All posts by Lisa Chesser

I'm a writer, artist, mother, and award-winning educator who hopes to rally everyone around one single mantra: Be brave, smart, and bold.

LA Femme International Film Festival

LA Femme International Film Festival showcases films by women producers, writers, and directors. This year my sister Jill Michele will be hosting the ceremonies. The only depressing part about it is that I won’t see her do what she does best:  Rally the crowd around a topic with the humor and grace of a writer, producer, actress, and comedian, all of which I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy.

Take a look at what women are creating. You’ll find enlightenment.

http://www.lafemme.org/

Screen Shot 2018-10-13 at 10.41.09 AM

Advertisements

Please don’t lick the frog.

When your dog gets sick, you feel helpless, especially at times when you want to rush her to the doctor but the office is closed. The closest emergency clinic is hours away, so you search the Internet for answers.

In our case, our Golden Retriever who’s not even a year old yet started acting as if she was hallucinating, almost convulsing.

Her head jerked around. She flinched.

Her eyes searched for something with every flinch, darting around with the jerking motion of her head, closer to the floor than usual. Then she swung her head back to her side and bit at herself.

She stopped for a second then repeated this jerking and searching, flinging her head around to her side.

So believable was her search that we looked for bugs, fleas, wounds, anything.

Nothing.

We bathed her and hugged her. We searched her body with our eyes, our hands.

Nothing.

The last time I’d searched for something my own eyes couldn’t see but someone else could I was in my grandmother’s one-room home when she asked me why the little girl was looking at her over there by the door.

I told her that she was just watching over her.

This time, my 11-month-old Golden Retriever searched for something, and couldn’t tell me what she saw. But, just like the little girl, I knew whatever it was, something was wrong.

Our baby.

This time, I also knew that this Golden was experiencing some sort of hallucination and it had nothing to do with an aging mind.

I promised to get her help though, just like my grandmother.

This time, however, the doctor gave us good news. She would be fine.

The bad news was that our Golden, Bailey, had licked a poisonous toad.

Our own form of paranoia set in.

I had a nightmare that giant frogs were climbing the walls to get to her and I was yelling for help. In fact, in our area, Miami-Dade County, Marine Toads are dangerously commonplace. According to the Florida Wildlife Extension’s website, the Marine toad, which is sometimes referred to as the Giant Toad or the Cane Toad, is most prevalent in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties in Florida.

Cane Toad by Steve A. Johnson
Marine Toad image from http://ufwildlife.ifas.ufl.edu/frogs/canetoad.shtml

When it is touched or feels threatened, it produces a toxic substance from its head. Dogs and cats can die from this.

Figuring out whether or not your dog or cat was poisoned starts by noticing a change in their normal behavior. Our dog very quickly showed signs of paranoia and convulsive movements. You can also check their gums, which turn red.

Rinse the poison away.

When attempting to relieve your pet of the symptoms or rid the progression of them, you should take a hose and rinse their mouths being careful to let the water run out of their mouths, rubbing the gums, teeth, and tongue.

Not much else can be done once your dog is exposed to the poison. Some people say you should give them milk. Others say that feeding them peanut butter helps. I gave my dog a bath thinking that something had bitten her, but when she continued the erratic behavior, I knew we needed to have her checked.

Preventing poisoning in the first place.

Know what’s lurking in your surroundings. After taking her to the doctor and confirming that this wasn’t a bite or even an injury to the head. I realized that we often visited a lake that was about half a mile away. Those toads were all over there.

How did they get in our backyard?

The Marine Toads are able to climb walls and burrow under ground. Since this is Florida, every thing is basically a lake because of the rain. Water and insects provide them with perfect breeding grounds.

BaileyLake
Breeding grounds everywhere.

My whole family admonished me for letting her out in the backyard without a leash. I simply bit my tongue, having warned them that we shouldn’t get a dog, knowing that I’d be the one to care for her, knowing I would be blamed when things went wrong, loving her just as much or more than they would and having to endure the guilt that came with it.

Then, holding her in my arms through the night and after the effects of the poison had worn off, I found a love I’d thought that I’d lost so many years before. She breathed with me and lay her head next to mine, a comfort I’d last felt with my grandmother who passed a few years ago. 

Working Smart?

Those white shoes, cushioned platforms of sorts, left our house sometimes for 24 hours. When she returned, she slept. Twelve hours sometimes then worked for 24 more.

 

My mother worked hard and smart. I missed her all the same.

The 24-hour shifts paid more but meant that we’d see her less. She made up for it by taking us on road trips to Disney World for a day. That meant donuts in the car on the way and midnight car rides while we slept and she drove.

For her time, she worked as smart as she could, given the circumstances. She was a tough, single mom who was as pretty as she was smart.

Today, we all work smarter in many ways. Our smartphones make it easier for us to multitask and stay in touch. Our technology seems to improve our lives. We all appear to even have our own personal assistant named Alexa or Google.

And yet, we feel overwhelmed often enough.

We seem to have turned what should make our lives feel easier and freer into a tool to make our lives harder. Our smartphones are overloaded with apps for everything, even apps that will organize our apps. And, stress, oh the stress of perhaps losing that phone that encases everything we hold valuable.

Our computers allow us to create and communicate within seconds what may have taken days or years to accomplish less than 20 years ago. The internet is nothing less than a superhighway taking us anywhere we desire.

But, here we are:  Stressed.

Shouldn’t we be working less? Shouldn’t we be happier?

Some may argue that they are, but as I see children grow up, I see more stress and tension. I see a more insidious sort of self-deprecation that keeps us from seeing who we really are and who we actually want to be.

Our demons are summoned daily with a tap on the f app or a scroll down in Instagram. We aren’t working less. We’re working more, being told what to be, our minds overloading instead of focussing.

Those white shoes walked away so many times that the little girl who watched them resented them. She hated that they needed to work, which meant they rarely stayed in the closet where she wanted them to be. They took her mother somewhere too far away.

Now, with technology, where would her mother be? Close or far? Or walking around in an app?

 

Back to School: Conversations with Kids about Safety and Speaking Up

Preparing for the start of the school year seems even more somber this year than others. Back to school mayhem has begun in some parts of the country. Florida just had its tax-free weekend and parents were no less aggressive about stocking up on supplies. But, all of us, at some point, looked at a pencil pouch among our stacks of spiral notebooks while snagging glue sticks on the way to check out and wondered if our children would really be safe.
None of us needs to watch the news in order to understand the anxiety that many children, parents, and educators feel when thinking about the start of a new school year after the horrific violence so many students experienced last school year.
And, yet, it’s there, coming straight toward us.
Anxiety Looms
The opinions and arguments about who ignored what in the recent school shootings riddle the news and the Internet. In hindsight, anyone would have done more if they knew there would be this kind of violence targeting schools.
I know, when thinking of my own students this coming school year, I just want them to feel safe with me. To just tell them this would be pointless. They won’t be able to look at me and think, Yeah, this teacher’s tough. She can deal with a school shooting, no problem.
I certainly pride myself on being a strict teacher simply because I can’t stand it when kids bully each other; however, my demeanor isn’t at all tough even if you stuck me in a security guard uniform. Then again, I don’t know that many people, let alone school children, have much confidence in security guards at this point.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to dialogue and taking the time to actually, yes, literally, really, genuinely care. Enough teachers and educators just don’t care and the students know it. The fact is that teachers are human and have an extremely stressful job.
Ensuring SafetyTalkSchool
Here’s the thing, any school worth its salt will be putting together several plans to maintain a secure environment as well as other important safety precautions.
But, dialogue, conversations between the administration, teachers, parents, and students will create a powerful bond and help everyone deal with their concerns and outright fears instead of hiding them.
CBS News addresses dealing with students’ concerns in How to Talk to Kids about School Violence.

Reminding students that they do have control over what happens to them and that they are in a safe environment in general gives them a sense of peace in the midst of an already stressful circumstance.
Many schools encouraged student Walkouts last school year, giving students a much needed voice at a time when so many were left speechless not just because of the violence inflicted on students but the repeat violence. Just watching the news and listening to the fears of the students involved in the shootings caused students across the country to worry about their own safety.
Speak Up
Students know that they are returning not just to schoolwork and homework but also to gossip, bullying, and social interaction that some love but most have a hard time dealing with in one way or another.
They need to talk to someone about their worries, so it’s important to ask questions as teachers and parents and then to listen and reassure them that there’s no reason to believe that their school will be attacked. However, if there is a reason to believe that, then students need to be encouraged to speak up.
They especially need to feel safe when speaking up. So many students don’t want to “tattle” or “rat out” other students because they are the ones who have to deal with the insidious ways bullies operate.
Watch Out for Bullying
Students experience bullying in various degrees and forms on a daily basis and often don’t speak up about it for fear of being bullied even more afterward.
A former teacher, school counselor, and school administrator wrote a good piece titled Bullying: What Schools, Parents, and Students Can Do for the Huffington Post.
Often enough, students handle the bullying themselves thinking of how much worse it would be if they were to ask teachers or administration for help.
But, students need to know when to get help. That’s something they need to be allowed to figure out for themselves.
That’s why there needs to be multiple conversations every day between teacher and student and student and parent and student and student and school counselor and student and administrator and student and right back to teacher.
And, it shouldn’t stop there. The whole of our communities need to look and listen. Ignoring problems often makes them worse.
Conversations 
Conversations need to happen often and need to be ongoing and available. The teachers are asking students how they are, if they got sleep, why they didn’t do the homework, why were they late? That’s just the basics.
There will be rules, oh so many rules. There is and will be security. Then, there’s life.
Students may not roll their eyes to your face, but they’ll definitely do it behind your back and then some if they think you’re anything less than genuine.
In other words, they aren’t stupid enough to think that if they simply tell on a bully that, poof, they’ll find themselves in a magical world of unicorns who fly them away to a cloud city with no guns and only sparkly do-gooders. For the most part, they wouldn’t even want that.
So, when you strike up that conversation, be ready to talk about everything… oh yeah, and be ready to talk about nothing at all, especially if it’s a tween or teen.
Then, try again tomorrow.

Hiding You

Our secret desires often stay hidden away until death or until we just can’t take it anymore and go crazy, delivering spurts of truths until death–the luxury of finding solace in an insane asylum wavering somewhere between picking up the kids and drinking the next Starbucks coffee.

So much of our lives are full of secrets because we’re afraid to tell the world who we really are and in many circumstances we’re right to stay quiet, but I love stories about people who find a way to express themselves anyway.

Karamo Brown from Netflix’s Queer Eye recently spoke about not hiding from who you are.

We all love to announce who we are when we’re little, before maybe age seven, maybe eight. Then, we notice the disapproval, the stares, the outright punishments if we push it too far.

Then we become teenagers and, well, we all know that changes everything, even if it’s momentary.

My husband donned a mohawk that rivaled that of a horse’s black mane. I drove across country and back again by myself just to prove I could do it. Both of us could dance at the hottest clubs in Miami almost every night and still show up to class or work the next day.

Did we change? A lot.

The vast majority of us begin to hide our real feelings in order to acclimate to the social norms that make us the good, upstanding citizens who are allowed to participate in going to a good college, finding a good job, renting an apartment, and maybe, just maybe, buying a home and keeping it.

But, it’s the remarkably brave ones like Karamo Brown who remind us that sometimes we don’t have to hide and it turns out a whole lot better than being like everyone else.

Who are our heroes?

When the days bleed together and feel like a blood clot pulsing in your leg, you know you need to take a moment to do something, anything to relax. Nowadays, people often turn to YouTube, Netflix, or television in general.
I turn to Conan, Team Coco, anything Conan O’brien.
I recommend his show for adults who are stressed out of their minds, who are having a crappy day, who just need to laugh, a genuine, guttural laugh that leaves them wondering what the hell they were upset about anyway.
Right now, I’m watching The Invincible Conan San Diego 2018, where he conducts his show in the midst of the yearly Comic Con held there.
My children sometimes sit and watch it with me, sometimes roll their eyes and retire to their phone zone, but I bellow the kind of laughter that usually sends me scurrying from a room with someone of similar noise level.
He is my hero. He has saved my sanity ever since I spent my days breastfeeding my newborn daughter at 11, then 1 a.m. I would sit and watch him to keep me awake but mostly to make me cry tears of such therapeutic laughter that I was not only able to continue the bootcamp conditions of motherhood but do it happily and sometimes even with grace.
I’m not only writing about this at the moment because of his current special at Comic Con but because I want to highlight heroes in our lives who help us stay brave, smart, and bold.
After reading Philately. Lately. on Discover, I began to realize that I’ve missed the mark when writing here at WordPress. I created this blog/website to explore the ideas of being brave, smart, and bold, and yet, I ended up writing about those moments without focusing on any one element except for writing itself.
Philately. Lately. zeroes in on one topic and sticks to it.
That’s what I hope to accomplish here, more often, mostly, all the time, I hope.
If you have suggestions, if you’d like to be interviewed as one of those heroes, if you just want to chat about what a hero really is, please take the time to comment and continue this dialogue.