My mom always sent out Christmas cards when I was little;
for most years they featured her five girls.It always took all of her spare time over the course of a week to get
them all addressed.Meanwhile, I
watched out the window of our farmhouse for the little truck David the mailman
drove to make its way down our road.
Right after he left, I’d brave the snow and make my
way out to the silver box on the wooden post stuck crookedly in the milk can.I loved finding and opening those
cards.Even though our yard was covered
with the real stuff, my favorites were those with scenes of glittery snow.We strung a piece of red yard across
one wall of our house and hung the cards there, adding to the growing art
gallery each day.
I have carried on my mom’s tradition of sending cards each
Christmas.For years, they
featured my children and charted their growth for relatives and friends.I enjoy the process of sending the
cards, writing notes, sealing the envelopes, feeling the stack in my hand as I
walk to the mailbox to deposit them.
While others have gone electronic, storing their addresses
in the computer or on their phones, I still use an old fashioned Rolodex, the
kind with the flippy cards that recline against each other like sleepy friends
on a long road trip.
I use my
fingertips to gently awaken them one by one, the motion of my finger seeming to
beckon each one to come toward me and bring whatever memory it carries.Sometimes, they say little, others are
more talkative, and some speak of a life I used to know, one that does not belong to
The division of financial assets is a part of divorce. It takes hours and reams of paperwork.In the end though, it is done--down to the last cent.The division of friends seems like
it would be more nebulous, especially after thirty years.However, when it happens, it happens in
a chillingly predictable way.In
my case at least, the friends he came into the marriage with, went with
him.I thought I would always stay
in touch with my in-laws, but, of course, they went with him too.
As I flip through my Rolodex, I am amazed at the number of
people in there I thought would be in my life forever, but now they are
not.For a minute, I think of them
sitting at their desks, addressing Christmas cards.Do they linger for just a second when they think about me?Do they smile? Frown? Have they scratched my
name out?Put me in an inactive
file?Deleted me completely?Perhaps so.Then why do I find it so hard to do the same?
A better question would be why I keep the cards of the dead:
two friends and my mother-in-law.I place my fingers around the cards, prepared to pluck them out, but I
can’t do it just yet.Their
addresses belong to others now; their phone numbers have been dissolved, sent
back into the busy sky of numbers that floats above us and yet….
Perhaps it is that little tap of memory each card gives me
that I still need.Perhaps it is
the interspersing of all these people, those who are in my life and those who
have moved on, that somehow gives me a fuller sense of the scope of my
life.For in with those names that
cause me sorrow, are those names and addresses that give me a sense of warmth and also those that give my life a vibrant,
forward motion.I trace my
children’s lives from home, to dorm, to apartments.I add new names to the growing young families of my
nieces and nephews.I add more
cards as my life and relationships expand in ways I never thought it would.
It seems fitting that this holiday, this season of faith,
devotion, and miracles, garishness, glitter, gluttony, and, yes, sorrow comes
to us just before the start of a new year.
In the rush and chaos of the season, I am grateful for the
simple act of sitting down with a pen, clean squares of envelopes, and a clean
square of time in front of me.
My friend Jim went on a wildlife tour and came home to
report that the male elks he saw were “real jerks.”Apparently, they can be selfish, sex-minded, self-centered,
smelly creatures.I joked with Jim
that according to some of my female friends, there are some human males in the
dating pool who can be the same way.
After talking to Jim, I immediately called Brian, that
Certain Very Nice Man.“Thanks for
not being a male elk,” I said.“You’re welcome,” he said without missing a beat.
This is what I love about him.I say wacky stuff all the time and it
does not faze him one little bit.
Months passed and I was obviously not thinking about this
conversation when I was picking out new stockings for Christmas.It was only when I got home and pulled
out the stocking for Brian that I realized it had a big felt elk on it.Ohhhhh…. For a few minutes I thought I
could maybe live with the stocking, but then I knew I couldn’t.I drove back to the store.
“Is there anything wrong with the item?” the clerk asked.
Normal person’s response:“No.”
Betty Response:“It’s just that it’s got a male elk on it and apparently they are kind
of jerks.Well, that’s what my
friend Jim says, and this is for my boyfriend and he is not a male elk at
all.In fact, he is the opposite
of an elk.He is really sweet and
I’m afraid the elk will send the wrong message.You know what I mean?”
Young employee, slightly stunned, “OK."
I went back to the racks of stockings and picked out a bear
Now, I know male bears may not exactly role models either, but this one looks like
the state bear of California so I figure we can go with the whole native
Hope you are having a good time preparing for your holiday!
For a long time I had a project in my Intermediate
Composition class in which my students built kites.After they built them in groups, they wrote essays telling
someone how to make the same kite.
It was a project to help them understand how to write the
process essay.My goal was to
reinforce the necessity of having good organization, and specific, concrete
details.Well, that was script I
had ready just in case any administrator asked why I had my whole class running
across the quad with kites.(After
all, we had to make sure they worked.)
Mostly, though, it was just a fun project that I could do
mid-year when confidence and motivation were flagging.I have a wide variety of students and
this gave them a chance to work together, to create something, and for some
world-weary students to experience some fun for a day.
I divided the students into groups, and they planned what
materials to bring to the next class sessions.I gave general instructions, urging them to bring balsa wood
for the cross sticks, suggesting materials they could bring in to make their
After a few
semesters, I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about kite construction and not
afraid to spout off about it.I
readily told students what would work and what would not.
One semester, I had a student from Argentina named Luis who
was in charge of bringing the materials for his group.He did not speak very much English and
apparently had not really understood what he was supposed to bring.All he had was some string, a crumpled
plastic bag from the grocery store, and some sad twigs he had picked up from
under the tree.
His group was
distraught and came to me for help.They were sure he had forgotten the assignment and had just thrown these
things together.I went to
talk to Luis and he just nodded and smiled at me.
His group was not happy and
was getting a little stressed out.I gave the group permission to borrow from other people in the class to
make their own kite.I talked to
Luis and explained to him all the reasons why these materials would not work
but he just went to a corner of the classroom and started his own project.
I felt a little bad, watching him cobble together his
crippled little kite, but time was passing by quickly.
Soon the groups had finished their
kites.There were some beautiful
creations, decorated with bright colors, festooned with tissue paper and shiny
I saw the students look
at the kite Luis held. Some of them smirked a little.I knew the kite wouldn’t fly but what could I do?
It was a gorgeous day, but there was not too much wind.We tried flying the kites anyway.I always love to see my students get
excited about such simple things.I have a very clear memory of one of my more gangster-type of students,
arms full of tattoos,holding up a
kite in one hand, and his jeans with the other, a cigarette (unlit) in his
mouth, as he ran in his giant black shoes, laughing all the way across the
The students released the kites, and ran with them, but none
of them flew.We decided the wind
was probably not strong enough. Then, as you may have guessed, we all turned to
see one kite high in the blue sky.It was a kite made out of twigs and a crumpled grocery bag, and there at
the end of the string was Luis, smiling.
The other students were amazed at how high the kite went,
the way it hovered in the sky.They asked him about it and he told them he had learned to make this
type of kite as a child in Argentina.They looked at him and then up at the kite with complete awe.
I think about Luis and the kite a lot.This experience really changed my
life.I realized how rigid I was
in my thinking, how smug I was about what I thought I knew, and how wrong I had been.
Now, when one of
my students, friends, or my kids has an idea, I don’t discount it.Instead I say, “Let’s try it!”
What’s the worst thing that can happen?
The world’s a big place.
The sky is wide above us.
Even the most unlikely kites need a chance to fly.
Not too long ago. I was helping my friend K, get ready for a
going-away party for her son who was going to Japan to teach for a year.As I hung lights in the tree, preparing for the party, I thought about the good times we have had in her backyard over the years. Our kids practically grew up together so from Pocahontas and Pokemon parties, to First Communion and graduation parties, we’ve covered them all.
As night fell and the party went into its second hour, I stood beneath that
tree and took in the whole scene before me.I heard the laughter from the guests and saw their familiar
faces, friends connected to us by both joy and tragedy.I saw all the faces of the young
adults, those kids we watched grow up, now just reaching adulthood, all so full
of promise.I stood there and felt
the good solid weight of this life and all those years in this circle of friends,
and I knew I was right where I belonged.
Brian, that Certain Very Nice Man I date, asked me once if after I retire I would want to move some place new and different.I immediately answered no.“Sorry,” I said, feeling a bit stodgy and stick-in-the-mudish.“But I really don’t see myself moving unless something pretty dramatic happens.”
That night at the party, I suddenly saw my life as a Spirograph design.Do you remember those sets of rings and
geared disks? You may have had one as a kid. You pinned down the
outer rings and then inserted a pen in one of the disks and made a design as
you went around the ring. By switching out circles, or switching holes, you could layer design upon design.
looked at the people at the party, and thought about all the history we share,
I saw my life here as one beautiful pattern, one that would not have the depth
nor the intricacy had I not made the choices I have made. I am proud to provide "home base" for my kids. I am happy knowing I'll still be here for many years. I look forward to those parties at K's house someday in the future that, I'll just bet, include celebrating grandchildren.
I know the design of my life is not complete.Oh no, not at all.I have many more wheels to choose from,
many more patterns to add.
While there is adventure and romance in moving, there is
also a beauty in staying put, in pinning your circle to a firm place, in
choosing the colors of your design carefully, gracefully changing out the
wheels when the time is right.
I celebrate the opulent complexity of time spent in one
I think we all have mental pictures of what our pets are
doing during the day when we are at work.
Me?Well, I knew they slept some, but I also imagined the cats, Zelda and Mabel, stretching, walking
around the house, cleaning themselves, staring out the window contemplating
life, eventually conversing with one another about the benefits of a stretching
pad vs. a fence for claw maintenance.
I pictured Kia, my dog, playing with her toys, chewing
her bones, and keeping vigil at the door for my triumphant return at the end of
A few weeks ago, I had to stay home from work because of an elbow
injury.I wasn’t able to do much,
so I went into the bedroom to relax in bed and I found all three of them there,
clearly ready to start their weekday routine.
This is what I found out about my pets during the day:
They were spread out, stretched out, and zonked out starting promptly at 8:00 a.m.I had to physically
move Zelda from the pillow to the other side of the bed and shove Mabel over so I could have a bit of space.Kia had positioned herself sideways
across the bed, so I had to work around her just to straighten out my legs.When I finally got myself wedged in, I
was amazed at their daytime devotion to complete and utter oblivion.
They tolerated me, but just barely.Any movement was regarded with
irritation and undisguised aggravation from the cats.I am a welcomed guest on the weekends and during the night
time hours, but it was clear I was the interloper during working hours.
At around 3:30, the time I normally get home, they managed to rouse themselves.I was
then put to work feeding them and taking Kia out for a walk, despite my very
painful elbow injury.
I actually love the fact that my pets have made my bed their
campout zone.As you may have
guessed, I am crazy about each and every one of those critters.The real trouble comes when it is time
to change the sheets.I assure
them all that it will only take about five minutes and then they will be
welcomed back.It takes some
convincing and some pulling on the sheets.Sometimes the arm crane has to be employed, but they do get
the message eventually.
This picture was taken during one of our stand-offs.
Staying home gave me a new vision of what my pets do while I
am away.They zonk out.They are devoutly dedicated to their
rest.The cats use their one or two hours of activity judiciously after I get home. There are trips out to the food dish, and a bit of time spent on the patio taking in the afternoon sun. Kia, my Rocket Girl, merely stores up
energy that must be released when I get home, resulting in a trip to the dog
park or a long walk.
Ah yes, I guess I did have an incorrect vision of their
daytime routine.Staying home for
two days showed me that.I’ve
readjusted my thinking.
Good thing the vision I have for my sons is still a correct one. They are both in college and so of course when I imagine them, they are sitting at their desks, studying all day and probably most evenings too.
After going through the pain of divorce, I was prepared to
shut my heart away for awhile, to withdraw from the world of relationships that
at that time seemed so murky and full of subterfuge.
I had not seen divorce coming.I felt pretty stupid.Could I ever trust my judgment again?
However, soon I found myself writing to and talking to a
certain man who managed to open that closed door just enough to let me see that
I could maybe, just maybe, risk it and take small steps in the direction of
I was lucky.Brian was the friend of friends.He and I had met over the years at parties where we had various
conversations.It was clear from
the start that we both had a love of language.We also had our own quirky ways of looking at life.Our short conversations were always
snappy, quick, and fun.
He told me
later that when he walked away from these encounters, his one thought was that
my husband was the luckiest man on earth to have me as a mate.
He is a decent man who understands the journey of healing is
not a fast one.He was patient
with me and never pushed our relationship too quickly.Divorce plays with your heart and your
head.It takes your self-esteem
and throws it around like a Frisbee. He always gave me the room I needed to
feel what I needed to feel.He
Best of all, he viewed me through a clear lens.
So often in long-term, complicated relationships, one person
sees the other through a lens scratched from the past, scarred by childhood,
damaged from past injuries, so that even when one acts in an honest and true
way, her motivations are questioned.
I soon discovered that I had, in fact,
lost touch with the person I wanted to be. I had started to view myself through
the scratched lens of my spouse, and had started to believe that view. How refreshing it
was to have all my actions unhampered by the past, by old hurts of which I had
no part. I was free to be me—the real me.
And I had nothing to lose by being the real me.
pretty much strips you down to nothing and you figure what the hell, I might as
well be the person I want to be, the person I am supposed to be. I was tired of
someone taking the play dough of my actions and pushing it through an extruder,
contorting it into some shape that would justify a preconceived notion.I knew if I stayed true to myself that
would never happen again.
I read about a study done on people who regularly went to
movies and ate popcorn.Researchers gave them stale popcorn just before they went into the
show.After the movie, they asked
the audience about the popcorn and the participants said it was fine, no
different from the usual.
They had become so accustomed to the same experience
of eating popcorn at the movies, they did not even recognize when the popcorn
When Brian and I started dating, I started to taste fresh
popcorn. Yowza!Amazing! It had
been a very long time since I had felt truly loved and appreciated just for
being myself. He reminded me that
I was pretty, funny, and creative.This is what I had been missing and I didn’t even know I had been
I had been eating
stale popcorn, accepting it, and thinking that was normal.
Perhaps it happens in all long-term relationships:
appreciation is replaced by expectation; adventure is replaced by
monotony.(In fairness, I was
serving up some major portions of stale popcorn as well.)I know I won’t let it happen again.
My sister Kathleen once referred to me as someone who had a
resilient heart.At the time
she said it, I didn’t see myself that way, but now I do. I am proud of the fact
that I trusted the universe enough to try again and I recognize how
extraordinarily fortunate I am to have found love again.
I realize what a wonderful life I have had, the great adventure
I am living, and the incredible things that await.I am so appreciative of it all.I have a lot of happy memories of my marriage.No matter how it ended, I know without
a doubt that my husband loved me very much for the vast majority of those
thirty years.I have two
incredible sons from that marriage who have blessed my life in so many ways.
And now, I have this new love, this new beginning.
I have found a man who sees me for who
I am and loves this big sparkling, mixed-up, sometimes confusing, happy Bundle
This past weekend we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
I didn't take too many pictures, but I did play around with some reflections in a photography exhibit.
The museum is next to the La Brea Tar Pits.
We strolled over to see the sad sight of the concrete Mama Mastodon sinking into the pit, on her way to a painful, hideous death while the father and baby look on.
What wacky curator thought this nightmare-producing scenario was a good idea?
Is Disney somehow involved here? (Lots of dead mothers in Disney movies.)
Is it my imagination or does the father mastodon have an impassive look on his face?
Why isn't the father mastodon lifting a trunk to help?
Does the father mastodon have evening plans with the cute female mastodon across the pit?
Does he have disco dancing in mind for their first date?
Can a male mastodon dance properly with the baby mastodon waiting in the car (*insert your own trunk joke here) and with the hot tar of the pit in which his mate sank that afternoon upon his craggy toenails?
Whenever I start getting restless, grumpy, and overly picky
about things, chances are I haven’t been getting my creative ya-ya’s out.While I enjoy crafting and photography,
nothing gets me back on track like writing.I know this and yet sometimes I go far too long without
The irony, of course, is
that as a writing teacher I am surrounded by writing every day and I urge my
students to create and explore their ideas. I make sure they have sufficient guidance
and material about which to write. I look over draft after draft, deciphering
the true intent of the piece and showing the writer how to prune, fertilize,
and nurture his or her essay, all the while letting my own creativity go by the
wayside as I carry out my duties.
Don’t get me wrong; I love my job.It’s the best one in the world, but in order to do it well, I have to
remember to pull away on a regular basis and nurture my own talent too.
At this time in my life, it’s relatively easy to
nudge myself back on track.As
soon as I recognize my own restlessness with life and dissatisfaction with
small things, I impose a moratorium on grading and housework and give myself an
hour or two to write and think things out on paper.Though sometimes the process is painful and painstaking, I
feel so much better afterwards and I know I am a better teacher/friend/person
because of it.
When I was a young mother, I ached to write and create, but
was so busy putting everyone else’s needs first.I put my own need for creativity on the back burner time and
time again.As wives and
mothers, we dedicate ourselves to others at the expense of our own needs and
society pats us on our heads and tells us how absolutely full and fulfilling
our lives are.
However, we know
that little voice inside of us cries out.
We know, we know, there is more
to us than just the roles we fill for others and yet we let the world drown
that voice out time and time again.
Thank goodness my little voice didn’t die from all those
years of neglect.Believe me, it
should be dead and gone. (There were times during those years when I was so
torn, I wished it were gone, out of my life forever.)Somehow, though, it survived.It’s a stubborn little thing and even though it manifests
itself in odd ways sometimes, it always welcomes me back graciously when I give
it the attention it needs.
I think about my nieces and young friends who are in the
midst of child-rearing, the hustle and bustle of jobs, and taking on the bulk
of the responsibility of maintaining a household.I want to tell them being creative, taking time for
yourself, heeding that little voice within is neither self-centered nor
selfish.It’s crucial for you,
your children, and your mate.
you claim time for yourself and exercise your creativity in whatever way feeds
your soul, you will be a better mother, a better wife, and a better
person.You will blossom when you
spend on your ideas and creativity.The small stuff goes away.The meaningless irritations melt. By creating, and doing what YOU want
to do, you take yourself to a higher plane and get some perspective.You thrive and, thus, others around you
“Finding” this time does not work and neither will waiting
for someone to grant it to you.It is a rare spouse or child who will give you this time.You must honor yourself enough to claim
it for yourself.Speak up
and claim it.
Ah, but won’t this cause conflict?Oh yes, the three classic forms of conflict—person vs.
person, person vs. environment, person vs. self—they are all involved here,
aren’t they?That will not
change.Those conflicts will
Do the thing
you need to do anyway.
Claim the time.Claim the space.You are
God didn’t give you
talent to watch it wither.Nurture
that deep need within you even if it means taking time away from what others
deem more important.You know what
you need.Listen to that voice.
For here is the harsh truth from Aunt Betty:The years will pass. Your children will
grow up and move into their own lives.Sometimes, even spouses go away when we least expect it.And there you are.
There you are.
You, and your voice.
My wish for you is that you both be
clear, bold, and strong.
Want to take a little evening stroll?OK, let’s go five miles full tilt and
then take just a little run up that hill.
yen to craft?Decoupage, you
say?Well, OK!I’ve got a gallon of Glitter
Modge-Podge here. Let’s see what
we can do with five hundred sheets of multi-colored tissue paper, the front
door, and this collection of cat hair I keep right here in the cookie jar
beside my bed.
Some tiny-minded people call Betty a crazed maniac.
I prefer the term passionate enthusiast.
These tendencies to go into overdrive are built into my
personality and always there, smoldering, ready to burst into flame given the
right conditions and nothing sets them aflame like the lighter fluid of an audio
Thus, after I watched the documentary Fat, Sick and
Nearly Dead about a man whose poor health
habits and obesity were turned around by a regimen of juicing, naturally I had
to go online, obsessively research juicers, buy a huge one and start juicing
everything in sight.
(Did I have poor eating habits or was I obese, you ask?Well, no….Why did I need a big honking expensive juicer?Why am I now spending all my spare time standing in the produce
aisle grabbing up root vegetables and buying giant bags of organic carrots? Do
you need to go back and read the first few paragraphs of this post?Well, do you?)
I know, I know. Juicing takes away the valuable fiber of the
vegetables, there is a lot of sugar in them there carrots and apples, the human
body can’t absorb all those nutrients in a short amount of time.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.Step back, non-believers!
In fact, Betty wrote this post while being high on her
juicy, juice, juice concoction and there was very little interference from the
buzzing in my ears or the narrowing of my optical field.
It’s so much fun to go to the market now and select fruits
and vegetables based on how much juice they will produce and what color will
come dripping out of the spout of the juicer.Beets are my absolute favorite.Yowza!Purple!Pretty!(Clap!Clap!)
Here are some of my other favorites:
Yellow Beets!!! (Who knew?)
(I SO want to have a baby girl now, just so I can name her Rainbow Chard!)
Here are the ingredients for my current Juice Madness
I like to juice just before I go to work, so on Sunday night
I form a one-person factory-worker/mass-production/Henry Ford assembly line
and bag up five Ziplocs full of veggies, so I can just grab and juice in the
I have been experimenting with making crackers out of the pulp.
So far, not so good, but I'll keep you up-to-date!