May 28, 2014

Working Through It

5/28/2014 — cori
I've noticed a trend....I work through most things in my life by writing/blogging.  It helps me make sense of it all. It helps me empty my brain of all my thoughts, order said thoughts and then see how my brain and heart are processing whatever issue I'm working through.  Flannery O'Connor says it best, "I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say."  Amen.

Today was a very sad day for me.  I need to process everything that's happened over the past three months and have a place where I can go back and read and remember what it is I learned from this special person at this time in my life.

For the last three months I've volunteered once a week at a homeless shelter downtown.  My original plan was to read to the children there.  The position I wanted was called "Roving Reader", right up my alley.  But upon my orientation I learned that there are no school age children around during the time that I was available to volunteer.  The coordinator kept hinting that "Donations" really needed help, so I figured, why not, all I want to do is help, so I may as well help where they have the most need.  I was placed under Varney, the only one in charge of the massive amounts of donations that needed to be processed on a daily basis.

He was actually surprised to have his very own volunteer.  Not just any volunteer, but one who stayed. He was used to having college kids show up one week and never return.  I came every week - excited to work for him.  I LOVED my "Wednesdays with Varney".  He grew to trust me. I grew to respect him.  We traded stories.  Here is his:

Varney grew up in Liberia and immigrated to the U.S. twenty years ago.  (I knew nothing about the history of his homeland until after I read a book about the horrible coup and consequential wars his country and people have lived through since the 1980's).  He landed in Brooklyn, NY.  He eventually settled in Minneapolis.  He worked at this shelter for 5 years.  He is one of the kindest, patient men I've ever met.  He spoke Liberian English which took a little bit for me to get used to, but once I did, I enjoyed the lilt to his accent.  He was very patient with my constant, "excuse me's?".

I marvelled to him one day about how he could remain so kind to everyone around him even after I had witnessed blatant discrimination against him.  He told me, "Cori, I just smile and pray in my head, 'Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing.' "  He was always smiling, always ready to help anyone. He would bend over backward for anyone.  He never wanted or expected recognition. He was very wise, but no one asked him opinion.  He was very humble and peaceful.

He genuinely cared about the residents at the shelter.  He was always coming up with a way to give them more and more of the donations received that weren't being used.  He genuinely cared about every detail and was so proud of his organizational system (for a shelter this large, it was truly a feat of genius).  He was tickled that I was so impressed.  Every can in the food pantry was faced forward and in orderly rows. Every item had a home and that made him happy and in turn made the shelter run smoother.

One of the very first things he had me do was to take a load of shoes and bags down to the main atrium and let all the residents know that they were free for the taking.  He said he wanted me to 'get to know the residents - to get comfortable with them.'  How smart is that - putting a face to the people you are helping, it suddenly becomes more personal.

Every week he would ask me how my children were doing.  He couldn't wait for summer to start so I could bring them with me each week to help.  My kids were even looking forward to working with him.  They had already worked with me over Spring Break and felt the same way about Varney that I did.

I learned much from this gentle soul in the three short months I knew him.  I hadn't seen him for 3 weeks due to my being on vacation and then him taking a vacation week after mine.  I was so looking forward to seeing him again today.  However, when I got to the site today everyone was tight-lipped about my friend.  No one would share anything with me, just that 'he was no longer here'.

I told them that he was the only reason I came week after week.  I personally don't feel the shelter is doing as good a job as they think they are but came only for the chance to work with this incredible man, learn from him and talk to him.  I was devastated.

I mourn for the loss of the friend I have no way of contacting.  I mourn for the 'mysterious circumstances' of his abrupt departure.  He would never have left me hanging like this.  I wrestled all night with distraught thoughts regarding him and woke up many times praying fervently for him, for what reason I didn't know.  I shouldn't have been surprised by today's events given last night's torment. I have no way to thank the man that made such a huge impact in my life.

When I was in San Diego, walking down MLK Boulevard I enjoyed reading many of his famous quotes carved in granite lining the street.  When I read this one the only person that came to mind was Varney.

May 16, 2014


5/16/2014 — cori
Chuck and I just got back from Heaven.  Long story.  It was actually under the guise of him going to a conference in San Diego and me tagging along, but really, it was heaven.  This was the first time we've been away together in almost three years.  The first time we've flown on a plane together in over 10 years.  Everyone asks how our time was.  How do you describe heaven?  I can only answer that question with adjectives....peaceful, beautiful, sunny, warm, relaxing.  It was a time full of love, no responsibility, no plans, just fun, adoration, sun, having each other's full attention, getting up late, exploring nature, laying by the pool, reading, being overwhelmed with joy and happiness.  It felt more like a honeymoon than a vacation/work-conference.  Here is a very small sampling of pictures that will hopefully tell a better story than my mere words can.

Of the many animals we saw, this little guy 
on Seal Beach cracked me up the most.

These two seagulls were hilarious.  The one bird 
stood on top of the other for at least 10 minutes.

This seagull allowed us close enough 
to her nest to get this amazing picture.

This pelican claimed the sink that the fishermen 
were washing their fresh catches in.  

Just one of the many picture perfect days at the beach.

The architecture in Balboa Park is phenomenal.  
I took at least 20 pictures of buildings, 
but spared you since I'm only posting this one.

Chuck sitting amongst the roots of the 
giant Banyan Tree in Balboa Park.

One of my all time favorites:  The Carlsbad Flower Fields.
50 acres of these beautiful flowers.  I couldn't stop smiling. 

Just one of the multitude of Ranunculus that are grown on this farm.

Another happy picture.

The massive Eucalyptus trees lining the
streets of Carlsbad.

The sounds the waves made as they crashed
off the cliffs were so powerful.  It filled me with awe.

One of my favorite places in the world, La Jolla Cove.

Me and sunsets....we go way back.

Our lazy day at the La Jolla Shores beach.

Chuck deciding whether or not to brave
the freezing cold water.  He did and even 
ended up swimming close to a seal (not the NAVY kind)
Unfortunately, I didn't catch that on camera.

The view from Mt. Soledad, the highest point in La Jolla.

Hairy flowers.

Dr. Seuss looking flowers.  We realized that Dr. Seuss
must have gotten his inspiration from all the flora around 
his home in La Jolla cuz there are many crazy looking 
trees and flowers all over the place.

Chuck surprised me with a dinner cruise.  We sailed around
San Diego Harbor eating a scrumptious dinner and of 
course watching the sunset from the top of the boat. So romantic!

The bridge to Coronado.

The pool at the hotel.

Our last sunset....taken at Dog Beach of all places.  
It was the closest beach to where we were at.  

And of course, these luscious Palm Trees that
remind you that you're not in Minnesota anymore.


May 5, 2014

Talking In Gavinese

5/05/2014 — cori

Gavin LOVES math.  It's right up there with Minecraft and looking cool.  He doesn't only love math, he thinks in mathematical variables and formulas and terminology all the time.  He only thinks in logical, sequential order. He sees math patterns all around him without even trying.  I'm so lucky to get glimpses inside that brain of his.  I love that he still loves to share his math thoughts with me...even if I have trouble interpreting what they mean sometimes.

The other day I heard him in the kitchen excitedly sharing one such math thought with Bennett.

Gavin:  "So, I created a matrix on my calculator of all the perfect squares from 1 - 20.  I'm surprised you're allowed to use the calculator I have for tests cuz of all the matrices you can create."

Bennett: "What's a matrix?"

Gavin: "It's a set of numbers I create and then assign a certain value to.  My perfect squares is Matrix G on my calculator."

Bennett: "Oh.  Why?"

Gavin:  "In case I ever need them."

The next day the boys are standing next to one another preparing their pizzas for pizza night.  Gavin sneezes very loudly.

Bennett:  "Thanks for sneezing on my dinner."

Gavin:  "I didn't sneeze at your food Bennett, I sneezed away from your food.  My sneeze is a vector, not a scalar quantity."

Bennett:  "Huh???"

Gavin:  "A vector is a quantity that has both magnitude and direction while a scalar only has magnitude."

Let me interpret for you:  He's saying that even though he sneezed and it appeared to be all over Bennett's pizza, it in fact wasn't because Gavin controlled the direction of his sneeze away from Bennett's food thereby being as polite as possible even though he didn't cover his mouth like we've taught him since he was 2 years old.

And lastly, just this morning, Gavin wanted to let me know what's been on his mind lately.

Gavin:  "Mom, I want to tell you about a math thought I had."

Me:  "ok"

Gavin:  "I had the numbers 9 and 12 stuck in my head the past last night.  Did you know they add up to 21 and if you took the factors of both of 9 and 12, you would find that 3 is in both of them.

Me:  "uh-huh"

Gavin:  "The factors of 9 are 3 and 3, the factors of 12 are 3 and 4.  If you add 3 + 4 it is 7 and then multiply that by the common factor of 3 you get 21."

Me:  "cool"

Gavin:  "That works for any pair of numbers that share a common factor."

Me:  "I love learning new things every day.  Thanks for being my teacher today, Honey."

May 1, 2014

Technology and Kids

5/01/2014 — cori

I fear I must be old.  Officially.  I can honestly better understand now when old people say, "Things used to be better back in my day.  We got along just fine without (fill in the blank)."  Not only do I understand why old people say that, I ACTUALLY caught myself saying it too!  Yes, I confess.  It's hard getting older in this fast paced, technologically advanced era where kids are more tech savvy than adults in many cases.  What type of world are we passing on to them?

If I was being honest, I would say there are some days I begrudge technology and other days I embrace it.  It's like an oxymoron, you can't live with it, you can't live without it.  As a parent I struggle with knowing the limits to set for my children in regard to technology.  There are no precedents to go by.

What age should a child get his/her own cell phone?  This question hit close to home when Chloe's friend received an iPhone for her 10th birthday.  I was aghast, "What kid needs an iPhone when they're 10?".  Chloe however, had a different take on it. She tells us, "I'm the only kid in all off 4th grade who doesn't have a phone."  She's different because of our choices.  I responded with, "And you're probably the only kid whose mom stays at home.  Do you want me to go to work so you can have a cell phone?   What would you do with it anyways?"   Come to think about it, she's never known a time when people didn't have cell phones.  Since she's been born, we've always had one.  We haven't had a land-line in ages.  Cell phones are perfectly 'normal' to her.   But from our perspective, we've only had one for 10 years.  When we were kids/teens, it was a big deal to have a phone line in your own room.  Mostly, you just talked on the phone attached to the wall in the kitchen in front of everybody.  My kids can't even fathom that concept.

Time and age give us a completely different perspective on technology.  I can't imagine how hard it must be for our grandparents' generation to accept the lightning fast changes in technology they've witnessed in their 80+ years of life on this earth.  I'd be hesitant to trust it too given the life experiences they've lived through.  My grandma didn't even like the answering machine...that little bit of technological wonder came out in the 80's!  My grandfather would go unplug anything in the house that was plugged into a wall socket every single night.  Electronic devices (such as a toaster) didn't stand a chance in his house.

Gavin (at 15) just bought his first smartphone.  He has been the only kid since 7th or 8th grade who did not have one.  He never complained.  He laughed about it and we joked about it as a family, but it was never a big deal to him.  He kept the same phone we gave him at the end of 5th grade for 4 years. That's ancient in the tech world.  I asked him if waiting this long made this new phone purchase that much sweeter.  He said he couldn't agree more.  He appreciated it in a way that people appreciate something they've waited a long time to get.  Reminds me of the old saying: Anything worth having is worth the wait.

Here's where my critical attitude towards technology and the entitled attitude that most in our culture have toward it takes a turn towards the good.  Last night, Bennett, Chloe and I were messing around with Garageband on their iPads.  I was a little ticked off at the beginning saying things like, "Wouldn't it be better to actually know how to play these real instruments?" all the while thinking to myself, where has music appreciation gone to these days?  But as Chloe was navigating her way around and making up some pretty cool music that combined several different types of instruments, I suddenly realized the awesome opportunity we had to experiment with it all.  There's no way I would have been able to give my kids the chance to mess around with many different types of drums, keyboards, winds, guitars - ever.  We were appreciating music together after all - what do you know.  We were learning different styles of music on a garageband app on the ipad of all places.  Maybe this could be fun afterall.

I then asked them if they had a karaoke app that we could sing into on their ipad.  They couldn't find that, but we did find a voice recorder.  Sweet.  And Chloe found the music and words to "O Say Can You See" on her ipad.  So we used Chloe's ipad for the music and Bennett's to do the voice recording and we sang some pretty rockin versions of that song.  The best part was, we could change our voices to sound like chipmunks.  I can't even tell you the giggle fest that ensued.  We laughed our butts off listening to ourselves sing "O Say Can You See" like chipmunks (that version was 10 times better than our real voices - trust me!).  I asked the kids if they could somehow get that recording to me so I could insert it here - but none of us were tech savvy enough to figure that one out (and Gavin was elsewhere or he would have done it).  But it doesn't take tech smarts to push the 'chipmunk' button and provide crying-rolling-on-the-floor-holding-your-stomach-laugher.

The kids kept thanking me the rest of the night for 'singing' with them.  They gave me notes telling me how happy they were.  They said 'thank you' over and over again.  We made the most wonderful memory with the technology I was wanting to fight.  It's not worth it.  We need to embrace it and teach our children the boundaries that we feel are good and right for our family.  We need to learn to trust them with this technology instead of always feel like it's hurting them.   We need to empower them to make the right choices with it when there are so many wrong choices available to them.  We need to not live in fear of it or it will cause our children to live it fear of it.  We need to be more balanced in our thinking because, like it or not, this is the world our children will inherit and I don't want them to look at us like old curmudgeons who aren't teachable about the things that are prevalent in their world.

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