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

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.