Monthly Archives: June 2011

He’s a Magic Man

I have discussed my daughter on several occasions, the good and the bad. But my son has been merely a figure of passing. And so, in honor of his first birthday Friday, I would like to share a few details about my baby boy Alexander, aka Little Man, Mini Man, Pooh Bear, Sweet Boy, and the most fitting, Magic Man.

People who know Alex will not need an explanation when I say that perhaps the best place for his birthday party is Hooters. For those who think that is disgusting, let me explain. Even at just a year old, Alex’s loves are strong and clear: women, food, boobs, Winnie the Pooh, Micky Mouse, cars, dogs, his sister, food, and women. Emphasis on food and women.

Food–there are days when my husband does not see Alex without some sort of food. He has been known to growl at people and animals to take their food away. At a year old, he still has no teeth, but he apparently doesn’t need them. Little Man took down some ribs a week ago out of sheer force of will. He can be in a dead sleep, but will somehow magically rouse at the smell of food. He bit our pit bull to get her bone away from her. This is a boy who takes his eating seriously.

Women–what can I say? Sure babies are cute. Sure people are drawn to them. But Alex has some sort of voodoo, coupled with shameless flirting skills that make him ridiculous when it comes to women. As his daddy observed, “He has more game at 11 months than I’ve had my whole life.”

Certainly, Alex is friendly and will smile at people in general. However, he has special moves reserved just for the fairer sex (any age or ethnicity) including:

  • The Brow–Used initially on his nanny, Alex has been known to raise one or both eyebrows to show his appreciation for a lady. His version of “How you doin’?”
  • The Dance–During a recent trip to Disney World he added a little side to side head dance so that he could compete with other babies for attention. It worked. There was a line of French waitresses in Epcot who seemed to have business right next to our table for two hours, specifically in the area of Alex’s high chair.
  • The Clap–You clap for Alex, Alex will clap for you.
  • The Kicks–It’s as if he’s saying, “I’m so happy to be around you I have to kick to get all the joy out!”
  • The Point–Like a rock star pointing to a girl in the crowd, Alex uses this to show a smiling woman that she could be the one. It’s usually followed by,
  • The Smile–No pearly whites? No problem. With a gummy smile that reaches into his bright blue eyes, Alex says all he needs to say with one look.

His record for picking up women stands at fifteen (a college volleyball team). And I have that security of knowing that should anything happen to me, my husband just has to take Alex to HEB to find someone to take care of them. Every time I leave them alone in that store to go get milk, I come back to find Alex and Staley obscured by women who have gathered around the cart to look at Alex. I know a little girl that cries every time Alex leaves her. His response? He smiles as if to say, “Don’t worry, honey, there’s always more Alex.”

Despite all his game, my little man has one girl he loves more than all the others: his big sister, Lili. He saves the special smiles, hugs, and kisses just for her. There is even a special squeal/laugh combo that is only brought out for “ee-ee” as he calls her. I guess even the Magic Man can be bewitched.

Happy birthday, Magic Man. We’re all under your spell.



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Waiting for Accountability

I am interrupting my travel journals this week to respond to something that is always percolating in my Amber-like brain: the future of education. This week I watched the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman. Without going into too much synopsis, the film basically looks at the failings of American public schools. Although it is not the only reason given, one of the chief aspects considered is the accountability of teachers. It’s a wonderful cliche to call teachers heroes and say they should be celebrated and paid more. I call it a cliche because, like all cliches, it has truth to it. A good teacher is a hero.

But what about the bad ones? The ones collecting paychecks? The ones who are more concerned with being liked than actually teaching? The ones who don’t actually know much about what they are actually teaching?

I think the later of that list bothers me the most. I am taking an online grad class this summer full of high school teachers, all with more teaching experience than I have. And they don’t know the fundamentals of the subject they are supposedly teaching, causing my professor to remediate in a graduate class. What bothers me more than the lack of knowledge is that these people, rather than trying to think about things critically, parrot the textbook, rely on only their areas comfort (the four books they teach each year), or refuse to investigate possible alternatives. No wonder the students at the college level don’t know how to think!

I am deeply flawed as a teacher, but I believe I have a saving grace. I am willing to learn, to admit when I’m wrong, to acknowledge that in order to be a good teacher, I must also be a student. I must be accountable–yes, my job is hard, but that does not mean I should get a pass. To quote Arthur Miller, “Attention must be paid.” For what are teachers but models? Poor thinking skills beget poor thinking skills. The cycle is vicious.

For those of you who teach or have school aged children, I highly recommend Waiting for Superman. They also have a website, that tells you how you can get involved.



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Travels: Guernica

The following selection is from the journal I kept during the summer of 2000 while I was studying in Madrid. I apologize if it seems pretentious–New York spoiled me.

Kate and I went with Brian and Kacey to the Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofia today. I had never heard of it, which in not surprise as so much of Spain I am not prepared for. Kate told me it was the MOMA of Madrid. I don’t know that she really cared about seeing the art so much as spending time with Kacey and Brian. The outside of the building was nothing worth noting. In fact it seemed blase in contrast with the Prado. Perhaps Paris has spoiled me with its museums themselves serving as works of art.

Much of the museum is white walls with standard paintings. What a brat of art the Met has made me. It’s all something I feel I have seen and studies before under better tutelage than Kate’s shaky plaque translations. Everything seemed so expected.

But what I did not expect was to be so moved by an artist whose work, until now, has seemed nothing more than a gift shop lithograph to me.

In the middle of the Reina Sofia is hung Picasso’s Guenica. I cannot pretend I am so clueless that I have not heard of it before now, but no textbook description could have prepared me for it.

It dominates the space.

Once I entered the room in which it resides, I saw nothing else. Surely there must be other works. I don’t remember them. I only remember every inch of my vision dominated by black, white, and gray.

Perhaps I could describe the painting if I were smarter, more articulate. Sadly, I am not. Anything I might say would cheapen it. That people dare to write of it in textbooks undermines it for no words can possibly capture what Picasso’s brush managed. I finally understand why words can never replace art and vice versa. What I can say is that my dreams tonight will probably be dominated by a bull and wailing mother, her lifeless child cradled limply in her arms.

Rather than try to explain what I saw, perhaps I would be better served to describe what I felt. At first, I was terrified by the mere size of it. Like the figures, the horse, the bull, the mother, the child, I found myself twisted. One dimensional and yet raw with life. I was devastated and inspired and moved. And sad. Deeply sad. I found I was holding my breath.

I felt a tear on my cheek and wiped it away in shame as I ran for the patio, claiming I needed a cigarette.  As I smoked, I turned my face to the scorching sun, letting it dissolve my tears.

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Travels: The Great Wall of China

The following excerpt is from my travel journal for the trip I took with my grandfather, mother, and then 9-month old daughter Liliana in June/July of 2007. This took place after three days of delays and sleeping in airports. It represents our first real encounter with China. Enjoy!

After breakfast, we met up with our group for the first time. There were sixteen of us total, although our group contained the youngest and the oldest members. David, our tour guide, was nice and filled us in on all the information we missed on the first day of the tour. I was sad because we missed the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square. After seeing The Last Emperor, I really wanted to see it for myself, to get the feeling of the size of the place. It just means Staley and I will have to come back someday.

With everyone assembled, we climbed on the bus and were on our way to the Great Wall. The bus was lush. Such a far cry from the buses I traveled all over Texas in during high school. Liliana loved being free to look out the window and play on my lap. Getting her back into a car seat when we get home is going to be a nightmare. I felt a little ashamed because we are fitting the stereotype of the spoiled Americans–we want to see the culture from behind glass, not actually be a part of it. But with Lili and Grandpa, I just think this is the safest way.

Bejing reminds me of Western big cities I’ve visited. Crowded, bustling, but yet a world away. As we went along, David pointed out various things about Beijing, such as the immense amount of construction going on not just there, but all over China. They call the crane the national bird of China because of it. Mom noticed that the scaffolding that covers so many of the buildings is made of bamboo. I love that idea. We drove by the site for the Olympics next summer—it was cool to see where everything is taking place. There’s the Bird’s Nest which is a great tangle of metal for the track and field events. They call the building with for the swimming events the Water Cube, which I can kind of see, although it looks more like a blue sponge to me.

On the 45-minute drive to Badaling (the most popular part of the Great Wall) David filled us in on some things about China like their lack of respect for personal space and how to avoid counterfeiters, a huge problem in China. The thing about personal space worries me a bit because I have issues with Americans and their lack of personal space and we are notoriously distant.

Once we arrived at the Wall, everyone stretched their legs and then we all got our picture taken as a group in front of the Wall. Then the group went to plant trees alongside the Wall. I remember reading about this experience in the brochure. Theoretically, it does sound really cool to contribute something that will remain for years to come at this ancient place. But in reality, it’s digging a big hole. It was also a ton of stairs down and back, so Mom and Grandpa stayed behind to go to the bathroom. While everyone else in the group was planting trees, I took a moment to really take in the Wall.

The base area we were at (like I would discover most of China) was covered in stands selling T-shirts, fans, jewelry—pretty much any Chinese knick-knack you can think of. And the people were very aggressive when trying to sell their wares.

My thoughts on the Great Wall are pretty much based on the Circle Vision in China at Epcot where they show it winding through the mountains. That doesn’t even begin to prepare you for how incredible it is. It twists and turns and doubles back on itself so much that you can hardly follow where the line of it goes by looking at it. There is this feeling of standing on the edge of eternity as this ancient structure snakes through the mist.

After everyone planted the trees, we were given and hour and a half free time. From where we were, there were two options for going on the Wall, a somewhat flat way and a really steep way that was mainly stairs. I found my family already starting up the hard way, so up we went. I have to say, it was a crazy climb. The steps are incredibly steep and uneven. Some of the steps are so high that they came up past our knees. It was also really crowded with people of all nationalities. Some areas of have some hand rails, some don’t. Some are wide enough for three people; some are so narrow you can barely fit two.

Up we went, slow and steady, with Grandpa stopping rest every once and a while. I was behind he and Mom at first and then ahead. Liliana was in her Bjorn, looking around at everything. The view was magnificent, although it was very overcast and much of the mountains were swathed in mist.

On our way up we met so many people who were so fascinated by Liliana. Several people from Asia and the Middle East wanted to take her picture or have their picture taken with her. It was so strange to have such a fuss made over a baby.

By the time we made it to the top of the Wall it was raining pretty hard and Lili was screaming. Some very nice Japanese girls insisted that we take their umbrella for the baby after posing for a picture with her. Grandpa rested for a moment and then we started back down. Interestingly enough, the climb back down was much harder on Grandpa. The steps were getting very slippery and his legs started to give out. He rested more and more. John from our tour offered to carry him down, but Gramps wanted to do it himself. So down we went, slower and slower as the rain started to pour down. At some points Grandpa even went down on his butt. John was so impressed when we told him Grandpa was 90, he started announcing it like a herald as we descended. It really was incredible–the climb is really hard and we passed some people, even teenagers who were about to pass out or were even throwing up from the climb.

At one point, Grandpa’s legs gave out and he ended up sitting on Mom’s knee. Some very nice Japanese people stopped to wait with us, trying to find a way to help. One girl ran and bought Grandpa a rain poncho to keep him dry. By this time we were ten minutes late for the bus. John went ahead to tell them what was happening and came back with two teenage twin boys that were also on our tour to carry Grandpa the rest of the way. He refused to be carried, but they each flanked him just in case as he came the rest of the way down, John beaming and yelling, “Ninety years old and he climbed the Wall!” the whole way. When we reached the bottom, people broke into applause.

They gave us a picture to remember the day with a quote from Chairman Mao on it. Although I’m not a fan of communist propaganda, the saying really applied to Grandpa:

“He who has not been to the Great Wall is not a True Man.”

Gramps is most definitely a True Man and his climb up the Great Wall proved just how true that is.

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Writing Away

Summer is officially upon us which for many means vacation time. I have been fortunate enough to have had travel as a continued opportunity in my life. My first international trip was to Greece when I was 9-months old; the most recent to China in 2007. In college I was able to participate in study abroad in England and Spain. One thing that all this travel has instilled in me is a love travel journals. I always keep a travel journal, even on domestic trips, because I like to capture those moments in ink and paper.

Even if you are not a  natural writer, travel journals are a way to remember beyond photographs what the experience felt, smelled, and tasted like. For those interested in starting to journal your travels, I highly recommend Writing Away by Livinia Spalding. It is an inspirational text that works as a wonderful guide for finding your voice. In the coming weeks I will be posting excerpts from my own travel journals.

If you find yourself taking a stay-cation and want to explore the world through other writers’ experiences, I can recommend the following travel literature (both fiction and non-fiction):

The Odyssey Homer

Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift

Thomas Jefferson Travels Thomas Jefferson

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland Samuel Johnston

Empire of the Czar Marquis de Custine

Roughing It Mark Twain

Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes Robert Louis Stevenson

Bitter Lemons Lawrence Durrell

Travels Michael Crichton

Under the Tuscan Sun Frances Mayes

The Motorcycle Diaries Che Guevara

Slow Boat to China Gavin Young

On the Road Jack Kerouac

Happy reading!



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