Trying and Riding

bike riding (photo by Wendy Kennar)

The biggest news in our family involves my son.  My eight-year old son is now a bike rider! 

For my son’s eighth birthday, we gave him a shiny red two-wheeler.  He had specified the color, and we all knew he was ready to give up the training wheels that had been attached to his smaller-sized bike.

Practice was done in stops and spurts.  It’s not easy learning a new skill, and though I repeatedly told my son that he had mastered a lot of new skills during his eight-year life, he was skeptical that he would ever learn to ride a bike.  He doesn’t remember learning to walk, learning to use the restroom, or learning to put on his socks, for example.  And though I tried to tell him that those skills were once difficult for him too, he did eventually learn them and now does them on a regular basis without really thinking about it.

But riding a bike was different.  My son was afraid of falling.  My son doubted himself.  And practicing riding wasn’t always fun; a lot of times, it felt more like a chore.

Until the day, I got Ryan out on his bike and told him he just had to try to put his feet up on the pedals (instead of letting them dangle down at the sides) and see what would happen.  He surprised us both by pedaling away. 

Each day since, we’ve been out on our bikes.  Each day, Ryan’s riding has gotten stronger, more steady and confident.  And because Ryan’s been out there riding, I’ve been out there riding too.  (Two years ago, I bought myself a bike.  You can read about it in this earlier blog post:

So now Ryan and I are out there together, both of us going further than we originally thought we could, riding for longer periods of time than either one of us knew we could.

When we’re back home, I’m definitely more tired and more uncomfortable than Ryan is.  Some days, I experience mild amounts of pain.  On those days, I feel proud to have used my body in this physically active way.  I feel good to be exercising, to be engaging in an activity I’ve always enjoyed and to be able to share it with my son.

On other days, I take off my helmet and am thankful that we’re back inside safe and sound.  Because my left leg really hurts, and I wonder how I’ll go about the rest of my day.  But I look at my son, at this new skill he’s mastered, at this new activity that we can do together, and any amount of pain I may suffer just doesn’t seem as important as the memories we’re making together.

Zest and Gusto

Ray Bradbury book (photo by Wendy Kennar)

I recently finished reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays titled Zen in the Art of Writing.  Mr. Bradbury states that writers need two things — “zest” and “gusto.”

“… if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.”

If you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.”

Mr. Bradbury’s words got me thinking about my own levels of zest and gusto.  Back in the day, I think I had a lot of zest and gusto.  I’ve had adventures — I’ve gone parasailing and taken a sunset hot air balloon ride.  I drove myself around San Francisco, exploring and seeing the sites, by myself, and in the days before there were Smartphones to help me navigate.  I used to take myself to Santa Monica for the day (via the bus), to wander around the Promenade just because I wanted to.  I often had limited finances and limited transportation options, but I went out and did things.  I had zest.  I had gusto.

Now I wonder if I still do.  And the fact that I wonder is perhaps a sign that I don’t have as much zest and gusto as I once had.  In all fairness, it became much more challenging to continue some of my adventuresome activities once I became a parent.  Two years after that milestone, I was stricken with my autoimmune disease.  And I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to feel zest and gusto while I’m feeling pain.

It’s easy to be self-critical, to come down hard on myself for the things I no longer do, to accuse myself of not living with zest and gusto.

But that’s not right.  Because I look at my family, and I marvel at my eight-year-old son, and I know I’m loving with zest and gusto.  And I look at my own writing, and I know that I’m putting my heart out on the page, and that certainly qualifies as zest and gusto.

Coffee, Tea, and Me

coffee mug (photo by Wendy Kennar)

Dear Readers,

A version of this post appeared on my first blog back in 2013.  But recently, I was waiting for my blended mocha at my local Coffee Bean and found myself glancing at the bags of coffee on sale.  I thought it might be a good time to post a slightly updated version of this post.  Enjoy!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I’m not a coffee drinker.  My morning beverage of choice is a mug-full of apple juice, with one ice cube.  I do, however, enjoy the occasional coffee-type beverage, either a cafe mocha or an iced blended mocha (depending on the weather).

Recently, while at my local Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, I noticed the signs for the bags of coffee they sell.  And I realized, that my personality was written on those shelf tags.  I can be succinctly summed up using the same adjectives that describe international coffee beans.

  1. Light and subtle.  I am Caucasian, which means that my skin color is considered light.  I hope I am subtle in many ways including my sarcasm and my fragrances.  Generally, I think less is more on both counts. 

2. Light and distinctive.  I do not limit myself by only wearing dark clothes, nor do I outline my eyes with dark eyeliner.  However, I want to be distinctive; I want to stand-out and not look like everyone else walking in and out of Coffee Bean.  My jewelry, I think, achieves that goal.  Rings on eight of my ten fingers.  Earrings and necklace to match the day’s outfit.  Two bracelets, a watch, and an anklet complete the ensemble.

3. Medium and smooth.  I am of medium height at 5’6”.  And my daily application of lotion is to try and maintain smooth skin.  I want my hands to be welcomed, as I tenderly smooth my son’s hair and kiss him good-night.

4. Dark and distinctive.  I am not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed California girl.  I am instead a brown-haired, brown-eyed California girl.  And while my jewelry may make the top part of me distinctive, my footwear takes care of the bottom part of me.  I am a person who is usually walking around in either tennis shoes or clogs. Unlike other California girls, no high heels or flip flops can be found in my closet.

5. Decaffeinated.  I pride myself on being rather level-headed, sensible, and down-to-earth.  I am not overly hyper or overly loud.  When I was teaching, I was frequently told that I had a calming way with my students.

6. Flavored.  Anyone who peeks inside my bathroom will find a cornucopia of flavors that are used to cleanse my body.  My shampoo and conditioner are blackberry sage tea flavored.  My body wash is sweet pea and violet fragrance.  And for my skin, it’s sweet pea body lotion. 

There you have it.  Wendy Kennar, in a coffee bean (instead of a nutshell).

Three Silver Linings

painting of a rainbow (photo by Wendy Kennar)
A painting my son created several years ago

I don’t have a lot of friends.  And I’m not talking about “Facebook friends.”  (I’m not even on Facebook.  You can read an essay over at that explains why.) 

In terms of real, three-dimensional people, I do have a small, close circle of friends.  Friends who have been my friends for years.  There’s Aya, my pen pal who lives in Japan.  She and I have been writing letters since 1993.  (You can read the blog post I wrote about our friendship here).

There’s Evelyn, a woman I met during my college years, when I worked in a public library.  More than 20 years later, we’re still friends. 

There are my teacher friends, but as it happens in life, once I stopped teaching, our relationships started to slowly fizzle.  It was hard to maintain them when the times I could talk (while my son was in school) were exactly the same times they couldn’t (because they were teaching in school). 

But in the last couple of years, I’ve made three new friends.  And it occurred to me the other night that I only met these women because of my autoimmune disease.  If I was still teaching, I never would have participated in a chronic pain group (friend number one), I never would have attended a daytime writing class (friend number two), and I never would have attended a three day writer’s retreat (friend number three).

It’s easy to go through my days and think about how much harder many aspects of my life have become.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of sadness, to focus on the losses.  Chronic pain will do that.  And that’s all true.  But it’s important to also remember that there are a few silver linings.  And I definitely count these three women, our friendships, as silver linings.