Learned Hate.

Learned hate.

Ever since I can remember I have identified as a human being who was raised as a Jewish American.  The first time I can recall feeling ostracized was in late second grade at my class lunch table:  “Ew, what’s that???? Why are you eating crackers and meat for lunch, weirdo. Is that like a JEWISH thing?” I had never felt so uncomfortable in my life. I didn’t know how to respond, I felt ashamed, I felt confused, I just sat there and stared. I listened to the snickers and laughter around me. I wrapped up my food, threw it away, and went to the bathroom. Later in that same year my teacher announced that I could make a puzzle wreath and paint it blue for the Jewish Christmas. This was in response to when I had just told her, “I don’t celebrate Christmas, is there something else I could make for my parents?”

In high school my sister received a permanent marker swastika drawn on her locker. She felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do. However, Debbie was blessed with the gift of a remarkable friend and it was her friend who informed teachers, and took it upon herself to back that fellow peer up to a locker and confront his foul decision herself. She is still a heroine in our family’s life today. The student who attacked my sister was given a specific amount of hours of course work, videos, and lesson work all completed at school on the Holocaust. He was provided with the opportunity to learn about the hatred he had been taught, and reflect upon it. 

Later in high school during, “American Studies,” history class work in 2000 I questioned my teacher about why our text book had no reference to the Holocaust. She promptly replied we could discuss that more later. When we moved past 1945 in our course work I asked her again, this time after class and she replied, “If you want to learn more about WWII or the Holocaust than you’re welcome to take the next history course after this required course, but we don’t cover that in depth. We discussed the dates, the events that transpired in American history, but we don’t go in depth about what happened to the Jews.”  I told her that I felt, personally, that it was shocking and greatly concerning that a part of world history was not being covered in a history class.

Indifference.

One of the most memorable teachable experiences I have had with a student was the following:

I used to pass out math designs as enrichment work after an assignment was completed. There were multiple options for students to work through, throughout the course of a math unit. I handed a child a decimal worksheet that was next in the unit and I moved along checking in with other students. The next morning, one of the tasks for morning work I had assigned was to pull out their math design and get started. This particular child refused, the table team members at this child’s desk started talking about the reason why, the child’s neighbor responded with, “Just pull it out and work on it, it’s not a big deal.” I respectfully asked them to focus on their task at hand. I knelt down next to the child and asked if they wanted to talk about it later. I received a nod.

One on one in discussion the child revealed the following, “My mom said that I’m never, EVER, allowed to like that symbol, it’s a bad symbol, that’s what is on the worksheet Mrs. B. That’s why I don’t want to do my work.” I said, “What symbol?” “The star, the Jews, or the Jewish people star, or whatever it’s called is bad!” I looked at the child and took a slow breath. “What do you mean it’s bad?” I inquired. “Well, in my religion, we don’t believe that the Jews should like, I don’t know how to explain it, I just know that I can see that symbol in that worksheet and I feel uncomfortable.” To which I replied with, “Ok, I hear what you’re saying, let’s have you put that worksheet aside for now and we’ll have you think about it. As for Jews being bad, can we talk about that?” “Yeah!” the child replied. She continued, “Well like my people, or my mom told me that they are not nice, they don’t like our religion, we don’t get along, and that it’s a bad group or something, I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Now, I have to pause here, in my head, as Jewish person, I was extremely torn. I really wanted to respond with, “Did you know that you’re teacher is Jewish. Am I a bad person because I’m Jewish?” However, I stopped and I reflected that I did not want this to become a personal battle, I wanted instead for this to be an opportunity for learning and growth in perspective for this child.

Over the next few weeks, into months, the discussion continued. When the opportunity arose to tie in WWII, the Holocaust, and the President Roosevelt leveled reader book together into a literacy study, the opportunity for more teaching evolved. This child became intrigued by the idea that Jewish people had been persecuted. This child and their friend requested literature about WWII and children during the Holocaust. I provided more children’s literature to which they chose to read during independent time.

Later the following transpired, “Mrs. B. I had no idea that the Jewish people had been killed during WWII. I ….did you know that there were 6 million people that were Jewish who were murdered??? Why would that happen?” Staring at me with wide eyes and astonishment, the child continued.  “It’s like in my religion, being a Muslim, I get really upset when people say that all Muslim’s are bad, because, I’m not a bad person! I love Islam.  My family are good people.” I nodded my head and replied, “So then, I guess there was a lesson to be learned, we can’t always judge someone based upon what religion they believe in or practice?” To which the child quietly looked down at the book and whispered, “Yeah,” followed by, “Did you see the books we got at the library?” This child and friend proceeded to pull out multiple books on WWII, the Holocaust and Anne Frank.

The purpose for me sharing these encounters is this:

Through education, through discussion, through reading, through dialogue, bridges can be built in our understanding of one another. Human beings can connect and unlearn the hatred they have been taught.

Hatred is taught.

Hatred is learned.

Hatred is not an innate ability.

Love is an intrinsic response.

Love is a natural desire.

Talk.

Discuss.

Question.

Listen.

Learn.

Love.

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Meeting a Hero

Meeting a hero this winter…

When I was a little girl I was blessed with the best possible momma, sister, and daddy. I thought that they all walked on air from the time I was old enough to understand until today.  What you don’t realize as a child are all the little details we fixate on as adults. These are the things that make or break relationships in today’s world, and yet, why must we concern ourselves with things that are mere trifles in the grand scheme of life and the world.

What I was blessed with the most was a house hold that valued reading.

I was read to from womb until I left the house at age eighteen.

My father told me stories of his childhood at bed time, he read to me from the chapter books I selected as a pre-teen and continually read every book I was reading into high school.

My mother fostered a love for literature from infancy. I loved being read to by both of my parents and my sister. Those were some of the most vivid memories I can still feel when I slip into my mind’s eye today. The feeling of swinging in my mother’s skirt while holding the pages of the book up so she could read to me about Peter Rabbit or Benjamin Bunny.

While covered in chicken pox, facing another round of bronchitis at the age of six my sister waltzed into our folks bedroom and presented from behind her back, “Rescue Rangers,” the story of two brave little mice that save another fellow creature and jewel. I can still see he smile, tumbles of curls spilling over her shoulder while saying in a passing breath, “Here you can pass the time reading this with me, and you’ll soon look like this, once again,” as she passed my framed school photograph from the year before. Ha! Just what you want to be told when you feel like the creature from the blue lagoon.

Why share all of these strings of connectivity and literature?

Tonight I met a heroine of ours, my mom’s, my sister’s and mine. Patricia Palacco. Her book, “Mrs. Katz and Tush,” was a beloved favorite that I chose often at bedtime. I remember reading it to my nephew upon a sleep over occasion. We’ll have to revisit it sometime soon. Hearing her candid words about her youth, her learning disabilities, and her remarkable family, friends, and neighbors brought tears to my eyes this evening.

Happy tears.

Tears that made me smile, and nod, and spring forth a new well of emotions within me. Especially when she described her fourteenth year of life. The year that her deepest, darkest fear came to light, and a teacher reached out a hand to help guide her towards climbing a hurtle she had always felt was so formidable. The fear that she could not read.

She went on to describe Mr. Falker, who was really Mr. Felker in her junior high classroom in California.

I was brought back to my second grade year when my amazing mother said, “I’ve had enough of this not reading and not doing anything about it with your current school, we’re doing something now.” My mother researched, and read, and found a program at a private school that had major results for children with dyslexia.

I was the child in the classroom that had a keen ability to hear, see, and listen.  I memorized text. I repeated it, I evaded being called upon. I stumbled through the sounding out of words. I was being educated in the “whole language” classroom environment, and nothing clicked with phonics and phonemic awareness. I saw shapes, and negative space when told to sound out the word. It was not until the moment when with repeated practice, isolation of words into boxed in shape I could recognize these shapes as letters, then digraphs, and vowel combinations. Finally the sounds and the letters connected.

Patricia spoke of the moment when she finally made sense of the negative spaces that surrounded these “letters,” and the feeling of elation that followed. Realizing that a whole new world had opened up to her.

I can recall the first library chapter book I read that felt, I liken to climbing Everest. I had the best parents in the world. The most patient, supportive, and loving humans. They provided me with the tools for knowledge and they put in the work that needed to be done with me in order for my goals to be achieved. Without that reading program, Mrs. Lau, and my parents, I would not be a teacher today. I am not quite sure where I would be. But I do know that I wrote to my third grade teacher every year of my public school education. Every few years I send her a letter, and I receive a card in reply. When I graduated with my masters degree in teaching, the first person I wrote to after my sister, was Mrs. Lau, my third grade teacher. The woman who taught me how to read, and helped me make sense of the puzzle pieces that I finally knew where to place.

Thank you Patricia Palocco for sharing your stories all these years. I met you once in 1997 at the Lusac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. I can still see your face, your bun, and the back drop of the maroon curtains behind you in the basement hall. Life has a funny way of coming full circle. Tonight I showed you my book, signed by you in 1997, and I thanked you for doing what you do. Your stories have been read to every single class of mine every year. Each year before I read aloud her stories, especially in the winter months, I tell my students the following:

“I’m going to share with you one of my heroes. Now, this hero is an author. This author helped me feel like I was not alone. When I was a little girl I could not read, until third grade. Patricia Palocco’s words, her family, and her stories are one of my greatest joys to share in life, and now, I will introduce you to her work.”

You might wonder what the children think of her work? I’ll leave you with one word: riveted.

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Elan’s story and Hope

Elan, Son of Two Peoples

By: Heidi Smith Hyde

Illustrated by: Mikela Prevost

On new years day I got on a kick to visit my local library’s website and place on hold books about how the new year is celebrated across the globe. My intention was to bring these books into my classroom to read aloud during the first week back after winter break. I came across the usual books I assumed were out there, and then as I continued to scroll through the website lists I found some real gems.

One of these gems was the book, Elan, Son of Two Peoples.  Written by: Heidi Smith Hydeand illustrated by: Mikela Prevost. What struck me the most about this text was the fact that it melded two cultures Judaism and Pueblo Indian into one beautifully told story based on a real life experience.

Growing up I felt that I had one identity that I truly could understand and that was of being a Jewish girl raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I understood my culture, the religion that tied it together, and yet I also learned about the identity my father grew up with. I was raised in a home with two Jewish parents.  However, my father’s identity shifted in his adulthood after meeting my mother. He studied Judaism years into their marriage before deciding to commit to the religion, study with a rabbi, and accept a new identity for himself. When I grew up I never once felt that because my father converted to Judaism it might even mean for one moment that I was “half” anything. I was Jewish. I was the child of both of my parents. I learned to love and accept all of the family that both sides matriarchal and patriarchal brought with them.

When I was in sixth grade I started having discussions about my bat mitzvah. There was one girl who went to my elementary school (yes, sixth grade was still elementary school, in Anchorage that is), who also went to temple with me once a week.  It wasn’t until a conversation at the, lo and behold, lunch room table where I really had to stop in my tracks and consider what she said in response to a question posed during our meal. Someone said something about religion to her and bat mitzvahs, and then in response she replied, without batting an eyelash, “Well I mean, yeah I’m Jewish, I’ll probably have one, but I’m only half Jewish because my mom’s Catholic. We celebrate Christmas and stuff, but we go to temple. But I’m only half Jewish, ok?”

I just stared at her.

I didn’t know what to say.

It was as if a balloon had been popped and I was left with the pieces surrounding me. I could not fathom why she would think that it be necessary to identify as only half Jewish when we went to services together, Hebrew school on Sunday’s and sat and discussed the historical experiences of our ancestors together. Being a young twelve-year-old girl, I regretfully did not question her much on the issue. When I was asked, “Are you Jewish?” I said yes, yes I am. I felt no need to clarify my parent’s identities or backgrounds. I felt rooted in what I knew for sure, and I did it unapologetically.  Why share all of this background and story you might be wondering?

I first considered this story of Elan in relation to myself. Upon a deeper reflection I considered, what this story might mean for my students. I teach twenty-seven beautiful children each weekday in my classroom. I realized when reading Elan’s story that this was also the story of my students. Past and present children that walk a fine line with race, culture, and identity every day. Perhaps their story is patterned differently, yes, but the connectivity in which I found with their stories, my own, and Elan’s was where the pulse of the matter began.

We are all products of someone’s journey. People who came before us to struggle, find determination and grit enough to bring forth lives they could be proud of and share with their children. Honoring who you are and where you come from, while simultaneously cultivating your own pathway is a gift bestowed upon us daily. I realized that my friend from elementary school’s identify was different from mine. What she said on that day was her story, her life, and her way of carrying who she was in relation to her family, her friends, and her being. I did not have to agree, disagree, or even have an opinion of it. It was not my story to tell.

On this day of all days when, Martin Luther King Jr. is recognized, I found myself drawn towards writing about this book. It is because of Martin’s words and more importantly his actions, that made it possible for our nation to have light shed upon segregation, racism, and bigotry. His action and belief in hope, a hope for change, and a call to action changed our nation. I find myself leaning towards his words and the words of so many like-minded human’s who have had the bravery to stand up and fight for love, for freedom, and for equality. My heritage taught me to, “never forget the Holocaust and what our people have survived,” to question, to read, to give tzedakah, to act with tikkun-olam, and to believe in and have hope. That’s what I’m doing today, holding hope.

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A year in the tides of grief

One year since Deborah Leah Alvarez left this earth has meant that: 12 months, 52.1429 weeks, 365 days,  8760 hours, 525600.432 minutes, 31536025.92 seconds have passed.

~Analytically speaking it means all of the information above.

~Speaking from the heart it means that all of the varying shades of the rainbow and everything in between has gathered, washed, and moved through me in this time frame.~

It has been the crashing of waves.

It is the rise and fall of the sun.

It is every first sighting of a bright shining star.

It is the moon beams slipping through cracks in my window.

It is first moments when a heart leaps for joy and falls in the realization that the one you are about to tell cannot be spoken to directly. 

It is the re-learning to accept your new heart’s layer, with all its flaws and all. 

It is the re-building of faith when seeking through the depths of a hallowed despair. 

It is the first feelings of happiness and allowing the heart to feel joy. 

It is learning that love may not be diminished by the inability of the tangible, yet transpired into the spiritual realm.

It is what Truvy said in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

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Death has a strange way of bringing the best and the worst out of the people it touches. I have found that through my own grief I have learned to love myself in ways I never thought possible. I have learned that forgiveness is a crucial component to my happiness. Forgiveness has taught me that I do not need to seek a right or a wrong answer, but rather seek to find a state of contentedness that I dwell with and release my tethered connection from anger in order to allow the emotions to turn into love.

Never does a day go by that I do not think of my sister or long to share something with her. She was my closest friend, mentor, and supporter. What she has bestowed upon me and continues to bestow upon all of us is the love and light she shed while here on this earth. So many wonderful humans near and far have shared their love and connection with Debbie over the past year. Connectivity was something Debbie strived for. She believed whole heartedly in the fact that humans need to seek for love, education, honor, humor, forgiveness and generosity. Thank you for connecting so many of us Debbie and continuing to do so. Your rainbow touches near and far.

Through writing I have allowed myself to find solace in words that were far too difficult to communicate in person. Thank you so much to all of Debbie’s and our friend’s, our family members, her colleagues, her admirers, her blogging friends, and her supporters over this last year.

~Like waves crashing upon a shore, rays of sunshine were beamed down upon us, with which we were able to dry our tears with each loving gesture, made by all of you.~

Thank you. 

I leave you with words, as my sister would have wanted.

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For me, I leave you with a song that speaks to my heart:

 

May her life be a blessing: Deborah Leah Alvarez.

 

Trees of growth

The phrase, “Hurt people, hurt other people,” rang ever so true for me today. There was once a time in my life when I would tolerate abuse, but I no longer allow that to become a part of my story. I have been the victim of one too many falsities in the last ten months. Today was the event that broke the camel’s back.

IF a person has an issue with something I have said or done, it is an expectation as a decent human being that they talk directly to the source, being me. With words spoken from truth, sincerity, and love, directly, and in person, I would be more than happy to have a mature conversation about the said concern. That, and only that is the way to speak in an honest, mature, and caring way.

I feel so disheartened that in our world today we accept as a norm that people are unable to actually allow themselves to feel and explain their thinking. Something I have learned in the last three years is that when you speak of your truths, your love, your pain; you are forced into “uncomfortable” territory. HOWEVER, once within that territory, staking claim of the feeling, acknowledging it and learning how to walk with it is possible. That, therein, is where growth begins to take root.

In my mind I grow a forest. In this said forest I see a vast array of trees that have grown in my thirty two years of life. Some of these trees are as tall as a sitka spruce found in the Denali National Forest, while others are mere seedlings beginning to thrive and seek the light from within. It is only when I open myself up to the possibility of healing, of love, of light, that my forest will receive nourishment. IF I were to allow another person’s attempt to steal my joy, or plant seeds of doubt, then the clouds roll in and the weeds sprout amongst my trees.

There was a rain storm before my drive this afternoon. I was filled with utter disappointment, and I allowed myself to look at a situation and become overwhelmed with sadness. Then after the rage and tears passed, the rain fizzled out, I turned a curve, and I looked up above the tree tops and I saw a rainbow. I saw it not once but twice. Once for me, and once for hope, for the future of what life can bring.

I no longer wish to be a part of a narrative in which the grounds are covered in weeds and seedlings never bloom and grow. When someone runs hither and thither and spews hatred and venom, plants angry seedlings, and waters their plants with passive aggressiveness and lies to oneself and their fellow humans the ground becomes broken, dry, brittle, a barren waste land of what could have been a thriving forest.

It takes time to grow these trees in your mind. It takes time to ALLOW healing to take place. When you suffocate thyself and never face truths or feelings, all that is being done is repeating cycle after cycle of bitter blame for these “reasonings” and or ego driven perspectives of unjust deeds. Truths are challenging. Your personal truths, the words you feed yourself, whether they be loving or not impact your mind’s conscious and unconscious functioning.

If someone no longer wishes to be a part of my truths and help sow seeds of honesty and hope, I release my hold and relinquish the desire to be tethered.

The chord has been cut.

The wound from the stab of someone else’s hurt has been acknowledged, I see it, I have felt it many, many times, I released it. I pulled out the dagger and turned it into a seed. I have chosen to plant it as one of my greatest lessons to learn from. I will watch as it grows into something more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

Beauty comes in the most unexpected ways.

Be honest with yourself, face your truths, and listen to your inner monologue. Consider the source and root of all your perceptions you hold. For, you see they are you, these are the direct reflections of your very inner core, your heartwood.  Are you growing a forest or a desert in which to dwell?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8 months with dragonfly tears

Reflect: Sunday the 21st marked 8 months.

Eight months of grieving and missing, and waking up and realizing that it wasn’t a dream, but that my sister is gone and I miss her every single day. I still find myself thinking, “Oh I can’t wait to share this with… I know that Debbie would love…”

Acknowledgement: It wasn’t until a day later that I really had a full, long cry of sobbing, angry, and sad tears of longing for my sister.

Find joy amidst the tears, always: I went back to her youtube channel and was watching videos she had posted for me throughout the years. I was trying to remember her voice perhaps. Hearing it made me realize just how much I missed it. Those quick chats, phone messages, and conversations I thought would always be available until two year’s ago reality clunked into view. Hearing the intonation of her sharing her thoughts in her vlogs throughout the years she lived in Hong Kong made me smile and laugh.

The tightness in my chest released with the flow of tears that over came me.

Communicate: While enjoying the view of our beloved, Portland Rose Garden recently I remarked to to my husband, “I sometimes find it hard to believe that she is gone because I feel like she’s right here with me, like in my heart, but I know the physical reminder is there.”

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Maybe that is why it was so hard to watch the videos….because it reminds me that she isn’t here, physically any longer.

Miracle moment: I had a beautiful moment while meeting a friend the day before the 21st. She had just sat down and a dragonfly fluttered by and landed briefly on her head. It was beautiful, sleek, green, with iridescence.

Dragonflies.

I never would have thought it before, but whenever I see one, which has been very frequent this summer, I know it is a sign from Debbie. A little glimmer that her spirit has transformed and she is listening from afar.

I smiled and said, “It was a dragonfly! Whenever I see a dragonfly I feel like it’s a message from my sister, she’s here with me.”

I had a recurring dragonfly encounter while visiting Utah this past June. I was walking to and from my friend’s research building on a campus in SLC. I exited the building and made my way across the grass that laid underneath the scorching sun and 100 degree day’s heat. Suddenly, I was being ushered to my bus stop by a fluttery friend, a beautiful dragonfly. It flew with me for about  a block and disappeared. Sure enough, on my way back hours later, the dragonfly visited again when I trudged back towards the building.

Same thing the next day.

Nature provides the best escorts, what can I say?

Take Action and Honor: This past month I completed a wish for Debbie. Well, really began the process after careful consideration, thoughts, and emails with a couple of her close friends. I began the process to archive her personal blog in order to create a book of her work that she cultivated while trying to cope, survive, and research her experience with cancer.

Find healing: It felt cathartic, and challenging to work on it extensively. I realized how important it was for my words to be as clear as possible in the creation of the forward and afterward, and the importance of the bibliophile I was writing about. Honoring her memory, her work, and her perseverance brought me closer to understanding what an amazing woman she was.

Small miracle moments of hope fly all around us. Sorrow has been transformed into something beautiful, effortless, and full of joy.  Watch for rainbows and dragonflies friends. And of course, for sparkles in the light.

Dalai Lama on Loss:

Dear Debbie, Vol. IV

Six months passed yesterday.

With the warm breezes of June it swept in like a burst of sandy wind across the skies in Utah as I saw the day pass by one moment at a time. The sun beat down, the sky stretched out blue, cloudless, like a picturesque day.

I found myself breathing easier, although embarking on my own new journey brought more mental work than I had anticipated. Exercising your mind, your spirit, and your essence of humanity takes conscientious thought, strength, and work. That is where I am currently residing at the present time. I found Gabrielle Bernstein’s work and have been knee deep in the majestic possibilities that time, thought, and love can bring forth.

I listened to the Dalai Lama yesterday. He was visiting the University of Utah for a special engagement. You would have loved his words, his insight, and especially his humor. I found this particular story enlightening:

A question from the audience was answered by the Dalai Lama, “My father passed away from suicide recently. I find myself filled with sadness all the time. What guidance can you give me about the place that he is now in?”  The Dalai Lama ended his explanation of what grieving may look like with the words, “No amount of sadness can bring your father back….Your father can feel your sadness if you remain as such…you must work to fulfill his will and live.” One more phrase that spoke to me was, “Compassion, love, open mindedness, investigation, questions, these bring forward the opportunity for answers.”

I felt that it must have been beshert that I was here in Utah. Here visiting Katie. Logged into the wifi as a guest, saw the universities home page and was struck by the opportunity that laid out in front of me…the Dalai Lama, his message, and the sense of love that his presence provided was eloquent timing for me as a mere mortal on Earth.

If I were to recount what the past month has brought forth in my small little world, our Oregon community, our nation, and our world it would be filled with joys, with sorrows, and with a flood of tears and rainbows. I do not wish to recall this list because I know that your presence is felt and already knows.

I will end this blog with a beautiful array of faces and places that mark moments on this journey. I shall leave this blog with some quotes from your sweet boy who enlightened me days ago.

“Aunt Rachel, what do you think death is like? Does it all go still and black, or do our bodies stop, but our mind goes somewhere else?  Wouldn’t it be cool if we went on to continue with our thinking, and go to this other place?!

Sometimes I think about what other people have seen, you know? Like what has he or she seen in their life? In their experiences. I want to know!”

I’ll end with this quotable moment…

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Dear Debbie Vol. III

Today marked five months.

Five.

I still approach the number twenty one now with caution and angst.

Today was a long day. I had this urgency to clean. To clean everything in the house. I am sure that part of it stemmed from wanting to,”spring clean,” prep for people coming over, but also a deeper reason that lingered beneath the surface.

I wanted to clean and get something out of my system.

I clean for two hours and sweated it out while scrubbing versus dancing today.

Then I spent two hours in the car going back and forth to what I thought would be a first activity at the D. Center for Declan, which turned into hours in the car…. Oh well. Ce la vie. There will be other ones. Lesson learned: always check the location especially when they do not communicate it to you.

A few things I want you to know about life in the last two months since I last wrote to you:

~Everything changes regardless of your emotional or physical state. It all changes, constantly. I know, “news flash…” right?!

~Spring has sprung: My tulips bloomed and blew away. My irises grew and opened, and stood tall and proud. They made me think of you every day and how much you loved purple irises, just like mom does. I brought her some on Passover.

~Passover was lonely without you to sing Dayenu with. I missed you. Terribly. Especially our silent communication we would have with subtle eye glances across the table.

~Declan has gotten taller, and thinner, and gangly. I told him he might grow to be six feet five inches tall the other day. He rolled his eyes at me. I could feel it through the back seat of the car while we had the conversation about, “Why kids don’t drink coffee. … so they can be tall of course,” Hahahahaha.

~He won an award for his P. Theorem Project. You would have been so proud of your boy. He explained, THE WHOLE, thing to me, at the STEM Fair, and I listened intently to each word he said. Smarty.

~He made cookies with us recently and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He told me today all about his Pioneer Camp/Field trip and how his favorite part was making biscuits. His love of carbs, like ours, runs deep.

~Declan still gives the best hugs, after Andy of course.  The squeeze you hard, hold on fast, and feel the love kind of hugs. That boy was taught right. Hug, hold, and love. ❤

Lastly these are my cosmic nature moments where I felt your presence the most…

I spotted a faint rainbow last month, it was one of those that are hard to see, but is fleetingly beautiful. If you rub your eyes, than it’s gone. But I saw it. I saw you.

When the robin followed Declan and I home on our walk before bedtime, she hop, hop, hopped after us, and then was there when walking down our street again. Watching, and hopping along, and waiting. I felt like she was this happy little robin mommy walking us home.

My crow crew greets me each day when I come home from work. I always think of the book and movie, “Cold Mountain,” when I see a crow. They say that they are the birds you see that represent your family who have come and gone. So I always think of you, and Grandma Lilli, and Grandpa Bob. I think that there must be some circular process to which nature presents itself as this loving force that reminds us of all that has been before us, with us, and that will come after us.

There are so many more things I want to tell you, and I do in my head, all the time. I am working on focusing my energy into all the positive memories we made. I am really trying ever so hard to retrain my mind on positive happy visuals of you and me and our family. I have found some books, positive mindset videos and speakers, and I am actively working on my mindset daily. Key word: work. Life is such a process. The journey is raw and real.

Lenore once told me something I remind myself of, “Grief is a part of our lives. It is an important part of life. But it is important that grief is not what makes up your life, or the only thing about your life.” Just know that I will heed advice and live and laugh profoundly, but I will always remember and say your name to whoever will listen. You left such a legacy of glistening moments in so many people’s lives. I love hearing their stories and collecting them. I learn from them, and I am beginning to let moments sparkle again. I am singing again, and it feels spiritually healing and also exposing of many wounds from the past that we shared and I am working on mending alone. I love you with sparkly tears.

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Dear Debbie Vol. II

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Dear Sister,

A friend of mine who you would love as much as I do gave me a box filled with tiny cards of inspiration. I open one card each day that I need a little pick me up. They are my, “Be Happy,” cards. I appreciate them ever so much, and the woman who bestowed upon me a gift that keeps on giving.

Much like yourself sister.

Today was a magical day and also a trying one. It has been an interesting few weeks. There are so many things I wish we could discuss with one another. So many conversations that have yet to be had. I have a lot of them in my brain and then I think to myself, “Well that’s just ridiculous because I’m locking it all away, better to share, or write it down for myself and then I can reflect on it later.”

Whenever I want to talk to you I end up turning to writing. It seems to be the best and most helpful thing to do. It’s just so hard to let it all simmer. I have to make something with this tear soup, sometimes I share it, sometimes I let it boil over and form something new in my mind.

Today was a special day at Ridgewood Elementary School. You would have loved it. You always brought people together and you still do.

I parked my car, on the neighborhood street and made my way towards the school. It is such a familiar parking lot, one I have visited so many times that I cannot even begin to count how many. But this time was different. I was not nervous, I just knew that a part of me would be sad because you wouldn’t be there.

Walking up to the school made me think of the familiar sights, the familiar smells, and the familiar vibe that Ridgewood has always had.

You should have seen all of the familiar faces coming together to honor you. It was beautiful to see all the students who loved having you as their librarian all gathered there. Some of them were so tall, so grown up, so stoic, so poised, so curious, and many of them gazing and looking away. I could just see your response to their presence in your library. You would have strolled over casually and had that amazing smile across your face and then started the conversation off with, “Well, it’s nice to see you __,” then given them a kind shoulder nudge or hug to welcome them back into the friendliest space in the building.

There were a lot of memories in that library for me today.

I remember coming to shelve books during my early college days, the smell of old papers and bindings. The sound of the type writer with labels and forms being typed up. The clicking of the keyboard, and the swipe sound as the library books were checked in and out. I can see you and Diane behind the counter chattering away and laughing, fleeting visions disappeared before my eyes.

As I looked around, every corner had a different memory for me. What must Declan have felt in there too?  He was busy in the window space playing a game of chess surrounded by other little fellows all concentrating on the game.  All of us, so many memories, positive, happy, beautiful memories that seem tangible, yet so far away.

The desk has been moved. The stuffed animals atop the bookshelves are different and there were less faux plants than I remembered.  The door to the garden was open and there were birds chirping and sun spilling in amongst the kids wandering in and out. The chess board is the same one, and it sits in pools of sunlight that break through the window.

Walking to the back of the library where your desk and piles of books used to be, I spotted a familiar sight that made me smile.

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Nina was your first author friend. I remember seeing the photograph of you two when she visited Ridgewood. What a special magical day that was. You were ecstatic and beaming.

It’s funny how so many memories are intertwined into moments we shared with one another. How those moments piled up on one another for me today.

You provided me with such a strong professional educational foundation in your school. Your colleagues welcomed me with open doors to observe, learn, grow, and question as an undergraduate student. I started as a volunteer, continued my observations, and with a masters degree graduated into a substitute teacher in the building. Your principal helped provide me with the most generous half hour of my career. I had the best coaching lesson for interviews in that school. I learned to be honest about what made me a unique individual, a forthright pioneer for education, and how to answer questions in a direct manner.

Little did I know, or any of us know that our paths would cross in this way today, all of which to honor you. Your work, your passion, and your connectivity to humanity in a community that grieves for your presence.

Sweet Catherine said she could feel you in the library today. Truer words were never spoken. I could feel you too. You touched so many wonderful student’s lives and so many community members gathered today to honor you.  Dad recited poetry and dedicated and a wonderful poem to you by Alice Cary:

True worth is in being, not seeming,— 
In doing, each day that goes by, 
Some little good—not in dreaming
Of great things to do by and by. 
For whatever men say in their blindness,
And spite of the fancies of youth, 

There’s nothing so kingly as kindness,
And nothing so royal as truth.
We get back our mete as we measure—
We cannot do wrong and feel right, 
Nor can we give pain and gain pleasure,
For justice avenges each slight. 
The air for the wing of the sparrow,
The bush for the robin and wren,
But always the path that is narrow
And straight, for the children of men.

‘Tis not in the pages of story 
The heart of its ills to beguile, 
Though he who makes courtship to glory
Gives all that he hath for her smile. 
For when from her heights he has won her,
Alas! it is only to prove 
That nothing’s so sacred as honor,
And nothing so loyal as love!

We cannot make bargains for blisses,
Nor catch them like fishes in nets; 
And sometimes the thing our life misses
Helps more than the thing which it gets.
For good lieth not in pursuing,
Nor gaining of great nor of small, 
But just in the doing, and doing
As we would be done by, is all.

Through envy, through malice, through hating,
Against the world, early and late.
No jot of our courage abating
Our part is to work and to wait
And slight is the sting of his trouble
Whose winnings are less than his worth.
For he who is honest is noble
Whatever his fortunes or birth.

I know that I am sending this out into the blog-a-sphere in the hopes that it reaches you. My tears wash over me and soothe my aches as I type words for you that you cannot read, but I know you would love to. Signing off with sparkles from earth, from your little sister.

Thank you to Debbie Ridpath Ohi for creating a beautiful image of Debbie. The picture to honor Debbie Alvarez will live in the library with new books displays under the art. Some beautiful new books are already in circulation.

Please check out: “Cranes of Hope,” on Facebook for more information about a beautiful nonprofit organization that a former student of Debbie’s started long ago and is continuing to blossom and grow. This student’s creations help patients going through cancer treatments gather hope each time they visit. She lovingly creates paper cranes and delivers them to locations around the greater Portland community. Her work can always benefit from positive support. ❤

Cat like visions

I was a cat in a previous life. I am certain of it. I think that the essence of former lives can be carried over into another life and tangibly or metaphorically driven into our view. I have many other feelings about who I might have been before this life time as well, but they’ll lay in the banks of my mind for now.

                                                                                Why a cat?

I am quiet, but always thinking.
I am loyal yet conscientious.
I lay low, and pounce when I need to.
I take mental notes, and I consider upon them later.
I care not for what other’s may think of me, yet I listen still and cast aside the unnecessary commentary that does nothing for the speaker nor myself. 
I have no problem staring down a culprit and pinning them with a knowing look.
I know that when truth is sought, it will become free, and there is little that I need to concern myself with in the interim. 
I can curl up and nap anywhere.
I like to cuddle and snuggle up under a blanket of warm clothes.
I make piles  to organize myself.
I drag around bags of items to and fro with teaching, to exercise, to home. 
I leave my friends and family little presents of my time or trinkets to bring them joy. 
I am content and happy to sit upon a spot  and read, just simply be, write, or what have you, for hours on end. 
I fear not when I am left in the lurch because I know that my skills will see me through. 
I speak up when it is imperative, and yet I choose what I say and do wisely.
I am an introvert. 
My claws come out when necessary, but only when I feel that the life situation has left little else to draw upon. 
I believe in karma and cats have 9 lives.
I see the truth in other’s eyes and continue watching.
I believe my spirit animal is a panther. 

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I try to believe the best in people, always.  I have a friend who taught me this phrase. I did not have the right words for a long time to express that particular notion. But there it is now, and there it shall remain. However, I will always seek the truth in the humanity around me.

In my daily life, I have found that, as of late I can be bombarded with so many signals, messages, gestures, information, and pieces of communication that have very little to do with who I am, deep inside my heart of hearts.

I think it is essential to stop, quiet my mind, and really consider without all of the noise, “What am I seeking at this current moment in time? Am I believing the best of myself and those around me?”

Sometimes it is easier to busy ourselves with another person’s story. Another person’s trials and tribulations. Another person’s words. Another person’s vision. Another person’s thoughts. Another person’s actions. Another person’s feelings for this… or that… Tit for tat.

Anything but our own mind, our own story, our own hardships, our own fears, our own feelings, our own grief. I stop and ask myself though, “What have you done to be honest with yourself, as of late?  Do you face your fears head on?

Are you honest with yourself about how you feel, about yourself, about what reflections you leave with the actions you take?

These are the questions I stop and reflect upon when I feel the tendencies as a human to slip into habits that are easier to manipulate than forcing my brain muscle into what I need and want, versus what is easy.

Life is made up of little moments. Small choices, like pebbles we leave behind.

What are the shades of your pebbles you leave on this pathway in life? Are they a reflection of your aura or are they misconceptions of what your scattered visions are with interrupting signals from afar?

So right now, in this current moment, I am choosing to be like my cat. I am going to quiet my mind, remain loyal, and continue to seek truths of all kinds for myself in my cat -human state.

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