Tag Archives: Northern California

The Residency Will Change You

Thinking about becoming a teacher? Aspire’s teacher residency program operates throughout California, (Los Angeles, Oakland, East Palo Alto, Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno), and Memphis. Alumni include recent college grads and career changers of all ages. It will transform your life!

Aspire Teacher Residency

Olivia pregnant, 2.13.14

In preparation for maternity leave I am typing pages and pages of notes. A daily skeleton, lesson plan tips, behavior and learning modifications, incentive and consequence systems, instructional guidelines. I am on page 15 and I am not done. Explaining to someone how you do your job really puts things in perspective. Teachers do a thousand things every day. Teachers at Aspire probably do two thousand, or at least it feels like it.

This whole process has reminded me of how lucky I was to be a resident teacher. I cannot imagine what summer training and those first months on my own would have felt like without watching and practicing for an entire year. So many of my tricks I got from my mentor, or at least borrowed until I came up with tricks of my own. Walking away, even if just for part of a year, is more challenging…

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The Girl on the Corner

Years ago, I would watch the same homeless man from my third floor window in Berkeley each evening as he approached people on the street with his book of poetry. Some would stop and look, others would keep walking without so much as acknowledging his hello. His mannerisms fascinated me, his bright purple cap and smile always ready and waiting for the next passerby. I was the voyeur, the girl upstairs with the notepad full of observations.

In the beginning of my tenure as a Berkeley resident, I had a hard time not stopping for people on the street. I knew to be careful, but they were people. Often I planned my routes to work and the grocery store as to avoid certain homeless characters, including my friend with the purple hat. It was too painful to look him in the eyes and tell him I had nothing to give, when really I had quite a bit for a twenty-four year-old.

My compromise was always food. If I had any, I would offer. I will never forget the look of gratitude from the man with the purple hat when I handed him a bundle of ripe bananas from my tote after my weekly visit to Andronico’s Market. I lugged the rest of my groceries straight home and wrote an email to my friends and family to share my story, eager to express myself in writing before I ever had a blog.

However, not all the stories were pleasant, and over the years I collected many that taught me to keep a safe distance. Berkeley is full of mentally-ill homeless people, the remnants of a failed health system and a closed center to help them. I learned where not to look or step in the mornings as to avoid human waste. I watched in disappointment as an elderly man whose bike I had watched with my husband, whose story I had patiently listened to, who even ate dinner one cold night at McDonald’s alongside my husband, scream at us in the street that we were racists for not stopping to give him money.

Of course, there were many others who said terrible things, but that old man was the saddest. We had helped him many times, but he had no memory of it. Others cursed our souls, accused me of anorexia, threatened to stab us in coffee shops. Maybe the worst remark was the strange man who stopped in the middle of a busy walkway and told me he was a serial killer with the kind of laugh that makes you believe him.

Needless to say, I have had my fair share of experiences with homeless people, enough so that our move back to Sacramento has felt quiet in regards to my interaction with them. Until yesterday. I had seen her before, from a distance, a small feminine figure with a furry hoodie pulled over her head, sitting on the median around the corner from my house, begging. This time, I pulled up right next to her at the light, her body in a ball, her knees tucked to her chest, the early morning cold not worth the effort to stand.

I checked my coin tray but then thought better of it. I reached back and rummaged through my lunch to pull out two bags of trail mix, then rolled down my window.

“Do you want food?” I asked.

She nodded as I extended the bags. Her eyes stopped on my hippie offering. My eyes stopped on her black eye, her taped-together boot. In every other way, she looked like a normal high school kid ready to get on the bus for the day, her tight jeans and colorful sweatshirt trendy, her backpack waiting on the concrete.

“I don’t eat that.” Her expression was hard, reminiscent of many of the tough kids who have passed through my classroom.

“Okay,” I replied, our eyes locked. I rolled up the window.

I wanted to tell her she must not really be hungry. I wanted to feel satisfied I did not offer her any money. Instead I drove away haunted by her black eye and taped-together boot. Even if she was not hungry enough to eat nuts and dried berries, something was seriously wrong. She was not begging for fun. Someone hurt her.

Next time I see her, I will call the authorities and hope some group will at least give her an option different from the one she now chooses, on the median around the corner from my house. It is so easy to detach, to decide we should not help because someone is too rough, too ungrateful, too crazy, too whatever. My first instinct was to detach, too. However, knowing the stories of my kids at school, it is easy to imagine how she might have ended up in that spot, angry and alone.

Sometimes, it matters less how people got themselves somewhere and more what choices they have to change. While I understand reticence in offering money to homeless people, I empathize with the reality that I have no idea what got them there, what it feels like to be at rock bottom, to spend the night cold, on the street, afraid. Absent of drugs, abuse or mental illness, I cannot believe anyone chooses this reality over what “the rest of us” have.

As I lay awake contemplating her fate, homeless or otherwise, I realized she touched something in me that only awakens for my most troubled students, my human rights studies, my desire to write. I think it is time to try my hand at writing something a little grittier, a little less about escape. Something true to my heart and all I have seen in the past few years. Something hard instead of easy. Wish me luck.

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Autumn Ode

Every season deserves a break to stop and watch. Autumn happens to be my favorite. The leaves, the cooler air, the last of summer’s harvest. Up at my mom’s in Mt. Shasta, autumn is alive with color hidden beneath the unchanging pine trees.

Mt Shasta Mt Shasta Autumn From my mother's garden Autumn

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Oh the Difference a Good Camera Makes!

Our friends are launching a photography business and brought their new camera, “Harrison,” along for the weekend. Man, a fantastic camera and shooting/editing skills go such a long way! I’ll be excited to share their photography site when it is up and running. Until then, a few more pictures from our trip because they make everything feel that much more magical.

Ocean Ocean Ocean Ocean

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Where did spring break go?

Spring break ended in a blink. I finished four books, adopted a dog, wrote my last essay to clear my teaching credential, watched two movies (Sessions + Ruby Sparks), went to yoga, submitted two short writing pieces (one was accepted!), and walked by the river. Yesterday, the grand finale, we packed up the dogs and drove to Muir Beach, our favorite hike.

The pet-friendly beach is leash free and the huge hill promises a view down the coast toward San Francisco. I used to look forward to the Pelican Inn as our after hike reward, but now I recommend just the beach. The Pelican is too crowded and the food has lost its magic. Still, Muir Beach was the perfect way to end a week off, even if that week disappeared faster than I’d like.

Odi California Friends

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Saturday Song: The Soundtrack to My Life

Do you ever have a moment where a song plays that fits exactly with the soundtrack to your life?

Last weekend, we piled into the car and drove to Grass Valley and Nevada City, about an hour outside Sacramento. Both towns are charming, Gold Rush era relics, just high enough in the mountains for pine trees to punctuate the skyline, the air to feel a little crisper.

When I was a little girl, we’d visit Nevada City at Christmastime, the decorated storefronts and snowy walkways a world away from Sacramento. Maybe that’s why an afternoon spent walking through the shops and eating with my family feels so familiar, so comforting.

In one store, this song played and I had to know what it was because it fit the mood and moment so perfectly. Nostalgia, love, life.

Ready for our mini road trip

Ready for our mini road trip

Grass Valley, CA

Grass Valley, CA

Pretty sister.

Pretty sister and late winter sunlight.

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Twenty Words: Life.

Life.

Life is a tenuous set of strings,

With scissors lurking.

The questions is–

Will you tie them back together?

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Hippie Weekend Getaway: I Think I Tried Too Hard…

Before I left this weekend, I did my best to put myself in a hippie mindset. I dug out my most hippie apparel (think yoga meets the outdoors), downloaded Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success for my drive, gathered healthy snacks (dried organic mango, anyone?), and made a vow to go make-up free (thanks for the inspiration Twenty-Something Travel).

Turns out I may have been overdoing it a bit. As soon as I was out of my car and had a good look around, I realized the clientele of this little hot springs retreat outside wine country was more diverse than I expected. In fact, pretty sure you could picture anyone in your mind and someone similar was there. Young, old, plump, thin, rich, struggling, tattooed, clean-cut, foreign, hippie, otherwise.

I guess when I heard naked, I thought it would be a specific kind of person. But really, people from all walks of life seemed to be alright with it, minus, of course, me. I was one of maybe four people who opted to remain covered. The others were all women, (interesting, right?), of various ages and backgrounds.

I did feel a little bit like the weirdo for keeping on my suit, but there are some things I’d rather keep a mystery. Likewise, I could have done without seeing everyone else’s mysteries, although I totally got that I was on their territory, so if I didn’t like it, I could leave. Regardless, the whole time I found myself wondering where should I be looking… Do I look people in the eyes and nod hello? Do I avert my gaze whenever I cross someone’s path? Is that old woman really talking to me with her legs wide open like that?

Fortunately, the vibe was definitely not sexual. It was more like visiting a different country with alternative norms than my vision of some hedonistic hippie hang out. Signs even reminded people to honor each other’s personal space. I never once felt intruded upon.

Cameras are not allowed... Probably because of the nudity around the pools. I still snuck this one from my favorite reading spot. Those figures in the distance aren't naked people, they're Buddha statues.

Cameras were not allowed… Probably because of the nudity around the pools. I still snuck this picture from my favorite reading spot. Those figures in the distance aren’t naked people, they’re Buddha statues.

Out of my element or not, it was a good adventure. It kind of reminded me of that family resort on Dirty Dancing, complete with activities, a movie theater, a restaurant, and charming, if not slightly rustic accommodations. There was even a community of people who live and work there full-time, not unlike the movie.

While I did get a little restless without my phone, or laptop, I enjoyed the beautiful grounds, mellow vibe, sound of running water, hiking trails, labyrinth, free yoga three times daily, massage, and sunshine warm enough for sunbathing in January. I even allowed my mom to wake me up at 5:30 in the morning to hit the hot springs in the dark, when the pools are practically empty. As I floated on my back and stared up at the stars through a canopy of evergreen trees, I understood the allure of the place. Pure magic, clothing or not.

Even though I had a relaxing time, I would only return again with someone who really wanted to be there. It was not entirely my thing. I don’t love soaking in water shared with naked strangers, no matter how progressive I like to think I am or how wonderful the yoga offerings were. I prefer the ocean and a little technology, I suppose.

The room decorations were cute, although everything felt a little dark/rustic. You definitely wanted to be outside...

The room decorations were cute, although everything felt a little dark/rustic. You definitely wanted to be outside… As for me, I tried a little too hard to fit in… Next time maybe a pair of jeans and a little make-up won’t ruin anything.

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Weekend Escape: An Adventure in the Making

It’s funny. I wanted to force myself to stay off the computer this week as a break from my book, but I can’t help it. I want to write, so here I am, blogging.

This weekend, however, I’m headed to a place without technology, a hot springs retreat with my mom about twenty miles outside of Wine Country. While I welcome the break, I am also a little nervous. This trip is undoubtedly outside my comfort zone. See, I have a lot of hippie qualities, but I have a lot of mainstream ones too. Growing up with a hippie mom, I was a late adapter. I resisted up until a year or two ago and it has definitely not been a full transition.

What will be outside my comfort zone, you ask? Public nudity, mainly. I’m sure I’ll deal with it, but I have to admit some of the Yelp reviews made me cringe. The hot springs are the only part of the resort where clothing is optional, but somehow poolside naked yoga and couples enjoying each other is not really my spectator sport of choice. Not to mention the weird grunting men. Thanks Yelp for giving me so much to look forward to…

My mom has assured me these scenarios are not common. Admittedly, I was swayed by a free massage, my own room, multiple yoga options per day, and quiet time hiking. The dorm room scenario was almost a deal breaker. More than anything else though, I am looking forward to a nice long weekend in the company of my mom without the distractions of normal life. No tv, no cell phone, no computer…

I am also looking forward to the drive. I will pass through Wine Country and Calistoga, (where I got married), on my own. I have never done this drive alone. The year we got married we drove to Calistoga almost monthly. It is one of my favorite drives in California. Returning on my own feels somehow introspective and meaningful. Maybe I will even stop for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. I have never eaten at a restaurant alone. I do not even know what it would feel like.

Needless to say, this weekend will be an adventure. Despite my apprehension, I’m excited. Yoga, wine country, hot springs, my mom. Worst case scenario I add another hilarious review to Yelp. Best case, I’m one of the staunch defenders of how wonderful it is to get away from it all. Either way, I will see a different slice of life than usual.

Are you good at pushing yourself outside your comfort zone? I’m working on it.

We began our little trip by driving through wine country to Calistoga, one of my favorite drives in all of California.

Excited for one of my favorite drives, even if I’ll be on my own. January is oddly a gorgeous time to visit, little yellow flowers everywhere.

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Vacation Withdrawals

I’m such a baby.  I’m finishing up my second week of work since summer vacation ended and all I can think about is how I can make my weekend feel like vacation again.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m making the absolute best of being back at work and I’m even enjoying parts of it, but I’m still coming home and googling weekend getaways, plotting how I can swing another trip over fall break, daydreaming about escaping today’s 104 degree heat to nosh on free-range fried chicken in Yountville or paddle board on the calm waters of North Lake Tahoe.

I guess that’s one good thing I can say about Sacramento, it’s less than a two hour drive from some pretty incredible places in California.  If you’re a NorCal reader, I would love to hear your favorite weekend getaways.  With the 101 degree weekend forecast, I could really use some inspiration to get myself back out of town.

Now, if only getting to Hawaii was as easy…

I’ve decided life should look like this more often.

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