Category Archives: personal

the stories of our lives

atoz_assessmentI attended a private school growing up, as I have said. Private school was a “safe” environment — at least it was for a goodie-goodie like me.

The elementary school I work at now is not private. There are three kindergarten classes, three first grade classrooms, three second grade classrooms. Third, fourth, and fifth graders attend an identical school down the street. More than 60 percent of our students are Hispanic. More than forty percent do not live with their parents.

Last week, *Marius was thrown out of school. He’d been a problem all year, had barricaded himself in the bathroom and was stuffing toilet paper into all of the toilets. He refused to come out, and, when he finally did, was chased down and taken to the office to wait for his grandmother. Marius has blond curls and blue eyes and baby chub. Marius is in kindergarten.

Aaron was unwanted as an infant. He was passed from foster home to foster home until he was adopted by an older couple at age three. He has reactive attachment disorder and steals things and lies about it. He grabs and bites and kicks and doesn’t understand why the other kids don’t like him. He takes medication and falls asleep at school every day. Aaron is five.

Lacy was born with a cleft lip. She lived in a van with her mother while her mom was on drugs and a prostitute last year. Lacy lives with her aunt and grandparents now. She is incredibly athletic. She told her teacher that her mom will be in prison until she’s ten.

Sarah’s mother has been in and out of her life for years now. Her father is in the military, and when he’s away, she goes to foster care. Despite her noticeable beauty, Sarah is slow to smile and seems unsure of herself.

Darius stays up until 2 a.m. playing Mortal Kombat. He “used to have bad grades, ‘a long time ago’ when he was in preschool,” but now, he says, he’s a much better student. He’s missing both his front teeth. His reddish-brown freckles are an exact match of his eyes and buzzed-cut hair.

CN0609 Girl watches tv screen.Madison was adopted and has older brothers. She receives little attention at home and will do anything, anything to be noticed at school. This includes misbehaving, stealing things, blurting instead of raising her hand, lying, and more.

Darren comes to school with only a bag of potato chips. He gets upset at snack time and calls his mother a bitch. He’s slow to learn and says he’s fat (he’s not), and, last Christmas, told his teachers he wished he were dead. When some of his classmates were going to kill a bug one day at recess, however, he intervened. “Don’t! Don’t kill it!” he said. “Animals are s’posed to be a-live!!” Darren has stolen my heart.

And, as I watch these children, and watch how they interact with each other; and when I realize that there was a time when someone had to explain to me what a “tattle tale” was, and that “ea” usually makes the long ē sound, as in “eat,” but can also sometimes sound like ā, as in “great”; and as I realize that home is where children are supposed to feel cherished and safe, but that, for some of them, home is anything but . . . I wonder what will become of these children, and at how some are so lucky while others are not; and I am amazed by the heart of teachers (with their early gray hair and never-ending pools of patience); and I am thoughtful of my own upbringing, and of the person I became, and of the things that have made me “me.”

All children are special. All deserve to be loved. All of us were once children. All of us have a story to to tell — some of us just have harder stories than others.


*All names have been changed.

**Images: Google

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oh, kids

410_1target_group_kids_apparel_photography_los_angeles_mike_henryLittle kids are so loving. I’m working in a first grade classroom right now. “Your hair is so soft!” “Will you tie my shoe for me?” *Big hug* “You’re so pretty!” “I like your glasses!”

(They are far kinder to me than I am to myself.)

Then today, on the playground, a student named Morgan, blubbering: “Miss Jess . . . No one wants to play with me. I don’t know why, but no one wants to play with me.” His blue eyes pooled with tears.

“Well, umm . . . [What to say? I haven’t worked with little kids long. I’m not used to this!] Did you ask the other students if you could play with them? [Looking around.] Umm . . . What about them?” I pointed to a group of students by the jungle gym. “Did you ask them?”

“No . . .”

“Why don’t you try asking them?”

“Uhh.” A shadow of doubt clouded his brow. I could see his mind’s wheels churning. Suddenly, his eyes lit up. “Uhh, okay!” And off he went, chubby legs and freckles flying. And for the moment, he was forgotten. “Miss Jess!!! I need a baaaand-aiddd! Whaaa!!!” [Oh boy . . .]

That is, until several minutes later. Flushed and out of breath, Morgan ran past me. “Hey, Miss Jess!” He looked back as he flew by. He was following the group I’d pointed out earlier. He gave me a thumbs up and grinned. “Thanks!”

I laughed — long and hard.

Oh, Morgan, you sweet child.

Oh, kids.


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a very, very belated thank you

A year ago today, a friend sent me a message. He sent it to my email. Those of you who’ve ever contacted me through my blog know I am not always good at checking my email: I got his message after several days. Here is what it said:


23It was, without a doubt, one of the sweetest messages I’ve ever received. It was also one of the most powerful. Why? Because it was tangible proof that my words had not been in vain . . .  That friendships could be formed via the Internet . . . That I was not, in fact, alone.

Another blogging friend, Vincent, recently posted about willful solitude. He talked about his own introversion and his realization that solitude, like all things in life, must be contrasted to make sense, “else it becomes a fathomless abyss in which we free-fall almost endlessly.” He stated that we are all interconnected and that even the most willfully solitary people need others. He is absolutely right.

When I started this blog in 2012, I had no idea how it would/could connect me to others. Subh, whom Allwin mentioned in his letter, was one of the first people who “found” my blog. I met Allwin through him. Both are outstanding people and citizens of India; if/when I ever make it there, I have promised to visit them. But I feel terrible because, for a year now, I have been meaning to respond to Allwin’s sweet letter. I never have.

Until now.

Allwin, thank you. And your handwriting is beautiful. Forgive me in advance for mine.

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just say no!

valentines-day-2014-roses-hero-HValentine’s Day. For what it’s worth, I’ve never been a fan. As I’ve described in previous posts, it’s an over-commercialized holiday that demeans romance, not exalts it. There’s nothing more romantic than a grocery store teddy bear and a dozen roses with baby’s breath, right? No? How about eating in a crowded over-priced restaurant alongside everyone else in town?

It’s even better when you’re single, of course. Happy Single’s Awareness Day, anyone? Gahhh.

For those who have kids, Valentine’s Day takes on a different meaning. Suddenly Valentine’s Day cards are being made and bought and glitter and glue are everywhere. Valentine’s candy is being passed out. Pictures are being taken. Nothing wrong with that, but . . .

But what is Valentine’s Day really? Is it worth getting worked up over? If you look at its history, Valentine’s Day origin is really pretty ugly. It started as a ancient holiday called “Lupercalia,” which was essentially a Roman fertility festival. It was only later that the holiday was adopted by the Christian church in an attempt to convert pagans, and much later that it developed into the over-commercialized guilt-tripping holiday we know today. Historians don’t even know who the real St. Valentine was. Really?

In this short video (click on the link below), says Americans spend more than $20 billion on Valentine’s Day annually. More cards are sent than on any other holiday except Christmas. 220 million roses are produced for the holiday . . .


Wow. Just wow.

And maybe that’s why Jon and I are just keeping things low-key today. He’s not working; we’re together. What more do we need? If you’re going to celebrate Valentine’s Day, go ahead. But if it were me, I wouldn’t buy into the commercialization, and I wouldn’t stress over it you’re single. After all, as Jon reminded me yesterday (about something else), things only have power over us if we let them.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!


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to be or not to be worldly-wise

My follow-up post may not be what you were expecting.

We wrote letters for a summer. Dated for roughly three years. We loved each other much longer than that, but, ultimately, he was meant to be a priest and I, to be a writer and meet Jon.

I love Jon.

So, no. This post isn’t about childhood sweethearts and love ever after. Rather, it’s about that 14-year-old and her reputation for being a “goodie-goodie” — a name that has stuck with her for many years.

·          ·          ·

I went to a tiny Christian school from kindergarten through 12th grade. At the time of my high school graduation, my class was the school’s largest graduating class to date. My class had sixteen students. From my tiny private school, I went to a private Christian university — Southern Adventist University — located in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Southern had roughly 2,000 students and was known for being conservative. Rules included things like: dorm curfew at 10 p.m., drinking and smoking and wearing jewelry were not allowed, and attendance at church and worship services was required.

Did I mention it was “conservative”?

It was a very safe environment — one parents could feel very comfortable sending their children to. And, overall, it was a great school. My favorite professor of all time was the English chair there for many years.

But . . .

On Southern's campus

On Southern’s campus

It was after a work Christmas party — my first job was as a copywriter for a publishing company in Chattanooga — when it became very apparent just how sheltered I’d been. No. I didn’t wake up with a hangover next to a stranger. Rather, I had no idea what to order in the first place. A group of us were at a restaurant, and, while my coworkers were ordering their favorite beverage, I stared at the menu, bewildered. A cosmopolitan? What was that? A lager? An ale? Maybe I should try a martini?

My friends were agog when they realized I’d never tasted much alcohol.

I’d also never been out clubbing or partying.

Never learned to dance.

Never eaten much meat.

Never had sex.

I was a “goodie-goodie.”

Over the years, I have both appreciated and resented my sheltered upbringing. On the one hand, it was a safe place to learn and grow and create a value system with which to handle the “big bad world”; on the other . . . How can you truly know what you believe and why you believe it until you are confronted with the “big bad world”? Further, how can you “spread the Word,” as I was taught growing up, when you spend your life alienating those who are different from you? There have been multiple times I’ve encountered something I’ve never heard of before — a band name, an incidence in time, a popular term, a slang phrase, and so on — and been like, “Huh?” and felt the fool.

I was a fool.

Because the big bad world is out there. You’re going to to hit it head-on at some point. These days you can’t even sign out of your email without being bombarded with mankind’s latest horrific acts against itself. And is it better to hit this world with a little bit of worldly-wiseness? Or is it better to be like I was? “Five-knuckle shuffle? Twerking? What’s that?!”

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the goodie-goodie


My elementary and high school

“Are you a goodie-goodie?”

My heart leapt in my chest. He was talking to me. Was he talking to me? Yes! He was talking to me!

“I, uh . . .” Wait a . . . Was I a what? A goodie-goodie? What was a goodie-goodie?

“Uh . . .” I thought I knew what it meant. I had a pretty good idea, but . . .

I was stuttering. He was staring at me. My cheeks were burning. The cement sidewalk where we stood was crashing into the school parking lot — six inches below.

“Umm, no. No, of course not. I do bad stuff all the time. I mean . . . What do you mean ‘a goodie-goodie’?” I flubbed and looked at him at last.

He laughed, clearly having a good time. His blue eyes sparkled as he did. “I mean a goodie-goodie. You know — someone who always does what they’re told.”

“No way,” I said, more quickly this time. “Not a goodie-goodie . . . Though it’s true I don’t enjoy getting in trouble,” I added.

“Hmph — what I thought,” he smirked.

Nooooo! “Uh.” This was going all wrong. Was I a goodie-goodie or wasn’t I? Was it bad if I was? What did he want?

Out of the corner of my eye I saw my mom’s black sedan appear at the edge of the school’s driveway. A mixture of relief and disappointment washed over me. “Ugh, my mom’s here. Gotta go.” I reached for my backpack on the brick plantar bed behind us. He lunged for it and snatched it away as I did. “Got to or want to?” he teased, holding the backpack above him, out of my reach.

“Got to!” I said, flushing again. He was holding my backpack!



“Ha. Just kidding,” he smiled. His auburn hair glinted in the afternoon sun. “Here.” He lowered the backpack and held it out towards me. I grabbed it and hugged it, bear-style, and began shuffling backwards towards the car, tripping over the crashing curb as I did. “Thanks,” I mumbled. My cheeks were on fire again, but his eyes were on the car. He waved to my mom in the driver’s seat, then looked back at me. “No problem. So . . . See you tomorrow?”

“Um, yeah. Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow.” I got in the back seat, but as we drove away and my mom began her, “So how was school?” my mind was elsewhere. I watched his silhouette shrinking in the rear view mirror — and all I could think was: See you tomorrow? What did that mean? Did that mean he would TALK to me tomorrow?!

Stay tuned for why in the heck I wrote this vignette. It’s based on a true story and shows . . . Well, I won’t give it away just yet. But in order to make my next point, I need you to see better . . . me. Me in all my innocent, naive, 14-year-old glory.


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So, I wanted to finish this:

We are who we are
yet all we will be –
The people we touch,
the people we see.
The people we love,
the people who care,
The people ‘re strange,
the people who stare.

But, instead, I wrote this:

It’s that time of year again: New year, new year’s resolutions, new you! Or so they say. But what if this year it really was a new you, and what if that was due (at least in part) to your newly remodeled, fabulous gym?

Since its beginning in 1993, Powerhouse Gym in Placerville has been a haven for fitness lovers and training athletes alike . . .

And this:

When you hear the name “Sacramento Heart and Vascular,” what comes to mind? If you say “cardiology,” you’re not alone. But did you know that at Sacramento Heart and Vascular in Placerville, you can see not only a cardiologist, but a primary care physician, too?

That’s right. I’ve been writing newspaper articles again. (My editor tells me I’m his “all-star” freelancer. Haha.)

But that’s not all.

I’ve also been working on things like this:



And driving across things like this:

(Who, me? Take pictures while driving? Never . . .)



I’ve been trying to eat things like this:


And wondering about things like this . . .

(Pick any random news story — does ALL news have to be bad news??)


And all the while I’ve really been thinking about:

    this (my blog),
    and you (my readers),
    and life (it’s crazy),
    the present (it’s busy),
    the past (it’s poignant),
    the future (it’s bobbly),
    and words (they’re funny),
    and . . .

And I’ve been wondering how you are. It’s now Thursday, January 22nd, 2015.

Can you believe it’s almost February?!


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little by little


Chasing seagulls at nearby Bodega Bay

I’m supposed to be applying for a job right now. The open tab on my computer — “Children’s Fiction/Non-Fiction Writer” — is just to my right. I think I might actually have a shot at this one. I’ve been a teacher, and I love to write. The position is freelance, so . . . What more could they need?

Well, they’d need my application first.

I guess I forgot to mention that we moved. In all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and of packing and unpacking, and of apartment hunting and job searching, there was no time to blog. On December 1st, Jon and I left Berkeley behind. Today we live in Santa Rosa, about 40 miles north of the bay, and, so far, we’re loving it.

Except . . .

Except I still haven’t found a job. We found Jon’s job first. It is why we moved, actually, and is one reason I’ve considered starting a business writing resumes and cover letters — so far my cover letters have gotten him two positions! It’s funny that it’s easier to boast about others than yourself, though. I also think applying for writing jobs (or graduate school) is about the most difficult thing one can do. Talk about scrutiny!

But things will work out eventually. Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know I’ve talked about my longing to live abroad, my hope for gradate school, and my love for working with kids. Little by little, these things are falling into place (if somewhat differently than planned), even as the world seems to be falling apart: Terrorists, hate crimes, racism, rape, drought, bitter cold . . .

Will it never end?

I promise this blog won’t be all about me. There are far more important things to discuss. But tonight I needed to put out an update, because “Bye, Bye, Bezerkeley!” is coming up!


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new year, new you . . . not!


No, I did not take this picture. I was in bed last night by 10 p.m.!

As a teen, I remember counting down the seconds — ten! nine! eight! — to midnight on New Year’s Eve. I clung to each one, lingered over it, never wanted to let it go. Those seconds were portals into my future past, remnants of a beautiful year.

I was a nostalgic kid.

As an adult, little has changed, except . . . I’ve seen enough New Years to know that there isn’t some catastrophic, year-annihilating boom at the stroke of midnight on January 1st. 2014 isn’t a pile a rubble and ash to be sorted through and mourned. Rather, 2014 is what it is — the past — just as 6:30 this morning is now the past.

If there is one thing not worth crying over, it is the passing of time. Why stress over the inevitable? The thing to worry about is the wasting of time.

I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life. We all have. And I’d say I’ll stop in the new year — promise to do better — but I know it’d be a lie. The “New Year, New You” idea is a sham. I’m the same me I was yesterday; how can I be “all new” today? And the answer is: I can’t. I can’t change who I am in a moment because it is the experience of years that has made me “me.” And that is not something to be ashamed of.

But what can I do in the new year? I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not one set New Year’s resolutions. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m not one to set goals. This year I want to read and write more, travel more, start graduate school (or at least get accepted), and stress less. I want to exercise more, think more, dream more, love more.

This world can be a cold, hard place, but whether it stays that way is up to us. We all have a choice every day. What will you choose?

Happy New Year, everyone!!




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the hope of christmas

IMG_0376ed2014 is almost over. Where does time go?

It hardly seems a few days since last Christmas, when I woke up beside a lake in Pell City, Alabama. I was welcomed with open arms by Jon’s family — Southern hospitality in full form — and spent New Years Eve beneath the stars in Santa Cruz. The past year has been a big one — full of changes and surprises, love and laughter. It’s been a sad one on a national and global scale — so much hurt and pain and anger; so many issues that make me sad. But, through it all — the good and the bad — one thing rings clear: HOPE. We all hope for a better day, a better year; for progress and for the strength to get through when we seem to be going backward instead of forward.

And that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it? Hope? Even if you don’t believe in the story of Christ and the promise of salvation it brings, there’s the hope of Santa Claus and the hope for presents and good things. There’s the hope of the new year — a fresh start and all that that means . . .

For me, I’m hoping my 2015 will bring more frequent blogging, more reading, better writing, and a clearer-cut school and career path. I want to be a better friend, girlfriend, sister, daughter, and blogger. All of you out there mean more to me than you know, and it is because of you that I haven’t yet (completely) given up this blogging thing.

So thank you, and Merry Christmas, all! I hope you have a beautiful day full of love and laughter and, most of all, meaning.


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ungrateful and unaware

And what would you . . . ?

What would you do if a child from a privileged home couldn’t tell you what they were thankful for?

Not a single thing?

Yesterday on facebook, while browsing my news feed, I came across this photo and quote from Humans of New York. Humans of New York is a popular photoblog created by a man named Brandon Stanton. The site features portraits and interviews of individuals in New York — and around the world. While some have criticized HONY, saying many of Stanton’s interviews must be staged, most viewers love the site. I myself like HONY because, to me, Brandon has done exactly what I’ve been trying to do all along: Show that people are people.


“I’m trying to raise my daughter with the same values that I learned in Jamaica, but it can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance. When I was growing up in Jamaica, every time I wanted something, my grandmother made me go through the same list of questions: ‘Why do you want it?’ ‘How much will it cost?’ ‘Is it going to make your life better?’ There wasn’t enough money for things we didn’t need, so we were always forced to ask those questions — even for simple things like a new pair of shoes. The necessity of that ritual really helped create a deep appreciation for the things we had.”

“It can be hard to instill gratitude and appreciation when we are surrounded by such abundance.”

This quote struck me in particular because of a conversation I had with some of my students this past week. I had asked my kids (most of whom come from affluent white, Indian, and Asian homes in the Silicon Valley), now that Halloween was over, what holiday came next? The answer, of course, was “Thanksgiving,” but I was disappointed to discover that very few kids understood what that really meant.

“So what is Thanksgiving about?” I asked.

“Food!” said some.

“Turkey!” said others.

“Time off from school!” cried many.

One student, trying to dig deeper, said, “It’s about the Pilgrims and the Indians. They were coming up against a hard winter, and . . . Er, I don’t really remember the story. I just know it had to do with the Pilgrims.”

NO ONE said anything about thankfulness.

My disappointment was amplified, however, when I asked the students to think of ten things they were thankful for — and why.

“Umm . . .” Most had to pause before answering. Prompting didn’t help. And then, finally:

“My Wii.”

“My computer.”



“My new iPhone 6.”

“My new car.”

Very few said anything about anything other than their material possessions. When I asked them about how they thought their lived compared to the lives of kids in other countries — say, Africa — their responses were unenthusiastic at best.

“What about your bed at night? Do you sleep in a nice, soft bed?”


“Do you think kids in Africa all sleep in nice soft beds?

“I guess not.”

“What about electricity? Do all kids in Africa have electricity?”



“Uhh . . . No?”

“That’s right, they don’t. Can you imagine what your life would your life be like if you didn’t have electricity?”

“That’d be awful!” with no real emotional connection. (Life without electricity? Was there even such a thing?)

And so on, and so forth.

And my heart hurt when the day was done. And I wondered what my students would think if they saw this * **interview with this little boy in India? And I wondered what we as a nation are teaching our children?


*Thank you, Allwin, for sharing!!

**See insightful comments from Francis and Bhuwanchand below about guilt, giving, and charity starting at home.

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killing the idealist in me


Chattanooga’s waterfront, where the Chattanooga’s first Ironman took place

When words fail, what do I have left?

This past week Jon and I went back to Chattanooga for his Ironman. It was Chattanooga’s first, and Jon’s, too, and was something he’d been looking forward to since before we met. And…

It was good to see his friends and family, and good to be able to help him reach his goal. His training hadn’t exactly been what it should have been (for a lot of reasons), and I was proud of him for finishing. But… then…

Why was it so hard for me?

Why is everything so hard for me?

My favorite professor in college once said, “Idealists will always be disappointed. Nothing in this world is ideal.” That saying has stuck with me. I am an idealist, and I am hardest of all on myself. While Jon was out swimming and riding and running last week, all I could think was, That should be me. I should be out there with him. I’m not good enough because I’m not out there with him.

I was taking a situation that had nothing to do with me and making it all about me. (I couldn’t have signed up for the Ironman if I’d wanted to. It was full long before I knew about it, and, truthfully, I needed to be there for Jon, anyway.)

The same, though, goes for my writing and daily routine. The reason I don’t post more frequently is that I don’t make it a priority. Sure, life is crazy, but whose isn’t? If I spent less time worrying about keeping our apartment perfect and making sure I’m perfect and that Jon’s lunch is perfect — if I put those things in their place — then maybe I could start writing more regularly again…

Except every post must be perfect, too. As a writer, I must choose topics and write well and in such a way that I touch you — all of you. Anything less is… Well, I might as well not try.

I allow my perfectionism, and my fear of my perfectionism, to control me. Hence, the very things that I am trying to control are, in fact, controlling me.

And I’m not meaning to complain or seek advice or sympathy. I just want to be a better writer and better girlfriend and better person. I want to reach out and touch you and tell you that you’re special and that we’re all more similar than different.

But how can I do that when all I’m concerned about is me?


Little Debbie sponsors Ironman? Irony, anyone?

*Note: This entire post has been written on my iPhone. Please forgive any mistakes. I am trying to, too.

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the fire in my heart

It may be old news to some, or too distant to matter for others, but for me, the King Fire hits home.


Placerville is my hometown. Pollock Pines is just up the road. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven past this sign on my way home from Lake Tahoe.

Smoke from the King Fire as seen from Main Street, in Placerville

The King Fire started September 13, just east of Pollock Pines. It is believed to have been started by arson. This picture shows smoke from the fire as seen from Main Street, in Placerville. The smoke has shifted as far as Nevada and, this past Saturday, September 20th, forced officials to cancel Ironman Lake Tahoe just minutes before the race was supposed to begin.

smoke from lake tahoe

smoke2(The above two images were taken over Lake Tahoe by Kristoffer Pfalmer. All other images in this post have been taken from the World Wide Web.)






Nearly 8,000 fire personnel have been fighting the fire since its inception.









Thus far, the King Fire has consumed more than 93,000 acres (or 145 square miles/375 square kilometers) and destroyed twelve houses and many other small structures. To gain some perspective about how big that really is, take a look at this picture from NASA:


If that still isn’t registering, take that fire scar and put it on top of San Francisco.


The devastation this fire is going to leave behind is unbelievable. People keep telling me that, “Isn’t that part of life and nature’s cycle? Fires burn down trees so forests can rebuild.” But my heart hurts when they say such things. A fire started by arson has nothing to do with nature, folks. This is thousands of acres of beautiful — and I emphasize “beautiful” — forest that is being destroyed for no reason and which will take hundreds of years to regrow. It has been propelled by the already dry conditions caused by California’s horrible drought. Much of the drive to Tahoe along Highway 50 will be ash and dust and skeletons of trees for years to come, not to mention the loss of habitat for wildlife.




And all I can say is, how on earth could someone be so cruel to ignite such a monstrosity? And, thank you, firefighters. Your heroism will not be forgotten.



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when i grow up (or, discouragement)

Teaching in Taiwan

Teaching in Taiwan

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? I mean, really?

I don’t.

I’m thirty years old, and I don’t have a clue. I used to joke that I wished I could get paid to write and read and exercise. Now I wish the same, only I’d add “travel” and “work with kids” to the mix. And you know what kills me? I can do all of these things, and I likely could get paid for them, except . . . Except I don’t have the degree.

Every job description I’ve looked at lately (I’m looking for a new job) requires a CDE or an EDE or a TESL or a PhD or an M.A. or . . .

All I have is a B.A., in English.

And I know from experience that the best way to learn teaching is by teaching (not to mention by caring) . . .

The results of Friday's surgery -- no riding or running for six weeks!

The results of Friday’s surgery — no riding or running for six weeks!

But no one cares about that . . . No one cares at all . . .

No one cares that I’m a talented, passionate, caring individual who just didn’t know at 23 that I would need those degrees. No one cares that I have bills to pay and thus now have no way to obtain those degrees. No one . . .

And so I’m discouraged. Bandaged and discouraged. I know that things turn out in unexpected ways, but, at the moment . . . In the meantime . . . Perhaps I’ll be at your next take-out window. “Ketchup with your fries, mam/sir?”



remember . . .

xray2How many drafts can I write before finally finishing a new post?

Seriously. I think I’ve written at least fifteen.

There have been posts about crazy people, posts about jobs, posts about love, posts about war. I’ve had thoughts on Robin Williams, thoughts on poetry (I haven’t written any in a while) . . . My most effective writing comes from what is closest at hand, closest to my heart.

I’ve had this week off and expected I’d get something written — anything. But then last weekend I broke my collarbone on a ride in Napa, and now tomorrow I’m having surgery. And now I’m no longer sure I can write at all: my mind is so scattered.

But here’s to never giving up — and to the people we love. Here’s to Jon for wiping away my tears when I’ve been frustrated; for putting my hair in a ponytail for me because I can’t. Here’s to my dad for being the best dad and surgeon ever. And here’s to you for being the wonderful person that you are –

Because whether you’re facing Ebola, or brain cancer, or a broken arm, or high bills . . . Whether depression, or job dissatisfaction . . . Whether bombs, or terrorists, or starvation, or natural disasters . . . Your struggles are valid and important. YOU are important.

But remember to be thankful for the little things. Don’t ever forget to be grateful for what you have. When you raise both arms above your head to slip on your shirt this morning, say “Thank you, Jesus!” because, honestly, some people (like me) can’t!


teach them to read

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Thought for the day, and week, and month, I suppose, at the rate I’ve been blogging:

If you want children to write, teach them to read. If you want them to read, show them reading is fun. As a kid, I was a bookworm, but it wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized how much reading had impacted my understanding of the structure of the English language. No one cares about adverbs and subjects and predicates and helping verbs. No 8-year-old wants to break that stuff down. What they want are action and adventure and ideas. What they want are the things of life.

Except for that one student. If you really think “will” + “not” = “willn’t,” we may have a problem . . . Except that, there, the study of grammar failed you, too. You wouldn’t have said “willn’t” in day-to-day speech. You were following a pattern, and “won’t” breaks all the rules.

— Miss Jess


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Writing Camp, Summer 2014

My favorite professor in college used to tell a story. As a young man, he’d been in a jazz band and then the army. He’d traveled solo around the world, dreamed of being a pilot, gone to flight school. After receiving his pilot’s license, however, he couldn’t find work. Times were desperate; money, scarce. One day, in a moment of frustration, he cried out, “Lord, please . . . What do you want me to do?!”

Five minutes later, he heard a knock on the door. A classmate needed help with an English assignment: Could he . . . ?

Over the next few weeks and months, *Dr. I’s reputation as an English tutor grew. People seemed to be coming out of the woodwork for his help . . . Suddenly, the answer was clear: Dr. I went on to get his masters and, later, doctorate in English and has been teaching and inspiring lives ever since.

I can relate to Dr. I.

Hong Kong

In my classroom in Hong Kong

After college, I thought I wanted to go into journalism. I loved to write, and journalism was a way to write, right? I got a job at a publishing company, and I enjoyed it — sort of.  Deadlines got old quickly. I couldn’t write about things I cared about. My perfectionism killed me. After a year and a half, I quit and moved home to California — and couldn’t find work. I ended up working as an ophthalmology assistant for a year and cried every day on my way to work. I hated it. But it was exactly this set-up that led me to teaching in Taiwan and Hong Kong for three years. And it was exactly that set-up that led me to where I am now — working with kids and loving every minute of it.

You see . . . If people are people, kids are even more so. I don’t care what their nationality, or where they were born, or what kind of food they like, kids are kids. Kids are eager, enthusiastic, curious, open. They’re excitable and impressionable. Kids love to love and be loved. They don’t understand hatred and meanness and bigotry: These are things we teach them.

Over the past two weeks, I had the privilege of teaching a writing camp in the mornings before my regular afternoon classes at an after-school learning center in San Ramon. I only had seven students, but it was an absolute blast to share what I love with those seven eager faces. We wrote stories, created skits, did How-To presentations, and a whole lot more. And even better? The kids loved it. Here is some of what they said about the class:

Wow… I must say, my expectation was far exceeded at writing camp this year . . . I feel like Ms. Jessica taught us so many things and she did it incredibly well. I was able to have fun and learn plenty all at the same time. Her feedback was incredibly honest and I was excited to improve from it. I’ve grown to love writing in only two weeks. Through creativity and imagination, I learned how fun writing can be.

– J, 9th grade

I really liked sharing our stories. At first I didn’t like the idea of reading what I’d written to others, but it got me out of my comfort zone. I’m really proud of myself for actually reading out loud to others.

– D, 9th grade

Writing camp was really fun. Miss Jess was really nice. My favorite part was doing the skit! I learned more about dialogue because I didn’t know much about it before.

– A, 5th grade

What I liked about the summer camp was seeing and making new friends, and of course, the writing. Miss Jessica was really doing her best to help us enjoy writing. I mean, who would’ve known? Writing is fun! . . . Making new friends and meeting friends again — that is fate.

– M, 5th grade

I loved acting and writing in our jornals! I learned what is a metafor and simile. I also liked writing storys and planing the show thingy.

– K, 2nd grade

I liked everything about English. I liked the journal a lot, but the part I liked best was the “How To.” It was fun learning how to do certain things. This is probably the best summer camp I’ve had. If I could, I would redo the last two weeks (including this one)!!

– G, 5th grade

Miss Jessica, writing teacher. Fate?


*Name changed for privacy


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no excuses

Do you struggle with perfectionism — like me?

This is the first time I’ve opened my laptop in more than a week, the first time I’ve looked at my blog in more than that. The last two weeks have been busy. I’ve been teaching a writing camp at my new job, where I’m an instructor at an after-school learning center. Camp has been in the mornings; regular classes, until 7 or 8 at night. It’s been fun — tons of it — and has given me a lot of ideas about what to write right here. But when it comes to actually sitting down and finding the time to write? When I’m not exhausted?

And the thing is, I don’t want my blog to be all about me, or, worse, less than my best work. The key to successfully engaging an audience is to have something interesting to say, and to say it well. But great writing requires a fresh mind and time to follow through. It seems like every time I sit down to write, I’m in a hurry. Today I’m headed out to meet Jon at the marina where he is tootling around on the bay in our new kayak. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do together for a while now, but, well, when has there been time for that, either?

The good news is that this next week I have a little time off, and I intend to utilize that time to do some of the things (write and ride, and maybe swim) I’ve been putting off. I also know that many of the world’s greatest writers have finished their best works while working other “real” jobs, however. A busy schedule is no excuse.

So stay with me, please. Soon to follow are letters from students, thoughts on homelessness, thoughts on futures, gay pride (the San Francisco Pride festival is being held in the city this weekend; it feels weird to live in so liberal a place when both Jon and I come from much more conservative backgrounds), and much, much more.

I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend!


See that head poking out of the water? That’s me swimming. :)

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outshine the stars

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Riding the Berkeley Hills (Dad, me, and my brother)

Today is Father’s Day. Well, was. It’s almost over now — 10:30 p.m. here on the West Side.

My dad and brother came to visit us today. We rode our bikes, chatted, got Thai food. Overall, it was a great day — except for my dad and brother who spent more than two hours driving in traffic . . .

But . . .

Hopefully, it was worth it. I made pound cake, which we ate after dinner. Jon had everyone laughing with his stories about growing up in Alabama. And I . . .

Remembered my poem from last Father’s Day, which I’ve decided to post again, here. I hope you don’t mind . . . I hope you enjoy . . .

Happy Father’s Day, everyone!



Let’s dive! (My dad on the right as a little boy.)

Path to Immortality

We start out mere mortals,
’til “Father” turns son.
It’s then our potential
“forever” is won.

We live through our children,
and they on through theirs.
So what will we show them?
How say, “Daddy cares”?


Lub-dub. Lub-dub. Two kids in a tub.


It’s here I’m no expert,
but look to the best.
My father’s my hero—
he far passed the rest!

With love and compassion,
through fire and through ice,
he gave with devotion,
and never thought twice:

My dad as a baby with his dad

My dad as a baby with his dad

He did what he had to,
and then he did more.
No matter the duty,
’twas never a chore.


“Da-ddy. Da-ddy. A spider!” my plea.

From start until finish,
from dawn until dusk,
pushed past human limits,
he still wasn’t brusque . . .

But rather was patient,
and kind without end.
All people who knew him,
his worth did commend.


“Lo-vely. Lucky!” they always told me.

Swimming in Lake Tahoe when I was a kid

Swimming in Lake Tahoe when I was a kid

But of my dad’s story,
they only knew half.
I wasn’t just lucky:
My dad’s off the graph!

For me and my brother,
he’s always been there.
‘Twas never a question:
“Does our daddy care?”

Love you. Love you. I know that it’s true.

From cycling, to skiing,
to talking in depth,
my father has shaped me,
and that is a breadth!

So Daddy, I thank you,
for all that you are.
You’re no longer mortal:
You outshine the stars.


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Jon, me, and Derek


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Sour cream pound cake — my dad and brother’s favorite. :)

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It’s funny how it hit me: Tonight, I had to write.

I’ve been putting it off for ages, trying to find my voice. Writing is my passion, but there is never time, never the place. There are always things in the way — things of higher priority — and there are bills to pay. Blogging doesn’t help much with bills.

And then there’s topic. What on earth do I want to say? My little brother got married a few weeks ago. I cut my finger so deeply I could see the tendon. I started a new job working with young kids. Traffic is insane in the Bay Area. The weather is different here. Homelessness is everywhere here. And, and . . .

People are people. It’s what I keep coming back to. Here in Berkeley the population is incredibly diverse. There are black people and white people and red people and yellow people. There are people wearing saris and turbans and skullcaps and blue jeans and pant suits and rags. We are all so different, and yet . . . forever the same.

And that’s why I love you . . . and you and you and you (especially you, hatted boy). I love you because I am like you. I breathe and cry and laugh and try and fail and try again just like the rest of you. I am sick when the world is evil but thrilled when love calls my name. (Thank you, sweetie…)

I am human, and I will thrive. Until my dying day, I will thrive.

And you will, too.

I know it.


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leave it to me . . .


Sometimes I feel like this guy: bumbling along, never knowing what trouble I’ll trip into next . . .

To build my blog and then abandon it because life has just gotten too dang busy.

To finally get a job I love but for that job to only be part time.

To get a part-time job I love and for that job to be more than thirty miles away. (Gas is more than $4 a gallon.)

To get a ticket for talking on my cell phone in my car for two seconds. Why can’t you go after the real trouble-makers, cops? (My co-worker’s bike was stolen from right in front of our office the same day.)

To have a clean apartment but never spend time relaxing in it (writing my blog) because I’m too busy cleaning (thinking) and exercising (thinking).

To break my boyfriend’s beautiful glass thermometer because I was trying to clean it.

To cut my finger so deeply (I could see the tendon) that I need stitches because I broke my boyfriend’s thermometer.

To cut my finger so deeply I need stitches on the weekend my brother is getting married in Tahoe. (Love you, bro!)

To be lucky enough to have a dad who’s a doctor who, it just so happens, will also be at the wedding in Tahoe this weekend.

To want to clean my car because I just can’t take the dirt anymore, despite the fact that I need stitches and my car is just going to get dirty this weekend, anyway. (We’re driving it to Tahoe.)

To want to ride my bike today because that’s just what I love to do, even if I do have a cut finger!

To beat myself up for the mistakes I’ve made, and then to just make them again.

To never give up despite making the same mistakes over and over again, because that’s just how I am — stubborn as hell.

To have just written an entire draft of this post and not saved it, then pushed save, and for it to have been deleted.

To miss reading your blogs and connecting with you (you know who you are) but to be unable to catch up with everyone right now.

To miss you all and know that someday soon I’ll be back — blogging regularly, loving endlessly.



Pictures from my brother’s wedding to come. I hope you all have a beautiful weekend!


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why we write

Tell tell a story.

To tell our stories.

To share our hearts.

To fall apart.

To pull ourselves together.

To communicate.

To inform.

To breathe in.

To exhale.

To forgive.

To forget.

To remember.

To hope.

To kill hope.

To grieve.

To understand.

To apologize.

To express.

To think.

To garble.

To worry.

To cry.

To laugh.

To sigh.

To hurt.

To heal.

To give.

To receive.

To send secret messages.

To laugh.

To learn.

To love.

To fight.

To die.


We write because we have no other choice.

Because writing consumes us or we consume it.

Because it gives voice to our tears, wind to our wings, air to our everything.


We write because we are alive.


Why do you write? Do you?


“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

– Lord Byron


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nature has it

After writing about writer’s block the other day, I did my usual. I cleaned my apartment (surprise, surprise), did laundry, responded to emails, hung out with Jon, and decided to “man up” and get over my dislike for riding in the city. I took off on my bike (Jon wanted to go for a run instead) and rode thirty miles up the Berkeley hills — to here.


View from Grizzly Peak

On the backside of the mountain, I saw these guys:


Looking at San Pablo Reservoir. California has happy cows!

And then on my run down by the water last night, I saw this:


The Bay

Nature really does have it, folks.


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writer’s lament

writer's blockI’ve been trying to write a post all morning. Trying to reach deep within and pull out something deep and meaningful to which you might all relate. I’ve been thinking about black and white and gray and how I don’t believe in gray and how that is why I know religion doesn’t matter: We all know right from wrong. But instead of flowing like a waterfall, my thoughts are congested spillway blocked by matters of immediate importance: I’m stressed. Interviews and new tutoring positions (I’ve recently been signed on as a kids’ tutor at several companies in the Bay Area) are on my mind, not to mention bills and dreams and exercise things. It’s harder to ride my bike in Berkeley. I miss it.

And so I reach and fall and try and bail and am reminded of a poem I wrote more than a year ago:

I’m reaching and falling.
I’m hemming and hawing.
I’m trying and failing.
I’m rowing, now bailing.

Another day.

And I wonder if this ever happens to you? And I wonder how authors do it? Writing comes so easily to me when my subject is on my mind. But when it’s not? Writing is like pulling teeth, only worse, because I want SO badly to do it, and do it well.


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the post i’ve been avoiding

templeDo you ever struggle, no, not with what to say, but how to say it?

My whole life I’ve been a pleaser. A goodie-goodie. A teacher’s pet. No, not on purpose. I’ve never taken a teacher donuts, but I have always done my best. I studied hard and made good grades. I never partied, even in college. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, and the only piercings I have are single holes in my ears.

I was raised Seventh-day Adventist, and Seventh-day Adventists just didn’t do those things.

The only area in which I’ve ever been a “rebel,” really, has been in my thought patterns. At fourteen I fell in love with a young man who would eventually choose to become a Catholic priest. Talk about challenging your faith. The Adventist church preaches that the Pope is the Antichrist predicted in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. How could an Adventist date someone who was leaning towards such an “abomination”?

. . . But, then again, who decided what books were included in the Bible in the first place?

Randy challenged me to think deeply and hard about what I believed and to not just accept viewpoints that were thrown at me as fact. Although our relationship was, in many ways, extremely painful for both of us, I have no regrets and will always be grateful to him for the vantage point he gave me. In college my questions about my childhood faith were only compounded by a rigid system (I went to a private Adventist university) in which worship and religion were forced and felt fake. I stopped going to church because I no longer saw the point. What was the value of an hour’s sermon on Saturday when all you were doing was preaching to the choir?

And then I went to Taiwan. And then my mind was blown.

Less than two percent of the population in Taiwan is Christian. Most Taiwanese are a combination of Taoist-Buddhist and worship deities and observe traditions that, to a Christian, seem crazy. You burn paper money to pass on to your dead relatives in their next life? Really?

But it was here that I came to understand how greatly my early years shaped everything about the way in which I viewed religion and the world. The Bible is the Word of God, right? There is only one way to salvation — through accepting the name of Christ, right? Right?

avoidBut would I believe the same if I’d been born in Outer Zambooblia? Even the questions I was asking were from an entirely Christian viewpoint!

And that’s when I began to see that God is bigger than religion — He HAS to be. I have good friends in Asia who are wonderful people who know about God but, for cultural and other reasons, will likely never accept Him. According to the teachings of traditional Christianity, this means they are doomed for hell.

I don’t believe that. I can’t. Salvation and access to truth can NOT be dependent on where you were born.

Today, as a blogger, I have readers from all over the world. The pleaser in me is very aware of how everything I say and do might be received by every one of my readers. So you’re an atheist. You’re laughing at me for believing in God at all right now. So you’re a Muslim. You don’t believe in the Bible; your holy book is the Quran. So you’re an Adventist. You’re upset that I’d challenge the wisdom laid down by the founders of the Seventh-day church. So you’re a Catholic. You’re offended that I’d challenge the authority of the universal church.

And all I can say is, “I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry.” I can’t say what you want to hear because I can never please everyone. God knows my heart, and in the end, the most important thing is staying true to is myself.


Images: and Pinterest



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