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Summer Life Saving

17 Jun

I hadn’t planned on going to my niece’s wedding. She was getting married in Orlando last week and had planned a large party/reception for friends and family in Illinois in early July. In honor of her grandparents (my parents) who had been married 65 years, she had decided to get married on their wedding anniversary, June 10.

36192967 - photos of wedding rings on sand at beach

But when I received my niece’s email, asking friends and family to send or bring a rock to the wedding, I knew I had to go. You see, my mom LOVED rocks. She once chased a Caterpillar D10

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working on road construction through a field on her little John Deere

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to ask the driver if he would push a mountain of a boulder onto the farm ground. He did.

My niece learned to love rocks—well, that might be a stretch—she learned to wash the landscape rocks that surrounded my parents’ house. My mother believed that the landscape should be washed every spring, and the grandchildren (once the kids were grown and gone) were just the people to help her do it. So my niece learned to LOVE washing rocks.

It was natural that she would want rocks for her wedding. They’re a symbol of a strong foundation, right?

I got the email and immediately knew I had to TAKE the rocks to Florida, not ship them. We boated over to Angel Island, scavenged one large 10-pounder, one fist-sized, and a handful of smaller green stones called serpentine. Perfect! I would skimp on clothes and carry these in my luggage.

57638367 - macro shooting of natural mineral stone - rock of chrysotile (green asbestos, serpentine asbestos, white asbestos) isolated on white background

Yes, the TSA left their calling card in my suitcase. They must still be shaking their heads, wondering why anyone would cart around a bunch of rocks.

Anyway, I delivered those rocks and myself to Orlando four days later. The ceremony was quite moving, with my nephew telling his rock story during the ceremony. A few months earlier, he had been shopping for a First Communion gift for a family member and saw a pile of rocks at the store. One read something along the lines of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The saying reminded him of his grandfather’s calmness and how he dealt with stress. The second rock he picked up read “This Too Shall Pass,” his grandmother’s favorite saying. He decided those two rocks were meant for him, and he bought them along with a communion gift.

Then a couple of months later, he gets this request from his sister to bring rocks to her wedding on a date that honors their grandparents. So instead of keeping those rocks for himself as mementos of his grandparents, he gave them to his sister. (Yes, he is a fantastic guy!)

Really, those two rocks were my parents’ way of sneaking into the wedding.

Now, fast forward a couple of hours after we all head out to the hotel pool complex.


We’re settling in, when my sister-in-law passes by a couple of people shaking the arms of a little girl lying on the pool deck. They had just pulled her from the water, and she’s not responsive.

Sooo, my sister-in-law grabs my niece and nephew (her kids) who happen to be physician’s assistants. They find no pulse and begin lifesaving techniques that include an inverted heimlich with the girl’s head below her waist. My nephew tries to activate the little girl’s gag reflex by sticking his finger down her throat. (Someone calls 911. Concerned bystanders suggest laying her flat. NO! Don’t do that! They also suggest giving her a glass of water. REALLY??) Still no response, but the heimlich is pumping lots of water out of her. My nephew tries again and again until he gets a gag from her and she begins to vomit water and food. Another few seconds of heimlich with her head down and she’s still vomiting but begins to cry. Success!!

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In honor of the wonderful world of Disney

Paramedics arrive, give her oxygen, and prep her for heading to the hospital, where she will stay for observation.

Two days later, I leave for home and get a text with a photo of my niece and nephew “meeting” the little girl and her babydoll at the hotel after she was released from the hospital. I’m not going to show it here because I don’t have a release from her parents, but suffice to say, I cried when I saw all three of them together and smiling.

Soooo, everyone, it’s summer swimming pool season. Please be vigilant. This was one of two bright spots (wedding, too!) in a horrific week for Orlando. Watch those swimmers, and if they don’t know how to swim, keep them in floaties whenever they’re near the pool. The one shown below snaps behind the child’s back, so they can’t take it off themselves. 

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Remember, a child slips below the surface without making noise. Be watchful, and listen for silence.

Black Diamond Wisdom – Writers Take Note

24 Apr

Yesterday, at 10:59am PST, I despaired. Piles of research lay scattered about my desk, in my backpack, across the kitchen table. Papers I’d been shuttling around since last fall.

I was trying to finish a revision of a nonfiction picture book I’ve been writing since last September, but I felt scattered. And I couldn’t figure out how to end the story. The answer must be lying somewhere in those papers, but I had been avoiding organizing them for days, weeks. Dare I say—longer?



My testy ADD self thought it would take too much time to organize all that stuff, so I kept shuffling through papers, finding and losing and finding and losing and getting confused and starting over and losing and losing and forgetting what I was looking for because I’d gotten distracted with some other tidbit of info that may or may not have been important. And did I remember to mention I was in despair?

At 11:17am, I pressed the panic button:

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and let my despair pour out on a FaceBook nonfiction PB group page. Suggestions and encouragement began to flow downhill, because as you know—I was in the DEPTHS of DESPAIR.

WOW Nonfiction Archeologists pulled me from the mire and slapped me up one side and down the other. Gently. I was to stop fretting and start doing. Thank you for the tough love!

I made the historic decision to get organized. Three hours later, with folders labeled, quotes unearthed and highlighted, and background info reviewed, I had a revelation:

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

Brain Working at Lightning Speed

“Gee, that wasn’t so bad.”

Someone please kick me the next time I avoid organizing myself and my materials.

Not only did I find all the missing quotes, plus ones I hadn’t remembered to mark, I also went deeper into the sea of my story.

I had been fiddling with facts and had forgotten why I had started writing about my subjects in the first place. I reached the heart,


and I knew what needed to be done. Thank you WOW-ers!

But that’s not where the story ends.

Last night, my 11-yr-old son spent two hours moaning, flopping about, and moping while trying to avoid writing answers to homework essay questions. Oh, the hairy eyeballs, the pouting lips, the grumbling and growling that I endured.


No, this isn’t my son. Just his attitude.


“I can’t do it! It will take too long! It’s too hard!” (The genes don’t fall far from the tree, eh?)

Once he focused on his work, it only took him an hour. Problem is, he started his homework at 8pm. I insisted he stay up until 11pm to finish. Am I evil?

When I tucked him into bed, I asked him why he couldn’t just skip the moaning and growling and get on with it. His response:


“Mom, it’s the difference between standing on the upslope of a black diamond ski run and the downslope. When you’re standing up there looking down, you think there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do it. But when you’re at the bottom, you can look up and say it wasn’t so bad.”

Oh, be still my beating heart!

What are the odds we’ll both remember this tidbit of wisdom when we need to?

Poems for the Weak of Heart

18 Jun





arrived in my mailbox yesterday. And I mean that literally. Continue reading

Better Than a Grammy

28 Jan
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ver·sa·tile (versa-tea-lay)

    able to adapt or be adapted to many different functions or activities.
    “a versatile sewing machine”
  2. archaic
    changeable; inconstant.

    So here I am, the swiss army knife of sewing machines (aka word knitting machines). Continue reading

Dreaming Big at DreamForce

20 Nov

This week, San Francisco’s population increased by about 15% with estimates running into the 130,000+ range. And they’re all buzzing around with bright blue conference badges circling their necks. Dreamers here to dream—at DreamForce. But a portion of those folks are not just your everyday profit-based conference attendees.They’re “Dreamers” who dare to dream big,


representing nonprofits from around the world. 

Everyone in my husband’s company, Exponent Partners (ExP), a certified B Corp, pinches themselves (yes, it’s one big group pinch) every day, because they’re so fortunate to work with hundreds of nonprofits, streamlining business processes and redesigning systems to save program staff time and effort and funders’ cash. It’s win-win, as the biz folks say. Programs run smoother, cooler, quieter, longer—doing good more effectively.

ExP focuses on education, social services, and foundations. Whether it’s improving educational outcomes at the high school or college level, building schools for girls in areas where women get little education, or transforming the world in myriad ways through social entrepreneurship, ExP can often be found behind the scenes, a quiet but active do-gooder.

Over the past ten years, the company has grown from my husband and a partner consulting from a room in our home


No, this isn’t our home office, but wouldn’t it be awesome?

to a 40+person organization anchoring The Impact Hub in San Francisco, a space that fosters socially responsible ventures.

Over the course of those years, ExP has worked with “Dreamers” that include ASHOKA, KIPP, Beyond 12, Global Giving, Kiva, New Leaders for New Schools, The Posse Foundation, Playworks, Room to Read, Skoll Foundation, Teach for All, The Case Foundation, The New Teacher Project, and many others.

And during those ten years, my husband has worked twelve to sixteen hour days. He’s worked on the weekends, vacations, family visits, and into the wee hours long after our son and I have gone to bed. He believes deeply in ExP’s mission: helping nonprofits better serve their clients and measure their results, all with the understanding that it’s not enough to WANT to do good. You need to KNOW that you ARE doing good. As with medicine, anecdotal evidence only goes so far. The measurement of success must now be evidence-based.

I’m proud of my husband and his dedication to making the world a better place, so I thought I’d take this moment to show my appreciation as the clouds of “Dreamers” cover San Francisco in a warm, do-gooder fog (a welcome change from the usual chilling mist). And at the risk of sounding sappy, there is pure joy in my heart


for the biggest man in my life—a guy who dreams big and works hard to make lots of dreams come true, not just for himself, but for millions of folks around the world.

Don’t tell him I said this. He, like our son, hates being the center of attention.

Oh, and since it is the season to do good, if there’s an organization in the list I mentioned above that “speaks to you,” send ’em a little cash to help the good work continue! Or send a little extra to those helping out in the Philippines or anywhere else there is need in the world. We are so fortunate in comparison.

Happy early Thanksgiving!!

Writing, Executive Function, and Deep Breathing

30 Oct

I’ve written about my son, the reluctant writer, in a few other posts:  Writing as CalculusOpen Mic FrightCelebrate Illustrators! 

And now that he’s in 4th grade, the pressure is on to produce even more. So when he came home with an assignment to write a newspaper article, using the “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” structure, he was fit to be tied.


This is an idiom from my Midwestern childhood. I have not tied my son to a chair to get him to do his homework, although the thought has crossed my mind.

Enter the learning specialist who suggests my son has Executive Function challenges. His executive,


the one responsible for:

  • planning/organizing (where are my ducks and what order do I put them in?),
  • initiating (I don’t know where to start!),
  • inhibition (why not throw that rock just for fun?),
  • flexibility (but that wasn’t the plan!),
  • emotional control (why shouldn’t I fill your shampoo bottle with water if I’m angry?),
  • working memory (what do I need to do again?),
  • organization of materials (where did I put that?), and
  • self-monitoring (how am I doing on this project?) is


—in many of these areas. 

Now, my son is a smart kid. He can read faster than I, whiz through math problems, and build working gadgets that could live in Wallace and Gromit’s world. But if you ask him to write about what he’s read, write a story, or explain step by step how he got the right math answer, his executive hangs it up: 


If you recognize any of these weaknesses in yourself or your kids, I recommend two books: Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning and Boosting Executive Skills in the Classroom: A Practical Guide for Educators. Even my executive is showing up for work more often now that I’ve read them.

But back to my son and his angst. First, he “forgot” the assignment was due until my executive had a 5-year strategic planning meeting with his executive. Second, once he was seated at the kitchen table, he moaned that this was toooooo hardddddddd, and that he had no idea how to start. 

So, I told him to write down the five W’s and the one H and then put an idea next to each one. He did this over the course of a few minutes without too much daydreaming and gnawing of pencils.


Then he started groaning about where to start. So I practiced my deep breathing exercises at the stove before saying, “I’ve read lots of news articles and they usually go something like this: On [a specific date], [so and so] did [something] to [something], causing this [other thing] to happen.

Suddenly, his face lit up. He picked up his pencil and didn’t stop writing until a little over a half an hour later. Here is his story:

On the day before school break, December twenty-first, Skizzor High School was flooded by a group of juvenile delinquents. Fifteen out of sixteen have been caught. One has evaded capture and has escaped school over the fence. No one knows his whereabouts but we the S.F.P.D. are offering a five hundred dollar reward. According to his accomplices a man whose identity is not known paid them to ruin and flood the high school by cutting the sprinkler system pipes. “Such behavior is not tolerated” says Principal and Founder Natasha Skizzor. “And they will be expelled immediately.”


Phoenix, yes?

Woohooo! When I asked him where he got the name “Skizzor,” he pointed at the scissors lying on the table and said that he changed the spelling to be funny. Can I just say “woohooo!!!” again?

Now, I have to tell you that the books say kids with executive function challenges are not consistent, so tomorrow, he may take hours to write something that is nowhere near as wonderful as this. But for today, my executive is giving my son’s executive a bonus, lots of warm fuzzies,


no strings attached. But I’m thinking that there may be some Lego building or whoopee cushion action involved.

P.S. Today, we got all the way home from school only to “discover” that the writing assignment due on Friday (that we’ve been “trying” to get home since Monday) was left at school. We turned around and went back for it. The only thing consistent about my son is his inconsistency. I am murmuring my new mantra–at least he’s consistently inconsistent.

Rainbow Dreams

27 Jun

After Tweeting, I decided that the form was too ephemeral for the hope, the desire, the wish, the dream that this will last forever. So I make it a post that will live on into the ether:

San Francisco City Hall

The sun shines across our nation today, turning domestic prisons into Rainbow prisms. May it last forever and a day.

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