Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perfectly imperfect

This is my menorah on the last night of Hanukkah a few weeks ago. See all those pretty multi-colored candles imported from Israel? Funny thing, though, we were one menorah candle short. We didn't break any - the box simply didn't get enough. I could drive all the way to the store and demand a new box, but it's late and frankly, not worth it. I rifle through my "miscellaneous" drawer and pull out a pink swirly leftover birthday candle. Hummm...it's nowhere near thick enough, but a little modeling clay does the trick. We all giggle at the sight at the odd candle, but it makes little difference when it comes to the meaning of the special evening. Crisis averted with a smile...and some invention.

My mom told me a long time ago that the Amish traditionally sew a "humble square" in every quilt - a square that serves as a reminder that only God is perfect. I see it as letting the quilter off the hook from the beginning, like hey, do your best and enjoy the process and it will be unique but never perfect so don't stress about it. The humble square is kind of like my odd swirly candle on the menorah. When I look at it that way, it's rather endearing...and humbling.



I often think about that idea when I'm undertaking a project or activity, like planning a party or even something simple like making cookies. There are no guarantees that my party guests will all have a great time or that my cookies will be good enough to serve at the White House. But, hey, who cares?!? I am not above liking nice things or having high standards, but I do know that too high of standards or expecting perfection stops me from doing things. Like it's all or nothing, and I don't want to go there. And you betcha I pass on that wisdom on to my kids, especially when they want to give up when things don't go their way. I would love to stomp my feel, throw things, and cry out of frustration when things don't turn out right, but that doesn't really fly for us grownups and I'd rather them learn a different way, too. Persistence, creativity, and laughter can go a long way.

In a few days, I'm hosting a small and casual baby shower for a girlfriend of mine (she's having baby #2). The mom-of-two-to-be is an event planner. A very talented and creative event planner extraordinaire. I've seen her work and it's good. Really good. Her Christmas tree - totally stunning. She has amazing taste and tons of passion. And I'm throwing her a shower - an "Indian themed" shower by her request. When she described it she imagined doorways draped in jewel toned imported fabric, elaborate decorations, catered food, and live dancers. Well, maybe not that fancy but I bet she was thinking something like that in her creative mind. In fact, she's actually very appreciative and I'm sure she would love anything I plan.

The thing is, I realized early on that I will never come close to her event planning skills and creativity, so why even attempt to go there? See, it's the humble square mentality at play. I'm not saying I
'm going to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with chips and punch and call it a day. But, it does feel good to just do it my way and be okay with that. I can create an Indian music station on pandora.com to play during the shower, I can enlist some friends to cook homemade Indian food, light some incense, get some yummy sweets from the local Indian market, and I can invite some amazing ladies to help me and surround my expectant friend with love and a sense of womanly community. I can't think of anything better than that.

In recent years I've become much better at practicing this humbling non-perfect mentality. It's just so liberating and a much less stressful way to live. I actually enjoy the challenge of making lemonade from lemons, but if I forget and the piles lemons from my tree dry out or turn brown, then in the compost bin they go. Oh well. No sense crying over spilt milk...
(me and my mom made this quilt when I was little)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday hiking zen

It's Christmas Eve (finally!!). For a few days now, we've mostly stayed indoors - not because of some massive snow storm or awful illness , but, well, it's been very very very windy...very cold wind. It is not fun to be outside in that, and every indoor place like the mall or bowling alley are packed with other people escaping the wind. Plus, the wind stirred up all of pollens and dust and my allergies are in overdrive. Can you say totally miserable and tired? YES, okay, I'll admit it, I'm a weather wimp. I am a sunny weather kind of gal to the core.

Luckily, today the wind is now a slight breeze thank goodness, and my once angelic happy kids are now fighting over stupid annoying stuff and "stop looking at me!!!" and on the verge of something ugly. Time to get outside. Thankfully, I don't get much resistance and we make it out the door without any tears.

Destination? A new trail that I've always wanted to explore just a mile or so from our favorite local hiking spot. Yep, that's me, wild and crazy hiking mom taking chances. Turns out, this spot is a gem and I love it right away. Despite a horrible fire in the area in 2008, it seems to be recovering well - plenty of green and healthy shady trees. There is lots of running water in the streams, plus neat old rusty cars that obviously drove off the cliff ages ago (kids love that kind of stuff). Oh, and a fantastic tree rope hanging over the perfect spot for swinging. My kids want to take turns swinging over and over and over again with huge smiles and "THAT WAS SOOO FUN!!" screams of joy (I had to literally take a leap of faith and let go of fearing they would get hurt...it was worth it). And best of all, we were all smiling again.
I knew we all desperately needed to get out in nature for a while - to get centered and to feel free. Ah, and the warm sun...like medicine for the busy pre-holiday pent up soul, I tell you. So what if I'm a weather wimp and I consider this hiking spot in the city my escape. My outdoorsy friend in New Hampshire lives with months and months of snow with very little sun but unlimited nature. Yea for her! All power to her. That's what centers her and where she feels most at home after years in LA. But, until I pack it up and move to a small little town surrounded by nature (someday?), I just have to find it where I can. People in Manhattan take refuge in Central Park, surrounded by skyscrapers, so I consider my beautiful backyard or local hiking trail my place to center and unwind.

I'm feeling good, totally ready for the glorious festivit
ies of the season - indulgent food and spirits, family, friends, PRESENTS!!!, unlimited guilt-free sweets, and cheesy Christmas movies. I might not be thinking the same thing in the next few days when the kids are creating huge messes around the house with scattered new toys and wild imagination. But, instead of another hike, I'm feeling more like a mani-pedi or massage for a different kind of centering. A busy hiking mom needs to remember to be a woman sometimes, too...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Move over

My mom keeps reminding me that a woman in her forties cares less about what other people think and usually gets more assertive and confident. As a woman on the verge of forty (oooh deep breath, Daria), I feel that change brewing inside of me. I get so annoyed if I don't stand up for myself when I should and too often worry about hurting someone's feelings at the expense of my own happiness.

Perfect example. I went to the movies today with my birthday boy husband. After the movie starts, an older gentleman sits down next to me. Instantly I smell the most awful smell exuding from this man. I think holy cow WTF is that? OMG it's his breath! Really really yucky, like rotten teeth medical problem horrible room-clearing halitosis of the worst kind. PLUS he's a loud nose breather and I can practically hear his nose hairs moving in and out. Eeeeewwie!!! What do I do? I lean closer to my husband and try to not think about it. But, boy, it was hard not to go there. When the movie ends (180 minutes later yikes!) and the man finally leaves, I turn to my husband and vent my pent up eeewwwiness. Not one to ever mince words, he says "OMG that's what that smell was?! I thought someone sh!t their pants. That guy had terrible sh!t breath like he ate a sh!t sandwich. WHY DIDN'T YOU MOVE SEATS?!"

My answer, well, I just don't know why. All I had to do was get up, walk around to the open seat on the other side of my husband, and sit down. Not a big deal. I should not care if the man gets embarrassed or offended. I am sad for him having this problem, but he was offending me and affecting my enjoyment of the movie. I was frozen with no balls. Darn it! Argh.

Oh, I remember another good one. I pick up my kids from school and we were just about to exit the parking lot and a fellow mom and her older daughter are walking out and then suddenly stop to talk to the driver in the car in front of me. They start engaging in a full blown "very important" conversation. I keep thinking any minute they will soon say goodbye and we can all leave...me and all of the twenty cars behind me. But these people keep talking. And they keep looking at me and smiling like it is funny. Talk about passive-aggressive. Geez. I just sit there and put up my hands in a WTF motion, and they just wave me off like ha ha silly lady whatever. Finally another car honks and she looks at me all annoyed like I did it, KEEPS TALKING, then after what feels like hours later casually and slowly starts walking away. Now why in the world did I not open my car door and say "Excuse me, but could you please carry on your conversation somewhere else?" She was being rude, but yet I was worried about coming off as rude to her or having an uncomfortable confrontation. Dumb. Argh.

Sometimes I wish I could get some of my police officer husband's ability to be calm under confrontation, protective over his safety and happiness, and blunt and polite but not rude. And, I am certainly not wishing to be forty tomorrow so I can somehow magically gain more of that ability. Yikes. Maybe for now, since my forties are years and years away (ha ha ha), I just need to practice more. I teach my kids that the only way to get better at something is to practice practice practice, give it their best, and not give up, so I'm pretty sure that will work for me, too.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a perpetual wallflower doormat. Well, not usually. I'm not above being assertive, like when I recently helped orchestrate a four mom meeting with the school principal to address bullying issues in class. Waaaaay out of my comfort zone. Big change happened after that meeting, both in the classroom and in my self-confidence. Oh ya! I think I do much more every day but I just don't realize it. Instead, I kick myself on those occasions that stand out when I don't do anything because it just doesn't feel good. Okay, it sucks.

I need to be less hard on myself, but also realize that sometimes it's necessary to light an internal torch for change. Don't I wish I could rewind time like a dvr and redo the dreadful sh!t breath incident, but I'm learning. I'm practicing. I want to be a good example to my kids. I want to be a stronger woman. And, honestly, I'd rather experience those uncomfortable moments of awareness than be oblivious or ambivalent or overtly rude.

So watch out sh!t-breath-loud-nose-hair guy and rude-passive-aggressive mom - there will soon be a more assertive almost (gasp) forty-year-old woman in town, ready to politely assert herself to defend her honor and dignity. Hooray!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Roots

Today officially marks one month of being unemployed. What a month. What a week! Wow, I expected a big change, lots of introspection, self reflection, emotions, and new found freedom and happiness. Oh ya, I got it. After almost a full year of being in beyond uncomfortable limbo and wondering when my job was going to end, all with keeping up a happy understanding smile on my face listening that little voice in my head saying "you should be grateful to have a job so suck it up and feel blessed" all the while wanting to scream "THIS SUCKS!!!!", I was completely drained...and a little nutty, to say the least.

It's so conflicting when you hear about the terrible economy, people losing their houses, blowing through every last penny of their savings, and job cuts job cuts job cuts, but all the while wishing my job would be done already because the slow soul-sucking torture was doing a number on my mental state. I couldn't help it - I needed to move on with my life
.

Right now, a month in, it's all about taking off my big stack of "hats" and just focusing on me. ME. I'm only taking care of the necessities on my "must" list (paying bills, school obligations, food in the fridge) and ignoring the "should list" (organize my paid bills, plan new and exciting meals). Recently, my wonderful friend Amy, who always thinks of everyone else but herself, did just that. With a painful back injury leaving her in total agony, she didn't want to let down her staff by not
being there for them, so she worked through the excruciating pain and cried in the car on the way home. She finally said enough is enough and had her doctor take her out of work for a month so she can, GASP!!, get better and put herself first for once. She took off all of the hats - boss, employee, mom, wife, caretaker, daughter, etc., etc., etc.- and just looked after "Amy". Now, that's what I'm talking about.

But, honestly, while I'm fully aware that I'm about to go down this exciting new path, I've been feeling rather stuck. Now that I have this tremendous opportunity to sort of reinvent myself, it's almost so overwhelming that I don't know where to begin. While I can't help but think that maybe it's simply okay to just do nothing right now with no pressure and be fine with that, it's still a strange and foreign feeling.


A few days ago, I was reminded how my beloved grandmother lived. She found total joy in the littlest of things. She lived simply (a product of the Great Depression) and truly found great pleasure in the simplest of things. She often exclaimed the word "super!", hummed her favorite songs as she washed the sink full of dishes, and usually gave people a big genuine hug as a greeting when she met them for the first time. She felt uncomfortable saying a bad word about anyone, didn't like to talk about anything bad in the past, and was always on to the next thing with full enthusiasm. Me, the often over-serious one, both envied and questioned her joy, as it was hard to understand how she could get so excited about a great coupon deal, a new tv movie of the week, or a handmade scribbled card. Only now I wonder, have I been a fraud writing about "the small stuff" when I don't even come close to the way she appreciated the little things? Compared to her, am I just full of crap? Where I might smile and feel relaxed making cookies with my kids, she would squeal, sing, and laugh a happy laugh. Am I missing something? Am I being way too hard on myself?


When it comes down to it, I cannot compare myself to my grandma, but I can take a lesson from her. Where I do notice the little things, maybe I can feel it more - feel the joy - take it out my head and feel more with my heart. I'm certain it's time to take it to the next level and that's a good thing. I can't think of a better way to begin my new journey, besides winning the lottery, than to find and be open to feeling the pure joy first. It's like getting down to the basics - a good happy place - and building myself up from there.

Now that I've had this major revelation this week, I honestly feel different - like I'm healing, renewing, and preparing to move forward. Like today, with pouring rain outside, I felt no desire to go out or do anything on my "should" list. I told my husband to get up with the kids so I could read in bed for a while (I didn't ask...I told!). I read for an hour and a half. I never do that! My kids beg me to let them paint? Sure. Only this time, I paint with them. So cathartic, I tell you! They decide the painting subject would be a tree. My picture is at the top, Talia's is here (she likes to copy what I do):And yea! for Quinn expressing his unique, more abstract interpretation of a tree:Quite fitting, don't you think? Painting about a tree with the firmly planted roots being necessary in order to grow and flourish and branch out reaching higher and higher. Oh damn, there I go in my head again. Okay, bottom line, it was really really really nice painting with my kids today and they thought I was pretty darn super for joining in their fun.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Early gifts

My old rose bushes are in full bloom...in December. DECEMBER! The front of my house has twinkling Christmas lights, happy snowmen, and gorgeous roses. Love it.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Funny fish faucets

This time two years ago, my kitchen was undergoing a complete remodel. It got ripped out to the bare walls and baseboards and we ate microwaved food and takeout for six weeks. Did I mention the dust? Oh the dust. About half way through, I was soooooooooo done with it all - the dust, the noise, the intrusion, the inconvenience, and all that outgoing $$$$. In the end, though, my outdated rundown crowded 1957 vintage kitchen transformed to a much bigger, modern, and stylish beautiful space. Am I still paying for it? Yep (and for many years to come). Was it all worth it? Absolutely. Would I want to go through that all again anytime soon? Uh, no, not really. It's hard to forget all that damn dust.

I wouldn't know there was a recession, though, whe
n I keep hearing about people currently remodeling their homes. Is it because they don't want to sell their house with plans to upgrade because they won't make any money with their home value in the toilet? Or maybe they would rather spend all that saved money (the money they've been hoarding for over a year now because of all the dire financial news) on their own home instead of a foreclosed bank owned gutted home in the midst of a ridiculous bidding war? Perhaps they are all noble citizens doing their part contributing to the economic recovery? I think mostly they just want to improve their surroundings and find comfort in having a nice and more functional home for their family. Nesting is what I like to call it.

One of those remodeling nesters just happens to be m
y fabulous friend Emiko. While her small quaint home is warm and cozy, 1100 square feet with only one bathroom shared by four people has slowly become rather cramped and well, small. One bathroom for three girls? Uh, not so much.

And since the whole new world of shopping for tile, counter-tops, faucets, knobs, sinks, etc. etc. etc. is a foreign concept to her, she's enlisted me, Kitchen Remodel Extraordinaire, to assist with this important, often daunting and mind numbing
, journey. This time I don't have to stress about cost, or dust, or any of that. I just get to help with the pretty part. It is totally fun to help her, applying what vast knowledge, both practical and aesthetic, I learned during my own remodel adventure.
We didn't allow ourselves to get discouraged after an entire day of shopping leads to almost every item getting the nix from her contractor, all for valid reasons of course. Hey, it's all a learning experience, right? At least she still gets to buy her beloved faucets (oh don't worry, not the ones pictured above, not that there is anything wrong with a fish faucet motif if that's what you really want). Our quest ultimately takes us to the far corners of Los Angeles, granite slabs here, tile there, etc. I absolutely love how it's all coming together - almost makes me want to rip out my stuff and remodel with her beautiful picks. Ha ha ha, not! See the face on the granite slab picker-upper thingy?

In the end, I can't wait to see her completed renovations (taking more time and $$ more than expected, I'm sure). I cherish these hours/days that we get to spend together, away from the dirty dishes and the kids, laughing over lousy salespeople and tacky tile, and oohing and aaahing over gorgeous granite with fancy Italian names and dazzling chandeliers.

I love the expression that says something like "you never really know someone until you've been in their home". So, when I see Emiko's newly renovated bigger and even more beautiful home next year, it will feel extra special to see a part of me in it, too. Maybe that can be a new expression that I can say, something like "you will always be a part of a friend's heart and home when you help pick out their granite." Wait, let's try "the way to a friend's heart is to hold their hand along the tiled road." Humm, "Laugh at fish faucets together and you will laugh a lifetime as friends." I guess however you say it, it means I'm lucky we have each other.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Green Friday

Like most American's, I get a bit caught up in the hype about after Thanksgiving sales, oh, excuse me, THE Black Friday Sales. You know, the sales that some people camp out in front of a store on Wednesday for two nights, missing Thanksgiving, so they can save $100 on a laptop. The morning news weather man even said "Happy Black Friday" like it's some new national holiday.

I wonder how many unemployed on the verge of losing their home people ch
arged all kinds of stuff because omg! can't miss out on the mega deals. Me, well, I'll admit I looked online to see what my favorite stores were offering and even did the old fashioned method of looking through the hundreds of sale flyers that came bundled with Thursday's newspaper. I certainly like a good deal if I can find it, but the thought of all those crowds makes me cringe. But, hey, if some people think that it's all just fun and worthwhile and don't mind the crazy crowds, then hey, go for it. On the oppposite end, some friends write on Facebook that they are a part of a sort of anti-Black Friday movement and stay home out of protest. For me, newly unemployed with a very short list of gifts to give, chose to do my shopping another day and instead get the heck outside. Yes, OUTSIDE darnit.
Between my kids being sick one after another, then me being sick, it sure seems like I haven't had any exercise for weeks, let alone any decent nature time. Waaaaaay too long. I not only feel like a slug and restless, but hiking grounds me, makes me stop and admire the pretty, and I'm longing for that. So, instead of hiking around the mall, I chose to hike at one of my favorite hiking spots. Goodbye Black Friday and hello Green Friday. Aaah, much more my style.

My mom joins us for the hike and we all couldn't be any happier. The kids laugh, run, throw rocks in the water, look for walking sticks, analyze scat (animal poop), climb fallen trees, make guesses about animal homes, and get dirty, all while me and my mom follow behind and talk about all kinds of stuff and admire the beautiful Fall day.
We even come across a friendly snake, garter I think? A total treat indeed because I've never seen a snake in this area. Very cool!
After a picnic lunch of turkey sandwiches (love leftovers!) and mandarin oranges (from my overflowing tree), we head back to the car refreshed and smiling. This might just be the start of a new post-Thanksgiving tradition.
The rest of the day I feel rejuvenated and full of calm energy. I even convince my man, well, I maybe sort of coach the cute kids to convince their daddy that they love so so soooo much pretty please to take out the Christmas decoration boxes and put up the outside lights. I totally feel ready for the holidays. Bring it! And it's not because the major stores convinced me that shopping and spending money gives you holiday cheer, but because I did it my way.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Timing is everything

People are asking me how I'm doing after my first week of being unemployed. I'd like to say I miss my work, but honestly, I'm reveling in the new found freedom. Really, it's quite glorious. It certainly helps that I was busy all week with lots of fun stuff and the time flew by in a flash. No sitting around all day eating bon bons and feeling sorry for myself - not gonna happen. The timing is perfect, what with the upcoming busy holidays, a major fund-raising event for school that I'm co-chairing, a friend undergoing a huge remodel that calls for a willing shopping companion to help with tough decisions (spending other people's money is so much fun!), and all those closets and projects screaming for reorganization. I still need to figure out regular gym days and hiking outings and guitar lessons, etc., etc., etc. So, ya, I'm adjusting to unemployment quite well, thank you very much.

On top of it all, the fine folks over at Safeway sent me a $25 gift card so I can experience shopping at their store. Lucky me! It's kind of like someone giving me a box of fine chocolates to taste or a shoulder massage - basically a no-brainer. The only hard part is deciding how to spend it. I can buy snacks for my kid's classroom, food for a local food bank, chocolate!!, or some basic practical items. However, today is Friday. FRIDAY! Whoo hooo! Not only is it our customary Pancake Friday but it's also Wine and Whine day with my lovely lady friends from school. It's all about sharing food, wine, stories, tears, laughs, opinions, and letting it all out from the week. And, with all the changes in my life, it's one of the things that I can count on for feeding my soul. Ah ha, I think I found my perfect reason for filling up my shopping cart at my local Vons.

I peruse their website for a recipe and easily decide on a shrimp and pasta dish. It fits all the criteria - everyone loves shrimp, everyone loves pasta, it's decadent, and I think it will definitely fit within my $25 limit. Calculator in hand, I add up each item as I put it in the cart, and I notice that everything is on sale except for the garlic and parsley. I even throw in a fresh baked French loaf of bread (a must have with pasta, of course) and I can still afford to buy a bottle of white wine for the recipe. And, since I'm there, I go a bit naughty and buy and extra bottle of nice Shiraz (on sale for 1/2 price). Hey, it's WINE and Whine after all!

The pasta turns out excellent, if I do say so myself. I feel proud to share it with my wonderful friends and our hungry bunch of playful happy-it's-Friday children. While it's noble to give back to our outside community, here I'm a part of my own special community. As women, we juggle responsibilities, emotions, raising children, relationships, and on and on to no end. We owe it to our hardworking selves to eat, drink, and be merry. And, when we are good to ourselves, we are better at giving back to others. As much as life seems uncertain right now, it's one thing I know to be tried and true. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hold the lizard

As a newly (happily) unemployed woman, I find myself compelled to clean, organize, and purge. Out with the old and in the with new. Perfectly healthy, right? However, talk to me in a few weeks when every closet, drawer, and clutter space is totally neat and I may be completely losing my mind with nothing to do. In that case, please honestly tell me "Daria you have lost your mind" and promise to be firm but kind...and do not laugh! And send wine. Or chocolate.


For example, this weekend I vigorously cut down a huge jasmine vine plant that grew wildly out of control. I drag the huge plant onto the grass, leaving it for the gardeners to put in the green bin later that day. Of course, the little kid "helpers" find a great opportunity to play in and around the vines, pulling them out and whipping them around. I love how they can still find fun with the simplest of things.

I go inside the house to get some water and suddenly I hear this VERY LOUD squealing. And laughing. I look out the window and I see Quinn holding something by the tail. He sees me and screams "I got a HUGE lizard and I don't know if it's alive or dead but it's HUGE!!!" and more squeals. I grab my camera hoping to snap a shot of my boy holding a wild lizard, but by the time I make it out there to more squealing, he said it whipped up to his fingers and he dropped it back in the pile of vines. Darnit!
I easily spy the lizard and it's a big one. Ah, the typical friendly alligator lizard we often see in our backyard (they eat crickets and bugs...yea!). It's motionless with that expression of "if I don't move then they won't see me!". After I snap a few pictures, I reach down and see if it will let me grab it. Yep, it does alright. So, here I am, this wild and crazy woman holding this really cool big lizard like it's no big deal. Now that we are on a first name basis we call it "Lenny", and he's really really neat looking. We all stroke it for a little while, until it leaps out of my hands and runs for the bushes. That was SOOOOO COOL!!!

Next up, the kitchen pantry, linen closet, kid's closets, and guitar lessons. Not exactly climbing Mount Everest or establishing my million dollar business plan, but it's wonderfully cathartic and exactly perfect right now. All that other stuff will come in time, but clean closets and less clutter and the occasional lizard is good enough for now. In fact, I'm loving it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More pudding, please.

There's my girl, about to enjoy the biggest bowl of chocolate pudding you've seen in your life. It came with her already humongous lunch at the local deli and I figured what the heck, let her indulge. Well, indulge she did, and twenty minutes later at home she was a total spazz, wait, make that a total happy spazz dancing all around and giggling and entertaining us. Who needs tv when you have a six year old on a sugar high?

We are constantly bombarded by all of the latest health news - eat this and this and this and this and this and you will combat yucky awful deadly wrinkly this and that evil things that will make you fat or KILL YOU. Partially hydrogenated fats - noooooooooooooo!!! They will make you OBESE! Non-organic apples? Only if you want to flood your body with harmful chemicals that will KILL YOU! White bread! How dare you! Only 78 whole grain bread will do. Urrrrghhhh! I'm so sick of it!

Sometimes I just want to time-warp back to the days where you just did and ate what you enjoyed without a care in the world. Bring on the bacon fat cooked eggs and martini with lunch. Oh ya, butter. Butter rocks! I don't want forty different options of "buttery spreads" at the grocery store. I just want BUTTER and don't make me feel guilty for it!

It's no coincidence that I seem to be writing a lot about food lately. I have to say, it's been a lousy few months, what with death, serious family illness, and job loss...on top of depressing worldwide news. Food is a great source of comfort and I feel no shame admitting that. And, especially homemade meals. When I cook, I tend to use the healthier ingredients, like whole wheat flour and olive oil and honey. When my son was horribly sick last week with some gnarly fever flu thingy, he asked for fruit for his snack because he "needed the vitamins". I get it. I talk about it. They get it. Healthy is good. Unhealthy is bad. But, you know what, sometimes it's even healthier to throw all reason away and just splurge on decadent delicious fattening sugary yummy goodness without any guilt or regrets. The big happy smiles are worth it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Slice of confidence pie

This is the cool jack-o-lantern face my creative and talented husband carved into our Halloween pumpkin. Neat, huh? I love how he can just sit down and create that after looking at a few ideas online. When I "oooh" and "aaaah" and then ask him how it felt to do it, he calmly replies "actually, it was very cathartic".

Humm, I never expected that, but I guess it's true about the whole pumpkin experience if I really think about it. We go to a neat local farm, walk up and down rows and rows of pumpkins, proudly bring it home, cut it open, scoop out the slimy gooey cool seed pulp and smoosh it between our fingers all while sitting on the kitchen floor listening to fun music. What a treat to do once a year!

The day after Halloween, I take the pumpkin from the front porch and bring it into my kitchen. I know from previous years, any longer than that and it turns moldy. My plan for the pumpkin? Pumpkin pie, of course! After a quick text to my man getting permission to slice and dice his masterpiece, I cut it into chunks, steam them, then puree the soft pumpkin. With a bowl full of pulp (the other half saved for Thansgiving), I squint to picture what goes into pumpkin pie. Eggs? Yep, toss in a few of those. Evaporated milk, yes, almost all of the can. About a cup sugar kind of looks right. A little salt for balance. Spices? Throw in some cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla - the more the better. Oh, and the crust? I remember the 3/2/1 proportions - that would be about 1 cup flour, then 1/2 cup butter, then 1/4 cup water. I get some help from the eager little hands with mixing and rolling. Yep, just about right. Then cook for a while until set. Yummmm, once I smell the spices I know it's ready. Perfecto!

So, here is the weird part: I always bake strictly from a recipe. Always. That's why I like baking - a precise flow of steps and measurements. I read the recipe, gather the ingredients, time it all out, re-read the instructions several times as I go, and rarely veer away, at most omitting nuts or adding chocolate chips - nothing major. Never any big chances. Safe.

So, back to this pie. I didn't follow a recipe! I totally guessed! I simply felt this weird and wonderful confidence that it would turn out great. And, you know what? It turned out amazing!! One of the best damn pumpkin pies I've ever
had! I've only dreamed about that kind of cooking confidence and I finally did it! Where did that come from? Who is the wild baking lady?? And, you know, I think I should try that again someday, soon, knowing full well the next time whatever I try might totally suck, but that doesn't matter. What counts is that not for one second did I worry about "failing"...I just did it. After all these years of baking it finally happened! I was in the zone. Like my husband and his cathartic carving experience, I got that, too (baking always makes me mellow and happy), but this was downright euphoric. And, yes, it's only a silly pie. For me it not only makes for a house full of happy tummies, but also symbolizes an exciting taste of what's to come - many more experiments in the kitchen, with a big scoop of confidence, a dash of fun, and, of course, balanced with extra trips to the gym.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Victory pizza


So far this week has been one of those non-stop weeks, busy with appointments and a full "to do" list. I actually don't mind having lots to do because it makes the day go faster, but too many days of that and I always seem to suffer when I don't allow enough down time. Today I kind of hit my limit - my very six-year-old boy pushed and irritated me from the morning routine to the afternoon with attitude. When you ask a kid three times to get his shoes on because it's time to go to school and he doesn't do it and then you ask him why he wasn't listening to you and he responds "because it's boring" and then it teeters on getting ugly and then you barely make it to school on time, it tends to suck the very last drop of patience and nice mom attitude and turns me into grumpy not nice mom. I really hate going there.

I end up questioning my reactions, words, and decisions. Is it really his fault if I ask him THREE times and he ignores me? Isn't one time the magic number, and any thing after that trouble? Do I expect too much independence when it's better to offer help to get the job done? Oh man, I could go on and on. What it comes down to is that it's good to think about ways to get a better result, but, well, honestly, some days are just going to suck. I can't always be Wondermom and he isn't always going to be Superkid.

To make up for the not-so-great day, I decide to make homemade pizza. I know I know, food is not the answer, but sometimes it's all you've got. I am inspired by memories of the last "Uncle" Tony visit where he made us all individual pizzas that were waaaaay better than any frozen or even delivered pizza. Since then, I found a good pizza dough recipe and experimented with different toppings and sauces, but usually only make it for special occasions. I think today warrants such a treat. My daughter enthusiastically agrees to help, while my non-Superkid says he's "not interested" and trust me, I don't take it personally ... his loss. Their homemade whole wheat pizza crusts get an olive oil garlic oregano sauce topped with prosciutto and lots of cheese. My pizza gets the same yummy sauce and prosciutto with two sliced fresh garlic cloves, tomato slices, and a spicy garlic bread seasoning, and of course lots of cheese. Both get cooked on top of corn meal for that extra crunch and flavor.

The pizzas turn out fantastic in every way, if I do say so myself. We toast our milks and wine, enjoy the Big Night soundtrack playing in the background (a must have soundtrack for cooking Italian food), and talk about school, robots, plants, and Halloween. As I look at my smiling boy thoroughly enjoying his delicious pizza, I lean in and quietly ask him "So, how about you help out with making the pizza next time? I would really enjoy that" and he nods a big sincere YES and I know he means it. And, this opens the door to a nice and calm discussion about being a better listener and more helpful in the morning. I think he heard me this time. Chaaa ching!

I know I can't always win the parenting battle and it's good for them to have their own mind about things, after all, we raised them to be that way. But, sometimes the victory is all the more sweeter when I find creative Wondermom ways to make my point without a battle. Ah, the glorious smell of victory, ahem, I mean, pizza.

ps - most excellent pizza dough recipe
here

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Record and rewind moments

My girlfriend Andrea is living her dream come true - after much sacrifice, saving, and budgeting, she bought a cabin in the local mountains. Can you say priceless good times and memories for her family? And, while we share the same dream (I've always wanted my own cabin, too), I know right now it's not a reality for my family, but I'm honestly thrilled for her. It's inspiring to see people you care about realize their dreams. And, the next best thing besides owning your own slice of the rustic life is having a thoughtful friend who wants to share in the good times.

So, very lucky me gets invited at the last minute to join her a
nd her family at the cabin this weekend. I say YES!!!!, knowing full well that it would not be a weekend of relaxation, but mostly to help bring up supplies and furniture, help with projects, and oh ya, enjoy a total change of scenery with some fun people. The thought of getting away for two days is like someone offering to rub your shoulders when they feel sore - a total welcome relief. With bags packed in anticipation of an early departure, my husband wakes up with a tremendously painful lower back. You know, the kind where you can't walk and the stabbing shooting misery makes you cringe and cry? Awful. But, with beyond excited kids and a truck full of my friend's stuff for the cabin, there isn't much of a choice but to go on without him. I pamper him as best as I can (show him where the good drugs were) and set off with the kids. And since I've done the two hour drive many times, I have no fear of the unknown, but rather ready for some fun.


The cabin is just as I pictured it - circa 1958 with deer wallpaper and vintage stove, looking mostly like it probably did fifty years ago. A total charmer. But, with the charm, comes a ton of work, and there isn't much time to kick back. And, besides, the four kids (her two plus my two) were wild and crazy beyond excited, like a hyper dog who just escapes it's owners clutches after having a bath and a towel dry and runs around the house with wild abandon. No, they did not just eat an entire chocolate cake - they are six years old and can't contain it any longer...freeeeedom!!! It's all good, though - they obviously need it just like me.

When not a single match or lighter can be located to light the pilots, and since hot water and heat are kind of important when it's 38 degrees at night, I offer to drive to the store to get some. It's kind of nice, actually, to steal away for a few minutes of quiet. As I'm driving back, I witness one of the most stunning sunsets I've seen in a long long time:
This picture doesn't even do it justice. There are no buildings or homes blocking my view. The magnificent colors dominate the WHOLE SKY. As I stand there next to my car parked alongside of a field taking pictures, an older smiling woman comes out of her house across the street and starts taking pictures, too. She says "It's just soooo beautiful, isn't it?" and I respond in "ohhhh yes" agreement. Sharing that moment with someone else, even if it is a total stranger, makes it all the more sweeter.

If all I did was drive up the mountain, see this sunset, and then drive home again it would be worth it. It's the rare good thing that makes time stop forcing me get out of my head for a while. All my troubles melt away. It's like I was meant to go out alone to get that lighter just so I could see that sunset. I wish I had tivo of the mind, where I could rewind to that moment in my brain and be right back to that sunset whenever my head is stuck in a bad or sad place. I guess sometimes life is about those special, almost magical moments and I'm happy with myself for taking the time to notice...and for remembering to keep that little camera in my purse.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The not bored reward

With the end of my job only a few bittersweet weeks away, I contemplate a lot lately about what I'm going to do with my life. Well, more like what am I going to do from 8:30am to 2:50pm while my kids are in school. I keep hearing the line in my head that "Only boring people are bored" from one of my favorite shows on television right now, Mad Men, spoken by Betty, the restless housewife. This makes me think that it's all up to me to decide how to spend this time...and hopefully make the most of it.

My mom says I should do nothing but "just be". Who says I need to do anything at all but be peaceful and grateful for this opportunity - the time to let go of my job and all that it means, and open myself up to what the universe has to offer. I take a look at my mostly single co-workers and know that many of them would give anything to be in my position, to have someone else ready and willing to support them, along with a little money in the bank, and the gift of having a choice. My wise mom definitely makes a valid point.

On the other side, a particular friend of mine has nothing but high hopes for me. She's this amazing cheerleader, reaching high with ideas and encouragement, including funny personalized jingles that she sings on my voicemail. Bless her! There are times when we need those people that seem to have more confidence in us than we do. It's infectious and inspiring. It's like how I encourage my own daughter to reach for the stars, so really, why can't I think the same way about my own life?

Whether I spend a day sitting outside listening to the chirping birds, exploring a local museum (like, actually take in the paintings and everything!), going to classes (can you say guitar for beginners?), or researching up and coming job opportunities, it's all mine for the taking. Forget my age and the crappy economy with the dire job market and limited funding! I want to be more like my kids, finding inspiration all around them. They can spend a fun-filled hour playing with couch cushions and blankets for goodness sake. They dream big without limitation. My daughter finds no problem at all with wanting to be a singer teacher mommy writer artist chef girl when she grows up. Hopefully she'll stay close with her soccer player astronaut architect president brother.

I can't think of a better way to encourage them, other than doing something that makes me truly happy and setting a good example. I look forward to not being bored, because, after all, I'm worth it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Singin' loud with a smile, I reckon

A few weeks back when I was at the Hollywood Bowl, I got inspired to do something totally wild and crazy. Yep, that's me - almost, gasp, forty, and living on the wild side. I decided to host a Rodgers and Hammestein movie appreciation series for the me and my wild and crazy lady friends. Can you say themed potluck based on the movie, a different movie each month in order of release, sing-a-long captions, and fun! fun! fun! on a Saturday night?! Oh ya.
All exaggeration and trying-to-be-funny aside, it's all sort of old-fashioned "wholesome" fun. I mean, those classic movies provide such a feast for the eyes and ears - what amazing scenery, beautiful color, brilliant music, and talented actors. Silly thing, though, I always say I'm going to do stuff like movie night and never follow through with it and kick myself while feeling sorry for myself. This time I actually make it happen and it feels fantastic. Of course, it helps to now know a handful of fun and willing ladies to join me, that's for sure.

First up, Oklahoma! and what a grand movie night it is. The seven guests bring southern comfort food - cheese grits, black-eyed peas, ribs, buttermilk pie, potater salad, hush puppies...not a green thing in sight and we like it that way. Oh, don't forget the special drink of raspberry lemonade with vodka (or was that vodka with a splash of raspberry lemonade?). After filling our happy tummies, we get comfy in the living room and enjoy the movie. With the subtitles on, we sing along and laugh at the funny "country" dialogue, like "purdy", "foot!" (curse word), and "hussy". Shirley Jones shines in her first role, those cowboys were totally macho tap dancin' and singin', the bizarre but laughable dream sequence, and the sentimental
romance. And, oh man, the sexual innuendo was rampant, with horny cowboys and coy rancher gals trying their, uh hum, hardest to get with each other. I love how my ladies don't hold back and totally go along with it, heckling and laughing...and smiling. They would have fun watching a horrible movie - they are great like that.There is such a joy that comes from planning a night like this and enjoying watching it successfully unfold. I was always the one that heard about gatherings like this, like Bunco or music night, and wished I was included and part of a group like that. And, here I am the one that makes it happen. Me, the quiet one with zero friends only a few years ago, go figure, huh!? I'm thinking it's about stopping with the excuses and insecurities and just doing it. I hold myself back with the "what if no one wants to come?" or the "what if they have a sucky time?" lame mentality. As a result, I'd end up with nothing all because of fear and lack of courage. I'm thinking I need to continue on this positive path and get over that or I'll miss out on more of the good stuff, an' I reckon ther gud times orta be plenty. Like Curly sings, "I got a beautiful feelin' ev'rythin's goin' my way", I'm feelin' quite rosey indeed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Crazy for dolls

A close girl friend of mine, Emiko, has this rather difficult situation and desperately enlists my assistance to help her through it. Her mother-in-law is visiting for nine days, yes that's NINE DAYS, and she's, well, umm, how do I say it, uh, a challenge. Can you say full blown dementia with a side of heavy criticism? In order to endure the entire NINE DAYS my sweet and caring friend needs to take a break (escape) in order to be the best daughter-in-law she can be (avoid being a total raving heartless person and who loses all known sanity and patience). Her plan is to drag me kicking and screaming to lunch and shopping. Yes, I know, I'm such a giving selfless friend willing to give up a day away from laundry, dishes, my first graders, and the normal ho-hum responsibilities. But, she's fabulous and more than worth the sacrifice, so off we go.

I've always wanted to go the LA Farmers Market and the Grove. It's almost embarrassing to admit I haven't visited that historic landmark before now after living in Los Angeles my whole life. I always pictured this huge open classic building with the most amazing produce, with all kinds of new discoveries with sights and sounds I've never experienced. And, while it's certainly a neat part of Los Angeles history, it's not exactly what I pictured. Regardless, our simple
Mediterranean lunch is delish, the company of my friend even better, but honestly, and I'm not complaining one bit. It is what it is, I'm away, and it's all good.

After lunch we walk through the fancy shopping area just outside the Market, and decide to once and for all see with our own eyes the American Girl store I've heard so much about (and warned to stay away from). Inside the massive two-story store it is beautiful, filled with adorable dolls, endless accessories and furniture, corresponding books, etc., and plenty of girls proudly holding their own cherished dolls that they brought from home. You wouldn't know there was a recession, that's for sure - that place is bustling.

Being the total cynics that we are, we start to look a little deeper and oh my gosh, the prices! Not only are the dolls over $100, but the cleverly packaged outfits are pricey, the furniture costs more than the furniture my kids have in their rooms, and the spending options seem endless (I'm not even talking about the party packages). There is a salon where the doll's hair can be styled ($20 for a braid), a reservation only cafe with $22 macaroni and cheese, a theater, a photo studio - this place is huge! It is like Willy Wonka for dolls. Whoever does the product plan and marketing is sheer genius, with limited edition dolls, hard to find prices, matching girl/doll outfits, and accessories and treatments that cater to the suggestion that the doll is a real person. That all makes for seemingly happy girls who love! love! love! their dolls who share the experience with their family and friends, so who am I to judge, right? Would I have loved that as a girl? Absolutely. Do these girls get excited reading about the different adventures and histories of the dolls? Sure. Is this something that I want for my own daughter? I don't think so.

So, why does that store and the whole concept bother me so much, besides wishing I was the smart entrepreneur, now a very wealthy woman, that created the company? Simply, I think it's because it's the antithesis of the total opposite of me and my beliefs. When I leave the store shaking my head, I can't help but feel like I need to go scrape my tongue, volunteer at a homeless shelter or dig in the dirt or something else grounded in reality. I'm not judging those that love! love! love! the dolls, but it's just hard for me to embrace, especially when so many people are struggling financially right now. Maybe I'm bias because I was one of those girls that wrote down all of the "cool" stuff on my Santa wishlist that I saw on tv (think Easybake oven) but got more thoughtful simple gifts instead (think sleeping bag that I had for years or an art set). I don't remember feeling particularly deprived and what I did have I treated well because I had to be happy with what I had.


What if a girl is lucky enough to own a very special doll? Will she be satisfied with just the doll and the outfit it came in? After all, the doll needs a bed, winter/spring/summer/fall clothes, $350 armoire to store the clothes, magazines, friends, new professional hairdos, etc.? What happens if a classmate throws an American Girl party at the store, and the ones that don't have a doll aren't included or feel bad that they don't? Why does everything have to be so outrageously expensive? It's that whole mentality you need more more more more latest and greatest all at a high cost that just drives me nuts. Or, maybe I'm just over thinking it and just need to stay away from that store for my own sanity. Here I was helping my friend get away from the crazy in her house only to get my own crazy-on over a doll store. I definitely need to let that one go.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Blazing a trail ahead

This past Saturday was absolutely splendid. The weather finally feels like summer is done and the cooler fall temperatures are here. My man is home after a week away for work (I survived - yea!) and we are all in need of some quality family time. I scour my online resources for the best of the weekend, finding numerous fantastic fun-filled harvest festivals and kid-oriented events. I'm all for it, I mean, who doesn't like spending $60 (at least) for wagon rides, hot dogs, and corn mazes? It's the memories that matter, right? Only, well, I'm not feeling it. As much as I try to convince myself, I'm simply not in the mood for crowds. I just want to be with my family with plenty of space and opportunity to reconnect. Fine, call me crazy, but I can't help it. I'm a nature kind of gal.

I decide that a nice hike is in order. We drive to one of our favorite local hiking spots called O'Melveny Park. Sadly, last year, there was a horrible fire in the area of our beloved park, and I totally feared the worst after seeing the entrance sign burned down and a closed sign in it's place. I was crushed. Devastated. Mad. Sad. You name it. Only, to my surprise, the park opened after a month or so and seemed to be mostly okay, with the major extent of the damage in the surrounding hills. Whew!


This day we venture further in than usual towards the hills and discover the once overgrown and neglected trail that I never attempted because I was scared about ticks that a friend warned me about and concealed mountain lions attacking us when we least expected it. Well, this time it was plowed clear and the brush cut way back and low and beyond, a new adventure! It was kind of exciting, actually. What a weird feeling going to a place that clearly got scorched by the fire and feared totally lost, only to find it in better shape than I can ever remember it. We saw reminders all around us of the recent fire, like burned trees and lack of vegetation. But, sprouting up underneath the trees was new green growth. I felt so in awe and hopeful. Big smiles for sure. Just think about what the spring will bring?
With about a week left at my current job of over sixteen years, I can't help but think about my uncertain future. What at first seemed unimaginable to lose such a huge part of my life to ridiculous budget cuts, I now think it's not the end but only a new beginning. A friend said to me today that people still cry when an abusive parent dies, like we still mourn the end of something even though it's not necessarily a bad thing to be done with that part of our lives. As with my beautiful hiking spot, the fires actually did a good thing, making way for a healthier and more enjoyable environment for years to come. I picture an open trail ahead, full of possibilities. I don't have to be hampered by fear of change, I can be excited about what lies ahead. And, now that I'll have nothing but time and less dragging me down, maybe I'll finally take that trail all the way to the top. I'm ready.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The good and the sucky

Many people say my daughter is a "mini-me" of myself. Gee, could it possibly be the curls? Maybe. It's hard to see ourselves in other people, especially our children. When they are born we say 'she has my nose' or 'he has his chin', but now as first graders their personalities are complex and layered and life is more challenging and I am often left bewildered and taken by surprise. And, now with a school room full of twenty-one different personalities and temperaments, first grade presents all sorts of new emotions and opportunities for learning about dealing with them.

I feel like I've entered a new dimension of being a parent. As a toddler, it was a lot about keeping them safe and teaching them boundaries. As a six-year-old, it's more about life in the bigger world and all of it's endless challenges. It's sad to see their innocence lost a little bit every day, because, well, to be blunt, the world is full of people that suck. I won't even get into all the things that are awful right now in this country, and most of it stems from sucky people that are only in it for themselves. And, people might think that I suck for saying that other people suck. For me it's actually liberating to say that. I don't have to analyze why they are like that or what I did wrong - over think it as usual. If I realize that sometimes people just suck and there's nothing I can do about it, then I can let it go and focus more on being a good person so I can live with myself and keep stress at a minimum. Who knows why someone might crash into my car right in front of my house and not take responsibility by leaving a note? Maybe they were in a hurry to get home to their sick mother or they are scared because they don't have insurance because they got laid off a year ago and just lost their house...or maybe they just suck. Luckily, I have insurance and am thankful that they didn't crash into my house or my children.

So, when my daughter keeps getting upset because a boy in her class bothers her, my first instinct is to go up to that boy and say "LEAVE HER ALONE BACK OFF YOU BRUT!" to protect her and make everything okay. But, after thinking about it more, I realize that, while that might give me a split second of sheer satisfaction, I would miss an opportunity to teach her something about life. After all, if I'm upset with my boss my mommy isn't exactly going to show up and give him a piece of her mind. Instead I talk with my daughter about how to deal with this boy, or any other kid that is acting mean, like standing up for herself or just walking away. Maybe that kid sucks right now because his parents are divorcing or his older brother picks on him relentlessly or his diet is terrible...or he just sucks. There is nothing to be done about that and every class has a troubled kid or two. What matters is how my daughter deals with it - how she can be a good example and treat people the way she wants to be treated.

I recently saw a friends Facebook status that said how rude it was that she opened a door for someone and they didn't say 'thank you'. While her friends chimed in with sympathy and witty comments, I saw it a different way. Maybe the lady she held the door for just lost her beloved father to cancer or got chewed out by her boss or just got a traffic ticket...of maybe she just sucks. What matters is simply the act of doing something nice, which totally got lost because of my friend's negative reaction. I think about how a friend of mine recently came home to a huge bag of girl's clothes for her daughter on her doorstep. No note. No phone call. Just an anonymous someone being thoughtful without any need to get a YEA FOR YOU! in return. Now, isn't that more like it?

Sure, I get annoyed from lack of thank you's, too, I'm certainly not above that. Common courtesy can go a long way. What about the somber sales associate at Target that doesn't make any eye contact with me for the entire transaction? She might hate her minimum wage job and her crappy boss or just broke up with her boyfriend or is stressed about money...or she just sucks. But if I look her in the eye and ask how she's doing and wish her a good day then it can make my experience with her so much better. And, if I get a smile out of her then ding ding ding major bonus.

I'm not always at my best, like when I yell at my kids to hurry when I'm the one that made them late or when I wallow in martyrdom when I should be reaching out to people that want to help or when I go through the entire transaction at Target without looking the sales associate in the eye...or maybe sometimes I just suck. Ouch, that's hard to admit, but it's true. Or maybe I just need to be less hard on myself and be proud about who I am...the good me that doesn't suck...most of the time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Magnetic message

After my rather annoying day at work (where the countdown has begun toward my final days there), frustrating traffic, my cranky mood, and lack of chocolate in the house (oh the horror!), my son enthusiastically tells me I must see what he has made for me. I am guided down the hall with giggles and smiles over to my bedroom door and this is what brings a tear to my eyes...a message from my cute boy to me, a woman on the edge of reason, made out of Magnetix:
All that negative stuff I mentioned before? Gone. Erased. Unimportant. Bye bye! I am instantly reminded about what really matters...and I let my sweet loving angel know it with a barrage of hugs and kisses and squeezes. He is so proud of himself as he whispers "Did you see the 'U'? It's made out of primary colors." He has absolutely no idea how much I need that right now, or, humm, maybe sometimes he instinctively knows me better than I do. Ya, kids are pretty neat like that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Breaking down those walls

As my longtime wonderful hairdresser applies hair dye to my roots, she asks me how my kids are doing in school. I tell her they love it and so far they only say good things about their day. I mention how I love that their class is especially diverse this year, with classmates from many different nationalities, which is one of the huge benefits from attending a progressive (and very accepting) school that embraces diversity. They will be future peacemakers and leaders I tell you!

So, my hairdresser goes on to tell me that when her son attended elementary school in Glendale, it was on the track system, meaning an all year (overcrowded) school with different groups attending at different times of the year. She goes on to say that the school separated the students into different nationalities so that each track was predominantly one racial makeup. Her son attended the Armenian track, while the Hispanic kids another track, etc. And, the school made sure that the teachers who taught the track were the same nationality and geared the education toward that group. As my jaw is dropped in disbelief, she goes on to say that in junior high they integrate all of the children, so suddenly the students are expected to be with each other seamlessly and peacefully. So, needless to say there were constant fights and bullying and racial problems. Gee, duh!? Keep them separate and teach them their nationality is superior, then suddenly mix them together and expect harmony? Not going to happen.

When I pick up my little students today, I find out that two moms came into the class today to speak about Ramadan that's going on right now. According to my kids, the month long observance is about not eating and practicing patience. They talk the whole ride home about the eating part, which I guess is pretty fascinating to them. After all, my starving children go two hours without eating and they are famished and begging for food (I occasionally throw in the classic guilt line "did you know children are starving in Ethiopia?", but it goes right over their heads). But, I understand, as a woman that needs her protein or I get the shakes, I feel huge respect for people with the dedication and will-power to go all day (sunrise to sunset) for a month without food or water. Amazing.

Anyway, I tell them that if they decide as grownups that they want to be Muslim, then they can celebrate Ramadan and find out what that's like, but in the meantime it's nice to have friends that you can ask if they have any questions. My daughter replies "No, that's okay. When I grow up I want to celebrate Kwanzaa".

**picture above is a beautiful piece of the Berlin Wall at the Ronald Reagan Library that we visited this summer

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Slowing down and smelling the brownies

It's a regular school day, except I'm running late. I hate being late and rarely ever show up anywhere late. However, I'm distracted and struggling this morning with thoughts of a funeral that I'm attending in a few hours. The funeral service is for a young man, one of my husband's closest work friends, and it's horribly sad and my mind is all over the place. I manage to make breakfast and lunch for the kids, shower and dress, put on my makeup, make sure my kids are presentable, and drill sergeant them out the door (go! go! late! late! hustle! hurry!). Only, when I walk around to my side of the car that's parked on the street I find this:
and the soooo very thoughtful present the $#@%&*^!!! hit-and-run driver left behind:

Now, normally I would get kind of upset, eat some chocolate, take pictures, call my husband, more chocolate, call the cops, call my mommy, scour the neighborhood for the $%^&^*@! offender, call the insurance, then overdose on more chocolate and sugar. But, I can't do that. We are late for school, husband is already at the funeral, I am going to a funeral, mom is on a cruise ship somewhere in Greece, and, gasp, I am out of chocolate. Uh huh, even my emergency stash is gone. I stay calm and do what I have to do, after all, no one else is responsible for handling this but me. It can all wait until after the most important event of the day - the funeral to honor a well loved man.

When I get home, I deal with my car stuff. I can't believe it that my car just got fixed a month ago after a co-worker parked her big suv into my passenger door. Ya, it sucks and I'm not happy about it and I can think of a whole list of things I'd rather spend the $500 deductible on, like the camera lens I want so badly or my new guitar or a new tv to replace the old one in the bedroom. But, oh man, thank goodness I have full insurance and don't have to pay $2500 to fix my car. It's all just extra "stuff" anyway. That a-hole hit-and-run driver could have just as easily crashed into my house or my children's room, or what if we were in the car when it happened? Or getting out of the car? I certainly could go on and on about the alternatives that are far far worse. But, at some point I stop myself and think about all that I do have instead. It feels much better. That list of "blessings" is way longer than my $500 wish-list for sure. And, making my favorite amazing yummy gooey chocolaty homemade brownies helps a wee bit, too.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Loss and the gift of squash

A few weeks ago my mom wrote about an unexpected squash growing over her fence from her neighbor's yard. While she's away cruising around Greece (lucky her!), I am on water-the-plants duty, and I decide that the squash is ready to pick...and eat. Being a big fan of most kinds of squash I am delighted and intrigued. What is this thing? What kind is it? How will it taste?

When I get home, I cut it in half to reveal a golden inside full of pumpkin-like seeds...and it beacons to be eaten and I'm more than willing. The first night I take one half, scoop out the seeds, cut off the green outside, then cut it into bite-sized pieces. I throw the chunks into a pan with olive oil and season with garlic, salt, and some herbs and cook until soft. OMG! It's the most buttery yummy delicious squash goodness I've ever tasted. The next night, same thing except I sprinkle with curry powder and a bit of sugar for a more savory version. Yumm yumm yumm!!! Yes, call me a squash geek but I don't care. It was a major treat for sure. And yea! my kids loved it, too.

I can't help but think about the planter of the seed that grew this magnificent squash. My mom's neighbor has absolutely no idea of the gift he gave to me and my family. I almost want to print those pictures, write a thank-you note, and slip it under his door mat. After all, it's always a better feeling to give a gift than receive one, especially when it was unintentional. Humm, I think I will do that since I'm due to water plants tomorrow. Hey, why not, right?

After all, this week has, well, totally sucked, and I'm sure we can all use more smiles. My husband unexpectedly lost a close friend who leaves behind a devastated family with two children who struggle with sickle cell anemia and many close-knit friends and co-workers. I am blown away and touched by my husband's dedication to making sure his friend is honored in the best way possible and that his family is taken care of not only now but in the future.

Add to that the local fire this week that fills our lives with awful smoke and horrible news of loss. The wonderful Switzer Falls that I wrote about a few weeks ago is in the red fire zone and presumed totally burned. I'm crushed.

So, ya, a silly squash growing over the fence is just a squash - a simple side dish in the scheme of life. But, for me it's something good and much needed for my soul in a week that I wish never happened. I am grateful that this week's events could be much much worse, after all, I still have a home and husband and my health. And, maybe, just maybe when I plant those saved seeds from that fantastic squash next spring and hopefully produce more of them for my own garden, I'll be able to look back on this crappy week and think about the loss and also feel hopeful for the future...and my happy belly.