Category Archives: Laura’s Slices


“You sure are busy for a retired person!” my mother likes to remind me as I am heading off to volunteer in a classroom, or teach an after school writing group, attend a writing project meeting or seminar, or – my current project – coach groups of 4th graders at my old school using the LLI system.

I had promised my boss last year when I announced my retirement I’d be good for a project and this is it. About two months of being on campus 5 days a week, some days for only two groups, but across the week meeting with 4 groups of readers. I’m passionate about reading and coaching readers, however I’m beginning to feel the cut into “my time.”

Today, now that the groups are established in routines, but not all are getting the reading they take home done, I decided to stop and take stock. They reviewed their first journal entry on their relationship with reading. We wrote “Goals” on the page and I helped them see that the behaviors I point out they are doing to reinforce and the behaviors I model to teach, are the stuff that goals are made of.

Each made lists. And they shared about their reading spot at home. I shared my goal is to have more talking, writing and drawing time for the books we read, and that I need them to take the time to finish reading at home, so we can share more.

Then, my other goal was to break out of the numerical lesson order and have them choose what they want to read. It’s more work for me, but choice is worth it. Every time, it always works.

I gave the quick commercials for four books and student picked any number of them they wanted. Each group packed up their portfolios with a sense of ownership and satisfaction. I think we’re going to have a great reading week next week.


Rehearsal is often key to a piece of writing as we think how it might go, try out the words and perhaps “dream the dream” of it.

I noticed my mind — one small department in my neuro structure, anyway, plans and rehearses for a class or an event as if I am creating it. That’s how powerful rehearsal can feel. I was watching my thoughts and feeling that I was arranging things to be just so. So what if these stories become habituated and self tell even when the situation changes?

Tonight I was talking with my sister on the phone about pain management and ways to develop a different story other than that one of a protracted struggle. Even when the body gets better, often the brain doesn’t believe it sends out the same messages.

One thing a Dr. Alexander did, who had been a back surgeon who became a patient requiring back surgery during his life…one part of his recovery was to write daily. Fifteen minutes, free write — meaning any subject, any stream of consciousness. Writing helped him re-map his mind’s imagery and his pain.

Peter Elbow, of course, is an advocate for free writing within composition or writing courses for the many benefits it brings to developing writers. I had never thought of the wider idea that free writing could be a way for the mind/body connect to re-wire in some way. Hm, I wonder?

I do know that free writing is good for my moods and brings clarity often to things which I cannot sort in my usual cognitive mode.

And, after talking to my sister, I began to think about the seemingly simply but powerful effect of studying kriya yoga and meditation. The simple instruction, in addition to setting time aside to sit, is to pay attention to the quality of my thoughts. And commit to being happy.

That’s done a bit of re-education in my brain. So now I want to learn more about ways that my dear mom, who has gotten some relief from a device implanted in between two vertebrae, how she might benefit from release from her brain’s long conditioned response as she has suffered debilitating pain. With writing. With releasing tension. With posture.

It seems simple, but I suspect there’s more to it. Not meaning complexity, but efficacy.

Birthday greetings

Timing is everything. I was so glad that my sister’s card arrived at the same time the other evening as my obligatory birthday card from my primary care doctor at Kaiser Permamente.

Why does a message about “What is My Doctor Online app?” and a photo of my doctor and a code to scan to view the home page for Adult & Family Medicine Department not bring me joy?

Nor did opening a browser this morning to see Google spelled out in birthday candles make my heart sing. Rolling my cursor over it wished me Happy Birthday by name, which I found chilling.

However, my Sis wrote me. Besides the curious, fluffy bird amidst exotic leaves on the card, captioned “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom. – Socrates” — her words made me dance for joy. She began:

I wonder, “What makes this a birthday card?” The beginning: [insert wisdom here.] Is a birth really a day? The future is hope, desire, intent. The past is meaning, identity. Birth is the wave of ceaseless becoming, aka eternity.

But to quote the Dalai Lama, “Pigeons sit.” Human becoming requires identity and intent, Bergson’s duration. As sublime as sit may be, it must bring the goods. Product, Baby! What does Be do? Oh, pigeon poop, did we ask to be born? — I don’t recall. [the end of wisdom]

But whether beamed whole as Universe (B. Fuller) or Darwin’s genetic wheel of fortune spun for the umptieth time…

Yes, life is good with love and wisdom, wit and a hilarious sister who writes to me.

This morning the organic Veggie Box was delivered to my porch fresh from the farm. I ordered chocolate babka (handmade bread that reminds me of pain au chocolate in Lyon) so I started on a slice for breakfast — and did not do yoga.

When I wandered out into the dining room I saw a green rabbit felt bucket with a bottle of Prosecco and a card from my dear Mom. We’ll have a few bubbles this evening. As I told my daughter on the phone last night, “I’ll be working all day,” when she asked she might drive down midday during her work schedule. Yikes, 99 miles in bay area traffic. We postponed a get together, but goodies are in the mail. And my other daughter and granddaughter will be going out with mom and me on Sunday. Instead of doing the St. Patrick thing, we’ll be enjoying sumptuous vegan food at a local restaurant.

So, yes, these little gifts and words of love do help. They offset the cold reality of aging and push back fears of facing medical mysteries. They remind me I am loved.

Which is something I forget easily.


As I was leaving to take mom to her doctor appointment, I passed our feline who was shading his eyes to sleep better in the midday light.

This pose, besides being endearingly cute on a British Blue, speaks to how I felt today and still feel sitting down to write. I have functioned. Doctor appointment. Groceries. Meeting with co-director. Meeting with writing project team. Dinner. But with one paw over my eyes.

It is as if I have been trying to withdraw into my own space, shielding myself from input. Probably a good night’s sleep will cure it.

Just a sliver today. Perhaps tomorrow, a big juicy slice of life.

What I really want

About eight years ago, I self-assessed minor depression and asked my PC doctor to refer me to a therapist.

“You want drugs? I’ll give them to you,” he offered.

“No thanks, just need someone to talk to.” And so I had my first appointment. It was early summer and my school year had been intense — I did a masters in ed in math problem solving within the year while I taught full time and worked with SJ Writing Project.

Our first appointment didn’t go well, in my opinion. I was expecting someone to help me unravel my mind and offer solace and advice. Ha! The therapist leaned back and asked me what I want.

“Until you know what you want, we can’t get anything done,” he said folding his arms. My time was up so I took my nervous wreck out to the parking lot. Part of me was feeling gypped the other part ticked off.

Our second appointment was postponed which gave me a bit of time to realize I could write to myself about what I really wanted. Then write a letter to my future self naming what I accomplished.

It was stomach wrenching felt sense to begin with “I want….” and free write. And keep writing to that prompt. My guts were in turmoil because I usually asked what others wanted. It was a big shift with feelings of lost time.

So, the next appointment I came in, with the self-check on depression showing I’d changed, and two letters for the therapist. He tried to hide his surprise. He read them over and made a few comments. Then we had this great talk about middle age crisis and why I was not having one. He clearly supported me and said he preferred I’d get that new position and fly to France than come see him.

WIRW. This prompt has served me for centering for discovering since then, I was just leafing through one of my many unfinished journals and found a 10 minute write last May.

Here are some excerpts that ring true still:

I really want to hit the groove where it’s truth and love and it — my material is mine, with credits to awesome mentors, of course. This means I want balance between the inner and outer.

I want to read til my eyeballs roll up inside my head. I want to draw until my mind fizzles and write til I ache — and still do good to others in the real world.

I want to think unthinkable thoughts. Let stray ideas that need to be reunited merge and meld. I want to love more deeply and be way less attached. I want to take down that dumb wind chime.

I want to live off gratitude. I want to show up. I really want to let wanting go and move from something deeper.

I don’t want to die without being the person I came here to be I want to not want. I want to be. I want to truly belong and yet stand alone.

I think I’ll try that prompt again, soon. Meanwhile, there are blogs to read and comment on and dinner for my dear Mamma. And I’m only a third of the way into The Source of Self-Regard, by Toni Morrison. That will be a joy this evening.


A neighbor friend took me along to the De Young this morning on an extra ticket to see the Gauguin exhibit. I hadn’t looked at his paintings since the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux-de-Provence, FR almost eight years ago.

And this exhibit featured wood carving, pottery and realia as well as some of Gauguin’s paintings. This curation told the story of his ambition.

I find it interesting to see what lands on my eye and mind at any given time, like when I walk a beach and tune in to a certain color shape or kind of shell or rock. My collection at the De Young today was more focused on Gauguin’s early paintings — and instead of the Tahitian portraits in lavish color, I tuned in and found myself re-visiting his almost-monochromatic snow scenes.

These paintings are not large or showy, but I detected that fresh beginner’s mind, the joy-in-the-paint as well as the study of the subject. They were lovely.

I was surprised to learn how intentionally Gauguin was promoting his later work in the tropics as something spectacularly new to the art world. However, his first portrait of a Tahitian woman was European painting through and through. Self-conscious portraiture.

A stock-broker deciding to become a painter is an interesting career turn, and I found his early works full of a natural feel for pigment and light. The self-conscious, moody paintings of his Tahitian companions (while his wife raised 5 children alone) seemed colder in a way. I had expected warmth. Vibrancy. They had a dark tone.

When I saw close-ups of some of his exotic paintings seven years ago in the Caves of Light show, combined with Van Gogh’s paintings and an incredible mix of classical music, the liveliness of painting showed up. But today in the gallery, his later work looked sad to me, even with bold colors.

And, odd as it seems, I found more play and sense of freedom in his early oils.

102 Years old

On St. Patrick’s day my bungalow will be 102. It has been a rescue that ten years of restoration have made fairly comfortable. Old houses, like old folks, do have quirks, however.

When a chopper lumbers over my roof, probably intervening on a freeway mess, the pair of south kitchen windows tremble and then set up a rattle in time with the blades.

The overhead rumbling gets louder and the casements join in the shaking adding to the percussive event. The vibrating reminds me of the quake of ’89.


My eyes have found the small, triangular buds of a bush outside my window, across the fence the past two mornings. This early morning I particularly noticed their pointing upward, although they’ve changed this evening.

What I felt when I gazed at the buds, somehow singled out from all the shrubbery and sculpture in view, was a pang. Usually buds say newness and promise of growth, and they give me an energetic, hopeful feeling. Today I felt more the sharpness of how they will race into fullness of leaf and blossom and I will simply age more.

So their pert shape and crisp color that made them stand out in the foliage, while it was lovely, did not evoke the freshness of spring. Thinking of aging is perhaps not a rational, sit down and have tea sort of exercise. It seems to arise sometimes from aches in my joints that I don’t usually experience after mild exercise, or from getting overly tired. But this approach of spring is making me look in the mirror in a different way.

While my view and mood were considerably softer in the late afternoon, after a lovely walk in breezy fresh air and after the day’s work was done, still those buds are hurrying into leaves to nourish the bush by capturing sunlight. What am I eagerly leaning in to accomplish? What can I produce, beyond keeping up with the daily expectations and business?

I credit myself that I notice what I notice. That I see and find beauty around me and that I pay attention to the sometimes less than honorable dialogue in my heart and mind that accompanies my day.

It would do no good to scream that I don’t want to spend spring aging. That I in fact would like to decompress from some of the effects of turning 70. That even if some wisdom comes with old age, and sometimes a happiness that is more carefree than I’ve felt in younger days, still it is clearly a slow demise. Not a fresh leaf and flower.


In the lego layered parking garage

My winding stops when I spot back up lights

Cars pile behind me barking angrily

I made them wait a full minute.

Just in case you think you’re special, park downtown.

Slogging across the street in chill rain

I line up in Social Security security check

With drop box form to withhold taxes

Take both jackets off and those earrings

In case you think you’re special, show an id.

Form delivered to foil mail theft

Phone calls done, appeal letter done.

Library card renewed, kitchari simmered

Reading turns into a two hour coma.

Cooped up

Both the cat and I are getting that ennui mixed with twitchy behavior that means we want to be out in the yard. As grateful as I am for the generous rains of winter, I keep finding myself at my back window staring out. I get out on the sidewalks for one or two daily walks, but this is not considered playing in the yard.

There are three apricot roses on the tree bush by the fence that are intensely apricot. Really they are persimmon color, or some exotic fruit. Waving in the wind with the old, falling down fence as backdrop makes them look even more brilliant.

Smoky watches for birds in the Chinese Lantern bush by the window and listens for critters, then lets his head drop and he sleeps some more. He still doesn’t understand why he isn’t allowed out, because he tested positive for kitty aids virus.

The yard is lush with grass, which means weeds, since it is designed without lawn. The first daffodils have sprung and gone. The pot of succulents that contains freesia bulbs is getting ready to bloom. Some things are still stark: The flowering cherry bark is shiny with rain water and the buds are turned up to the sky in tight triangles. The multiple blossoms won’t come forth until the next set of deep dark clouds in the east make a background for them to burst open.

I am unaccustomed to spending so much time indoors. Adding two part time projects into my schedule, plus the days and days of chilly drizzle or downpour have made me an indoor cat.

On March 18 my handyman will begin building the catio, which will make Smoky much happier. And then I will find time to tackle the overgrowth, hopefully without overdoing it, and pace about to think about a garden plan.

In the meantime, I look at the sky which is a blank gray blue and I watch the verdant growth taking over.