Daily Affirmation

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

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.

Friday, August 23, 2013


OK, this will be a quick one.  Last weekend was spent in San Luis Obispo visiting my wonderful friend Marion.  She was down from the Seattle area to visit her mother, who lives in the Central Coast area.  I love seeing this girl.  She is not only a good friend, but a good human being, and she makes me feel better about life and the human condition just being around her.  She would modestly disagree, but I can say for certain that I've never been as nice as her on my best day.  And it's not every day that you get to hang out with a friend that your husband is equally comfortable hanging out with.  She is a treasure.

She is struggling with what many of us struggle with at our age - aging parents, and the accompanying worry.  Her mother has developed some cognitive losses, and hasn't been herself for about 6 months.  She is hoping that it's all due to a medication change, but should find out soon if that's the case.  Her mother has never been one to sit around - she has been a painter, a supporter of the arts, an avid reader, and joiner of social groups.  It's been hard to see her decline to the point where she just watches daytime TV, so Marion's mission for the next couple of weeks is to get to the bottom of it.  If all else fails, she will pack her mother up and take her up to Washington with her for the next year until she retires.  At which point she will move back down to San Luis Obispo.  Closer to me - yay!

I could see that all of this was a daunting task, yet she was handling it all with such grace, and with sense of humor intact.  Note to self: take a lesson.  I'm lucky - my parents are in relatively good health (haha - well, other than my dad's cancer and dance with chemotherapy over the past year).  They are of sound mind, and able to do for themselves.  I give them a little help, and I'm ashamed to say that even that little bit is sometimes... not what I'm in the mood for, and I get disappointed in myself.  My aunt is more needy, and sometimes her needs make me very tired.  I'll see improvement, and then she'll take two steps backwards.  It's gratifying to be able to offer help, but so disheartening on the backwards slide.  I'm trying to make a difference - and I think I am - but I'm beginning to think the reward is in the effort, and not in a final result that I have no real control over.

But life is given to us in order that we might learn and grow.  And my service muscle is not my strongest one, so I'm having experience after experience, between my aunt, my parents, my friends, where I have the chance to flex that muscle and make it stronger.  Until I love the exercise.  I don't always love it (yet), but I'm appreciating the opportunities more.

So L, Marion, and I strolled the streets of San Luis Obispo on a balmy Saturday night.  We went into the shops that were open.  We had a wonderful Italian dinner al fresco, while tiny white lights twinkled around the patio, and the creek babbled by below us.  Marion bought her mother some licorice in a candy store (she apparently has quite a sweet tooth) and then we all sat and enjoyed some frozen yogurt before calling it a night.

The next morning, I was up and getting ready to meet Marion for breakfast.  L had (wisely) opted to stay back at the hotel, to give us some time to catch up.  He's not a fan of breakfast anyway.  I'd never ever been to the famous Madonna Inn (the place every honeymoon was made of back in the 60s and 70s) and so that's where we went.  As we walked in, we were visually assaulted by frothy pink and golden gilt.  Everywhere.  On everything.  It was, as Marion aptly put it, a pink bordello.  But pink bordellos are great fun at 9:30am, and so we explored every nook and cranny of the place while waiting 30 minutes for our table.  I still haven't seen the world famous rooms (some complete with grottos and waterfalls), and because L wasn't with us, I missed the chance to see the men's restoom, where the urinals are a rock wall fountain that starts flowing when anyone walks in.  Awesome.  No surprise that the family who founded and built it came from Las Vegas.

Our visit was too soon over, and it was back to reality.  For Marion, that meant back to her mom.  For us, it meant a 4 hour drive home.  It was actually more as we encountered a hillside fire sparked by a car fire just moments before we'd reached it.  DRAMA.  TRAFFIC.

And then yesterday I received a text message from another old friend I haven't seen in over 20 years.  Apparently, August is Reunion Month!   She and another friend are driving from Utah to California, where we'll have a reunion of sorts with a lot of OTHER old friends on Thursday night.  That sounded fun enough, but then she said if I could meet them in Vegas, we could have a couple of nights at her condo there before driving the rest of the way to California.  Now, if you know me well, you would know that I am almost never spontaneous like that.  I like my safe routines, and don't much like straying from my comfort zone.  But over the years I've missed some fun opportunities and memory making experiences because I was afraid to stretch a bit.  Yes, afraid.  Of what, I don't know, but I'm tired of it.  So I remembered a Jet Blue voucher I hadn't used yet, and Sunday night I'm on my way to Las Vegas to spend two nights with 2 of the craziest friends I've ever known.  Does it paint a picture to say that one of them was always known as Nasty Nancy?  She's nuts.  Oh, the evenings we used to spend at her home in Diamond Bar sitting in the spa after dinner on our badly needed girls nights out.  I won't even get started on the New Years Eve parties...

We've all had our ups and downs, our tragedies and triumphs, and life slapping us around.  It will be so great to catch up.  I expect there will be a lot of laughter, and probably as many tears.  That's the great thing about old friends.  They've known you since before you ever thought to put any kind of positive spin on yourself, and they know where the bodies are buried.  They've seen me pregnant and hormonally crazy, and they've made me laugh through anything and everything.  They were the ones who coined the phrase "BooHoo Sunday" (for all my Mormon friends out there - that's the 1st Sunday of the month.  Think about it...)  Now, I DO have a couple of newer friends who have helped me deal with some hard issues or who have related to being menopause-crazed, but those friends are also a rare breed of cat.

I guess my point is that good friends are always a treasure.  Whether you see them often, or only once in a while, the friendships are golden.  And if you get the chance to reconnect after 20 years, even better.  I almost let the Vegas visit slip by, thinking I'd just take it easy and see everyone next Thursday.  The visit there will almost certainly involve eating too much junk, and sleeping too little.  These are not girls who use the words "healthy choices" very often.  But I have my own will, and can do the best I can.  I'm proud of myself that I seized the day, instead of opting for merely comfort.  And I will come back with 20 years of stories and laughs, and yes - some tears.  I just hope I can put it all into words. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Denver Condensed

The trip to Denver was so much fun, and so exhausting all at the same time.  We forget, don't we, how much work it is to deal with a gaggle of small children, herding them here and there, trying to coordinate them all to get ready to go, or for bath time, dinner time, or (most importantly of all) BED TIME.  Every time I visit I'm reminded of how much work it all is, and how much credit young mothers (and old ones!) deserve as they plow through their daily routines.

 3 important reasons for Colorado travel: Lexi, Matthew, and Skylee...

and... our newest 4th reason: 3 week old Travis
We arrived late Thursday afternoon, and by the time we caught the Super Shuttle to the hotel, checked in, got our rental car, and drove a few minutes to Rex and Ronna's house, it was dinner time.  Ronna and the kids had just been to their school's Meet The Teachers night, and everyone was hungry.  L and Ronna made a run to California Pizza Kitchen in a wild hail storm and rain (WEATHER!!) while I held down the fort on the home front as the kids showed me all of their newest toys and latest activities.  After everyone was fed and happy (except new baby Travis, who was just ramping up for the night) we said good night and made plans to meet in the morning for a good breakfast.

Friday morning dawned with the typical gorgeous blue skies.  Fluffy white clouds were here and there, with some darker ones way off in the distance, hovering over the mountains.  In California, we almost never see skies that blue, so it was a treat.  We feasted on pancakes, eggs, and French Toast at The Egg and I.  Matthew had hot chocolate and was very proud that he didn't spill it.  Oh, it brought back so many memories of the crazy meals out with small children so many years ago, but what fun it was!  Lots of pancakes to be cut up, and lots of diving under the table for escaped crayons.

After breakfast, we went back to the house, where 5 year old Matthew, and 7 year old Lexi decided they were up for spending the day back at our hotel swimming, and spending the night in our hotel room.  Matthew threw a few things into a bag, but had to go back upstairs 2 or 3 times to get underwear, an extra T-shirt, or some other necessary item.  Boys... Miss Lexi, on the other hand, meticulously packed everything she would need, and then some.  She was leaving nothing to chance, bringing a beloved stuffed Hello Kitty, some Kettle Creatures, all needed items of clothing, paper, colored pencils, and a deck of cards.  (We played at least a hundred games of Go Fish, and Crazy 8s.  Seemed like at least a hundred, anyway...)

We headed to the pool first thing.  Luckily, it was a smallish pool, not too deep - and WARM.  Lexi is a decent swimmer, but Matthew didn't like to get his head dunked, so shallow water was a must.  However, by the time the afternoon of swimming ended, Lexi was swimming like a fish, and Matthew was proudly telling everyone "I dunked my head - and I didn't drown!"  It was great fun, and we were completely tuckered out at the end of the day.  Even so, Matthew wanted to play more card games, so we did, until it was just TIME FOR BED.  Luckily, there was a Harry Potter movie on and Lexi is obsessed with Harry Potter, so they both fell asleep watching it.  Quiet at last... and both L and I soon joined in the snooze fest.  We were just plain tuckered out.

In the morning we headed to McDonald's for breakfast.  Matthew (who never eats much) chowed down all three pancakes.  Every bit.  Proving that if he's hungry, he will eat.  Back to the hotel and more swimming.  This time, there were other children in the pool, and so it was a little more lively.  L got Matthew jumping off of the steps and getting his head completely under water.  He was having a great time.  He also taught Lexi how to kick with straight legs, and hold her breath longer so she could swim almost all the way across the pool with one big breath.  I forgot how much more the sun affects you at the high altitude, and we all got a little burned.   (Silly Mema didn't think to bring any sunscreen...)  But it was a great day, and we all had fun playing in the water.

We had to get Lexi back in time for her afternoon Mother/Daughter Back To School pedicures.  L and I watched the other kids while they had their toes painted.  During our visit we took care of cooking all the dinners and clean up, so Ronna could try to relax and rest a little bit.  And then we needed to hobble off ourselves at the end of the evening to rest up for the next day.  (How do these mothers do it every day?  I must have been a lot younger then...)

One night, as we were loading the dish washer, Skylee came up and touched the handle of a sharp knife that was in the dish washer.  To my surprise, she looked up at me and said "Dangerous!"  She is a very precocious talker (like her sister Lexi was.  And still is.)  So I had to get a video of this little tiny girl saying such a big word.  Hopefully you can make out what she's saying because it's so cute.  Sorry for my poor video skills...

On Sunday we met Rex and Matthew at church.  Lexi and Skylee stayed home with Ronna and Travis because they had coughs.  After church, though, I had my camera, and it was a beautiful day for pictures.  I'd already talked to Lexi about taking pictures, and she met us at the door in her pink tutu, all ready for her photo session.  She was such a willing little model, and it was great fun to snap picture after picture.  Here are my favorites:

Matthew was next.  Now, this little boy is extremely active, and doesn't sit in one place for long.  Plus, he was in the middle of playing a game on Wii.  In his pajamas.  So luckily I struck gold with the first shot, and I released him back to the world of Wii and Super Mario.

I decided to save Skylee and Travis for the next day when Lexi and Matthew would be at school, so after dinner L and I wound our weary way back to the quiet sanctuary of the Doubletree Hotel.  The kids were getting in bed early to be rested for the big first day of school.  And mom was just happy to be getting them in bed early for any reason.  We fell asleep to the sound of distant thunder, and the occasional lightning flash.

Monday.  Back to the house at 10:30 after a great breakfast of Eggs Benedict (for me) and pancakes (for L).  Ronna was ready to go, and after I figured out the proper camera settings, we got things rolling.  Skylee first.  This little girl just sparkles and shines with personality.  Her best?  This one:

But this one is pretty good too:

Ronna looked beautiful (as always) but poor little Travis just wasn't havin' it.  He fussed and fumed, here and there, and in between, we managed to get a few good ones:

And then Skylee had to get into the picture.  So we let her give kisses to Mommy...

 And ham it up with Papa.

And I contented myself by holding a (by that time) very mellow Travis.

Eventually, the kids came home from school.  Matthew on his 1st day of Kindergarten: "They all knew my name, and everyone liked me!"  Lexi's day was less satisfactory - someone she'd had a rocky friendship with last year decided to be mean to her.  Girl drama is the worst.  She is such a happy, sweet little girl, and it's hard to explain to her that everyone isn't always nice, and everyone won't always like her.  *sigh*  But soon enough we were off to their Jiu Jitsu class, which was a real experience.  My favorite part is where they struck a menacing pose, one foot forward, one arm up defensively, and they shout "DON'T TOUCH ME!"  You could see from the look on their faces that they imagined themselves very daunting foes.  It was adorable.  Although I don't know whether I'd tangle with Lexi.  My son is very involved at this gym - the workouts keep him sane - and we got the chance to meet a lot of his friends there.  I don't think I'd want to mess with any of these people for any reason.  Lots of muscles there.  They would be good people to have around in your next Dangerous Situation.

Back at the home front, we fed and bathed the kids as quickly as we could, and got them to bed.  I think we just threw grilled cheese and tater tots at them.  After things were calm again, the adults sat down to a lovely, quiet, grilled chicken salad, enjoying the quiet.  Until we heard Lexi crying up in her bed.  Seems she was sad to see us go.  I am such a sucker for that.  I went up and talked her down, and told her how much fun we'd had, and how sad we were to go home again.  And then she seized her advantage and asked if I would tickle her back while she went to sleep.  What could I do?  I tickled her back as I slowly felt her relax and slip into a quiet dream.  These little ones absolutely own your heart, don't they?

We left the next day after a quick drive-by to say a last goodbye to Rex, Ronna, Skylee and Travis.  The others had gone to school.  I realized I had taken a picture of everyone BUT Rex.  So one last pose for both of us.  Where did the time go?  Wasn't he looking just like Travis a couple of years ago?
Now look at him.  Never mind that - look at ME.  When did I get to be so... so... not myself?  Life is short.  So short.  I'm glad that we have the means to come visit and make time stand still for a few days.  I will take these small memories with me for the next year, and savor them.  It was pretty close to the perfect trip.  Time with each little one.  Time with Ronna.  A very special evening with just Rex.  Beautiful weather.  Blue skies.  Just the right amount of thunder and lightning to fall asleep to.  Baby talk and giggles.  Go Fish until bedtime.  Seeing that all is well with this sweet family, and that their home is happy.  It's the stuff that every good night's sleep is made of.

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