls? Seize control of the remote? Said, “Listen, cut the nonsense. We’re your boss, not the other way around”? Not like that. Much more polite. But you get the point.

Heck, so much for not thinking about my students this Labor Day weekend. Shoulders shrug. It’s just what us teachers do.

When last we spoke …

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. I would have quit/retired. I would have said, “Too much.” But I got through the first day of distant learning because you were there for me, relating honestly, not playing Mary Poppins.

You get it. We’re part of this thing we don’t want to be part of. Said it. Didn’t pretend. No sugar-coating. Then, you reached out and helped me step up to a higher platform where I could see my situation in a new way, from a new perspective. You gifted me your binoculars and told me to use the wide angle, then dial down to a close-up view.

And I did. And I survived what I thought, a week ago, I couldn’t.

I didn’t give up.

Because of you.

You reminded me of my worth. You reminded me of who I am and that nothing can take that away, not Covid-19, not technological gizmos, but especially, not fear.

One day at a time. I figured out Zoom and Screenshare. Friday we’ll do breakout rooms. Next week I’ll do Padlet. Maybe the week after, that I’ll do Nearpod. I’m not gonna rush it. I’ll master one technological communication tool at a time. Because what matters most is making human connections. What got me all stressed out and consumed with anxiety was the Steve Jobs/Bill Gates techno hoopla. I thought I had to exhibit mastery and would get slapped on my paycheck for not jumping in and embracing All That Jazz. I got intimidated and forgot who I was: I am a former journalist who teaches kids how to be the best writers, readers, speakers and thinkers that they can possibly be. I help kids become powerful and effective storytellers and compassionate, responsible citizens. I help students value hard work and going back and making it better. I help students learn how to evaluate sources and be objective. I help students step up and take action.

I can still do that even if I’m not in the classroom with them. I can still be inspiring. In many ways, I can be even more empowering. I can set up conferences via the breakout rooms. I can differentiate in ways so that no one stands out or knows that accommodations are being made. I can communicate–through my eyes, my voice, my gestures–that I care. Even through a screen, I can be human.

I didn’t know this when I was trapped in the hurricane, but the raspberry macaroons, the encouraging texts, and private messages, the purchase of a bottle of estate DeLoach Pinot Noir Boisset Wine https://my.boissetcollection.com/janet.barker/products/catalog/sale-1005 for a “friend” so that you could have a masked, eye-to-eye conversation about why Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year me HAS to stay in the classroom, “because those kids need you,” changed EVERYTHING. Everything. My fear, while real, was blocking out my purpose: To be of service. To be an Agent of Change. Like we all are.

Like we all are.

I’m not saying that there weren’t glitches today. There were. Plenty. All my fault. Operator error. I am not gonna be nominated for any teaching award any time soon, that’s for sure. I was a klutz. But somewhere around fourth period, I hit my stride. Those kids needed me because they were having problems too.

I’m no longer standing in front of the classroom packed with 35 13-year-olds. I’m at a desk, in a row-with them. Learning. Failing. Succeeding. Passing on a lesson you taught me 18 years into teaching: Phone a friend. Don’t give up.

And ‘cuz we’re adults, I learned another lesson: Don’t wait for the stars to line up: pop open a bottle of your best wine. ‘Cuz we survived Day 1.

FYI: The image posted in this blog relates to my Day 2 Lesson: Illustrate an image of you: Two Likes and a Wish. Two things you like about yourself and one thing you wish could be different. I recommend trying this activity. Turns out, beneath all the imperfections, there’s a bunch of good stuff too.

On the eve of everything

Not sleeping. Feeling intense anxiety. It’s hot. It’s smoky. Katie and Millie are leaving for NYC tomorrow. Distant Learning starts next week. Technology training last week. I’m crying in the mornings. I feel such a profound sense of loss and fear. I want to curl up in a ball. I want to say, “Stop!” But I can’t stop anything. Not the frickin Corona Virus. Not Katie leaving. Not instructing students from behind a computer screen. Not the wild fires destroying our beautiful California. Not the in-progress re-model that’s costing me savings security. It’s all happening so fast and so slow and I am powerless. I force myself to put one foot in front of the other.

I. Have. To. Stop.

I am wrapped up in yarn and it’s pinching my legs, my arms, my chest–my heart.

Stop.

Loss. Aware of an impending profound sense of loss.

I am naked.

Vulnerability (incompetence as the teacher who prefers pencil and paper over Google this and Google that, and a lack of financial resources so I can make different decisions) has exposed pent-up fear. I know, I am incompetent as a digital teacher. A fake. I like to plan. I like to know. I like to be in charge.

And I know, I know all the cliches about the only thing you can be in charge of is your attitude platitudes. But I’m just trying to be real. Tony Robbins can’t help me right now. THE WORLD IS BULLSHIT! Enough of the positive attitude. I need to vent. Shout. IT ALL SUCKS!!! Forget the silver lining.

“Oh, Ms. Barker, are you OK?”

No. I am NOT.

I want to be in my classroom with my students. I don’t want Millie to leave. I don’t want to carry the financial burden of managing a household expenses by myself any more. I want to be rich.

I know I have it better than many. I am grateful. But I am upset. I am sad. I am worried. I’m not my best self. I’m lost beneath a smoky, hazing cloud that I’ve been pretending for a long time isn’t all that bad. But it is. IT IS!

I write, but I don’t shout. I don’t share, at least not this directly, with others. It’s this silent, gnawing, aggressively throat-gripping ominous presence that grabs the keyboard and demands to be heard. Writing. My lifelong, best friend. She’s always there for me. She doesn’t judge. She allows. She agrees. She holds my hand and guides me to the place I need to be. The Journey. The Lesson.

I know that a lot of people reading this will relate. I know it sounds like I’m depressed or need anxiety pills or maybe you don’t like me for being so “negative” when my blog is about Life IZ Good. You’re looking here, perhaps, for hope. And there is. And I am, hopeful that is. But not right now.

Things will get better. Problem is, I don’t know when. In the meantime, this anxiety that I have never felt before at this level, is rumbling. I want to quit, but I know it would be foolish. Economically stupid. Yet, if I sold my house I could be free of the financial responsibilities and live where I’ve always want to live. I wouldn’t have to worry about money or teaching virtually. I could be still, at peace, near the sea. No responsibilities. Just me and the dogs. I could cry and not be judged. I could sleep in or stay up late and play with art and breathe without heart palpitations.

Or I could just grit through it, see what’s on the other side of this. Accept my emotions. Ride the roller coaster. Take walks. Find a groove amidst the pandemic.

I’m not going to end this post with a Hallmark card. Because I don’t know what I am going to do. Is this my heart speaking? Should I listen? Because I know, as poet Mary Oliver said, “Though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” others will want to “guide me”. And I am appreciative. But on the eve of everything I wonder, “Is it time?”

just had to break free

I need to be wild.

I used to be B- wild. Now I’m D- wild. I am cautious and predictable. I like order. Not a fan of environmental chaos. I need coffee-specked kitchen counters wiped down and shiny. I like to sip mad-hot French pressed dark coffee in my favorite Santa Cruz-purchased ceramic mug as I read “The Los Angeles Times”. I like my hair brushed before noon (a COVID-19-pleasant concession). I like bare feet. Is this pseudo wild? I feel decadent if I have a glass of bubbly at 11:30 a.m. with avocado sesame seed-sprinkled toast. I haven’t romantically kissed a guy for, aw shucks, 1,000 million years .

Sometimes I feel like I need to surf or skateboard or cartwheel down the hallway at my school (when it was, and will eventually, be safe) then realize my body is too big or creaky for such potentially life-threatening nonsense.

Potential.

To do good or to do harm?

I’m trapped in the, “This could be dangerous” chapter right now. Go to Trader Joe’s and I might die. Go wine tasting in Paso Robles with my daughter and 5-month-young granddaughter and we might come home with The Virus.

Mask-less people in public without 6-feet apart distancing pisses me off. You know, I have never written the word “pissed” before. My mother would be so disappointed. I wasn’t allowed to utter, “bitchin” either. Once I wrote “Davy (of The Monkees) is bitchin'” on a handmade poster taped to my bedroom wall and was demeaned for using “foul” language.

Last night I had a dream that I threw a farewell party for my daughter/g-girl who will be leaving for New York City soon. People showed up to PART–AY hard. Guzzling my $$$ wine. Smoking joints in my bedroom. It was absolute havoc until I said: ENOUGH! “Those of you who aren’t wearing a mask have to leave NOW!” I ordered. Most stubbled off the property. A few grumbled about their civil rights being violated to which I remarked, “That is your choice, but this is my house.” Angel Cove Cottage was in shambles and I was left feeling regretful that I had allowed myself–once again–to trust people to be considerate.

Wild. I want to be. Everyone else wants to be. Break out. Go nuts. Be 18 again. Recoup. Save up. Get a new job. “To hell with The Man!” But I am of the age that if I do make a mistake it could be financially or health wise, fatal. I have to be cautious, thoughtful.

Thoughtful.

Thoughtful is a positive word. Thinking things through before you—snap—and make a decision, react, in a way that could be harmful to you or others. Some people call it being mature.

Being impulsive is good when mixed with wisdom. Following one’s instincts, paying attention to “the market”, be it legit news reports about the economy, the pandemic–whatever–is just plan smart. Not wild, but savvy.

So, given my longing to just wanna break free and escape the dishes and the pooper scooping of my day-to-day life, I booked a hotel room at one of my favorite places on the Planet—Cambria, CA. I checked and double-checked rates and COVID-19 protocol and felt safe enough to pounce on a great mid-week deal. My daughter and baby g-girl were game and we had ourselves Our First Road Trip as a Trio! (Not usually a big fan of exclamation marks, but time it truly warrants one!)

Baby was a great traveler and had her first swim in a pool. (Nowadays you have to schedule time in the pool and carry-in your own room coffee maker–a sensible corporate response to the pandemic, along with no mid-stay housekeeping and new clean towels.) We wine-tasted under the clouds of an unpredicted summer rainstorm, had picnic breakfasts in the room and watched HGTV to our heart’s content. Was it the same trip I’m used to? No. It was quieter. More crowded. We paced ourselves and sanitized anytime we brushed against potential germs. Honestly, it was one of the best trips ever because we unfurled from the crisis for two whole days, didn’t obsess about the trials of teaching, getting sick, the future, the election, lack of money or the “Affordable” Dwelling Unit remodeling project back at the homestead. We were in the moment cooing with Baby Millie B, visiting with my dear friend of 50 decades, and in all ways enjoying The Great Escape.

My version of wild: I organized a spontaneous trip, charged it to my once-empty credit card. No regrets. Just happy memories.

Thursday night, walking along the boardwalk after a day of rain showers, Millie asleep in the hotel room, daughter watching “reality” TV escapism, I found my way to an ocean-facing bench I’d sat at many times before: The bench is dedicated to the life of a loving storyteller, former teacher, journalist and beloved father, husband and friend. Shrouded beneath the girth of a sprawling cypress tree, the bench is surrounded by a chain garlanded with several hundred rusty locks of all shapes, sizes and colors. Apparently padlocks attached to public spaces metaphorically represents eternal–secure–love and gratitude: Despite the wrenching pain of loss, the symbolic locks symbolize a shift of thought and focus–from the squall of despair to the brilliance of a butterscotch sky. Wild. Unexpected. And just what I needed.

Every day in august is like A sunday night for teachers

It’s the 4th of August. In thirteen days, summer is over and the pesky drone that keeps circling over teacher’s backyard will be docked and the widely debated Distant Learning will officially begin. Student eyes are ever-present at Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, my safe harbor graced by Huck Finn Gboys and a nesting wispy-haired four-month-old chick and her Mama Bear. I step outside and sit in the front garden’s sun and once again: The Buzzing Drone overhead. No doubt, a former student. Damn that Gotcha Privacy Invader. I’m moving under the jacaranda. Shade when I crave sun. Damn. I’m still pasty, tan-less white.

A couple of weeks ago an eighth-grader from our school and his family moved out of the apartment that shares our southernmost fence. I can’t tell you how relieved I was. We throw ourselves some pretty vivacious backyard parties. Like last night, a mysterious pink-boxed gift was revealed to the hip, but elderly auntie–deemed the “mini massager”–which actually isn’t really a sore neck vibrator, if you get my drift. My naivety caused quite the roar. It’s always like this: We’re always hooting and hollering over something. Anyway, the former neighbor/student knew a little too much about me and my private life, especially my really bad pajamas. But that’s the nature of living so close to school.

Seriously, I had no idea when we moved here 25+ years ago that one day I’d be living around the corner from the school I’d eventually teach at.

My daughter, who’s also a teacher, and I have been talking a lot about our jobs until I was ordered, “No more!” We have to give it a break before there is no break, at least not until Thanksgiving when who knows what the world will look like.

This coming year is gonna be a doozy, that’s for sure.

I’m not sleeping. I’m worried about lesson planning, the new delivery of content, the pressure to ramp up and motivate while at the same time still enjoying teaching and getting to virtually know my new students. So many unknowns. Yet, so many concrete answers, like WE WILL be instructing from behind a computer screen for a bunch of weeks. At this point we have to report to campus five days a week while our students are instructed to stay home. None of us are fans–not the teachers–for sure–or the students, parents and the district administration. But we will, once again, step up to the challenge and do the very best job we are capable of doing under the unwanted circumstances. I’m grateful, honestly, that I’m not going to be exposed to the virus in the same intense way I would be if I were in a warm classroom with 35 students times six classes a day. Under normal conditions, classrooms are Petri dishes. At least now we can be somewhat safe. For that I am proud to live in a state where the governor is a true leader. He does the right thing even when it’s not especially popular.

If you aren’t a teacher, be assured that every day in August leading to and beyond the opening of school, I and every other teacher I know will be thinking about, and preparing, how to best teach students. I am way out of my comfort zone and, if I’m being honest, if I could afford to retire early, I would–in a heartbeat! But I know I am learning skills that I guess I need to know to be relevant. As a pencil and paper person, I keep telling myself, “It’s just a different way of communicating.” I’m sure my administrators are worried about me: “Can the old gal handle it?” One thing I am is stubborn. I not gonna lose my shot, to quote a pretty famous musical, at making this the best teaching year of my career.

This year, my 8th grade English Language Arts colleagues and I decided our theme would be The Power of Story. We’re going to make connections with current events and learn to listen, reflect and respond in powerful ways. It’s an open canvas. We’re gonna take out what we don’t need, what we don’t like, what isn’t effective using the distant learning format, and concentrate on making the content extremely relevant. This is right up my alley. As a former journalist, I fell in love with writing when I discovered my words could make a difference in the lives of readers and those I reported about. Teaching students to be powerful writers, thinkers, listeners and speakers is exhilarating. And daunting. While confident with the content since this is my 18th year teaching 8th graders, the HOW I teach it is profoundly unnerving. Thus, the lack of sleep.

It’s going to be different for all of us, but I am hopeful we’ll emerge wiser.

In the meantime, be kind to us dear public. I can promise you, with love, courage and technological assistance from our IT Department, we’re going to to rock it. Somehow.

Just know that every night in August is like a Sunday night for teachers.

the fog has lifted

After weeks of foggy days here at the beach, the fog has finally lifted. No need for my dog-hairy fleece Fall jacket. I can sit outside in a dress and not freeze my fanny off.

There’s something about clear skies, temps in the low 70s, that make you feel like anything is possible.

For example, I just read an “Los Angeles Times” article that reported some students are actually thriving thanks to distant learning. They are in control of their time–the when and where, the how, they learn, the lack of peer distractions and waste of time classroom disruptions. Score one for a positive side effect of the pandemic.

Instead of being huddled inside the house watching TV, my family’s social distance gatherings are now outside in the fresh, freezing air. Score two.

The grandkids now wash their hands more (something grandma has been urging them to do, like, forever). Three points!

I’m spending way less money on gas, lipstick (what’s the point now that I wear masks?), foundation (same point), walking my dogs more, hanging out with family more, re-connecting with neighbors more, thinking about, and preparing, meals with more zeal, not complaining as much about having to do household chores and having the time to think about not only what drives my present, but my future.

Trees and shadows, cooing doves, the running water of my backyard river and the bubbling clawfoot bathtub fountain. A second cup of strong coffee. My daughter upstairs with Millie. She opens the balcony door and my mother-hen instincts coochy-coochy nestles into my twig-framed nest–my home–Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. This place where I have lived and worried, loved, changed, explored and accepted life as it is, imperfect perfection.

My ex-husband, we’re friends. My happy, rude Finn steals food from the table. Monet, the compliant cattle dog, copes and instructs her younger nemesis to be more like her. The visiting cast of adult kids, parents to my very different personality-wise and delightful grandsons, my sister, cousin, nieces and nephews, all keep me on my toes. All have their opinions, anxieties and big, giant hearts.

I was born in the middle. I teach middle school. My house is in the middle of a street that arrows toward the ocean. My middle name, Lee, is short (what was my mother thinking?). I am not tall, nor am I tiny. I am no longer considered middle-aged, but I am definitely not mid-weight. I am wedged between here and there. Sometimes annoying. I want to break out and be extraordinary. But I am average. I am middle. No one’s going to know I was here when I’m gone. So I might as well be here, luxuriate in the middle. Take a bath. Sip a second glass of wine. Order groceries online. Put up the foldable fort for my grandson and blow up the inflatable dinosaurs. The chores can wait. It’s time to hug.

goodwill hunting

Monday’s are da bomb, don’t you think? Gotta crank it up. Gotta get focused. Seize control. Remember “The Why?” Embrace hope and Annie’s, “The sun will come up, tomorrow” philosophy. Check this out–you WILL smile! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w3M_Hsobt4

Look for the moments in Nature, humanity, that need your unique goodness, kindness, love and attention. What can you do–today–to make the world better?

I am pretty sure that, like me, your brows have been furrowed for almost four years. And it seems to get worse tweet by tweet. Well, it ain’t gonna last. It IZ gonna to get better. We’re gonna get better. Why? Because we’re–you and me–are going to seize control of the narrative. We’re taking the mic. We’re in the process of re-focusing the spotlight and the boom on issues that matter to us. The environment. Black Lives Matter. Education. Helping families. Restoring civility. Providing all people regardless of race, creed, gender identity, age, size, abilities, with opportunity. Being responsible. Kind. Telling the Truth.

We’ve been sweeping all the bad stuff under the rug. We didn’t want to deal with it because it’s so frickin hard to fix. But we can’t get rid of the cancer with magical thinking. We have to cut it out, zap it with chemo and fight like hell every day to make sure the bad stuff doesn’t come back.

It starts with attitude. That’s my choice. It’s Monday, the start of a work week. What can I do with the gift of today to bring light to my corner of the planet?

  1. Take time to reflect. Write.
  2. Take my dogs and Millie for a walk and discover the beauty surrounding me.
  3. Help my daughter with child care so I can alleviate some of her stress as she completes her online classes.
  4. Transform anger/frustration into compassion.
  5. Garden: remove a patch of weeds.
  6. Read Mary Oliver.
  7. Make a healthy dinner.
  8. Sing and dance.
  9. Smile.

My list isn’t political. It certainly isn’t going to transform any national debate or abate the coronavirus. But taking steps toward cultivating a healthy, positive attitude will have a ripple effect on the people in my life. If I can focus on the can-dos instead of the grumpy monkey, damn-it-to-hell triggers, my mind will clear and I will become builders instead of destroyers.

Blessings abound. We need to hunt for the good.

FIZZY DRINKS AND FRENCH BREAD

Sweet, sweet summer. Not the same as the last. But sweet. Not working wardrobe-pajamas, but hanging out and gardening pjs. Purposeful, summer-tossed bleached hair. Nonchalant late teeth-brushing. Patience of a naturalist’s eagerness to identify squirrel A (big Mama) from wiry squirrel B (Terrorizing Ted). Living in the tree-shrouded, pond-perculating backyard. Strolling along the beach path with two panting, grinning pups. Drum roll…

and spending the last six days with my NYC daughter and sweet Millie Pie!

We don’t do anything but hang out, drink fizzy drinks, eat just-harvested sweet strawberries and cuddly The Baby. There’s no place else to go except our abode–Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea, morning walks along the beach. No vacation. No getting in the car and traveling. Just buying yummy food—cheese, French bread and olives—occasionally we watch a movie, read the newspaper, try to dive into a book (with 3.5 month Millie, it’s a challenge) and enjoy the process of setting in and catching up.

Right now, it seems like we have the sweet bliss--the luxury–of time. We are are both teachers so we basically share the same summer schedule. We are both nervous about what’s happening in the Fall, but as my daughter has declared several times, “I don’t want to ruin the summer thinking about what may or may not happen. We have no control.”

Being in the moment is what we CAN control.

Yesterday, we walked down to the beach and dropped by the Thursday Farmer’s Market. I was walking the dogs, so my daughteR and 8-year-old grandson picked up two pumpkin, two watermelon and some precious strawberries plants, which had been scarce and out of production. Everyone, it seems, has the Victory Garden bug. Not surprising. As I’ve said before, gardening is all about hope and these plants mean that we’ll have something to nurture and look forward to when life might possibly get even more dicey. I can already imagine the watermelons and pumpkin vines crawling along the stone front yard pathway, weaving in an out of our Poetry Garden, providing neighbors with a smile!

I don’t think I mentioned that in working on the garden immediately after returning from NYC in May, I was inspired by the Black Lives Matters protests and decided (since I was afraid of joining the protests due to virus spread) to create a neighborhood corner of Love, Faith and Hope. I’m using the garden as a canvas to connect with souls who may need a little encouragement. I’ve been noticing people seem to slow down when they walk past: they take photos and talk to their children about the garden’s magic. When I’m outside, we have a nice little chat. People seem more friendly and genuinely appreciative of our patch of TLC. The idea of The Poetry Garden came to me when I was sitting under the stars and thinking about what I could do right now to effect positive change. Admittedly, a garden isn’t institutionally impactful, but I figured if I could use what I have to get people to think about the ties that bind us–love, faith, hope–perhaps we could treat each other with more kindness and respect.

You see, like other ”natural selection” COVID-extraneous people like myself, I know I have a mission, a purpose in life I have yet to tap into. Such beauty to discover and produce. Such fun yet to be had. So much Boisset Collection wine yet to drink!!!! https://my.boissetcollection.com (Seriously, it is The Best wine.)

I have my wonderful three grandchildren to dote on and enjoy watching them grow up and places I want to visit and stories yet to write.

Today, I’m not going to think about the future’s dire possibilities. Today, this moment, is happy. I have everything I need to fill my heart and soul. My family is close by. Food is an online order away. I am healthy. And excited about the unfolding of the predictable day ahead: diaper, feed baby, engage and love, Friday night pizza and wine, a movie and the ocean breeze to coo those dwelling within my Little House on the Corner to sleep. Blessings come in the form of dancing Monarchs and cooing, Jedi babies who saber their grandparents’ hearts into melting hot fudge sundaes. Ridiculous this love thing.

l.o.v.e.

Look at me:

Overweight.

Vulnerable.

Entering a new chapter of life.

Periods separate the letters. If only things were that clear.

Like so many of us, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Fall. I suspect we’ll do some remote teaching/learning and clusters of students will be in the classroom. That we’ll have hand sanitizers and wear masks and I’ll have facial breakouts from the steamy, sweaty September classroom, but will no longer have to wear lipstick and I can continue to talk to myself out loud and no one will know. (Yes, I’m aware that’s a major run-on sentence and that such Sins of the Stylebook will drop my grade to a C and will lower my GPA.) But as a person over 60, cut me a break; I’m feeling extra vulnerable these days. Maybe I’ll have to sign a return-to-work “at your own risk” contract. Maybe by being in the petri dish of an 8th grade classroom for nine hours, I’ll get COVID-19. Maybe I’ll get very sick. Maybe I’ll die. Maybe I’ll unwittingly give it to a child in my class or diabetic ex-husband or baby Millie. Maybe the school district will offer an early retirement buyout to rid taxpayers of medical liabilities, like me. Maybe my daughter’s mother-in-law can’t travel from Hong Kong to help care for the baby and maybe my daughter will end up on welfare–if it even exists any more. Maybe I can’t afford to pay the mortgage and I’ll have to sell my beloved Angel Cove Cottage By the Sea. Maybe California will be cursed with summer fires that will turn our lungs into COVID-19 sponges.

Maybe the maybes are–God Forbid Me for Saying This–me having too much time on my hands!

The would-haves, should-haves, could-haves, what’s up? what’s next? what ifs? are me wasting my precious time the way I do when browsing Next Up “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” singers and never sharing them on Facebook because it’s too embarrassing.

That’s why I historically get away at the start of summer vacation, go camping, be in Nature, drink my share of lovely Boisset wines https://my.boissetcollection.com .

Away, I can clear my head, sort out my priorities, discard the household To-Do List.

But not this year.

Seriously, I have too much time on my hands.

If only I knew what was coming up.

I don’t.

Get over it.

I haven’t decided. I don’t know what’s next? And, from what I’ve heard, what I’ve read on those Quotes of the Day posts, if you aren’t certain, don’t make a decision.

“It’s not time to make a change,. Just relax, take it easy. You’re still young, that’s your fault.There’s so much you have to know.”

Father and Son” newer version

Cat Steven’s “Father and Son” lyrics resonate and evolve in me like the disc bulging garage that NEVER–EVER–gets organized. I listen to Stevens’ music every week. Maybe it’s because I’m boring or maybe the soundtrack of my generation is just that good. Yeh, his words and music meant something to me then, and more so now. Because I feel like I’m that kid with a mortarboard on my head Frisbeeing it up into the limitless sky. I feel like I’m hang gliding and my age-freckled, tough-as-bricks right hand is skimming the edge of heaven. I can teach high school and college with my eyes closed because I’ve been downhill skiing my entire life. I get it. I’ve lived the rising action.

Act III: I need to go to Hawaii and get on a longboard and swim with dolphins and L.O.V.E. like it’s the 1970s and I don’t know anything about the future or the mistakes I’ll make. I just need to be. And believe. And ditch the maybes and replace them with, “What the hell? Give it a shot!”

That breeze that’s rustling the jacaranda tree out front, that wind that’s making my forearm hairs tremble, is my life and I’m on the swing in my backyard contemplating leaping into the blurry, mossy future. What will it take? A shove? Grazing my heels in the sand? The stakes are daunting. There’s no turning back.

School’s out for summer

Living in a cloud. Neither here nor there. Yes or no? Travel plans? Maybe not. Hustle and bustle. I make my own calamity. Engage? Alone? I have to change.

It doesn’t feel like school’s out. Today is my first Saturday post the 2019-20 anti-climatic finale. It just sort of happened, like traveling in one of the middle cars on an Amtrak train. This school year, there was definitely an engine. We worked hard and had a destination in mind. But without an in-person closure of the school year chapter, it’s like there’s no caboose to anchor, “What just happened?” We’re all just drifting, floating from hour to hour, day to day. No alarm clock. No schedule. Just my phone. The TV, which is rarely on these days, and my list of chores. And boy, is my list ever a whopper! Since I wasn’t home during our shelter-in-place heydays, like most other people who had a chance to sort out cupboards and closets galore, I am making up for lost time.

Yesterday, looking for my ex-husband’s passport–which I didn’t find–I noticed a pile of paper junk. I HATE sorting through paper stuff, but once I got a rhythm going and turned on Lenox Hill on Netflix, I was able to sit in the stuffy attic and shred all kinds of ridiculous papers.

I had my masters thesis in the file and tax records going all the way back to 2001. I had refinance papers from 10 years ago that I’m pretty sure I don’t need and Amazon receipts and a trash bag full of nonsense. “No,” I reassured myself throughout the process, “you don’t need it.” Today’s plan is to go back into the attic and toss more stuff I don’t need.

A clean slate.

No matter what, every year at this time of the year I go on an organizing frenzy. The end of one thing so I can clean the slate for something new. It’s sort of a cleansing ritual that divides my profession from my personal life. It’s a process of re-claiming. Most years, I leave immediately after the last day of school and go on a camping trip. The fresh air, the cool nights, the hikes, the stars remain me of who I really am. No make up. Frazzled hair, wrinkled clothes, fingernails framed with watercolor paint.

My ex-husband often accompanies me. We have a chance to be friends again on these trips, see the world, and each other, in a softer, more forgiving environment. Life is easy when we camp: Two plates, two forks, a camp stove, a couple of chairs, sleeping bags. Easy foods, a few bottles of Boisset wine (Happy National Rose Day), a thick book, some tunes and my journal.

If all goes well, I’ll be camping again in a couple of weeks. By myself. In my favorite place: Cambria, CA. The only time I will feel like a bit of a loser is when I go wine tasting in Paso Robles. But I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. I get to meet new people–six feet apart–and ask them questions and wonder about life and my next chapter, which is happening quicker than I can imagine: Retirement. This time next year, if all goes well, I’ll be retired. I’m planning on renting out Angel Cove Cottage and living in the remodeled back house/garage. Much has to be done to prepare. But it will be exciting. Stepping into my near future. Making a radical change. Becoming a Big Girl.

I never imagined being at this part of my life alone. I always figured I’d be with the love of my life, that we’d weathered the storm of raising children, concluded a fulfilling career, were enjoying our grandchildren, and now enjoying each other’s company. But it didn’t work out that way.

Now I get to lavish in my own company, which is challenging for a people-person-teacher/writer like me who just endured 12 weeks of remote teaching and now craves interesting conversations. More self-reflection time for me!

Not to worry: I have my two four-legged buddies to keep me company. They’re sleeping now; Monet on my right near my feet and Finn, curled up in the sun, sitting on the patio sofa. They are intense when they are together, but now the three of us are taking it all in–the cooing dove partners, the ocean breeze and the spinning, rainbow-colored windmill that reminds me it’s time to re-set my clock. School’s out. It’s time to push aside that list and take a much-needed nap.