Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Packing list

Over a week ago when I was packing up me and the kids to escape to the beach from the intense smoke, I had a conversation with Jason before leaving. Since he was staying home, we talked about "if we had to evacuate our home, what would you pack in the car". We've never really talked about this before and I think I just needed peace of mind knowing that he knew what I valued most.

Here is my list:

- Our computer (pictures and files)
- Wedding album, childhood photo albums (kids albums when I get around to doing them)
- the painting we brought back from Tuscany, Italy (every time I look at it I remember our
fabulous (pre-kids) trip)
- my box of Santas (if possible, I buy one on every vacation and mark the bottom with place
and date - it's a trip down memory lane every Christmas and I love them)
- my favorite pair of jeans, that is, if I'm not wearing them (hey, it's hard to find a great pair)
- my jewelry (trust me, I don't have anything fancy)
- my Canon camera

And, that is it. Talia says she wants her snuggle, and Quinn wants his legos. Jason says the computer, wedding album, and then shrugs when I ask if there is anything else. Ya, he's simple that way.

I attended my kid's school assembly yesterday, and each class took turns going on stage presenting and saying what they were thankful for in their life. The #1 thing was their family and friends ("I'm thankful for my mom and dad 'cause they made me"), then the earth, their home, being alive, and food. Not one student mentioned their Wii or big screen television or iPod. What meant the most to them is the basics - the same things that kids around the world value every day. Yes, yes, being the big sap that I am now, I got a little choked up and felt all warm and fuzzy. What a great start to the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Today Quinn said that we "haaaave to have a special breakfast today since it's a holiday and all" and I said "how about popovers?" and I got a big "YES!" and a reminder that "you made those for us on our first day of school ya know". I'm thankful that my grandma Ruth made those for me every New Year's Day morning while we watched the Rose Parade. I'm grateful to her for starting that tradition and making me feel so special, and now that I'm a mom I choose to make them not just one day a year, but for the important occasions. And, every time I bite into that hot steamy soft crunchy goodness I smile and thank her and am happy to carry on that extra special yummy tradition...and my kids are mighty thankful, too.

Late night conversation

Quinn: "What do you call a heart that kisses a smoke detector?"
Me: "Gee, I don't know?"
Quinn: "Smart!" (get it? smoke + heart...ha ha ha)

Talia: "Zoe calls me 'Hey Girl'."
Me: "She calls you 'Hey Girl'?"
Talia: "That's our secret club called the Hey Girls and we aren't allowed to tell anyone where it meets."
Me: "Who's in the club?"
Talia: "Zoe, me, Sofia, and Elise, but Elise isn't coming back for twenty days."
Me: "What do you talk about?"
Talia: "Mostly, like, girlish stuff. It's so cool and secret."

Aaah, the difference between boys and girls is quite striking, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Real Housewife of Granada Hills

I've been sick. It was inevitable with two sick kids and continuous lack of sleep due to lots of nighttime coughing. Thanks to a helpful and healthy husband, I spent all day Saturday in bed alone watching tv. Waaay too much tv. Like I haven't been feeling that my appearance is blah and boring enough lately (yes, I'm in a rut), but watching these perfectly refined women doesn't help things. I caught up on six past episodes of Ugly Betty and totally related to her, thinking "that's how I'm seeing myself lately - frizzy and out of touch with fashion". Okay, granted I don't wear loud plaids and flowers with socks and pumps, but my hair is looking pretty unruly and my wardrobe feels outdated and frumpy. Of course it's unrealistic to think that I'll ever look remotely as fabulous as Vanessa William's character on Betty or Debra Messing's Molly on the Starter Wife with shiny curls and amazing wardrobe because real people don't like that! But, it didn't help things that I got sucked into a marathon of Real Housewives of Atlanta (shhh! please don't tell anyone). Okay, granted, these women have personal chiefs at their disposal, professional athlete husbands, huge mansions, and no limits on their credit cards, but I've never seen such beautiful perfect hair in my life and they even wear fake eyelashes and perfect makeup to a "casual" lunch date. That's not real, right? Please tell me the "reality" show brings in makeup and wardrobe people. Granted, they are totally superficial and catty and always fighting, but that's not the point. It messes with my stuffy head!

The more fluffy tv I watch, the more I start to get an unrealistic perception of reality and feel less and less okay with myself. The message is that if I have shiny hair, no glasses, hip clothes, a tan, and big boobs then I will feel sexy and fabulous. I know. I know. That all comes from within and your inner beauty and confidence is what matters, because that's why we like beautiful Betty. But, when I'm in a stuffy yucky feeling miserable state of mind watching beautiful people all day, I just can't help it . I have to remind myself that Wilhelmina character on Betty is ruthless, evil, and terribly lonely, Rebecca Romijn is,well, just naturally blessed, and the Atlanta girls never seem satisfied and treat each other like crap.

I went to dinner the other night with some new mom friends from school. There was me - feeling blah and boring, with blemishes on my forehead, dark roots, and barely able to keep up with the lively and personal (and a bit raunchy) conversation with these confident (I'm sure never self conscious - ha ha ha) sexy women. They were held very little back and seemed so happy be out of the house, free to relate and be uninhibited in safe female company. They even talked orgasms and foreplay with the more than happy young male waiter! It was a bit intimidating, but also exhilarating. Honestly, I know we all have our insecurities and times in our lives when we feel less than spectacular. The things that we talked about that night are the same challenges that we all face as women, wives, mothers, friends, etc. And, I have to think, if I lived the lives of those Atlanta housewives, wouldn't I be more self conscious than I am now? When you place so much value on appearances, are you constantly worried about not looking perfect or keeping up with the latest and greatest? That's a lot of work and energy! Those women may have perfect hair and stylish wardrobes, but nothing about them made me want to be their friend. Ya, maybe I should start caring a little more about how I look and shopping less at Target for my wardrobe. I get that sometimes we all need a little shake-up in our appearance and style, but I also have to be okay with me regardless of how I look. Experiencing the magic of a great night out with friends, relating and laughing and being honest, that's better than diamond bangles and perfectly manicured nails. That's real life and I feel rich for it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Personal buckets

I think it's the kindergarten age or something, but tattling is a big issue right now. My kids definitely like structure and knowing what the rules are, which leads to them noticing when fellow classmates aren't following them. Even before Talia and Quinn started school, we attempted to steer them away from tattling on each other, constantly telling them to "use their words" and to work out a compromise before coming to us. But, I still hear things like "Quinn is in my waaaaay!" and "Talia is looking at meeeee!". It's a constant work in progress. Sigh.

As part of the tattletale education and aversion therapy, I ordered a few books. One is Tattlin' Madeline, and the other one, and my favorite is called Have you Filled a Bucket Today - A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Now, I know it sounds like a cheesy kid self-help book, but it's actually really good. The book is based on a concept called bucketfilling and the idea is that we are all born with an invisible "bucket" and carry it around with us. According to the book, the purpose of the bucket is to "hold your good thoughts and good feelings about yourself" and you are happy when it's full and sad when it's empty. You fill yours and other buckets by making people feel special and by doing nice things. A bucket dipper "says or does mean things that make others feel bad", thus dipping into your bucket and theirs. I love that it teaches you to feel positive about doing good deeds for others and to think twice before doing something mean, ultimately making one more aware of how you affect others, good or bad.


Now that my little learners understand how being a tattletale dips into buckets and can lead to losing friends, they hardly tattle tale at all now, or so they tell me. But, humm, they now notice how often other kids still tattle and how annoying and hurtful it is. Funny how that happens and it is one of the most powerful tools - having the tables turned on you and realizing how lousy it feels.

As usual, my kids always have something to teach me. While I'm reinforcing the personal bucket idea to them, it also makes me think about mine. I don't really like psychobabble, but it's an interesting concept and makes sense. I love the idea that it's not about doing grand gestures and saving the world, but more about doing (or not doing) little things. Telling someone they look pretty can go a long way - showing that we notice them and giving them a smile (fill + fill). It can even be as simple as looking the sales clerk in the eyes (filling) instead of talking on the cell phone the whole transaction (dipping). Or, my husband turning on the outside light for me when I'm out late (filling) or when I forget to kiss him goodnight (dip dip). While my kids were in their gym class yesterday, the most annoying mom ever was bragging loudly to her loyal followers (and the whole room) about her big audition for a new mommy show on the Food Network. She like said like oh my god like more times than I can like count and if I was forced to watch her on tv it would be like going to a Neil Young concert - yes, sheer torture. But, her "fans" seem to love her and she's probably like totally a great cook and like a fun friend, and while I had bucket dipping visions of pushing her off the highest balance beam, I chose to wish her good luck in my head, put in my iPod headphones, and concentrate on my Body and Soul magazine instead. Wait, where was I going with this...oh ya, buckets.

I wonder if as we get older, we add more buckets like we do hats, like our marriage bucket, friend bucket, employee bucket, parent bucket, etc. If we spend too much effort on keeping our work bucket full do we dip into our family one? If our parent bucket gets depleted after a rough day with the kids, do we have anything left in us to help keep our marriage bucket full? If we neglect a friend and the friendship buckets stay empty too long can they ever be filled again? Are there some people that simply lack the gene to understand this concept, like emotional vampires? Uh oh, my head is starting to spin. I'm thinking too much about this. Anyway, start fillin' those buckets and please have a lovely and meaningful day. I like totally mean it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Beach escape pictures


There we are, breathing in the delicious fresh air and watching the Montecito fire from a far. Thank goodness Oprah's dogs are safe at the Four Seasons Hotel. Whew!

Mostly blue skies and lots of surfers.

Only a few hours later and the sky is orange/brown from the new fires to the east of us. The strange light looks like I'm wearing brown shaded sunglasses.

My thoughts are with the firefighters, evacuees, and those that lost their homes. So so sad.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Return of the smoke and the beach

We wake up this morning to Quinn saying "It smells like a candle burning in here" and we think, umm, that's not a candle and that can't be the Montecito fire an hour away. So, we turn on the tv and see the BREAKING NEWS!!!! that a new fire is burning a few miles north of our home. We go through our regular morning routine, but quickly realize that the smoke is becoming stronger and stronger and I'm starting to have a tight chest and maybe it's not such a good idea for us to stay here. And, then my mom calls saying she's worried about our health, so that just confirms my thoughts - time to book a hotel by the beach and get out of here. I know, I know, not so horrible to stay in beautiful Manhattan Beach for the day and night - didn't take much convincing. Ya, in fact, I'm looking forward to a change of scenery and a chance to revisit my beloved South Bay area. 


The $109 3-bed-suite at the new beach close hotel is perfect (and a total deal), so we check in, bounce off the walls with excitement, drive mommy crazy, then head for the beach. As we walk downhill toward the pier, I take in a big whiff of fabulous fresh ocean air and I actually get choked up a bit. "Damn, I really needed this" I think to myself. I've gone out of my mind crazy pressured with work and the routine of the day-to-day stuff and have barely had a life. I really miss the beach. I keep inhaling the familiar salty air and smile as we walk to the end of the pier and back. I try to not be too self conscious in my old jeans and t-shirt over my pale body but I can't help it while surrounded by bronzed shirtless young local hunks and cute tan tank top wearing boobs jiggling no cellulite cute 20-something women. Boy, do I feel like such a haggard old fart mom from the Valley.


After a yummy lunch of crepes with the out of control aliens that look a lot like my children but can't possibly be because they are so obnoxious, we take a drive to scout the changes in my old neighborhood. First stop, my old apartment building where I lived with crazy paranoid never washed her sheets for a whole year roommate #1, then crazy breakup with same abusive boyfriend from hell every week then make very loud make-up sex noises the next week roommate #2, then finally my #1 husband (yea! the end of roommates!). On to the great breakfast restaurant where I got engaged, only Unky Roys is now a sushi place (I'm crushed!), then off to one of my favorite stores called Mulberry Cottage that is thankfully still open (yes!!!). I always loved it because they sell neat Christmas stuff all year and I collect Santas and I bought one of my first Santas there oh so many years ago. So, of course I have to indulge and purchase a great Santa to mark the occasion, then drive back to the hotel along PCH and gasp at both the many changes and steadfast institutions that still remain. 


So, as I sit here at the hotel room desk, sipping from my water glass of Smoking Loon Cabernet and nibbling on my Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate Marzipan (they were out of the butter biscuit one damn them!!), oh, and listening to my waaaaay overtired alien children not sleeping, I'm thinking that today is one of the most interesting days I've had in a while. I am so grateful that our home was not in danger from the firestorm and that I have the means to stay at a hotel far away from the smoke for the night. But, it is really odd to come back to the town where I lived during my mostly single years of barely getting by financially and with hardly any friends, but yet feeling so free and happy. I'm here in this familiar place that seems to have changed so much since I've been gone, but yet I come here with a totally new life, too. The worries that I had all those years ago are so different from the worries today. Honestly, I wish that I still lived here by the beach, but my real roots are back in the smokey Valley. My husband is there, my closest friends, my mom, my family, my home, my kid's great charter school, and my favorite restaurants. Sure, I was happy at the beach with the 359 days of perfect weather and laid back lifestyle, but you just can't put a price on being surrounded by loved ones and the feeling of being home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wonder Woman meets the peacocks

Yep, that's Quinn peeking through an amazing "house" built from trees and limbs and sticks all sculpted into this multi-room imaginative wonderland. The picture doesn't do it justice. We found it during our Veteran's day holiday visit to the wonderful LA Arboretum, one of those hidden treasures in the concrete jungle, where you are surrounded by free roaming peacocks and well kept flora and fauna. It's a real gem. They filmed a ton of shows there, including Tarzan movies, On the Road to...movies, Notorious, Lassie, Wonder Woman, Bionic Woman, Love Boat, Buck Rogers, and of course, Fantasy Island! Da Plane! Da Plane! And, to be there with my former co-op partner and close friend and her cute-as-can-be girls made the day even extra special.

For the majority of people, this place is reserved for a weekend or holiday excursion, but for us stay-at-home moms, this was part of our rotation of possible common weekday activities. So, this visit during the week felt normal, but also a reminder of how much our lives have changed since our kids started school. I step more and more out of my comfort zone as the kids get older (and I totally struggle with that), so it's nice to go back to something that feels so comfortable and simple. It was obvious that the kids appreciated it, too, because they were extra exuberant, wild, loud, and smiley. It was like their souls were crying out for freedom to explore and to be young unrestrained spirits, free to climb trees, chase peacocks, and get dirty. They are expected to be so contained during the long school day - following rules, learning social skills and expectations, making/keeping friends, and all this while learning their abc's and numbers.

It's the same for me. Not only do I have the typical responsibilities of work, spouse, family, friends, children, school, etc., but I also place a ton of expectations on myself as well, and if I don't give myself a break once in a while, I also go a bit crazy or blue. While I don't exactly climb trees and roll down hills for a stress release, although I should, I also need my own version of escape or I start to slowly lose my mind and myself. I guess we are all constantly discovering what really makes us happy, and sadly some of us never find that no matter how hard we try. I do know it has to come from within us and we cannot depend on anyone for our happiness. But damn, a good laugh over a glass of wine and pasta with a close friend or a sweet soul-to-soul conversation with my man sure does help. Some days I just have to be content with watching my kids giggle and run and not ask myself "what's in it for me?", and that's okay. Usually happy kids make happy parents and sometimes the best feelings happen when you let go and simply enjoy the moment.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Like your new spaceship R2?

"Actually once the rocket propellers are calibrated you use the injector module to generate the anti-matter which elevates the hyper-frequency to the exact specifications of the electron diamatrix."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Troublemaker

Ugh, okay. Some days are smooth, uneventful, and unmemorable, or some days are insightful, social, and productive, and other days like today...they just never get off the ground. I should be all yea! yea! yea! Obama did it! we are moving forward! and floating on a happy cloud. But alas, a series of meltdowns this morning, the cold mean wind, early daylight savings risers, and a @#$%!* seat belt. I stood outside in the freezing wind trying to unlock a locked seat belt for Talia and the f@#$* piece of sh!@ would not budge and I swear it took fifty minutes and a lot of frustration and an embarrassing mommy-losing-it-moment to finally get it unlocked. Then once at school, I noticed an increased amount of parents standing around talking all jovial and energized wanting to share and relate about the historic events of the day before. The only thing I want to do is drop them off, race home, make a loaf of bread, eat the whole loaf of bread and Halloween candy, and shop on Etsy. But, my daydream is interrupted by Quinn saying "My shoes are too big and don't fit my feet!". Of course. These are the new shoes that he wore yesterday without incident, but today he's wearing a thinner sock and now they are like clogs on him. Silly me for thinking that I could get away with jumping from the now tight fitting size 12 to the size 1 shoe I stored away in his closet. Unable to do anything about it I say "There is nothing I can do about it now. I'm sorry. Have a fun day. Bye.". I image him running across the playground at lunch, tripping on his way too big shoes, smashing his face, breaking his nose, and everyone blaming me for the lapse of mommy judgement on over sized shoes and the doctors tisking their finger at me scolding "What were you thinking you horrible mother?!".

My plan for the day is to go home, put the bread ingredients in the breadmaker, go to Ross for a new pair of appropriate size 13 shoes, then to TJ's for badly needed food supplies (I am out of wine!), home to a divine lunch of freshly baked bread, then work for three straight hours. I find the shoes, plus a pretty long cardigan sweater that called to me, and I walk over to get in line...dun dun dun...it's 37 sad looking people deep! AAAGH! I put my carefully picked items back, go to TJ's instead, then go back to Ross 45 minutes later where there was now no line (victory at last!!!), grab the shoes, grab the sweater, go to the front of the store and !@#$%* the line is now as long as before when I left the first time! So, now I've invested way too much time and there is no way I can leave now, so I suck it up and wait in line. Do you know how badly I wanted to curse out the cashier when I finally made it up to her? I swipe my card, force a smile, and leave.

As we are driving home from their gym class this afternoon (where I scored the glorious single plastic seat in the back away from the crammed overcrowded loud seating area), the kids notice some stores displaying holiday lights on the outside. "Oooh! Look at that store! Ooooh! How pretty! I love it mommy look look!" until we sit in traffic and slowly drove past an adult oriented store with window mannequins wearing lace and leather and of course, that store had lights and Talia was all "Oooh, look at the lights on that sto............" and .... total silence. I quickly chime in "Oooh, look at those cement trucks!" recovering from the awkward moment and turn on the radio. This song comes on and Quinn says "Turn it up. What band is that?" and I say "Um, not sure" and Quinn asks "Is 'Not Sure' the name of the band?" and he starts cracking up and I start cracking up and I reach for those long legs of his and tickle him and we all laugh harder. I don't need the bread or the wine to make me feel better (although it is helpful, I won't deny that) - just my kid cracking a joke and making me laugh. So, I crank up "Troublemaker" by Weezer and sing this great song all the way home..."I'm a troublemaker. Never been a faker. Doing things my own way and never giving up...."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Future voters

Yesterday, Talia asked “Mommy, how long until we get to vote?” to which I replied “Only two more days and I’m sooo excited”. Or course my kids don’t actually vote, but I’ve always included them in the process ever since they were three months old when I loaded them in the double-stroller and proudly walked us to our local polling place. Being a new (exhausted) mom, I could easily vote by absentee ballot, but I needed the exercise and excuse to get out of the house, plus I have a much grander purpose. I want them to grow up voting with me so the idea would be ingrained – you vote when it’s time to vote. No excuses. It’s something that makes you proud and you must honor that hard fought right. Oh, and, it’s fun and exciting. They've worn "I voted" stickers from every election since then.

I make a point to never discuss the specific issues or candidates in front of them. Right now, they don’t need to know about why the world is a scary place, why we are all worried, and who we think/hope/pray will best lead us toward positive change. I don’t want them to be concerned about the current screwed up wars, rising unemployment, financial market instability, threat of higher taxes and less services (more cuts to their already lean public school budget), people losing their homes in droves to foreclosure, etc.. They are too young to be scared about that - let them keep building forts and drawing rainbows for now. I do want them to know that I am voting for a new president of the United States, a very important job that’s like the principal of their school, only on a much larger scale – bigger than the mayor and even the governor of California.

As I take them to vote with me through the coming years, the elections will take on new meaning for us. They will express more curiosity and questions. I’ll be able to discuss more details about the issues and encourage them to develop their own opinions about the issues. I don’t necessarily want them to believe my same political/social views (one can only hope), but I just want them to appreciate the democratic process and the importance of voting. I think about the fact that in 1918 when my late grandmother Ruth was born, women were not allowed to vote (that came 2 years later). I cannot imagine my husband being allowed to vote but not me or any fellow moms, my male co-workers voicing their will for our future but not me or my female co-workers, or the naive 18 year-old male high school graduate casting his vote but not me with all my 37 years of wisdom.

Ya, so, my kids don’t remember strolling up to the voting booth with me as newborns. But, that less than five minute act of inking the election ballot is significant and important. It was the first “small” step in a series of ever growing bigger and bigger steps toward their enthusiastic participation in our country’s democracy and future. My grandma Ruth would be so proud of me.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Carving pumpkins

As an adult, I've always sort of dreaded Halloween. I'm not completely sure why since there was no major traumatic event, but I think once I grew out of it as a kid, it never came back to me. In my early twenties, it was more about people dressing trampy and getting drunk, and I wasn't interested in that whole idea, well, mostly. In my late twenties early thirties I didn't really do much of anything on Halloween because a. lack of friends = lack of parties, b. I just wasn't into it, and c. I realized that was okay because most people don't go to fabulous parties in big mansions like on the soap operas, but stay home. So, now that I'm a mom, I really can't ignore the "holiday" anymore, which means getting out of my comfort zone and having fun through my kids, because they LOVE IT!

It's been a slow process for me. We get them costumes every year, but only last year at four did we take them trick-or-treating because they were all "what is trick-or-treating and we HAVE TO DO THAT mommy please please pretty please!?". I want to avoid having my kids resent me as adults because they never got to trick-or-treat. So, this year I managed to get much more into the fun, shopping months ahead at thrift stores for costume attire, going to hear Halloween stories at the Will Geer (that was a no-brainer), pre-Halloween party last weekend, carving pumpkins (well, we do that every year because I love the feel of slimy seeds), two parties Halloween night which included the now mandatory trick-or-treating, and candy eating on the late drive home (double duty on my mommy comfort zone).

I like that when we arrived at a new classmates home for the first party, Talia and Quinn immediately started running around and laughing and making it fun for everyone and getting the party started. I like that they didn't cling to my legs in fear, but smiled and dove right in to the spirit of the party. I like that my kids are not the wild destructors kicking down decorations but the gigglers and good friends.

Of course, we are paying the price today from lack of sleep with cranky tired meltdown over anything kids. And, how do you explain what a vampire is to a five year old? On the upside, it's daylight savings tonight and dark and rainy outside - that's all good for sleep. And, they are also extra playful, helping construct a huge living room haunted house fort (it's dark in the living room because they want it "spooky"). We also have lots of yummy sugary treats to bribe them with and some new neat dress up clothes.

As far as me, I'm stepping out of my mommy comfort zone slowly and doing just fine, but it still takes a conscious effort. It's important and I know it. Some things that matter at two don't matter as much now. Sometimes it's about lasting memories and bonds that overrule a 7pm bedtime. Now, you won't see me going all out on front yard decorations (how do people clean up those fake cobwebs?), or throwing a Halloween party anytime soon, but maybe next year I might, oh I don't know, dress up in a costume? Gasp! Did I just type that? Oh wow, I may be going over to the dark aka fun side.

(nope, that's not Talia...that's me)