Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Today's Tidbit - The Christmas Truce

"Peace begins with a smile." (Mother Teresa)

About 10 or 12 years ago, I started writing what I called "Today's Tidbits": little anecdotes and often unknown facts from history that I had learned over time that had always amused me. I wrote a couple hundred of them - usually while I was eating my lunch at school and would then send them to friends and family via email.  I really enjoyed them - but stopped when I ran out of topics. When I began writing my blog, I included a few of them in it, but then stopped because I wanted my blog to include more original writings.

This morning a friend sent me a link to a British produced Christmas ad that is going viral.  It reminded me of one of my most favorite tidbits and stories from history, so I decided to share it. The event happened 100 years ago this December. It is such a good reminder of what we as humanity are all capable of remembering, even in the darkest of moments. And it also reminded me of something else more personal.

Here is the link to the ad. It's well worth watching.

"The Christmas Truce of 1914" TV Ad

And here is the Tidbit I wrote to fill in the history of what actually happened.

As Christmas 1914 approached, World War I had been raging across Europe for 4 months - one million men had already died.  In Northern France and Belgium, British and German troops were deeply dug into hundreds of miles of trenches, separated by a bloody "No Man's Land" which would be a killing ground for the next 4 years.  What amazing event occurred on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 in this "No Man's Land" where so many had already died, and millions more would die in the future?

Answer:  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914 saw one of history's most amazing examples of open chivalry and the generosity of the human spirit in what became known as "The Christmas Truce".  On Christmas Eve 1914, British Headquarters sent the following message to all of its units in France and Flanders:  "It is thought possible that the enemy be contemplating an attack during Xmas or New Year.  Special vigilance will be maintained during these periods.".  But no attack came.  Instead, spontaneous, informal truces broke out all up and down the trench-lines, and German and British soldiers who the previous day had been trying desperately to kill each, now joined to celebrate Christmas.  

In most cases, it appears that the German soldiers were the ones who took the lead in making informal contact with the enemy, calling to the British troops to come out and stop shooting.  The Germans had brought Christmas trees into their trenches and decorated them with candles - in some, Chinese lanterns were hung as decorations.  The "rules" of the truce were negotiated by agreement among local officers.  

Christmas Day saw the most fraternization between the two sides.  Groups of 3-4 men on each side would wander out and meet each other in "No Man's Land".  They would laugh and exchange small gifts (cigars, cigarettes, jars of jam, etc.)  In one exchange, when a group of Royal Welsh Fusiliers refused to come out and meet the Germans, the Germans rolled out a keg of beer toward the British trench and said "Here!  We have plenty!".  In return the Fusiliers lobbed tins of bully beef and jam back at the Germans!  One legend of the "Christmas Truce" is that in one spot along the lines, Germans and Scottish soldiers played a soccer match out in "No Man's Land", just outside of Armentieres.  A German officer in the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment describes such a game, following a gift exchange between the two sides (cigarettes, schnapps, chocolate).  The game was played with great enthusiasm (though not a lot of skill!).  The officer says the Germans howled with laughter when a gust of wind blew the Scots' kilts up - and revealed they weren't wearing any underwear!  According to the officer, the game ended after an hour: the Germans won, 3-2.  

As night fell on Christmas Day, the truces slowly ended and the men returned to their trenches.  Soldiers on both sides sang Christmas carols in the night - sometimes the haunting sound of "Silent Night" could be heard at the same time as "Heilige Nacht" echoed from the other side.  At 8:30 pm, a British officer stood on top of his trench and fired 3 shots into the air.  A German captain appeared on the other side, and saluted.  The next day, the war began again.  By the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, approximately 9-10 million soldiers had died in the long, bloody conflict.

Stories like this remind me of how much I enjoyed teaching history: to both learn and share such stories. The best history teachers I ever knew were great "story-tellers". 

It was that talent of theirs that made history "come alive" and inspired a young man to spend 30 years trying to do the same for his students.

Me at my desk on my last day at school - June 2013

That was me. So here's to remembering all the great history teachers who inspired me, and to all those I had a chance to work with at Glencoe and South Medford High Schools. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Walking El Malecon

"There is no end to the adventures we can have if we only seek them with our eyes wide open." (Jawaharal Nehru)

It was time. We were ready to do some exploring. Deborah and I had soaked up the sun in the cabanas of the Sunset Plaza for a couple of days, but now we were ready to stretch our legs. Whenever we go away, we always like putting on our sneakers, holding each other's hand, and setting off on a long walk to who knows where. We love the exercise, and we love the chance to see something new. So that's what we wanted to do.

The view looking east from our hotel room. Downtown Puerto Vallarta is off to the right
Our destination would be Puerto Vallarta's famed "El Malecon" boardwalk. Everyone said "You must go and see it!" It had quaint shops, cobblestone lanes, street art and performances, food, history - all the culture you could want, and beautiful beaches too. All "just" 2-3 miles from our hotel - at least that didn't seem far to us! We've hiked further in the woods of Lake Tahoe, along the streets of Florence, Italy, and in the neighborhoods of southern California. Pshaw! "A piece of cake!" So, off we went that morning.

The first mile of our walk was uneventful; just walking along side the busiest thoroughfare in the city. Dieselly buses clanked and stank as they rattled by; motorcycles and sedans swerved maniacally around them, and the sidewalks soon filled with people all walking to work. Life like in any other city on a Friday morning. But there were differences. No one was in a suit and tie. We passed some magnificent buildings (like the Sheraton Buganvilias), but right next door to it was a vacant concrete shell of an empty building. And as we got closer to downtown, we began to see more and more people just standing around, looking at us as we approached.

Oh yeah. And it was hot. And humid. And we were sweating. And sweating. Our hands were slippery with moisture, even though we had only been walking for about 20 minutes. The funny thing was that we seemed to be the only ones sweating - none of the Mexicans we passed seemed to be bothered in the least by the weather... sheesh!

We had begun to enter Old Puerto Vallarta, and now the main street was lined with shops and flags.

And the people just standing around began to come to life. "Hey, senor! Come and see what I've got! Good stuff here. Come take a look!"... "Hey, senorita! Take a look - you never know what you'll find! 1/2 price today!"... "Buenos dias, senor...come have a free shot of tequila and look around!". We had entered another Mexican "gauntlet" - just like the time share reps at the airport. The only difference was these people were selling blankets, earrings, hats, and tacos instead of a resort. They were very sharp sighted too. One guy saw the bracelets we were wearing that were our identification at the resort and yelled to us, "Hey! We met at the Sunset Plaza! Don't you remember me? Come over here!"... Clever!

Just when we were beginning to think we had made a mistake coming here and having to wade through all of this, we turned a corner, and there it was: the entrance to the Malecon, The cacophony of the vendors died down a little bit as the sea breeze took its place....beautiful...

There were statues every where along the way.

There were street artists, like this man sculpting a sand Virgin Mary.

And then there were the Birdmen of Papantla. We had heard of this daily act, and there they were right in front of us. 4 brightly costumed acrobats climbed to the top of a 100 foot pole and then leaned back and slowly fell to the earth, twirling to the sound of ancient pipes and drums. An incredible show!

We were grateful for the show, but I was even more grateful for the rest. I was pooped after only 40 minutes of walking (and so were all the other tourists who had plopped down around us to watch the Birdmen!).  It was time to go find something to eat...and a margarita to boost our spirits a little bit.

Too tired to resist, we were "shanghaied" by another friendly sidewalk barker who shuffled us upstairs into a nearby restaurant: The Bar Oceano. We enjoyed the view, the margaritas, and the fajitas. In just an hour and a half, Mexican culture had washed over us like a wave. We laughed at how much we had seen and experienced in so little time. How much more did we have the energy for?

We got up and continued our stroll. We saw more shops - Deborah stopped and bought a beautiful "peasant" dress from one very excited lady who fussed and fussed over her as she tried it on. Then when we left, eagerly looked out the window, hunting for the next "catch".

We finally came to the Malecon's most famous landmark, its Arches. These Arches are part of an amphitheater next to the Naval Museum there. We stopped for a picture.

There was more of the Malecon to walk - the "Zona Romantica", Viejo Vallarta - still lay ahead of us to wander around. But the weather had gotten the best of us. All we wanted to do was go back to the hotel, change our clothes, and dive into the pool. We could return to finish the "Malecon Mile" another day.

We turned around at the arches and started the steamy slog back to the resort. We walked by the city's famed Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its distinctive crown-shaped dome, but didn't stop for long.

We walked through a couple of more of the city's flea markets, but had little stomach for more haggling, and for carrying anything else with us on our trek back.

We could've hailed a cab. A number of drivers slowed as they neared us and offered us a comfortable return to home. But we were stubborn. We had walked down here. We were going to walk all the way back. An adventure begun must be ended properly. It was a looong ways back, but we would do it.

Looking back to our hotel from the Malecon. Our hotel is the tiny orange one way far away!
"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." (Neale Donald Walsh)

By 4 pm, we were back at the Sunset Plaza - exhausted, but glad we had gone on our journey.  It was a unique experience to walk around a city in a lesser developed country and experience all that we did: to see the contrasts of riches right next to sheer poverty, to feel the persistence of the vendors whose lives relied on their ability to attract customers without making them feel like "marks", to savor the cool sea breeze at the same time as the sun steamed our necks, and to wade through all that was vibrant and alive.

And most of all, it made me more appreciative of all that Deborah and I had back at home. That would be a thought that would come to us more than once as our vacation here in "Paradise" continued.  We had stepped out of our "comfort zones" just a little by coming here to Mexico - it would've been easier to have just gone someplace that we had always gone to (Lake Tahoe, the Oregon coast) - and we would've settled comfortably into what we liked, seen what we've always seen. But in doing that, we would've missed a valuable gift.

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." (Henry Miller)

This trip was bringing us closer and closer together. Through its challenges and new experiences, we were feeling a greater appreciation for all that we already had...and most importantly, for each other.  Gracias to Puerto Vallarta for that special gift... it has anchored us ever since!

There is more to tell about this trip...but I'll save that for that next chapter... Adios, amigos!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Time's Changing Treasures

"The years teach much which the days never knew." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I saw a picture recently - I don't remember where - but it's stuck in my mind for days.

It was a picture like the one above; a pair of old hands, tenderly holding a worn book. Though both the hands and book are weathered - worn and wrinkled by life - there was something about the photograph that stirred me.

I could tell that the book was special to the person holding it. Who knows what gifts those tattered pages had given the person who now so gently cradles the leather volume? Some bits of wisdom? Words that inspired or consoled? Tales of journeys to distant lands? Or precious memories held dear? But one thing I could tell was that the book was a treasure cherished. Though both it, and the hands that so lovingly held it had been battered by time, they both radiate beauty: a beauty that only the burnishings of time could produce.

Funny how a simple picture could stir so much. I'm sure that when I was younger - even just a few years ago - I wouldn't have even noticed this picture. Would've sped by it in a blink, racing on to something more newsworthy, more dynamic, more "Wow!". But getting a little older has taught me gradually the value of slowing down, just a little.

And when I did the thought came to me that the things we treasure change as time passes. What we treasure in our youth and as young adults is different from what we treasure as we grow older (and hopefully wiser!). So I asked myself: What do I value today? How have my "treasures" changed over the years?

"The best thing about getting old is that all those things you couldn't have when you were young you no longer want." (L.S. McCandless)

  • "The Next Thing to Get" vs "Glad To Let That Go": It seems that when I was younger, I was always pursuing "big things":  my 1st "real" job; getting that college degree; my 1st new car; seeing my name and picture in the paper after a coaching achievement; my 1st trips to foreign lands, etc.. Life was all about acquiring and advancing; crossing accomplishments off an inner checklist and storing away all my "trophies", whether they were the things gotten, photographs taken, or memories tucked away. But I could see in looking back, that despite all that I had done, and all that kept me busy day after day, my life still felt empty. I was just "filling time". Today it seems I treasure more the "letting go" of all of those things. And in return my life has become more rewarding. A simpler life has become infinitely more richer for me; I value more what seemed before to be "the empty spaces"- the quiet moments. I also know that giving up much of what I pursued for so long also left space in my life for something very special.  I met, fell in love, and married Deborah - and learned the "magic arithmetic" of Love: the more you give away, the more you're given in return.
  • "Little Things" are Big:  The older I've gotten, the more I appreciate all those "little things" that I know I rarely noticed when I was younger: the beauty of a single tree in the fall, standing nobly resplendent; the gentle sound of rainfall at night, a single unexpected act of kindness (like Deborah surprising me with a hug as I sit here writing!). A walk around the block on a fall morning with our dog Izzy gives me as much pleasure now as a "road trip adventure" once did. I'm learning that pleasure can be found in every little task done, if I'm present to myself doing it.  Learning to slow down helps open up a whole world of beauty and value: whether I'm just sitting and looking out the window, raking the leaves in our yard, scrubbing my bathroom, or trying to thoughtfully craft each of these words. Some may say "slowing down" is just a natural consequence (and disadvantage) of growing older. I'm beginning to see the beauty and wisdom in doing so.
"The sun shines different ways in summer and winter. We shine different ways in the seasons of our lives." (Terri Guillemets)

I know that there's more that I could perhaps discover about how my "treasures" have changed. I'm sure I've just scratched the surface. But that's enough for now. Clarity will come with time. Writing the "perfect blog" the first time is something else I'm trying to learn to let go of, in exchange for simply enjoying the time I've spent doing so.

At our last class, Guy Finley said something that I thought was inspiring, yet I think rarely believed.

"All of Life's timeless qualities: Strength, Beauty, Kindness, Compassion, Nobility, etc - are meant to be strengthened by the passing of time, not diminished. Life is continually perfecting them, and herself." 

I think it's easy to think that as time passes, it's somehow "taking away" treasures that we once had. It isn't. It's just asking me to exchange the treasures of the past for new ones - for more lasting ones.

I hope to remember all of this. That would be a real "Pearl" of value as time goes by.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Living the Cabana Life

"Pour me something tall an' strong - Make it a "Hurricane" before I go insane. It's only half past twelve, but I don't care. It's five o'clock somewhere." (Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett)

Even in Paradise, you have to wake up sometime.

Deborah and I had come to the Sunset Plaza resort in Puerto Vallarta to get away and to relax.

And not just to "relax". But to REALLY RELAX. To relax like we had never done before. To relax like it was an Olympic sport, and we were the Michael Phelps', the Nadia Comanecis, the Usain Bolts, the Jenny Thompsons of relaxing!

Sounds easy, right? Boy, would you be wrong! It was hard work relaxing, 24-7, living the "cabana life"!

When we woke on our first morning at the Sunset Plaza, we knew there was nothing we wanted to do more (after eating our free breakfast!) than to put on our swimming suits, slather on some sunscreen, gather up our Kindles, and head down to the "adults-only" pool area and enjoy some major league "lounging". What could be better! By 11 am, the morning clouds had cleared - the sun was out - it was 90 degrees - the absolute opposite of what we had left behind in drizzly, gray Grants Pass, Oregon. We just wanted to soak it all in!

So we'd set up camp in our little cabana. We learned which one had the best view...which one had the most shade at certain times of the day...we learned how to deftly hang our towels around the cabana to make it even shadier... and how to stay, just out of eyesight of the ever present beach vendors, hawking their wares like friendly buzzards. We became true "Cabana Commandos".

And what made "Cabana Life" even better was that anything we wanted - food, drink, free massages, etc. - was brought to us by smiling, sharply dressed, always dependably there when you wanted them, servers.  "Would you like a margarita? Or a "Miami Vice"?", they'd ask. Deborah and I would look at each other and say "Bring both, please". "Would you like something to eat?", they'd inquire. And we would order the fish tacos, the chicken taquitos, and the fresh guacamole....yum!

And when we got hot, we'd slide into the pool and cool off, and think "This is the life!."... Ahhhh....

But as idyllic as this all sounds, we both began to feel a little unrest, a little stirring, almost immediately as we slid into this pampered life.

"Breath in. Breath out. Move on." (Jimmy Buffett)

We both were surprised at how it took a full day and a half of doing this before our minds would actually begin to slow down - to accept that "It was Ok" to just hang out. Our minds were so used to living life at a faster speed - our days measured by "what we were supposed to be doing", "where we were supposed to be going", and that somehow we were "missing something", if we weren't running around, taking pictures somewhere. Thankfully, we got over that compulsion! We began to enjoy the rare pleasure of reading quietly together, people-watching, taking cat naps, and free massages every day. It was heavenly - especially if we pale-skinned Oregonians could manage to also not get too sun-burned while doing so!

But as days passed, the "Cabana Life" began to lose its charm.

  • You can only eat so much guacamole, and drink so many margaritas.
  • The "Adults Only" pool began to attract families with kids, and it was tiring "chasing them away, por favor".
  • The "fun" of laying around in wet swim suits all day began to fade. I just wanted to be dry and cool.
  • The people we sat by the pool with may have changed, but the scenery was becoming stale and the cabanas confining.
Deborah and I began to realize that "Paradise" was feeling a little empty - we were feeling empty. We had always been active when on our vacations - exploring, walking, learning and seeing something new. We realized we missed doing that. And we also were reminded of an important life lesson.

A life without disturbance may sound ideal, but it isn't life at all. No disturbance - no challenge - no motivation to do anything but sleep - no change; this is a life for the "dying". And a part of us knew that, and that's the part that stirred us. The part that whispered, "Let's go do something a little uncomfortable - a little daring - something new. Something we can talk and laugh about when we remember this trip".

"I just want to live happily ever after, every now and then." (Jimmy Buffett)

So, we looked for some opportunities to do just that: explore Puerto Vallarta and experience life in a foreign country, on our own - and to leave the cabanas behind for a little while.

I'm sure they didn't stay empty long. They whisper a "siren song". But we were tired of being "Mexican mushrooms". It was time for an adventure or two.

"At a moment like this, I can't help but wonder. What would Jimmy Buffett do?" (Alan Jackson)

I think he'd move the party elsewhere... which is what we did!

"¡Salud, pesetas y amor y tiempo para gozarlos!" ("Cheers to money and love, and time to enjoy them!")

Friday, October 17, 2014

¡Hola Paraiso! - Our Anniversary in Puerto Vallarta

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it." (Robert Orben)

So what would your "dream vacation" be? Would it include sun, sandy beaches, and blue skies?

Would it be a place where you could have every wish granted - every need met?  A place where you were pampered as if you were royalty (or even better, A Kardashian!)? A faraway, exotic place that you could go to and leave all your cares behind?

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it. Well, that's what Deborah and I decided to do for our 8th anniversary a couple of weeks ago. Since we got married in September, we never got to go on a real honeymoon. The school year had just started - I was working - so our "grand celebration" was to spend a day and a night in lovely little Ashland, 40 miles from home. So now that I'm retired, we decided to do something "big".

We were very certain that what we wanted to do was something we had never done before, and to go somewhere we had never been.

We wanted something "tropical", "exotic". We said we wanted to do nothing but "relax at a beautiful resort...for at least a week". We considered Hawaii (too expensive); the Bahamas (too far away); Costa Rica (too unknown), until finally settling on Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

It seemed perfect: Pretty inexpensive; only a 4 1/2 hour flight; and the resort we were going to stay at, The Sunset Plaza, advertised that it was "small and quiet" and even promised us our own "personal butler". Paradise seemed to await us. But surprisingly, when we told friends and coworkers about our plans, we heard a far different story from them.

"Oh no. You're going to Mexico? Haven't you heard? It's very dangerous there - drugs, tourists kidnapped!"... "Mexico? Didn't you hear about the hurricanes there? Good luck!"... "I would never go to Mexico - you get sick just from the water!"... "Mexico is the last place I'd go - there's just too many Mexicans there!"

We had never heard so much pessimism, and grumpiness, and distrust, and negativity...mostly from people who when you asked them if they'd ever been to Mexico ironically said "No"! So we stopped telling people about our plans, and quietly looked forward to our getaway.  We were ready for a week in Paradise.

I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on. (Jean Kerr)
We flew out of Medford on September 24th, the morning of our anniversary. We knew better than to expect "comfort and bliss" on our flights to Los Angeles, and then on to Puerto Vallarta. Both, though relatively short, had their own special "challenges": wailing 2 year olds seated two rows behind us; obnoxious passengers loudly telling no one in particular "How fun they were!", and scruffy single guys off on a fishing trip wondering when the drink cart was coming around...at 9:30 am... and offering all single women within eyeshot a free drink! Sigh.... We patiently endured it all because we knew Paradise awaited us.
We finally landed in Puerto Vallarta at 3:15 pm. After schlepping our bags through customs, we headed to find our shuttle. But to get to it we had to go through "Time Share Alley"

Our instructions from the travel agency had warned us to not be enticed to stop and chat with these salesmen, lined up like eager sharks along this "gauntlet" before the exit. But we were groggy, and when one handsome young agent called us over to "help us", we wandered over. Surprisingly, he was polite; he gave us a map of the city, and then even poured both of us a shot of tequila (which we much enjoyed after our testy flight!). And then even more amazingly, he let us wander away without making any kind of sales pitch! Deborah was amazed! (Especially since she didn't know he was a sales agent - until I told her in the cab ride away). Our luck seemed good!

I'll never forget how it felt when we stepped out of the airport doors. Though the skies were gray, the heat and humidity slammed me like I had just opened the oven door. As I stood there waiting for our cabbie to load our bags into the trunk, I began sweating as if I had just ran from the plane to the car. Welcome to the tropics, Senor Schnorenberg! 

Twenty minutes later we arrived at the Sunset Plaza. The resort's manager, Javier Vergara, personally checked us in, offering us glasses of champagne and cool towels. After patiently sitting through a "welcome/sales pitch" from the resort's "concierge", the 1st of our personal butlers, Ruben, escorted us upstairs to our room, promising our bags would be brought up shortly.

When we walked into the room, a surprise awaited us (actually, awaited Deborah!)

I had called Javier the day before and asked him if he could arrange for some roses to be in our room when we arrived, since it was our anniversary. And boy did he! This beautiful bouquet and a luscious piece of chocolate cake greeted us. Mucho gracias!

We looked out of our 14th floor balcony and were amazed at the view.

Looking south from our balcony. Old Puerto Vallarta in the distance.
Pools and hot tubs below

Though the skies were grayer than we expected, and both of us were sweaty, we quickly unpacked and then decided to go for a short walk to stretch our legs before dinner.  Puerto Vallarta's main thoroughfare ran just a block away from the hotel. Buses and cars rattled and buzzed by as our heads swiveled taking it all in. We walked alternately on concrete sidewalks and then genuine cobblestone streets. I'd never seen real cobblestones before!

But as we stepped off a curb, Deborah's hand slipped out of my sweaty grasp, and the next thing I knew she was on all fours scrambling to get up! How did that happen? We didn't know. But her fall cut short our little trek, and we retreated back to our room to take a much needed shower and then go to dinner.

The resort boasted of its Italian restaurant, "Luciano's", so we went there. But it was empty, except for us - and we soon discovered why. Let's just say that the chef should've left "Italian cuisine for the Italians" and stuck with what (I assume) he knew best. Though disappointed, we enjoyed margaritas and nachos at the outside bar, and went to bed looking forward to the next day. Thunder rumbled outside of our window as night fell.

So despite the testy flight...and the steamy weather...and some unexpected scraped knees...and the lukewarm ravioli...and the gray skies...we were still in paradise. We were here to enjoy ourselves.

Our adventures would continue the next day.

Buenas noches mis amigos!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Wondrous Journey (Ch. 1): "Pretty Blonde" Meets "Hopeful Romantic"

"Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." (Zora Neale Hurston)

This journey began, as do all great adventures, as the result of an "itch" - a nagging dissatisfaction of a kind, or a persistent desire to discover something new in life.

Without going into all of the reasons, I had decided in the summer of 2004, that I was determined to find "Love".  I had spent almost all of my adult life alone; devoting all of my time and energies into my teaching and coaching careers  But in looking back, I can also see that it was fear that kept me alone too.  Fear of being rejected, fear of opening myself up to another, fear of admitting that I didn't even "know" who I was?  I think all of those were there, and had convinced me for so long that I was "invisible" and that love would never find me.

Me in Paris, July 2004. A world traveler, tired of being alone
But at the age of 46 that was no longer true. I was tired of living the solitary "invisible" life that I had always lived.  I was now willing to do something new (what - I wasn't sure!) - and to risk what I'd been scared to risk before - all in the hope of finding someone to share my life with.  So, I began my search that summer, inspired by a quote from an ancient Chinese philosopher:

"To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage." (Lao-Tzu)

I took the "leap" and joined two Internet dating services.  I posted a profile and pictures of my "handsome" self, and seriously dove into the dating world for the first time.  Yes - the first time.  Prior to this, I had gone on maybe 2-3 dates - usually just "tagging along" with buddies as a "wingman", but never initiated on my own.  Hard to believe for an intelligent, thoughtful, somewhat good looking, professional 46 year old man - but true.  I think I had taken way too seriously the belief that I was somehow "invisible" to, or "immune" from love.

Like all explorers who preceded me - Columbus, Cook, and Cousteau - I launched myself out into the "strange waters" bravely, yet also naively unaware of all that I might encounter.

I met many attractive women around the area.  We exchanged dozens of flirty e-mails and went out on dozens of forgettable dates.  God - were the 1st ones nerve-wracking!  It's no fun being 46, and feeling like you're 16, again!  I say the dates were forgettable, not because I didn't have fun at times (I did), but because in the end I never met anyone with whom there was a shared "spark".  For four long months, it was just one string of "first dates" after another - which after awhile felt strikingly similar to job interviews (hardly romantic and dreamy!)

The women I met were all cautious; not ready to risk their hearts like I was.  And who could blame them?  They had lived lives that I had no clue about, having lived alone and sheltered for so long. All of them had been previously married - usually for 20 years or more - only to have the unions ended in sadness and divorce.  And even though I tried to be understanding - tried to be patient - I soon tired of hearing the following empty compliment offered to me at the end of yet another "first" date:

"You're a real nice guy.  I'm sure you'll find someone special." (Just not me!)

By December, I was beginning to wonder again if I'd ever find what seemed so easy for others to find - but so elusive for me.  Love. It was hard to sit in restaurants and look at other couples in love and wonder "What's that guy got that I don't got?". But I kept looking through the gazillions of profiles online: searching, seeking, hoping to find someone special.  And then late one night, this picture and profile appeared in my mail, under the heading, "Pretty Blonde"

The first picture of Deborah I ever saw
"...Attractive, intelligent, petite blonde with big green eyes and a bright smile. I would love to find a special man. Is it you?" (Signed, "D")

Wow.  I was captivated by the picture! I loved this woman's eyes. They seemed so thoughtful; so able to see deeply inside something or someone (I later found out just how true that is!). And her simple desire - to find someone special made my heart jump.  So did I !

Ironically, I suddenly realized that I had seen this photo and profile months ago when I first began dating. I don't know why I never pursued this "Pretty Blonde" earlier - probably because I had thought "Ah. She's so pretty.  I bet she has lots of dates.  What chance would I have?'. But my heart had jumped then when I first saw her, and here it was again, filled with a warm stirring.

So, for the first time with her (and not the last!), I said "What the hell!" and sent a "daring" reply back to her, asking if she was brave enough to meet a "Hopeful Romantic" like me.  Would "D" reply?  She did the next day.

"Yes, I'm brave enough.", she said. "You sound to be an interesting man. I think I might enjoy getting to know you. Take care, Dawn."

And so the door was opened.  Over the next several nights, we began exchanging friendly e-mails, telling each other our "life stories" so far.  Her name was Deborah.  I didn't know why she had called herself "Dawn", but it didn't matter to me.  She lived in Grants Pass (30 miles away from me in Medford); was divorced after her 27 year marriage ended because of her husband's alcoholism.  She had a 19 year old son living at home, and she worked at the local hospital as a registrar.

I wish I could remember what it was exactly about Deborah that inspired me to ask her out after only a handful of e-mails.  Maybe I sensed through our conversations that she had a playful and open heart.  Maybe I was just enchanted by her eyes.

But maybe I think the real reason was a lesson about Love that I think I only appreciate now.

Real love lives in a part of us that is separate from our minds.  Thinking about love can never lead to love. It isn't the mind that love touched when it first finds us.  It's a part of us that whether we call it the "heart" or the "soul", it's a part that knows beauty without thinking about it.  It's there that I think all that's noble within human beings resides - waiting to be expressed.  Waiting for the chance to touch us. It's there in that unseen part of me that I know I was touched by this "Pretty Blonde".

So we agreed to an official "first date" that Saturday night:  dinner at "Vinny's", an Italian restaurant in Grants Pass.

Little did I know that the adventure would begin even sooner!

A Wondrous Journey - Falling In Love and the Lessons Learned Along the Way

"I have waited too long to tell this story." (Me, September 17, 2005)

Nine years ago those were the opening words I wrote into a new journal - a journal that for some reason I then put aside and only recently rediscovered while cleaning my office.

As I leafed back through the opening pages of that journal, I remembered what was the story that a part of me wanted to tell so eagerly.  I could even feel the tug of that desire pull on me again today - gently whispering, "Yes.  Follow your heart.  You know you want to do this.  You say you want to write.  Write about something that is a story uniquely yours and that you care about. Dare to do it."

And I knew that's what any writer ultimately must do.  Listen to that small voice from their heart and write about what moves them. And so I shall.

The story that I will begin to tell is the story of how a man who spent most of his life alone and preoccupied, chasing all the things he thought would make him happy, finally had the one thing happen that he never thought would.  He fell in love.  Or I think more accurately, love found him.

A special note Deborah left in my office one day
That man is me.  And this will be the story of how I first fell in love with my wife Deborah, and how I continue to fall in love with her again and again as the years have gone by.  It has been a wondrous journey, whose twists and turns I could've never predicted, but I am ever grateful for.

I think one reason why I feel so moved to write this story is because I know there is so much of Life in it:  joys and sorrows, adventures big and small, light moments and painful ones, quiet intimacies and new surprises shared.  Who wouldn't want to write about, or read those kinds of things?  Who wouldn't want to live those kinds of things?  We share complaints; we share gossip; we share our plans and problems.  Why not share something beautiful and inspiring, like how we fell in love?

The other reason why I feel so moved to write this story is because I know that because of this shared journey I have learned so much.  I knew it 9 years ago when I wrote:

"And throughout this journey I've grown as never before in my life. I've grown to see more clearly my true self, and have come closer to being the man I've always wanted to be."

It's even more true today.  I want to explore what the real lessons are that Love has taught me along the way.  They have been the unexpected bonuses of our love that I want to remember.

And there's one more reason I want to write this story.  I want to write it for the two of us.  We both are deeply grateful for the love we share, and know that we are blessed to experience something special.  I want to write our story for us to remember.  If anyone else ever reads it, doesn't matter so much to me.  This is a special love story: one I'm glad to be living.

So, consider these opening scribbles my prologue.  The rough draft and first shaky steps taken.  It takes a little courage to pursue a dream, and to be open so that Love finds you.  But I know that it's worth it.

Subsequent blog entries will be the "chapters" of my story.  Who knows how many there might be? The story still continues.

"Who, being loved, is poor?" (Oscar Wilde)

I am a very rich man.

I cannot wait any longer.  Let the story begin.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Love Is Never Lost

"Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves." (Henry David Thoreau)

Have you ever gotten lost?  It happens to me more than I'd probably like to admit!

  • I can get lost in a small parking lot, trying to remember where my car is (I try to disguise it by telling my wife, "We're on a scenic tour" - don't think I've fooled her yet!).  
  • I can get lost in enjoying a simple pleasure, like reading the newspaper - and forget that I have garlic bread cooking in the oven - only to be reminded by the wisps of smoke curling out of the kitchen.
  • I can get lost in a thought...a memory...a wish... a regret.
And a funny thought just struck me.  In each of these cases when I've wound up lost, I've always thought at the beginning that I knew exactly "where I was" and "where I was headed".  So how did I get lost and wind up having to struggle, one way or another, with trying to "find myself" again?

I ask these questions because I've felt "lost" for awhile from this forum; from my blog.  I haven't written in it for 6 months - the longest dry spell in the 4 years since I began it.  And truth be told, I haven't felt even the slightest desire to do so.  Been completely empty.  Desert dry.  Cold and uninspired.  Scared to even dare to look at a blank page.  I'd read past entries that I had written and wonder "Who wrote that? It couldn't be me!  There's not an ounce of that creativity in me.  I've lost it."

I had begun writing this blog saying I loved doing it.  Where had the love gone?  How could I have lost it?  How could it have left me, just like that?

Yet, here I find myself - sitting at the computer - struggling to write again, in much the same manner that a newborn deer struggles to stand for the first time - legs akimbo, knees a-wobbly - but innocently determined.  And as I tap away, I can feel something gently tap my heart  and whisper what I know is the truth.

A real love never leaves.  A real love can never be lost.  It can be forgotten for a time.  It may seem as if it's been supplanted by other objects and "loves".  But a real love will always wait patiently for my return - and won't admonish me when I sheepishly crawl back, "Where were you???"  

Because a real love simply wants to give itself - without expecting anything in return - knowing that it grows greater through its willingness to do so.

"On a cloudy night when nothing seems above, still, there is love. Always love. For something, for someone. It's never done. Never." (Jeb Dickerson)

Real love is timeless.  It is never "done" with me.  But it also will never force itself on me.  I must always be willing to step towards it.  I must be willing to sacrifice something for it. I must be as willing to sit and wait in the emptiness for it, as it is willing to wait for me.

So, I'm happy sitting here on a sunny Sunday afternoon, feeling a forgotten love rekindled.  I smile and shake my head when I realize that the only thing keeping me from what I loved, was "Me".  Silly!

"If grass can grow through cement, love can find you at every time in your life." (Cher)

The first step back towards what we love usually requires just one thing:  Starting over. And starting over.  And starting over again.

And so I shall.

I'm looking forward to seeing what new Pearls I stumble across as my journey continues again.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Watching History From the Sidelines

"History never looks like history when you are living through it." (John W. Gardner)

I can remember moments in my life when I knew that I was witnessing history.  I'm sure we all can. These moments, whether they are big or small, global or local, have one thing in common.

They change us somehow.  They change what we do in the future, or how we see things, or what we value.  That's what makes them personally "historical" to us.

And because they have that impact on us, it means that when they occur we are more than just silent observers of the event.  We are participants, through our witnessing, in a unique and special way.  But as Mr. Gardner noted above, we aren't often aware of all of this at the time that we're caught swirling in the middle of it.

It's easier sometimes to see that in big "international" stories, or "landmark" events in our lives.  I can remember where I was and how I felt when:
  • 7 brave American astronauts tragically died when the space shuttle "Challenger" exploded on a cold January morning in 1986.
  • The buzzer sounded on the floor of the Chiles Center in March 1990 and I and Mark Neffendorf shook hands having just seen our Glencoe girls win the State Championship in basketball.
  • The numbed shock I felt on September 11, 2001 watching the World Trade Center collapse after terrorists slammed jetliners into it.
  • The quiet joy and peace that radiated from me as I stood in the sun on the banks of the Rogue River on my wedding day in September 2006, waiting for my bride Deborah to come down the steps towards me.
I know that each of these events changed me.  They either changed what I valued, or they changed the course of my life, personally or professionally.  But I doubt I could have told you that when they happened.

I have the feeling that the same thing will be true about recent local events I've been witness to during the last 10 days.  My friends and colleagues in the Medford School District have been on strike since February 6th - trying to get a stubborn School Board to honor a commitment they made two years ago to fairly compensate their teachers.  It's been a difficult struggle to watch from afar.  I watch, and read, and listen to colleagues I respected deeply fighting for what they're due - yet since I'm retired, I'm also separate from the battles.  Part of me is relieved at that, and yet part of me feels drawn to "try to do something".  Just as there are "battle lines" outside each of Medford schools, there has been a similar division within me, trying to pull me its way:  deeper into the fight, or to try to escape it.  It's been a good thing to watch.

So, I guess that's why I wrote what I have; an attempt to understand the significance of the events and how they're impacting me.  But I also had another motive pushing me.  Like any good historian, I simply wanted to archive some "artifacts" from the last week or so.  My colleagues and their students have been prolific in flooding the social media with comments, writings, videos, etc. to rally people to their cause.  I wanted to save somehow some of the ones that most moved me.  

The first one is a letter my friend Adam Drew posted on his Facebook page titled "This All Matters".

I was moved by his passion, as well as his realization that he was teaching a larger lesson to his students through his very actions. (But that's Adam, if you knew him!).  One of his last lines read: "And we make you this solemn vow: when we get back in the classroom, when we get back with our students, we will teach with a ferocity like never before."  It brought tears to my eyes.  

The second one is a video titled "Support Our Teachers".  I'm not sure whether the MEA or a student produced it, but it also moved me.

Almost every one of the teachers interviewed on here are my former South Medford colleagues.  Seeing them, and hearing them speak with such strength and conviction, made me appreciate even more deeply how lucky I had been to be able to work with them.  They are a special group.

The third artifact is a letter written by one of my ex-students on his Facebook page.  Because he mentioned my name in it, I was lucky to be able to read it.

Travis surprised me with his courage and willingness to speak up for his mentors and friends, and I was humbled to know all the challenges he faced while in our classrooms, unseen by us, and yet he persevered.  I'm proud to have been one of his teachers.

The last artifact is another video, this one produced by a SMHS student, Daniel Elmore.  In 2 1/2 minutes he presents an unblinking look at the impact of the strike on SMHS students and makes the case for why the Board needs to end this strike.

History is being made.  People's lives are being changed - I hope in the end, for the positive.  It takes courage and sacrifice to stand up and act in pursuit of real change.

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.  WE are the ones we've been waiting for.  WE are the change we seek." (President Barack Obama)

Some of South Medford's finest - I hope you don't mind that I borrowed the picture, Brenda D.!
Medford students and teachers are showing that kind of courage and resolve.  I have no doubt that it will change them, and change their world. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Casualties of An Ill-Advised War

I was moved to write this today, and will likely try to publish it wherever I can.  I had to speak up.

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”  (Jeanette Rankin, 1st US Congresswoman, 1880-1973)

For 21 years I worked for the Medford School District teaching and coaching students at South Medford High School.  Normally when I would say that to someone, it would have been natural for me to have said “I proudly worked…” for that District.  But that is not the case right now.

It has been with great sadness and frustration that I have witnessed the war that the current School Board and District Administration has been waging against its teachers, my colleagues and friends, for the last 6 months.  And make no mistake – it has been, and is, a war that they are conducting.  The battlegrounds have been behind closed doors in Executive sessions, and in “negotiations” where compromise and fairness was the furthest thing from their agenda.  Today the battle lines shifted to the school grounds as “guest teachers” were brought in to conduct makeshift classes for ½ days to 1000’s of Medford students who came hoping for the best, but I’m sure were sorely disappointed. 

In a war it is the innocent that are most often the victims.  And in a war, truth and honor are many times sacrificed for the sake of “victory” – no matter what the cost.

That seems to be this Administration’s and Board’s intent.  For despite all of their reasonable sounding words, their actions reveal themselves.   They have been willing to sacrifice the education of Medford’s students – the innocent – and the truth of why they’re doing so – for the sake of a “triumph” over the Medford Education Association.

Over and over again over the last 10 years, Medford’s teachers made significant financial sacrifices during difficult economic times to help the District maintain its image of excellence.  I won’t detail all that Medford teachers gave up – it is a matter of public record.  I was one of those teachers, and I did not complain because I knew the necessity of doing what we were asked to do then.   I, and all of my colleagues, agreed to do more for less, year after year.  But we also believed the Board and Administration when they said they would make it up to their teachers when they had the funds to do so – a promise they made in writing.  

The Board now has the ability to keep that promise, but refuses to do so. Time and again in its “negotiations” with the MEA this year, it has refused to provide any just compensation for past sacrifices.  Instead, it has demanded that teachers accept a contract which would ask them to work longer, doing more with less time to adequately plan, and to do so earning less take home pay than they did 5 years ago - all in the name of providing “a quality education” for our community’s children.   Anyone with the smallest sense of honor recognizes the injustice in this.  Perhaps that is why our Board Members have stayed silent and hidden over the last few weeks.  They know in their hearts that the stand they are taking is indefensible.

Instead, the Board and District have acted like bullies; feigning a sense of outrage when Medford’s teachers cried “Foul!”, and  then acting with a “puffed up” false sense of strength. It is they who abruptly ended a collaborative negotiating format months ago – one they had previously praised as being “helpful and enjoyable”.  It is they who arbitrarily imposed their contract on teachers in December, leaving them no choice other than to submit meekly or strike.  It is they who have called their teachers “quitters” and have brazenly tried to manipulate the media through providing false or inflammatory information.

The District’s actions and message are clear.  The appreciation that they have said they have over the years for their most valuable resource – their teachers – has all been nothing but lip service.  The proof is unarguable.  In 2006, Medford voters narrowly approved $189 million to make their schools bright and shining monuments of academic excellence.  Eight years later, the District is perfectly willing to close ½ of these schools and staff the rest with “guest teachers” that they barely know.  Dr. Long proudly said today, “We are ready.  We have the curriculum and we are prepared to teach.”  After hearing reports of what happened at schools today, I doubt that either was true.  The District’s own mission statement claims, “We are a high quality teaching and learning organization”.  Their actions today revealed themselves as mere lip service in pursuit of this goal.

“He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind.” (Proverbs 11:29)

This dispute will end sometime – it must.  And in the end, there will be no “winners” on either side.  But it saddens me that one thing will be certain.  The District will have lost all credibility and trust with its teachers and many in the community because of its “scorched earth” policies.  As the Biblical proverb warns, they will gain nothing of value from the stubborn stand they took, and they will have only themselves to blame for the seeds of division and resentment that they will have sown and the storm that will follow.

I said at the beginning of my letter that I could no longer easily say I was proud of working for the Medford District.  That could still change.  But there is one thing I am still very proud of – the courage of my colleagues to stand up for what they believe is right, despite the sacrifices they must make to do so.  They prove to me, once again, that despite the current emphasis on “proficiency”, “mastery”, “essential skills”, “common core curriculum”, etc., that the most valuable things excellent teachers teach their students are taught through their example.  Medford is lucky to have attracted such quality individuals to their community.  I pray they’ll be lucky enough to keep them when this is all over.

Jon Schnorenberg
Retired Social Studies teacher, South Medford High School (1992-2013)