Musings on creating a TED Talk…


, , , , ,

I was introduced to TED Talks by one of my students several years ago (thanks, McCoy!).  I instantly fell in love with them and have been viewing them ever since.  You can, then, imagine how happy I was to discover last year (March 2014) that my own university had become a licensed TEDx site and was holding its second annual TEDx program (TED talks are out of New York and Canada, but TED licenses other locations to conduct TED Talks and those are called TEDx). Nirvana!  I don’t know how I managed to miss the first one, but I was certainly going to jump on that train as quickly as possible.  In order to get tickets, you have to commit to going for the entire program since it is done with an audience.  We’re talking about from something like 10-6.  I couldn’t imagine how that worked, but we were willing to try.   I went with my daughter, AnneAlexis.

We were totally blown away.  From the very first speaker, a student who spoke on the issue of the importance of debate societies, to the very last, it was simply mind-blowing.  The TED Talk tagline is “ideas worth sharing,” and each and every one of the dozen or so speakers absolutely fit that.  The ideas were incredible, the delivery of them incredible, and the overall way the audience experience was handled by the organizers was incredible.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  What seemed like an extraordinarily long time for a program, flew by.  You were so interested in the speakers until time did not matter.  We were given two breaks over the span of the event, we were fed, we played games and had time to speak to perfect strangers, it was awesome.

I recall walking away discussing the program with my daughter and saying, “I could NEVER do a TED talk!!!”  Since public speaking of one kind or another is my life, my daughter couldn’t understand why I would say that.  I told her that I was more of an extemporaneous speaker.  Though always well prepared, I bring my audience into whatever I am presenting and use their energy and ideas to give them what they came for.  They matter to me and they are an integral part of what I deliver.  I HATE the idea of simply delivering a speech.  Even when I do a keynote address for something like a graduation, I bring the audience into it.  Just standing and speaking?  No way.  Using notes or having a prepared text memorized?  Not me.

Then I was asked by the TEDx folks to allow them to nominate me to do a TEDx talk.  Wow.  Wonderful to be asked, but I declined.  “Sorry.  I don’t do that sort of speaking,” I said. “But, we’ve asked all around and your name keeps coming up!  Of course you can.  And we will support you the whole way.  You’ll have a team assigned to you whose only job is to help you make your talk conform to the TED format.”  We went back and forth about it and she finally convinced me to at least go online and fill out the nomination form before the deadline so I could be considered and I could always decline the nomination if it came.  I was so hesitant until I emailed her just before pressing the “send” button.  “Are you sure about this?, I asked.  “Push the send button,” she said.

Well, I did, and days later I received the news that I had been chosen.  Of course, once that happened, it was hard to decline.  They sent a team to interview me to make sure I would agree to do it, was available for the event and surrounding commitments, and was amenable to having a team of students help me.  The students take a class in how to do TED Talks and in addition to doing one themselves for the class, they teach presenters what they’ve learned about how this is done.  As it turns out, part of why the interview is necessary is that some people are not at all comfortable with the idea of taking instruction from students.  Well, that wasn’t a problem for me.  I teach students every day and deal with them in extracurricular activities and I know how incredibly competent and committed our students are.  Plus, they’ve had the class and I haven’t.  So I agreed.  More than giving the talk itself, I was intrigued by taking what was in my head and letting the students help me create a TED Talk that would be something that would look like—actually be— a TED Talk.  Much like when I write, I did it because I wanted to see the final product.  What would a TED Talk by me look like?  How would I actually say the idea that I had that was worth sharing?  What would the process of getting there look like?

The process has been all I could have hoped for.   I have LOVED it!!!!!!! The entire process! Today is March 1st and the program is March 27th.  The dress rehearsal is March 26. The 500 tickets were sold out within the first hour they went online.  It has created enormous buzz.  I hadn’t told my classes I was doing it, but I happened to have in my class a student I had had the semester before when I was chosen and I had told his class.  I happened to have him in class the day and time that tickets went on sale and at the end of class he came up and excitedly told me that he’d secured a ticket.  I didn’t have the heart to scold him for being online in class.  :-)  He told me I really should tell my classes.  The truth is, I really hadn’t told a lot of people about it.  Mostly, I told people as it came up in terms of dates.  That is, when we were seeking dates for meetings, I would tell them I wasn’t available because I was doing a TED Talk.  They always instantly registered awe.  Actually, it’s rather embarrassing.  I’m just giving information, but I forget how it will be taken.  But the truth is, I would have reacted the same way if someone had told me they were doing a TED Talk!

After the website was posted announcing the presenters and because of my student (thank you, George!  :-)  ), I decided to tell my classes and to put it on my Facebook page.  I was not prepared for the reaction.  The students seemed to look at me with new eyes.  My students tend to love me already, but this was different.  It was as if the idea that I could actually be asked to do a TED Talk that could be seen by the entire world made me somehow elevated to a new position in their minds.

I don’t do an awful lot on Facebook.  I tend to go on only if I receive an email notice that makes me want to congratulate someone for something or I click on “share on Facebook” if an idea regarding equality issues and civic engagement comes up.  It is rare for me to actually go on and post something.  But, I posted that I was doing a TED talk.  I was amazed at the response.  People from as far back as law school (I graduated in 1975!) left comments for me saying incredibly complimentary things.  The list of names in the comments and over 100 “likes” was like reading a review of my life.  People I had been involved with in ways large and small reached out.  We touch so many people in our lives that it is easy to forget how much of an impact we have—and it doesn’t help if you tend to slough off the thanks and just move on to the next item on the agenda.  With me being a professor, I touch even more people than most and sometimes do so at crucial times in their lives.  Seeing the names and immediately remembering them, even from decades ago, was like getting to listen in at my own funeral.   Unbelievable. Incredible. Truly, truly touching.

While that has been a part of the process I had not realized would be there, the part of the process that has been what I looked forward to —choosing a topic, honing it down and shaping it into an actual TED talk, has been amazing.  I asked lots of people what I should speak on, including my students I told when I was chosen.  I read a poem at the beginning of each class, and several suggested I do that because it was so impactful.  My 8-year-old granddaughter looked at me with a “Duh..” look and said, “Nana, you have to talk about what you ALWAYS talk about!  Love and the Law!  One of the people I asked was the president of my university.  We had been colleagues for 25 years before he was appointed and he knew me and my work, especially with students, well enough to know issues of interest to me. His suggestion was what immediately gave me my first draft of 18 pages.  Of all the things everyone had said to me, his was the one that set my mind in a swirl.  Not the topic he actually suggested, but instead, what it made me think of.  Getting out that first draft was ENORMOUSLY helpful.  If I was going to be confident about doing this, I knew I needed time.  The sooner I could nail down a topic, the longer I had to be able to think about it.  I am more of an appellate lawyer than a courtroom lawyer, though I am capable of both.  Appellate lawyers get plenty of time to think about their topic, research it, try this and that, and craft their final product.  Courtroom attorneys have to battle it out minute by minute on the spot.  I am more of the former.  I need time to think and re-think and craft my words and ideas.  I realize that I get some of my best thoughts when I am working out at the gym each morning, or walking my 10,000 steps a day, or even drifting off to sleep.  I need that time.  So, although I had not yet even had the first meeting with my team, I had a complete first draft.  When we met, they were astonished.

By the way, I am not revealing anything about my topic before I give my talk.  Of course, it is always the first thing people ask as soon as they know I am doing one.

My first timed draft in October was 22 pages and was 30 minutes long.  I was told it had to be no longer than 18.  I honed it down to that and was told the time had changed to no longer than 12 minutes.  I got there.  But, the process of doing so has been phenomenal and will stay with me forever.  Doing a TED Talk makes you have to think about the true clarity of your message.  Everything I have said in every draft is worth saying, but in the end, if I have to cut something out for time, what can go, yet still leave my message totally intact?  That clarifies my thinking in ways I am not sure I have ever done.  It is totally different than, say, preparing for a 20-minute presentation to an audience for Black History Month, as I have to do for tomorrow, or even meandering around at will as I do here in a blog.

As a textbook author whose texts are used worldwide, as a professor who speaks to classes with students from all over the world, I am used to the idea of taking my audience into account (rather than saying what it is I might want to say with no regard for how it is received) and trying to make sure my message can be understood by all, not just people “just like me.”  But, doing a TED Talk takes that to a new level.  I am used to expressing my ideas, but I generally do so in a way that is a one-shot deal.  With a TED Talk, you have to think about people all over the world watching your talk over and over.  Some things that are fine on a fly-by basis, do not stand up the same way to close examination. The good thing is that my message is a familiar one to me and is absolutely what I would tell the entire world if I had the chance.  That is comforting because it means I will not be struggling with something unfamiliar that I am trying to do just for TED Talk purposes.  My message is my life, so it is not foreign to me, and that means I don’t have to worry about spending precious energy being uncomfortable on that score.

I have pretty much left this month free to deal with my TED Talk.  Where I could, I have not scheduled things because I know that it helps me to be centered, comfortable, and laser-focused, which gives me the confidence I will need to go out onto that stage and face 500 people in the audience and potentially millions around the world.  I’m not quite sure what people who are not used to public speaking do.  That would be so daunting.  One of the speakers from last year told me she had had, I think, an operation on her Achilles tendon the week before.  I can’t imagine.  And she was drop-dead phenomenal. I tell myself that if she can do that, then certainly, I should be able to speak my truth and do it well if I am in good health and centered.   My team has been absolutely wonderful.  They know their stuff and give great helpful suggestions and insights.

Even as I say this, I continue to hone and preen and craft and massage my message so that it meets the standards of the incredible TED Talk presenters that I know and love. Speaking of which, I’d better get back to it!  :-)

By the way, our TEDx program will be live streamed on March 27.  To find out how to get it, visit the website at



Can we all just get along?

At the post-funeral shiva (the Jewish version much like a gathering to eat and visit together after a funeral) of my 18-year-old goddaughter recently, I had the occasion to truly think about racial and cultural differences and the world we live in.  My goddaughter was African American.  She was adopted at birth by my dear friend who is Jewish.  Literally, it was at birth, as the adoption was an open one and my friend cut the umbilical cord of the baby she did not birth, but would take home with her.  She was the only mother her daughter would ever know.   In the Jewish faith, children take on the status of the mother, so my goddaughter was Jewish as well.  Not long after the birth, my friend married a Catholic teddy bear of a human being who adopted her daughter and truly took her on as his own.  They also had a biological daughter  a short while later.  They divorced after several years, but remain close and my goddaughter and her dad were as if joined at the hip.

Over the years, whenever I attended events such as their wedding or the bris bat (sort of like a Jewish baby christening ceremony) or even her bat mitzvah, the events have been a mix of Jewish tradition and Christian concepts, and a gathering of people of all races and faiths.

I thought about this the other day as I sat at the repast looking both at the scores of varied people in attendance at the marking of this sad occasion, and past them out the window at vast Lake Michigan far below, across the street.  I watched old friends reconnecting over the death of a beloved family member of their dear friend, children laughing and playing with the resilience that only youth can bring, young adults and college students I’d known since the day they were born sharing a cautious laugh, much aware of the seriousness of the occasion and the terrible sudden loss of someone in their age group, perhaps their first rude awakening to the reality that youth does not equal invincibility.

But, what I really found myself thinking about was how there were so many different kinds of people, and even though the event was a Jewish shiva, people still found common ground to come together and share grief and laughter.

I thought about this because as I had googled for the news article on my goddaughter’s death earlier that day, I came across  the most unabashedly racist posting imaginable about it.  The posting had taken the family photo used in a newspaper article, showing my goddaughter with her white parents and sister, and paired it with a headline about her dying because she was “driving while black” by painting her nails, listening to loud rap music and texting, all (except the possible texting) total racist fiction.  The author and the on-line posters who responded,  used this horrendously sad event as an occasion to negatively comment on her race, as well as her being adopted by a white family, and the decision to do so.  On-line posters said vicious things like the truck driver who hit her did the world a favor, and that the whole family of liberal democrats should have been in the car with her, and on and on.

Part of me wants to, as my daughter posited, ignore this and give it no more life or energy than it deserves as a mean-spirited racist rant.  Part of me wants to address it because it is so shocking.  Part of me wants to address it because it is part of what we need to know exists and is still with us, even as we try to pat ourselves on the back and talk about being a “post-racial society” (whatever that is…).

The latter two parts won out.  I think they did so because I don’t want us to forget that this element still exists in our society.  That is, someone who would take the sad occasion of the death of an 18-year-old in a tragic car accident to put out there for the world to see, their vile, mean-spirited opinions about African Americans and the idea of races coming together in love.

“Racist” is a word I rarely use.  It is not a conclusion I jump to.  It is one I crawl to and only then if I have to.  I understand that racism and racists exist, but with there being so much ignorance of each other in the world and so many who would rush to characterize that ignorance as racism, I prefer to be more conscious in my choice of words.  If someone tells me they are racist, of course, I am willing to believe them.  Otherwise, I don’t necessarily assume that certain questionable acts are so motivated. But, given the nature of these comments, I am quite comfortable in concluding that they are, in fact, racist, and intentionally so.

I am a lawyer and a professor, so logic is important to me.  I guess that trying to bring logic to this situation is pretty useless.  When people feel as negatively as this toward a perfect stranger who belongs to a group they dislike, I don’t think it is based on logic.  After all, they did not know her and she did nothing to them to earn their ire.

I thought about how my goddaughter’s parents, upon meeting, had refused to relegate themselves to simply being in a category (Jewish and Catholic) and instead dealt with each other as human beings and allowed their feelings for each other to grow and blossom rather than deny they could do so because they were of different religions and cultures.  I thought about being an African American and Baptist minister’s kid never once got in the way of my and my friend’s nearly 30-year friendship.  I thought about how different all the people gathered in this North Lakeshore Drive condo high above Lake Michigan were, yet how much they all enjoyed this event despite it being such a sad occasion.

As I looked at the people interacting, I found myself wondering why it is that we can’t all just get along.  Why is it we don’t try harder to find common ground, to feel less threatened by difference, to be more willing to understand that all each of us wants to do is be loved, respected and find some measure of personal comfort as we journey through this world? If we don’t make the effort to do it, one encounter at a time, how will it ever get done?

On-line commenting-be kind


, , , , ,

I recently had the very unfortunate experience of attending the funeral of my 18-year-old goddaughter who died in a car accident.  According to the Chicago Tribune article about it, a cell phone with an unfinished text message was found in her lap, so the thought was that the accident may have occurred because she was texting while driving.

I think (or at least, I hope) that we all know that texting while driving is an incredibly bad idea that not only puts the texter at an unnecessary high-level risk, but also anyone else in the vicinity.  It simply shouldn’t be done. Period.

However, what struck me and saddened me when reading the on-line comments about the article was the extent to which people so carelessly made comments castigating her.  She had lived on this earth for 18 years, but in the media it was as if the only thing that mattered and that she left as the legacy of her all-too-short life was the decision she may have made in the last few seconds of it.  People carelessly commented on how stupid and thoughtless it was for her to have texted while driving.  How many comments do we need about it before we get the message that people thought it was not an ok thing to do?  The effect was akin to a dog pile.  The comments just went on and on and were so negative.  You’d think she was the first person who ever (possibly) texted while driving.

Among other things, this was someone’s daughter, sister, grandchild, niece, cousin, friend, schoolmate, student, and goddaughter. She had a brilliant smile, a very soft spot for animals, loved her family and also struggled with lifelong issues.  She wasn’t just her final possible decision.  On-line posters should remember that while their point may have some measure of validity, and they are certainly entitled to their opinion, that is not a license to be unkind.  The posts are there for anyone to see, including her grieving friends and family.  It costs us nothing whatsoever to make cogent comments in a kind way, and to refrain from doing so once we see that there are already many that have voiced our view.  I can think of no legitimate, productive reason for vitriol, negativity and unkindness at such a time.

I think on-line comment posting is a tremendous tool in a vibrant democracy.  It gives us a much easier way to provide public comment on issues of interest.  But, with that, I believe, comes responsibility.  Being firm in your opinion does not mean you cannot be kind and compassionate.  Refraining from piling on once your position has already been posted by someone else does not add to the discourse.  It simply reflects that the poster is more interested in being seen and heard than in adding anything new or more insightful to a productive dialogue.

I think that for on-line posting to be most productive and effective, which it certainly can be, each of us should do our posting in a kind and thoughtful way.

I’ll leave the incredibly racist posting that showed up for another blog entry.

There’s a Roller Derby World Cup and we have 10 amazing photos to prove it


This is my baby girl, giving up the body as she always does, for Team USA Roller Derby in Dallas at the World Cup this weekend! Works hard, plays hard. That’s my Tess. ;-)

Originally posted on For The Win:

Last weekend in Dallas, teams from 30 countries and six continents gathered to compete in the Roller Derby World Cup. The US beat England in the finals to take the trophy. It was the first time that the tournament, sponsored by Blood and Thunder Magazine, had been held since 2011.

Skaters crowd surf as they wait for a group photo (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Skaters crowd surf as they wait for a group photo (Robert Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Spanish skaters huddle before player introductions (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Spanish skaters huddle before player introductions (Robert Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Jennifer Gaskins flexes after scoring points for the United States during a scrimmage. (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Jennifer Gaskins flexes after scoring points for the United States during a scrimmage. (Robert Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Italian and Swiss skaters cheer for an injured player from Switzerland who left the track under her own power. (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Italian and Swiss skaters cheer for an injured player from Switzerland who left the track under her own power. (Robert Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Signe Sletmoen "Sletmoen," a skater for Norway, shows off helmet-matching makeup after a game. (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Signe Sletmoen “Sletmoen,” a skater for Norway, shows off helmet-matching makeup after a game. (Robert Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images)

Melanie Pfister of Team USA, signs a skate boot in the team's locker room (Bob Scheer/USA TODAY Sports Images) Melanie Pfister of Team USA, signs a skate boot in the team’s locker…

View original 96 more words

Transitions: Contentment Cottage once again

I’m transitioning back to living alone.  It’s not my first time.  I’ve done it several times over the past several years.  Every time I say goodbye to one kid, it seems like another bounces back or someone needs a place to stay.

I just said goodbye to my oldest daughter, her eight-year-old daughter and her three-year-old son.  I was only too glad to have a place for her to stay while she saved for a new house after her divorce. I was glad, but it was also hard.  She, her husband and baby had lived with me for three years two years before, after selling their home in another state and moving here with their new six-week-old daughter.  It was a better place to raise a kid.  Good decision.  But, what with one thing and another, it took a bit longer for them to move into their own home than anticipated.  Once they moved out, I did a totally renovation of my home, top to bottom.  New furniture, everything painted, tile work, shelves built, you name it, I did it.  I chose the things I’d always wanted but that weren’t practical if you had kids.  I was alone, all my girls had graduated from college or were off in school, so this could be exactly and precisely what I wanted.

Two years later, she was back. This time with two kids.  I don’t want it to sound like she’s a flake.  She’s about as far from a flake as you can get.  But, sometimes like just goes in a direction you hadn’t anticipated.  Again I was glad to be there for her.

But I would have chosen totally different things for my home had I known I have young children around.  I love my grands unmercifully.  But the home of a 60-year old without kids is not the same as that of a 34 year old with two.  Adjustments had to be made.  A lot of stuff went into the basement.  Things had to be kid-proofed.  I thought i was well past that stage of life, what with all mine being grown and off on their own.

After two years of being alone and having total control over my space, my time, my funds, myself, I had a full house again.  With young children.  And my daughter, while truly glad for the resource, will be the first to tell you that her Mama did not raise her to live with her Mama at age 33.  It was a constant source of irritation and frustration for her.  But, after three years of saving, she had her new house.  She is incredible.

It took some adjusting.  For all of us.  But, we did it.  We made it work.  Thank God I have a house that can take it.  At one point, when one of my daughter’s colleagues who has three kids, ages 6 months, 11 and 16, was evicted from her apartment over a dispute (the landlord was totally wrong–and that is my legal opinion as a lawyer), my household expanded to include her family for two months.  I saw her recently, and she marveled at how there were three entire families living in my house while she was there and they still were all able to have their own space instead of being on top of each other.

That is a blessing.  I do not, for one second, take for granted the fact that my basement is a full apartment, complete with its own separate entrance.  That is always mine.  They can have the rest of the house (two more floors), but in order to make this work, I have to have a space I can call my own.

So, here we are again.  My entire home, with just me in it.  It’s the first time I’ve been able to enjoy the home I love since I paid off the mortgage nearly two years ago.  After a small army of cleaning people, upholstery cleaners, handymen, reupholsters, I see my home again.  The one I’ve loved for 26 years.  The one that brings me such peace each and every time I walk into it and it envelopes me.  It is not called Contentment Cottage for nothing. The one that has seen me through births, deaths, school beginnings, graduations, joys, disappointments, marriages, heartbreaks, celebrations and tragedies.  The one that everyone who comes into it to visit remarks upon how incredibly comfortable they feel there.  It just happened over the Thanksgiving holiday last week, when I had a house full of family and first-visit company.

It is mine once again.  To sit alone by the fire and feel myself once again be rejuvenated, reenergized, and fueled to go out and carry on the business of living for another day.  To put something down and know it will be right there when I return.  To know that the time I resentfully spend cleaning up when I want to do something I consider more productive will be worth it because there is no one there to quickly undo my ministrations.  To know that my preference for subdued lighting does not annoy someone else who prefers to have things brighter.  To not worry about being out of an herb, spice or other grocery that I keep in stock and did not know had been depleted.  To have my glass, 4-season sunroom/conservatory be just that instead of a playroom I dare not enter because the transition from one to the other was such a testament to no longer being in exclusive control of my space. To look out at the gardens, with their graceful meandering paths and arches and know that I will once again have the will and energy to bring them back to life because I will be in a position to enjoy them, something that means so, so much to me, once again.

I missed my home.  It has belonged to others for three years.  Like a shy kid wanting to know an object of her affection, I had to approach it again, slowly.  It wasn’t simply that my daughter moved out and I moved back in all over my house.  I had to take it a bit at a time.  I had to get used to it again.  I had to make it mine again.  I had to go out and come in and go out and come in and go out and come in from the day a few times and see how it felt.

The first thing i had to do when everyone finally left was to go to the movies.  It is one of the things my daughter and I do when we have been in stressful situations and want to truly immerse ourselves in something that completely takes our mind away.  So, I did.  I went to the movies that night and saw the Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part I.

It accomplished its purpose.  But I still needed to deal with how my home felt to me.

The first thing I did when I felt my home, strangely clean, orderly and peaceful-looking, was almost mine once again, was to pick my favorite quilting spot, grab a quilt I’d been working on ages ago, and sit in that spot and quilt.  I lit the fireplace, turned on the TV, found an old Bette Davis movie, settled myself in my favorite quilting spot, and proceeded to see how it felt.

Quilting is important to me.  I can only truly do it as I wish to do it, in peace, contentment, and centeredness.  I believe that what I am feeling is transferred piece by piece, stitch by stitch (I quilt by hand rather than machine) into my quilts.  I want it to be only good things.  People truly feel those good feelings when they are under my quilts.

Don’t even bother to argue with me about it.  I know my truth.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

If I could sit in my favorite quilting spot in this place that did not quite yet feel like my old home, and quilt contentedly, I knew it was once again mine.

It was.

I am still in the process of getting to know it in ways that can only come with time, but I could not be more pleased to discover that despite its transition to a home expanded to include so many others, it is now once more the calm, peaceful, beautiful, home of renewing energy that I have loved.

Lest you think she doesn’t, you should know that my daughter who moved out gets all of this too.  Not only does she feel the same way about now having her own space, but she knows me so well that without my saying a word, she understood precisely what her being in mine meant for me.  Her two-page letter to me last Mother’s Day fully demonstrated that.  Knowing what she knew I was giving up for her was part of her turmoil, even though at the very same time, knowing I loved her enough that I would do such a thing for her was something she appreciated with all her heart.

So, we are both transitioning.  We miss each other very much after spending so much time together for so long, as we really love, value and appreciate each other.  But, she was right: I didn’t raise my daughters to live with their Mama.  I am as ecstatic for her to be in her new home as I am to be back in my own.  And I know she feels the same way.

The grandkids came over for a sleepover last night and having them here in my home as visitors is an entirely different dynamic.  We appreciate each other and value our time together in a new way.  What fun it was to bake cookies with them last night, make them hot cocoa, and sit by the fire reading Christmas stories, then wake up and make them blueberry pancakes this morning.  Especially since this first week of separation resulted in phone calls of convulsive tears of missing Nana, face-time calls, and a visit to read them a story in their new home.

Come to think of it, the grandkids may be the biggest beneficiaries of all this transitioning.  :-)

Transitioning back to being alone is a process I am loving more and more each and every day.  Contentment Cottage is bringing me contentment once more.

Time…And Consistency

Wow. I can’t believe it’s been 6 months since I wrote! What happened?!!

I won’t beat myself up about it. Life happened.

Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.

There’s been lots and lots and i will soon write about it, I’m sure.

In the meantime, it’s interesting that as I have been clearing out and organizing my basement storage area in anticipation of my daughter (who lives with me with her 3 and 8-year-old) closing on her new home on Friday (11/21/14) and moving out the next day, I have come across items that have taught, or reminded me, of things I’d forgotten about myself.

For instance, I have learned that I am nothing if not consistent.

Bags – When I travel, I buy practical things . I don’t like cluttery mementoes. I’d rather have something I can use in my everyday life to give me a pleasant little reminder of my travels. I have come across bags I bought in every country I have visited. Just seeing the bags, alone, was a trip down memory lane! Aruba, Costa Rica, Kenya, Ghana, a Carnival Cruise, Disneyworld, New Zealand, Oxford, Australia, Alaska. There were over 30. I needed a storage tub just for bags! And I haven’t carried an actual purse for years! These aren’t purses (except a couple). They are carrying bags. I only use them to hold my knitting when I travel. But they are there. Lots of them are there.

Tissues – They were present in nearly every bag! I always need tissues. I read recently that premature babies often have respiratory issues during their lifetime. I know if that is true now, it was probably certainly true 63 years ago when I was born and the doctors told my parents not to count on me living. Maybe that’s why I can rarely be far from a tissue.

ChapStik – Yep, that was there too in the bags I carried. I hate not having the things I know life and experience tells me I will need. I always carry tissues, ChapStick and nail files. Don’t you hate needing a nail file and not having one? It is SO annoying! So, I do.

All this, and I haven’t carried a bag, as in purse, in at least two years. All I carry is a small credit-card-sized woven pouch that I bought in Costa Rica. Best investment I can think of having made in a while. It carries my money, credit cards, a tissue, half an emery board, my drivers’ license, car registration and insurance. And I carry it right in my bra. Ooop! Should I not have told you that?! My bad! :-)

I also found date books and calendars going back to 1976 when I worked at the White House Domestic Council. Can you imagine?! And there is one for virtually every single year! What a find! Just the lunch dates alone are a gold mine! Of course, since it was 38 years ago, I don’t know who half the names are, but there are great familiar ones—people I haven’t thought about in eons. It’s like looking at another whole life.

There is the storage tub filled with photos. Thank heaven I had the presence of mind to know this day was coming and I dated them and gave names and ages and places. When my last paternal family member died, my Dad’s brother, I ended up with a trunk full of my Grandma’s photos of people about whom I was clueless. I mean I knew maybe 2 people out of hundreds of photos. I swore then and there that I would never do that to anyone. As painstaking and time-consuming as it was, back before digital photos, I religiously wrote all the identifying information on the back of each photo. It did not matter that the info was on one and there were obviously similar ones. They could get separated, so each had to have its own information. Thank heaven digital at least gives me a time and place. I still want ages there because that’s the sort of info you want to know when you look at a photo.”Oh, you were so cute! How old were you in this picture?!” It came in handy when my 8-year-old granddaughter was with me, looking at things as I sorted them, and she could see for herself how old her Mom and aunties were by just turning the photo over. Neat!

Fabric/yarn/wool for hand spinning – I still have fabric from dresses I made for my girls 30 or more years ago. That will come in handy, as I also see that some of the early quilts I made for each of my three daughters (now 36, 34 and 27) need patching and I have the original fabric I used. I noticed that for the most part, I chose fabrics that I still love today, 30+ years later. Amazing how consistent I am. I also notice I like blue and white bedrooms. Nearly 40 years later, it is still my favorite color scheme. In fact, I was having the bathroom attached to my bedroom redecorated as I was going through this and the color I had just picked out was the same blue. I’m not in a rut. it is just the color that best soothes and calms me. The color I can best live with. I love lots of other colors, but I guess there’s just no fighting it: this is my live-with color.

Advent calendars – There is a storage tub of nothing but our advent calendars over a 30+-year period. The girls still get one every year (which reminds me that I need to order them for our December 1st festivities next week!–we’re having them a bit early since everyone will be here for Thanksgiving). I love being able to see them. They don’t mean anything to anyone else, but I love seeing them and they don’t take up much space. They can throw them away after I die. Somebody tossed a couple a few weeks ago. Luckily, I found them and saved them. :-)

Clothes – I don’t think of myself as caring about clothes, pretty much at all. Turns out, I guess I do. I found some. In fact, I found lots of them. Lots. Three tubs of African clothing, alone. And lots more. Some of which I just washed and re-discovered for wearing. Neat! Timeless (my daughter says they aren’t… :-) )

And that’s just the beginning. But, I have to go now. Maybe that’s why I haven’t written since May. I forgot how time-consuming it is! :-)

Being a Mama


Happy Mothers’ Day to all it fits.  Mothers rock.  Where would we be without them?  As a mother, I know the minute to minute sacrifices you make for your kids each and every day.  No matter what your circumstances or how you do motherhood, I applaud you. As Oprah says time and again, it’s the hardest job in the world.

Being a mother was one of the things I am absolutely certain that I was put on earth to do.  

I cannot remember a time when I did not want to be a mother.  It was just always a part of me.  It doesn’t mean I always did it right.  Not by a long shot, I’m sure my three daughters would say.  But it was clear that being a mother was truly, truly important for me.  Motherhood took on an even greater urgency after my own mother died when I was 20.  I had my first daughter at 27, my next at 29, and my third at 36.

I don’t know whether the draw was in getting to pass on what my mother gave to me, or wanting to have a captive audience for which I could bake fresh bread, pies, cookies and other goodies, make clothes, cook delicious meals, grow fruits and veggies for, make quilts for, read to or snuggle in front of the fire with and watch old black and white movies with.  Maybe it was all of the above and more.

Whatever it was, I wanted to do it and I could not be more proud of the three incredible women I ended up being privileged to mother.

As a mother, I quickly learned that my daughters were not put on earth to be extensions of me.  Rather, I learned that they were on loan to me to love, protect and guide, but that I had to allow them to be who they wanted to be rather than who I might want them to be.

My girls having the freedom to be who they wanted was extraordinarily important to me.  If you can’t be yourself, then what’s the point of being?  Our children are not our second chance to try to “get it right” and have them live some version of a life we wanted for ourselves but did not quite manage to achieve.  

Wanting to be a mother from such a young age, by the time I had my first child at age 27, I had thought a good deal about it, about what I wanted for them, what I was willing to do for them, what I could bring to the table as a mother, and how I could help them be all they could be. I consciously made the decision to treat them a certain way that I thought would be best for making them the best, most loving, productive, courageous people they could be.

I was always extremely aware of what I passed on to them.  I understood that even though they might not seem to be listening, they were.  Though something might seem situational to me, for them it might be a memory they held and used as the basis for their own actions.  If I acted afraid of new things, they would be too, and it would make their world smaller.  If I was accepting, they would learn to be too, and take on the world rather than reject it.  

But, I did not raise my daughters alone.  In addition to a loving family comprised of my Dad and siblings, and their families, they had a father who, though we are not still together, is the only father I have ever wanted for my daughters.  They also had another mother.  We were together for virtually all of the girls’ lives and still parent them together.  In fact, all three of us do, and the girls get something distinct from each of us.  She was the calm, steady presence.  Having had a difficult teen passage when I did not and I did not understand it, she was their perfect refuge.  She got it.  Having somewhat different values about some things than I did, they knew there were things they could better tell her than me.  She was the perfect foil for me.

I’ve written about my daughters before.  All three of them are totally different, but share a set of core values any parent would be proud of.  

I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to be their Mama and to pass on to them the incredible gifts my own mother gave to me.

Thank you, my crazy, wonderful girls.  Thank you, Ma.


The next level


, , ,

Aside from the fact that I’ve been buried trying to get grades out for graduation, which was yesterday, I have not yet been able to write about my daughter’s performance at Beach Brawl last weekend because I’m not sure I’m quite finished processing it.

Beach Brawl was a 3-day, 3-sanctioned bout women’s flat-track roller derby event held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  This year was the first time for the event.  My former partner, my daughter’s other mother, put it together.  It was extraordinarily well done.  So much so that the governing body rep asked her if she would do the upcoming nationals tournament.  It was held at the Ft. Lauderdale Civic Center and was the first official 2014 Team USA derby event, with a contest between Team USA and a team made up of international skaters.  Over the weekend there were two tracks, live streaming on YouTube,  and, as the banner announced, 3 continents, 6 countries and 24 teams.  Each US team got to play against an international team and there were no eliminations. It was awesome.  And I’m not even what you would call a derby fan.  It’s just that my daughter plays.  

I should have known this was going to be special when I walked into the event and there stood a near life-sized cut-out poster of my daughter in her Team USA uniform. Neat!! 

In addition to the Sunday night bout she skated in for Team USA, my daughter also skated in the three bouts for her Ft. Lauderdale team. Since she belonged to the host team, she also had to volunteer doing work during the event. I can’t imagine how tired she must have been.  Nevertheless, her team won 2 of its three bouts, and Team USA won its bout by over 400 points.  

But, my daughter was truly the star.  I am not just saying that because I am her mother.  Watching her skate and manage her way through packs of women determined to not let her through to score was exciting for everyone.  On Saturday night, the night before the Team USA event, my family watched the Mayweather-Maidana fight to unify the welterweight championship at a popular Ft. Lauderdale Sports Bar.  It was packed.  I thought the $10 cover charge was pretty low.  By the time the fight was over, I felt it had was overpriced.  As someone who was used to seeing people like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mike Tyson, I thought the Mayweather fight was boring.  It never really got to the point where it was good and either fighter showed what made fighting exciting.

The next day, watching my daughter skate, I realized my assessment of the fighters had not been my imagination.  They could fight, but they never made the fight exciting by showing any real skill.  I realized this as I watched the Team USA bout. All the skaters could skate and do derby well.  To get to the point of being on Team USA, they were great.  

By my girl took it to the next level.  She made watching it absolutely exciting. That’s not to say that there were not others who played well also.  But my daughter stood out.  She made it worth driving ten hours in a Volkswagen Beetle worth every mile.

Contrary to what many believe about roller derby (including me before she began to participate), it is not made of up fringy he-women brawling it out on wheels.  These are hard working women who are doing things that run the full range from being doctors and lawyers, to working on their masters degrees, to working minimum wage jobs.  Their movements may look random and aggressive, but players are tightly constrained by the rules as to how they can contact other players.  In all the bouts I’ve attended, I’ve never seen anything even approaching a fight on the track.

After lining up at the starting line, five per team, one person on the team, deemed the lead jammer, must be the first to break through the pack to become the one who earns points for the team by getting through the pack as she comeback around the track once again to the pack.  The number of points depends on the number of players she gets through to continue skating around the track.  Keep in mind that if you are the lead jammer, your team is intent on guarding the other team’s players to allow you to do what you need to do to get through, and the other team is intent on not letting you get through.  All while the other team’s lead jammer is trying to gain on you, overtake you, and become the point-maker for her team.  

As you can imagine, as a lead jammer, getting through a pack intent on not letting you through can be absolutely daunting.  These women have practiced untold hours just to keep that from happening.  The courage it must take to even skate up to the pack and attempt to get through is beyond the pale.  The strategy it takes to find a weakness in the pack and exploit it within the rules to make your way through takes tremendous vision, concentration, determination, strategy and skill.  The determination to keep trying even though you are blocked at every turn is extraordinary.  

To manage to do it all with so much panache that you make it look easy is taking it to the next level.  

That’s what my daughter does.  

You watch her go up to a pack and before you can fix your eyes good to try to see where she can get in, she’s through them all and the ref is holding up his or her hand with five fingers extended, indicating to the scorekeepers that she has gotten past all 5 players on the team.  Seeing her agile enough to go around a block, or jump over a fallen player, or use her hips to powerfully push someone blocking her out of her way is amazing.  No wonder other teams hire her to come in and conduct boot camps.  She is great.

When she straps on those skates and steps onto the track, she is in another world.  Her aching body doesn’t hurt.  Her confidence knows no bounds because she knows without a doubt that she will do what she needs to do. She is, and always has been, tremendously competitive.  She hates to lose and will do what it takes to position herself and her team to win.  When she is in a bout, her ability to strategize, lift team spirit, and find a way to put points on the board is all that is in her head.  She does what it takes to make that happen.  

She doesn’t just play. She plays hard, she plays smart, she’s not afraid to give up the body, though she strategizes to keep that at a minimum because she knows it is her equipment and instrument, and she does not make excuses.  For every move she makes, she has practiced and practiced and practices to perfect it.  I have watched her do it over and over and over again ad nauseum because she wants to get it right.  How she does it, I do not know.  She goes long past the point where I would have given up.  In fact, approaching a pack of women intent on keeping me out would make me head in the opposite direction.  Not my girl.

All of it is part of why she beat out 600 other great skaters to be on Team USA.  That spirit and performance and determination is why the crowd reacts so supportively toward her.  

She doesn’t just skate.  She takes it to the next level.  

And that, is exciting to watch.

The importance of ceremony


, , , , ,

I went to commencement at my university today.  I didn’t just go this time.  I actually participated.  I hadn’t done that in ages.  I rarely even go.  It just didn’t seem worth the effort.  Shlepping over to the bookstore to rent and pay for regalia, finding a parking space when thousands are competing for it, fighting the hordes of people, sitting in the hot sun in the stifling yards of cloth and the silly hat.

Aside from the inconvenience, commencement is also really sad for me.  I try to forget that the students are leaving. I just tell myself they just aren’t taking a class from me this semester.  Last week I saw a student who said she had me 20 years ago.  That made it hard to keep up my mental charade. :-)

Rather than think about what the occasion meant for the students, I selfishly only thought about how sad it was for me to see them leave.

When I decided to retire this year, I promised myself I would do all the things I don’t usually do.  This was one of them.  Even though I decided months ago not to retire after all, I decided to keep the promise.  Especially after receiving the email that they were trying to get more faculty to attend by paying for parking, regalia rental and serving a table-cloth dinner beforehand.  I figured if they could make all that effort, I should too.

I have to be honest and say that it is really also hard to choose to be in a setting where your minority status is so blatant and obvious. It’s hard enough to be in that position when you have to, so when you can avoid it, you  do. It’s one thing to be in your own college or classroom, where the minority numbers are small enough.  But, somehow it gets magnified when it’s the whole university you’re dealing with.  Even though you’ve made the choice to be there, what you go through every day to do your job is pretty trying. Seeing it on an imminently  grander scale is even moreso.   Of course, this is a double-edge sword, because minority students feel the same way–  which is a big reason why I should be there to support them.  They want to see me too.  In fact, probably everybody does because even majority folks want to feel like they are in a racially diverse setting.

So, today, I bit the bullet and went.  I can’t tell you how unbelievably comforting it was to see other minority friends from other colleges across the campus and sit with them at dinner.  What fun!

And so was commencement.  The speaker was inspiring, the students were awesome, and the fireworks at the end were a delight.  The administration was even kind enough to place a goodie bag  of a bottle of water and the program in our seats. The students started clapping when they saw faculty filing in and I realized how special our being there in that silly academic regalia going back hundreds of years made the occasion feel for them.  At our earlier college ceremony, three of them left the line going up on stage to come and hug me.  It didn’t happen with any other professor I saw. It wasn’t even the minority students.

I feel blessed that I could have touched them so.

And I feel ashamed.

I should have been thinking of the students rather than myself all this time.  With as much as I care about them and their lives that I will forever be a part of, I should have been there for them at one of the most important ceremonies they will have.  Of course, they’re not crying into their beer over it, and probably didn’t even note it, but it would have been better had I been there.

Duly noted.

The importance of little reminders


, , , ,

I am a huge tea fan.  There’s just something about it that I love.  It calms and soothes me and puts me in a place I like.  I have collected tea pots for years and have quite a collection, each with a story.  The bright yellow one my first husband bought me when we were in law school, and the Chinese set he bought me while we were married.  The bright yellow one (can you tell yellow is my favorite color?) my sister made for me. The musical one that played “Tea for Two” that my step-mother gave me one Christmas. The gold-rimmed flowered set my partner gave me.  One of my favorites is one I received for my college graduation from my then-boyfriend’s family 42 years ago.  I also love tea kettles.  I usually use a glass electric one that was a gift from my nephew, Christopher.  It’s beautiful and efficient and gets the job done quickly. However, recently I began using once again a tea kettle that I picked up in Egypt (where I met and married my second husband) 13 years ago.  There’s something that is pulling at me about it.

This morning, as I poured the boiling water into my giant tea mug, preparing for a day of intense grading of papers and other end-of-the-semester madness professors go through, I realized what it is.

I needed to slow down.  My Egyptian tea kettle won’t let me quickly make my tea.  I have to heat it on the stove rather than plug it in, and when I pour the water into the cup, the spout is cleverly made so that I cannot pour quickly.  I have to take the time to let it flow.

That is a giant irritant. I’m trying to hurry through and get to my grading. My work plate is really, really full, and I’m in full-speed-ahead, I’ve-got-a-lot-of-crap-to-do mode.  My sister scolded me just yesterday for not answering her phone calls.  But, I know that when we speak, one of the reasons I love it is that it is for hours at a time, and I just don’t have it right now.  Everything is rush rush.

But, not my boiling water flowing out of the tea kettle spout.

I have lived my life long enough to understand that when something like this happens, something else is going on that I need to address.  There is a message I need to tune in to.  I’m being told something I need to listen to.

So, I wondered, what is the lesson here?  Why is this happening?  I’m making tea, for pete’s sake.  What lesson could there possibly be in that? Why am I even using this tea kettle when I could so easily use one that heats and pours my water more quickly?

Then, it hit me.

Because you need to.

Slow down.  You’re moving too fast.  Everything will get done when it needs to.  It always does.  All is well.  Everyone has the same number of hours in a day. Chill out.

Got it.  Thanks for the reminder.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 97 other followers