Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How was your day?

A couple days ago I saw a woman and a child walking hand in hand. They were basking in the warmer weather, taking it nice and slow, and enjoying their evening. I was also close enough to overhear a little of their conversation.

Child: "How was your day?"
Woman: "Long and boring. How was yours?"
Child: "Just the right amount of time and so so much fun!"

The child then went on to talk about her amazing day in great detail, practically bouncing up and down with excitement, pausing once to say, "I'm sorry your day was so boring."

* Image by

I laughed a little to myself, and then felt a bit sad. At what point did that woman's days become long and boring? Were they long and boring when she was a child? Is it possible to recapture the amazing experiences of a day with that childlike wonder? Moreover, what story is inadvertently told to that little girl through that conversation? I hope she doesn't think that once she grows up her days will cease to be so much fun and will instead be long and boring. Yet, will they?

I'm working right now to build in a sense of childlike wonder into each and every one of my days. It sounds really cheesy and it's definitely not easy. I would say that watching my cat chase his everything including his own tail is a definite inspiration some days.

This is Felix, playing with his new homemade mouse toy (thanks Ben and Lindsay). I'm fully aware that inserting my kitten into multiple blog posts just solidifies my cat-lady self, and I'm okay with that.

Sometimes L and I dance around the apartment. Sometimes I splash in rain puddles. Sometimes I re-read one of my favorite children's books. Sometimes I try to lose myself in daydreams. Then I catch myself trying to write something down on my to-do list. Then I start all over again.

So what if we lived in a world where you both worked hard AND had fun? A world in which there there was more playing, laughing, dancing and exploring? 

I would love to live in a world where our days alternate between "fun" or "so much fun" - a world where we would all bounce along on our way home, bursting to tell other people our amazing stories about our days.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Story of 'Ol Doll

I've always loved my grandma's stories. Ever since I can remember, she's been telling and retelling stories from her childhood, stories from my mom's childhood, stories of her adventures, and stories of our adventures, in a way that I could have never even imagined they could happen. For my grandma, the mark of a good story is that it is never told exactly the same way twice. When she tells stories, she's in her element. She usually starts giggling way before the punchline. It's infectious.

When L and I visited her in Ruston, Louisiana over the weekend, she told us the following story about growing up on a farm in Missouri, the youngest of ten children:

"We had a horse named 'Ol Doll, and we had been teaching her how to kneel. So one day, I guess we had nothing better to do, we decided it would be a good idea to just take Ol' Doll up the stairs. I'm not sure why we did that. Cocky and I were always up to something. You know why your Uncle Cocky was called that, right? Well, he was always very proud of himself, always looking sharp and dapper. One time, his teacher at school caught him fooling around at school. She asked him what he had to say for himself, and he just grinned. ‘Well, aren’t you cocky!’ she said. And from that moment on, we just called him Cocky. Well, where was I, Ol’ Doll, right? Just like you, I’ve always loved horses, and Ol’ Doll was our oldest horse. So one time, we decided to take Ol’ Doll into Pop’s study. Taking a horse up three flights of steps is even harder than it sounds, but it helped that she could kneel. So we dragged Ol’ Doll up there, and just waited in the doorway of Pop’s study to see what would happen. Well, bless Pop’s soul, he didn’t hear very well. He was just working away at his desk. We must have been there for a full five minutes before he turned around. He nodded to us, just like any other old day, and then turned around to go back to his paper. But then he did the biggest double-take I had ever seen. His eyes got all wide - and this is one of the only times I heard Pop swear. Well, we sure got Ol’ Doll down the stairs a lot faster than we had gotten her up!"

If I hadn't heard that story so many times, I would have sworn it wasn't true. Who could ever conceive of taking a horse up the stairs? Now, I could hear that story over and over and over. To me, that story fits my grandma to a T. Always up to something mischievous, always laughing, and occasionally, always exaggerating. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Gaining the courage to tell my story

Lately I've been attending First Person Arts Story Slams. I love the mission of this organization; to connect people through stories. The concept of a Story Slam is pure genius: if you so desire, you put your name in a bucket, and ten names get chosen at random. If picked, you tell a true story that happened to you, that relates to the theme, and that's five minutes or less (without notes) up in front of a very supportive audience. Each time before last night, I haven't put my name in the bucket. I kept thinking I wasn't ready to share a story.

(Image created by First Person Arts).

Last night's theme was "shock". I was looking forward to the stories as usual, and also didn't think that I even had a story in which I was all that shocked, at least not Story Slam level worthy shock. My friend even asked me what my shock story would be, and I said I didn't know. I happily settled in for another night of storytelling without the added pressure of wondering whether my name would be called next.
(Image by

Yet as soon as the second person started telling their story, I immediately remembered that I had a great shock story. My first year of teaching in a Philly public school, I was mooned by a student during an after-school club. If that's not shocking, I'm not sure what is! Yet my story wasn't just about that moment in which an 8th grader pulled his pants down (yikes!) and I wasn't sure how to respond. It was about how much I was a fish out of water my first year teaching, and how now looking back on it, it's so much fun to laugh at the vast difference between what I expected and the reality. It was about how certain mentors took me under their wing and helped me navigate a situation that was so much more complex than the actual teaching. It was about these crazy little things that happen can really shape a person.

(I cannot find who created this image - if someone can, please let me know!).

Now, during the Story Slam, you can put your name in the bucket at the beginning of the night, or at intermission (after five people share their story). So there I was, listening to incredible stories and feeling like I just had to tell my own. I've never felt so much of a need to tell a story. I also knew that if I didn't put my name in that darn bucket I might never get up the courage to do it again. So, I hastily jotted down some notes (even though I lived the story, I had to think about how I was going to tell it), gathered every bit of courage and put my name in the bucket. Even if I wasn't called, I reasoned, I would be proud of myself for entering.

Of course, my name was the first to be called after the intermission, and my body went into shock. I'm not even sure how I moved from my chair to the stage, but somehow I got up there and started telling my story. It was truly an out of body experience. I was amazed that on one level I could be literally shaking and on another level I could be actively telling my story (let's not forget, I couldn't use notes), seeking connection with the audience, poking fun at my situation, making the audience laugh (who knew I could be funny? :), and having an amazing time. I don't remember exactly what I said (I'm waiting for the video to be posted to find out exactly how I did), but I remember how I felt. Up on stage, I felt this incredible rush that I could share a story honestly with people and receive such support.

On a side note, my students always used to make fun of me for talking with my hands. I now see what they meant :)!

I'm still on a high from sharing my story. If you have any forum to share a story (even a silly story like a kid mooning you) in public, up in front of people, I highly recommend it.

Have any of you gotten up the courage to share a story? How was it? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"You've passed the hardest part!" "No, now I'm at the hardest part!"

Yesterday, I went rock climbing with friends (in an indoor gym in case you were wondering - it's COLD in Philly right now). We took turns climbing, encouraging each other as we scrambled or in my case hoisted quite ungracefully up the walls.

When you're watching someone climb from the ground, it suddenly becomes very clear what move they should make next. You have the vision to see where the easy footholds and handholds are. If you've climbed the same course beforehand, you know exactly what sequence would be best for them to get to the top without tiring out. You're the expert. Or so you think.

When you're climbing, however, it's a whole different story. Your body is fatigued, you are right up against the wall so it's difficult to see where the rocks are, and you're trying not to look down, lest you see how far you've come and how far it would be to drop to the floor. The course that from the ground seemed so straightforward can take a completely different turn with each person that climbs it.

At one point, when I was frantically searching for my next handhold, my friend shouted up from the ground, "You've passed the hardest part! You've got this!" Out of breath, I laughingly shouted back, "No, now I'm at the hardest part!" 

Afterwards, my arms shaking as I gave my friends a high-five, I realized that half of my motivation to get up that wall (or 3/4 of the way up that wall if we're being honest) was my friends' encouragement. Having them point out a foothold that I wouldn't have seen otherwise was a huge help. I couldn't see it, because I was too close to my own story. 

There's a balance needed of course, as there is so often in life. We think we see exactly where someone else should go next, especially if we've been in a similar situation. We think since our story turned out this way, the next person's story should as well. It comes from a place of such support, yet each person's story is so unique. The hardest part to you may be only the calm before the hardest part of the storm to someone else. 

I'm so lucky I have friends to let me know where my next foothold is should I want to pursue it, and that I also have the ability to figure out my next move in my own story myself.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Tale of Oscar and Felix

A brief account of the tale of Oscar and Felix, in slightly poetic form:

'Twas a wintry day in early February in ye old city of Philly;
Julie and her paramour L were desiring feline companionship (it had gotten quite chilly).
So they traveled to PAWS, a place that housed animals, a brief yet harrowing feat.
And swore to the shopkeeper they would be amazing caretakers (making sure the cats had enough to eat.)
"Very well," said the shopkeeper, "We have a large selection, and all of them have their knees." (?)
Said Julie and L, "Excellent, we want two of them if you please."

The shopkeeper hesitated before saying...
"We have quite an unusual case. Two cats were found together, and they are a pair...but they are quite an odd odd couple just like that movie that at one time was playing."

"They were found together, Oscar and Felix, outside in the bitter cold."
"Felix is just short of 6 months and at 6 years Oscar is well...a bit old." 
"An odd couple?" Julie and L exclaimed. "Well this is quite unexpected! Are they father and son?" The shopkeeper could not say. 
"They must stay together, that's all that I know, can you make a decision today?"

Oscar climbed into Julie's lap, curled up, started purring and emitted some drool.
At that point Julie was a done deal, when it came to Oscar, she was a fool!
Felix was scared, but blinked a few times, which the shopkeeper said was a good sign.
"He's been on the streets his entire life," said the shopkeeper, "Just give him a bit of time."
L and Julie said, "We would love to give these cats a home!"
The shopkeeper said, "Let us know of their progress by phone!"

Only a week has past yet it seems like Oscar and Felix have lived with Julie and L for much longer.
Oscar feels pretty much at home....

While the bond between Felix and his human companions (and DaBird) with each day grows a wee bit stronger.

Oscar spends most of his days waiting for food, while Felix plays hard to get.

While Julie and L haven't quite become those people who are super obsessed with their least, not yet.

The End

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Story Of The Pork Loin: Some Stories Are More Important To The Grown Ups

Every year, a group of friends and I get together to celebrate my friends' adorable daughter, who is now 6 years old. Our traditional birthday dinner for this little girl is pork loin. Yes, you read that correctly. Why? I'll explain. I know you're dying to find out.

One night in January, 6 years ago, we were gathered at another couple's house in Mt. Airy for a semi-regular dinner, and my friend served pork loin. We ate, told our respective teaching horror stories, and played with my friend's son who was only about a year old at that point. The soon to be mother of this now 6-year old was spending a lot of time in the restroom, but of course we weren't going to call attention to it. Finally, she came down the stairs and declared she had to go to the hospital. We were worried, since her baby was due in March.

I lived (and still live) quite close to their hospital, so they hastily said they would drop me off. This story has been fine-tuned over the years. Like my grandma always says, the mark of a good story is one that is never told the exact same way. So the original story is that they dropped me off nearby my house, stopping the car quickly so I could hop out. They had no time for extended goodbyes. When told for dramatic effect, my exit from the car looks something like this.

Anyways, I safely got home, went to bed, and woke up in the morning, expecting to hear an update about how my friend was fine, and maybe sick from eating so much pork. Instead, my friend's husband texted me, "Do you have a camera? I need you to bring it to the hospital. We had the baby." I was about to say this was the age before camera cell phones, but in reality this friend will never get a cell phone with a proper camera. That's another story for another time. I made my way over to the hospital, where my friend was mummified up in hospital white, and gave him the camera. This little girl had come two months early.

Well, they all lived happily ever after. It was rough at first, but the baby show came early is now a charming, funny and smart little six year old with an adorable younger brother who did in fact wait until his due date. Still, every year we celebrate with a pork loin. My friends' joke that the pork loin started the premature labor.

This year, I tried to tell the momentous story to this little girl as she struggled to get out of her daddy's lap, anxious to stop talking to the grown ups and play with her little brother. The grown ups at the table laughed, sighed and got a little misty-eyed at the story. It was a huge moment for our group of friends. My friends' child on the other hand, waited impatiently until I was done, and then wriggled out of the lap and started bouncing on the sofa on top of her brother. She's clearly not too invested in her story just yet. As far as she's concerned, none of his ever happened.

We joke that as she gets older, she'll ask, in an exasperated tone, "Why do we always have to have pork on my birthday?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Who chooses which stories are the most important?

As I begin writing, I'm keenly aware that I am not as up to date with news stories as I desire. I'm tempted to write all sorts of disclaimers, but I'm just going to take a deep breath, plunge ahead and attempt to write about something that really affected me today.

I've been following the coverage of the killing of the 12 journalists in France on January 7th. What happened was just terrible. I was so moved by the Unity March in Paris last weekend, and I love how the slogan "Je suis Charlie" has spread so quickly. Even a few celebrities at the Golden Globes mentioned the attack and wore pins with the slogan. It's amazing how the world seems to be rallying around France in support, including world leaders.

I was alerted to another horrific news story today. Over 2000 people were killed in Nigeria in an attack that started on January 3rd. Additionally, over 30,000 people were displaced from their homes.

My boyfriend L, who I completely trust as someone who is truly well-informed when it comes to the news, informed me that Nigeria's massacre received minimal news coverage. In contrast, the massacre in France has been covered consistently.

The stories that news outlets choose to share tell a story of their own. The story that ends up coming across seems to be crystal clear: Some lives are more "news-worthy" than others.

Like I said in the beginning, I am trying to become more well-informed myself. However, news outlets have the responsibility to inform the world of what's going on everywhere, not just what's going on in countries that someone may deem more important.

Every story matters.