Inspiring Words

Women’s History Month is celebrated throughout the month of March, and last Friday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day.

In the spirit of celebrating innovative, pioneering women, I’d like to share some quotes from my most recent library discovery.  (On a side note, this is why I can’t merely browse online for a book.  I need to wander and peruse the shelves, because I never know what I’ll find, what book will be waiting for me when I need to read it.  That was the case with this book: Great Quotes from Great Women – From Marie Curie to Michelle Obama – inspiring words from women who have shaped our world.)

I haven’t finished the book yet, but here are some of my favorite quotes so far:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” – Audrey Hepburn

You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” – Michelle Obama 

I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them.  I was surrounded by extraordinary women in my life who taught me about quiet strength and dignity.” – Michelle Obama

There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world.  Love of books is the best of all.” – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I do the very best I can to look upon life with optimism and hope and looking forward to a better day.” – Rosa Parks

I would like to be remembered as someone who was not afraid to do what she wanted to do, and as someone who took risks along the way in order to achieve her goals.” – Sally Ride

 

5 Things I’m Learning From My Autoimmune Disease

Last week marked the 6-year anniversary of the day I left my teaching career. I still miss it. But I like to think that I’m still teaching – just not in a traditional classroom – but through my writing and in all my interactions with my son. And I’m still learning. In fact, living with my autoimmune disease has taught me some surprising, unexpected lessons. Here are 5 Things I’m Learning From My Autoimmune Disease.

  1. Small pills aren’t always easier to swallow.  I take a lot of pills each day; both prescription medications to try and control my body’s inflammation as well as over-the-counter supplements. Pills come in different sizes. Some are taken with food. Some without. Some are taken every day, at certain times of the day. But there’s one medication I take only once a week. It’s a small pill; probably the smallest pill I swallow. But each Saturday night, I have to take 10 of these little pills. And after a while, those 10 small pills feel more like 10 giant multivitamins.
  2. Being a chronic patient improves my vocabulary and spelling skills.  Since becoming ill, I’ve learned about different “-ists” – gastroenterologist, urologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, nephrologist, rheumatologist. I’ve also been subjected to different   “-scopies” – endoscopy, cystoscopy. Many were words I had never heard of before. Some were words I had no idea how to pronounce (endoscopy). And some, I still don’t spell correctly on the first try (ophthalmologist). 
  3. I’m willing to have my belly button resemble a volcano.  When I was newly diagnosed and desperately trying to hold onto my life and my teaching career, I tried a variety of things on the chance they might help. I bought compression stockings. Didn’t help. I propped my legs up with several pillows every time I sat on the couch or reclined in bed. Also didn’t help. And me, the person who doesn’t like needles, who always looks away when having blood drawn, saw an acupuncturist. I paid her $100 per visit so she would poke me with ultra-thin needles. Occasionally, she also burned Moxa, and once placed it inside my belly button until it looked like a mini-volcano was erupting on my body.  And it didn’t help my pain.
  4. A blood clot will seem like an attractive alternative.  My illness began on a Sunday morning when I woke up with an incredibly swollen left calf. I couldn’t stand, and once in the ER, all the symptoms (redness, swelling, pain in my calf) suggested a blood clot. I believed that my swollen leg would somehow be popped like a balloon until it was deflated and I was back to normal. It wasn’t a blood clot, and it didn’t return to normal. In fact, while in the ER my calf became more red, more swollen, and more sensitive to touch. Doctors didn’t know why. But a blood clot would have been so much easier. Something that was identifiable, treatable. Something that was temporary. (I was treated for cellulitis, and a year later officially diagnosed with my autoimmune disease).  
  5. An invisible disability is like the wind.  Invisible forces are powerful. You never see wind; wind is invisible. But you see and feel the effects of wind – wind chimes tinkling, kites soaring, leaves rustling. My invisible disability has the same strength as gale-force winds. It made it necessary for me to retire from my teaching career. It qualified me for a disabled parking placard, though I don’t rely on an assisted walking device and appear to be “fine.”

 

Done In Love

Yesterday I proudly sat in the audience and watched my son and his fifth grade class present their special Black History Month Performance.  Each student had researched and learned about a different “trailblazer and difference maker.”  Each student had written a biography about this individual, and each student presented the biography to the audience, speaking as if the student was the distinguished person.  

My son learned about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, a doctor who opened the first integrated hospital; a doctor who learned about, and implemented, sanitary treatment conditions in operating rooms; and the doctor who performed the first successful open heart surgery.

My favorite part of my son’s “I Am Dr. Daniel Hale Williams” speech was the quote at the end.  In addition to the general biography facts my son and his classmates had researched, each student had also learned a famous quote that was associated with their distinguished individual, a quote that speaks of the character and actions of this famous person.  

And this week, I’d like to share with my readers that quote.  It’s a quote that I think is a beautiful mantra for how to live one’s life.

“Anything is possible when it’s done in love and everything you can do should be done in love or it will fail.”  Dr. Daniel Hale Williams

 

A Hopeful Read

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott is “an exploration of hope and the place it holds in our lives.”  That phrase alone was enough to make me want to read this book.  And then in an act of serendipity, because I had never mentioned this book to her, a very good friend of mine gave me this book for Christmas. 

I just finished reading it a few days ago and would love to share with my readers some of my favorite passages.

“…life lasts so briefly, like free theater in the park – glorious and tedious; full of wonder and often hard to understand, but right before our very eyes, and capable of rousing us, awakening us to life, to the green and very real grass, the mess, the sky, the limbo.”

Almost everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, scared, and yet designed for joy.”

Adults rarely have the imagination or energy of children, but we do have one another, and nature, and old black-and-white movies, and the ultimate secret weapon, books.  Books!  To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded, on my butt or in my bed or favorite chair, is literally how I have survived being here at all.”

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”    (That one line makes up the entirety of chapter four).

Hate is such an ugly word.  How about loathe for the verb, abhorrence for the noun?  (I agree.  When I was a teacher, “hate” was not allowed to be spoken in my classroom).

So, writing.  What a bitch.”  (And this begins my favorite chapter of the book).

In my current less-young age, I’ve learned that almost more than anything, stories hold us together.  Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.”

 

Life, Love, and Pop Songs

During some of my high school and college years, I worked in a flower shop.  Those years gave me a whole new way of looking at Valentine’s Day, or in shop lingo, “V. Day.”

V. Day meant at least twelve-hour shifts at minimum wage (at that time, $4.25/hour), tired feet, swollen fingers that were cut by thorns.  Valentine’s Day meant standing at the counter creating one arrangement after the other of one dozen long-stem red roses in a vase. 

Later on, after I left the flower shop, Valentine’s Day again became a day I could look forward to.  (Though from the beginning of our relationship, I asked my husband never to buy me red roses for Valentine’s Day).

Valentine’s Day is the day of love.  But, where do we learn about love?  From our parents?  The movies?  Books?  Our friends?  Probably a mix of all of those.

But also from music.  My husband and I don’t have one song that we consider “ours.”  We have multiple songs that each have a special meaning for us. 

A few years ago, one of my personal essays, “A Blue-Jeans Type of Marriage,” was included in a special anthology.  (The title for my essay was inspired by Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans.”)  Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From Pop Songs, edited by Laura Roberts, includes a variety of stories that, as said in the book’s introduction, are “all about love.  Love hard won, love lost, love unrequited, love that lasts, and love that’s just a fading dream.”

And now readers, it’s your turn.  Feel free to share any favorite love songs in the comments section.  

Wishing you all a Valentine’s Day filled with sweetness, feel-good tunes, and smiles!

 

I Agree For Sure

Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure is the latest book on my just-completed list.  This book had been on my to-read list because I was curious.  What did Oprah, with all her experiences and resources, know for sure?  Would it resonate for me?

Yes and no.  There are some universal truths in this book.  But there were also times I felt incredibly disconnected such as while reading of Oprah’s experiences when she was in Fiji or sitting on her porch outside her house in Maui.

But, this week, allow me to share a few of the parts that moved me.  And maybe you’ll find that they resonate with you as well.

Give me a great novel or memoir, some tea, and a cozy spot to curl up in, and I’m in heaven.  I love to live in another person’s thoughts; I marvel at the bonds I feel with people who come alive on the page, regardless of how different their circumstances might be from mine.  I not only feel I know these people, but I also recognize more of myself.  Insight, information, knowledge, inspiration, power: All that and more can come through a good book.”

You’re not the same woman you were a decade ago; if you’re lucky, you’re not the same woman you were last year.  The whole point of aging, as I see it, is change.  If we let them, our experiences can keep teaching us about ourselves.  I celebrate that.  Honor it.  Hold it in reverence.  And I’m grateful for every age I’m blessed to become.”

If you can get paid for doing what you love, every paycheck is a bonus.  Give yourself the bonus of a lifetime: Pursue your passion.  Discover what you love.  Then do it!

To this day, excellence is my intention.  To be excellent in giving.  In graciousness.  In effort.  In struggle and in strife.  For me, being excellent means always doing my personal best.”

Live so that at the end of each day, you can say, ‘I did my very best.’  That’s what it means to excel at the great work of living your best life.”

 

Just Do It

This past Saturday morning I woke up with a knot in my left leg. 

As the morning went on, the knot untangled itself and pain near my biopsy scar replaced the discomfort of my knot.

It was Saturday.  We didn’t have any particular place to be at any particular time, but this was our family day.  We had plans.  Hanging out on our patio.  A picnic in a nearby park.  An afternoon walk.  And damn it, I wasn’t going to let some pain stop me.  I rarely do.

I can’t control when the pain hits, or where it hits, or how long the pain lasts.  Certain activities (playing handball with my son, for example) are triggers.  Other activities (weekly grocery shopping, for instance) sometimes aggravate my pain but not always.  And rest doesn’t always help.

Besides, this was Saturday.  Our long-awaited family day.  Our we-made-it-through-the-week, the-weather-is-beautiful, let’s-enjoy-the-day Saturday.  

And I wasn’t going to miss it.

During our picnic lunch, I struggled to find a comfortable way to sit.  Cross-legged worked for a bit.  Stretching my legs straight out in front worked for a bit.  No position was truly comfortable, but I tried to focus on what was most important.  My son’s smile.  The three of us playing Uno.  The light coming through the leaves on the tree nearby.  The sound of the park’s fountain.

While we sat and ate and talked, my husband told me I could do my own version of a Nike commercial.  Not to advertise shoes or athletic prowess, but my embodiment of their “Just Do It” theme.  

Because that’s what I do each day.  I do what needs to be done, regardless of how I feel.

Back in my college days, I often wore a “Just Do It” cap at home during particularly stressful times.  Studying for finals.  Assembling a portfolio for an art class I didn’t want to take.  Staying up late to complete my reading about ancient Indian history.   It was my “uniform,” my buckle-down-and-do-this attire.

College wasn’t easy in any sense.  My husband and I moved in together and got married while I was in college.  I worked throughout my college years.  And for most of my college years, I relied on public transportation.  (Six buses a day, 3 1/2 to 4 hours a day, for the round-trip commute from our apartment in L.A. to California State University Northridge).

But I did it.  I took care of what needed to be done.  And I became the first in my family to earn a college degree.

That Just Do It cap now hangs in my writing room.  I haven’t worn it in years.  I’m not sure exactly when I stopped wearing it or why.  

Maybe it’s because I always feel like it’s on me.  

 

Thankful for Our Public Schools

For my readers who don’t live in Los Angeles, here’s what you should know about the last week:

It rained.  A lot.  For consecutive days.  And in L.A., that is news in and of itself.

But on top of that, our Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike.  The last time teachers resorted to a strike was back in 1989.  I was in junior high school (back then it wasn’t called middle school like it is now), and the strike lasted 9 days.

(You can click here to read the post “Guide to the LAUSD Teachers’ Strike” on MomsLA.com for some additional information and photos about the strike.)

This strike is different.  At least for me.  This time around, I view the strike through the eyes of a former public school student, a former public school teacher, and a current public school parent.

So for the first time in his school career, my son didn’t attend school on days he was well.  We discussed it as a family and we all decided that in support of our teachers, we weren’t crossing the picket line.  (And in all honesty, there was little to no real learning going on at these under-staffed school campuses, and as the strike continued, student attendance continued to decline.) 

Much of what our teachers are fighting for hasn’t changed since the last strike.  Our teachers want what is best for our children.  Smaller class sizes.  Less testing and more teaching.  More support staff, including a full-time nurse each day. 

Our public school classrooms are marvels.  I miss the magic of being in a classroom with a group of children and seeing that spark, seeing that light bulb go off, seeing the understanding.  There is nothing like it.  Our teachers don’t want to be outside their schools picketing.  They want to be inside their rooms teaching.  The sooner, the better.

And on that note, I’d like to share a post I wrote several years ago.  I think during this time especially, it’s important to remember just how valuable our public schools are.  Click here to read my essay, “6 Reasons Why We Should Be Thankful For Public Schools.”

More Than Just a Meal

In this photo, Ryan is 9 years old.

 

Readers, do you have a favorite food?

I don’t have a favorite food, but I do have favorite food-related memories.

  Being a junior high school student and making tostadas for a family dinner as part of an assignment for my seventh grade health class.  It was the first time I had cooked dinner, and I was proud of myself for coming up with a meal that included all the food groups.

– My husband and I eating our first meal in our first apartment:  a Burger King Whopper and fries.

– Celebrating my mom’s birthday with a special breakfast of hot chocolate and chocolate croissants, not knowing at the time I’d be giving birth to my son later that night.

For me, food isn’t just a matter of feeding my body; it’s about the who, the where, and the when.  Which is why I’m unwilling to drastically change my diet in hopes of decreasing the effects of my autoimmune disease.

Last week, The Mighty published my personal essay, “Why I’m Not Changing My Diet as Someone with Autoimmune Disease.” You can click here to read it.

My essay was also featured on Yahoo’s home page as well!

And if you do have a favorite food or food-related memory, I’d love to read about it in the comments section.

 

This Year’s Plan

My personal essays appear in these anthologies.

Last year, I wrote a blog post stating my intention to make my writing my year’s focus.  (Click here if you missed it.  And an update:  the anthology I mentioned in last year’s post has been delayed but hopefully will be published later this year). 

So, a week into the new year, I thought it only fitting to reflect on 2018 and see how I did.  

Did I focus on my writing?  Yes, most of the time.  When my son is home during breaks from school (we just finished up a three-week winter break), my writing time is drastically reduced.  

Yet, I’m proud to say I did a lot of writing last year, including: 

A blog post a week.  And I’m especially proud of re-focusing this blog and concentrating my posts on one of the 3 most important B’s in my life:  boys (or children in general, based on my teaching experiences and raising my son), books (a writer must also be a reader), and bodies (specifically living with an autoimmune disease).

I continued to be a regular contributor for MomsLA.com, often writing two posts per week.

I completed a course in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program.  

I wrote multiple personal essays, and I published a dozen of them on sites such as TheMighty.com, parents.com, RoleReboot.org, Breath and Shadow, and mother.ly.  

So what’s in store for this year?  More of the same.  A focus on my writing, specifically my essays describing my experiences living with an invisible disability.  

On my bookcase, there are several anthologies that don’t have my name on the cover, but do have my name inside – on a contributing essay.  And like I’ve told my son, one day, there will be a book on our shelf where my name is on the cover.  That’s what I’m working on this year.