Those Eyes

A while ago, a relative of mine, posted something that caught my attention on social media. It was a very fine photograph of a VERY fine lady she and I both have loved our entire lives. Our grandma. Seeing that photograph got my synapses firing. I clearly remember when and how that picture was taken. My grandmother had come to visit me. She was with her only son, my uncle. He snapped a shot of the two of us sitting on my bed with my harp behind us. Grandma had come to hear me play my Troubadour Lyon & Healy harp. I remember absolutely nothing in particular about this “command performance”, but I do recall the walk with her afterward. I lived in a beach city at the time, and it was fitting that she came to see me there, especially since she is the one person who cemented my love of oceanside living.

While on our deliberate and visually fulfilling constitutional, my grandmother chatted about this and that…the trees, the flowers, the baby strollers, the birds we could hear over the din of cars on a nearby main boulevard. As I listened, I drifted off at times, to snatch bits of thought I kept in the ‘hallways of my memory’, always being easily available to ponder and enjoy. My uncle walked along with us, and eventually we wanted to reach a landmark diner to have a delicious meal. Grandma was in her mid-eighties but, didn’t really seem to be. She stood and walked straight. Her upright stance was as demonstrative as her upright attitude. She exuded quiet confidence, and could flatten a naysayer in their tracks within a matter of a phrase. It wasn’t malicious, just setting the record right, that’s all. We all knew that. Thus, our conversation was often punctuated with these characteristic pieces of wisdom. Oh, if only I could hear her say more….For now, it’s those remembrances waiting in the wings of my mind that will have to suffice.

How sweet those hallways of thought can be, with her in them! Most of my memories of Grandma center around her darling duplex home in Southern California. It looked just like a bungalow with a sloping wide A- line roof. It had front criss-cross paned windows bedecked underneath with cheery window boxes spilling forth her favorite, red geraniums. Her home also had prolific, lush front and inside gardens that most certainly were prize-worthy. Her house was painted a soft, deep tan; the hue enriched by a tad more brown tone, than a yellowy tone. This was such a pretty color that made a perfect backdrop to all of the foliage and flora on display. Her small plot of lawn was continuously vibrant green. It was a rich color that beckoned you as a child to lie down on it and feel the coolness below your skin. This natural “carpet” brought soothing relief on even the hottest of days. Bordering the grass area were plantings that brought delighted smiles to anyone who took the time to inspect. My favorite plant was the Fuchsia, or the “ballerina bush” as I would childishly call it. Hers had vivid purple and magenta flowers that danced in the breeze like ballet gowns swishing across a stage. She had several species of Azaleas, and they yielded a feathery, almost gossamer-like accent of pinks and lavender. Tantalizing to the eye, for sure was this beautiful bounty out in front, but the magic continued up the walkway and back to her inner side-yard oasis.

In my grandmother’s inside garden, were serious plants that seemed to command respect due to their sheer size and vigorous presence. Two of these were the trumpet vine and the honeysuckle vine. They had been borne from her gardening enterprises; from cuttings dipped in Root-tone F to the magnificent adult climbers on fence and post that they were! She loved her vines and would let us taste the honeysuckle from the blooms, which made us feel quite cavalier! There were several massive vines at work, having set their tendrils out in quest for further heights and expanse. The trumpet vine was really one for fascination. I never saw it devoid of a profusion of flower. They would hang down almost as if they were a string of musical notes in a composition. Though all the names of her vines escape me, I am positive she had flowering shrubs as well.

At one’s shoulder-level, I recall the showy camellias. There were at least three varieties, some double petaled, even! I could never mistake the signature scents of the lower-thriving gardenia and her night-blooming jasmine. She had heliotrope and hydrangea, spires of goldenrod and giant, statuesque gladiolas. If that weren’t enough, bordering her flower beds were lobelia and begonia. It was such a thickly endowed garden, that there was just enough room for her glass picnic table with wrought iron matching chairs. Grandma loved serving us lunch out on the patio, amidst all the greenery, fragrance and dazzling color.

To sit at a transparent glass table impressed us as children. We could watch our feet dangle and play footsie with one another. Grandma always thoughtfully set the table in style. Placemats were a must, and very often they were bright, happy colors and either made of woven cotton or straw! The napkins came with napkin rlngs of course, and our grandmother loved her colored glass! Thus, our goblets were made of glass and usually a translucent color in which to visually enjoy her homemade pink lemonade. Sometimes, we might drink out of her equally festive 1950s style colored-aluminum tumblers. Teal, magenta, red-orange, chartreuse and yellow….a feast for the eyes every gulp of the way! The “pieces de resistance” were the unique sipping straw stirrers. The tippy top of them had a tiny round ball with a hole in it for a mouth piece to sip on.  It was lavender colored and infused with silvery speckles,. The ball shaped mouth piece was connected to a thin silver metal straw, which joined at the bottom to a matching lavender/silver speckled and slightly pointed well of a spoon. We thought this was the best invention next to our dad’s Osterizer! We each had our own sipper straw spoon and we probably spent more time stirring and giggling and sipping and bubbling than she probably would have liked. But what are summer visits at Grandma’s in her beach cottage garden for? Being silly and carefree of course!

Further back in our grandmother’s inner sanctum was a narrow walkway flanked by her clothesline. That’s where our bathing suits and damp towels would end up. We would also line-up our pails filled with claimed seashells and starfishes, for surveying and comparison, later. We would walk all the way to the back gate. This led out to where Grandma’s garage and tiny plot of green alongside it opened up into her back alley. Now, here, quite nonchalantly placed, so as not to cause too much attention, was the prize of all prizes.

Her fine horticultural specimen sat indiscriminately all year long. Then, once a year, this jewel of a plant would have its moment of glory. In the night, well past sundown, Grandma would take us in our pajamas, robes and slippers out to see her secret. She would tell my brother to hold the flashlight to mark our path as it was quite dark. We would follow single file, in stealth-like, soft footsteps. Once we were exactly there, stooping down in hushed, fragile patience, she would shine the light on her epiphyllum oxypetalum; the “Queen of the Night” flower! As if worshipping the nocturnal luminescence, it would fully open its bloom to the moon. All white itself, and surrounded by blushed at the base slender, pronged petal adornments; it had lacy stamens and pistils which seemed to float upward from inside the blossom. Her petals appeared to glow as they spread wide with frilled edge…a most dramatic exhibition! The “oohs” and the “ahhhhhs” could not be kept at bay. Our eyes stared in wonderment, and I absolutely know this was the solidifying factor in all our lives that made us become stewards of the Plant Kingdom. Having us partake in this annual event speaks volumes as to the kind of person our Grandma was.

Looking back at that picture posted on social media, I reminisce fondly. My Grandma and I were sitting in tandem. shoulder to shoulder on my bed, with my harp prominently in the background. You see, I believe my grandmother brought many splendid things into my life. She was the one who played her piano and accompanied my violin playing. She once walked me to a neighbor’s house who was a member of the Philharmonic to have him hear me play, (even though he was gone that day). Never fear, she let me read books for children about Beethoven and taught me to play along with her, Mozart’s “Minuet in G”. This attentive lady believed in me, and I believed in her.

Beyond that, there is something even more. Philosophical, really. Grandma’s eyes that were caught so well in that photograph ~~ say it all. Her soul behind her eyes was a Knowing Soul. She knew life was music. It could even be a symphony! Not only was music the expression of tune and rhythm, but, it was an essence we could all “see” if we just looked hard enough. Music is in the curling “melody” of growing vine, the “toned” fragrance of flower, the “dancing” curve and shape of leaf and patterned petals. Music is not reserved for just our ears. Our eyes can “see” Music, too. This is what I learned from my precious, sweet Grandma. This is what upon occasion, brings little ‘dewdrops’ to my own eyelashes; when I see the gentle beat of a butterfly wing, a hummingbird’s blur, or a medallion-shaped silver dollar Eucalyptus leaf twitching in the breeze. Thank you Grandma May. I love you.

Keep Cursive Alive

A blog I made before going off to teach summer school…

From July 11, 2012. 

No way….It is my firm belief that we should always  continue with teaching cursive in schools. I much prefer receiving a friendly note in cursive from a friend or loved one. A part of the writer is in that actual writing. Yes, it is a nicety. 

Yes, cursive writing is hard to learn. Yes, it is on snail time compared to all the flying, texting thumbs. But, there may come a time when our digital systems are down. We’ll need that pen and paper. Plus, anything sentimental comes across far-better in cursive on real paper…at least I think so. 

Granted, for the sake of firing-up the dendrites, it is important to learn to do things that also require diligence. This is something our clickety-click world seems to not portray. I don’t mean making 350 votes for an American Idol on the IPhone. That would be fixated perseverance. No, I am talking about attending to a task that has to be done with careful restraint and monitored effort. Erasing, doing over, getting it right, etc….all these are valuable, inherent lessons that translate beyond any utilitarian task of communication. Anyways, I need to shove off to teach this morning, but here is what started this heartfelt message …

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Despite Adopting Common Core, Alabama Schools To Continue Teaching Cursive.

Alabama Live (7/11, Acker) reports that “Alabama is distinguishing itself as among only a few states that will continue to keep cursive writing in its public school curriculum,” despite having adopted the Common Core Standards, which do not consider cursive to be a necessary skill. The piece notes that the state Board of Education “elected to include the writing technique within the 15 percent share of the standards dictated by each individual state. … In other states that have adopted the Common Core Curriculum, cursive writing is expected to be removed from the classroom and replaced with training in typing skills unless deemed otherwise by the state.”

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Well, everyone…it is now 2018 and California schools have gone ahead with this decision. Very sad, indeed. Beyond everything I said previously, are two further arguments for keeping cursive “alive”. 

The history of cursive writing goes back a long ways. Indeed, many cultures have their own unique signature writing and alphabet. Documents of antiquity will become completely ineligible and obsolete if nobody knows how to read them. You must know how to write cursive to really comprehend what has been recorded. Even our United States Constitution has cursive writing that in the era in which it was drafted, transforms the letter “s” into “f”, to name one example. How critical to have long into the future generations of society be able to read and interpret catalytic documents. There is even still, one more persuasive reason for continuing cursive writing…

To write using cursive means an individual has learned and is employing one of the various styles of handwriting such as Palmer, Zaner-Bloser, or Spencerian. In and of themselves, they are an art-form. It is a portrait of humankind and how we chose to convey thought. It is a beautiful thing. 

Just as hieroglyphics are studied and depended upon to gain insight, so is our penned and even chiseled cursive writing. The archived letter from citizen to mayor, to the epitaph inscribed on a tombstone…cursive writing has been an artful snapshot in time. 

About Those Bobsleds

First written February 20, 2018.

🏔🏔🏔🏔About those bobsleds!🏔🏔🏔🏔

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If you are a true Californian, your favorite Disneyland Ride of all time is the Matterhorn! It seems everyone enjoys the same special details about this childhood thrill ride. The morning your parents would surprise you and say “We’re going to Disneyland!” was a day that meant you were going to get to zip along in a bobsled, yelling your lungs-out in wild-child fashion! And that was something to go nearly berserk just thinking about!

Once your father and mother had settled you down to a dull roar, then you had dressed, eaten a wholesome breakfast and piled along with your siblings into the family car. You would practically salivate in the back seat of the station wagon, in anticipation of spotting the top of the snowy peak from as far as the 5 freeway as you approached Anaheim. It was always the first ride you would religiously pay homage to and then go on upon entrance into the park. (Sometimes you might bolster up initially by eating a treat at the Sunkist Cafe first, then go.)

Disneyland wouldn’t be Disneyland without the Matterhorn. It is an exact replica of the mountain, and hikers gain permission to come into the park, pitons in tow, to scale the beloved landmark. You can watch the mountaineers strategically attain their quest as you mill about down on the ground taking in the park experience. Being a hopeful bobsled rider, as you approach the rollercoaster on foot you detect blood-curdling screams emanating outward, signaling imminent excitement! The Matterhorn Ride runs four-seater bobsleds threading through her inner cavities on mini cogwheel-train-like tracks. As you get closer to the source of action, you will see the two lines of people, winding around the right and left side of the mountain. This usually means it will be an hour and a half wait before actually getting onto the ride. But, you know in your heart it is well- worth your patience. At the ride’s entrance and even piped acoustically all around the perimeter, is Alpine accordion music. It creates a lively, happy welcome that keeps conversation jovial and toes tapping.

Once you have reached the bobsled station, you’ll notice everything is decorated with painted flowers and Chalet-style wood-cut fencing canopied by rooftop overhang details. You’ll even spot the Swiss, German, Austrian, Italian, French and Liechtenstein’s “Coat of Arms”, displayed along the walk to keep you visually busy. You will hear songs being sung with the accordions playing the melodies and it’s all very rousing and cheerful. The view upwards, is of bobsledders gliding along, weaving in and out of the alp, engaged in quite a stimulating adventure! With each minute closer, one’s increasing anticipation sizzles! Grown adults can be caught jumping for joy in sheer elation!

Stepping into your Bobsled brings a gusto-infused greeting from attendants wearing alpine design embroidered shirts, suspenders and lederhosen. The look is finished with feather-capped hats. So cute! They give you a serious peer right into your eyes, then commence to strap and buckle you in, and dutifully remind you to keep your hands inside the bobsled!

Sitting there, in your soon to be swift contraption, you wait your turn to connect to the running track. You are aware there’s a pit in your stomach and think such things as “Will it be as fast and scary as I remember it?” “Do they still have that ferocious, abominable snowman inside giving its monster roar?” Then, suddenly—voila! Next thing you know, you hear the clicking of the track and you are on your way. A blast of cold air whooshes past you and yes—the ride still “flies” at lightning speed! It whips the bobsled around at 45 degree angled turns and the track tips the bobsled on one side to about 35-40 degrees making you think you’ll get thrown out! In some places the track splashes down into pools of water and you even feel the spray from the waterfalls cascading alongside you! This is an added refreshment that is like plopping a cherry on top of an already delectable ice cream sundae! The ride is loud, fast and exhilarating in every way. When it finally comes to its abrupt end, one always says the same thing: “Again, again, let’s ride it again!”

The Matterhorn is a beacon of promised zest. Nighttime rides are just as much fun. On the clock, at 9 pm, Tinkerbell flies across the sky from the Matterhorn summit to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. With the magic touch of her wand, the fireworks begin, much to the thrill of all the people below. Traditionally, spectators look back to the Mount that has brought them abounding emotion and they cannot help but feel alive and well at the culmination of such a grand day….

Where Did My Childhood Summers in Southern California Go?

Okay, I get it. We are in a warming funk. It may only last another thirty years, but, it is a funk. How I long for the days of old…when I was a “Sea n Ski” gal with my white sunscreen nose, floppy sunhat, rubber flip flop thongs (we wore them on our feet, folks), my ruffly bikini and my straw and wooden beaded beach basket tote! That was living in style! My little sidekick sister sported a matching but different color handmade corduroy beach cape with yarn ball trim and silver fancy button hooks. We also had those nifty little plastic eyeball protectors that you’d set atop the bridge of your nose as you lay down to soak up the sun and build that “brown as a berry” suntan. Suntanning was serious business to the Real McCoys that we were: the Little Surfer Girls of Corona Del Mar…The only preliminary was jumping into our big brother’s forest green bomb ’56 Chevy Sedan, and flying down the 57 with “Wipeout”, “The Monster Mash” and “Witchy Woman” blaring out of the radio

This is what all children from the San Gabriel Valley would do multiple times, week after week, all summer long. And our summers were the full three months, baby! At times, the beach was often a different deal compared to where our homes were. We would leave in the mid-morning when the sun was beginning to bake at 80 degrees, only to find the the beach’s marine layer was lingering around until at least noon. That meant double doses of suntan lotion,…for everyone… had learned the cloud refractive process can redden fair skin to a ripe red lobster hue if you dare to lay under cloudy beach skies in the summer. But that was okay, because mostly I remember many carefree days playing on the shore with a cool breeze coming off the waves. It was delightful conditions such as these that borne the creative, gleeful escapades with my little sister and brothers.

We loved doing so many things together, such as beach combing for sand dollars, seashells that looked pretty, and digging for sand crabs as the tide would recede. We loved hopping over the mounds of seaweed being attacked by the fiendish little flies that loved buzzing all over them. As insouciant children can only do, we cheerfully chased the waves and would stop to dig our toes into the wet sand; for this always tickled relentlessly as the water would pull away. These were simple rituals we must do each visit. Every time, we walked the length of the beach with the intention of getting to the jetty. There we would search for starfishes and bring one home in a pail. Climbing over the rocks would be rough and very hard on our toes, but by the end of summer, we were in condition and our feet had toughened from the practice. Perhaps the most memorable summer was the one when we staked our claim at the summit of Pirates’ Cove. We discovered above the cave, if we clambered up to the very top, nearest the edge where the waves would dramatically perform their sea-song of crash and spray, was a strongly anchored pole. We painted onto an old white cloth our own flag emblem, and tied it to the pole as if this beach, cove and cave were our very own. It was OUR mystery to know; OUR realm to rule.

These summers of youth are a blessed memory. I know my siblings and I have heartfelt remembrances of our sweet Grandmother who taught us to love the beach. She is the one who took us literally into the waves as she herself would gather-up her pedal pushers or ruck-up her skirt and tie it around her waist so she herself could wade through the ocean along the shore. She encouraged us to use our eyes and look into the water, to find things, imagine things, to adore and respect the sea. Because of her, I learned to brave the waves, and body surf. She taught us to be strong and smart and to be one with the water. My little sister and I would pretend we were mermaids while we dove and flipped and frolicked as any fabled sea-nymph would do. The ocean was a multi-faceted playground and our affinity for this gifted place was always a huge part of our childhood summers.

The beach-goers of today have a far different experience. It is no longer a spontaneous excursion. Instead, it is a destination often requiring parking reservations. Too often the crowd is indifferent to the beautiful tableau before them. Instead of consideration of others’ and their space, disregard and flagrant selfishness is often made manifest. It is typical for there to be loud, overbearing conversations, blaring music, and unsupervised little ones running amuck kicking sand everywhere and onto everyone. The lack of clean-up is appalling, too. Trash just left indelibly leaves an ugly testament to modern-day indifference. Where is the respect for our planet? Where is the social conscience? Thank goodness not all beachgoers behave in this manner.

How I miss those innocent, oblivious summer days on the beach. My transistor radio softly played “Oh, Sweet Pea come on and dance with me”, while my “sunbathing” Barbie Doll greeted her boyfriend Ken who “drove up” alongside her in his snazzy convertible. He’d “hop-out” to join her in her fun…I even miss my own casual gawking at the surfers and lifeguards, and reading on my stomach so I could scope out the rest of the male population from behind my sunglasses. When I think of all those beach days, I recall delicious picnics comprising tuna fish sandwiches, grapes, lemonade, Fresca or Squirt, brownies and Ruffles Potato Chips. Lively conversation and giggles always accompanied such a meal. The beach was a place where imagination, dreams and giggles were allowed free-reign. No wonder the fondness for such a place kindles strong in my soul. The magic of childhood is a blessed thing to experience in such an unfettered way.

When the sun began to go down, the whole ambience of the place would change. Those beach goers remaining, were hoping to see that sacred orange ball dip into the horizon. They always sat in muted, pensive, still repose. Everyone was in their own thinking world. A hush would fall over the total beach almost as if it were a sanctuary of some sort~a special world requiring honor and afterthought. All sea worshippers would hear the symphony of rhythm persevere; thunderously rolling white-capped waves; pounding evermore.

Childhood summers to me are not memories of the broiling asphalt blacktop and car outdoor thermometers registering 115 F. degrees. They are not the cranky drivers, nor the insanely inflated gasoline prices. Summer is not the watering lawn restrictions or the drying up of trees and shrubbery. Yes, we did have fires back then, but not as many, it would seem… I guess what I am trying to say is, summer meant worry-free times. We don’t have that anymore. I’d like to hope that the summers of yore will return once more.

 

Feeling Patriotic, but also Sad…

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

I woke up thinking of my country this morning, since “Fourth of July” is almost here. I heard this song in my head and I can only think of the Civil War and how costly such years of battle were… One can “see” the rows of canvas army tents glowing by kerosene lamplight from within, perched in gullies and glen as sunset bids farewell to another long day of battle. The American Civil War was truly a time of unparalleled clashing of opinion, each side feeling forthright and clear of conviction to the point of devastating war.

What a tremendous TREMENDOUS loss of human life in payment for those emphatic beliefs! My heart always aches over the knowledge of knowing boys even as young as nine were part of the action- often following after their fathers, uncles and older brothers, not wanting to be left behind. These young boys were the stretcher carriers, medic assistants, water distributors, and participated in the drum and bugle corps. Their spirited, youthful energy was the impetus used to rally the weary troops and press onward. Day after day, scores upon scores of human life was buried in solemnity on both sides: the despair so bleak I’m certain, by some point, tears ceased to flow.

This bloodshed is difficult to comprehend. I hope our nation never forgets the sheer devastation of what a civil war causes- the wasteful payment from the quite symbolic, tipped over and completely emptied purse. The “money” being our brave boys and men. Forever in the wake, untold numbers of families have been left bereft of patriarch and son. Women during our Civil War stood up to this reality; rustling-up their only power~~ resiliency. As the militaries marched on, so the women soldiered on; hoping, praying, defending…calming, compromising, collaborating and mustering up resolve. What a time to be a human being in America. What a time to write this song! Hard to imagine the emotional state which led

Julia Ward Howe to write these words:

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“The Battle Hymn Of The Republic”

Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightening
Of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on

I have seen him in the watch-fires
Of a hundred circling camps
They have builded him an altar
In the evening dews and damps
I can read his righteous sentence
By the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on

I have read a fiery gospel
Writ in burnish’d rows of steel
As ye deal with my condemners
So with you my grace shall deal
Let the hero, born of woman
Crush the serpent with his heel
Since God is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Our God is marching on

He has sounded form the trumpet
That shall never call retreat
He is sifting out the hearts of men
Before His judgment-seat
Oh, be swift, my soul
To answer him be jubilant, my feet
Our God is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Our God is marching on

In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom
That transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy
Let us live to make men free
While God is marching on

Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Glory, glory, hallelujah
Our God is marching on

Lyrics by: Julia Ward Howe,

🎼Music by: William Steffe

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(This song first captivated me by its tune, and later when I taught the lyrics to a chorus of schoolkids one summer, I came to appreciate the words. Very much. I think it may be one of the most perfectly penned poems ever. Truly.