The Secret Life of Jewelry

Every morning, I indulge in a small ritual—choosing what jewelry to wear. What I reach for depends on my mood and what clothes I’m wearing. It’s an expression of my taste. But I’m also choosing talismans. The pieces I wear don’t offer magical protection, exactly, but they do offer a tiny bit of power—to keep people close to me.

Many of the earrings, rings, and necklaces I have were gifts. Slipping them on reminds me that I’m loved. Or if I wear something that belonged to my mother, grandmothers or aunts, I am drawing on memories of them to give me strength.

I’m not alone in assigning secret meanings to my jewelry.

When I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jewelry exhibit in London last fall, I learned that since ancient times, whether jewelry was made from bones and shells or wrought from gold and precious gems, it has had meanings that go beyond adornment and self-expression.

Seringapatam Jewels at the Victoria and Albert Museum in England.

Often the additional meanings are obvious—to show status and wealth (crown jewels), to express love and affection (wedding bands), as a sign of faith (the cross for Christians and the Star of David for Jews). Jewelry is also worn for protection or in remembrance.

The ancients thought certain stones and gems protected the wearer from illness and evil spirits. For example, rubies are supposed to confer health, strength and fearlessness. I didn’t know that when I chose a wedding band with rubies in it. I just liked rubies—I wasn’t hoping to feel more powerful.

Wearing jewelry as keepsakes is the meaning I most relate to.

After my mother died, I began to wear her wedding band on a chain as a way to keep her close. Not every day, but more intentionally, when I specifically want to think of her.

The opal ring my husband gave me, when I was depressed about turning 60, reminds me of his enduring love and how well he understands me.

An inexpensive craft fair ring with chips of peridot and garnet in it reminds me of my father and a sunny day when I visited Dad and Mom in Florida. Their health was still good and we were carefree.

The oval garnet ring my sister gave me when I became a mother brings to mind our strong bond.

garnet

So many of the pieces I love and wear often—the bracelet my sister-in-law made for me, the necklaces a friend has sent me over the years, and the earrings my sons have given me—remind me of some of the special people in my life. Wearing these gifts is a secret source of joy.

3 gifts

 

Spending Time with Teens

Juan and Crystel

Juan and Crystel

I’ll tell you right up front that this is a feel-good blog about teens. Stop reading right now if you think that all teens are sneaky, up to no good, and downright horrible. That’s not been my experience.

A teenager dog-sat and house-sat for us this past President’s weekend. The same teen we handed our house keys over to last year when we left for a ten day stay in Guatemala. It was the summer before his senior year in high school. We came home to a note on the counter and the house as clean as we left it. Our dogs were walked and run. Our cats fed.

Jody and I spent President’s weekend with 4 teens. We promised our daughter a cross country skiing weekend for her birthday. Juan, Crystel and two of her friends came. I thought this might be a long weekend, one that you just try to get through. It was a long weekend and I genuinely enjoyed being with them. Lights were out at 11 pm and the teens were up at 8 am to start the day. Of course, we used some of the same techniques that Jody and I used when Juan and Crystel were little. Such as, “We’ll see you at breakfast.” Knowing that if the teens wanted to eat, that we would see them at breakfast and that if they didn’t want to eat we wouldn’t. Juan missed one morning.

Photo taken by Jody

photo by Jody

The skiing conditions in Tofte, MN were satisfactory. As soon as the teens had their skis on they disappeared so quickly that I wasn’t sure which direction they went. Jody and I didn’t meet up with them until we had finished skiing several hours later.

We spent a lot of time in the car. A trip on Saturday and Sunday to Tofte to ski. An extended trip to Grand Marais. A stop at Split Rock Lighthouse and Gooseberry Falls. Being trapped in the car with teens could have been a nightmare but wasn’t. We took turns sitting in the cramped third seat of the van. Crystel and I had a competition to see who could have a straw stuck to their lip longest. I lost. I pretended that I was at the movies with her and tried sneaking my arm around her shoulders, to no avail. When Juan wasn’t sleeping he was beating me at electronic pool.

The most memorable and fun time with the teens was at restaurants. The rule at the table was no phones.

photo taken by Crystel

photo by Crystel

There was no bickering. No poking fun at each other. Which isn’t really ever fun if you think about it. There were times I laughed until my stomach hurt.

Of course, it wasn’t all rosy. It wouldn’t be real, then. After Juan mentioned for the third time that he wanted to go home, I told him that he needed to stop. That I had heard him but that we weren’t going home until Monday. He slept a lot. The same thing I did as a teen.

The following week was a middle school dance. Neither, Juan and Crystel wanted to go. Instead, they asked to have friends over. Jody and I would be working the dance as Police Reserve Officers while they would be at home. At one point when Juan, Crystel, and their five friends were gathered together, I said that if any of them smoked marijuana they were not to do it in or outside of our house. They all looked at me like I had lost my mind.

photo by Crystel

photo by Crystel

They were gathered in the front yard when Jody and I got into our car to leave. We were in our police uniforms and would be going right to the middle school. One of them asked me why I had said that. I looked at the seven of them and told them that I was fourteen once. Juan mentioned my book, House of Fire. He knew why I knew.

I pointed two fingers at my eyes and then I waved it in a circle at all of them.

“I’m watching you,” I said. “I’m watching all of you.”

Jody and I then left to watch someone else’s kids at the middle school dance.

It occurred to me as we drove away that I was making good at my spoken and unspoken promise to my children – That growing up, they would have a different life than mine. Both of them are 14. Their life is so very very different. I’m proud of that.

Gaining Ground

“Feel the Earth beneath you. Draw on the Earth’s energy,” my Yin Yoga instructor often says during the opening meditation. I rarely think about the Earth this way. The Earth is something we walk on, build houses on, and drive cars over. Usually it feels inert. However, my perception of the Earth changed after I visited the big island of Hawai’i.

On the Hilo side of the Big Island, rain forts have overtaken the lava fields.

On the Hilo side of the Big Island, rainforests have overtaken the lava fields.

On the eastern and southern sides of the island, vast lava fields stretch to the horizon. The lava is crumbly, dark brown, and in some places, swaths of it intersperse grassy plains. To my Midwesterner’s eye, it resembled freshly plowed fields—as if some farmer had run amok turning over the soil. Up close, the lava looks like cindery gravel and boulders.

Lava filed on the Kona side of Hawaii.

Lava field on the Kona side of Hawai’i

I am fascinated by this enduring, unyielding evidence of Earth’s energy and power. The Earth erupted dozens, hundreds, or thousands of years ago, depending what part of the plain you’re viewing. Lava flowed down the side of the mountain to the sea. Where it flowed quickly, tumbling over itself, it looks crumbly like crunched up Oreos (a’a lava). Where it flowed more slowly, the lava lapped into thick swirls that resembles the crust of unfrosted brownies (pahoehoe lava).

On the Kona side, a’a lava (like crunched up Oreos) overlaps pahoehoe lava (resemble the crust of unfrosted brownies).

On the Kona side, a’a lava (like crunched up Oreos) overlaps pahoehoe lava (resembling the crust of unfrosted brownies).

Though it’s easy for me to forget it or ignore it, the Earth is still volatile. Today, lava is erupting from the summit of the Kīlauea Volcano in the center of the island and flowing south from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent to the ocean. As the lava cools and hardens, it makes new rock, essentially forming brand new ground. Because of the Earth’s incredible energy and force, the island is expanding, gaining ground—hardly inert.

Lava spouting from a crater in Volcano National park

Lava spouting from a crater in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

But it’s not the explosive force of molten magma I think of in yoga class. Sitting squarely on my mat in the Midwest, thousands of miles from the Hawaiian volcanoes, I now picture Earth’s energy humming beneath me. The energy that both destroys and creates. I visualize sending my irritations and fears down into the Earth to be burned away. Or drawing on the Earth’s creative force to energize me. I have gained a new connection to the Earth.

The Last Time I saw an F, I was in high school.

img_2035“The last time I saw an F, I was in high school,” I told my son.

“It was only an F for two days,” he replied.

That was true. His science grade had gone up to a D-. Seemed as if for him that was a cause for celebration. Or, at least noteworthy.

“And, there it sits,” I said.

“Should be a D+ soon,” he said hopefully as if that was something for us to look forward to.

At the start of the school year, Juan and Crystel sign a sheet of paper stating that if they drop below a B- they lose their phone privileges. I tack this agreement on the refrigerator where it stays throughout the school year.

Not as much to remind them, I found out, then to remind me and Jody.

ParentVUE is a wonderful tool. I click on it daily to check on my children’s grades. I watched Juan’s drop to a C+ in science but it wasn’t until it went to an F that I woke up.

“Jody, Juan should not be having his phone,” I said to her. We were at the YMCA in the dressing room. I’m not sure why that was the place it struck me.

At 14, the phone is the most important personal item to Juan and Crystel. That makes it the most important motivating tool for me and Jody.

When I was in school what was most important to me was how my hair looked draped over my arms in class while I slept. On my report card, next to the D’s and F’s was has the ability but lacks initiative. Sometimes, Juan and Crystel bring home a note from a class for a parent to sign. It will have the question, how have you helped your child in this subject this week. I write, I threatened to take their phone away if it drops below a B-.

My children are very capable of getting A’s. At times, Juan lacks the initiative.

16387422_10210598873182208_1856781610126200938_n1I’ve told them stories about my middle and high school experience: smoking around the corner outside of school, throwing eggs in the hallway, dead mouse on a teacher’s chair (she went into rehab after that), jumping out of a classroom window, getting an F in typing (who gets an F in typing?), etc….. I quickly remind them that the stories are for entertainment purposes only and that they don’t have the same parents that I did.

Of course, they have learned this, because I’ve followed through many times on joining Juan in his classroom when he was tardy. “Just trying to figure out what the problem is, Juan”.

He hasn’t been tardy yet this year. I keep looking at ParentVue under attendance, waiting for the invite.

Darn. It’s almost like I get to do a do-over when I’m sitting there next to him observing him and his classmates.

Love those kids. They’re attentive, respectful to the teacher. I keep looking for that one kid who has his/her hair draped over their arms sleeping. The one that lacks initiative. The one who is getting F’s, that reminds me of me. One time there was such a girl who came storming late into a classroom. Juan whispered to me, “That’s a bad girl.”

Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Sometimes all you can do is grow up and get out.

At last look, Juan’s grade has moved to a C+, inching ever closer to the required B-.

 

 

Enlarging My Circle

cactus-flower-2For years, my husband and sons visited relatives in Green Valley, a retirement community in Arizona. I loved seeing our family and experiencing spring in the desert. But I disliked the way some of the residents had become intolerant of young people and as prickly as the blooming cactus that surrounded us. I vowed that wouldn’t be me. While I was still working for pay, I didn’t have to think about how to make good on that promise. I had friends of all ages among my coworkers. Now that I’m retired, I want to be more intentional about connecting with younger people (younger than a Baby Boomer, that is).

Though older, I’ll be the seeker, not the sage.

I’ve learned so much from my sons, so I want to go further and invite more people of other generations into my life. I hope to learn from people who are at different stages of life from mine and understand how they see the world, what their challenges, reactions, and solutions are. To know what they know. To welcome their insights and wisdom.

Making connections is part of my personal style.

Networking is one way people connect with strangers and make friends of acquaintances. While I was a freelance writer, I networked for professional reasons. Often the connections I had with clients and colleagues sparked friendships that have lasted 5, 10, or 20 years.

My plan is more of an outlook than a highly systematic effort.

My current idea isn’t exactly “networking,” which implies a career emphasis. Instead, I hope to continue to do what I have always done—make and keep friends. The part that requires more focus is putting myself in settings where I will meet new people of all ages. Then, if we like the same things and have common interests, friendships will have the chance to blossom.

For example, a young woman I know manages communications for a nonprofit. We met when I started volunteering there, and since then, we have become friendly.

I recently reconnected with a younger writer who’s a friend’s daughter. The daughter is traveling in Europe and writing about her experiences. One of her blogs reminded me how I felt while traveling alone in Europe in my later 20’s, so I sent her a note. Currently, we are acquaintances, but I’m open to getting to know her better.

One of the women who styles my hair is at least 20 years younger than I am, but we have discovered that we have similar taste in movies and politics. Recently, her family experienced a crisis, and it was comforting to her to see that I really understood her reactions—our temperaments are similar too.

I value my longstanding friendships with people my age, but I hope to enlarge the circle to include friends of all ages.