A Secret Garden

When you do something noble and beautiful and nobody noticed, do not be sad. For the sun every morning is a beautiful spectacle and yet most of the audience still sleeps.”

John Lennon
“This is my hobby.”

My morning run lures me into a cul-de-sac. Any extra steps to increase mileage and a closed ring helps. As I approach the turn-around, I notice a Little Free Library, the fifth one in my neighborhood. Note to self, I’ll come back to add more books and scope out what’s there. I’m on a run today, so I make a mental note to return tomorrow.

A surprise downpour the next morning keeps the sky thick with clouds. Better to rush out the door once it’s over before the sun burns the clouds and sweltering temperatures begin to rise. Humidity can choke you soon after a summer rain, even if it’s early. I’m on a mission to the Little Free Library.

I approach the area, which has three entry points. The first one, where I see the little blue box of a library tucked into trees has a saucer swing waiting for a youngster to climb into. Squish. My shoe sinks into the mud. Do I keep going? Might as well, I already started along a path. Regardless of which direction I go, more mud will stick to my shoes. This section is set up for littles. A split log creates a bench where a colander waits for someone to sift for acorns, leaves, bits of twigs. Two tiny Tonka trucks are positioned on one edge of the path.

A labyrinth! Yes, I did gasp, and no one was there to hear me.

It’s a transition space between the kids’ area tucked into a dense section of trees and the garden, complete with an entry. By this time, my shoes are so thick with mud, I tread carefully so I don’t slip rather than get caught trespassing. Is this space public? I can tell it isn’t part of the house next to it because there’s a clear distinction between the lawn and this space. Is it an HOA project? It looks too natural to be tended by an HOA. An HOA would’ve ripped the trees out and made sure the bench was anything but wood. Don’t want to be liable for anyone getting a splinter.

I enter the garden area where small bird baths are nestled around wildflowers and wind chimes gently sing in the breeze. Benches and rustic garden treasures complement the plants. Steps lead back to the sidewalk in two more areas and an iron owl greets me as I pass by. I stop for a few photos to share with the ‘tween who wishes there were more places to explore because living in a subdivision is so boring. I have to prove it’s worthy of exploration.

I make my way back to the sidewalk and two people with garden gear appear from one end of the garden. They wave hello. I approach and ask how long this small gem of a space has been around. About ten years. I’ve lived in the neighborhood going on twenty, but cul-de-sacs don’t seem to have much more beyond them. Except for this one. The gentleman introduces himself and I ask if the HOA tends it. “No, I’ve been doing this since I moved in,” he motions to his house across from the garden. “This is my hobby. I wanted to set something up for people to enjoy.”

I don’t know if I enjoyed the garden more than I enjoyed finding it. In an age where people practically shout to get noticed on social media, other people do small things. I’m guilty of spending more time on social media than I’m proud to admit.

Finding this garden taught me a few things:

  1. Expect the unexpected, especially when you’re not looking for it.
  2. Go in a different direction, whether or not your step count depends on it.
  3. Little things make a big difference.
  4. You can enjoy good things even if life gets a little muddy.
  5. You’re never too old for a surprise.
  6. You can change the world by focusing on what’s in front of you.
  7. Doing what you love benefits others.

Psst…

Mrs. Garza!
he whisper-yells
hand raised, 
tests await commands to start

You got a baby trash can?

Trash can? I moved it 
to the front
hand sanitizer
box of tissues
bathroom sign-out sheet

He mumbles, looks around
making sure no one hears
or at least he tries

I walk to his desk

You got a baby trash can?
a little tiny trash can?
You see, I got sunflower seeds
eat em when I'm bored
I don't wanna 
put em all over the table, 
you know...

Yeah, I know,
spit

I get it 
I eat them on long road trips
so I don't fall asleep 
while I'm driving

Testing binder in hand
I walk to my office
looking over my shoulder 
letting everyone know 
I'm sort of watching

Yank, yank, yank, yank

Use paper towels
that's all I've got
take a bathroom break
if you need more

Psst...
Mrs. Garza
thank you

He sets his desk
as if breaking bread
computer plugged in-
he forgot to charge it
a bag of sunflower seeds
slouches agains the testing divider
paper towels stacked and ready
pencil
scratch paper
testing ticket

Today you'll be taking...

Crack!
He snaps the first seed
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Stopping

for a break is valuable 
but when you stop
what do you do?
does the mind wander too much?
why is it hard to refocus?
start again,
build momentum
why stop?
is it to observe?
try something new?
look for something, or
let something find you?
rather than restarting, 
it's time to 
continue 
this thing that 
sustains and
feeds me,
consider words 
that want to be said,
that need saying
was the stopping meant
for listening?
how do you 
bring everything together?
Tuesday, May 10, 2022

(Not So) Alarming

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

I have always set two alarms. One for 5:30 a.m. and one for 6:15 a.m. I figured out the latest I can get up, fly by the seat of my pants on a jeans and school t-shirt day, is 6:30 a.m. I have to skip my morning pages, although I don’t like doing that, scald my throat glugging my coffee, sweep in whatever food fits into my lunch bag, and get going. I can make it to work on time and look (mostly) normal. This isn’t ideal, but having tried it a few times, it’s acceptable.

Recently, I’ve (sort of) given up my morning alarm clock. Most nights I still toss and turn, but it’s been so much better. What has worked is setting the alarm for that latest possible jump out of bed our you’ll be so late time. My I’ve-hit-the-snooze-button-for-an-entire-hour-it’s-time-to-suck-it-up-and-get-out-of-bed-already time. One alarm. 6:30 a.m. I wake up at 5:00 and sometimes go back to sleep. I wake up at 5:15 and sometimes go back to sleep. I wake up at 5:50 and decide not to go back to sleep. It’s almost like I’m hitting the snooze button without the annoyance of an alarm clock beeping. Except it is annoying. But it isn’t a heart stopping I’m going to rip that thing out of the wall annoying.

If I start tossing and turning in the middle of the night, rather than counting the number of hours of sleep I haven’t had, I tell myself I can “sleep in” until 6:30. All will be well with the world. On most days, I wake up a little past 5:30 and get up without any snooze button calculations. I turn off the alarm so it doesn’t wake my husband while I’m getting ready, even though he has an amazing ability to sleep through it. This is a much calmer process. I’ve finally learned how to wake up without an alarm. Sort of.

Raspberries

tart and sweet
flavor and stain
a round mound 
of crushed ice
packed into
a paper cone
on a 
hot 
summer 
day

macerated,
fill and sweeten
a layer between
white wedding cakes,
the top tier saved for
that first year 
anniversary
shared 
two weeks later
after the honeymoon
because it was 
so 
darn 
good
why save it?

two fresh ones
kerplunk!
into a sink full
of dirty 
dishwater
escaping the 
dysfunctional 
sieve of a 
hand
while another plops
their neighbors
into 
a 
waiting 
mouth
Tuesday, April 5, 2022

A New Pillow

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

I have a hard time sleeping. My pillow is old. I forget to buy a new one because a new pillow isn’t something I think about adding to my shopping list. I remember around 1:45 a.m., the first of my sleepless fits flopping back and forth between being wide awake and wishful sleeping. I tell my brain that it’s okay to go back to sleep, the alarm is set to do its job. And if I accidentally sleep in, the world. Will. Not. Stop.

This afternoon, I went to Target for some odds and ends. A pillow! I wrote it, (finally) onto my list. I already dislike shopping and I haven’t been in the mood to research pillows. Some were on sale, but the shelves were bare of those. Honestly, I don’t care how much it is, but manage to steer away from a $99 pillow. So much for not caring. I find one that I hope will work. It’s not like you can try it on. If I don’t like it, I’m certain someone else will gladly take it from me.

I also wound up with a pair of jeans. I know Target clothes never fit me well, but I try these on. Surprisingly, I like how they fit. But I may change my mind tomorrow. I’ll sleep on my new pillow tonight. In the morning, I’ll wear my new jeans. If for some reason they don’t fit like they did in the dressing room, at least those can be returned. What in the world possessed me to purchase two of the hardest things to shop for on the same day?

Morning routine

finds us dodging each other
bumping almost shoulder to shoulder
stepping over a wet towel 
or bunched up pajamas
if it's a bad morning,
we'll argue
if it's a good morning,
we'll argue a little less
"clean up the toothpaste worms from the sink"
I remind her 
for the hundredth time
"I KNOW!"
she snatches the brush 
before I can get to it
so I plug in the hair dryer instead
I decide to let the exasperation 
and tone roll off
not. worth. it.
I wear my thick-skinned fur coat
24/7
grit my teeth, 
breathe in, 
breathe out
and carry on 
with my morning
"this eye looks good
 but why is this eye 
just NOT working?!"
a white washcloth smudges off
a crooked layer of eyeliner
along with a few tears
she doesn't want me to see
I lean in, mascara wand
trying to make some magic
happen for my own eyes
I don't have time 
to smudge it off
"how? how can you 
put on mascara
without opening your mouth?"
I continue applying my face
she continues applying hers,
sneaking a glance at my 
expertise
with a mascara wand
"I've been doing this longer 
than you've been alive"
she leans in with her own wand
mouth wide open
satisfied,
she steps back 
I look at our reflection
and try not to think
about the days
I braided her hair
in front of this mirror
and she'd want to help
with my makeup
Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Difference Between a HAS and a HAS Not

“If I could shake the crushing weight of expectations

Would that free some room up for joy

Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?”

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Surface Pressure, from Disney’s Encanto

One thing I don’t like about myself is I have HAS-Happiness Avoidance Syndrome. I completely made that up, but I think I have it nonetheless. You won’t find it on WebMD or HealthLine, but I know it’s real. I don’t know why I have it. I try to get rid of it. I’ve read books, lots of them, on the topic. I’ve tried all kinds of happiness “Kool-Aid” from the best happiness experts and gurus.

However, some of the people who claim to have all their happy ducks in a row are millionaires. And the happy drinks they offer are laced with toxic positivity and a huge dose of privilege. I work hard to be positive and to see the glass as half full, which I discussed a few days ago, but then again, what’s in the glass? I prefer reality. No amount of positivity is going to completely turn something horrid into something not so horrid. What helps in those situations are a lot of people helping me through those times because you have to ride through them. If something’s awful, it’s awful, there’s no need to pretend it isn’t.

How did I become this way? Is it being a (mostly) rule following first born? Is it the high expectations I load onto my shoulders? Is it nature or nurture? I often have to tell myself not to fret about certain things.

Case in point: This weekend. I’m fretting about ordering dinner. What can I share with my ‘tween who will either have the appetite of a gnat or a full grown man? I’ve been sharing meals with my kids for almost two decades. Why? The damn budget. I hate wasting food. My husband orders whatever he wants, plus extra sides and a drink without blinking. Why do I have to second guess everything and tally the bill before we even order? I’m usually hungry and since we don’t eat out more than once a week (which I think is too much), might as well enjoy a good meal I don’t have to cook, right?

If I do share, ‘tween devours the double sized portion and I’m stuck scrounging up leftover fries or half a chicken strip with the breading gnawed off. If I don’t share, we wind up with too much food. The thing is, we can afford it. We don’t go to overly pricey restaurants and we order what’s reasonable. Everyone else is happy, so why do I do this to myself?

Is it first-born perfectionism? I’ve had to play adult before I became one. I helped younger siblings with homework. Cooked some meals when my parents were at work. I did lots of sibling-sitting while I was in high school. I’m not the only one. It’s the default when you grow up with two parents working. I don’t know if this is the reason or not and I’m certainly not blaming my parents. That’s how it was.

Thanks to Disney, I have Surface Pressure from Encanto playing in the back of my mind. Often. The song annoys me. It isn’t pleasant. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and hurts my ears. And yet, it’s fitting. Isn’t that what HAS does though? It’s annoying. It’s unpleasant. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth and hurts your ears. And thoughts. And everyone around you. Everyone around me. I’m working on it, but it’s hard. That’s reality. It’s self-inflicted. I’m trying to stop.

I don’t know what’s it’s like being a HAS-not. Happiness ebbs and flows. That’s okay. We can’t be happy all of the time, otherwise, we wouldn’t know there’s a difference between anything else.

This morning, I emphatically ordered avocado toast and a cappuccino. It was delicious and I enjoyed every bite of it. I didn’t share a meal with ‘tween and it felt good. Then I ordered a concha, my favorite Mexican pastry, to bring home for tomorrow morning. Might as well. We were in San Antonio and found a bougie Mexican panadería. I’m a sucker for conchas. I will be happy when I have it with my cafecito in the morning. Or at least the second half of it. I happily ate some on the way home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Story Keeper

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

“Everyone has a story to tell. All you have to do is write it. But it’s not that easy.”

Frank McCourt

We received two shipments of delayed book orders I placed last semester. Supply chain issues. I’m new at my campus after spending my first five years as a librarian at an elementary school. I went back to the middle. What people don’t know is there are more steps to getting books onto the shelves than what meets they eye. “They already come with the barcodes, why can’t you just scan the book and check it out to me?” Not that easy. Not that quick.

First, I have to make sure I received everything. Publishers make mistakes, so I have to check that all of the pages-of the correct book-are in order, match the cover, match the correct series, match the genre. I load the records. Not only that, I have to go through each record to check for errors. This is the ELA teacher equivalent of grading papers. It’s time consuming. Sometimes I edit records and change genres to match what we have at our library. Example: mystery books are labeled suspense books on my campus. When everything is ready, I send the records to our district systems librarian so they are added to our catalog.

I lay my hands on each book, label them with corresponding genre stickers, print new call numbers if needed, stamp the inside with the date received and label them with our school’s address. Then I pay for them. Well, the district does, but I have to enter financial information on a program that never has liked me. Each book is inventoried and the final touch is a bright yellow NEW sticker above the call number.

They’re enticing. So much so that I want to check all of them out and keep them to myself.

These aren’t the only stories I get.

Yesterday, I chatted with a student while she worked on a 1,000 piece Harry Potter puzzle I set up in our maker space. “I love puzzles. I have so many at my house. And I love books. My mom does too. That’s why I love coming here.”

“What do you do with your puzzles when you finish them? Do you pull them apart and swap them out or do you display them?”

“Modge Podge. I pour Mod Podge on them and attach them to canvas so I can hang them in my room.”

“Cool,” I say, pointing to my Wonder Woman puzzle displayed above the graphic novels. “I do the same, but I use foam core on the back. Heat the blade of a box cutter and it slices right through to trim it.”

We continued with the conversation of books. She described a tattoo her mom wants to get: a girl holding a stack of books ascending a staircase with one side of her parted hair turning into a bookcase. I oohed and ahhed, imagining something similar to what I’ve pinned to my Pinterest boards. “My mom also has tattoos her grandfather drew. He would be my great grandfather. He escaped Germany during World War II and he drew a lot during that time. He came to the United States. I’m half Jewish.”

“Your great grandfather fled Germany during World War II?” I had collaborated with this student’s teacher to prepare them for a unit on the Holocaust. “Does your teacher know this?”

“No.”

“Have you written this story? Have you told it?”

“No.”

“You have an important story to tell.”

“Yeah, my mom says her tattoos tell stories. One arm is for the tattoos her grandfather drew. Her left arm is for her vacations. She loves fish and the beach. She has a mahi-mahi, a catfish, and a turtle. One time, we went to visit my grandfather in Oregon. We went in a red van so she has a red van on her arm too. I’m not sure where we’re going this summer, but I think she’ll add another fish.”

She continued adding pieces to the puzzle.

“Thanks for sharing. I think you have a good story you need to write.”

I went back to the third cart of books awaiting processing. Of all the new stories that made their way into the library this past week, this has been my favorite.