Home

Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 2: The Trumpet

Leave a comment

“What’s the business, that such a hideous trumpet calls to parley the sleepers of the house?” ~William Shakespeare (Macbeth, II, iii)

Last week’s post introduced you to my fourth grade diary and precious gem queens that ruled outer space.  We continue the series this week, with a glimpse into perhaps the reason why I’m not a very musical person.  I do like certain kinds of music (80’s music can’t be surpassed for entertainment value and I’m also fond of classical music when I’m stressed), but I don’t ever go to music clubs or music festivals, it’s just not my cup of tea.  

But when I started reading through my fourth grade diary, I was reminded of a music memory:  my attempts to learn how to play the trumpet.  For some reason I can’t remember, I decided I wanted to join my elementary school band class.  (I think it was my idea…or was it my parents’?)  And when it came time to pick my instrument, I picked the trumpet because it was the closest thing to what my Dad had played when he was in school: the coronet.  I actually do remember the trip to the music store to pick out the used gold trumpet in the brown case with the red velvet lining inside, that was exciting. Less exciting: my mom signed me up for weekly lessons with a trumpet teacher there at the music store.  I didn’t like him, or the lessons.  I guess I thought that once we bought the instrument and I took it to band class, I’d just magically know the trumpet by musical osmosis or something.

January 7, 1980

January 7, 1980

(Transcript: “Today we had P.E.  We played this game with numbers, myne was 1.  I had my trumpet lessons today.  My teacher is fat.  Here is a picture. [drawing] That’s him.  And then I did some more homework. It was a rrrrrr day.”)

Ah, I’m afraid I wasn’t very politically correct at nine years old, sorry about that.  And I think I may have just watched “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” because that picture looks suspiciously like Violet Beauregard after she ate the forbidden blueberry gum.  I remember it being very crowded in the confined space of the tiny little lesson room, it was like a closet off the sales floor of the music store.  I remember he also had a mustache and glasses, and I’m pretty sure the real reason I didn’t like him was because he felt the need the empty the spit valve on his trumpet extremely frequently, which I thought was really gross.  That’s another thing I hadn’t thought through very well when I picked the trumpet – the spit valve situation – and it became pretty disgusting pretty quickly.  No one had told me about that little detail. Rrrrrr indeed.

My trumpet troubles continued:

January 23, 1980.

January 23, 1980.

(Transcript: “Today I finished By the Shores of Silver Lake.  Mrs. Fullerton started to read Tee-Bo aloud to the class.  Today I was practicing my trumpet and I couldn’t figure out how B flat sounded.  I watched the circus on TV.  And also Happy Days again.  I ate chicken for lunch.”)

I still have no idea whatsoever what B flat is supposed to sound like; is it one of the more difficult notes to master?  Or is it a scale?  I learned to read music at that time, I remember learning that, but I couldn’t read it today if you paid me a thousand dollars.  It’s like I’ve completely blocked it out, which is weird to me; you don’t forget how to read your written language once you’ve learned, so why would one forget how to read music language once you’ve learned it?  Or maybe I just thought I learned how, which would explain why I was really bad at playing the trumpet…that sounds more plausible actually.  

Also, I started to really hate the little red ring that the trumpet mouthpiece would leave around my lips after playing it.  The other kids in band class made fun of me for it.  I was really bad at emptying the spit valve and it made me gag up a little sometimes.  We weren’t getting along too well in this short-lived relationship, the trumpet and I.

You can guess what happened next, right?

February 4, 1980

February 4, 1980

(Transcript: “Tonight I had to wash my face, and I got soaking wet. (all Dad’s fault!) I didn’t take a bath.  I watched Little House on the Prairie.  I ate chicken for supper.  I had homework to do! [smiley face] We went across to Miss Trihio’s class & watched some movies. (Fairie Tales) We had P.E. today. We did gymnastics in P.E.  I read Inky & Texas for S.S.R.  Stacey walked without me!  I had trumpet lessons [another blueberry Violet drawing] / I quit!!!!!!!”)

Well, what another traumatic day that was…I’d had to walk to school by myself, do actual homework (although I seemed happy about that), and Dad messed up big-time on the face-washing (but thanks for trying Dad).  No wonder another trumpet lesson was the last straw.  You know someone’s serious about quitting something when they use SEVEN exclamation points and in increasingly larger and angrier sizes.  I kind of wished I’d done that when I resigned from that last horrible job I had a few years ago, just to show the level of commitment I had to quitting that time too.

Also, we ate a lot of chicken, and I butchered the spelling of Miss Trujillo’s name, sorry about that (but I was obviously hooked on phonics).  I never did learn another instrument after the trumpet trials, although I can play the first few bars of ‘Silent Night’ on the piano for some reason.  I guess I just don’t have a musical brain, but I have no problem appreciating a good 80’s hair metal rock ballad when the occasion calls for it.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Advertisements

Diary of a Fourth Grader, Part 1: Diamond Queen

2 Comments

“Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so, an if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe.” ~William Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus, II, iv)

During my recent post-Tour-de-France doldrums, I found myself flipping through a memory scrapbook that my Mom made for me a few years ago.  Inside one of the plastic sleeves in the book was a small white diary that I apparently received for Christmas 1979; I was 9 years old and halfway through the 4th grade.  Each day had it’s own dated page and I very obediently began documenting the (not-so) dramatic happenings of my 9-year old life on January 1st, 1980.  The diary could only hold my pre-tween attention span for a few months (the last entry was in April sometime), but there’s a little bit of memory (fool’s) gold in the pages that were inscribed.  

Here’s a segment from that first day:

January 1, 2009

January 1, 1980

(Transcript: “I played at Tricia’s house today with Tricia & Stacey.  We played like we were queens.  I was queen Diamond, Tricia was queen Ruby, Stacey was queen Emorld.  We all ruled part of space.  I ruled the stars.”)

I have no actual memory of this whatsoever.  It’s so strange reading my own juvenile handwriting about things that were obviously important to me at the time, but that apparently didn’t warrant standing power in any of my remaining brain cells. I’m still friends to this day with Tricia, I’ll have to ask her if she remembers this.  (Stacey & I parted ways not too long after this was written actually; she said a bad word one day in front of my little brother and I got so mad at her, I immediately swore her my enemy forevermore…plus I just really didn’t like her, so, yeah.)

But I do give us extra points for imagination – you have to admit, that was a pretty great play game we came up with.  And I must’ve been the one to propose it, otherwise how would I have ended up the top queen, of diamonds no less?  And of course the queen of diamonds would end up ruling the diamonds in the sky – the stars.  (Points taken away though for my gross misspelling of emerald…and I was a good speller in school too, that one shames me.)  I wish I knew what Queen Ruby was given to rule – Mars maybe, the red planet?  I think this storyline could be the next big idea for the Avengers series, I may have stumbled onto something big here…

A few days later I extolled on the power of being put in charge and my resulting tattletale status:

diary2

January 4, 1980

(“Today was the last day of school for the week. Stacy & Trisha got in a fight again.  Also I got a new school coat, and a ski jacket.  It is yellow.  In school the teacher left the room for a minute and she left me in charge.  I wrote six names down.  Dad isn’t going to be here to tuck me in at bedtime.  Boo-Hoo.  We had soup for supper.”)

The kids in my classroom must’ve hated me.  Why did I get two new coats at once, that’s weird.  And obviously I wasn’t the only one who had problems with Stacy (I feel vindicated).  Oh and I’d bet one million dollars that the soup we had for supper that night was Campbell’s Bean-with-Bacon…soup of champions right there, and one of the only food things with meat that I’ve missed over these last 21 vegetarian years.

Nine-year-olds are weird.  But stay tuned for more riveting adventures from Diary of a Fourth Grader in future posts.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Whose Influence is Thine and Born of Thee

3 Comments

“Surprise me to the very brink of tears…” ~William Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, V, i)

As I sit here writing today I’m feeling a bit off – maybe a touch of stomach virus or something – but the blog must go on, as they say (helped along with a pot of ginger tea).  Plus, I have a really good story to tell you!  A story of true surprise, which is so rarely experienced as an adult isn’t it?

This story took root 27 years ago, in a barrack classroom at Manzano High School in Albuquerque NM.  I was a senior and for some unremembered reason, signed up to take a Shakespeare class as an elective in my final year.  Yes, all Shakespeare all the time, and no, I wasn’t the only student in the class…I think there were about 25 of us or so who took that brave plunge into the world of the Bard.  And I’m so glad I was part of that class, as it would open up new doors that I’m still walking through today.

Our teacher that year for that class was a woman named Clara Sanchez – Mrs. Sanchez to us.  And I’ll just apologize right now for not being able to adequately surmise or praise her teaching abilities…which were astounding, by the way.  It was obvious to me that she not only loved Shakespeare, but loved teaching it to us, and that made all the difference in the brain of a 17-year old struggling to understand what was basically a foreign language to us all.  Yes we did the typical high school classroom thing of taking turns reading different parts of different plays, trudging through the themes and trying to grasp why this character wanted revenge on that other character…  But the highlights for me were always when Mrs. Sanchez would then translate the scenes for us and reveal the hidden meanings behind the words – it was like a whole other world was there in those words if you just looked and worked hard enough to find and understand it.  A literary puzzle with meaningful rewards of learning and understanding.

I remember very well working on our year-end research project – I chose the topic of “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets.”  Which I absolutely cannot believe when I go back and read that research paper now – let’s just say the subject of The Dark Lady is more than a bit risqué and is one of Shakespeare’s most revealing pieces of work, both literally and figuratively.  But I remember at the time having tons of research and papers spread out all over my bedroom floor, pouring over every sonnet and reading everything I could get my hands on to help me understand why this character of his poetry was so intriguing.  Who was she, what was her purpose, why was Shakespeare writing about her?  (She was based on a real person, most literary scholars believe.)  It was my teacher who inspired me to go to these depths, to find the missing pieces of the puzzle.

At the end of that year, Mrs. Sanchez came to my high school graduation celebration at our house, and gave me a wonderful little book called ‘Shakespeare Soliloquies,’ with a lovely personal inscription inside.  I had a sonnet engraved on a thank-you plaque that I gave her as a token of my deep appreciation for her guidance and dedication.  I continued my Shakespeare education at my university that next year, getting special permission to take two senior-level Shakespeare courses as an incoming freshman.  A few years later, Mrs. Sanchez attended my first wedding as a guest.  A year or two after that, I paid her a surprise visit to her classroom when I was at the high school as part of my university recruiting job.  It’s ironic that this surprise visit was the last time we saw or talked to each other for the next 20 or so years.

My interest in Shakespeare came and went over the next few decades but it was always there in the background, like an old friend (you can read about my other blog posts on Shakespeare here if you’d like).  Life happened; I packed and unpacked several times in those next decades, moving into different apartments, houses, cities and countries.  But the little gray book of Shakespeare’s soliloquies always had a place on my bookshelf.  And when I decided on a whim during the summer of 2012 to fly to England for the World Shakespeare Festival that July, I took that little gray book with me.  It seemed only fitting to take with me a tangible reminder of the teacher who inspired me as I made my pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace.

I carried the book with me as I visited all of the sights in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Below you can see some pictures of me holding the book of Soliloquies at some of the town sights (and those of you who read this blog will know how extremely RARE it is for me to put pictures of myself in the blog, but this was one exception I’m glad to make) – one tourist who took my picture asked about the book, and I willingly told them the story of my inspirational high school Shakespeare teacher.  I’ve been back to Stratford since that time, but that initial visit will always stand out in my mind as a dream fulfilled, with one awestruck moment after another – seeing the room where Shakespeare was born, visiting his grave site, walking the cobblestones he used to walk.

IMG_3420 - Copy

Me & my soliloquies in front of the famous Gower Shakespeare Memorial on a rainy day in Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012.

IMG_2979 - Copy

Me & my soliloquies with a sculpture representing The Tempest, found in the beautiful New Place Gardens, Stratford-upon-Avon, July 2012.

Ok, now for the rest of the story…after that 2012 visit to Stratford, I decided to try to find and re-establish communication with Mrs. Sanchez.  I wanted to tell her about my pilgrimage and show her the pictures with the book she gave me, and to thank her again for setting me on this journey that started so long ago but that was taking me to such wonderful places.  I had moved to Austin in 2009, and figured she was probably still in Albuquerque, but a thorough internet search didn’t turn up any location or contact info for her.

I called my old high school as well as the other high school after that where she taught (where I’d paid her the surprise classroom visit), but staff at both schools didn’t know how to find her.  I put a search query out on Twitter, and in a Facebook group called “Remember in Albuquerque When…”  No one came forward.  I messaged Mrs. Sanchez’s son Joseph through a high school reunion website (we had graduated together) but I knew it was a long shot that he would get the message and I never heard anything back (I looked for him too through other avenues but couldn’t find him either).  I began hesitantly checking obituary listings going back several years, but thankfully didn’t find anything through that route either.

In December 2012 I made a short trip back to Albuquerque for a few days to visit old haunts and eat the good food I miss so much, and I even went by Mrs. Sanchez’s old house; with my little gray book and printed England photos in hand, I knocked on the door, thinking it would be too good to be true if the door swung open with her standing there.  I knocked again and waited for a long time.  No one answered.  It was a cold snowy day, and as I got back into my car, a neighbor walked out of his house and flagged me down, offering to help – I told him who I was looking for, and he said yes he remembered them living there, but that they had moved away and no longer lived there.  As I drove away, I felt like that was my last shot at finding her.

Meanwhile, my horrible job got more horrible and as all of my energy and attention were sucked up by the negative environment in which I worked, I let my search for Mrs. Sanchez fall by the wayside.  I was sad but resigned to the fact that I probably would just not see or talk to her again.   I thought she probably moved away to another state. Every once in a while my parents would ask me if I’d every found Mrs. Sanchez and I’d say “still no.”

Fast forward another two years.  Life is happier, I’d quit that miserable job (the impetus for this blog by the way), the holidays were approaching.  I didn’t get the pots and pans I wanted for Christmas, but a Lego Shakespeare book set, a Star Trek hoody and new brakes for my car quite made up for that, thank you.  Then on Christmas morning, my mom gets all dramatic and says there is one more present I have to open – and then brings out THREE packages (my mom likes to go overboard at Christmas).  And then she says she has to videotape me opening them and tells me to not get annoyed – at which of course I immediately get annoyed.  (I’m one of those people who has always hated their voice and hearing mine on tape makes me cringe.)

I open the first one – and it’s a copy of the Albuquerque Journal newspaper from November 19th.  Huh?  It had a picture of boys sledding on the front with their Husky dog and a bunch of other random articles.  “Read it carefully, the clue is in the paper,” she says.  My annoyance level starts to go up – I’ve never been good at riddles and they make me feel stupid most of the time because I can never get them – but I scour and skim the articles for a clue.  I still have no idea what’s going on.  “I can’t believe you can’t get it from that,” she says and I finally get to move on to the second gift.

It’s two essays I wrote in my university Shakespeare class.  One of them was really bad; I got a B- and it was so marked up I could barely read it (the other received an A I’m proud to say, on the topic of Prince Hal’s SOLILOQUY no less [how’s that for foreshadowing]).  Hmmm.  I start to have an inkling of what’s going on, mostly because of Mom’s not-so-subtle Cheshire grin behind the rolling camera, but also from her card that she made me read out loud that talked about a “labor of love” and a surprise to equal the Paul McCartney tickets I gave her for Mother’s Day a year ago.  Mom was saying something as I start to open the third package but I don’t really remember what she was saying, as I was then starting to notice details – an Albuquerque return address on the box and an unfamiliar name of “C. Castillo.”  Castillo, I thought, what?  I had a sudden fear that it was someone related to Mrs. Sanchez that was sending me a memento in her memory, meaning the worst had happened.

I opened the card first that came with the third package.  “Read it out loud!” my mom directed.  I refused, asking for a little privacy.  I don’t think I could have read it out loud anyway; I was already on the verge of some pretty severe emotion (for me anyway) – because I had seen the name at the bottom of the before I saw anything else:

Clara.

It was her!  Little did I know that over the past year, someone else had also started looking for Mrs. Sanchez.  A very sneaky someone who goes by the name of Mom.  Yup, my mom had begun her own search when she learned that I couldn’t find Mrs. Sanchez.  My mom, who has a pretty hard time keeping a secret, kept a pretty monumental secret for many months as she did the impossible (ok, not impossible, just very difficult) and FOUND Mrs. Sanchez!  Except she’s been Clara Castillo for a while now, which is probably why I couldn’t ever find her.  A new name for a newfound old friend, it fits!

The card was written with love, and I read it several times before then opening the package that came with it.  Now let me say that I am not easily overwhelmed; I’m not overtly sentimental, I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person, and I don’t really show a lot of emotion.  I wish sometimes that I were more openly emotional, but I’ve just learned over many years that that is not who I am, and I’ve come to accept it for better or worse; maybe it stems from being so shy as a young girl, I’m not sure, but it’s just the way it is.  But what was in that box floored me emotionally and is one of the most meaningful, touching true gifts I’ve ever received (and yes I cried).

I opened the box and unwrapped Clara’s teaching copy of her Complete Works of Shakespeare.  A 34-year old treasure that she used during her entire teaching career in multiple schools and for affecting untold numbers of young lives.  It’s taped heavily to hold the well-worn bindings together, which I love, and page after page is filled with her handwritten teaching notes, research findings, and personal observations; for example, on the first page of Twelfth Night and the Duke’s famous “If music be the food of love” speech, she wrote “Violets = emblematic of: faithfulness” – a floriography note in a Shakespeare text, it’s a true melding of my worlds.

My new (old) favorite book

My new (old) favorite book

TwelfthNight

A wealth of info for Twelfth Night

And most meaningful:  on the title page of the book, a handwritten letter to me from my mentor, titled “Shakespeare: The Mirror Up to Nature” (from the mastery lines of Hamlet), recounting our meeting twenty-six years ago and bequeathing this marvel to me with love and affection. 

I know that I’ll use this as my main Shakespeare source for the rest of my life, and plan to spend the time it deserves to go through each play and sonnet again – only this time with the words of my teacher literally in my hands and mind, and perhaps daring to add my own notes here and there as I continue to learn.  It’s worth more to me than if I’d been given an actual First Folio, and I will keep it and guard it forever.  Thank you Clara.  You were the best teacher I ever had, and I value you.  I look forward to our in-person reunion this year!

I was apparently the only person in my family (and in central Texas) who had no idea what my mom was planning (she told a few people).  She didn’t give up on the search for Clara and when she finally did make contact (through an administrative assistant at third Albuquerque high school), she and Clara plotted this Christmas surprise for quite a while.  Thank you Mom.  I think you topped Sir Paul with this one.  What a special memory and friendship you’ve given back to me, and that’s beyond any value.

In closing, I’d like to encourage all of you reading this, if possible, to reach out to a former teacher.  If they inspired you, if they took extra time to help you, if they made you feel special and capable – let them know.  I could never be a teacher – I don’t have the patience or the guts or the germ-resistant immune system, quite frankly.  But those that do have those qualities can have a lifelong influence, as you’ve read here, and they deserve to know what an impact they had on your life.  Thank you to all the teachers out there that have made a difference!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Steady As She Went

Leave a comment

 “Quiet yourselves, I pray, and be at peace.” ~William Shakespeare (I Henry VI, IV, i)

I was just re-reading a few of my posts from this past year.  I didn’t write as many of them as I’d hoped, as I originally set out to make this a weekly blog.  But some weeks there just didn’t seem to be anything of import to write about, and I felt better once I lifted the expectation off of myself and just wrote instead when I felt like it (I also am happy to report I finally replaced my ID bracelet tag that used to read “Practice Makes Perfect,” so that expectation is now not always staring me in the face either).  Re-reading my posts from a year ago also reinforced the sensation of time passing at warp-speed – who was it that said the older you get, the faster time passes? 

Looking back on 2014, it was mostly a “steady-as-she-goes” year, I’d say.  The high point would definitely have to be my trip back to England during the summer – a solo sojourn around ancestral lands and a Yorkshire depart that gave me memories to last a lifetime.  The low points have been several months worth of annoying and nagging illness that I’ve already written about, so I won’t rehash it here, but feeling not-great for six months out of the year (or more) is not something I hope to repeat. 

A return to the mother land in 2014.

A return to the mother land in 2014.

The biggest change of 2014 for me was the self-imposed drastically revised diet that I’ve undertaken in order to improve my health; I’m still trying to get used to it and after three months, it’s still pretty difficult.  I used to love food and looked forward to a satisfying breakfast or a fun weekend treat…but now eating just seems more of a necessary chore, with not much joy in it at all unfortunately.  My revised regime is low-acid, low-fat, no-caffeine, no-tannins; this means very little tasty is left.  Not allowed is anything containing citrus or citric acid; tomato base of any kind; onions or garlic; carbonated drinks; cheese; chocolate; 99% of teas; anything with a cream base; the list goes on.  I’ve even had to give up most fruits except for melons and pears, and no juices are allowed.  I haven’t had one bite of pizza or chocolate or cheese, Mexican or Italian food, ice cream, queso, anything spicy, etc, for over 3 months now.  Office potlucks and family dinners have become uncomfortable and depressing.  Going out to eat is near impossible – so much is cooked with something that I can’t have. 

The good news is that these diet changes, along with my medication and lifestyle changes, are making a difference I believe – slowly but surely I have been feeling better, in terms of the symptoms I’d been having when all of this started in August.  It also helped that President Obama was recently diagnosed with the same issue I’ve been having (silent/airway reflux, or LPR in medical terms = laryngopharyngeal reflux); it made it more real somehow, that it wasn’t just a made-up thing I’d invented for myself. 

Getting back to the year in review – I think what was really most comforting about this year was the fact that despite some health issues and my ever-increasing debt burden, things stayed pretty steady for me this year.  I didn’t have to quit a job, or go through the stress of looking for a new one.  I like where I work at my part-time job, the people there are nice and I feel confident in my abilities.  It only pays about half the bills but it’s so nice to have an enjoyable job for a change.  Things on the flower front with my business have been pretty slow this year, but I’m not letting that stress me out too much yet.  I’ve had a few flower jobs here and there and I hope to grow the business in 2015 even further.

To that end, I branched out just a little from the actual floral design part of the business to start offering a side item:  floral art note cards.  I enjoy taking pictures of flowers, both ones that I work with when I design but also floral nature scenes or garden scenery seen on my travels.  I like editing my pictures with photo software to make them really pop, and wanted to share them with others in some fashion – so I decided note cards might be a good way to do that.  I started an online handmade craft shop through Etsy, where a LOT of other people also showcase and sell their handmade wares, it’s a great site.  If you’re so inclined, please pop over to have a look at my card designs, I’d be very grateful:  www.Etsy.com/shop/MuchAdoAboutFlowers.

(Here are a few examples of some of my designs:)

iris

“Blue and Blue” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

hydrangea

“Shades of Hydrangea” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

"Pink Hydrangea" Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

“Pink Hydrangea” Note Cards, image © Much Ado About Flowers

I’m grateful that 2014 was also relatively calm and steady for most of my family members, although there were some bitter personal disappointments and some extended family health concerns that are still being dealt with.  The nephews are growing up so fast – with each new week they have gone through another change or struggle or triumph, and it’s interesting to watch.  I think 2015 may be a much choppier year in terms of waves of change for all of us in my little family circle, and I hope we’re able to handle it without too much stress.

And now I’m off to a quiet, and I hope peaceful, holiday here at home.  No travels for me this year (don’t want to add to that debt).  If you’re traveling I hope you have a safe journey, and thanks for continuing to follow me along in my UNunhappy meandering over the past year.  Wherever you are during this holiday season, I hope you also can find a little quite and peaceful time for yourself as well.   

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

LLTMN #5: Courage

Leave a comment

“You are gentlemen of brave metal; you would lift the moon out of her sphere, if she would continue in it five weeks without changing.” ~William Shakespeare (The Tempest, II, i)

[This post is the fifth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

Hi boys!  I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last LLTMN post, time flies!  Anyway, today I want to talk to you about the concept of courage.  About what it means to face your fears and be brave even when you might be really scared or not sure about something.  Right now when you’re still really young, I suppose it’s pretty easy to be brave about a lot of things…the concept of consequences isn’t quite as daunting as it is when you start getting older.  Bravery and courage are masked by the badges of innocence and naivety when we’re young and for a while, it’s exhilarating.  

But as you start to get older, courage will probably start to become more complicated.  Grown-up feelings like doubt, worry and fear start to crowd out the room for courage sometimes.  And yet it’s those times when we feel worried and scared and doubtful that we most need to be courageous.  It’s not easy to be brave!

Luckily you have many examples of other courageous people in your life to follow.  Here’s one: just two weeks ago, your Dad (my brother) did a very brave and courageous thing that most people will never do – he ran for public office to try to make our city a better place.  For many months prior to election day, he bravely knocked on the doors of thousands of strangers and put himself out there in the public eye during untold numbers of candidate forums, interviews, and debates.  He had the courage to express his opinion on all different kinds of issues, knowing full well that many people might not agree with him.  This is not easy!

He did the best he could and worked really hard, but as you know he didn’t win the race.  We were proud of him but of course he was very disappointed; it’s really tough when you muster up all your courage and hopes into something and that something doesn’t happen.  And then it takes even more courage to pick up the pieces and keep going, which might be the most important part of the entire experience.  Let your courage carry you through a sad or bad situation; it will seem awful at the time, but how you react and what you do to get through it will help shape you for the future.

You have more family examples of courage too.  You have great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents who fought in actual wars – I guess that’s sort of the quintessential kind of courage that we all think of.  They fought in ground trenches and airplanes and traveled across oceans to be part of an effort to keep our country and the world safe and stable.  Their bravery took them away from their homes and their families and they didn’t know if they’d ever get to come back.

Sometimes the courage is a more quiet kind, but the battles are just as important; the courage to fight a serious disease (or help someone else who is), or move to a new city to start a new life, or just to try something new that will make you a happier person.  Even just being your own person takes courage – raising your hand in class when you know the answer (even though other kids may not think that’s cool), or standing up for someone who’s being bullied…that takes a LOT of courage.  Along the way, be sure to beware of courage’s crazy cousin: blind courage.  Blind courage is pretty much leaping before you look – it feels like courage but without the forethought of where you’ll be once you land…if you land.  Real courage has a behind-the-scenes parachute that comes with it – a feeling that you’re doing the right thing, whatever that may be.

Courage also comes in all different forms and shapes and time frames.  Sometimes you might have to muster up your courage for a very long time if you’re going through something really tough that lasts for what seems like forever; other times, you might only need it for a few minutes to just get through a particular fleeting moment.  How much courage you actually have inside you can be surprising…just when you think you might be out of courage, more appears as if by magic. 

Courage often seems to be a kind of magic, come to think of it.  It’s a very powerful thing, courage; sometimes people think that courage itself needs something extra, and so they do things that they believe will “help their courage along.”  But you yourself – the person you are and the strength inside you – is the most important determination of your courage factor.  And it’s also ok to be scared – everyone gets scared of something at some time.  There’s no shame in that – even for boys and men!  But when you feel like you’re too scared to do something that is really important – well, then that’s when you dig deep into that “suitcase of courage” to get you to the finish line (or just through the day!).

Twainquote

And if you ever need help with finding that courage, or just a shoulder to lean on while you’re looking for it, then know that I’ll be here for you during those times. 

Always.

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

Final Reflections on Tour de England 2014

3 Comments

 “I must to England; you know that?” ~William Shakespeare (Hamlet, III, iv)

If you missed my last several posts, I recapped my recent summer trip to the sceptered isle in a series I called Tour de England 2014.  (You can start with the first one here if you missed them.)  I wanted to take this opportunity to offer some final reflections on my travel experiences and on England itself based on my time and two trips there over the past two years.

My time in England in both 2012 and 2014 was overwhelmingly positive.  For a self-confessed Anglophile, getting to spend over a month of cumulative time there so far has been very fulfilling.  I already have many ideas for future UK trips and now just need to figure out a way to financially afford them!  While I’m mulling that over, here are some of the other positives from my England experiences, in no particular order:

  • Tea, of course – and the scones that go with it; I’ve tried to make my own scones but can’t even come close to actual English ones (I’ll keep trying).  I guess tea time is more of what I enjoy – that the Brits still take time out in the afternoon (and mid-morning, and any other time they can find) to slow down and “take tea;” it’s a welcome break from whatever is going on in the middle of the afternoon and it just seems so…civilized I guess.  The buttery pastries with cream and jam are literally the icing on the top.
Taking tea in Bath

Taking tea in Bath

  • British B&Bs that give discounts beyond the normal advertised rates to solo women travelers – very much appreciated! 
  • I really liked the grocery stores in the towns I visited – specifically, their ready-to-eat meal options such as sandwiches, pre-packed salads, etc.  They’re affordable and a much easier option than a sit-down restaurant, especially for dinner when things get pretty pricey.  And they offer “meal deals” for those pre-packed options, so if for example you get a sandwich, side of pasta and a drink, the prices go down even more.  AND they always had vegetarian and vegan options, I became especially fond of Waitrose’s cheese & pickle relish sandwich.
  • TRAINS!  I love the fact that I can really go anywhere I want in the entire country without a car, although it does limit smaller side trips to more remote areas where the train doesn’t reach.  If you get your tickets far enough in advance you can get some good prices, and so far at least in my experience, the trains are almost always on time.  For someone obsessed with punctuality, I can really appreciate that.
  • On the not-having-a-car front, I really enjoyed the fact that once the train (or tube, in London) did drop me off somewhere, that meant I had to walk everywhere for the duration of my stay.  I guess I could’ve taken a taxi sometimes, but I didn’t mind the walking, and it was great exercise.  It was not uncommon at all for me to walk 5 miles or more in a day, just walking around town and seeing the sights.
  • This trip, I returned to both Stratford-upon-Avon and London, places I’d visited on my last trip.  Some people would spend their valuable vacation time in new and unfound places, but I actually really enjoyed the aspect of comfort that I felt when I stepped foot back onto familiar territory.  This was the reason I saved these two stops for my last week in England; after two weeks of visiting new and unfamiliar places, I needed somewhere that felt a little more like home to balance out the trip.
  • Other than London, the weather was perfect for my trip – and I loved that I sometimes needed to wear a jacket and scarf IN JULY.  (Those of you who can’t understand this, spend just one indescribably sweltering hot day in Austin in the summer and you’ll get it.)  Being able to just open a window and enjoy the cool breeze with NO BUGS (another unheard of aspect in Austin) was wonderful.
  • The no-bugs aspect was a big one for me – it meant I could spend all that time walking outside at any time of the day or night without the constant mosquitoes that plague me mercilessly in Austin.  If mosquitoes do exist in England I never saw, heard or felt them.  It was bliss.
  • The historical significance of, well, practically everything in England.  The British are so good at having the foresight to save, preserve, and protect things for generations to come.  The church in Thursley where my family ancestors are buried dates from SAXON times, and it plods on in stubborn but imposing fashion.  It’s comforting, knowing that what’s been there for hundreds of years (or longer) will still be there the next time I visit.  It’s such a stark contrast to what we have in many parts of America, and my own little strip-mall-laden suburb of Austin where I live feels depressingly and completely devoid of culture and historical reference in comparison.
  • The Shakespeare tube map – a brilliant spin-off the traditional tube map but everything is named after the Bard’s plays and characters.  I first saw this on a tea-tray at one of my B&Bs, and then read more about its invention (by the RSC) at the V&A Museum exhibit in London.  Especially loved the little fork and spoon icon for the Titus Andronicus station…(things get a bit messy in that play)…
Shakespeare Tub Map

Shakespeare Tub Map

Fork & Spoon at the Titus stop

Fork & Spoon at the Titus stop

A windsock for Prospero's station

A windsock for Prospero’s station

  • Sticky toffee pudding.  Why don’t we have this in America??  (Or if we do it’s probably better I don’t know about it.)
  • Swans.  I know they have a reputation for being mean but there’s nothing quite so serene as sitting on the river bank feeding a group of graceful swans.  Just seeing them cut through the water in their stylish fashion is a calming influence.
The world's best sticky toffee pudding.

The world’s best sticky toffee pudding.

The Swans of the Avon

The Swans of the Avon

I wrote about many other positives in the past few posts, including the surprise of sitting in Sir Patrick Stewart’s seat at the Royal Shakespeare Company, getting to explore the land of my original ancestors, and all the new places I visited such as beautiful Bath and medieval York.  And of course there was the thrill of being there for the kickoff of the Tour de France in Yorkshire, including seeing veteran cyclist Jens Voigt in his last ever Tour and being on the very front line for the Grand Départ.  And it was in Leeds that I saw a restored French Citroen HY Van being used as a food truck, which gave me an idea for my own business that I’m pursuing as we speak, so hopefully that turns into another positive development as well.

Seen in Leeds: I NEED one of these Citroen HY Vans for my flower truck! If you know where I can get one, please let me know, thanks!

Seen in Leeds: I NEED one of these Citroen HY Vans for my flower truck! If you know where I can get one, please let me know, thanks!

My England glasses aren’t completely rose-colored…while I do love the country, there were definitely some negatives that put a damper on things from time to time:

  • By far, bar none, no contest, the worst thing about my time in England was the overwhelming number of SMOKERS.  You’d think it would only be a problem in London or the bigger cities, but no, the puffers are everywhere.  You can hardly walk down a street without having to waft through a cloud of choking smoke, it’s very discouraging.  And hold your breath as you come out of the tube stations or the airport or any restaurant, it’s the worst at those places.  It’s such a shame that this beautiful country is marred by such an ugly habit on the part of so many people.
  • No air conditioning – now I realize that this is a typical American complaint and that the temperate climate means England doesn’t need A/C most of the time…but on those really hot days during the middle of the summer, it seems like it would make for even happier guests if lodging accommodations would invest in some small room A/C units.  Or at least ceiling fans.  I got by without it most of the time without too much discomfort, but I wouldn’t have said no to it either.  And there’s nowhere in the entire country that A/C is needed more than the tube/underground in London.  How in the world have they gone this long with un-air-conditioned tube cars??
  • It bugged me that there was a fee for entry into the beautiful riverside park & gardens in Bath, and that the gates closed pretty early in the evening.  Parks should have free public access in my opinion, open for the enjoyment of all, not just those few that can afford a hefty entry fee.
  • I’m seriously not sure I can ever eat goat cheese again after my horrible GI episode in York induced by a bad batch of the stuff…
  • I purposefully arrived in many of my destinations without much of a plan this time, other than where I was going to stay and for how long.  Two years ago I’d planned every detail of my trip down to the minute, but this time I wanted to be more spontaneous.  What I learned about myself is that I need a mix of those two styles to balance out my stress and comfort levels.  There were times I was just aimlessly wandering about with no early idea of what to do or where to go next, and instead of being relaxing it just frustrated me because I felt like I was wasting valuable vacation time.  I’m really good at planning and details and research, so I need to realize that this is not a bad thing and let that drive my experience next time.
  • On many occasions I was met with very positive reactions on the fact that I was a solo female traveler.  People in general were always very nice and welcoming to me wherever I went.  But there were definitely a few instances of bias or rudeness against me simply because I was by myself.  I’ve come to expect this sometimes but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.  It usually happened in restaurants, where it’s still apparently a very strange anomaly in England to see a solo diner (I rarely if ever saw anyone else seated/dining alone other than me); waiters would frequently ask me in surprise “No one else is joining you tonight, are you sure?” (as if I didn’t know my own dining plans) or they would place me at a “hidden” table in a corner or behind a pillar, I guess because they thought I wouldn’t want to be seen dining alone.  And on the crowded train into London on my birthday, a woman with a kid asked me to give up my seat (after asking “Is it just you?”) so she and the kid could sit there; I wouldn’t have been so bothered if it had been a baby or small child but the kid was about 8 years old, why couldn’t they have stood for the remaining 30 minute trip, why did I as the single traveler who had purchased a seat have to be the one to give up my place?  I did give them my seat (the kid sat on her lap) but it really bugged me that I was singled out for my solo traveler status.

None of these negatives are enough to deter me from future England explorations, and in a way I actually enjoy getting to know the reality of it all, not just the for-show spins put on for the tourists.  Two years ago during my 2012 trip to Stratford, I met an American woman on the city walking tour that told me she spends a month every summer in England, usually in the same place, but rents a car to go on different explorations each time for day and weekend trips; she too really enjoyed the familiarity and comfort of staying in the same place each year.  The way she described it sounded like a really enticing idea to me, although I feel there are many other regions of the UK I’d still also like to explore that I haven’t seen yet:  Cornwall, Devon, Oxford, the Lake District, the castles of Wales, even Scotland one day (although we’ll find out next week if they’ll even remain a part of the UK). 

It may surprise you to hear that the best part of my Tour de England 2014 trip actually happened about a week after I got back to the States.  I came down with a cold the day after I returned, so it was a few more days before I could see my family & nephews, which meant it had been about a month since I’d seen them.  I walked into my 3-year old nephew Wyatt’s daycare classroom to pick him up at the end of the day but he didn’t know I was going to be there – when he turned around and saw I was there, the surprise registered on his little face and he smiled and shouted “Ant Kristi!!!” and ran to wrap his little arms around my neck.  A few minutes later we picked up my other two nephews from YMCA camp, also surprising them with my return.  I waved through the window at 8-year old Truman as he stood waiting by the side of the road and his face lit up – he ran around the car to get into the backseat, threw his backpack on the floor, and then floored me with my own surprise as he reached up into the front seat to give me the biggest, tightest, longest hug he’s ever given me.  My heart and my eyes were flooded that day as I realized I was loved and missed – pretty much the best thing in the world…even trumping tea and scones.

photo

Thanks for reading all about my England adventures and humoring me in my Anglophile ramblings.  On to new topics again soon!

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

LLTMN#4: It’s OK If You’re Not Perfect

3 Comments

“But no perfection is so absolute, that some impurity doth not pollute.” ~William Shakespeare

[This post is the fourth installment in the series I call “Life Letters to My Nephews,” or LLTMN.]

My first and oldest nephew Hudson turned 10 last week – Happy Birthday Hudson!  Already.  Unbelievably.  I literally can’t fathom that an entire decade passed in the blink of an eye since I anxiously waited by the phone for news that you’d made your way into the world.  I didn’t get to see you until you in person until you were three months old, at which point you had this spiky charcoal hair and the cutest little furrowed-brow face when you would concentrate on something – you still do that, and it’s one of my favorite things about you.

babyH3 months cropped

I didn’t move to Austin until you were five and half years old, so I regrettably missed out on so much time during your “younger” years.  But since I have been here, I’ve really enjoyed going to all of your sports matches, spending holidays with you, watching movies with you during sleepovers at my house, and taking you on our yearly Ant Kristi/Hudson birthday shopping trips!  (I really look forward to all of my aunt/nephew birthday shopping trips each year, time with just me and that nephew on a special outing.)

blue butterfly bike

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it was like for me to be 10 years old.  And now that you’re into the double digits Hudson, I wanted to share a little life lesson with you that started way back when I was the same age you are now.  You see, it was around age 10 when I decided that I was going to be PERFECT.  Perfect at everything I did, all the time, no matter what it was:  getting perfect grades in school, being the perfect daughter, performing perfectly in dance class, even having perfect friends.  You name it, and my self-proclaimed job as a kid (and later as an adult) was to be as perfect at it as possible.

Which of course is ridiculous, because no one is perfect at anything much less everything, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time.  I wasn’t super-smart, but I knocked myself out for the next 15 years to strive for that 4.0 level of perfection in school; it took me a while, and I didn’t quite get there in middle or high school, but by the end of my academic pursuits, I was valedictorian of my Masters degree class, with the 4.0 to go along with it.  I’d finally made it to the top.  Which, by the way, did exactly nothing for my professional or personal life whatsoever (I can now say) in any realm: career, happiness, income, satisfaction.  That “top” was just a temporary stop on my never-ending pursuit of perfection.  And you know what happens after you reach the top don’t you…you can’t stay there forever, and eventually you start rolling downhill.

Don’t get me wrong, school is extremely important and you should do the best you can – but not at the sacrifice of all the other good things life has to offer along the way, and not to the point where you beat yourself up about it.  I remember being so mad at myself for getting a few “B’s” in high school, and the one and only “C” I got in college shocked and dismayed me.  It was in Genetics by the way, one of the most difficult classes taught by the reputed toughest professor at my university – I should have been thrilled that I passed the class when many didn’t, but instead, I felt sub par, below average – when technically a “C” means average, ok, satisfactory.  But I’d convinced myself that average – in any arena – was the same thing as failure, which of course isn’t true.  And average sure wasn’t perfect (in my eyes), and if I wasn’t achieving perfection, then I was failing.  It’s a dangerous roundabout, the pursuit of perfection, and very difficult to get out of once you’re in it…

I’m ashamed to admit I even quit being friends with some people because they weren’t perfect enough or they did things that I thought would affect my perfect life.  That’s sad.  I caused myself a LOT of stress over the years trying to make everything perfect around me, even if I didn’t have any control over a lot of it – sounds crazy right?  Things that I tried so hard to make perfect – weddings, marriages, jobs, friendships, my health – all ended up in shambles (and made me feel even more crazy).  Mostly because I couldn’t just let go and accept imperfection as a reality.

mmimperfectquote

You see, trying to be perfect all the time is a kind of self-torture, and I don’t want you (or any of my nephews) to have to go through that!  When you try to be perfect at something and you’re not, you start to feel bad because you didn’t reach the impossibly high standards you’ve set for yourself (or that others have set for you).  You begin to be unhappy and frown more than you smile, because you’re always thinking about how you’ve let yourself and others down by not being perfect.  But once you can realize that it’s ok to NOT be perfect all the time – or even ANY of the time – then you can start to really just be YOU!  Imperfect, quirky, beautiful you – good at some things, not so good at other things, but loved and cherished by so many people no matter what.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes better than I’ve been able to.  It’s still a struggle for me to not want to be perfect or to expect perfection in every aspect of my life, but I do know that I’m definitely more UNunhappy and more fulfilled when I just let those expectations go – and I want you to be happy and fulfilled too, no matter what you end up doing with your life. 

Four years ago when I moved to Austin and started cycling, I bought myself a Road ID bracelet that I know you’ve seen me wear every day.  The last sentence on the ID tag is reserved for a “personal motto” expression – and when I ordered mine, of course I picked the phrase I’d said over and over in my head my entire life:  PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT.

RoadIDPMP

I think it’s finally time to get a new tag, with a new personal motto…maybe “Pobody’s Nerfect?” I really like that one.

And just remember:imperfectAlways!

Love,

Ant Kristi

ant-with-flower

 

 

 

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: