Category Archives: About Me

Key Lime Love Tree

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Key Lime Love Tree

Today is my parents’ 31st anniversary. They first met because of a key lime pie, which makes me a key lime pie baby – sweet and tart. The setting was Southern Belize, where my mother was living with a Catholic nun and teaching home economic skills to Mayan Indian women. My dad was living just one village away in Big Falls running crews at his parents’ saw mill. The first time she saw him, he was erecting a radio tower at the age of fourteen. No one could compare. He was so mature for his age, but still she was cautious because she’d had her heart broken before.

They finally interacted one day because my grandmother wanted to bake a key lime pie, so she sent my dad to the nun’s house to trade eggs for key limes from their tree. The nun wasn’t home, so my mother answered the door when he arrived. She wished he’d go away, but felt obligated to help him. As they picked the key limes together, he spoke to her and she laughed because he is a total ham. He eventually asked her to go with him to a dance at the community center that weekend, so she said yes. They have been together 37 years since.

At first, my mother didn’t want to pursue a relationship with my dad. He  would throw flowers at the car as she rode by, but still she wouldn’t budge. He even bought her a ring with a tiny diamond in it. Sister Marianne Joseph wanted my mother to become a nun, and she didn’t want her to have anything to do with my father. She made her return the ring. And even today, the Sister blatantly states, “This is one marriage I never expected to work out.” For a whole year, my father kissed the dimple on my mother’s cheek without the least bit of encouragement. And finally, she fell for him when she was about to leave for nursing school in Belize City.

For years, they dated long distance. He would ride along on sugar cane trucks, or any chance at transportation he got, to visit her in the city – on treacherous roads that were so primitive, they flooded between rivers in the rainy season. She gave him back his ring so many times, but still he persisted. Even when she tried to pawn him off on her friends, he always came back, and the ring always returned with him. When I was little, I would wear this ring whenever my mother would let me, just hoping that I would have a story like theirs someday.

When I graduated from college, I decided to move to Belize. Partly because I wanted to become a dive instructor, and partly because I had this romantic notion that I would meet someone in the jungle who would love me as much as my Dad loves my Mom, despite the hardships and pain. I thought that living in a developing country entailed hard work, and I might find someone with a work ethic like my Dad’s, his father’s, and his father’s before him. Obviously, it didn’t work out the way I had planned. But I still hope to find real Love, somewhere, someday.

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad. I’m sorry that I couldn’t think of anything to give you, but hopefully one day your key lime love tree will have enough fruit to bake a pie.

Learning to Read

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On my first day of kindergarten, I came home from school crying because I didn’t how to read. When I had asked my parents when I would be able to read like my older sister, they had said ‘kindergarten’ and I thought that meant immediately, on the first day. I was so disappointed to know that there was no magical trick that enabled me to read by virtue of being in Kindergarten. But by Christmas of that school year, I knew how to read books. By 4th grade, I was reading at a 9th grade reading level and I still like to read novels when I have time. However, so many children never reach full proficiency in reading by 4th grade, and will never enjoy school because of this disadvantage.

On a recent Facebook post about adult illiteracy, a friend asked me why I think it is that so many children do no learn to read in school and need remedial tutoring. I told her that I think it’s because of the lack of resources to so many single mothers who are working so hard to support their families. In fact, when I was living in Central America, I had a friend who fit this exact mold. Her son Jared was in Standard 1 (about 3rd grade) and he had never mastered basic phonics. His mother managed a hotel, owned her own business, and had two other children to care for. Jared was lost in the chaos of her life, as are most middle children. His grandmother watched him after school, and the group tutoring sessions he went to simply weren’t enough.

I started tutoring Jared 3 times a week after work, because he had fallen so far behind that he might be held back. Some thought that he might be disabled, because he would just stare at his tests. But really, I’m pretty sure that it was because he just couldn’t read them. Word problems in math were impossible for him too, because he couldn’t read. Taking notes from the blackboard was a jumble of confusion. And reading comprehension was simply out of his league. We began working together using hooked on phonics. After taking time to go back to the basics, Jared eventually began to pass his spelling tests. We were reading small books together by the time I left in December, and it was so hard to leave knowing that his mother would not have time to continue his tutoring.

There are so many Jareds in the school system in the United States, with single mothers who struggle to keep their families housed. They may not receive child support, might be working three jobs, and have zero spare time. It seems impossible to prioritize reading with their kids,when they are struggling so hard to survive. And their children will most likely never excel in school, if they don’t have a basic understanding of phonics before they reach that decisive age. It’s literally sink or swim. As one teacher in Orlando puts it: “Lack of access to quality education – you might as well be drowning in a pool.” Now that is something to cry about.

Small Homes for Families

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Small Homes for Families

Last year there was a tiny house exhibit at Central Florida Earth Day 2015. Since I had just visited Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon, I naturally wanted to visit. And I took my grandmother with me for a day of quality time strolling around Lake Eola. My preconceived notions led me to believe that the tiny homes would be ideal for chronically homeless individuals; but my grandmother’s stories changed my perspective. They led me to believe that small homes would be perfect for housing homeless families, victims of domestic abuse, single mothers with children, and especially to provide affordable housing for the working poor in general.

While we were looking at one tiny houses that looked like a doll house, Mamita surprised me by explaining that she had raised four children in a room half as small. She would swing two babies in hammocks, while two children slept in bed with her. Some of her children were already grown, and occasionally her drunken husband would come home to rape and impregnate her again. So, sometimes there would be as many as six people in this tiny shack. She would cook on a fire hearth stove in the corner of the room.

Mamita told me about the struggle that was her life – including some stories that I already knew, but still I always listen. She worked as a nanny for a little girl with Down’s syndrome during the day, and sold bus and boledo (lottery) tickets at the depot in the mornings and evenings. Then she would stay up until 12 am hand scrubbing sheets and laundry for a shilling ($0.25) a piece. She stayed up even later to cook food for her children to eat the next day, then woke up at 5:00 am to fold laundry and do it all again. I don’t think she even had days off.

Being the type of person who loves to sleep, I didn’t understand how she could even function on such little sleep. But this is how she raised ten children – in a tiny house, with an abusive alcoholic husband, who was only there some of the time and never helped. My perspective on small homes for the homeless was forever changed that day, as I realized that these structures needed to be so much more than just “better than being homeless.” They needed to be built so well that I would be happy for my grandmother to raise my mother there, and for other working mothers to be able to raise their children out of poverty. They should set a standard of excellence that people will want to see and replicate.

I’m really looking forward to my grandmother visiting again next month. I can’t wait to spend time with her and just listen to her stories. She is such a strong little lady. She will be 86 this year, and she continues to inspire me to be the woman I am today.  I am so blessed to have her in my life, and I can’t wait to show her the New Dignity Small Home that my team is building as an affordable housing model.