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.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Creatures of habit

Cats are routine creatures and my cat Popoki is no exception. Not three minutes after the kids are tucked into bed do I hear the muffled loud meows of Popoki dragging her favorite black ratted string from the bedroom into the living room or office, depending on where we are. This is followed by the thinner brown string...and then the other black string. She'll sit next to it like a dog with it's slobber soaked tennis ball meowing at you with the "oh please pretty please play with me aren't I cute and cleaver and I've felt so neglected all day long" pleading look on her face. Then I play with her for a while and she feels better and then does her own thing until she thinks it's time for me to go to bed. Then she waits and meows near the hallway door for my eminent arrival into the bedroom where she gets more petting and some company before her attention deprived nighttime.

Us human creatures aren't much different, some much more than others. It can be as severe as the guy I know that brings the exact same precisely measured lunch to work every single day (despite the snickers and ribbing from his co-workers) or simply that I drink my coffee the exact same way each morning. Hey, I do get wild and crazy and order a fancy coffee when I go out, but shhhhh! don't tell anyone. And, no matter how structured or unstructured people's lives are, everyone has routines and habits, from the order they do things in the shower to kissing their loved ones goodnight. But, sometimes the same day in and day out stuff makes me a little bonkers. If my man gets up and makes the coffee instead of me it's such a welcome relief. If he goes the extra mile and insists that I stay in bed and relax...a decadent slice of heaven pie.

That's certainly the beauty of vacations, like my recent trip to Vegas. Talk about a break in the routine! Funny though, as much as I enjoyed myself and my head felt clearer and lighter, I was fine about being home and settling back into my comfortable life. But, I wonder if we rarely take the time to change things up a bit and get away, like really get away from it all, do we appreciate the routine? Heck, I'm not sure you even need to get away to see it. I was blue and weird and funky for weeks after my kids were out of school for the summer. What the the cause? I'm pretty sure it was a shock to my established routine and relative freedom of me-time. And, once I got a grip on that (slapped myself silly) and embraced the time with my kids, then soon it was time to make plans for school starting again and a totally different schedule.

I guess for me it's all about finding good balance and keeping myself in check. Mixing it up on occasion is good for me but too much instability makes me unhappy. I wish sometimes it could all be so simple, like with my string obsessed cat - my owner goes away and throws off my routine, so I just act mad for a minute and get tons of guilt ridden attention, then take a nap to forget it all. Aah, what a life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Hitting the jackpot

I just got home from a long overdue girlfriend (get me far far away from my life and worries because I barely survived the summer with my sanity) roadtrip to Vegas. I'm not even sure the last time I went there, maybe nine years ago? But since I'm
usually the one planning and pushing for the getaways, I was more than happy to say yes! yes! yes! when my girlfriend offered to book a hotel and arrange for tickets to a fancy show. What could be better than four fabulous women beyond ready for some fun in a limo tinted Lexus suv loaded with party clothes, booze, chocolate, iPod full of 80's music, and an infectious whooo hooo!!! we are going to have fun spirit?

The weekend turned out great. Our high floor room overlooked the strip with a view of the Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio fountain show. We ate. We gambled. We laughed. We walked and walked and walked. We shopped. We people watched. We oooh'd and aaah'd at a spectacular show. We shared. And, best of all we were away. AWAAAAAAAAY!

It's a strange place, though - such the opposite of what I believe in for my life. Here I write about looking for the simple small things that make life rich, and I'm in this city full of excess, waste, emptiness, greed, and gluttony...all the deadly sins and more. Besides the clickers trying to hand you the nasty prostitute cards, there are just so many things that just rubbed me all kinds of wrong. I was blown away by the amount of young bleary eyed children at the casino...and out sooooo late. Why???? Maybe it's just my insecurities, but I never felt so old and flat-chested and undesirable and unnoticed. What's up with going to a club to dance but not being able to sit down at a table unless we paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for the privilege? I want to people watch and put my drink down, not stand awkwardly trying not to feel so odd. And, what struck me the most is how easy it is to loose perspective, like with freely spending money and what I found acceptable. I noticed women wearing six-inch heels and a micro-mini skirts while drinking alcohol at 10am in the morning. I know what I would think if I saw that at my local mall, but in Vegas anything goes, in fact, the more the better. I guess that's why people love it so much.

With Vegas I just have to take the good with the bad and embrace the whole experience. I certainly didn't go with the expectation of peace, calm, and serenity. It's a unique place offering a total escape from normal reality. In fact, there were plenty of little things that made me feel happy and grounded. For instance, the breakfast potatoes at the Planet Hollywood diner. Fluffy and crunchy and perfect. Yumm! My friend Amy surprising me by buying me my favorite chocolate covered honeycomb at the totally neat store on the way there. Oh, and finding a great Santa in their unbelievable gift shop to add to my collection. Unlimited crab legs dipped in warm butter. Cashing in my change jar that I lugged all the way there and to the only casino on the strip that takes change thinking it would only be about $70 and instead getting back $190!! My kids actually appreciated and missed their mommy. And, mushy me, feeling so grateful, rich, lucky, blessed, honored, thrilled, fulfilled, wealthy, and full of love for these amazing and beautiful women friends in my life. Oh yes, very very lucky indeed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jiggly wiggly teeth

That's my silly girl today with a big cheesy smile showing off two wiggly top teeth stickin' out and hanging on by a thread on the verge of falling out any minute now. It brings back such memories for me - those darn teeth just like hers that seemed to be loose forever. I remember the adult threats of the long string attached to my tooth and the door, or the car bumper, or the dreaded pliers. I could never quite figure out if they were joking or serious? Yikes!

Both of my kids got referred to an orthodontist by their new and wonderful family dentist a few months back. Although I know it's inevitable due to my small-mouth genes and their already crowded teeth, the news is still a bit hard to take. The money part is one thing, well, okay, lots of things, but knowing that my sweet little babies face a future of painfully bloody teeth pulling surgeries and sore mouths from braces is just, well, sad.

So, after many months of procrastination, I finally take my kids to the orthodontist to hear the details of their dreaded oral fate. Now, I don't know if the doctor was trying to butter me up knowing full well that he's about to make enough money off of us to pay for that 5-Star European cruise that his wife is begging for, but he didn't seem to think that anything regarding their teeth was urgent at all. He smiles and delivers the news "their jaws are absolutely perfect which is great, so let's wait until more teeth fall out and then we'll talk". And the two very loose teeth that Talia keeps wiggling and that I was hoping he'd pull out in two seconds without any pain? He says "save yourself some money and let them come out on their own which should be in the next two days or so". Uh humm, that was a week ago! At least we found a great doctor that offers a warm personality and fun stickers and pencils and...he takes all major credit cards.

On the way home, I start thinking about all the seemingly endless work on my mouth that I endured as a child. Because of my very small mouth, I had eight permanent teeth pulled (along with countless baby teeth) braces, head gear, neck gear, and a retainer. The works! Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles, yep, that was me. Although I shudder when I remember some of that awful stuff like it was yesterday, I'm so happy that my mom did that all for me. My jaw doesn't knock and my teeth are straight now. I don't even want to think about what my mouth would look like without all that work.

So, out of curiosity, I ask my mom, how did she manage that big expense as a single mother? Get this - she tells me that her income was $750 a month back then (not a week, but $750 for the whole month!), and she paid $100 to my orthodontist every single month for two years. I'm speechless. I can't even fathom how she got by with such little money. That's only $650 per month for rent, food, utilities, clothes, etc., etc., etc., etc...She didn't have credit cards or equity lines of credit or wealthy parents or child support. Yet, not once did I hear her complain about what she gave up or make me feel guilty. I can only imagine what she sacrificed. She just did it. Maybe it was just different times then, or maybe my mom is just simply a great mom, or both, but I'm just amazed...and totally grateful.

It kind of puts things into perspective. It's not a matter of "if" my kids need orthodontics, but "when" and I can do the "when" part without worrying if I can buy groceries or pay the utility bills. My husband endured very crooked teeth until he was almost thirty when he could finally pay to fix them himself. My kids will get it all done before their teenage years when it really matters. They will be fine, especially with all the extra ice cream in their future and (more) beautiful smiles, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adventure pass

Some days when I think about all the fun stuff I want to do this summer, I feel almost paralyzed at home, with seemingly too many options and home being the one place that's easy. But, one thing I know for sure, is that me and my kids need to get out and get exercise and sun and be social and do things we love that make us feel good or else we all suffer. After all, a summer at home every day is not exactly the kind of stuff my kids want to share on the first day of school. Teacher: "What did you do this summer?" My kids: "We sat around the house all day making a huge mess, endlessly fighting, and getting on our mom's last nerves." Uh, not so good.
Today I felt inspired, practically compelled to go on a real honest to goodness hike, a hike far away from the hot stuffy city. Most of the places we've visited this summer is structured fun and I feel totally stifled. I go through my mental rolodex of great hiking spots and decide to venture out to Switzer Falls in the Angeles National Forest. Lucky for me I own an Adventure Pass that allows me to experience this area without getting a ticket and not having an excuse not to go. Now, with "Adventure" being the key word here, this spot is a bit of a trek winding the car up up up a mountain, but with beautiful views and Robert Munsch entertaining us on the iPod it's not too bad at all.
The hike turns out to be just what I ordered - slight breeze, tons of shade, chirping birds, lots of cool water to soak our feet in, very few other hikers, and just a splendid break from the concrete city. We see woodpeckers, lizards, butterflies, fish, my first BLACK DIAMONDBACK HIGHLY VENOMOUS RATTLESNAKE!!!, too much poison oak, wild blackberry bush with tons of berries to eat, old ruins, and it goes on and on. Even with the somewhat scary rattlesnake encounter, I feel at ease and centered...like I'm finally home.
I can't help but wish I did this consistently all this summer, adventure to a new amazing place every other day to be one with nature and dirt and snakes (not!!). Life stuff does get in the way, so I can't blame myself entirely. And, with only fourteen days left until school starts it would be an unrealistic pressure to put on myself to make up for lost time. But certainly a few more lovely hikes is possible, if not downright essential in these last two weeks. I need it!!
Now, I don't exactly consider myself the adventurous type - maybe compared to some but not at all compared to other wild and crazy people I know. For me, there is definitely something liberating about driving to an out-of-the-way place (all by myself) that's sort of hard to get to that's away from my comfort zone, and having it turn out great. You should've seen the smiles on our faces today. I even got a "10" rating out of Talia (compared to the "zero" rating way too early this morning when she was screaming at her brother). I guess it's kind of like life - those things that challenge us can reap the most rewards. The difficult hurdles that we face and conquer make us feel more proud and confident in the end. I realize our limitations, of course - I'm not exactly going to push the kids way beyond their endurance limits just to reach the waterfalls that I somehow never get to see on hikes, but, that's okay. Sniffle. Sometimes it simply has to be about getting out the door and just doing it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Watch out R2!

Maybe if I hide in the grass it won't see me. I've never seen tusks like that before. Yeeeeowww!

Rollin' with it

Nothing says fun childhood memories like stinky tar, fossils, and...
the perfect hill to roll down again and again and again and again and again and again...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How's that workin' for ya?

As I do every day at the ungodly hour when the roosters and my children rise, I drag myself to the tv this morning to turn it on for the kids to watch a recorded show while I make coffee and become a functioning human being. The tv happens to be on the news showing the two American women reporters exiting the plan in Burbank and then gratefully hugging their families and heroes after their harrowing four month ordeal in N. Korea. Now, normally I would change the channel to protect the innocents, but I am riveted and emotional and moved after following their scary story all this time. I'm not sure if it was because they were women and a mother or just simply relishing in the beautiful history making moment, but it just strikes me as something I need to watch and try to explain to my kids in kidspeak: reporters made a boo-boo, very bad and mean leader, hard labor, make nice, peace is good, yea for Clintons and Obama, finally home to loving families. Tear. Yea. Coffee...


I guess after eight long years of my-penis-is-bigger-than-your-penis policy and it's better to be hardliners (we'll show them!) and invade and make war than talk with respect and make peace 'cause that's for the weak don't you know, it's just so miraculous to see such a positive outcome. Good news for a change in a sea of constant dire news!! And, now we elected a leader that leads by example by promoting dialogue and working on peaceful solutions...with respect. It's just so refreshing! I watched The View for a few minutes this morning to see what the panel would say about the release of these women. Joy commented "For years we didn't negotiate with N. Korea and they built up an incredible nuclear arsenal so I don't know that not negotiating with them was the right way to go". So, so true. By turning out backs the situation actually got worse. I love being able to use the phrase "how's that workin' for ya?" (but always wish later in retrospect that I remembered to use it dammit!) and I can't help but think about the quote from Mother Teresa: "I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there." I love that quote. She rocked!

As a mother of twins who actually get along pretty well and don't beat the crap out of each other every minute, but from what I understand, act with typical sibling bickering and fighting and general grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, I definitely struggle with the seemingly constant battles of he said she saids and it's not fairs and stop its!!!!. While I'm all for peaceful solutions, sometimes I snap and get ugly, and sometimes it gets bad enough to make me cry in the bathroom and drink lots of red wine at nighttime. As an only-child who spent most of her childhood flying solo and fending for myself without any sibling competition or rivalry, I simply have no understanding of this constant need to be like magnets stuck to each other not being able to separate but totally getting on each other's nerves at the same time. I swear, I'll physically pull them away from each other and grit my teeth as one of those moms saying "JUST STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER FOR FIVE MINUTES (or I will totally lose my mind $!@#%*) OKAY!?" only to have them right back to buggin' each other again poking and licking and pointing and wrestling each other to no end. I guess it's better than the alternative of them not liking each other or not being close at all and like omg he's yucky and gross and boring. I sure hope that day never comes. Sigh.

Maybe it's just the universe showing me what I missed out on as a child. After all, I think those with siblings have a better understanding of how to get along with people and are certainly better at arguing (I suck at that). I'm guessing it's time for me to read some books on sibling rivalry to gain a better perspective on it all. And, thank goodness for friends with lots of siblings and/or multiple kids that can offer understanding, sympathy, and helpful suggestions. I would like to think that I'm more like Obama than not on most days, hoping they work it out on their own but only peacefully and diplomatically intervening when necessary. But maybe I'm just a regular ol' mom just trying to make it through the day-to-day challenges with some of my sanity left intact while raising two smart caring loving people to make the world a better and more peaceful place.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hair

Excerpt from an early morning conversation today with my imaginative daughter...

Talia: "Popoki (the cat) has more hair than we do."
Me: "Why do you think she has so much hair?"
Talia: "So if she gets stung by a bee it won't hurt."
Me: "Why do you think we have hair on our head?"
Talia: "It protects my brain. If someone tries to cut off all my skin and take out my brain and smash it on the ground they will have trouble because my hair won't let that happen because it's very strong...and curly."

Saturday, August 1, 2009

In our place

This last week my babies turned 6 years old/young. I decided that instead of a big $$$ party, we would spend their birthday at $$$ Disneyland for their first time EVER!!!! and a hotel room that night (they love hotels). What can I say, the big day at Disneyland was a total blast and a great choice indeed.

When we dragged ourselves home the next day, Talia said something that bothered me and took me by surprise. She said that she never gets her way because she wanted to stay another day at the hotel (which was news to me) and we didn't do that and it wasn't fair at all. I mean, full on snotty rant about it. I know she was tired, overstimulated, adversely affected by the extreme gluttony, totally six, and enjoyed the whole experience so much that she only wan
ted the fun to continue longer. But, this time the tone was different. After an impromptu pre-birthday swim and cake "gathering" (not a party!) of a few close friends the day before, plenty of presents, then a full birthday day at Disneyland with all the trimmings, a great dinner at Buca with the entire restaurant singing to them, and a nice hotel suite, she's giving me attitude about wanting more? After I called my mom for sympathy and a pep talk there was no more super nice understanding mom left in me. I felt compelled to set that girl straight. We had a private talk about gratitude (or lack of) and hurt feelings and thinking about what we have instead of what we don't. And, I have to say, she took it to heart and was the sweet lovely girl that I know and love the rest of the day, even pointing to her new toys and saying she was grateful. Well done.

The next day my mom took the kids to the wonderful Santa Barbara Zoo as her birthday gift to them. I got to spend some much needed alone time with my husband - talk about gratitude! Anyway, I get a call on my cell from my mom around 2:30 wondering where I was and saying that she's bringing the kids home...right...now. Uh oh, not a good tone in her voice. Once they are home, I send them off to the playroom so I can get the full story. My mom is actually so upset she can barely find the words. Turns out, on the way home from what was a very special day together at the zoo, Quinn complained that she didn't buy him anything at the gift shop and that he didn't get enough things for his birthday and he wanted more. While that kind of sounds like the typical American kid, it doesn't sound like my son. And for him to say that to my mom, a woman that grew up thinking her family was poor (my depression-era grandmother was extremely frugal and a saver) and never once in her entire childhood did she ever get a real birthday party, it hit her pretty hard to the core. My children, who are extremely privileged compared to the rest of the world are the last ones that should complain about not having enough. So, for the second time in two days, I did the gratitude talk and you know what, it worked again. The funny Quinn returned and was happy and nice the rest of the day. I even heard him later playing with his new Playmobil and one of his little people said to another "You get what you get and you don't get upset". Ding ding ding!

What got me thinking is that sometimes we all need to get put in our place a little, whether we are six or grownups. We can easily lose perspective and it helps to see things through fresh (hopefully caring) honest eyes to bring us back to reality (or maybe a reality we never knew before). We get caught up in our own crap and forget about how we affect other people. We are all guilty of it, yes, including me. Just last week I wrote a post about how I suffered through a recent several week long serious bout with the blues. Then, I get an email from a good friend with the subject line "helloooooooooooooo you freak" where she went on to (lovingly) yell at me for not reaching out to her so she could be there for me because that's what friends do!!!! After re-reading her email a few times, I called her up to apologize and explain myself, and un-posted my offending post. Those somewhat harsh but truly honest words are much appreciated. I realize that it wasn't right of me to spill my guts to the world about a difficulty in my life while failing to share first with my concerned friends. I definitely crossed the blurry blogging line. I don't blame her for being upset, and I would feel the same way if the situation was reversed.

Thank goodness for people around us that have the guts to care enough to be honest when we need to hear it. When it's said out of love, it's a huge huge gift. Even if we hear it from a jerk or a stranger, it can sting that much more, but the truth can still be helpful once we get over ourselves. When I was in junior high school, my hair was cut very short, like a boy. So, totally out of the blue, this kid Daniel says to me "You know, you would look much better with longer hair". I was stunned, embarrassed, self conscious, and hurt, but you know what? I grew my hair longer and it came out curly...to my total shock (I had no idea I had curly hair!). Granted, it was only my hair, but that caused a shift in me where I started to think more about my appearance...a more grown up me. And, if I say so myself, it was a huge improvement and it gave me more confidence. I can count numerous times that I've spoken my mind to people and it changed their lives. Who knows how many times we've made small comments through the years that had a major impact on someone, like with the case of my junior high friend (I'm sure he has no idea). I'm not advocating that we all go around being brutally honest with each other because that might case a few problems to say the least, but sometimes a well deserved talkin' to can go a long long way.