Rings on My Fingers

Rings are my favorite kind of jewelry. I have so many it’s embarrassing, but everyone has something they just love. It is a rare day when I don’t have less than seven rings on at once.

I recently bought a handmade sterling ring from an artisan in Ewa Beach, HI. I have an ongoing love affair with all things Hawaiian, and when I saw this little hand-hammered ring shaped like a wave, it reminded me of all the times I have happily stood in the surf, mesmerized by each wave.

Although I love the ocean, I don’t like to think of the depths of the ocean. Shallow water and waves are enough for me. Waves are endless entities. When one crashes on the beach, there are always more behind it.

This little ring is a reminder that the waves in our lives come and go. There are some we are meant to ride all the way to shore, and there are some that tumble us over and over again, leaving us breathless and disoriented.

But the one sure thing is that the waves will come; we just need to embrace them or let them tumble us. Each one teaches us something we need to know.


*TANSTAAFL or There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Robert Heinlein was right; there really is no such thing as a free lunch. When you think about it, you really don’t get something for nothing; there is always a catch. It’s a bit like the free shipping you get if you buy more stuff to qualify for it. Perhaps you didn’t really want all that stuff, but the free shipping caught your eye…..and there you are, paying more for the “free” shipping.

The “something for nothing” principle is, I think, responsible for the staggering debt some folks have. I too was once so entranced with my credit cards and the alluring promise of ‘buy it NOW! You don’t have to pay for it until later.’ And when the ‘later’ came, it was clear just how much money I had let slip through my fingers.

The “free lunch” concept is not only about money, either. Say that you are ready to move to a new place. You don’t have enough stuff to need a professional mover, but you do need to rent a U-Haul. So you ask a few friends to help you move. This is a pretty big favor, so you really should provide lunch and drinks (limit those drinks to soda, water or juice; beer is a bad idea; trust me on this one).

It is a win for both you and your friends. You get help moving your stuff, and the friends get to enjoy a lunch. The lunch isn’t free labor-wise; your friends “paid” for the lunch by helping you move.

Then there is the ‘wonderful job offer’ which initially looks like a free lunch, but isn’t. When I was a lot younger I was working for a good company and I loved my job. My immediate boss was a charismatic young man who was not only smart and successful, but he looked after his people and stood up for them.

One day he approached me and asked if I would like to work for him exclusively. He said that he and his wife were starting their own company and that they would very much like me to be part of it. There would be a significant raise involved, too, as well as many perks; better health insurance, more days off, etc.

I was flattered by his offer. I knew his wife well; she was every bit as ambitious and career-driven as he was. They had me over to their house for dinner, and we discussed the new business and what my place in it would be.

Long story short, I left my job and joined their company. Initially, I felt I had won the jackpot. The job was perfect for me, and I was making more money. However, over time I began to see a pattern. It seemed that I was expected to agree with everything my bosses said and did. But even then it didn’t seem to be a big deal.

However, one day I was asked to “spy” on another company. At first, I thought that they were joking. They both had a great sense of humor, so I laughed when they told me what my role would be. No returning laughter. They were dead serious, and what they were proposing to do was just about as close to illegal business practice as you could get without landing in jail.

I realized then that the fancy new job, the money and the perks were just the cheese that led me into the mousetrap. I couldn’t do what they wanted, and I disagreed with their business ethics. So I was fired on the spot. My “free lunch” had a huge price tag.

This is why I always keep “tanstaafl” in mind. Truly there is no such thing as a free lunch. Somehow or other, you’re going to pay the bill for that lunch.

*”TANSTAAFL” or “There Ain’tNo Such Thing As A Free Lunch,” concept from Robert Heinlein’s book, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

Teaching and Learning

From the moment I realized that I could read, I wanted to shout to the skies for the whole world to hear: “I can read! I can READ!!” Up until that time, my mother and my grandmother read to me, and, while I still loved that, I longed to read on my own. Books were my passion, and just as soon as she could, Mom got me a library card. From then on, my world expanded.

When I was in grade school and then high school, English classes were my favorites. I wrote stories and poems and haikus; plus I experimented with writing styles from my favorite authors; Stephen Crane, Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe and others. Over time I developed my own style of writing.

I decided to go to a teaching college to get my degree. My goal was to teach English and turn the hearts and minds of students to the magnificence of reading, writing, poetry, grammar, perfect sentence structure, style, etc. All I could think about was how much I loved it all and wanted young minds to love it, too.

Back then, if you were going for a teaching degree, you didn’t get to “student teach” until you were in your senior year. Although my focus was on teaching high school students, my student teaching was directed toward junior high (or what they now call ‘middle school’) students.

Well—let’s just say that the most I did during my student teaching was to bore the pants off my students. I also made the classic rookie mistake of trying to be their friend. The only bright spot I remember from it all was the time I asked them to write a Halloween short story. After all the moaning and groaning ended and my student teacher adviser in the back row of the classroom rolled her eyes, they got down to it. I took their stories back to my dorm room to read and correct that evening.

All except one were pretty average, mostly based on horror movies they had seen. But one boy’s story got my attention. This boy barely looked up during my classes, and only rarely contributed a word or two. But his horror story delighted me and made me laugh. He had written about an innocent snow tire in his father’s garage. When the moon was full, it grew studs and tore around the neighborhood, running over people.

To this day, it makes me laugh. I gave the kid an ‘A’ for creativity. I will never forget the surprise and shy delight in his eyes when I handed him back his story.

Student teaching taught me that school was not my favorite place, and that I didn’t enjoy teaching English at all. I found that you can’t always fire up enthusiasm for subjects you personally adore, but others don’t. But my teaching degree opened doors for me for jobs I liked. Gradually, I became a technical writer, and all the things I’d learned in college clicked into place.

Along the way, I took up Tae Kwon Do for exercise, and to my surprise, I found I adored it. For three and a half years, I sweated, kicked, punched and learned holds and moves to counteract attacks. Although this was a ‘non-contact’ school, I still got plenty of bumps and bruises. I finally attained my first black belt, and later on received my second, third and fourth degree black belts.

Two other women and I started a school and instructed together. I discovered that I absolutely loved this kind of teaching. Children and adults paid us to teach them; a far cry from the classrooms where no one appeared to listen or learn—they all wanted to be there. And it wasn’t about the money, either—I learned a teaching style that worked for me. If a student just couldn’t grasp a new move, I had to come up with a way to make them ‘get it.’ In my mind, the student wasn’t at fault; I was. So often I used different methods for different students, and it worked.

I taught Tae Kwon Do for ten years and loved it. I loved my students, and loved their progress. When they received their black belts they thanked me; I would tell them that I only showed them what to do: that they were the ones who actually did all the hard work.

So even though I went to college to obtain a teaching degree, I got much more from it than becoming a school teacher. I learned more about myself and how I operate in the world; most of all, everything I learned I found I could apply to life itself. In teaching, you must learn to be clear, understandable, approachable and most of all, flexible. Even though my student teaching experience was a disaster, I learned from it.

Best of all, I found that teaching benefits both teacher and student. As an added plus, the experience enriched my life in more ways than I can count today. I treasure all the classes I took in college, all the frustration of student teaching, and all the satisfaction of watching a shy child work hard to obtain a new rank in karate.

The truth is, you can be the kind of teacher who teaches the same things in the same way for years and years. Or you can be the kind of teacher who grows and changes, keeps their mind open, learns what works and what doesn’t, and most of all, is flexible.

It’s like the old oak and willow story; you can be as strong and unmoving as an oak tree, or as whippy and flexible as a willow tree. But when the high and damaging winds come, the oak may break and fall. The willow will not because it has learned how to bend.