The Delicate Art of Helping


I have always been a helper. I like to feel useful and to ease the way of other people if I can. As a child I helped my teachers and my family members (Not my sister, I don’t think. We fought more than helped each other, but Heaven help anyone who did anything hurtful to her.) When I grew up, I was always helpful at work, which, since I was usually the one in charge, didn’t do much to bolster my position of authority, but my co-workers seemed to like me pretty well. When I did have to do something authoritative it made it harder, that is they stopped liking me so much. And that was hard for me because above all, I wanted to be liked. I still do, but I’m not quite as attached to it as I once was.

When I became a teacher I had a huge opportunity to help people. Aside from teaching them, I bought groceries for families whose breadwinner was in jail, went out in the middle of the night to help bail a kid out of jail, attended funerals of kids who died in gang warfare, and gave money to their families. I wrote so many letters of recommendation, called colleges to convince them to admit students who I knew would make it but whose application didn’t look quite good enough, sponsored the student dance group and drove them to their performances, and the list goes on. I spent untold hours helping others in those first fifteen years or so. And I loved it, it nourished me somehow.

But eventually I stopped.

I still teach, and I still give as much of myself in the classroom as I can, but I know I have slowed down. My emotional investment is not as great as it once was.  It’s not that I don’t help, I do, in many ways. But the staying late and doing more and more, not so much now.  What changed?

I started teaching the year of the shooting at our school. I was a student teacher that year. I was trapped in my classroom with twenty-some kids for seven hours that day, and in the following days, weeks, months and even years my energy was completely dedicated to that school and its families. We had all been affected by this horror, and it bound us. The momentum of the event carried me along for a long time.  When my mentor died after about ten years of my being a teacher, I felt the responsibility to carry on for her. She was such an amazing woman and teacher, and she was my role model, the one I emulated.

After nearly fifteen years I was asked to take a job at the district office. I was torn, but honored to be asked, and the money was more, and somehow thinking I could help kids on a larger scale, I agreed to go. I left my classroom and went to do an uncertain job downtown. Unfortunately that job remained uncertain for two years, after which the position was terminated and I was headed back to the classroom. I was fine with that, despite feeling a little kicked around by broken promises.  The classroom I went to was in the middle school, where I didn’t really know anyone. It was a tough time because two schools were coming together and everyone was a little ouchy for a year or so. Coming from the District Office didn’t help me to be accepted by either group, especially because they assumed (wrongly) that I was still receiving an administrator’s salary.

And it was middle school. I had never taught twelve year-olds, never followed a pacing guide, never had an adopted curriculum and never taught the same group of kids for two periods at a time. Even though I taught ELD I tried to do what the other English teachers did because the alternative curriculum was so bad. Thus started a few years of just trying to find my way. Trying to determine what guidelines I could and could not follow, trying to prepare students for benchmark exams that had not been written with them in mind, teaching content I’d never taught in high school. I felt pretty overwhelmed. And it was all I could do to help myself get through the day. Honestly, I needed help. I can say that now, but at the time I couldn’t see it, nor could I have asked for it if I had.

I didn’t have the energy to be a helper when I so desperately needed help myself.

In this is the crux of the issue, I think. I’m a good helper. It makes me feel good, strong and competent. But I have a really hard time accepting help. I can’t ask for it, and if I do and I’m rejected, I take that personally, as though I wasn’t important enough to help. It could be that the person I asked had something important already scheduled, but their “no” resounds with me for far too long. I resolve never to ask them again.

A few months ago I found this quote somewhere: “If you cannot ask for and accept help without self-judgement, you are attaching judgement to helping.”  This is for me. I copied it into my planner and have been thinking about it for a few months now.  I think that giving help is the easy part. I just open up and hand out pieces of my heart to whoever needs it. But if  I can’t ask for and accept help without judging myself as inadequate, then my own helping others is not coming from a place of love. It is coming from a place of need. It’s still help, and it’s still given from the heart, but it is not neutral. It is a way of placing myself above someone else. I am a rock, I am an island, like that only not. None of us is that. We need each other, and being able to accept help from others is a skill far greater than that of simply helping.

My son tells me he is happy to help me, but he doesn’t know what I need help with. He says all I have to do is ask him. I say I think he should notice so I don’t have to ask. That is, of course, complete folly because how should he know which little thing I’m noticing today? It’s not like there’s a lack of things that need doing.  I think I’m going to practice this asking for help thing on him today, starting with the four pots of salvia I bought at the nursery this morning!


IMG_3564I love this photo. I took it but I don’t remember what it is. I just like the fluid lines, the play of dark and light and the simplicity of it. I need a little simplicity tonight. So many thoughts always crowding in, demanding my attention. Yesterday I wrote a poem (Okay, I re-wrote or “hacked” someone else’s poem) for this blog, but then it fit better on the other, teacher blog, so I left it there rather than here.

So here I sit, on a warm moonlit night, looking at a simple shape, feeling out of words. Today was one of those days that you just shake your head over.  It was a day that makes me want to just spend a period teaching a bunch of kids to do The Cup Song together, because we need some togetherness right now.  And some fun. And because we could all do it together even if we don’t all know English. And right now my class needs that unity. And that that little bit of fun.  Hm. And that’s all for now.  I’ll let you know how it goes. If I try it.

Stella and Stew


It’s a dark and rainy night, never mind that the almonds are in bloom and in the daytime it looks like spring. Tonight we have the blessed gift of rain, and that makes the time perfect for a pot of stew and a new blog post. It’s hard to believe that almost a month has gone by since I wrote here. I think I need the challenge of a daily blog post for a while to get over the sense that whatever I write has to be good, weighty, or written for a purpose. Or funny. Whatever it is that blocks me from sitting down here and just writing, I need to get over it.

Tonight I’m making a pot of whatever-is-in-the frig stew.  It is garlic, onions, boneless pork ribs, Peruano beans, flame roasted canned tomatoes, chicken broth, spices,  a date and half a bottle of Stella Artois beer that someone left in the fridge few months ago.  It smells pretty good, but who knows what delight the alchemy of all that will create? We’ll eat it, I’m sure because we have no other choice except the chocolate chip cookies Alex found on Rachel Ray’s website and has decided to make right in the middle of dinner preparations. After I drink the other half of the beer (which I never ever usually  do) I might not even care how any of it tastes.

Thinking about work, it’s funny how chaos can become routine. Today my classes were barely controlled chaos all day long, and while I am tired, I’m not at my wit’s end. I don’t even really care about it. The chaos. I mean, I’m sorry Jared cried, but he didn’t cry until after I moved him to a different seat, the one he wanted to sit in that was behind his friends. Once he moved and cried, he told me, “See, I told you I wanted to move because Tyson was hitting my head.” Except I moved him when he asked, and Tyson didn’t actively hit him that I could see, and they were right in the front row. I guess there was some desk bumping or something. Ni modo.

After they left I called Ivan’s mom because I was sick of his squirreling around and the nasty little attitude that has that he’s been sporting recently. I thought she and I could talk about it, cooperate in helping him out, and she was great. I bet he’s hearing about it about now. He’ll have something to say about that tomorrow, I can tell you.  They don’t ever think I’ll actually call home, especially when I don’t even threaten to do so, other than to say that I’ll be glad to meet their moms.  Now I hope we can help cool his jets a little.

Yesterday I had a visit from a former student, one who was a squirrely roller-on-the-floor in the seventh grade. He’s now a Junior in high school and is a  very reasonable human being who picks up his little sister and takes her out for tacos. He gave me hope yesterday, on a day when I most needed it. A reminder of the fact that seventh and eighth grade are just swiftly passing stops on the road to adulthood. They come in so beautiful, still in the flush of childhood, and within a couple of years they start losing that to take on their adult look. Most manage to still look good through middle school, and it’s Freshman year when the dorkiness hits.  Puberty strikes hard for some of them, and then just in time, they shape up  get ready for the next awkward stage, the one after high school.

But enough of them. Sometimes I think I’m like one of those moms (I know this because I was one) whose whole life is their kids and they don’t even know what else to talk about cause the kids are all they do. When I, I do so many other interesting things. Like read books. And putter in my yard. And plan lessons. Watch a little TV. What else? Well, I’m working on that. I’m just a procrastinator. I’m going to do the rest of the stuff, the interesting things,  a little later. Probably starting this weekend.

I hope you’re enjoying yourself, and having something delicious for dinner on this drippy night! Thanks for your perseverance in stopping by this infrequent writer’s spot. Really, thanks.



All Those Books!

The Hall Closet

Happy New Year, again. I’m over the leggings and I think I’ve found my New Year’s Resolution, now that January is almost over.  The beginning of the year was a little rough, but I think I’m past it now and ready for a resolution. Wait, it’s not a resolution, really. It’s more like a theme.  I just decided that 2014 will be the year I read all those books that are languishing on my iPad and on my bookshelves.  This is a huge decision, actually, because I have a lot of unread books. When I moved last year I got rid of several bags full of them, and only kept the ones I really loved and the ones I hadn’t read. There are a lot of them.  A lot. This theme may extend into other future years. Let’s see, in the hall closet there are 68 books that I have yet to read.  On my iPad another 32.  Hm..that’s a clean 100 books.  I’m not counting the ones in my office or garage.  I guess the resolution part of this would have to be that I resolve not to buy one more book (except those my book club reads, of course) until I’ve read all of these gems that await me now.  I don’t even need to take any paper books on my much planned for road trip. I have more than enough right on my iPad. Oh, and I guess I should stay away from the library until I’m done with this project.

I have this library thing I do. I wonder if other people do the same.  I buy books by my favorite authors when they come out, and I put them in the book case.  Then I go to the library and check out four or five novels. I come home and gobble up the library books first because they are due in three weeks.  So the ones I’m looking forward to, by all those authors I love, sit languishing on the shelves while I read those other, borrowed ones. When I take the library books back I can’t just drop them off and go. No, I have to go check the new fiction rack, and then browse for just a couple of minutes in the shelves. Just long enough to check out another pile of books, and the cycle begins again.  It’s kind of a sickness I think.

It’s funny. For most of my life I didn’t buy books. I got them all from the library. As a kid I went to the library about every two weeks and always checked out the six books that were the maximum allowed. As a teen I did the same until the library broke up with me over a few unpaid late fines.  I don’t know what I read during that hiatus. I guess maybe I read some college books, or something my mom had at home.  Maybe.  Later I once again established a relationship with a library (a different one).  When my kids were little and I stayed home with them I was a big fan of those long family saga novels. The ones that had hundreds of pages each.  I’m a fast reader so those worked out well.  I read while I nursed my babies. My firstborn would go find my book and hand it to me, then would plop down in our nursing spot.  He knew how to get what he wanted!

About twenty years or so ago, I began to patronize the local used bookstore. I could buy books for a fraction of their original cost, and then trade them back in when I’d finished. Almost as cheap as library fines. That’s when my collection of books became immense. I like to read by authors, so when I find one I like, I read through all of his or her books. I pass some on and keep some until eventually I have no more room and I take them all (all but the ones I just have to keep, for rereading or loaning) back to the used bookstore. Then I carry a credit slip around for a while until get the urge to go in and see what’s new in there.

About six years ago my granddaughter became an avid reader, just like me.  She tears through series after series of books, has favorite and not favorite authors. She dislikes books with deckle edge pages, preferring those that are smooth cut.  Who even thinks about that?

The first Saturday of each month we go to the Teachers Book Connection and buy fresh new books.  In the past couple of years she has moved from the kids section to young adult books, and now peruses more classic literature.  She wants to devour it all.  I love talking about books with her. She always has such interesting insights on what she reads, often coming up with ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me. Recently I was telling her about a favorite poem of mine, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I told her that for me that poem is a lesson in uncertainty. I don’t really feel like I understand it, yet in its murkiness is a beauty that I like.  We were driving when we talked about this, and suddenly she was quiet, looking at her iPhone. In a couple of minutes she began to read that poem out loud to me, and then she told me what she thought it was about.  I would not have thought of her ideas, yet they made so much sense.  It’s funny, of all my children none is a reader like this.  Maybe it’s a gene, a reader gene that skips a generation.

But I digress. I’m going to read those books and I will keep a fresh  book list page on this blog, so you can follow along if you’d like.  You might find a book you’d like in my list! And I’ll keep you posted as to how well I’m sticking to my resolution.

UPDATE: So far so good, although I was pulled in by the library last week. I have yet to read any of the four books I brought home. Maybe alternating book sources? We’ll see how that goes. My current booklist has its own page, that’s right up there in the header. Enjoy! Let me know if you’ve read anything really good lately!


Happy New Year! Already?


This isn’t even this year’s board. I’ll probably be ready in a couple of days. Or so.

It’s New Year’s Day, and I’m not ready to talk about resolutions, or make a list of things I ought to do to be better, have more, know myself or be happier.  I”m still working on this year’s vision board.  I’m not feeling spiritual either, and I don’t want to write about what 2013 brought and left me. Nope. Today I’m thinking about leggings.  That’s right, leggings.  Specifically on old ladies, but also generally, as in leggings on teenagers.  I almost wrote ‘youngins’ there, but that sounds way more colloquial than I actually feel.  So I wrote ‘teenagers’ when I really meant seventh and eighth graders.  Not teens, exactly, but not kids either.  Youngins.

You may wonder why I’m thinking about leggings today. Here’s the deal: I’ve actually been thinking about them for  while now.  I have worn them once or twice, always under a dress, and felt pretty cool wearing them.  Like fit and shapely.  Which isn’t really the case.  I always wonder what to wear them with, specifically what shoes, and do I have to buy boots to wear leggings? What about a top?  I think a shortish dress is good with them but a longish sweater, not so much. Then there’s that age appropriateness thing.  Are they a young woman or kid thing to wear, or could I manage to wear them in an age appropriate way?

At the middle school where I teach, the girls wear them as often as they wear jeans. This year the tribal printed ones are all the rage. They wear them with short little sweaters, as if they were jeans.  And it doesn’t really look so good, even on a twelve-year-old. I also know an older woman who frequently wears them, occasionally with a short sweater like the kids do.  Without going into detail, I’ll say that it does not work.  No. Because of those leggings, I know just a little more about her anatomy than I ever imagined wanting to know.  And I am older than she is.  (I just learned last week that I’m in fact the oldest staff member at my school.  Yeah.  Awesome!) So, I keep not wearing them. And only touching on the thought of them occasionally.

But then, yesterday I was shopping for a couple of things at Raley’s and I came across two separate old ladies wearing leggings, and looking just fine in them.  Based on their faces, I think they were probably older than I am, although sometimes I think that lots of people who I think are older than I am are in fact younger. Their age isn’t really the issue here.  The leggings are. Or the fact that things have changed since I was a girl, and as hip and Baby Boomer as I think I am, my ideas and mores were formed when I was a girl and watched my grandma and great-grandma on my mom’s side be old ladies.

The kind of old ladies who wore only slips, baggy silky dresses and big boxy undies. Stockings rolled to just below their knees and sensible black shoes or house slippers, and a hanky stuffed up their sleeve or in the neck of their dress, tucked under their slip strap. And grey permed hair.  They played canasta.  All the time.  My other role model, I mean grandma,  my dad’s mom, was very stylish, and wouldn’t think of leaving the house without full makeup and her best clothes.  She played Bridge.  And once took off for Las Vegas with her girlfriends without telling any of us.  But leggings wouldn’t have ever been part of her wardrobe, of this I’m certain, even if they had been invented then.

So, somewhere in the back of my mind, when I thought about aging, (which I really didn’t think would actually ever happen to me because everyone always told me how young I looked), I always expected to turn into my grandma.  Probably not the stylish one.  I’m not sure how I thought that would happen. Would I just wake up old one day?  Was it a decision one made one day?  I guess I thought that for some reason getting old would skip me, and on my good days I still think that. I never really thought about that bridge between older and old.  I do think of it a lot more lately, like any time I’m brazen enough to take a ‘selfie’,  when I imagine I can catch a spontaneously fun shot of myself and all I see is wrinkles.

But I digress.  This has become about more than leggings, hasn’t it?  My point is, I know that I’m not my grandmothers but sometimes, when I’m not looking, I forget that. And it limits my idea of who and what I can be and do.  Because, even though I’m on the downhill run to Medicare, I still believe I can do and be whatever I want to.  Obviously, there are some things that have passed for me, like going to medical school or winning American Idol.  But there are lots of possibilities left, and anything that helps me rout out those buried limitations is a thing I want to notice.  I’d rather decide my possibilities in a conscious way, not based on some old ideas that I don’t even know I believe.

As for the leggings, the jury is still out on that one.  What about with clogs?

It’s Snowing Again at WordPress! Feeling happier.


This is the fifth year I’ve spent time on this site with these off and on again blogs I write. I love it when the time of year comes around that WordPress makes it snow.  It looks so sort of festive, but in a calm way. I think it makes it look like whatever I decide to write about is more interesting than usual just because it has snow falling on it.

My last post about going to Taos was misleading, apparently.  I’m not going there until next summer.  I’m just having a great time planning to go there.  Even if I backed out, I’d have had a great time planning to go.

I recently read an article on Zite about ten things you can do that will make you happier.  These things were backed by science, so they must be true. Forgive me for not including the science here. Just take my word tht there was a scientific explanation for every one of them. One of those things was planning a trip.  You don’t even have to actually go, just as long as you plan it you’ll feel happier. That’s definitely worth the price of admission.  So I’m planning my trip and it makes me feel pretty good while I’m doing it.  I do believe I will actually go because I’ve already invested my money in the whole thing, but it’s good to know that even if for some reason I didn’t go, I’ve already gotten some mileage out of the deal. And I have a great new Pinterest board entitled, “Road Trip.” Worth it!

Do you want to know what the other nine things are?  I know you do, so here they are:

1. Exercise more.  Seven minutes apparently is enough.  I figure I should be able to top seven minutes.  So far I haven’t though.

2.  Sleep more.  Oh yeah.  Bring on Christmas vacation!

3. Live closer to work.  I guess this is to cut commute time.  That’s not going to happen. I guess I need to up the exercise quotient to make up for this one.

4. Spend time with friends and family.  Well, yeah.  That makes everything better, in my book.

5. Go outside.  Just that, go outside?  Cinch.  I’ve been cleaning the pool pretty often since I read this, cause it’s been full of leaves. Now that all the leaves are down, I’ll go to the wildlife refuge and take pictures of migratory birds. I really love doing that, and they don’t seem to mind it too much as long as I don’t move too fast.

6. Smile.  Some days this is harder that it seems.  Maybe if I go outside more I’ll be less grouchy.

7. Help others.  I do some of this, but I could always do more. Sometimes I figure just going to work counts for this one.  But not always.

8. Meditate. Oh yes, this makes me feel so collected and calm. And focused. I don’t know why I forget to do this so often. The result is really and truly magical in my life.  I guess it’s a little bit like eating vegetables. I love eating them, my body loves receiving them but they take a little more effort to prepare than oh, a piece of steak or a quesadilla so I skip them, despite my best intentions.

9. Practice gratitude.  I try to express my gratitude often and honestly. However…see number 8.

Oh, and there’s one more.  Get older.  Apparently as you get older you just tend to get happier.  I suppose you’re less worried about how things will turn out. Plus your kids are no longer teenagers, and if your grandkids are teens they have their own parents to worry about them. So yeah, I’ve got that last one pegged. The getting older part happens whether I want it to or not.

So there you go. How does this list resonate with you? What would you add to it?

Headed to Taos, again.

The altar of the Santuario.

The altar of the Santuario de Chimayo.

You’re a person who likes to write, or at least you used to like to write, although you’ve kind of slacked off in the past while.  Totally slacked off, actually. Last summer you went to a writing retreat at Mount Shasta with the Writing Project.  At the last minute you were asked to help lead it and that was great. You got to be a sounding board and commenter for other writers, and in between you had time to revitalize your blog.

 You really love to go away from home to write.  A few years ago you spent a week at the Grand Canyon writing with a group of women.  Sunrise at Mather Point, stuff like that.  That was a dream.  You drove there on your own personal road trip, listening to lots of Ricardo Arjona music.  There was other music too, but you just mostly remember the Arjona songs whose words were so timely.  After the retreat was over you went to New Mexico, to Albuquerque, to visit that friend of your mom’s, then cruised up to Taos for a couple of days.  That was the summer of the tiny black mandalas.  You made several of them a day.  They were like little spirit messages from the inner you to the outer you.


 You spent two days in Chimayo, and completely fell in love with it. You made plans to spend some time there again in the future.  There was something about the whole road trip writing retreat thing that was so revitalizing.  Music in the car, doing things that challenged you like going swimming in a bathing suit in the hotel pool, meeting new people and writing and drawing for hours every day. It was great, and you felt stronger, more yourself, after it was over.

 But that was a long time ago. Life happens, and you’ve been a little sad and a little detached from that inner calm for a while.  Not terrible, but sad enough to quit writing.  Nothing seems worth saying, and when you reread your old journals you realize that you’ve already said what you were just going to say.  In fact you’ve said the same things again and again for years.  So you take pictures and draw and make mosaics and just avoid writing.  You’ve been busy, too, ever since your new son came into your life a year or so ago.  You don’t have much alone time any more. At least that’s what you tell yourself.  When you’re not writing.

Now you have the opportunity for another road trip writing retreat, in Taos, no less. It involves writing and  yoga and pastries and dancing and collage.  You wonder how those things even go together, and you wonder if you’re too grouchy for all that. But you are actually deeply excited about it, and know that you’ll step up when it’s time.

You’ve known about this particular retreat for a long time, but somehow it was never the right time to go.  It was either a little too expensive, or you just had to think it over until it was too late and all the spots were filled.  This year you decide, in kind of the spur of the moment, that this is the year that you will go to it. So you do it.  You sign up and pay in full and put it on the calendar.

 The more you think about it, the more you think it sounds like just what you need, except maybe for the yoga and dancing part.  And actually the yoga part sounds okay except you recently hit your highest weight of your life, and you’re not exactly feeling flexible. Which makes it all the more surprising that you signed up for the whole thing if it involves the yoga and dancing.  You’re good with the pastries, though, which is probably the reason for the weight.

 So you begin to plan your trip, even though it’s nearly nine months away.  You think you’ll spend a night in Chimayo the night before you’re due to arrive in Taos, because it’s the holiest place you can ever remember being. And you are all out of the Holy Chiles and, well, yeah. You need some more.

Truly sabrosos.

Then you go to Pinterest and make a new board, “Road Trip,” because you have to do something. In your journal you make a list of all the lists you have to make to get ready for this trip. You color it in, kind of Sketchnotey, and then relax about it all.

 You are sure you will like the person who is throwing this party, and you still have eight months before it happens to pull it together. Maybe taking some walks will help you get less grouchy. And a little more flexible. Or not,  that doesn’t really matter.  You think and think about it, and suddenly, in a moment of clarity, you realize that going to this retreat with yoga and dancing and pastries is about challenging yourself as much as it’s about the writing. It’s about reminding yourself that you can do hard things and that after you do them you are happier.  Truly. And it’s been a long time since you’ve done that.   So you reserve a room in Chimayo and begin to map your trip.  It’s on!


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