The year I began sixth grade was the year that changed my life. I transferred from Lexington Elementary to Fuerte Elementary school through what was a new math and science program. How I ever tested for this and passed, is still beyond me! I was so incredibly nervous to go to a new school. Fortunately, I knew one other 6th grader at Fuerte, Kristin Barry. She and I played softball together. She was our awesome catcher and I took her throw-downs at second base. It was a relief to know that there would be one friendly face in the sea of unfamiliar ones at my new school.
Kristin took it upon herself to introduce me to all of her friends. I was thankful to meet such a nice group of kids. They seemed to like me, and were friendly and accepting. Even so, you can imagine how surprised I was when one of the cutest and most popular boys asked me to “go” with him during the first week of school. I told Jeff Lapinski that I thought he was cute and very nice, but to please “ask me again in a month” so I could get to know him better. Jeff waited a month and when he asked me the second time, my answer was a delighted “Yes.”
My habit of journal writing began early in sixth grade, sparked by the loss of my parakeet, Tweetie, in the second week of school. I think my parents must have felt that I needed an outlet for my sadness for the loss of my pet and perhaps my insecurities in my new environment. My mention of Jeff is one of the very first entries in my journal:
I am in love with a handsome charming young man named Jeff. He’s a swell guy. I have plans to marry him when I get older. I think he has the same plans too. Hope it works out for me. I think it will.
Jeff’s plans for our relationship were not quite as dramatic and long term. So that I could look at him when we weren’t at school, he gave me this photo. His sweet message was a bit more realistic for a sixth grade romance:
I hope you like this picture as much as I like you. I hope we stay together for this whole year and maybe another.
We didn’t last that whole year, in fact. My journal tells me that we broke up in January of 1982 and that I was crushed. My suspicions were that he liked another girl. Jeff broke his leg in February that year. I wrote in my journal that I wanted to sign his cast and tell him that I still loved him and that I wanted to be boyfriend and girlfriend again. I don’t think I went through with that plan. I can’t for the life of me remember what I wrote on Jeff’s cast and am surprised I didn’t document what I actually wrote. Just a month later, David Kilpatrick showed up at Fuerte Elementary school and helped me get “totally over” Jeff. Is it surprising that I thought that David’s and my love would last forever? “David + Shanna = TLA.” I was always a hopeless romantic!
While we can look back on these days and giggle a bit about puppy love, I reflect on that time with a special gratitude for Jeff. Yes, Kristin played a big part in my being accepted into my group of friends, but Jeff’s request to go steady gave me an even bigger stamp of approval. I can’t imagine what my life would have turned out to be like had I not mingled with that group of friends, had I not caught the eye of Jeff Lapinski. The amazing group of people I grew up with was solidified in the sixth grade with the help of Kristin, with the title of Jeff’s girlfriend.
I have no idea what year this photo was taken. Given my hair style, I would have to say it was in my mid 20’s. I don’t even remember whose Halloween party this was, but I remember going to the party with Randy Close and Jeff Watts. I was delighted to see Tracie Klein there as well and a host of other friends from Valhalla. And our sweet Jeff. Handsome as ever, fun as always, and such an unexpected treat. He was a very bright light.
Jeff Lapinski impacted all of us, I believe, in similarly significant ways. We can remember only kindness and friendship, smiles, laughter and good times. He was every girl’s dream and every guy’s buddy. He personified good looks, intelligence, athleticism, great hair, a warm smile, and a sincere heart. And those legs! He had the most amazing legs! Half the girls in the school would watch boys soccer, not for the game, but to see Jeff’s legs in action! He was everything good and spectacular. He was that guy. The babe, the stud, the dude, the guy. He was, in my eyes, Superman. He is probably one of the only people that everyone from high school remembers, and remembers fondly.
At our twenty year reunion, it was odd to see Tommy Nielsen at the party without Jeff. He was one of the people I was really looking forward to seeing. I truly missed him being there. Little did we know, Jeff’s fight was just beginning. I was crushed when I heard the news. It wasn’t that Jeff and I had remained so tight through the years. It wasn’t even the regret that we hadn’t. It was this weird feeling like, “That’s not possible. Superman does NOT get cancer.” There was no wish that this happened to someone else. There was only the thought that Jeff simply did not deserve this challenge. It was the “of all people” sentiment. It forced me to examine my own mortality, “What the hell chance do the rest of us have if Jeff Lapinski gets cancer?”
As only Jeff could, though, he continued to make an impact on our lives with those amazing letters, full of positivity and high energy. Full of fight. Perhaps even a dash of Trojan spirit. I loved reading his letters and phrases like, “…getting on with life as normal.” I treasure the correspondence we shared during his battle. Full of love and appreciation, and even surprise that friends from childhood would lend their support. A humble man. I can only hope that he truly felt all of our love wrapped around him. With all of the horrible procedures he had to endure, he never complained, never worried, never made it seem like that big of a deal. Even in his last update to us all he said:
There it is. I’m not gonna lie, life has been easier than it is right now. BUT, I will get though this…..just have to grind a bit harder.
Just have to grind a bit harder. I think about this when I am faced with a task I don’t really enjoy. What do I have to complain about?
While I am not aware of every detail of this last month, I do know that Jeff fought very hard. He reminded us precisely how precious time is. We take for granted one day, one week, one month. But Jeff was fighting for exactly that. He wanted to live, wanted to be present. One more day, just to grind a bit harder. Even in Jeff’s final days, he made a significant impact on all of us. He showed us strength, leadership, will, guts, attitude, spirit, gratitude, grit, friendship, love and faith. In his death, he showed us how to live.
It’s still hard to believe that he is not physically with us. My heart is so heavy, as is yours, I’m sure. My heart hurts for his dear mother and father, for Scott and Lynn. And my heart breaks for his best friend, Tommy, who could not have been a more sturdy rock for Jeff. While I am so very, very sad that we have lost a most amazing man, I do believe that he will truly live on in all of us. We each have our own stories about that guy. He touched our lives. He left his footprint on our hearts.
Sometimes, when one person is missing, the whole world seems depopulated. ~Lamartine
To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget. ~Arundhati Roy
Jeff is love, he is larger than life and the most honorable of men. He is Superman. And I will forever miss, remember and love him.
When she was brought home as a foster kitten from the shelter, she was one in a litter of six and definitely the most outspoken of the group. Trying to get her out of the carrier provoked hissing and growling. Once the group got settled in, she was a bit more friendly. She morphed into the first kitten at the door and the one most eager for food and also affection. She spent many evenings curled up on my legs as I sat with my iPad or laptop on the couch.
Aria is the one on the left. The Tabby with the Jaguar-like markings. Her nickname became “Jag”
That was Aria’s favorite spot to hang out.
Working from home, I would close my door during the day so that I could have privacy and not be distracted by kittens. But she would find her way to my door and cry. She wanted to be with me. And so I fashioned a sling out of an old scarf, a spot that became her favorite, the one where she spent most of her day cuddled against me.
When she and another runt-sized kitten were found to have eye goop, the shelter’s kitty coordinator, Kim, told me that they both might be too congested to give back. I looked at little Jag – her original name – and her tabby swirl markings, her adorable little face, and said to Kim, “I don’t care what happens to the black one, but Jag has got to be OK.” That was the moment I knew that this little kitty had worked her way into my life in the most unexpected way.
Her constant need to be near me and with me, the way she’d look up at me and stare at me, it was as if she was saying, “You’re my buddy. I choose you.”
That’s Aria’s “Hi, Mom!” look.
My first task was to find a name that suited the little songstress and finally decided on Aria (Phoebe will be reserved for a future dog). Her name has grown (literally) to represent her character and so her full name is now Aria, Jagalicious, Smarty McTarty, Rolly Polly, Spastastic Bright. The Smarty McTarty was originally Farty McTarty, as it took months to find the right food for her and her sensitive stomach. I never understood how a small creature could make such big smells. I can’t tell you enough how glad I am that the Farty McTarty phase is behind us!
Aria is pretty unaware that she is a cat, I believe. She spends her day only a few feet away from me. She’s so attached, she even sleeps at my feet. She absolutely loves hair ties and has learned to fetch them. Aria initiates these games throughout the day by picking one of the colorful hair ties out of her toy box and dropping it at my feet with a hearty, “MEOW,” and the touch of her paw on my shin. Sometimes I find hair ties dropped on my pillow on weekend mornings when I just want to sleep a bit longer.
Here’s Aria, with one of her hair ties, ready to play.
She’s got a bit of huntress qualities, as she amazingly spots the smallest of moving objects. Any spider or insect who comes in the house doesn’t stand a chance. When she is on the hunt, she chirps. When she wakes up and wants breakfast, she also chirps. She chirps to get my attention and chirps when she’s fetching hair ties. Chirps usually turn into meows if you don’t take notice. Her chirps are a quick trill and very melodic. They can sound inquisitive, uncertain, disturbed or satisfied. If you speak to her, she usually answers back.
When I’m brewing my second cup of coffee in the morning, I take her outside and just sit for a few moments. She relaxes in my arms and watches birds fly over, chirps at ants on the ground, tries to keep up with the zoom of a humming bird and gazes at the bumble bees. She doesn’t lunge or wiggle or get set to pounce. We just sit there together and enjoy the moment. It’s a favorite of the day.
Aria’s black scarf/sling is now her small throw at the foot of my bed. After she fills her belly, she likes to jump on the bed and uses the scarf to kneed. She takes one little piece into her mouth and by the look on her face, goes into the zone of complete comfort and pleasure. She purrs and kneeds and eventually lays on the scarf with her nose deep in the material, relaxed and sleepy. She often exposes her belly when she sleeps. What a great belly of spots! She greets me by rolling on her back and from side to side, paws up, belly exposed. Complete trust.
There’s Aria with her frog and her scarf. Such a cuddle bug.
Of all of the things that I envisioned for my return to the US, a pet, and certainly a cat, was never in my mind. But I’m glad the outspoken little furball insisted on being a part of my life. It’s been several years since the family dog passed and I forgot how much joy and love a pet can bring into your life. I’m reminded every day how full of love these creatures are. She’s my constant little companion, my dog-cat, my Aria. I adore her and love her so very much.
According to the Vet’s calculations, today is her birthday. Happy first birthday, Aria. Thank you for choosing me.
Yesterday was a terribly sad day. A community of friends from my high school days gathered to say goodbye to the lovely Marsi, the adored wife of our classmate, Steve. The service, held in the same church as our high school baccalaureate, was a loving and moving tribute to a vibrant woman who passed a month before her 41st birthday from a three year battle with breast cancer.
It was heartbreaking to hear her brother’s words, gut wrenching to catch glimpses of Marsi and Steve’s young children. But it was Steve’s moment at the podium that put us all at ease. He was tender and emotional, but he lightened the mood with a few humorous stories. We all admired his composure under the circumstances.
It seemed almost everyone who was at the service was equally eager to join in the celebration of life at a nearby pub, just as Marsi would want. We told stories, relived special moments, and we rekindled old friendships.
Some faces I hadn’t seen since high school. Some not since the last reunion. I’m amazed how everyone looks exactly the same. And I love that we pick up our conversations like we had spoken on the phone just yesterday.
In celebrating Marsi’s life, we celebrated friendship, honest and open conversations, and deep connections with people who shaped our childhood, who stamped their names on treasured memories. Why does it take losing a beautiful friend to celebrate the beauty of old friendships?
I hope Marsi is at peace, and I thank her for reminding us that life and the people we love and cherish should never be taken for granted.
A random post on Facebook tonight reminded me that I’m due to celebrate a very special 10 year anniversary. July 28, 2002.
Only a week before, I had sold nearly all of my possessions and prepared two and a half suitcases for a move to a country I had never stepped foot in. The yard sale was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. And it set the tone for a more simplistic life. One where the layers of complexity were peeled away with each new cultural experience and every moment I settled into a completely new way of life.
My first year was a whirlwind of memories. There were a seas of new faces in not only my students and co-workers, but in all the other foreign teachers who came to the tiny country seeking new adventures, work experience, fun, perhaps even a delay of reality. I easily adapted to my new surroundings and loved my little apartment with the fabulous view of a very handsome mountain. Teaching high school students was often more challenging than any job I had ever held. But warm friendships were formed and I remain in touch with a good handful of the, then seniors who are now 28… some married, some with children.
I was apprehensive to transfer to my new job, but it turned out to be the best decision. It required some effort to get settled in all over again, but the pay off was a new office full of supportive co-workers and the chance to teach the tiniest and cutest kids imaginable. For four years, I danced, sang and gestured to get the English meaning across. I played dodgeball almost every day at lunch. Lunchtime with teachers helped me better understand their language. I made so many new friends, big and small, old and young. I traveled. I listened. I absorbed. I laughed, cried, ate, drank and embraced that amazing culture. Along the way, I shared all the highlights with you.
When the time came for me to leave, I wasn’t ready for the journey to end. But it was clear that this was a chapter in my life and that turning the page would begin a different, yet also exciting adventure. A new story was ready for me. The goodbyes were bitter sweet, the sentiments genuine and special. The friendships were real and celebrated.
There are countless moments that are so easily recalled with great fondness and affection. A word might pop into my head, a photo will catch my eye as the cover of a digital album, or a craving for any number of specialty foods creeps into my belly. In those moments, I pause to honor the memory, remember a face, hear a voice or a laugh. I miss it. I miss that life, that work, those people, that version of me.
Ten years ago on July 28, 2002, I packed my bags and boarded a one-way flight to Japan. And it changed me forever. Surely, that’s something worth celebrating.
Occasionally I take some time to go through web design sites. I like to see what’s trending and check to see if I need to make updates to either of my websites. (Yes, I need an update to On The Bright Side. It’s in the works.) I was browsing through one designer’s site and came across the website for the Gypsy Girl’s Guide. While the site design doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, one of the posts caught my eye. Check out this photo.
This is Boho Gratitude Garland. I love it! For the author of the blog post, the Gratitude Garland was inspired by the holidays. But because of their holiday beach rental, they used shells and bark and other natural things they could find. And the result was a very bohemian looking piece of art that was full of gratitude.
I love this idea for everyday, not just the holidays. What a wonderful way to create something that continually reminds you of all the things you are grateful for. This is a great family project, or for a vacation with good friends. If you were to create this type of art for your home, what materials would you use? Where would you hang it? What would your items of gratitude say?
It may be the case that I am still in reverse culture shock, because for the life of me, I cannot remember when all of our menus included so many items with bacon. Salads, chicken sandwiches, burgers, and now, thanks to Burger King, sundaes. What? Ice cream with bacon? That’s right, Burger King has introduced a bacon sundae. And I have to finally exclaim, “That’s just WRONG!!!”
I expressed recently how a popular L.A. restaurant served a burger that included bacon which was strictly served with “no modifications.” When it was delivered, I promptly removed the bacon. I’ve also seen some bacon comments pop up on Twitter. Is bacon worthy of a tweet? This video was shared on Twitter too. Do you think bacon solves all problems? It just seems everyone is in love with bacon and that all food should be garnished or served with bacon. Does bacon really make the world taste better?
Every once in a while, I do enjoy a couple of slices of bacon with eggs, or a BLT sandwich, but a sundae? A dessert with meat flavor? I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me. Seriously, I’m so over this insane enthusiasm for bacon. I’m going to have to say, “Hold the bacon.”
While on the phone today, I was speaking with my friend about utility bills and the process for payment. I was reminded that in Japan, you could take all of your utility bills to the local convenience store and pay them at the store.
In fact, on more than one occasion, I went on a vacation and came back to no house phone or no electricity. I simply took my bill over the the Family Mart near my house, paid the bill, and by the time I walked back to the house, my electricity would be on again. That’s true convenience!
I don’t know why we can’t do something similar here in the U.S. I realize we can pay bills online, but if you are late, normally your services are not turned back on again immediately after payment. Just a little something I loved from my Japanese life. Woo hoo for paying bills at the “konbini!”