50 Shades of Grace

4558617-9336f4dfa673030f06f3bd843621412fIt’s been awhile, I know.  I was inundated with “spam,” for comments on my blog and it was driving me crazy!  All it took was receiving one more “penis enlargement” mumbo jumbo and I was determined to get my blog back on track, sans a need to enlarge body parts I don’t even have.  

I would have hesitated to mention body parts in my blog a year ago but that was before I read 50 Shades of Grey.  Certainly, I enjoyed the read – primarily fast-paced, interesting plot, likable character, a little titillating (forgive the pun) but the writing was not the best.  (Yet, I did read all three books in a series, quickly I might add, so I’m not sure how much it kept me away from turning those pages in earnest.)  

I noticed that same old behavior reading that book as when I read Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed. (which had nothing to do with a cosmo-guide-to-learning how to be good in bed, I might add)  I didn’t want people to see what I was reading so I’d hide the cover.  I’d bend it backward if I was sitting in a lawn chair next to the pool (which, by the way, I’m not sure why they call them lawn chairs when they are next to a pool but that’s a whole other blog topic.)  

I remember flying to San Diego with my “Grey” book and I made sure that I kept the book open, or close to my lap, careful not to expose that I was, indeed, reading the Enquirer of Women Over 40 getting off by reading soft porn stuff that made sadomasochism slightly enticing.

None the less, it inspired me.  (not the sadomasochism, by the way)  The title.  It inspired me to think of 50 Shades of Grace.  What a contrast, I know.  

I’ve not been much of a woman who has always followed the rules but I haven’t been a crime trail blazer, either.  

I sat with my “AP” (accountability partner) one afternoon in Starbucks and we both set goals that we’d finish a book within a year.  

I had A Man is Not a Plan and Where’s My Mother Now That I Need Her? burning up my desktop folders for more than a year, dying to have its words pressed between the covers of two new (New York Times Bestseller) non-fiction books.  But my dedication to finishing either project sat as dormant as the folders that appeared on my laptop as I dove straight into Facebook, not a glancing into either one for months.

No Writer’s Block because I’d actually have to attempt writing to have that.  Just still.  Nada.  Nothing happened inside those folders as the creative thoughts would peak and dive daily, only in my brain but not through the pecking of any typing keys.

So, I was inspired by the many photographs I had taken in the past year, many posted on my daily addiction FB.  Many with my iPhone, if you can believe that.  With my new YOGA practice, occasional meditations, and my renewed interest in finally getting my body back to a decade post high-school shape (no, I am not so unrealistic that I’d shoot for the svelte 125 pounds I swore was five pounds too heavy while in high-school weight) I thought, why not put 50 photos of inspiration into a coffee table book and call it a day?

The thing about the photos I shoot (“shoot” sounded so much more professional than “take”)  is that they do illicit grace.

The mere definition:

grace  /grās/    Verb:  Do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.

Yeah, that’s what many of my photos accomplish.  They honor the large existence of my creativity; nature.  They honor people; my kids or other peoples’ kids.  They give credit to the growth I’ve made that sitting in a red Adirondack chair next to a bustling creek is enough to quench an entire day’s search for adventure.  And finding an infinity sign with the word “love” etched into one of my favorite beaches is surely serendipitous.

So world, my first coffee table book:  50 Shades of Grace, inspired by a similar title but very different.  You won’t have to worry about who’s glancing over your shoulder. 

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Post Election: Got Kindness?

I was reminded why I left Facebook in October after perusing the site minutes after the presidential election.  The mudslinging was immediate and it didn’t matter who had been checked off on the ballot hours earlier.  The name calling, derogatory pictures,  gestures, and threats of economic doom creeped across the aisle.  More people were “unfriended” on Facebook in the past four weeks leading up to this election because of bipartisan bullying at its best.

Regardless if declared as a Democrat, Republican, or an advocate for Roseanne Barr, the linguistic languishing was a prime example of the types of behavior addressed on school playgrounds across our nation.  

We wonder why our youth is “going to hell in a hand basket” and fear how young people just ain’t got no respect.  

Well, let me tell you something if it isn’t already clear.

We better start taking a hard look in the mirror.

I am all for “freedom of speech” and exercising one’s right to an opinion.  If done respectfully.  There’s a way to say what you feel, express what you think, without slamming someone else or threatening another person for believing differently.

There are “Four Agreements” hanging up in my classroom that 28 fifth-graders could teach us in order to communicate more effectively.

The “Four Agreements” are:

1.) Mutual Respect

2.) Attentive Listening

3.) The “Right to Pass”

4.) No “Put Downs”

I would think #1, “Mutual Respect” is easy to understand but just in case you’re confused, it’s really the “Golden Rule,” or as many of our mothers drilled into our heads, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

#2, “Attentive Listening” is a tough one for us as we always have what’s on our mind, what we want to share and the story of our lives playing so loudly that we can’t wait to share out point of view.  It’s  difficult to take a deep breath and really try to “seek to understand” someone else first, really listen with an open heart to what they are saying and try to reflect on what’s being heard, rather than to immediately channel our inner-lawyer and attempt to create and win the debate at hand.  

I know I feared my candidate of choice would not be elected but I wanted to consider the opinions of others I share this planet with, or more specifically this nation and I had to realize as a mother of two children, a teacher, a member of my community, that I still had much responsibility as a citizen regardless of the outcome.  

In fact, this is what I posted on my Facebook status following election results:

Photo: Okay, last one.  Please remember adults... we are modeling to our children how to respond to either celebration or disappointment at expense of "the other side."  We are the ones - through words and behavior - that are continuing to SHOW children HOW to be divided.  Why not challenge ourselves - with our words, etc. - on what it LOOKS like to either "win" humbly or "lose" with grace?  More importantly, let's not be bullies and trash each other or tear each other down... But consider the meaning of this poster as it applies to all of us.Please remember adults… we are modeling to our children how to respond to either celebration or disappointment at the expense of “the other side.” We are the ones – through words and behavior – that are continuing to SHOW children HOW to be divided. Why not challenge ourselves – with our words, etc. – on what it LOOKS like to either “win” humbly or “lose” with grace? More importantly, let’s not be bullies and trash each other or tear each other down… But consider the meaning of this poster as it applies to all of us.

#3 of our agreements is “The Right to Pass.”  I think this one applies to not adding insult to injury by negatively commenting on already insensitive posts.  Not adding fuel to the fire.  But instead, be a light and find a positive way to reach out.  I want to remind the naysayers that taking on the persona of Eeyore and putting those hands on the hips and saying, “watch and you wait and see” won’t move us forward, either.  Remember,  it is not the President alone that is responsible for creating a nation indivisible and united.  We are a part of the equation.

As a whole, we seem to have more problems with #4.  “No “put downs.”  We could learn so much from the simplicity of this simple agreement.  Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a book called The Four Agreements (they are not the same as the ones in my class) but he writes in his book about keeping an “Impeccable Word.”  Easy to say but for some, not so easy to do.  I’m wondering, can we at least try?  

We all have A LOT of work to do and none of us are perfect.   I do believe, however, that we are all doing the best we can and that changes on any given day.  It would be a great start if we could just begin by asking the simple question, “Is what I’m about to say going to help or hurt?”  (and this could be help or hurt the person, or help or hurt the ability for someone to understand my point of view, or help or hurt to show I understand what someone means)

Again, it’s not about not sharing your opinion or having one for that matter – God, we all need an opinion and educated opinions are the best.  It is the way in which we share them.

Jewel sang a line in one of her songs that I believe to be the truth, “in the end, only kindness matters.”



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From Decimals to Death

Some people trudge through their days, truly not happy to do what it is they get paid to do.  Me?  I am one of the lucky ones.  I love what I do and do what I love.  It doesn’t mean, however, that days go by without strife and concern.  

Today is a perfect example.  When I walked into my fifth grade classroom, the immediate smell of fish put me in a tailspin.  I opened the door, I waved into the air, I simply had to get rid of the smell before my 28 students would march in for the cool crisp Autumn day expecting to learn all the nuggets I had to offer. (generally, for the record, they offer me many more nuggets)

But it was still there.  That stench.  So I looked into the garbage cans to make sure something hadn’t been thrown away the day before that wasn’t supposed to be tossed inside the classroom garbage cans.

And then they came.  My students filed in and also complained of the odor.  I called “Fred,” our amazing janitor and he agreed to come spray his magic while the kids would soon flee to P.E. 

In the meantime – and we had at least 30 minutes before their departure – we mulled over the previous night’s homework and began to embark on the new lesson when an overwhelming thought surged into my brain.  The hamster.  Oh geez, the hamster.

In the middle of explaining why to place the decimal point directly above when dividing whole numbers into decimals, I wandered over and looked into Tibble’s cage.  I tried to be sly but I bumped the desk with my hip, which would normally warrant our dwarf hamster into some kind of movement or clear display of annoyance as he may have been napping.

He stayed coiled in a little butterball, looking as content as ever.  But the smell? Stronger than ever.  I knew, in an instant, the hamster was dead.

Hmmm… do I inadvertently continue with my lesson, awaiting the students to leave and then get rid of him hoping that a mass of 10 and 11-year olds wouldn’t notice?

I thought about my mother, of all things, who died almost three years ago and it wasn’t the similarity of “state” that made me think of her but that voice inside my head – that was hers – telling me to be direct and to use this opportunity as one of life’s greatest lessons… shit happens.  (And no, I wouldn’t dare say that, just in case you had a slight inkling that I might) but there I was… I looked out into the vast pairings of eyes and there was a wave of suspect that came first from one of my most intuitive students.

“Is Tibbles okay?”

“Actually,” I say, “I think Tibbles is dead.”

Horror crossed some faces, suspicion crossed others, and a wave of disbelief circulated the room, you could feel it like a quiet rush of air.

“Tibbles was very lucky to have so many of you love him but it was his time.”  I explained that Syrian hamsters have an average life expectancy of two years, which meant Tibbles lived a full life.

“That explains the smell,” one said.  

“He really wasn’t moving that much yesterday,” said another.  

And the girl that had him for the most recent weekend stay? “He was moving around just fine when he was at my house,” fearful that somehow his current situation would somehow be blamed on her.

Do I just make an “Okay, boys and girls, let’s move on” speech or how much time and attention do I give this class pet’s demise?

So it began.  A few kids began to cry.  Others weren’t sure what to do.  And so I simply said, “let’s have each table group, if they want, walk by the cage to see Tibbles and pay their respect.”  

I knew their curiosity was piqued and I wanted to simplify the process of simply viewing the body.  I remember being terrified of my own grandmother’s funeral, when I was nine, because everyone kept warning me and trying to prepare me that my grandmother would look like she was asleep in her coffin.  I remember, upon seeing her, that she did look asleep.  She did look peaceful but mainly thinking that this was, in fact, what it looked like to be dead.  Which minus the permanence of no more conversation and no more interaction on earth, the mere sight of her lying there was not as scary as the build up. Perhaps seeing a dead hamster would help future, more significant sightings of dead people and pets?

Then the hands went up.  And the discussion began.  And some more tears flowed.  Reminders of grandparents or other previous pets that have passed were discussed.  I allowed the sharing to go on for a short time – but time enough to model that the discussion itself is worthwhile and the lesson to be learned is that there is no right or wrong way to feel when faced with sadness or uncertainty.   A lesson many of my adult counterparts still struggle with!

In the moment of despair, it really is about allowing yourself to feel.  And to support each other along the way.  And then, to breathe and do what you can to continue in this thing we call “life.”

May seem simple.  Trivial.  Or overdone.  

But today in my classroom, for a little while, decimals took a backseat to a life lesson we all face.  

And then, with a few deep breaths and room to continue to know that life has changed in that moment, we began to focus on the simpler things in life, (and not so simple, for some) like dividing whole numbers into decimals.

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Ted Talk – An Account of a Life Passing By


A reminder to “live in the moment” or to make each moment count… because you never know…

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Oakland A’s Teach the Most Valuable Life Lesson

Oakland A's FansI was never a big baseball fan.  Well that is, until Bob came into my life with his Oakland A’s.  

I would sit and read a book, maybe a magazine article, while my boyfriend religiously watched the team he’s followed since he was a kid.  I began to ask questions. I was interested in the lives of the baseball players, learning that Gomes came from Petaluma, thinking about kids cereal when watching Coco Crisp hit one out of the ballpark and empathizing with one of the players after returning to the game only a day after his wife lost a baby after giving birth.  Real life married with the game.

Although most of the players looked like they were 12-years old, I loved that Bob knew so many little factoids, aside from their baseball stats, which made watching the players more interesting.  

Bob would laugh at me when I would ask why the “buck stop” made that play? He informed me,  there was no “buck stop.”  (there was one when I played girls’ softball.)  There were many times like this where I would provide great humor like this… like when I referred to home plate as home “base.”  He leaned into me and pointed at each base, “See that one?  That’s first base.  That one over there, second.  And that one, third.  Now the one you’re referring to, that’s home plate.”  Gotcha.

Yet, I was familiar with baseball, more familiar maybe than he realized, having grown up with avid baseball fans – my dad and two brothers – and later marrying my high school sweetheart, who was not only a big baseball fan but played baseball in high school, college, and even played on a semi-pro team for awhile as his dream was to become a professional baseball player.  

I lived, ate, and breathed baseball for many, many years during the time my “first love” and I embarked on what we thought would be a lifetime of love.  Yet, I discovered that baseball was often a primary obstacle to living the life I imagined – things were scheduled around games and tournaments that often took us away from the “home” and “family” I longed for and sometimes it was tough to live with moods that depended on the win or loss.  I began to resent the game and the time it took away from engaging in my image of a fairytale romance.  And after my divorce, although my ex and I remained “friends,” I couldn’t walk, or run away from the game fast enough. 

So here I am again… years later… right back at the ballpark.  Not only as an observer but as a mom of boys that play the game as well.  So, I know the basics of the game but still make the occasional error by making the “buck stop” comment and calling home plate, home “base.” Simple errors to a baseball nut like Bob would clearly mean I had a long way to go before “talkin’ baseball.” 

So I admit, before this last season, I never really had the “fever.”  

I find it ironic that years later, I am in a relationship with another man that seems to have a crazier love affair for the “A’s” than I recall my ex having with any team, including his own.  It’s one of those weird humanistic reminders that knock on the door of my heart, reminding me that life’s lessons will be repeated until they are learned.  I suppose the learning comes from compromise until, before you know it, a cloud of acceptance rains down a little love for the game in your own heart – that place where you start to allow yourself to imagine, to feel, and to finally begin to understand why someone else loves something so much.

For the first time, I get it.  I’m far from claiming to be an “expert” but it all makes a little more sense after being involved with this season and “The A’s.”

I listened about – and watched – these young puppies persevere, regardless of what the critics said – they continued to play with heart and finished with a 43-43 first half of a season, before ascending to the finish line, with 94-68 bragging rights, not to mention an American League West division crown they won against the Rangers on the last day of the baseball season.

As Bob so eloquently states all the time, “Baseball is the perfect metaphor for life.  Never give up.”  He goes on and passionately adds, “it’s a great example of believing in oneself and not focusing on or paying attention to the predictions and opinions of others.”  And he’s right.  Not too many reporters and baseball critics had a lot of faith in this young team in the beginning.  

Oakland A’s player Brandon Moss said, “We have nothing to hang our heads about,” “Do we wish we were still playing? Absolutely. But what we did throughout the course of the season, where we ended up, how everyone contributed, we have a lot to be proud of.”

Boy, do they.  

The synopsis of this season for the Athletics is a reminder that sometimes, we too, need to know it’s not always about where we came from but where we are going.  Or like Bob says, “Life is like a game of baseball and you play it every day, it isn’t just about the breaks you get, it’s the kind of game you play.”



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Simplify and Begin Again…

Hi, my name is Cheri and I have a problem.

I have been addicted to Facebook for awhile.  I love to socialize and connect and view pictures and learn more about my 700+ “friends” than I care to admit.  Facebook was a way for me to connect in a way I couldn’t possibly find time to do on a day-to-day basis with teaching full-time and being a single mom to two active boys.

So it dawned on me one evening as I poured over updates and commented on statuses, I kept allowing things I thought important  in my own life to slip by.   Sitting down with my boys at a dinner I prepared.  Exercise.  Writing.  Taking my dog for a walk around the neighborhood.  

The questions I began to ask myself varied.  “Did I make a connection with my two boys today?”  “Had I taken time to breathe in the fresh scent of pine from my backyard?”  and “Did I manage to get to sleep early enough to warrant that I am rested and ready to face the world again at dawn’s break?”  

That’s when I decided I needed to walk the walk, and talk the talk.  

I have lectured, cajoled, and sang praises to friends, students, my children and anyone who would listen to learn to simplify and “live in the moment.”  It’s sometimes so much easier to say than to do.  I had forgotten to end my day with gratitude, remembering the little things that really are the big things.  I was sucked into a world of technological connection – and although I still have withdrawals and will make a point to go back on with better boundaries – I was missing daily opportunities to connect with the most important people in my world – my boys – and setting myself up to live a healthy life by taking the time to care for my body and mind.

““Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” ― Mother Teresa said.    And it was time for me to begin again.   To learn to simplify, to hear the whispers in my heart.   Which meant I had to turn down, or in this case, turn off the noise.

The task is still daunting.  But I began by giving up “Facebook” for the month of October, in attempt to move my body more – gain a habit I desire (exercise – but kept putting off) and writing, for myself.  And for you.

I enjoy “freelancing” (still do) and writing for a myriad of publications from local papers to “Home and Design” magazines to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.  But this “blog,” this website… is dedicated to the F.L.Y. girls (or ladies, if you so prefer) and F.L.Y. guys.  It’s about “First Loving Yourself,” and learning – together – to navigate our world, minute by minute.  

I will share stories, hope to hear yours, and together learn how to really live in the moment.  And our first task at hand?  Simplify.  Begin Again.  And simply breathe.

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