Can’t we all just get along?

Rodney King caricature. He speaks into a mic

A little throwback in light of the week’s events in the U.S. Painful then, painful now. No more. Image Cass Anaya via Creative Commons.

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Ms. Peterson and writing for mobile

Journal being written in by a hand holding a pen

Photo by ynsle @ sxc.hu

A project I worked on recently re-taught me something I learned way back in high school English – but only because I’d gotten a big, fat, red “F” on a term paper.

At the time, I was crushed.

How could it be that, after spending time reviewing my draft with me, my teacher, Ms. Peterson – who’d even told me she’d not seen some of the perspective I’d presented on that classic work – still gave me an “F”?

Ms. Peterson: Nydia, I couldn’t even read it. It was all in one paragraph.
Little, naïve me: So what’s the problem?
Ms. Pete: You can’t write a paper all in one paragraph. Every new idea starts a new paragraph. Give it back to me that way tomorrow and I’ll change your grade.

Ever had that Why-didn’t-anyone-ever-tell-me-that-before feeling? Yeah, that one.

One idea, one paragraph – or less?
These days, the one-idea-per-paragraph rule applies more than ever. With more people accessing the web via mobile, most ideas need to be broken down, sometimes to one sentence per paragraph. (I don’t do it often, but it can be helpful, especially in longer-form pieces.)

After all, what fits on a web page doesn’t necessarily look as good on the screen of a handheld device.

Chop, chop
It feels choppy to write like this sometimes, but when I look it over on my phone, for example, I know that if someone can finish a paragraph there, they’ve completed a thought. That means they’re more likely to finish the article.

So if you’ve gotten this far, thank you. Clearly, Ms. Pete gets at least partial credit for it.

Slow going

Up there with slow food lately is my interest in slow learning. As in, learning new things at my own, leisurely pace.

I’ve had a lot more time and flexibility in recent months for things like writing, meditating and – wait for it – learning to quilt.

The quilt that started it all. I've been obsessed ever since with modern quilting.

Hot Spot by Alissa Haight Carlton. The quilt that started it all. I’ve been obsessed ever since with modern quilting.

If you know me at all, you may need to pick up that jaw from the floor. Except for classes in Home Economics in, what, 7th grade? – now called Family and Consumer Science – I’ve really never made anything by hand in my life. Two semesters of pottery don’t count.

I have more gifted artist and craftsman friends than I can count, yet I’ve always assumed I couldn’t make much besides food, music or a little trouble on the dance floor.

Then again, until recently I’d never found a craft I wanted to learn. Enter modern quilting, my new inspiration.

Today, I was mostly offline, and it was great. I am nearly finished making my very first quilt (to be revealed later, probably on Instagram, after I’ve gifted it to my friend).

The idea of taking things slowly today gave me the time, permission and freedom I needed to get this project near the finish line. One more step and I’m done.

From what I hear, unfinished bindings mean Purgatory for most quilts. So getting over that hump the first time around feels like a pretty big deal.

Not only am I happy to finish it — I’m thrilled to pick up a new skill I can enjoy and share with others the rest of my life. It can be my new gift of choice — along with fruit cake.

You can do better

I’m really happy there is finally some representation of ethnic families with sitcoms like ABC’s “Blackish” and “Cristela.” Most weeks Blackish makes me laugh until I cry. Culturally, though, I relate most to Cristela.

While I don’t find Cristela’s mom’s character entirely believable as a first-generation American, I can appreciate the lessons she teaches.

Tonight’s episode especially hit home with me.

natalia

ABC’s Cristela’s mom Natalia (Terri Hoyos) defends a difficult parenting decision. (Source: Cristela FB page)

In this episode, Cristela’s mom, Natalia, reveals she had not entered Cristela, now a 20- or 30-something legal intern, into the gifted and talented program when she was a little girl because “people like us” didn’t belong in “fancy programs” like that. Basically, they would have been aiming too high, beyond their social status.

Cristela’s character eventually comes to appreciate her mother’s decision, made out of the desire to protect her. Natalia was, after all, a single mom doing the best she could for her young family.

This struggle triggered something in me I totally didn’t expect – a belated appreciation for my mom’s determination to ensure my best possible future.

It actually set off my tear ducts.

[Cue high school memory scene.]

One time, in high school, I came home with less-than-perfect grades – mostly As, with a couple of A- and a B+. I was so excited to show my mom! She would be so proud.

“You can do better.” That was her response.

What??? I can do what??? You mean, that wasn’t good enough?

I carried this disbelief, the shock and the sense that I’d disappointed my mom for – well, let’s just say it went on far too long.

What I didn’t realize then that I realize now – and, truly, especially after watching Cristela tonight – was that my mom was pushing me to aim higher.

Nothing at all wrong with protecting one’s kids from ridicule and humiliation. My mom, however, was willing to take that risk – taking me with her – of not being accepted for being different (which, by this age, I was pretty good at).

As someone who had to leave school at 12 to work and support her family, she knew working harder would grow both my character and my capacity. She knew I could do better.

My mom has never done anything less than teach me to be strong, have faith and, in the face of difficulty, get back up and dust myself off.

As we approach in a few weeks what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be grateful for her strength and endurance since losing my dad nearly 30 years ago.

She remains my best girlfriend and biggest cheerleader. Even today, the way she lives her life is a reminder that we can always do better. So I will.

And the winners are…

Heirloom tomatoes for 2015 planting

Every year, it feels like a crapshoot. And every year, we’re amazed at the bounty and beauty that comes from the earth.

Eight to 10 heirloom tomato varieties (plus tomatillos!) varying in size, shape and color. Salad forecast for 2015: pretty darned good.

What’s on your bucket list?

whats-on-your-bucket-listSo I’m curious: What’s on your bucket list?

A couple of years ago, I decided I’d make up for lost time and rekindle my love for music. I played piano and violin growing up and, conveniently for me, when we moved to South Texas from the Midwest, I “forgot” to enroll in orchestra classes.

Amidst the confusion and transition of the move, my mom probably forgot about it. And then she didn’t. But by then it was a year or two too late, and I only played on occasion at church or for other gatherings.

Ever since I started playing violin in the 4th grade, all I really wanted was to play the cello. Trouble was, it was a lot bigger than I was, and I had a mile to walk to school, each way. So there went that.

I’ve grown a couple of inches taller since then, and I’m feeling pretty good about returning to playing a stringed instrument again. Only this time, it’s going to be a lot bigger.

I’m a product of Head Start

Welcome to my #Day4 post for #YourTurnChallenge.

I am a product of my parents’ generation, but I’m also a product of a government program that dates back to JFK’s successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson — LBJ.

It will soon be my privilege to work on a project involving this program that helped shape me.

Memories of Head Start
My memories of Head Start, an early childhood development program for low-income families, are mostly about my mom and the First Methodist Church in South Bend, In. It’s a Montessori school now. Head start provides disadvantaged families with essentials for children ages 3-5  and a place to develop socially, socially and cognitively.

Partnering with Parents
Not sure I knew this at the time, but I think Mom was a teacher’s aid. Or maybe parents had to volunteer time if their kids were enrolled.

Anyway, she was there a lot. To my surprise, I may have been a picky eater during my early years, because I can remember at lunch or snack time, my mom trying to make eating fun (sound familiar to you parents out there?):

“Mama Mia, Papa Pia – eat your lunch!”
— My mom

I fell for it – every time. Maybe I wasn’t a picky eater…

Then there was nap time.

My spot, just under the window near the middle of the room, was where I would lay my head for, oh, maybe 20 minutes. (Probably while my mom and the teacher took some aspirin and naps of their own.)

The only thing between me and that cold, asbestos-laden, marbly floor tile was a bath-towel-sized swath of white seersucker with tiny red hearts and a white ribbon border. It was like sleeping on Saran Wrap.

Still, I loved that blanket. My grandma had made it just for me.

my-fourth-birthday

My 4th birthday. Mom was proud; my brother just wanted cake.

In child development, little things go a long way
It may not seem like much, but Head Start gave my family a much-needed boost while preparing me for school and giving me a love for learning. After all, we were a family of six on a minister’s income, which wasn’t much.

I’m not a child development expert, but for nearly 10 years I worked for a child development organization and communicated its mission and impact to donors.

For years, I traveled extensively to gather stories or coach others on it, and I witnessed first-hand how important it is to give children a healthy, strong start to life. It is often the difference between living a future of hardship and poverty – or not.

Like many programs from the Great Society era, Head Start is due for an update. It will be exciting to see how it evolves to serve the modern family and continue giving kids a strong start to a healthy and productive life.