Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Wish

New Year's Eve, 2013.  L and I have already been out and had a little dinner at our favorite pizza place.  If you couldn't guess, we're not much for parties and revelry.  I didn't put a stitch of makeup on all day, and I went to dinner barefaced.  And of course I ran into an old friend... Oh well - I think I'm progressing, as I wasn't even properly mortified.  Only just a little.  We had antipasto salads and a medium pizza with "the works."  Exactly what I wanted tonight after all of the rich and fancy foods over the holidays.  I guess it still wasn't exactly lo-cal, but it was true comfort food as one year makes it's exit, making way for the new.

I'm not one to make resolutions.  I have an idea of what I'd like to accomplish, or at least work on, in 2014.  It's a list that wouldn't be an interesting read for most anyone else.  It's a list that will, hopefully, strengthen shortcomings I see in myself, or help me resolve confidence issues.  Help me become more well rounded.  More thoughtful.  More intuitive.  Help me anticipate what steps to take next.

1. Patience.  Need more of it.  Patience with myself.  Patience with family.  There are those family members who are, shall we say, prickly at times to deal with.  I've been known to get extremely frustrated to the point of anger.  I need to stop that, and accept what is.  I need to stop treating the issue like a battle of wills, and just love them.  No matter what.  Because what they don't need is a lecture from me.  A lecture will not stop the behavior, and (although I may be disappointed because something isn't going according to plan) I need to learn how to roll with it and not sweat the little stuff.

2. Spirituality.  Need more of it.  I need to stop putting unrealistic expectations on myself, and realize I just may need a little help here.  Or a lot of it.  Do everything within my power, and then, when there is no more to do (or I'm at the end of my rope), learn to rely on my faith to help me through.  It's never failed me yet, but I am so reluctant to give up my control - the control I never had in the first place.  You see the problem here.  More prayer, more time on my knees, more careful listening for answers.  Not less stress - just the ability to handle it better, accept what is, and try to see the lesson or the plan.  Something.

3. Go the extra mile with confidence.  No thinking that a phone call might not be welcome, or that I might be intruding.  Write more notes, give more compliments, because really - who doesn't like them?  Smile at people I don't know.  Be the first to extend a hand, instead of waiting for an invitation.  And for heaven's sake, don't hide behind a snarky mask when I'm feeling vulnerable.  That's been my favorite go-to when I'm feeling insecure, and it doesn't really show me in my most attractive light.  Not at all.  And call those little ones I love so much, send them cards, and be a happy face in their little lives as much as possible.  Keep up with their fund raisers, their activities, their books read.  That will make us all happy.

So that's it.  The Big Three.  Of course there are other goals - get back on the diet train and lose that last 15 pounds.  Get back in touch with my talents and activities I love.  I used to play piano until (with the last move about 20 years ago) about 14 strings broke.  Make this the year we finally get that baby grand repaired and back in working order.  Get back to playing music and filling our home with it.  I used to paint.  I'm not sure if I love it like I used to, but I'd like to explore it a bit, maybe find a project that interests me.  I've become far too one-sided with work, work, and more work.  Time to clear the table and get out the paints and brushes.  Teach myself some new tricks with my camera.  It takes practice (and patience: see #1 above)  Be better about writing and blogging.  I love to write. 
Sometimes it's hard to sit down and begin, but once I do, the words seem to pour out.  My life is far from extraordinary, but I notice that my favorite writers do tend to write about the ordinary things surrounding them.  It's comforting to realize we all have similar trials, triumphs, and take joy in the same simple things.

We're all just humans trying to get along in this world as best we can.  Some of us pull ahead at times, seeming to have an edge, and sometimes we get knocked flat.  What matters is that we get up and try again.  We take inspiration from each other, we learn to be courageous from watching others struggle valiantly.  We learn compassion from having a hand extended to us when we're in need, so we can, in turn, extend ours to the next one in need.  We behave badly, and we learn better ways to cope with problems.  Always the upward climb in learning and personal growth.  I find that having spiritual beliefs helps.  Makes me feel less alone.  Less helpless.  There is always Someone I can pour my heart out to, who loves me unconditionally, and who knows the real me with all of my complicated issues.  It's comforting and empowering all at the same time.

So Happy New Year - 2014.  It's always interesting to ponder what the year will bring.  2013 brought our family two sweet baby boys.  It brought me reunions with the best sort of friends.  It brought it's share of trials, too.  There are always those, but I choose not to dwell on them too much.  There is only so much I can do about most of them, and so that is where the prayer and faith come in.  Prayer for the wisdom to know when/where/how I CAN make a difference, and faith that we are loved and watched over, and that I can let go of that control I don't have in the first place.  And so as we stand on the edge dividing old and new, I have that excitement that comes with anticipating the unknown.  Knowing there will be hard times and disappointments, and hoping I will handle them with grace.  But also knowing there will be many good times and hidden joys that will be completely unexpected.  Hopefully more of those, as they're much more fun, don't you think?  But having said that, I wish you all the very best for 2014.  Joy, love, happiness, good health - all of it.  The whole banana.  And when the bad days come - as they surely will - I wish you grace under pressure, many helping hands, and the knowledge that you are loved.  Armed with that knowledge, you are ready for anything.  Anything.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No Gifts...And Then There Were

It hasn't been quite the Christmas I imagined.  The first couple of weeks in December were a manic frenzy of online shopping and shipping.  Laying awake nights trying to imagine just the right gift for each special person on my list.  I love to give gifts, but sometimes it makes me neurotic.  I put way too much angst into it, and let myself get way too disappointed when it doesn't go over perfectly, or what I am envisioning is unavailable. 

Just as quickly as the shopping had begun, it was over.  All packages shipped - either from the supplier, or wrapped and shipped by me.  I had at least 3 trips to the post office.  Our house is decorated from top to bottom.  Lights hung on the outside, and I even bought 10 white Poinsettias to mass together on the front porch.  It all looks really pretty.  And then I took a look at the tree.  The tree with no gifts underneath it, other than one for my mother, and one for my aunt.  And I realized that what was missing was my family - all the little ones, as well as the big ones - MY little ones.  Now, they're scattered here and there, all over the country.  None are within easy driving distance, and holiday airfare is prohibitive for families even if schedules permitted.  I have to confess I've been feeling a little bit down.  I really do miss them, and doubly so during the holidays.

I mentioned the giftless tree to L, thinking he would understand.  And he does to a point.  But he's not a mother, and his solution was to wrap about a million gifts for me and put them all under the tree so it wouldn't look so lonely.  It both helped and didn't help.  It doesn't look as lonely now for sure.  It actually looks exciting.  (I do love that boy...) But it still didn't help me from feeling very disconnected from the ones I love so much.  A gift from my daughter arrived.  Excitement elevated.  Today another arrived from Tim and Autumn in New York.  More anticipation.  (Did I mention that I'm still a kid at heart?  I still get excited...)  I confess that I love receiving gifts almost as much as I love giving them.  Almost.  I was ashamed to realize that - it doesn't portray the spirit of Christmas very well, and it made me feel selfish to admit that fact.  But then I began to understand that it's what helps me to feel connected to family, to have that validation that I'm still important in their lives.  Childish?  Definitely.  But I am letting you have a peek into the imperfect person that is me, with all of my insecurities.  I put so much into choosing just the right gift for each of them, and it makes me feel loved when they do the same for me - especially when they're so far away, and I don't get to be there to physically celebrate Christmas with them.  I would give anything to bake cookies with the little girls (and boys!), sing Christmas carols, or experience special traditions with them.  I can see that 2014 should be about bolstering my self esteem as a mother.  (It will take all year...)

Anyway, once I realized the root of my depression, it kind of snapped me out of it.  I decided to see what I could do for those who ARE here, rather than pining away for those who are not.  Last night we took my aunt to see the most amazing display of Christmas lights in our area.  They are all synchronized to Christmas music on a radio station and there isn't one inch of the house that wasn't covered with lights.  She'd never seen anything like it.
L and I are hosting Christmas Eve for my parents and siblings.  I want it to be a good night for everyone.  I felt myself getting sucked into the details and spinning out of control, and that is definitely NOT what Christmas Eve should be about.  So I simplified.  I delegated.  And suddenly its manageable.  And still nice.  And the house is still pretty with lights and glitter and candles.

One sad thing: this was the year I had to finally give up the Naughty Naked Angel.  What is that?  It's a little ornament that has always been Scott's.  It always reminded me of him when he was small.  Naughty.  And many times naked.  Anyway, this is the year he wanted his ornaments sent to him to help fill his and Ashley's tree.  Fair enough.  But it was like parting with a piece of my soul.  Into the box it went, *SIGH* and Naughty Naked is now gracing their tree.  As he should be.  I'll get over it.

Katie has long since claimed her childhood ornaments.  I missed them at first too, but they have found a good home on her tree each year.  I still have many of Rex's - he's never asked for them, and so I hang onto them, letting them transport me back to when he was a towheaded little boy who could hum Silent Night perfectly on pitch before he could even talk. 

So for all of you who have family  in faraway corners, you are not alone.  Sometimes we just have to make do, don't we?  Maybe one year we will travel and be with this one or that one, taking turns.  But for now it seems right to be here spending time with my brothers and my parents, and making good use of the time we have together.  One of the gifts I'm most excited about is my dad's.  I got him a blueberry bush.  I had to search high and low for one that wasn't all wintered out with brown and withered leaves.  But I finally found one, and it's a beauty.  He's always taken pride in his little garden.  He has lemon trees and another kind of berry bush.  He's had kumquats in a past house, but no one ever wanted to eat them.  He's not a man with a lot of hobbies.  Translation: NO hobbies.  But he needs something, so I thought he might have fun nurturing this little bush.  I was told it would have lots of berries in the summer, and blueberries are stuffed with antioxidants which are good for keeping cancer at bay.  It's kind of a random gift, but it's one of my favorites.  And he's quirky enough to love it. 

So while it hasn't been a traditional Christmas for us, it will turn out just fine.  I think I've found new ways to make it special, and have figured out a few things out about myself.  Self reflection isn't always pretty, but it can be valuable.  And there's always Face Time on Christmas morning.  Technology is a wonderful thing - we can almost be there, even when we're 3000 miles away.  How lucky we are to live in these times!  This weekend will be a huge cloud of flour and sugar, as I make and bake all sorts of sweets for our own Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and also have enough to share with friends.  Because I love to give gifts.  That seems to be the theme this year.  Give, give, and give again.  Because our Savior was born, and taught us all about unconditional love and never ending charity.  Sometimes the message gets muddled in all the commercial noise and manic confusion, but if we sit quietly in the glow of the tree lights, or gaze up into the heavens on a clear cold night, we can still hear the angels sing, if only in our hearts.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Did Ya Miss Me?

It seems I came back from Massachusetts and fell off the face of the earth.  I don't know quite what happened, other than life grabbed the reins of my carefully controlled existence, and has been running out of control for a month.  I got back from Massachusetts, and then what happened...?  Oh yeah - a week later I was in Minnesota freezing my tush off.  It was a good meeting, but like all things work related, it was not without stress and feeling like I had to be "on"  - even at dinner.  I longed to just eat dinner in the solitude of my room, but it was not to be.  Three long days later I was finally on my way home, exhausted.  One thing we did that I really liked, and it surprised me that I liked it so much, was when we had a "team-building activity."  Now usually those are just horrible, but I have a really good boss who tries to do meaningful things, and she signed us all up to go pack food at Feed My Starving Children - a charity that supplies meals all over the world to children who may only get that one meal a day.  On the particular day and shift we attended, we were packing food for the people who survived the disaster in the Phillipines.  (Does Philipines have 1 "l" or 2?  It looks odd either way and spellcheck isn't helping me...)  Anyway, that's what we did for 2 hours, and at the end of our shift we had packed enough food to feed 76 children for a year.  So awesome.  It was a good feeling to accomplish something that would be meaningful to people who are in such need, so it was a good day.  Plus it was fun to relate to coworkers in a different light.
But it was SO COLD there for a California girl.  The wind was blowing from Canada, and it went right through whatever wimpy coat I'd brought.  Again, I was very happy to board that southwest-bound plane on Wednesday evening.  Especially when I learned they were getting a lot of snow the day after I left.  I was just giddy to be leaving.
One of the things that happened during our meeting was that I was given a lot more responsibility than before.  I guess after two years those crazy Minnesotans finally decided they could trust me after all.  Maybe it was the new short hair - they all loved that, too.  It was like I could do no wrong... It's been a while in coming, but I actually felt like one of the team for the first time.  It's hard to make friends long distance, but I think we've finally done it.
So back home, and the work is really ramped up.  I have more than enough hours for the time being, and that's great, since I need to spend a lot of money right now for Christmas.  I barely blinked for Thanksgiving.  I took my aunt shopping for some "special occasion" clothes - something she's never really had.  We found her some black velvet pants, a sparkly top, a black velvet vest, and a nice necklace to pull it all together.  We picked out a red blazer - so smart and cute.  And the piece de resistance: a beautiful tweed coat with metallic thread running through it in shades of grey and lavender.  Rhinestone buttons.  Metallic braid trimming the stand up collar.  She looks amazing in it.  And she wants to return it.  Probably because of the rhinestone buttons, although she says it's because it has no pockets.  *sigh*  Anyway, she looked like a million bucks on Thanksgiving.  We'll have the debate about the tweed coat soon.  I'm hoping to win, but I'm losing my resolve.
Thanksgiving was nice.  We had dinner with my middle brother and his family, my parents, my aunt, and some assorted others at "the club."  Stellar dinner.  Good conversation.  But L and I followed this simple rule:

And now here we are into December.  I've been online shopping like a crazy person - but I'm almost done!  I only have my parents (huge problem with those two - they have everything, and my dad doesn't ever want anything.  Such a buzz kill trying to gift someone who really doesn't want anything...) and son Scott left to buy for.  Oh, and L - but I already know what I'm getting him.  (An iPad mini, but shhhhhh.... don't tell him!)  I've even bought a gift for my granddog, Kingsley.
L and I are hosting Christmas Eve this year for the fam, and I'm trying to decide what to have.  On the one hand, I want easy.  On the other hand, I want it to be nice.  And clearly you can't have paper plates, and nice all in the same evening.  So I'm struggling a bit.  Plus, our house is very small, and I can't accommodate everyone (12-13 people) around the table, or even in the kitchen all at once, so we'll have to eat scattered around.  Which means eating simpler fare.  My mom said I can use her Lenox Christmas china, but... I don't think that goes with 2 different sets of silverware and a mixture of Ikea goblets and amber tumblers.  (Don't want to bring out the good stemware for people who have to set plates in their laps.  I love my family, but accidents happen, and I don't want them happening with my good goblets.)  You see my dilemma.  And it's a dilemma that no one will even care about but me, as long as there's food and plenty of it.  It's never easy being me.  Never ever.

I will try to finish up the shopping this week, and send off that last package.  We won't have anything under the tree - or very little - because everything went out of state to our loved ones scattered all about the country.  It looks a little sad, but it's better to give than to receive, right?  (Yes, I know - it's hard to say that with meaning.  Because a tree with loads of presents under it just looks... EXCITING.)  Once the shopping is done, the baking begins.  The good thing about baking is that when I'm doing all the work, the finished product doesn't even look good to me.  I've smelled sugar all day, and I'm sick of it.  So I kind of like that I can bake and not partake.  The same rule does not apply to See's candy, unfortunately.  And someone always gives you at least one box of See's... (Anyone? Anyone?)
It'll be a fun Christmas season, with a little bit of this
and a little bit of that

But not nearly enough of this

And that's the best part, if you ask me.  It's hard when these little ones keeping changing lightning fast.
In Denver, Travis went from looking like this when I was there

To this

In Massachusetts, I hear that Drezden, aka the "Man Cub" has already rolled over once and has learned to smile.  It's like a dagger through my heart to miss all of this good stuff.  Life has a way of never standing still.
OH - and I forgot to tell you about another exciting thing.  Did you all watch the Sound of Music on TV last night?  Our son Tim's wife, Autumn was in it!  Yes, she was.  She was nun #14.  And she rocked it.  When they all came in for prayers, and there's a line of nuns in the front, with Maria's empty place in the center, Autumn was the nun on the screen's left.  She got to gesture "Where's Maria?" to the next nun over.  It was awesome, and we're so excited for her participation in it.  So if you recorded it, go on and watch it again, and be amazed at her talent.  A star is born.

So I've caught you all up on what's up with me.  And as you can see, I'm still just unorganized matter, for the most part.  Christmas will come and go, we'll talk to the little ones and the big ones, maybe see a few movies (go see The Book Thief!) and we'll eat some good food.  And then it will be New Year's Eve and we'll start all over again.  I have a business trip for 5 days to San Francisco in January.  L is going with me, as it will be during our 14th anniversary, most of the evenings will be free, and we're staying at an awesome place - the Palace Hotel.  Maybe we'll be able to spend some time with friends if they're willing to come into the city (Sue and Dave, I'm looking at you!)  I think I did really well this past year keeping up with friends and family, but I always want more.  I'm hoping for more next year.  There's a lot to look forward to, and big events to attend.  I'd better eat my Wheaties.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mema In Massachusetts

It was a wonderful trip to Massachusetts!  The weather cooperated and stayed very cool, enabling sweaters and cozy clothes every day.  But the snow and harsher weather stayed at bay, so it was easy to get out and about. 

Zach and Hayden picked me up at the airport.  When I got in the car, little Hayden was grinning from ear to ear in her car seat.  She is such fun and loaded with personality!  As Zach and I visited on the way back home, our conversation was interspersed with Hayden insisting that we play "I spy with my witto eye..."  She showed me the little snack box she'd packed for the journey, because for a small child, the trip to Logan airport is a long one.  After at least 4-5 toll booths, we arrived at their home and hauled my ponderous luggage inside. 

Mia and Katie had been having a little mother/daughter movie night while waiting for us to arrive, and baby Drezden was asleep.  Deceptively so, as it turned out.  During the time I was there, he was a dream during the day, but starting at around midnight, he got fussy and required someone to walk around with him.  I don't know why babies get so turned around, but it seems to be a rule.  But it's hard to complain about such a sweet little guy.

I got all settled into my basement room - so cozy and warm and handy access to set up my laptop, since I had to put in a little bit of work time while I was there.  It had been a long travel day, and it was good to get into comfy clothes and wash my face and visit with Katie for a bit after the girls went to bed.  We forgot to turn the clocks back that night, and so when we got up for church the next day we were an hour early.  Zach and I looked at each other and figured we deserved some brownie points for effort and intent, and wound our way back home with the girls, never to return that day.  The girls were happy to have a day to play and have my attention, so it all worked out.  Katie and Zach were able to take a nap while the baby was napping, and I kept the girls occupied.

I sat outside while they rode their bikes and scooters.  We counted laps that they rode back and forth.  Mia is all about being healthy and strong.  She loves sports and outside activity.  She loves to snack on cucumbers and bell pepper strips.  Hayden loves to sing.  I can't think of a time when she wasn't singing or talking to herself or to whoever would listen (And Mema ALWAYS listens!)  Her little body didn't stay still until she was sound asleep every night.  She loves chocolate.  Anything chocolate.  She doesn't care a fig about healthy.

During the week, the days just ran into each other.  I took the girls to school some days, and other days I'd stay home with Drezden while Katie took them.  I think it was good for her to get out of the house and get a little taste of freedom.  Their neighborhood is surrounded by woods (as are most neighborhoods in the east) and the leaves were in full color.  Every drive was filled with nature at it's finest.  It's what keeps people living there, even when it's freezing cold.  The changing seasons, each one with it's own brand of loveliness, are a compelling reason to stay, I think.  I'm a California girl, and love the west (and even further west to Hawaii!) but I still think about living in a climate like that.

One day after picking Hayden up from school, we met up with Zach and all had lunch at the local Thai restaurant.  Surprisingly, Hayden loves Thai food, and we had a great time all together.

Another late afternoon, as the light was fading, Katie remembered that she'd wanted to take a picture of the girls and Drezden for their Christmas cards.  I helped her as best I could to gather them all up, change them into the outfits she wanted them in, and open up the blinds to get as much light as possible.  It was way too cold to go outside, and the light was going fast.  Mia wasn't much in the mood, and the baby was unpredictable.  Hayden kept giving us the stiff smile.  I have to say, Katie is a miracle with a camera.  I don't think she was completely satisfied, but I actually thought this was a beautiful image of all 3 of them.

Another day Katie took Drezden to a newborn photo shoot that a friend, Pebbles and Polkadots Photography, agreed to do for her in exchange for some necklaces that Katie makes.  How I wish I could have been there to watch the process that produced this image:
Katie described the technique as being part photographer, part baby whisperer.  There are other images I haven't seen yet - this was just the sneak peek.  But what a peek!  I could die from cuteness here...

On Thursday night - actually ALL DAY Thursday - we celebrated Miss Hayden's 4th birthday.  She got to choose the breakfast menu (Chocolate chip muffins) and also dinner menu (spam and rice - go figure... She's a little Hawaiian at heart!)  She got home from school and had a long afternoon ahead of her until Daddy got home and her neighborhood friend could come over for "pupcakes."  She had helped us make them the previous day. (Miss Hayden love, love, LOVES to bake!)  Finally, FINALLY, it was time for her tiny celebration, and I was so proud of how patient she'd been.  Her friend arrived, cupcakes were served, and gifts were opened.  Here is a picture of her surrounded by her birthday haul.

L and I had given her the mixing bowl with baking accessories, and the blender with smoothie fruit to complement her little kitchen down in the basement playroom.  One of the things that Mommy and Daddy gave her was the adorable birthday cake, that was actually divided into serving pieces.  Where were these toys when I was small?  Needless to say, she was a happy little brand new 4 year old.

On Friday I spent some extra time one on one with each girl.  When Hayden got home from school we busted out the water colors and painted for about 2 hours.  She just kept cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece, all the while singing "Bibidi bobbidi boo, colors change to blue."  I have no idea what she meant, but obviously the color mixing was a magical process for her and she had the time of her life.  When Mia got out of school, Katie dropped us off at one of those places where you can pick out a ceramic piece, paint it, and then they fire it for you.  Mia took a long time to decide, but finally settled on a snack plate that looked like a sunflower, and a mug.  She carefully chose her colors and went to town.  I helped her a bit with some stencils, holding them still while she brushed on the paint.  I can't wait to see the finished product - daisies and dragonflies and butterflies and a sun on the outside, and on the inside (like a lovely surprise) she painted purple and blue stripes.  It was such a fun experience to do with her.  It was 2 hours of pure fun, and I think she'll be pleased with the outcome.  So both girls painted with Mema, each in her own way.

The week went by so quickly - grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning up, playing, driving kids to and from school.  It was a mundane week - no outings, or sightseeing.  It was a week to help out, and reconnect with (and meet!) 3 wonderful little people.  Spend a little time catching up with Katie.  I hope I gave her some rest from everyday chores - that was my intent.  I went to bed every night tired and with aching feet, but completely happy and satisfied.

Friday night - my last night there - we decided to swing by McDonald's and get dinner.  Something the kids would enjoy, and something where we didn't have to think about cooking anything.  Zach was working a moonlighting shift and wouldn't be home until after 10.  We rented Monsters University, ate our food, and settled in for a movie night complete with popcorn and hot chocolate.  I think Katie conked out after about 10 minutes into the movie, and it was good to see her sleep.  The baby snoozed until the end of the movie, and woke up almost as if on cue when it ended.  The girls were beyond tired - Hayden was actually crying from exhaustion while I was tucking her in - but it had been a snuggly little evening together.  Mia had some hangnails that needed cutting, and so I did that and massaged her hands and feet with lotion and lavender oil.  And soon, she too was drifting off to sleep.

Saturday dawned, and dang if those girls weren't up and at 'em by 7am.  *groan*  Poor, old Mema was soooo tired... But up I got - I only had a half day to play and enjoy before I had to go to the airport!  During the morning they had a cord of wood delivered to their driveway.  Firewood for the winter!  Zach started stacking it in back by their deck but came in for lunch.  I was cleaning up the lunch dishes, when I looked out the window and saw this:

Mia, stacking wood into the stroller, then pushing it into the back yard and unloading and stacking it all by the deck.  No one asked her, she just loves to help.  And she loves to be outside!  Look at that face... she makes me so happy...

Too soon, it was time to load everything into the car and head for the airport.  The girls popped "Brave" into the DVD player, and off we went.  Massachusetts is so beautiful this time of year, and I enjoyed watching the beautiful fall color all week, and on our way to Boston.  But when we arrived at the airport, well... that was the moment of truth.  Katie cried, I cried, and it was so hard to say good bye.  I wished so hard that I had another week to spend there to help out.  It's the worst having your kids so far away... Zach remained patient with our tears, and was kind to snap a picture of all of us in our throes of misery:
We put on brave smiles and wiped away our tears.  My favorite one is the one of Katie and me on the left.  She does love to mug for the camera...  And my miracle of the whole trip was that, while going through airport security both ways, I was chosen to go through without taking my laptop out, or taking off my shoes.  Sadly, I had on boots that had metal buckles on them, so I couldn't take full advantage.  But STILL - it was a wonderful thing.  It was a trip with no big events, but so many tiny, precious memories tucked away.  Small hands in mine, "huggies" from Hayden, watching Mia's pride in how well she rides her bike, helping her with her homework, teaching her the brush technique for stenciling.  Lovely girls - sweet to the bone.  So good to each other, and everyone else.  And a final precious memory - holding this sweet angel.  I'll remember this quiet moment forever.  They're only this small once. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Drezden Debuts - Our Halloween Treat

Happy Halloween!  October has been a real whirlwind around here.  I haven't had half a chance to relax and enjoy it - and now it's over.  I'm sitting in a half-dark room waiting for L to get home with the candy.  Yes, we really do wait until the last minute, and yes, I could have gotten it myself, but he said HE would so... I let him.  It's a crap shoot as to whether we'll even have any trick or treaters, but it's best to be prepared, and if none show up, then it's also delicious to be prepared.

I've been enjoying checking out everyone's posts on Facebook - pictures of all of the little ones in their costumes.  One of these years (and it had better be soon) I'm going to get myself together enough to be with grandkids in one place or the other on Halloween.  L and I did try that a couple of years ago, and karma responded with the snowstorm of the century, knocking out all of the power in Worcester, MA for the duration of our visit.  Halloween was cancelled and it was a little sad.  You can see my reluctance to repeat testing fate...

Speaking of Worcester, we have a new baby boy: Drezden John.  He's a love.  Mellow, sleeps well, loves to snuggle.  I leave on Saturday for a week long trip to Massachusetts to meet the little sweetie, as well as my other two darlings, Mia and Hayden.  Hopefully I will be a help, and we'll have some fun too.  I've not seen the house they're living in now, so it will be a whole new adventure.  I'll come back armed with lots of pictures and new stories to tell.  Now I'm sure many of you are wondering about his name, and so I'll explain.  His daddy is a World War II buff, and so he thought of the name Dresden, which is a city in Germany.  Katie and Zach were afraid people might pronounce it "Dress-den" (I would never) and so they opted to spell it with a "Z" instead - and thought it was nice that, coincidentally, Zach's name starts with a "Z" as well.  Whew!  And that's the story.  I can't wait to meet him and take in copious amounts of that new baby smell.  Their little heads smell delicious, and their cheeks are tempting to bite.  But I won't.  Well, maybe just a little nibble...

Work has been nuts!  I've been given a lot more to do, and that's a good thing.  More hours = more pay.  So bring it on...  I'll be back from Massachusetts a week, and I have to turn around and fly to Minneapolis for 3 days.  We're having some kind of training and my manager wanted all of us remote players to come in and reconnect with the Mothership.  Not a bad idea, but not so nice at this time of year.  November in Minneapolis is, well... COLD, but I'll suck it up for a couple of days.  I just know I'll be burned out from the first trip, and won't be in the mood for another long flight.

We've had our first taste of fall here in California.  Crisp cool nights (I've had to wear a head wrap during our bike rides!) and cool sunny days.  Sweater weather.  It's been great.  My mom and I went to lunch yesterday, and sat outside.  It was shady where we were and it was actually chilly!  (Well, to ME it was cold.  If you're from, say, Ohio, you're laughing at me right now!)  I've really enjoyed it though, and thinking about a whole week in Massachusetts with sweaters and boots and coats is getting me kind of excited.

L is down in the kitchen making his famous Halloween Soup.  We all love it, and our kids all ask for it when they're here at this time of year.  He's also BBQing chicken for some chicken quesadillas.  He brought home one of the biggest avocados I've ever seen for guacamole.  I should go down and help.  We've got candy ready to hand out, and when the little ones stop coming (if they come at all) we'll hunker down with some sweet treats and watch some recorded shows and our favorite show, Parenthood.  I do love spending these evenings with L, just being cozy and quiet.  Halloween ushers in the holiday season, and from here on out, I'm going to have to hold onto my hat.  November is going to be quite busy, as it turns out.  So many birthdays, and Thanksgiving too!  And then it really ramps up in December trying to get everything done.  I still have lots of shopping to do - I'm not quite as on it as I was last year.  Plenty of time, I tell myself.  Just breathe...

I hope you're all having a wonderful, happy, and slightly spooky Halloween.  It's one of my favorite times of the year.  I will be gone from here all next week, but will catch everyone up when I get back.  For those on Facebook, I'll be posting things there as I go along.  Have a wonderful week ahead, and think of me having the time of my life with my girls, and now our new little man.  And perhaps sneaking in a nap here and there.  Just to keep myself, you know, energized after more activity than I'm used to in a month, let alone one crazy week.

PS: We had one trick or treater.  A girl about 12 or 15.  Hard to tell.  No little ones at all.  So L has a lot of candy to plow through this next week.  He'll be missing me, you know, *a lot* so maybe the candy will take the edge off.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Autumn and Cider Doughnuts

Two more weeks until my sojourn to Massachusetts.  Baby boy will be born in 1 week, but Katie will be in the hospital for half of it, so the MIL is going to keep the household running and orderly.  Her cooking is to die for - I sort of wish my visit could overlap hers...

Katie says that the cider doughnuts are in the doughnut shops, and the air is crisp and cool.  (I can hardly wait to get there for those doughnuts!)  I see from pictures that leaves are turning, and it's really Fall.  Here in California, conversely, it's still 88 degrees, and hot and dry.  Fall here largely means fire season and high winds.  But we dream our dreams of colored leaves, and pumpkin pies anyway.  L and I went to Trader Joe's this past week, and stocked up on pumpkin EVERYTHING.  We now have pumpkin pancake and waffle mix, pumpkin bread mix, and some really tasty pumpkin cereal bars called "A Pumpkin Walks Into A Bar."  Love it.  I even bought a can or two of pumpkin, in case the urge to make a pie hits me.  Not likely, if it stays this hot, but who knows?  Baking is a serendipitous thing.

I'm getting anxious for those cooler days.  Sweater weather.  At least I'll have it when I go to Massachusetts.  Seven glorious days wrapped in sweaters, boots, and jackets!  Bright blue skies, brightly colored leaves, and likely some rain.  It rains a lot there, which is why its so beautiful. 

Possibly best of all, there will be a few hours when the girls are in school, hopefully baby will be napping, when I can spend time with just my own little girl.  That hasn't happened for quite a while, and it's one of the things I miss most about her growing up.

Until then, I'll content myself with my pumpkin everything - I forgot that I also got Pecan Pumpkin Oatmeal.  I'll deck the house out in Halloween finery.  We've got jack o'lanterns, black ravens, and skulls all over the place.  And this weekend, the pirate skeleton comes out to play!  L has to hang him up - it's too high for me.  I usually have everything up and decorated by this time, but this year I've been a little slow.  There are still 2 more weeks to enjoy in October - such a good month.  I hope we get some trick or treaters on Halloween - sometimes we do, sometimes we don't - but I always miss having masses of kids roaming the neighborhood, like when my kids were little, or especially when I was young. 

It's kind of a different holiday now.  Thank you, crazy perverts...  I remember when I was about 13, I was living in New Jersey, and my friend and I really wanted to dress up and trick or treat, but we knew we were a little too old.  Joan could sew, and so she whipped up a couple of bustle skirts, and we went out as ladies from the 1800s.  We came to an old house in the area, knocked on the door, and an old man answered.  He invited us in, and in we went.  Without a second thought.  (Now THAT would never happen now!)  He had owned and operated one of those river steamboats for years, and he was showing us a lot of pictures of his happier days.  In his living room he had a real pipe organ - the kind that has a million stops (one was a jingle bell sound!) and the massive pipes.  He let us play on it, while he talked and reminisced.  I know that all sounds slightly creepy-ish, but looking back (and it was a much more innocent time) he was a lonely old man, whose wife was an invalid.  But to all you kids out there: DON'T TRY THIS TODAY.  Today, he'd turn out to be a lonely old child molester.  But that's my one good Halloween trick or treat story.  That, and the time I was about 5 and I walked up to the door of a house where there was a large form covered by a sheet... which turned out to be a vacuum cleaner that was turned on as we rang the doorbell, making a huge noise and causing the sheet to billow out.  HOLY CRAP!!!  I was back out to the curb in 2 seconds and booking it home , with the man running after me saying "I'm sorry sweetheart - come back!"  I just ran right past my dad and didn't look back.  Ah... nostalgia...good times...

Work has been extremely busy, which is good for my paycheck.  It's been good to get back and up to speed, and it was nice to realize I was missed.  When you're 2000 miles away from the Mothership (Minneapolis), it feels very lonely sometimes, but I've forged some nice relationships despite the distance.

It's hard for me to keep up with children and grandchildren with just these few sporadic visits, but it's the best I can do.  I was in Denver just 2 months ago, and already my memories of the little ones are outdated.  It'll be the same thing here.  One short week of snuggling a tiny new one, silly times with 2 giggly girls, celebrating Hayden's 4th birthday, and some quiet time with Katie and it will be over for another several months.  Next time I'm there will be in June, and L will go with me for Mia's 8th birthday, just like we'll both go to Denver for Lexi's 8th birthday in April.  Almost 8 years already... If you think your kids grew up fast, try grandchildren.  It just flies by.  But who can resist the tug on your heart, when you have something like this waiting for you:

In my mind, I'm already there.  Two more weeks, and my body will catch up.  Hugs and whispered little girl secrets will be plentiful.  And so, I hope, will the cider doughnuts. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekend Reflections

We spent the weekend watching our twice yearly church conference on TV.  Two sessions on Saturday, and two on Sunday.  We Mormons take in a lot of church!  I know many of my friends who religiously (no pun intended... or maybe it was...) take notes on each talk, but I never do.  I can rarely remember who gave what talk - I just take mental note of the ideas that are new or just especially relevant to me.

One talk I took special note of dealt with the subject that we each have our own unique talents and abilities that we are able to use to tackle the problems - big and small - that inevitably come our way in life.  If we're tempted to ask why we are afflicted with this or that problem or heartache, the answer is that, based on our unique makeup,  we have it because we're able to deal with it, overcome it, and grow from it.  I hadn't thought about it in that way before.  We're not thrown anything that we're not able to triumph over.  Similarly, we are placed in situations that challenge us, that help us grow into stronger, better people.  Of course, we all have our freedom of choice.  We can choose to take the easy way out of a problem, we can choose to not deal with it at all.  But knowing that we are here on earth to learn, progress, and spiritually grow, it makes it easier to look at difficult times from that angle.  With knowledge that we are never alone, and that we have a loving Father who is just waiting for us to study a problem, give it our best effort, and to also prayerfully ask for His help to supplement our own efforts.  I know it's helped me feel less alone in times of need.  It's been instrumental in helping me avoid a freakout.

I don't know of anyone who sails through life unscathed by worry, real problems or tragedies, or some kind of loss.  I do believe that we are here to not only become better and stronger from these hardships, but that we are also here to help each other.  I don't know of too many people who haven't felt alone and out of step with the world from time to time.  Or even most of the time.  I come from a family who is practical and organized.  My brothers have all graduated from college, and have various successful careers.  But not me.  I could never figure out what I was supposed to do.  I am a practiced procrastinator.  I am not brave or outspoken, although my brothers are.  But I'm nice.  I play well with others.  And I'm smart - although it took me a long time to realize that.  But I've always felt out of step with my family.  Not one of the gang, you might say.  I was always the flighty one, the "artsy" one.    It's almost like whoever was supposed to be in my place was somehow doing something amazing elsewhere for a minute, and there I was, lounging around, saying "Why not?" as I jumped in.  People would say "Really...?  You're one of them??"  Sometimes I would take it as a compliment, but mostly I felt a bit lost.

I had my children, and love them completely, although even they are stronger, more substantive, than I am.  More like their dad.  I love them like nothing else, and yet they are hard for me sometimes, because they are so strong.  And I'm a little wimpy, shying away from any conflict.  But - the older I've gotten, I can see that they are exactly the children I needed to have.  When I am around them I feel quite brave.  They give me role models to emulate.  They've shown me how to be strong, I've tried to teach them to be kind, and together we all try to be strong and kind.  And as I get stronger, I'm better equipped to help them when they have problems - you see how that works?  They have helped me and stood by me their entire lives.  And now, when they've had problems - especially now they're grown and are subject to those horrible adult problems, I hope I have evolved enough that I'll be the strong one that they can lean on while they catch their breath.

There's been a divine plan all along, I can see that now.  Trust me to get the life that's put together like a crazy quilt instead of an elegant tapestry, but I'm guessing it's exactly what I needed to improve.  It's what I needed to force me to step up, to be brave, to quit doubting myself.  I have my own, unique set of neuroses, and thank goodness, I've had the family who would stand by me (sometimes bemused, I'm sure) and not look away in disgust while I struggled.  They've all had their own struggles, and with some of them, (because of my vast experience with Trouble) I've been able to offer my own help, support, and understanding.  And that's what it's all about, isn't it?  Serving our families and friends, even in the midst of our own suffering.  Because in doing the service, we can forget ourselves for a short while.  It's almost a relief to not think about yourself for a time.

So that's what this weekend was about: self reflection, listening to good counsel, and figuring out where I can improve.  It's good to do that at least twice a year.  A little light housecleaning.  I have my worries, as we all do, but I know that they are concerns that I can handle.  I have the ability to resolve them in some way if I just stick to it, stay tough and prayerful, and endure to the end.  I'm on my way to becoming quite the warrior.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Back to School...

Work has started up again.  I'm kind of glad (for the regular paycheck), but those 60 days off were sure fun.  I never thought I'd cram as much good stuff into those 2 months as I did, but that just goes to show you the power of determination.

Now that I'm trying to get back into some kind of routine, I'm having a hard time remembering how I found time to shower, cook, and do all of the little errands that need doing every day.  It'll come to me, I'm sure, but I'm still feeling random and haphazard.  Of course, this first week there was a lot of catching up to do.  I find that when people know you're coming back, those who were sort of taking over for you tend to slack waaaay back on doing your end of things.  Consequently, there was a boatload of backlogged stuff in my mailbox to trudge through.  New rules and programs to figure out.  And hmmmm... everyone was too busy to answer many questions, so I had to slug it out pretty much on my own.  That's ok - more hours for me, and that's always a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I had a little (felt big, but it was really kind of little) flareup with my arthritis.  My knee swelled up and that always scares me.  I tried to keep it under control with exercise, but finally had to pump up the steroids to make it go away.  So I'm slowly coming back down again.  That, coupled with the excess of infections I've had this past year finally made me realize that I need to find some new ideas.  Some better solutions.

One thing that came to mind (actually it hit me from several angles and different people all at the same time) was essential oils.  A friend of mine has used them with great success controlling her chronic illness.  I talked to a couple of friends who were also swearing by them, and then I was invited to a morning class to learn more about what they were and what they can do.  It would take too long to go into it here, but if you're interested, visit this website and read more about them.

I placed an order, and could hardly wait for everything to arrive.  FINALLY yesterday it all came.  Last night our room smelled like a spa, because I was rubbing in a pretty healthy combination of all kinds of oils, from peppermint, to geranium, to frankincense, to oregano, to lemon, and lavender.  And oh yes, there are so many more...  Normally, I take my "big gun" meds like the Enbrel and prednisone regularly, and I've still needed to take 3 Advil and 1 Excedrin twice a day just to fend of swelling and aches.  Last night I rubbed a drop or two of each type of oil recommended for RA (yes, there is a reference book available that includes just about any ailment or complaint you can think of) on each of my problematic areas: left wrist, left pointer finger, left knee, right ankle.  Now, normally I wake up stiff and sore and achey anyway, and I just have to take the morning dose of Advil and Excedrin to make it fade away.  But last night I didn't take Advil or Excedrin, fully expecting to wake up about 3am in pain.  But I didn't.  I slept a FULL 6 HOURS without waking once, (yes, I also used a combination of oils that promote sweet sleep and relaxation) and when I did wake up I was NOT sore or achey in the slightest.  And I haven't had any Advil or Excedrin all day again.

This is huge.  If these oils work this well all the time, I could conceivably cut way back on the prednisone too.  Who knows - maybe even the Enbrel eventually.  The sky's the limit, I say.  I'm super stoked.  The only drawback that I could see was that while I did all of that great sleeping I had a really vivid dream about an old college boyfriend who (in my dream) invited me to a dance, and I was super excited and really looked great, but then he told me he was marrying this girl named Tiffany.  I just KNEW he still had feelings for me, but he was marrying Tiffany, and he showed me her picture in a yearbook that had holograms on each page that were interactive.  It was a really cool yearbook, but I was so sad that he was marrying Tiffany.  I woke up and felt like I'd just cheated on my husband.  I have no idea what this dream means.  I will see if I have weird dreams again while using my relaxing oils.  Because if they cause me to have wild dreams, maybe they're not so relaxing.  But I'm sure it was a fluke.  I mean, I wasn't disappointed to wake up and see my husband there next to me, so I'm sure everything is fine.  Right?  Never mind... forget I said anything...

But I will keep you informed about these oils.  I hate getting sick, I hate not feeling well, I hate being AFRAID that I'll get sick.  If these do their job, it's going to really make me feel more enthusiastic about life in general.  And since I'm usually pretty enthusiastic in general, this could lead to singing and dancing.  Entertainment for all.  I've always been a sucker for anything holistic, but this is one of the rare times I've actually had something work so well, so stay tuned.  Maybe I've found my miracle.

In other news, the weather has turned cooler the past couple of days.  At night when we've been out cycling, you can feel the chill in the air.  It feels like Autumn, and pumpkins, and baking.  Never mind that tomorrow is supposed to ratchet back up into the 90s.  Eventually it has to cool off.  It just does it slowly in California.  In another week, I'll be bugging L to get out the Halloween paraphernalia and get to the decorating.  I seem to remember him promising to put up the lighted spooky arch this year, and I'm going to hold him to it.

Oh, and I know I mentioned our CleanScreenMagic.com website on my post, but I'd jumped the gun a bit.  The shopping cart wasn't functional at that time.  But it's working now!!  The mister successfully bought something from himself the other night.  Can you imagine our excitement to see our money going from PayPal into our CleanScreen account?  It's heady, I tell you.  Now it will be really exciting to see other people's money doing the same thing.  If you like us on Facebook, there's even a discount coupon you can use.  And I think you don't even have to like us - you can just use the coupon.   You're welcome.  We like to sweeten the pot.

It's been a good day.  It's been a good first week back to work.  Routine is good - at least it is for me.  I think I've run wild in the summer sun just long enough to welcome a bit of discipline back into my life.  And I'm definitely welcoming back that paycheck.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Grill Master Cometh to My House

I've been feeling a little down and out with a cough that just won't leave.  You know the type: dry cough that keeps you up at night and wakes you from a sound sleep.  I could feel it coming on last week, and so I hope I'm nearing the end of it.  What good timing, then, for my friend Olga, and her two daughters Gabby and Monique, to come over for a swim and some dinner.  Cheered me right up.  Dinner, by the way, was all provided by Monique.  I didn't have to lift one little finger, other than to run to Trader Joe's for some sparkling lemonade that I know the girls love.

Monique has a little specialty - she is a grill master.  She'd been talking about her grilled turkey burgers the last time we'd all gotten together, so when Olga called to arrange a night out, Monique texted me asking why didn't we ALL get together and she would do the dinner.  Sweet.  I even checked back with her yesterday to see what she wanted me to get, and was told "Nothing."  They were bringing the meat, a salad, chips, and dessert.  What could be easier than that?  For me, anyway...

It was a hot afternoon, and the girls wanted to jump in the pool and cool off.  So Olga and I sat in the shade catching up while the girls did a little swimming.  Her girls are so natural and easy to be around that even after their swim we still sat there talking.  Gabby has a new phone, and she was busy fooling around with it - texting friends, sending her mother (who was sitting across from her) 10 text messages in a row - and basically going on and on about the group One Direction.  A total 13 year old.  Monique is 20 and starting her 3rd year of college in criminal justice.  This girl is going to be a one woman war on crime one day.  I pity the fool who has to go up against her.  Olga has done a good job with these two.  I can't imagine two girls more appreciative or unspoiled.  They are a joy to hang out with - although it's still a mystery to me why they'd want to hang out with ME!  Don't question a gift, I say.

When we got back to the house, we sprawled around the living room and watched the tail end of "We Bought A Zoo" on HBO.  We may have each eaten one of the rainbow cupcakes that Monique had made.  Delectable, with a surprising layered rainbow cake - another of her little surprise specialties.  Then Mo got to working on the turkey burgers.  Can I just say that my kitchen smelled amazing?  She had made a magic little mixture of ground turkey, spinach, garlic, and spices, and I could hardly wait to cook them.  Finally, LaMar rolled in from work and we fired up the grill so Mo could work her dinnertime miracle.

We all sat around the patio and watched Monique do her thing with the BBQ.  She certainly knows her way around a grill, and wanted no help from anyone.  Happy to oblige, as always...  We decided to eat inside, as it was getting cool out on the patio.  (Autumn is coming - I can feel it!)  L sat next to Gabby, and got the full on effect of talking to a 13 year old girl.  I have to say he did pretty well, considering he'd never experienced anything like it before.  He has always been a little bit girl-challenged, since they tend to actually want to talk (and talk...), but Gabby brought it to a whole new level.  The on and on and on about her favorite boy band, which one was the cutest, his favorite food, his birthday... you get the picture.  I was at the other end of the table, being treated to the witticisms of Monique.  It's been a while since we've had such a lively dinner table, and I loved it.

Olga and I started out as work-mates, our cubicles right next to each other.  But as we would talk every day, sharing problems and our personal lives, we became friends.  We've shared many a lunch hour, and many a French's Bakery cookie in the years we worked in that office.  I was afraid that we wouldn't see each other again after we went our separate directions, but happily, we've stayed in contact.  Every couple of months we try to get together for dinner, since we only live 20-30 minutes away from each other.  The last time we got together, we had dinner here and she brought the girls.  We had such a good time with them that it surprised me.

It surprised me that the girls weren't bored.  They were engaged, and having fun.  They were happy with everything we did.  They like being with their mom.  It brought back such happy memories of how much fun I used to have with my kids, just hanging out.  And so when Olga called last week to arrange a time to meet for dinner, it was a pleasant surprise to have Monique suggest we ALL get together again. 

She was excited to show off her grilling skills.  It was a really fun evening, but I also learned that friends and family can come in a variety of personalities and ages.  I'm friends with Olga, but I have to say that Monique has become a friend too.  A really fun friend who makes me laugh.  A beautiful young woman who has just begun making some important decisions in her life.  A smart, savvy girl who has already had to make some tough choices, and knows how to choose well.  She's been lucky - she has a great mom to help her.  But she also has The Stuff - that elusive quality not possessed by everyone that helps you rise above any problem you face.  She certainly does have it, and in abundance, lucky girl.

Gabby looks to be following in the same path.  I've seen her go from the lazy little girl who used to do anything to get out of homework, to the giggly, smart 8th grader who is in advanced Math and Language Arts classes.  She also has the thickest, most gorgeous head of hair I've ever seen.  Jealous...

Oh yes, Olga has definitely earned her own spot in heaven with the sweet mothering job she's done so far.  She is definitely number one with Gabby and Monique.  I feel so lucky that I've kept a good friend, gained another with Monique, and it will hopefully continue on with Gabby.  Three awesome girls.  Poor L started out not knowing what to do with girls.  The chatter was frustrating to him.  The constant feedback and talk of feelings were scary.  But slowly, thanks to Katie as the original pioneer and the other wonderful DILs, granddaughters, and friends that have followed, he's being won over to the awesomeness of girl company.  He'll still need to steal away for his own sounds of silence from time to time, but he's realizing that a gaggle of girls is no reason to run.  They can give pro quality shoulder massages, give the sweetest hugs,  and every once in awhile you discover one that makes the perfect turkey burger.  Thanks, Monique, Olga, and Gabby for another perfect evening.

PS: L and I have just started a little web company selling computer and device screen cleaners, keyboard cleaner, and microfiber cloths: cleanscreenmagic.com   This is not only a shameless plug (it's really good stuff - try it!  No alcohol) but when you visit the website, notice the beautiful hands that are used in the demo pictures.  They're Olga's.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me

We should be allowed to have birthday weekends at least once a quarter.  There's nothing like having a whole weekend devoted to me, myself, moi - it just brings a silly smile to my face with all the anticipation.  And I have to add that having someone who totally planned everything helped make it the wondrous time that it was.  I didn't have to think about one single detail, other than what to pack.

We got out of Dodge at about 1pm to beat the traffic that heads south to San Diego every Friday.  As we got further and further south we saw the ocean to the right with the sun sparkling on it.  Foamy white waves and seagulls flying.  We were actually headed to La Jolla, which is a little bit north of San Diego.  We pulled into a Sheraton that was so well hidden from view you would never guess it was there unless you were following Siri's directions on your GPS.  It was kind of an older hotel, and it had a bungalow feel to it.  All of the windows in each room were covered by wooden shutters, encouraging that beachy vibe.  And - this is kind of huge - the windows actually opened to the breeze.  Unfortunately, it was still pretty warm so we kept them closed with the A/C on.  But next time... nothing like cool ocean breezes through an open window.

The first thing we did was change into our bathing suits and go hang out by the pool.  The water was comfortable, the air was warm, and there were lounges in the shade.  We ordered up a little poolside snack of chips, guacamole, and salsa, plus a couple of raspberry smoothies.  Excellent start.  We noshed, and talked, and finally dozed in the warm shade of the palm trees that surrounded the pool.  Soon enough, it was time to go in, freshen up, and get to our dinner spot.  L had chosen a little place called Prep Kitchen.  All of the seating was al fresco, with little twinkling white lights everywhere.  Our waiter was friendly and knowledgable - he knew everything on the menu, and directed us to our choices.  I had a pasta dish - locally caught shrimp, a pesto sauce, a little bite of chile, and cherry tomatoes.  So much flavor.  So delicious.  For dessert: plum upside down cake topped with a ginger gelato.  Amazing.

The air was warm and balmy, and our tummies were full, so we decided to walk along the street for a bit after dinner.  So many people out and about in various restaurants and eateries, and I thought to myself: "How nice of them all to come out and celebrate my birthday with me..."  Because I'm sure they were, right?  Beautiful dinner, gorgeous night.  We strolled along, my man and I, enjoying the night air, watching people, taking in the sights of this lovely community.

When we got back to the hotel, L presented me with a gift: a KindleFire tablet.  Now my books will be lit up, I can access all of you on the Internet, check my email, and who knows what else!  So excited about this...

On Saturday morning, we took our time getting ready to go.  I received calls from the kids, as well as fielded all of the kind birthday wishes on Facebook and via text from various friends, including y'all.  What a nice way to begin the day!  As I said, we should be able to do this more than once a year.  I'll work on that...

Saturday was a little cooler than the day before.  Perfect!  We were having brunch at a local favorite called The Cottage.  Best. Breakfast. Ever.  L had a Denver omelette that rocked, and I had (what else?) Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with blueberries.  Many of you may know what a sucker I am for all things lemon.  The lemon blueberry pancakes we had in Colorado at Toast were a close second to these, but I have to say that these were the BEST I've ever had.  Perfect amount of lemony goodness to balance with the blueberries.  I was in lemon heaven.  They were so good it was almost like an out of body experience.  Soooo much deliciousness.  Ok - enough about lemon pancakes...

We drove around La Jolla for awhile, stopping here and there at various beaches to get out and watch the waves, the people, the various little tide pools and coves.  L mentioned that one of the possibilities he had considered was a kayak tour of some caves and coves along the coast.  That would have been fun, but we'd have needed an extra day for that, so maybe next time.  Another idea he'd had was to attend the Roar and Snore at the San Diego Wild Park.  Apparently, you sleep in tents (I'm sure in an enclosed area), and all around you are the lions and other wild life that live there.  You try to snore, while they roar.  Another time for sure.  This weekend was more about comfort. 

We continued to drive north along El Camino Real until it ended in Capistrano, I think, and then we found our way to Coast Highway.  On again through San Clemente, Dana Point, Laguna Beach.  And there we got stuck by gridlock in the form of tourists.  We headed inland at that point, and just as we got almost to Tustin, L casually said "Do you mind if we stop at the bike shop and pick you out a new bike?"  I was not expecting that.  Too much goodness in one day.  I'd been wanting a new bike, but didn't NEED one.  So we stopped.  Soooo excited.  I am now the proud owner of a bike with a larger wheel diameter and 21 gears!  I can go fast with the big kids now.  We've already improved our per mile time by at least 30 seconds, and in some places over a minute.  It's such an awesome bike - it even has these shocks to cushion the ride.  Gotta love that.

We got home, unpacked, put that gorgeous bike away, and got the KindleFire all registered and charged up.  And at dinner time, we whisked away to The Olive Pit for some good Greek food to end the day with.  So perfect.

If I had to turn 60 (and I think I had to) it was wonderful to have my party be like this last weekend was.  I'm not one for large crowds and noisy parties.  I'm not high on dressing up to go out for dinner.  What I love best is just a quiet evening out with the hubs, jeans, t-shirt and flip flops, some great food - and if it can all be outside surrounded by twinkling lights and a beach, even better.  L did a great job anticipating what I would enjoy most.  His birthday is in November.  Game on.

I start back to work next week.  8 more days of total freedom.  My time off really did zoom by, and I want to enjoy every last drop of it.  I wouldn't mind having one more beach day, sitting in the sun and watching the dolphins swimming by.  Maybe I'll give myself a little spa day.  Katie sent me this picture of Hayden doing her best imitation of relaxing like Mommy.  She's got her towel, she's got her pearls, and she's got sliced cucumber (ends) to de-puff her eyes.  I'm taking notes.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Countdown To 60

It's the birthday countdown.  Mysterious packages have been arriving.  L has been researching plans and making arrangements.  The hotel and dining sites have been chosen.  I'm assured it's all going to be casual - I'm not a black dress and pearls girl.  At all.  I never thought I'd be excited to turn such a hellacious age as 60, but I kind of am. 

Today was a beautiful day.  A good friend arranged a day at the beach with me, complete with lunch.  Traffic was light, the weather was scorching, so it was good to head in a coastal direction.  We stopped first at Gina's Pizza for a slice of pizza and their pasta salad with ranch dressing.  Katie and I used to get that back in the day, so it brought back all kinds of fond memories.  We filled up cups of icy Diet Coke, and off we went.  Oh - and cookies.  Can't forget about the fresh baked snickerdoodles.  I love those things...

Almost no one was on the beach.  School has started, people are back to work.  We found a great parking place and hauled our crap across the sand.  Full view of the water, and a short walk to it.  Sue and I have no trouble at all commencing to gab.  It was a gorgeous day, so we slathered on the sunscreen, and got to it.  We saw a ton of dolphins swimming parallel to our beach.  Sue thought they were sharks, but I think they were dolphin.  So beautiful... And they kept coming up to breathe.  Ergo, dolphin, right?  Anyway, they were great fun to spot and watch.  Lots of surfers in the water too.

We ate our good not-so-little-lunch, and talked the afternoon away.  I don't know what it is: the company of a good friend, the sun sparkling off the water, the sound of the waves rushing in and out, or all of the above, but I wondered why we hadn't done this more all during the summer.  Sue has a large family, and she's busy going here and there with them, but really - we needed to do this a lot.  I actually don't mind sitting on the beach even on a cloudy day, just watching the water.  So soothing.

Too soon it was time to go back to real life and responsibility, but what a lovely, lovely afternoon it was.  It was just the thing today.  Now tomorrow, L and I head south to La Jolla for our own private birthday celebration.  I am as in the dark as you are about the plans, but I will fill you in when I return.  I'm excited.  It's been a good year - I've lost lots of weight, cut my hair,  I've gotten some travel in, met a new little member of the family, spent time and made memories with the existing ones, and reconnected with some lovely ladies .  Time will tell what the next few decades will bring.  Probably a little of everything.  Tears mixed in with joy.  Whatever we all face, I've got my True Companion by my side, good friends to share it all with, and adventures to live.  Let the countdown commence...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Crazy Girls and Nutritional Debauchery = Best Weekend Ever

My decision to go for the impromptu trip to meet up with old friends of the best kind was one of the smartest ones I've ever made.  Las Vegas was experiencing thunderstorms and strong rain, and as we flew in there were black clouds, extremely bumpy skies (I've never experienced airplane drops like those.  It was a little unnerving...) and a rough landing that felt like we skidded sideways for a second or two.  But no harm was done and I didn't have to worry about a return flight.  I got off, texted my friends that I was getting my bag (I know - I can't go without a checked bag for even two nights...)  And then I texted that I was on my way up to passenger pickup.  As I got to the top of the escalator, I received a text that just said "STOP."  And then I heard this crazy scream that sounded like my name.  And then again.  Yes - for sure someone was wailing my name.  "Kaaaaren!  KAARREENN!"  Over and over.  I looked over the edge of the mezzanine and there they were, Nancy yelling my name as loud as she could, again and again like the idiot she is.  And so the weekend began.

 l to r: Pam, Nancy, Mischell

I felt like I'd gone home.  These were the girls who were my friends during our childbearing and child rearing years.  We gave each other baby showers, we had regular girls nights out to save our sanity, we joined Jazzercise classes, we rented beach houses in the summer and took week-long camping trips with all of our kids in the local mountains.  (And I HATE to camp - that's how much I loved being with these ladies...)  Our kids ran naked together through the sprinklers, the boys all peed together gathered around one toilet (or on the lawn, depending on whether or not we were swimming), and we had an idiot parade on every campout (everyone wears underwear on their head and/or tries to look as idiotic as they can).  We supported Pam through her husband's stint in medical school, when they had to live with her mother and they had four kids and no money.  We were there for Nancy when she was pregnant with the twins and had to be on bed rest.  We were all in the Last Chance Band in our church's talent show, wailing out "Gimme Some Lovin'" while Nancy (who has the only wonderful voice in the group) sang lead while prancing around in her grandma's dress with a padded butt, and her grandma's wig on.  Mischell's husband was everyone's plumber with a heart of gold, Nancy's husband was the one we all thought was cute, Pam's husband was the reserved, quiet one, and my then-husband was the class clown.  We spent every New Year's Eve at Nancy's house - the official party house that had the swimming pool slide installed on top of the patio roof.  Yes, you read that right - we're lucky that no one ever got hurt...  We floated our naked babies in the spa to make them sleepy and relaxed, and I think all of our kids learned to swim in that pool.  Such good times.  Such wonderful years.

And now, 20 years after I made my exit in the midst of a sad divorce, here they are back in my life.  I had been in intermittent contact with them through FaceBook, but it wasn't the same.  Without the late night Diet Cokes, the M&Ms and Oreos, the intimate details just weren't there.  When I left their area, I felt, sadly, that I didn't have many friends left.  I didn't offer any details, nor did they ask any.  I thought that was that.

What I didn't know was that most of them were having severe problems of their own.  They didn't put it out there, and I would never have suspected.  Now, Pam had already relocated, as her husband was out of med school, and they were settling into a practice.  But I did stay in contact with her through the years.  We've known each other since we were small and our mothers are friends.  She was happy and moving on, although I know she stayed in touch with the others much more than I did.  Again, my fault.  For several years, I was too wrapped up in my own misery. 

As we talked into the night during our gathering I learned that one's husband had been suffering from mental illness for years.  I hadn't had a clue.  Like so many who suffer from one form or another, they become pretty good at hiding it for short periods, which was all I saw.  But she was really having a hard time, although she never told any of us.  They eventually moved to Utah, where the wheels really came off the wagon.  The behavior became more bizarre and harmful and she had to leave with her kids.  Like me, she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone about the problems she was going through.  Too worried she would be blamed for not being brave enough.

The other's husband was sinking into alcoholism and drug abuse.  Again, she told no one, and we never suspected.  She is so strong, this girl.  But when it became too dangerous to stay, she took her kids and left.  She remarried, but it became an abusive, possessive relationship.  A few years ago, her oldest daughter was tragically killed in a horrible car accident.  A short time after that, her ex-husband killed himself.  She, too, picked up stakes and moved to Utah - away from the abuse, away from the memories.  And not one of us knew, because she kept it to herself.

Nancy and Mischell eventually got in contact with each other and have been a support to each other while rebuilding their lives.  And now, this year, Pam and I moved back into the circle.  Meeting up at Nancy's condo in Vegas.  We watched old videos of the Last Chance Band, and of a 60's party that Nancy and Howard threw.  I saw people in the videos I hadn't thought about in years.  Some, we knew where they were, and others we had no idea.  Bittersweet.  We ate junk food chased by Diet Pepsi, and talked until the wee hours.  We laughed, we sat in stunned silence while listening to life details we hadn't heard before.  And we loved each other.  Completely.  This is the only group of women that hasn't made me nervously eye the exit, but who instead makes me feel completely enveloped with support.  Best.Weekend.Ever.

I wish I could quote funny stories, but everything is kind of insider.  You'd have to know us, or at least know the history, to even find the things we laughed at funny.  (BooHoo Sunday classics, Diet Coke runs during Sunday School, Unca' Bob, Temple Tic Tacs and gum - always white) All of the memories of our kids being small, all of those days that, were it not for the company of these ladies, we would surely have lost our minds.  My memory of Pam and her 3 year old Ryan, who came to my rescue after I was dumped at home post C-section with my own 3 year old, a newborn, and no food in the house.  I called Pam crying, and she soon showed up at my door with Ryan, and a bag of groceries.  Ryan announced in his mellow contralto voice "We've brought you some food, so you won't starve!"  I'll never forget it.  Ever.  Hot days in the park with sweaty kids, beach house days with tons of tan little babies running around in nothing but a diaper.  And then when the weekend came, and the menfolk came down to the beach for the weekend, those with older kids had them babysit the little ones while the adults went to the Coach House in San Clemente for dinner and a show.  It was a simpler time, and we were not prepared for what lay ahead.

Innocent days, before we knew how hard and tough life could be.  When we were still (trying to be) queens of our realm.  When we were too embarrassed to admit defeat, or cry "Uncle."  Too embarrassed to ask for help or admit what was going on.  We've grown up since then.  We taken our knocks, and become stronger, better women.  We are less judgmental and more compassionate.  We've learned that even clean children get lice.  We've learned that even nice people have unimaginable problems that they don't necessarily deserve.  And we've learned that all of these things are conquerable.  And that conquering our fears makes us fierce and amazing.  That within our little circle, faith is alive and well.  There is safety in numbers, and for the four or five of us in our own little First Wives Club (Benita was unable to make it), we've vowed to have a yearly gathering to reminisce, give support, laugh until tears roll down our legs, and pretty much experience complete debauchery in eating.  No diets on that weekend...  (I couldn't decide whether the most healthy thing in the condo was Cheetos, i.e. cheese, or perhaps Reece's Pieces, i.e. peanut butter.  Maybe the Swedish fish.  You see my confusion.)  We had to leave the condo to eat something more healthy like buttery Frisco Steak burgers, fries, and chocolate shakes, after which Nancy played $20.00 on various slots in honor of the absent Benita.

Buttery, yummy steak burgers, parmesan fries, dark chocolate shakes - food of the gods... Nancy and Mischell concur.

One thing I've learned this summer - that I had forgotten a little bit - is that friends are wonderful.  And we all have all kinds of friends.  The new ones are good, and if we're lucky, they become keepers.  And if not... well, you move on.  But the old ones...they're gold.  They know everything about you, and they don't care.  They love you when you have potty mouth, and they love you when you tell them your spiritual experiences.  When you talk to them, they don't look beyond you to see who else they could be talking to - they LISTEN.   They love your kids, and you love theirs.  Their sorrows are your sorrows.  You grieve with them, and understand the depths of their pain.  And likewise, their best days are also your triumphs.  You rejoice in each wedding and grandchild.  And even though Nancy says grandchildren are stupid (because she doesn't have any yet) she would be the first one to love each one of ours.  And likewise, we hang onto every word of stories about her boys, Andy and Tyler. 

We all have our separate lives, but the great thing about friends like these (and a couple of others like Marion and Sue) is that we would all drop everything in a second if one of us were in need.  And I'm fairly certain that life is not done with us yet.  There will still be tears shed and good times to share. 

My husband is the ultimate Best Friend, but even he has his limitations when it comes to Crazy Girl Brain.  But good girlfriends get it.  Every time.  So thank you, month of August, for giving me these opportunities to reunite and remember how good it feels to have a good Girl Visit.  To reconnect with friends who can make me laugh even when I'm sad, who can heal the past, and who always have the ability to make me look at life in a new way - because they know me better than anyone else.  I'm renewed and refreshed. 
I'm ready to turn 60 next week.  I think.

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