Boots or Wings

Give me cement boots
so I can grow roots
to this place. And stay.

Help me, I want to fly
the whirling winds so high
above this ground. And never come down.

Boots or wings. Stay or sing.
Where can I just do my thing?


Armadillo Alley

There's something about an alley that makes good neighbors. It's off the street where buildings brace against passing pedestrians, constant cars, and blaring buses. It doesn't have landscaping to pretend to be something it isn't. The alley is where you peek into cluttered garages with layers of trash and trinkets exposed by every coming and going of car and truck. The alley is where laundry is aired, trash is left, and pretense is forgotten. Alleys are the soft underbelly of an Armadillo: vulnerable yet well-protected.

My apartment is set in the backyard of a house on a busy street. Yet my domain is peaceful with a window onto the alley below. Across the street, two homes are on the back property of another home on an intersecting street. The resulting configuration makes a tiny hamlet in an otherwise noisy neighborhood. Filled with large and extended Mexican families, my across-the-alley neighbors' homes always have some activity going on. It begins each day with an idling car at 5:30 am, which I imagine is a carpool ride for one of the men to get to the factory. Around 7 am its the rehearsed sound of Maria announcing "Tameles! Chorizu!" (or something like that) as she sells homemade foods out of a stroller to supplement the income of her children. When I come home from work, there's always a gaggle of children playing in the alley or behind the fence. Their conversation flows from Spanish to English to Spanglish as the play escalates in excitement. The playful cries give way to hearty laughter as parents, tios and tias come back from work to enjoy dinner and each other's company once again. When I come home from teaching a late night ESL class, I'll be surprised to notice the newlyweds sitting on the stoop to cuddle and talk in the dark as I stop my car to open the gate and call it a night. Just from the alley, I've gotten to know this family and exchange a few kind words each day as we pass through. On the street, it's different.

"Get that piece of shit outta my way!!!" Ann screams, sitting high in her white Ford truck, ready to back out of her front driveway if it weren't for the Mexican about to leave in the black Nissan Sentra that's blocking it. I know a tough shell when I see it. Ann and Matt live in a 102-year-old home across the street from me. They're patiently restoring it to its original luster. Subdivided rental homes are on both sides of them. One waves an overbearing, faded flag of Mexico. The other, unpretentious. I hear Ann rage as I go on my evening run. On my return, Matt's waving me over to me from across the street. I oblige him. "It's good to see another white face around here." I smirk in politeness to his off-color joke. He wants to show me the inside of his home that he's restoring. I'm leery of what I might see as he takes me from room to room, as if there'll be a stash of pot or something that now I'm party to knowing about. Matt and Ann don't plan to stay very long after their vintage home is restored. "Too many Spanish taking over the neighborhood. Our daughter is 7 and can't ride her bike yet. This neighborhood is too noisy," they say as the neighbor kids zoom up and down the sidewalk on scooters, skateboards, and BMXs. I thank them for showing me their home, but I can't get over the rage I saw before.

On my way back, I realize that I just left the tough outer shell of the Armadillo on the street side. Sometimes I want to roll up and only show my shell; other times it's a pat on my soft belly that helps me through the day. How thick is my shell? How soft is my belly? As thick or as soft as I choose to dwell on it.


A ray of hope

I heard a talk by a former educator, now healer, yesterday with my brother. I've been having a hard time managing my classroom in my urban school. The speaker said that looking for one good thing in each student, and holding to it, could help them to let go of the other labels that have been stuck to them for so long. It's given me hope for the week.


Thanks Dad

Quiet, calm, pensive, strong, loving, supportive. These are all qualities I think of when I think of my dad. Life hasn't been a easy road for both of us recently. We get through it with each other's support. This picture was taken shortly after my sister passed on and we came home to be together. Behind us is dad's pride and joy: the fish pond and aquatic garden. He loves "projects" especially those outside like training the dogs, gardening, and landscaping. That's the engineer!

I've always been so grateful for dad's calm, strong embrace. From a pick-me-up after a sledding crash to a celebration of swimming victory, dad has been there to comfort and rejoice with me. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. You have shown me that strength comes from God, not aggression. Thanks Dad.


Looks and Maps

Enjoy the new look on my blog. All of the previous elements are still here, but with better formatting and looks.

Also, the world map project that I completed as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica has been featured on a website. Please check it out when you get a chance. A permanent link to it is in the "links" section on the sidebar. --->


Give us this day

I had a nice encounter on the way back from my 3 mile run up and down the LA River bikepath. I noticed a group of 20-somethings and "local" residents milling around the entrance to the bikepath. "Hmm" I wonder what that's about. On my way back, a woman with big, poofy, frizzy hair hollered me down. "Want something to eat? Come on we've got plenty to share!" Lima was her name. She lived under the 6th street Freeway ramp. I tried a few polite ways to turn her down, knowing that such food wasn't intended for those with a steady income. She insisted.

The 20-something men and women are from some Christian youth group, they really didn't get into all the details and I only overhead someone in the background mention their affiliation. Lima was the talkative one, with a few others in the back enjoying the Shepherd's pie and cornmeal. They served me some too (running makes you hungry!). I sat down, trying to think of what I could say that wouldn't draw attention to, or make light of, the situation that these residents live with. So I decided on, "have you lived in Long Beach your whole life?"

That's a good question to ask because one thing I've learned from my students is that there's a lot of pride in where you're from. Lima said, "yes" as she took Scott's guitar to sing some songs. She had a soul-driven voice and played the guitar with equal emotion. As she sang her own version of "Soul Rebel" by Bob Marley, I knew I would never discount homeless camps as void of beauty. What was Lima doing here with she could take her voice to share with others in caf├ęs and bars? She may have her reasons or hurdles to climb.

Perhaps I can return Tuesdays at 7 to get to know her and the others a little more. It certainly made my day to make the connection.

Still Here

I'm still actively posting to my blog. School is so intense and draining at the moment, that blogging is far from my mind. Only 6 more weeks. I've got a trip to Baja to post here. An adventure to Two Harbors on Catalina Island, too. Stay tuned and the pictures and stories won't disappoint!

Countries I have visited

Where I've been in the USA