Category Archives: Thought Full

Remembering Jane

I don’t know why I remember, but at church one Sunday I stayed sitting when everyone else got up to sing. Then I looked left, and a woman three seats down was also still sitting. I don’t know why I remember but her hair was scraggily. I don’t know why I remember but she was holding her stomach. I don’t know why I remember but she was wearing a lime green skirt and torn yellow leggings. Her sweatshirt and her arms were wrapped around her middle, and her head was down. She was wrapped up inside her own arms. She was wrapped small, but I think standing she would be taller than me, which isn’t saying much, but it’s saying something. I don’t know why I remember, but after I rose to sing the last stanza if only to drown out the man down the row who always sings off-key, I looked again and the woman was still sitting. The song was over, and I don’t know why I remember, but everyone but me walked away. I stood staring, watching everyone walk away and was about to walk away too, but I didn’t. I don’t know why I remember, but it seemed like I should go talk to her. I don’t know why I remember, but I didn’t know what to say. I ran sentences through my mind. Ask if she’s ok; see if she wants to talk. See if she needs money. See how she found the church. I stood staring. I don’t know why I remember, but I wasn’t self conscious about staring. If she were someone I knew, I wouldn’t have stared but she was so wrapped up inside I didn’t think she noticed me and so I took advantage. I don’t know why I remember but I decided to sit down next to her and ask if she was ok and I don’t know why I remember but I do, she said, “No.” And I sat there and remembered that everything I’ve heard about helping someone is to listen, to simply sit with and be in their presence. And I don’t know why I remember, but it felt good to listen. And I don’t know why I remember, but eventually i talked too, to this complete stranger. I told her she wasn’t alone and that someone was there and she told me, “People are following me.” And I asked her, “Who?” And I don’t know why I remember, but I wanted her to feel believed. I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if it was ok if I put my hand on her shoulder and she said it was and I don’t know why I remember, but she cried. I think she felt as if some sadness could come out because someone was next to her. I introduced myself and she told me her name was Jane. I don’t know why I remember, but Jane told me that she knew people who practice witchcraft and that she was tired of locking up her things, and I told her that it must be hard to have to lock her things and I don’t know why I remember but I asked her if she thought she had a mental illness and she said, “yes,” and I thought that since she answered yes, maybe she wasn’t so far beyond gone, and I don’t know why I remember but I told her that she must have done something to get herself to the church and that maybe she didn’t need to understand everything but that maybe it was important that she came to church today. And I asked her if she was homeless and she said sometimes. And I don’t know why I remember, but she said thank you for sitting with me, and that makes me smile right now while I remember. And then I asked her if she wanted a cup of coffee and if she would like to meet our minister and she said yes then I introduced them to each other, and walked away. I feel bad about that, but I wasn’t sure what else to do, so later I talked to the minister again. And that night I sent notes to all the people I know who work with mentally ill or homeless people and I got some ideas about how to help her and I wrote them down and put them inside my purse for her and she was on my mind all that week and still is from time to time, when I see that piece of paper in my purse. And I still don’t know why I remember, but that was a lot to remember.

It’s 10 p.m. Do You Know Where Your Glasses Are?

IMG_8391A friend remarks that some people need to keep a bit of anxiety in their life, “The brain searches for equilibrium to stay comfortable.” How true.

Diagnosed years ago with nearsightedness, it’s taken just as many to learn how to keep track of my glasses. How can that be? Why not put them in the same place each time I remove them?

That’s what I tell my kids to do with their shoes, and they do. That’s what my husband does with his glasses, and he’s worn them only two years.

Following my partner’s advise, I designate a container and spot on a shelf and label it “Jenn’s Keys and Glasses”. The system works — until I stop using it. More honestly I resist using it. Curiously, I convince myself that, when waking up, breakfasting at the kitchen table, leaving my car, walking into the house, If I put my glasses in a new place, I will remember. But I don’t. Next I admit to the four other places I leave them and make a sign listing where to check. IMG_8389

But the resister in me gets more creative. I leave them in new locations (by the cook book, on the shelf at the kitchen window, at the piano, and tell myself, “You’ll remember.” (I don’t). Upping the anti, I scatter them in additional random spots: on the game closet shelf, near the gardening tools in the garage, atop the chicken coop door.

Sometimes I won’t even check the five places labeled on the basket. My refrain becomes, “Anyone know where I left my glasses,” and my sons’ mantra becomes, “Check your list.” The worst is when, they tell me what I tell them, “Think about the last place you put them.” At least some know the system.

Last week I got serious about routine (http://jenncastro.com/2015/03/23/routine-questions/) and made a new commitment to keep track of my glasses. They have one place — In the basket.

But here’s the thing, even though I am ready to allow orderliness into my glasses life, it is not easy. Removing them, I sense a tug to leave them wherever I am. Fighting the tug, and taking my husband’s advice, “Always put them back. Leave the case in the basket and when you’re done store them inside the case.”

The relief I feel when I find them in their place, inside their case, is incredible. And if finding my glasses can calm me, what’s next? My keys? See sign, I solved that years ago, most of the time.

Is it true that committing to a glasses basket is the sign of a sick mind (the clean desk story is next) and that our resistance to order makes us creative?

I think not.

I think it diverts our energy. Scatters it sideways.

What I wonder, is what to do with the newfound peacefulness?

How about you? Holding on to a little anxiety that keeps you a bit on the edge? Got any order you need to put into your life? How will you respond to the newfound energy?

 

 

 

 

 

Routine Questions

waiting on wednesdayI have time compartments that dictate what I can do when. “Work,” which means school stuff, is roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Weekday evenings are for cooking dinner, a meeting here and there, and a lot of I’m not really sure what.

Brainless play is Friday night. Socializing, the occasional (but strongly needed – more about that soon) intellectual talk, and sometimes dinners out, happen on Saturday night.

Pancake breakfast (from time to time), soccer playing and ref-ing, household shopping, cleaning (sort of) and fixing broken things (a bit) is for Saturday. Church, and a lot more of I’m not sure what, is on Sunday.

That’s my routine. Sound familiar?

Here’s what I wonder — if keep this schedule, when will I finish writing my book?

So I’ve started disassembling that routine. Here’s an example:  Recently, my family made plans on a Saturday night. I could have made plans with a friend, but instead, I stayed home — to write. The next day, they went out again, and I stayed home — to write.

The result of staying home on those days, is that, from the inside of some where, small chunks of time for writing have started falling into my lap (top). The more I risk facing my blank or sloppily organized page(s), the more time I find. The more I stop myself from saying, “yes” to  things I’m used to, and instead answering that small tug that whispers, “Here’s an hour, take it,” the result is a new routine.

Last week, I read a book (well, actually a chapter) about another writer’s routine, the kind I long for, because it’s orderly. She wakes each day to meditate, workout, say mantras, read some soulful pages, eat oatmeal and grapefruit, plan and pencil in this and that, until she’s ready to write — five pages…

For me, for today, it’s “Time appeared, grab it, sit, write,” or “Everyone’s going out Friday, don’t make plans,” And I don’t, so that I do – write.

So here’s a novel, so to speak, question, is there a schedule you need to shake down so you can do what you want to but don’t cause you haven’t asked your self a routine question? Maybe it’s time.

 

Orange Twist

orangesOut of the blue, I bring my friend an orange. Grab it from the fruit bowl on the way out the door. We meet for a chat, and as we part I tell her, “Oh, I have something for you.” She’s just moved, and her new home is in boxes. Life is busy. Her eyes light up when it hand her the piece of fruit, “Just yesterday, I wanted an orange, and I didn’t know how I’d get to the store.” How did I know? Did I?

Continuing my orange jag, one Wednesday, I pack three in my lunch bag; one for me, and one for each kid. But that’s where the story twists. While one kid leaves for class, the other stays in the car to study. Hearing a muffled mutter, I turn to find a man near my door.

Covered in hair, many layers of clothes, and packs, and dirt-crusted nails, he is holding an empty cup. I sense he wants money. My purse is in the trunk, and I’m reluctant to locate it. Trying again to see if I can afford this homeless man any dignity, I ask my question, “How can I help?”

But he’s too far gone and cannot articulate, so I assist, “Would you like a piece of fruit?”

He cannot say. Choosing for him, I hand him my orange.

Later I tell my son a wish. “What if I could bring him a sandwich every day, and leave it at the edge of the parking lot. He could come to trust that lunch would await him. Maybe that could change his life somehow.”

“That would be cool mom, but you better be careful he doesn’t tell his friends about it,” he cautions. I smile thinking about a line of homeless folks gathering to capture my row of sidewalk sandwiches.

But what if each of us who can brings an orange, or a box of crackers, or an extra sandwich to share? When I hand that piece of fruit to that man, I wonder if it shines a very small light in his life. I know that his crusted dirty hand looked a bit brighter holding that sweet piece of orange fruit.

Like the orange I gave my friend, I don’t know why I carried them with me that day. Not sure it matters, more important is that I had something to give away and I did.

Anything you need to bring along today? Anything you need to share?

 

 

Catch Me

IMG_8370A coach once asked, “Describe games you enjoy.” Playing catch topped the list. Why?

It’s the smack in the glove;

The successful clasp of the disc between the fingers;

The rush of the fast push of the playground ball into both hands;

The happy, he chose me to throw to;

The connection of one to another across an arch of gravity;

The smile when your partner leaps and catches the near miss.

“I’m sorry,” you casually mumble when the Frisbee veers up and back in an embarrassingly unintentional curve.

“Oops, he confesses when the thrown ball meant to move one direction and landed in the weeds instead.

But catch is not all fun and games.

I have noticed it takes courage to play. At the beginning the game is orderly. The first throws to the right. Then that receiver tosses to her right and so on around the circle.

Then in one unplanned moment, there comes a curve. The player with the ball, switches the pattern and throws across the circle. Standing seemingly alone in my small group of family or friends, there’s a game change. Perched there, half wanting to make eye contact to say, “Yes, I’m free to catch,” the other eye says, “Don’t seem too eager to receive.” Holding back I look away aloofly so I don’t convey, “I’m waiting,” or “I hope you’ll throw one this way.” or worse to not care too much when left out two times around the circle.

Growing up, every year some in my family made a pilgrimage to the vacation home. Leaving the city house, my dad packed a Frisbee and ball in the car. Once we’d moved into our new place, dad got the toys and we’d play catch in the driveway or street.

I loved the tricks. My dad staring me down while throwing to my sister. Thinking the ball was for me, I’d reach to receive while my sister was thrown for a surprise. Fast balls, quick ones, high tosses, over the head, under the legs to me, to me to me.

In those moments, I am caught and nothing beats being part of the game. Included. Participating. When someone throws a ball or a Frisbee, all is good. And when the ball smacks into your hand or lands firmly in your fist, all is right.

Here’s a few questions: What do you enjoy? If it’s catch, are you throwing or receiving? Chosen? Participating? When in the game, all is good.

 

 

 

 

 

Saving the World

shower-curtain-world-map-4Before throwing away the world last week, I almost saved it. Thinking I could make things from it, I considered cutting up the continents and boxing them for a future project. I contemplated snipping those seven islands into sections and using them right away. How about pasting them onto cardboard for a geography lesson? Heck it almost became a drop cloth for a painting project.

For a second, I considered donating it to Goodwill. Thankfully in light of the battered plastic and missing grommet holes, better sense moved in.

Yup, a shower curtain almost got stored in a crate surrounded by a lot of pressure to make something new from it.

Instead I took that old plastic sheet and, not as my kids might quote from a currently famous YouTube spot, “I took it and I threw it on the ground,” I took it and I threw it in the trash barrel. The should-guilt lasted for a tiny New York City apartment minute. “Keep it, reuse it, recycle it,” my packrat self counseled. But like the bits of food left in my refrigerator that mold, decay, and eventually need to be composted or chucked, the shower curtain left my house the first time.

I still believe I can act each day to help our planet stay clean and clear, but I, unfortunately won’t be able to save this old world by saving and storing my old shower curtain. Thus, I let it go.

Here’s a; question:  Anything you’re saving these days that it’s time to let go of? Is it better to toss it now rather than letting it rot in the fridge or collect dust in a box?

Take Your Seat White America

8850-lOnce, in a city, on the way to an appointment that was “not in my neighborhood,” I boarded a bus when whammo. Immediately I felt it. “What did I feel?” you ask?

“My skin color,” I say, prominent, exposed, obvious, but not unprotected.

Usually I don’t notice my skin. I rarely notice it has color. My skin is just, well, there. I’m just, well, me. But that moment on the bus shined a spotlight. All eyes on me, I was the only white person on the bus.

There was a seat. Was it in the front or at the back? Not sure. No need to think about that. Probably, after a moment, no one was looking at me. But in my mind, my skin color wore neon lights.

Embarrassing to admit, but, when I see an African-American person in, say, a Whole Foods market near me, I have the impulse to smile, as if to say, “I’m one of the nice ones.” And I wonder what planet I think I live on that the person passing me by really gives a hoot whether I’m smiling or not.

I just watched the video of Eric Garner who died after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer as he struggled to breath. “I can’t breath, I can’t breath,” his voice panicked as he lay on the city cement. Remember how when you were little and you’d wrestle with your siblings  or your dad, and you’d get in a hold and say, “I can’t breath.” And they knew to stop sitting on your stomach. They didn’t hesitate. They got off. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who put Mr. Garner in a chokehold did not stop. And now Mr. Garner is dead. I want to panic, hold my head in disbelief, but I must do more.

I struggle about what to teach my children about racism and their place “on the bus,” and “in their neighborhood.” What do my two kids, my two white boys growing into white men need to know so they can be part of a solution to eradicate racism in the United States of America?

They need to know their history, deeply. They must know what we did. I’ll stop for a minute to define we. Who are we? Any white person whether we explicitly did something or not. Just  being white in America makes us responsible for our history. Here are a few subjects:  Slavery — African Americans were enslaved by white people in our country for 400 years. Did your eyes just roll. Did you think, “You’re bringing that up again?” Until tangible reparations are made, we aren’t done dealing with slavery. Further, my kids must know that African Americans fought slavery. There’s more; I want them to know about reconstruction; that for a time after the civil war, many black men were in elected office. I want them know about suppression of voting rights, Jim Crow, the KKK, lynching, mobs, job discrimination, racism on sports teams, among many subjects.

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  History is repeating. Consider the new version of disenfranchisement in Texas where laws require Texans to show identification to vote. I explain to my kids why this is discriminatory. I want them to know this is a new form of the voter suppression that occurred in the 1960’s when African Americans in the south were not able to vote unless they passed a history test. I want them to know.

I want them to know how many African American men are in prisons today. I want them to know that the cost of incarcerating someone is greater than the cost of attending college.

Seated at dinner last night, we discussed the protests against the grand jury’s decision not to indict a Police Officer Pantaleo in the death of Mr. Garner. Peaking their interest, my kids asked questions. They need to know.

We all need to know, and we need to feel uncomfortable. White Americans are not entitled to  live without acknowledging ourselves and our history. When one day one of my kids says, “I felt uncomfortable because I was the only one, “ I will reflect to him, “Yes, I know that feeling.” We all have a lot to talk about. Dear White America, what would you like to discuss today? Let’s start, again, and again, and again.

Just “Us”? Justice and Drought Drops

IMG_1105A poster pasted to a fence near a used-to-be pond on Highway 85 at Almaden Expressway in San Jose, California says,

“You’re looking at the drought. It’s Real. Save Now.”

Judging from the hand turning off a no-longer gushing-faucet, water flowing out of homeowners’ taps are the greatest drought-causing problem.

Recently, I received a Public Notice from the San Jose Water Company.

  1. Don’t wash your car without a shut-off nozzle.
  2. Don’t let “runoff” water run onto roadways, parking lots, etc.
  3. Don’t clean your driveway or sidewalk with drinking water
  4. Don’t use drinking water in an outdoor water fountain.

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“Violations of any of these four prohibited or restricted water use activities may be punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars for each day.”

These residential water uses comprise only 5 percent of total water use. Fifty-five percent of the water used in the U.S. is for animal agriculture. See http://cowspiracy.com/fact-check/#.VBThmxR2JbI.facebook

In our family we turn off water between teeth brushing, take short showers, and water the garden in the early morning or late afternoon, among many water-saving measures. Occasionally I even lug pasta refuse water outside to hydrate potted parsley.

According to Cowspiracy, (http://cowspiracy.com) the new documentary dispelling the disconnection between what we think is the greatest water use and what is actually the problem, producing one pound of beef takes 2500 gallons of water. One pound of beef. That water use is, well, hard to swallow. Makes my bucket of pasta water look well, like a drop in the bucket.

Cowspiracy found we could take shorter showers for 2 months before we used the amount of water needed to produce one pound of hamburger.  If my one family stops eating hamburgers once a week for one month, we would save 10,000 gallons of water in one 30-day period.

Curious about how much water one family actually uses in a month, I looked up a bill from our heaviest watering time, July and August. During these 57 days, my family used 262 gallons per day or 14,934 gallons. That water use is equivalent to 6 pounds of hamburger meat.

So, here are a few questions:

Is the faucet the right image for the poster?

Is that Public Notice sent to all water consumers?

Does the water company post on ranch owner’s fences images of cows consuming corn, grass, and soy telling them, “This is what drought looks like,” forcing them to take measures to save water? Does it fine ranchers for not properly or efficiently using our precious natural resource – water? Again, Cowspiracy, “Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56 percent of water in the U.S.”

While I’m not suggesting every Californian become a vegan, I do think it’s time to rethink the family dinner menu. To that end, I’ve pulled out once again, Forks Over Knives, a documentary and cookbook that makes compelling health arguments for eating plant-based meals. (http://www.amazon.com/Forks-Over-Knives-Cookbook-Plant-Based/dp/1615190619/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1410898733&sr=8-3&keywords=forks+over+knives)

Don’t worry, we won’t start letting the water run wild while we brush our teeth, take showers, and water the garden. And I won’t hound you to stop eating meat. But we can do more.

To start let’s learn the facts about water use. Got words you can share about water? Please tell us. There’s a lot we can do. We just need to do it.

 

 

Untangled

IMG_8221A tangled web of fishing wire, silver chain and black rope sits and stares  from my dresser. Day after day it calls to me, and I energetically ignore it, sort of. Ignoring takes energy.

On Tuesday, when the call shouts, I take the mass of chains to the table and begin to unravel knots. At the first pull of string, a voice weighs. “Why?” I wonder, “am I untangling jewelry?” But the meditative pacing, the slow thoughtful focus, is alluring. Each link I undo, every chain I free calms me like no cup of chamomile ever did. Time creeps to a near stop as my fingers carefully pull apart the links.

Slowly emerges an old blue stone unworn for years, a smooth maroon rock necklace gifted long ago.

The energy used to convince, “No, not today you have no time to untangle that mess today,” shifts to the art of untangling. Soon the strings are separated and hung. Sparkling chains and shiny stones align my wall. The jewelry looks pretty.

I do have time to untangle these webs, these strands, these chains, to find the clear crystal at the end of the fishing line. I breathe easy.

Got a small tangle of a project calling you? It’s worth the effort and time to unravel it. You never know what (thoughts) you might find.

Lemonade Stand

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When I see a kid selling lemonade on the corner, I stop and buy a cup. If they’re like me, when I was 10, it will make their day. When I witness the happiness evident by the swing in their arm pouring my kids and me a glassful, while happily accepting my $1.50 cents, it makes my day too. Let’s adjust the slogan, “Drive like your kids live here,” to “Support your small local business like your kids are selling.”

Maybe you remember your small business ventures as a child? I do. Laughing now, I am shopping at Gristedes Market in New York City. My sisters and I would buy apples along with lemons and quarter them. We set up our market next door to the Guggenheim Museum. If location, location, location rings true, we had it, because the museum was around the corner from our apartment on 4 East 89th Street.

But apples? What were we thinking? How did we keep the sections from turning brown while waiting for customers, which In my mind’s eye, created while standing in line at Gristedes, imagined hoards of crowds lining up for our lemonade and fruit stand.

Alas, I think we may have had one or two customers, likely a mom or office worker buying a cupful because they felt sorry for us. Usually those afternoons turned into roller skating and scraping together some odd cents for the least expensive Good Humor bar. How come he captured all the business? He had a name brand.

In Lawn Boy, by Gary Paulsen, a twelve-year old boy, lands a lawn care business while practically falling off a log. When a neighbor joins his enterprise and encourages him and explains how to expand, he quickly becomes successful. In real life, starting a business usually is not that easy, but supporting and encouraging our kids now may pave the way for a lucrative future. If nothing else, believing in them will give them the confidence to try.

So as you drive around town this spring and summer, support your local lemonade (or plum) stand and consider this:  What other small kid (and adult) businesses can you support? Maybe shopping local at a kid’s small venture will lead to their starting a business as an adult. Have any thoughts or memories about your small businesses? Share a story or two!