My Christmas Carol (a tribute to Charles Dickens)

It's the night before Christmas, and the world seems so still to me. The night is quiet, the air is cool, and the moon is the brightest thing in the clear sky. Since it's close to the end of the year, it's the perfect time to ponder and wonder.

The past has passed, but still within me. It resides in my memories and everything else in me. I am a result of my past actions and experiences. I've made many great friends over the years. I think about them more than they probably think I do. Even if I haven't talked to them in years, I still cherish my past experiences; they've helped me grow.

I'm not who I used to be, I'm a more developed version of me. I used to be really shy. I used to be more introverted. I used to be socially awkward. Now I'm a a better version of me than I've ever been thanks to all of my friends, family, classmates, co-workers, colleagues, and acquaintances who've blessed me in one way or another. If you know me, take comfort in knowing that I'm thankful to have you in my life.

I know I'm not "perfect." My past has a good amount of pain, heartache, and dark clouds. There were many times I should've tried harder, said something I should've, or moments I let slip by. I've tried my hardest to atone my mistakes. I've learned to take painful experiences as powerful lessons for personal growth. I can truthfully look back on my life and say that I've had a good life.

Now in the present I try to be the best version of me possible. With each passing day, I live in an effort to balance the lessons I've gained in the past and my hopes for the future. I try to be an exemplary role model for my family and anyone who might look up to me. Every day I try to make as little mistakes as possible. Tonight I can honestly say that I'm truly happy. I have a great family. My friends are the best. My career is exactly what I want it to be for now. I'm satisfied with where my life is and where it's going.

For the future, my heart is full of hope and faith. I believe that my better days are ahead. I have faith that all my efforts to do good in this world isn't in vain; that something profound will erupt and surprise me. I believe that the world is a kinder and more loving place than I've dared myself to imagine. 

Confessions of a Love Affair with Books

People who know me know that I love books. I loved browsing through the book section of stores when I was a kid (and I still do). I still remember exploring stories of superheroes and ordinary people who became extraordinary.

When my wife and I started dating, we would grab coffee and stroll through Barnes and Noble or Borders talking about anything we saw and everything that related to it. We'd talk about Shakespeare's poetry, popular books, and the relationship between literature and life. We still do this to this very day.

At home, I have two bookshelves bursting with books of all different genres. (Truth be told, I really need a third one.) I read books like how I listen to music; I make decisions based on what mood I'm in. Sometimes I want to use my imagination and visit somewhere not here. Sometimes I want to learn something new. Other times I want simply to be entertained. I like literature that makes me think, challenges me to see the world differently, make me feel something, or rejuvenates my faith in humanity.

Looking at my collection, I somehow see a reflection of me. On the bottom lie my children's books that I passed down to my son. There are novels from my youth; my favorite ones stand like trophies on the bookshelf. There are plenty of books that I bough but haven't read yet. Like my life, they have stories waiting to be told.

I love books with coffee. I love books with friends, strangers, and stimulating conversations.  I love books with power, deep meaning, and something to say. I just simply love books.

Persistence (a poem)

On the day of "the end of the world"
self-evidence surely shows
that the world still goes on.

Even in the impact of tragedies
times moves slow and fast
but perpetually persists forward.

Through the dense fog of uncertainty
people still push ahead
until there is some clarity.

Today is a wonderful day;
something beautiful to say
and repeat

The Purpose of Darkness (a poem)

Would we know the value of sunshine
if there were no such thing as clouds?
How would people know what light is
without the darkness around?

How would we know joy
if there were no grief to contrast it to?
Would people truly understand
the sweet success of victory
if there were no obstacles to fight through?

If every day was like yesterday,
how can anyone say
that it's such a wonderful day?

The good, the bad, the evil
are needed
to see the better side
of everything, period.

This is my guarantee:
It helps us see
the very best
of what life can be.

Theophilus (a poem by Chris Kirkpatrick)

For awhile
I believed you’d
Betrayed me

Not for another

But the idea
I’d relished for so long
Was no longer

Some warped
Fun house mirror

Neither you, nor I
But clearly us.

Chris Kirkpatrick is the author of two books of poetry, Learning to See from the Blind and Mixed Metaphors.

How the Lights on Thoroughbred Street Make the Holidays More Awesome!

Last year my wife and I heard about this one street in Rancho Cucamonga, CA where the houses are lit up more than the Main Street Electrical Parade.  Thoroughbred Street is where people all over southern California flock  to enjoy over-the-top home lighting decorations during the December holiday season.  We didn't get to go last year, but yesterday we finally got to experience this Southern California treasure, and we were pleasantly amazed.

A majority of the street was elaborately decorated with lights, enough props to look like a Hollywood movie set, and many customized lawn installations.  Some are elegant, some are simple, and most are humorous. Walking down the street, we saw lawns decorated with Ninja Turtles, The Nightmare Before Christmas cast, the Peanuts gang, and many more.  Some residents even sold hot chocolate, tamales, and pastries on their front driveways.  It was an experience I've never encountered before, and it was so much fun that my wife and I plan on making annual visits here a holiday tradition.

For people planning to visit, get there as early as possible to avoid traffic.  Since it's in a residential area, there is no large parking lot for all the visitors.  Some streets are blocked off because of all the pedestrians.  Park as close as possible to the intersections of Sapphire Street and Thoroughbred Street as possible.  Also, dress warmly.  I wore a sweater and I still was really cold.  I suggest wearing a heavy jacket, a beanie, and gloves. 

Here are some pictures taken yesterday, but it's a lot better in person than it is on camera.


Alchemy (a poem by Chris Kirkpatrick)

If I could
Condense the world
Into a thimble

Or reduce
All problems
Down to one

(Or less)
With a tidy
With but a simple
Wave of my
I’d believe
In the power
Of man
And still manage
To smile
In the mirror.
Chris Kirkpatrick is the author of two books of poetry, Learning to See from the Blind and Mixed Metaphors.

In the Rain (a poem)

Pitter patter
splish splash
Rain above me,
drip on me,
water all around.

Feel the blood of life fall
The cologne of air
is here and everywhere.

An excuse to hide at home.
A reason for soup,
a justification for hot chocolate.

Home feels cozier.
Inside feels warmer.
Winter feels like Winter.

Quotes About the Rain

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet.
- Roger Miller

"Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby."
- Langston Hughes

"The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Tears of joy are like the summer rain drops pierced by sunbeams."
- Hosea Ballou

"Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life."
- John Updike

"Life is full of beauty.  Notice it.  Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces.  Smell the rain, and feel the wind.  Live your life to the fullest potential and fight for your dreams."
- Ashley Smith

The Uncomfortable Conversations that Need to Happen

Yesterday morning during breakfast, I had "the uncomfortable talk" with my son.  It wasn't about the birds nor the bees, but about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, December 14th.  Even though he is only a year old, it's a conversation that needed to happen.  It's important for parents to talk to their kids about everything in the news (good or bad) and especially Friday's tragedy in Connecticut. 

As he ate his blackberries, I briefly told him what happened.  After that, I told him that there are a lot of bad things that happen in the world.  I explained to him that no matter what, mom and dad always love him, even when we're not right in front of him.  As he looked at me, I said that whenever he's afraid, just remember that God is always with him.  It was an uncomfortable conversation, but I knew it needed to happen.

Children need to know that bad things do happen and (heaven forbid) can happen to them.  They need to know that it's perfectly alright to feel scared at times and how to appropriately react to bad situations.  They also need to know that there is a lot of good people in the world.  At Sandy Hook, the students, teachers, principal, school psychologist, police, and every responder were all heroes in the face of a dark situation.

Kids need to know 24/7 that their parents love them.  They should be confident in knowing that they can talk to their parents about anything.  Since I started early, I hope my little toddler picked up on some of the things I said.

This is just one of the many necessary conversations that I'll need to have with my son throughout his life.  I know I can't fully shield him from the evils in the world, but I can arm him with as much wisdom and knowledge to give him the best life possible.

How Teaching Nourishes My Soul

by Mandy Lau
Guest Author

As the holidays approach, one becomes more reflective about life. Like, what did I spend all of my money on this year? Or what is the true meaning of the holidays? Well, from the perspective of an educator, those are easy questions to answer.
During the holidays we think of those we love, cherish moments that we have had and enjoy the company of people we value most. As a teacher, many of those whom I love and care for are my students. I think about the money I have spent over the past year and recall that much of money has gone towards decorations for the classroom, prizes for my students and books for my babies to read while we have Silent Sustained Reading.  What can I purchase to help my lowest readers? What about my students that need a challenge? Will they be able to digest something like, The Tao of Wu, written by Wu Tang Clan member The RZA? All these questions I ask myself when thinking about the ones I love the most during the holidays, my students. There is no denying that there are family, friends and significant others, but the truth remains that when you’re a teacher, and you love what you do and what you love, your students come first.
So what makes teaching so fulfilling? The knowledge that you are helping someone empower themselves through their own education would be a good start. It is amazing to see a student, who secretly wants to be writer, come back to your room and tell you that they want to borrow a philosophical, wise and extremely insightful book such as the Tao of Wu over Thanksgiving break to just read because they can’t stop being interested; student, who just last week received a beating to her face by an angry parent.  
There are so many times when my significant other and I, who is also an educator, have wanted to adopt some of our students but alas, we do not have the resources nor do we have the ability to take them as our own. The environment that our students live in does not change. I have taught in Compton and Eastside San Jose and the issues remain. The fighting, the violence, the drugs are a constant reminder of what our youth are fighting against. We are a nation forged on capitalism, so it’s every person for themselves. Thus, it is very powerful to see young students who can educate themselves, to see students who want to learn, and to watch them get excited about learning. It is because of these actions, because of the way we see our youth rise, they become the leaders we always knew they were. It is here, as teachers, we fight. Fight to struggle through the tiresome days and nights of grading hundreds of papers, assignments, losing sleep over creating lesson plans. I work at least a 15 hour day on providing education that is accessible for my students. That means that I breathe, eat, and even dream education. To me, there is enough greed, anger, subjugation and hatred in the world due to a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding each other.
Teaching to me, is creating that counter force.
It is a way to show my students that someone out there believes in them, cares about them and hopes that they can do more than I was able to ever achieve in my life.
Teaching is the nourishment to my soul.

The Only Way to Say "Thank You"

Gratitude is a humble trait admired in the best of people.  There are an infinite number of ways to give thanks.  People often say, "Thank you" verbally, in cards, in emails, texts, and social media posts.  In my experience, there really is only one way to show gratitude: saying it sincerely and authentically.  It's not just the only way, but it's also the best way. 

Whether a person gets a "Thank you" in a note, hug, or written in the sky, the thought that goes into it makes the real difference.  The recipient can tell if it's a sincere or not based on what it is, what it says, and how it's given to them.  It doesn't matter if it's a 99 cent card or expensively sent by singing telegram, authenticity and sincerity matters.

Knowing that, whenever I send an e-mail, Facebook post, any other form of communication saying, "Thank you", I know that it HAS to come from the heart. 

Believing/Needing/ReadyFor Hope (a poem)

Today I have to believe that there is hope.

My inner being has to believe that everything will be okay.
I need to believe that there is good in the world,
that there's love everyone's hearts,
plentiful or dwindling,
but there.

I have to believe that the better in people exists.
It may cry,
it may hide,
but it needs to thrive.

We are ready
for more love
and more hope.

The world is done waiting...

What a Street Light and I Have in Common

As an educator, I deal in the business of helping, guiding, and leading people.  It's easy to confuse that and think that educators change people.  In my experience, I've found that it's impossible to change people. 

It's like the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."I can't force anyone to come to class, but  I can make class engaging and meaningful.  I can't make anyone graduate from high school; all I can do is present them with the knowledge and guidance to do so. 

Since people have free will, they have the ability to make their own decisions.  I only have the power to influence.  My goal every day is to be a role model that inspires and encourages my students to be successful inside and outside of school.  I aim to be a guiding light to help navigate them through obstacles in the darkness. 

For now, that's all I can do, and that's what I'm going to do.

The Value of Rest

For the last few weeks I've been sleep deprived.  I've managed to get an average of about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.  My wife and I have a one year old son who likes to wake us up multiple times in the middle of the night. 

Besides that, I work really hard at work. And when I get home, I still work hard, not because I have to, but because I really want to help out my family. 

Not having at least 8 hours of rest a night has really taken a toll on me.  Not only have I been tired, but I've been continuously tired.  At work I haven't felt 100% focused.  I feel semi-groggy with a cloudy brain. 

I've noticed that it also affected my mood.  I've become more irritable.  There was even a point when everything was irritating to me.  It's not a pleasant situation to be in.  I really hated being this way.

Luckily, yesterday I really got to rest.  I slept in for a couple of hours longer.  I took it easy throughout the day.  I gave myself permission to rest (and sometimes that's hard). 

Almost magically, I felt like a brand new person.  I felt fully focused and able to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather outside.  Most importantly, I felt much happier; as if my negative attitude ran out the front door. 

I know it sounds like common sense, but in the United States, being busy is becoming erroneously overvalued.  It's been my experience that people like being busy because it shows that they're doing something.  At work, it somehow proves to people that they have a purpose for being there.  Being busy somehow shows that we have lives.  Unfortunately in the Great Recession, there are many people who have to work extremely hard just to make ends meet. These people deserve to have rest.

It seems that Americans have become so busy that things like sleep and exercise take a back seat to work.  In reality, the more effective people are the ones who focus on being productive, not busy. 

This is my wake up call.  It's a reminder to regularly give myself permission to rest, exercise, and make time for me.

3 Simple Ways To Make Holiday Cards More Personal

It's that time of year again!  It's the winter season that is full of fun and festivities.  Along with it is the informal ritual of giving holiday cards.  It's been my experience that the rise of e-cards and social networking has been making the annual holiday card less personal.  As I work on writing and sending out my holiday cards this year, these are some tips that I keep in mind to help make them a little more special.

Make It an Actual Physical Card
Every year I get less physical cards and more electronic correspondences.  I've seen people send out a generic e-mail with an e-card containing a general message.  It typically is something like,

Season's Greetings!

Hope you have a wonderful holiday season. 

The Rios Family

I've also witnessed people post a simple and generic, "Happy Holidays everyone!" on their Facebook status updates.  I've also gotten text messages saying, "Merry Christmas!" sent out to everyone in their phone's address book.  While there is nothing wrong with that, it's no replacement for a personal holiday card. 

E-mails, e-cards, status updates, and text messages become so prevalent that actually getting a physical paper card packs more meaning than it ever has before. 

Write a Personalized Note
This does take a little extra time, but it's totally worth it.  I try as much as I can to make each card different with a specialized messages.  I take the time and put in the effort to start of with a greeting like, "Dear Zarate Family" or "Dear Dave, Desiree, Emma, and Lucy." 

The whole message in the card is handwritten.  It's much more meaningful to the recipient than a computer printed message on a card, no matter how neat the font looks.  If I really want to make it more personal, I'll write the message in cursive (which is also becoming more rare nowadays and consequently even more special). 

Be Holiday Specific
In more recent years, it has become increasingly politically correct to say, "Happy Holidays" to everyone as a blanket greeting.  It has sort of become the one-size-fits-all greeting.  The world is full of diversity and along with that, people who celebrate various winter holidays.  Making the effort to greet someone, "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukkah," or "Happy Kwanzaa" shows that I took into consideration that person's background and traditions. 

These are just some ways to make a holiday greeting card more personal.  There are many more methods, just take the person/people you are writing to into consideration.

Happy Hanukkah!

From all of us at Nourishment Notes, we'd just like to simply say, "Happy Hanukkah!"

How I was Given the Gift of Giving

I love Christmas time.  It's a time of giving.  I try to give as much as I can whenever I can, but I try a little harder during the holidays.  It was a lesson that was instilled in me by my parents at a young age.

When I was a little kid, I loved getting presents from my family and friends.  As an only child with an extended family, I was pretty spoiled.  I got plenty of toys (I loved that), clothes (eh), and money (which I hated, since my parents put it in my college fund). 

Even as a four year old I noticed that my family gave away much more gifts than we received.  At that time, it didn't seem fair to me.  As a kid who was still learning that people should treat each other fairly, I didn't think this made any sense. 

So I told my mom what I thought.  It wasn't fair.  To me, it wasn't worth the effort to give so much yet get less in return.  My mom just simply told me, "It's better to give than to recieve." 

I didn't get it at that time, it was something to think about every year since we kept on giving.  We made goodie bags every year for all my classmates and even gave a box of wrapped chocolates to our garbage collector.  My mom's words kept ringing in my ear every time I spent long hours shopping for presents, wrapping gifts, and signing cards.

It took me many years to get it, but I finally got it.  It is much better to give than to receive.  Giving brings out the best in people and spreads joy.  Generosity spreads it like wildfire.  Charity helps those who need it.  Every day I'm learning more and more how to be generous with my money, time, patience, and the better parts of my self. 

It's a valuable lesson that I hold near and dear to my heart.  It's a lesson that I want to give to my son.  My mom is the most giving person I know and I strive to live up to her example so that it's passed on to her grandson. 

Thank you mom! :)

Ode To Storytime

This evening my wife and I took our fourteen month son to Barnes and Noble not just because we're big book nerds, but because they had a special event.  Children and their parents from all over the city came for a story time event. 

The whole store was bombarded with people.  I was afraid that my son would get trampled by the sheer amount of people walking around.  When we navigated to the back area, there were children all over the floor spread in a semicircle in front of a lady reading The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.

We sat in the back since our son can get pretty squirmy.  Surprisingly he was calm while observing everything that was happening.

Watching the event brought me back to kindergarten.  Story time was one of my favorite parts of the day.  The whole class sat in front of the teacher as she read to us a different book each day.  I still can remember being drawn into Miss Nelson is Missing, getting scared at the illustrations in Where the Wild Things Are, and being forever inspired after being read The Giving Tree.

It was at a young age I loved being read to by my parents.  Books were one of the little luxuries I was afforded.  It helped jump start my love for reading and probably helped me succeed in school, in my career, and in everything else in life. 

So as my son sat watching everything, I hope he did so with a sense of curiosity.  I want his sense of awe to be sparked and let his imagination flow.  My wish is that he develops a love of reading just as his parents do. 

How I Just Ran with It (Literally)

Last night I did something I've been meaning to in the longest time, but haven't.  It's been something I've been procrastinating on for a little over a year.  Believe it or not, I actually went for a run.

Like many people in the United States, I haven't put exercise at the top of my priority list.  It's easy to come up with excuses: "I'm too busy" and/or "I don't have enough time."  I always want to go running, but getting up early in the morning is hard since I have to go to work early every weekday.  The list of excuses is never ending. 

So last night I just decided to go run.  I made the decision; the hard part was committing to it. I dug through the closet and dusted off my running shoes and decided to go on a simple short 1/2 mile run, nothing too strenuous. 

The run was easy at first.  Since it was at night, the climate was really comfortable.  After a block, I started to feel tired.  My breathing became more rapid.  At that moment I thought to myself, "I really need to get back into shape."

Part of me really wanted to do an intense workout, but I knew that since this was my first time in a really long time that it probably wasn't a good idea.  Moderation and consistency are important, even more important than intensity.  Running regularly at an average pace is more beneficial to my health than an intense run (that I probably wouldn't be able to do) once in a blue moon. 

There was something peaceful about running out at night.  Maybe it's because the streets were less crowded or that most people were already in bed for the night.  Maybe my heart was pumping like it was when I used to be more active. Maybe.

Whatever the reason may be, I felt great last night after the run.  I still felt great this morning.  On the drive to work, I was in a great mood and my mind had positive thoughts flowing all through it.

I'm not training for a marathon, but I plan on doing this regularly.  I plan on going for longer runs for at least four days a week.  Perhaps this is the start of something wonderful.  Who knows, maybe soon I'll be on a marathon on TV, just maybe.

If Life Really was a Highway...

If Life Really was a Highway...

Green lights are signals that tell us to move forward.
Yellow lights are like the times our friends and family tell us to "watch out."
Red lights are the moments we're stuck in and have to come to grips that in life there are some things beyond our control.

Paying for parking is paying for rent.
Car insurance is health insurance.
The gas bill is the grocery bill.
Premium gas is organic food.
A tune up is a doctor's check up.

Sometimes we pass through a scenic view where we just want to capture the moment and stay forever, but we can't.  Time won't let us.

Sometimes there's traffic. Sometimes there's rain, potholes, or detours; we just have to make the best of what's in front of us to get where we need to go.

Moment of Gratitude: Grocery Shopping

Last night something strange hit me.  As I was running a late night errand at the grocery store to pick up some eggs, I realized that I was really fortunate to be able to buy whatever my family or I need. 

Whatever we need, we are able to get.  If we need milk, juice, vegetables, or baby food, it's not a problem.  We haven't had to worry about having enough food.  We actually enjoy the luxury of having healthy food to eat.  We are lucky and blessed. 

At that moment I thought about all the people who would love to be able to walk through the grocery and pick out everything they wanted and needed without worrying about paying for it.  I know I'm privileged. 

Maybe it's because Thanksgiving was a couple weeks ago.  Or possibly since it's now December, and the spirit of the holiday season is almost in full swing.  It's a time of giving.  As a kid I was told that those who have the most have the most to give.  At that moment, I was grateful and inspired to be more of a giver.

At a Glance: Hiking Through Box Springs Mountain Reserve

Although today was cloudy most of the day, it was a great day to go hiking.  It wasn't rainy.  It was just cloudy enough to keep us cool, but yet sunny enough to make it an enjoyable experience.  So my family and I went hiking in Box Springs Mountain Reserve in Riverside County. 

It was really nice out walking in nature; there is something just inherently awesome about it.  The quietness was unreal.  Being surrounded by the hills, rock formations, and the wildlife was a peaceful experience.  My wife had a great time. I also had a great time.  But I don't think that either of us had as much fun as our 14 month old son.  He wanted to touch all the plants, rocks, and especially the dirt.  He wanted to explore and experience everything. 

My wife and I want to teach our son to respect nature.  We want him to learn about the environment and the natural world we live in.  Maybe he'll grow up to be a biologist, a geologist, or maybe even an archaeologist.  Who knows where his interests will guide him.  Hopefully today we sparked it.