Monday, August 31, 2009

No Complaints

Today is my son Daniel’s and my BIRTH day. I pushed baby Daniel out of the shoot at 6PM, August 31, 2009. He was birthed, I gave birth. Hence, our BIRTH day. We celebrated (again) on Saturday night with my sisters, brother-in-laws and parents. Since Brother Lucas is away at Camp Del Corazon, Daniel had the stage all to himself. I let him run the games and he loved that. Playing freeze tag, wheelbarrow races, stomping a Bubble Rocket, playing Daniel Bingo and a Question Game were some of the highlights. He specifically requested we play a game where everyone has to answer questions about him. Not one person in my family could remember if Daniel was born at breakfast, lunch or dinner time. Even Daniel did not guess correctly! Answer: Dinner. Only a couple people knew his middle name and I was surprised by that. Answer: Austin. However, most everyone collected a point for knowing that Daniel is entering the third grade and has received 0 speeding tickets. Everyone learned something about the Master of Ceremonies and the Dinner Party was enjoyed by all. Not one thing to complain about there.

Sunday morning at 9:30AM, my girlfriend Allison picked me up and we headed to the UCLA campus to attend a Writer’s Fair. I did not know what to expect, but I am happy that I was open to the adventure as I gleaned a lot of new information from the speakers. There were a total of 24 classes taught by published UCLA writing instructors and you could pick four panels to attend. There was a wide range of topics from Poetry to Screenwriting, Fiction and Non-fiction. Narrowing down my selections proved challenging. My favorite class was one that focused on writing memoirs. My least favorite was about finding your voice, because it was geared toward mostly fiction writing. Not my thing. I did enjoy the people watching in this class as Writers are an interesting group, varying in age, size and eccentricities. Older women with loud flowing garments abounded, as were really, really, really old wrinkled men, young tattooed girls, and regular plain guys and gals at every turn. I really could not give you a description of what the typical writer looked like. One thing we all did share was the love of thinking on paper. I would happily attend again without complaint.

Sunday evening we went to dinner at Yolanda’s Mexican Restaurant and I lapped up a ginormous margarita, blended with salt. It was honestly the biggest margarita I have even seen or slurped. I would guess it was probably the equivalent of two regular sized margaritas…..this drink put the grand in Grande. I was just following my brother–in-laws lead when ordering, trusting he knew what he was doing. He did. The drink was delicious as was the food. Definitely, no complaints.

Today was the first day of third grade for Daniel, my first day back to work with students, Daniels ‘real’ birthday and Lucas’ return from Camp on Catalina Island. We picked up 31 doughnuts on our way to school so all of Daniel’s classmates could have an early morning sugar rush under the guise of his 9th birthday. No third grade complaints, except maybe from the teacher.

Feeling like there’s a lot going on around me, begging for attention, I came straight home from work and immediately sat at the computer, ignoring the obvious housework. Wishing I could afford a personal assistant, I then told myself that it would probably feel invasive to have someone catering to my daily chores and whims. The closest thing I have is a wonderful mother who trekked down to stinky San Pedro to pick up Lucas from the Catalina Island Cruiser Boat. I am so thankful for her extra set of hands and willing heart. I can’t complain.

My first day back in fourth grade felt energized with excitement, but was packed with more children than the small classroom should be allowed to house. Twenty six desks are cozily scrambled everywhere making me feel like I was trapped in a rat maze as I walked around the class assisting with math. The math lesson went well and I really did need a review on number place value. Note to self: Never say “and” when you read back a number unless there is a decimal. The decimal is the ONLY time you can use “and” when reading out a number. For example, the proper way to say 102, is, one hundred two, NOT one hundred AND two. This is something I did not learn in grammar school, at least not until I returned to fourth grade when I was 39 years old. It was the first time these kids had heard this little math rule and it stumped most of them that have been programmed to include “AND” with a number. I enjoyed watching their serious math heads work, but did not enjoy tripping over little shoes and metal legs of chairs as I cruised the maze. Too crowded. Thank goodness for air conditioning because on a hot day like today, the smell of twenty-six children, sweaty and squished together after lunch, could cause my eyebrows to wilt off my face. However there is air conditioning, so I can't complain.

I find the first weeks of the school year interesting because all these children start out as little strangers to me, but by spring, they will be my best buddies. On this first day, most are formal and a little stiff. Then there is my last year’s fourth grade class whom are all big Fifth Graders now. They are running up to me for a hug, or yelling hello from across the campus. Not formal, not stiff, but more like little nieces and nephews I haven’t seen in three months; thankful to be reunited. Boy, it feels good to be loved by children! As busy as these last days have been, I enjoyed them all. And just like our tight fourth grade classroom, I have no room to move around or complain.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sweet. Literal. Innocent.

The innocence of children is often reflected in their perception of language. My twelve year old rarely says things that mirror innocence anymore, and now that his quick wit has developed, I find myself chuckling with him, then secretly at him. My eight year old is still in this literal; child like stage and it is sweet and refreshing to be around. It is the mark of a child that only lasts about a decade and then it slowly fades. I started pondering this truth after my mom shared a story that occurred when she was spending time with my boys.

My mother has hired my two boys this summer to complete odd jobs around her house. Clipping roses, gardening chores, cleaning out the garage and going up into the attic to unload seasonal boxes were a couple of their employment opportunities. Everyone was winner with this set up…the boys earned some cash, I received a break from my little darlings and my mother received assistance in places it was truly needed.

Eight year old Daniel was helping my mom unload boxes that were hard to get to. Being that he is small enough to get into the dusty attic crawlspace, it was the perfect job for him. While up there, my mother pointed out the basinet that I slept in forty years ago. When mom was telling me this story, I wondered why she has saved it all these decades. Sentimental value, I assumed. Then she mentioned my younger sister might want to use it should she have a baby. I could only imagine the dust and lead paint on this dinosaur crib; it had to be recalled at one point in the last forty years. As usual, my mother’s heart was in the right grandma place, but I gently told her that I did not think my sister would want it. She told me I was a downer.

So, there the white rattan basinet was covered in plastic, a little piece of my baby hood aging in the corner like an elderly person in a convalescent home. My mother pointed it out to Daniel explaining, “That is the basinet your mother used to sleep in when she was a baby.”

Daniel paused, and then replied with concern, “My mother slept in the attic?”

Sweet. Literal. Innocent, Daniel.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Short Story

When I was a child I had a real hang-up about being under tall, or as most call it, short. I spent much of my eleventh year of life at the doctors running tests that would explain why I was so freaking short. I hated being short. No, I mean that I really, truly hated it. At eleven, being the shortest girl in the class felt like the equivalent of having red frizzy hair with zits. In seventh grade, I looked like I belonged in fourth grade. Many girls had boobies and I had braces, and was not even close to having a period. That did not arrive until I was in High school. Yes, I said high school, as in the last week of my freshman year. I was probably the only girl that prayed for her period to start.

I often contemplated, “What does it feel like to HAVE to wear a bra?” I stuffed mine at my eighth grade graduation. I was caught with the Kleenex poking out and have never been so humiliated. It was Aurora, my nearly six foot tall cousin, who let me know that she could see that I “stuffed”. I would have attempted slapping her, but my undersized arms would have never reached her face. My parents tried to shrink my complex that was the only thing growing on me. They were constantly reminding me that “good things come in small packages”. Well, I wanted a bigger package. They really did try to encourage me to accept and love my size, but I was getting mixed messages about looks everywhere I looked. I felt desperate to grow to a higher elevation, or just be able to stand next to the other girls at school and not be boob level, reminding me that I was flat as a board.

After much testing in my eleventh year the kind doctor broke the news gently. I was genetically short, and aside from taking hormone shots to squeeze every millimeter out of me, I was destined to end up like my great old Aunt Frances who, at full adult height was 4 feet, 10 inches, eating ham sandwiches and drinking beer every day. She was sterile too, which freaked me out, because I knew I eventually wanted kids. The prognosis felt grim, but I had to accept it. As the current hit song “Short People” was playing in the back of my mind, telling me that “I had no reason to live because I stand so low, people have to pick me up just to say hello”, a pleasant thought crept into my little mind. I started considering how much I loved Laura Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie. I never missed a Monday night episode of Little House on the Prairie, and I clicked my eleven year old heels with delight when reruns came on at 4:00, after school. You might remember that Laura Ingalls was the middle daughter, and was sort of on the small side and her “Pa” nick-named her Half-pint. Half-pint was a different sort of nick-name, much better than shrimp, small fry and midget. I liked that tag. Laura was an upstanding eleven year old, who was honest, real and well-liked by all. The idea to emulate Laura and be just like her sounded like a good plan. Since it looked like there was no other option from me, from that day on, I tried to channel my inner Laura Ingalls and make the best of what little I had to work with.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Camp Del Corazon

Nothing warms the heart like watching a boatful of heart defected children pull away from the landing, heading for Catalina Island. Tomorrow starts my oldest sons five days away at Camp Del Corazon. This one-of-a-kind camp is offered free to any child, with the only requirement being that they have congenital heart problems of some kind. Most of these kids have undergone open heart surgery and have received scars emotionally and physically, as their parting gift from the hospital. Many of them have pacemakers implanted that bulge up from under their young skin. One child my son befriended, had to bring his oxygen tank with him to camp. Some campers are preparing for more surgery or procedures, some are healing from one. Some, dare I say lucky kids, like my son, had their heart surgery as babies and can’t remember a thing. Every one of these Campers wish they did not have to live life with so many
medical issues, just craving to blend in with the rest of the kid population.

This Camp Del Corazon has provided an ideal get away for my son, Lucas. Having undergone two open heart surgeries, stomach and diaphragm surgeries, his chest resembles that of a page out of the Thomas Map Guide. Since he was seven, he has insisted on wearing a swim shirt to cover his chest. This summer for the first time in five years he declined the swim shirt on two occasions while vacationing at Bass Lake. I was pleasantly surprised. The family we travel with has known Lucas since he was five years old, but that is not why he shed his shirt. I am almost positive that it had something to do with the other dad we vacationed with that went shirtless, exposing his large scars from undergoing a kidney transplant. Lucas must have felt safe, normal enough and accepted. Without that swim shirt Lucas’ chest was white as snow, not having seen the sun in years, a great contrast to his tanned lower arms and legs. He was a miraculous and beautiful sight to see.

I am sure these Camp Del Corazon kids all feel it a curse to being different. The unfortunate thing is that they probably don’t realize yet that EVERYONE is different in some way. However, when children attend Camp Del Corazon, they blend perfectly into this peer group with all their blemishes. No comments or stares. No explanations or swim shirts needed. It is really a wonderful place where a heart kid, can just be a kid. This Camp offers various crafts and every meal has a theme, for example, they dress up in wacky hats or 70’s attire. There are hikes, water sports and a rock climbing wall. They teach video classes, memory booking and digital photography. There is something for every curious appetite. I can understand why Lucas loves this place so much. I appreciate it because the camp is run by doctors and nurses and I can rest easy at night knowing that he is in expert medical hands.

Aside from how filthy Lucas is upon return, there is one drawback to Camp Del Corazon. It is the dates camp is offered. For whatever reason, probably cost or availability, the camp overlaps the first week of school EVERY year. Luckily, Lucas is still young enough to attend the camp session for 7 to 12 year olds, thus missing only the first day of school. Next year he graduates to the older kids camp session and, if we decide to let him go, he will miss the entire first week! Not a great way to kick off the school year. I don’t know how I feel about him missing a week of school. But then,I don’t know how I feel about him being absent at one of his favorite weeks of the year. Refusing to think about it until next year, today I will pull out the fabric marker and label all his clothes and try to locate the Afro wig to pack for 70's night. Cramming his necessities into a duffle bag, I will listen to my son’s excitement as he anticipates meeting up with his camp buddies. The reality of having heart defects all of a sudden feels like the Golden Ticket. “It’s not fair! I want to go!” yells his younger brother. I do my best to explain how fortunate he is to NOT be able to go to Camp Del Corazon. He still wishes to jump on that boat and sail with his big brother to the place where a fluke like a congenital heart defect is the voucher for the best time on Earth.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fourth Grade Here I Come

I officially go back to work today. I am not looking forward to returning to Fourth Grade twenty hours a week. Last year I worked three days a week and this year it was moved up to four days. My employer needed my highly technical skills of correcting homework and spelling tests, laminating art work and tutoring in math more often because our incoming class is busting at the seams with 26 ten year olds. That’s too many children for our small classroom. We had 22 fourth graders last school year and we were crammed. Unfortunately, my desk sits next to the Kleenex box in the back of the room. It is the germ zone with every kid with a cold or allergies running back to where I sit. Now there will be 26 runny noses stopping by. This ought to be interesting.

I feel blessed to work where my two boys attend school, checking in on my 8 year old throughout the day and spying on my middle-schooler every chance I get. If a mom has to work, this is a great place to be. I just wish I did not have to work so many days, two or three days would be ideal. If I don’t blog often it is only because I haven’t figured out how to create more hours in a day and writing is low on the list of items that must get accomplished in a 24 hour period. I wish it wasn’t, but there are these young boys running around my house that keep calling me mom. During this season of my life, I will keep them, their sports, music lessons, homework and feeding them dinner a priority. I keep reminding myself that time will continue to leap across my calendar and these boys will be not be living here any longer. This house will be so quiet and my ‘to do’ list much shorter. I will do my best to stay family centered, while I have a family to center around. Unlike typing all day on a computer, my mommy days are numbered.

Until my little chicks leave the nest, I will do my best to keep the computer keyboard smokin’, writing my book and blogging when time permits.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

44

Forty-four years of marriage. That is what my parents celebrated yesterday. I am pretty sure it’s both their first and last marriage; looks like this one is gonna stick. I invited them over tonight for dinner, wanting to recognize their commitment to pursue the hardest, most challenging relationship on Earth. Couples everywhere in America give up on Holy Matrimony way too soon. Others wait until the children are grown and then call it quits. Many stay married but live separate lives. Many stay married but live separate lives and date other people, sometimes of the same sex. Some couples skip divorce and go straight to trying to kill one another. My parents fit none of these marital descriptions.

These two are a great fit because they alike in many ways. They both come from Italian Immigrant families who remained married regardless of how miserable they may have been. Both agree on a traditional marital agreement. Dad works. Mom spends the money. Both enjoy gambling so they get away to Las Vegas and The Chumash Casino, in the name of love. Neither of these two can handle mastering any kind of technology. From HDTV’s, cell phones, laptop computers and IPOD’s they insist that they just don’t get it. From what I can tell, they are right. My father has owned a successful company for 40 years, but that old dinosaur refuses to buy a business computer .Technology scares him, as does reading any sort of directions to figure things out. Mom is the same way. Both are comfortable with their generation’s simple ways and they detest change. Both love being around immediate family and adore their two grandsons. These two love the movies, going to the theater every weekend. Neither loves to travel or read, but both love to eat out. Well, just eat, in or out.

Differences are a good thing and these two have plenty. Mom loves to shop and spend money; Dad refuses to shop and likes to save. Mom is a devoted Catholic; I don’t know what Dad is. Mom loves to attend funerals and weddings. My dad, not so much. Mother lives to entertain, my dad lives for sports and playing cards. Mom is patient, Dad has been a patient; having two heart attacks. He is always in a rush; he walks faster, eats faster and gets angry faster than mom. Mom loves to share anything with anybody while Dad is more cautious. My mother can spend days to weeks with her only sister. My dad could never do that with mom’s sister or his own, for that matter. Smoking is dad’s bad habit, it makes my mother sick. Dad tends to wear a uniform of sorts; shorts and a T-shirt, every day. Really.Every day. Mom spices her wardrobe up, but never, ever wears shorts and a T-shirt. They march to different beats of the same song.

They share some common interests, but can still do their own thing. They share friends, yet both have their own buddies outside of their marriage. They share the occasional hug and kiss and the occasional argument. They still share a bed and bank account. They are comfortable doing things separately and it always results in one missing the other. They still share some sort of connection after 44 years, although I don’t understand it. I am thankful that in a world of divorce and quick splits these two have managed to stay together and drive each other crazy.

Happy Anniversary!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Take a Hike

As I sit here in my cozy bed nest, my husband is conscientiously packing for a four day hike/camp trip with two other adventurous, soon to be stinky men, and one amazingly tolerant, possibly insane, woman. Desiring nothing of the wild, I am baffled why an adult would choose a vacation where you have to use a water filter daily. Really. If I have a spare four days to spend however I desire, I require at minimum a toilet, mattress, refrigerator and phone service. Traipsing through the woods does not offer these basic amenities, or room service, so I avoid the vacation that feels more like work.

When I imagine being dependent on a compass for direction, it scares me. I fear not only getting lost, but there’s the possibility of snake bites, slipping down a cliff or being eaten by a bear, not to mention a nutjob tracking me down with a gun while I sleep….. Or worse yet, I fear being the only female with a group of filthy males whose natural animal instincts causes an adrenalin gush over “getting” to poop in the forest. Call me a baby, princess or a chicken, I don’t care. Only a genuine, true nature lover is drawn to this type of getaway with its solitude, gorgeous untouched scenery, abundant trail farting, and endless bugs. There was a time I thought I was that nature loving, rugged sort of girl…..a player amongst a mostly male dominated, can I call it, sport?

I am speaking from firsthand experience.

When I was eleven, my father took me on the Father Son Hike of 1979 to the Chocolate Lakes near the Mammoth Mountains. This escapade consisted of 6 males and one female, me. I recall it being an extremely long drive up to Bishop where we ate our last edible meal for days at a Pancake House, and then on to the barebones dirt lot where we parked the Van and started our blaze up into the mountains. I had no idea what I was getting into or how badly my father needed a son. It was my first overnight hiking trip without my two sisters, mom, potty or air mattress. I had zero knowledge of what it was like to hike for days with blisters, eat disgusting food and bathe in the freezing cold lake. My father, Uncle and the other dad, who happened to be the family dentist, spent three days leading us "sons" in living off the wild. We patiently fished daily, but never caught a thing. Oh yeah, everybody had to brush every day, and it was not easy without a sink. My dentist was watching so there was no cheating on this one.

It was awkward being the only one challenged when it came to using the tree. I trudged up the side of the trail preparing to drop my red OP shorts, clutching the toilet paper my dad packed. I found it awkward to crouch and lean my bottom against a tree, feeling something tiny crawl up my back while I simultaneously had to scan the area for deer, bears or a nutjob with a gun, and then pee. I have no memory of ever going number two in the forest during those three days, so I either held it, or had such a bad experience that it has been blocked from consciousness. Something I do recall is being surrounded by amazing scenery, framed in huge jagged mountains and enjoying lakefront tent property.

My dad and I shared a tent. That was a fun part, to set up house with my dad for three days. Dozing with hats and dirty clothes on, we huddled close when temperatures dropped at night. We both slept horribly. Everyone did. However, this spirited venture provided me warm memories of father-son bonding with my dad. I still crave spending time with him thirty years later. The Father-Son hike of 1979 was cut short. The seven of us ended up coming home a day early which tells me everyone had enough of a good time to last until the flu season.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Daniel's Amost-Nineth Birthday Party

There was no blogging for me yesterday because of Daniel’s 9th birthday party. He technically does not turn 9 until August 31st, but that is the first day of school, my return to work date and his big brother will be away at Heart Camp. So we bumped up his party day. He did not mind opening gifts, eating cake and being the star twelve days ahead of schedule.

Moms around the world will agree that kids grow up fast. The day to day business of feeding, disciplining, clothes washing and picking up after Daniel made it feel like time was snail crawling. But BAM! I took a step back and realized I am buying a cake and counting out nine candles. Nine. As in, one year away from double digits. Then I felt like most moms, thankful and blessed to watch my son grow-up, but a little sad knowing that every birthday party pulls him farther away from home.

Daniel’s star shines bright in my heart for different reasons than his big brothers. He was my first and last healthy baby. Every day with him gave me an appreciation of what it means to have your baby living at home, instead of a hospital.

I loved that he loved to eat. His brother could not eat, due to medical issues, and I think I overcompensated for this, enjoying feeding him as much as he enjoyed eating. When he was two I was preparing dinner, I gave him a taste. He munched a bite, swallowed, and commanded me, “Put it in a bowl!” That’s my Daniel!

This amazing child and I were so close because it was possible. There were no nurses or doctors, tubes, monitors or wires to get in our way and I again, overcompensated, and held him and cuddled him more than average, simply because I could. By the time he could walk he would follow me everywhere I went. I loved that he loved me so much; however, as he got older there were times I could trip over him because he was so physically close. One day I was on the phone with my sister and doing laundry. Daniel was under my feet and it sort of bugged me, as I was multitasking, and I confess, he was in the way. I explained this to my sister, saying “This kid is driving me nuts!” Daniel overheard me say that and blurted, “Nuts? I want nuts!” That’s my Daniel!

Partying nine-year-old style yesterday reminded me that he is no baby. The day started out with a cool marine layer. Thankfully, by 12:30 it had burned off and the sky was all sunshine. Every boy chose a water gun and wrote their name on it. I bought a lot helium balloons and drew targets on them, tying them in the plants that framed the pool. Boys love to shoot! The one rule was NO shooting the water gun at faces. Most obeyed.

We played “Daniel Bingo” (I am getting mileage out of partygamesatoz.com , check it out). I designed the words that would be scrambled and called on his personalized bingo cards. To help you understand unique Daniel, I will share some of the phrases I chose that associate with him: Third Grader, Loves to Bother Lucas, Lizard Lover, Goldie (his dog), Loves to Quad, Super Swimmer, Star Wards, Chocolate Milk, Pepperoni Pizza, Pretends to Blow Things up, Expert Lego Builder, Picks up Dog Poop, Arm Wrestler, Takes out the Trash, Adventure Guide Yukon and Loves Rollercoasters…..to name a handful. We played two games of”Daniel Bingo” and the ten boys loved it. It provided a nice break after lunch and allowed some digestion before everyone jumped back into the pool to compete in the Cannon Ball contest.

The forty-eight hours leading up to his party, Daniel begged me to allow him to open his gifts first-thing after all the guests arrived. He could not wait to get his hands on those presents! Total kid. I understood how excited he was, but explained that would be rude. We compromised and I let him open gifts in the middle of the party, instead of the very end. He was grateful, but I noticed, once the gifts were unwrapped, Daniel disconnected from the zoo-like atmosphere and studied his new lego boxes and gift cards all by himself. I had to drag him back to his birthday party!

The day was fun for all, but it did not go without a glitch. Amongst the organized chaos, I forgot to put Sunscreen on Daniel and his fair skin burned for the first time this summer. Another glitch was that our camera was on the wrong setting and when my husband videotaped everyone huddled around Dan, singing Happy Birthday, it came out a complete blur. Great audio, just blobs of people. Lastly, I had to put one child in time out. Three times I had to remind this renegade to stop shooting water in kids’ faces. The fourth time, he hit a kid in the cheek and turned looking straight at me to see if I caught him. I did. Busted.

The day was an exhausting Joy. Daniel had a great time and I have not seen much of him since we returned home. He’s transformed into an almost-nine-year-old-Lego-building-recluse.

Happy Birthday Sweet Daniel, I love you!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Life of Batman

On my son’s fifth birthday he received a Chinese fighting fish from dear friends, The Shreves, who did not ask me first if we needed another creature to care for. They just carried in the beautiful blue fish in his bowl-house with everything Lucas, and I, would need to care for him. Water neutralizer, food, rocks, fake greenery. It was all there and Lucas was excited to have first very own pet. We graciously accepted Batman, as he was named by Lucas, into our family and set his small round bowl on the mantel in the den.

Batman had a good run as the family pet. Weekly, we would scoop him out of the bowl, change the water, neutralize it and return him to his wet castle. Lucas fed his scaly blue friend every day. We entertained the family by putting Batman and our cat Boo-Boo on the kitchen table at the same time. Boo-Boo would swing her declawed paw at Batman and start to put that black paw in the bowl, and then back off, remembering cats hate water. Frustrated Boo-Boo was an amusing sight.

Four months after receiving Batman, my father came over when I was not home. He chatted with Lucas as they watched the fish swim in circles. The bowl was showing some green and my father was being helpful when he and Lucas did the cleaning together. I was thankful when I returned home, knowing I would not have to do that job. I did not like changing the water because Chinese Fighting Fish have long, silky decorative fins that hang down low and float up high. It was stressful removing Batman from the bowl without injuring his fish arms. A day went by and Batman continued to float around watching our life real-time from the mantel. At the end of the first day, something seemed off, but I ignored it and went to bed. The next morning, Batman looked sort of grey, but was still swimming around. By the end of that day, Batman looked puffy, grey and not the vibrant blue he was just a day earlier. Still, he had life in him. I started suspecting something was not right, but couldn’t imagine why he looked sick. I began to worry. By day two, Batman floated on top of the water, dead. Very dead, very bloated and very grayish-brown. I called my dad, remembering he had cleaned out the bowl a few days earlier. I asked if he used the neutralizer after adding fresh water. It was then we realized Grandpa murdered Batman in what was truly an accidental death. It was a sad morning.

Flushing Lucas'first pet down the toilet felt cruel when he was so loved for his short life. The respectable thing to do was hold a small funeral, say a few prayers for the soul of Batman, and bury him. I figured it was a lesson for Lucas about the sometimes painful cycle of life. So outside, under our six big windows in the living room, we dug a small hole, and placed Batman inside. Lucas covered him with dirt, crying all the way. It was only a fish, but it made me sad to see Lucas sad. After a blessing and some reminiscing over what a fabulous fish Batman had been, we went inside. The big windows Batman was buried under always attracted birds, yet they were blind to them at the same time. Every week a bird slammed into the glass, fell to the ground and most survived, just stunned from the impact, then fluttered away. Minutes after Batman’s funeral, a bird thumped the window. We heard it and ran to see if this bird survived. Running outside, we saw the lifeless feathers on the ground near Batman’s grave. We gave him a minute, hoping he was just dazed, but he was a dead bird. We named him Robin and dug another grave next to Batman in what was becoming a pet cemetery. Again, we held a ceremony and took turns praying for Batman and Robin. The mood was solemn, but there was energy inside us from this death adventure we did not anticipate.

Over the years when a bird died under the window, I secretly tossed it in the trash before the kids discovered it. This kept Batman and Robin’s graves sacred and I had hit my limit overseeing two animal funerals in one day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"The million mile journey takes one step at a time." - Chinese Proverb

I would estimate 75 to 80 greeting cards, at first guess. That is the number of “cheer up”, “hang in there”, and “you are in our prayer” cards I received when Lucas was hospitalized all year in 1997. The mail ebbed and flowed throughout the year and I saved every card. A couple times over the years I read through them, reminiscing with a heavy heart, and then tucked them back up in the attic, storing the box near the furnace. Many baby treasures I was not ready to part with were hidden in the attic collecting dust, begging for a garage sale. When that furnace started our house fire in 2007, my meaningful card collection was a causality. Flipping through the remnants of those dated cards, again, I was reminded of the abundant love that was mailed to us when Lucas was very sick. They stunk like a chimney and most were unreadable or framed with burnt, charcoally edges, fused together. They only fitting place for these cards that once served as miniature cheerleaders, was the trash. I let them go.

Many of those cards that were sent to us said just the right thing at just the perfect time. Even if those cards are in a landfill now, some words they contained are still alive in my heart, encouraging me through struggles twelve years later. Some words I treasure most are, “The million mile journey takes one step at a time”. A wise, old bearded Chinese man said this somewhere in history and it landed on the front of my card. The visual picture of wanting to accomplish a goal, or in 1997, being forced to trudge through a painful medical process, requires baby steps that will eventually build that journey. Journeys have beginnings and endings and I am reminded with these words, patience is required in all of life’s journeys, whether you have chosen it or it has been pushed into your lap. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and soon those steps add up. When I look behind and see all the footprints equate to progress, I realize that each foot forward has a place and meaning to that goal. So, I keep moving forward. Thank you to the friend who sent the card and thank you to the wise old bearded Chinese man, your words made a lasting impression.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Whats the Doggone Difference?

Sisters, although birthing from the same parents, are uniquely different in many ways. It is true for me, my older and younger sister. It boggles my mind that we grew up in the same home with our various personalities, strengths, habits, quirks and temperaments.

Since bringing two dachshunds into our family, from the same litter of three females, I notice that this genetic personality scramble affects canines as well. Our two red Daschunds are two and a half years old: Goldie and Sara.

Our dog Goldie is a typical loyal “man’s best friend”. She knows her place in the pecking order. She does not challenge me; she is the measly dog, I am the superior human; we both agree and it works. Goldie hops into bed, burrows down to my legs and curls up, just like a good dog should. She listens to me when I tell her to stay and I trust that when I open the front door she will not dart out at the first sign of a bird or squirrel. Stay, Goldie! She looks at me and doesn’t move. Obedient wiener dog. She will walk down the driveway along side when I get the mail. I lead, she follows, grateful to step out the front door; it works for us. Almost daily now, I bring her on short car rides to pick up the kids or on an errand. We drove to get gas yesterday and Goldie loved the outing. She might look out the window of the car but usually lies across my lap while I am driving, just wanting to be close. Her body is longer than my lap and she doesn’t look comfortable. This is how she settles in for her field trip from home. Goldie is always eager to leave the house with me, running to the garage when she sees me grab my purse and car keys. Smart weiner dog.

She’s constantly licking everybody, the furniture and her sister, Sara. This dog, Goldie, has a deep motherly instinct and we call her “the Lickie Dog”. My son made up a song about her licking compulsion. Her behavior can be described as obsessive, constantly lapping her wet tongue on anything that will tolerate a cleaning. She will lap up her sisters, ears, bottom, and face until Sara starts to growl at her to back off. We do the same thing when she enters a licking trance on us. It is just too much to handle, especially since we know where her tongue has been! On the couch, she sits next to me, typing right now, she is smashed on what smidgen of chair is left. She lacks any sort of dog independence and that is just her. Sometimes she is a bit too close for comfort; right under my feet and I get annoyed as I trip over her long body in every room of the house. If I am in the kitchen, she lays there watching me. If I have to run back to my room for something, Goldie follows me down the hall, waits for me to do whatever, and then follows me back to the kitchen. This scene repeats all day long. Happily, Goldie’s full time goal is to love our family, and be as close to us as doggone possible. I have considered having her surgically attached to my head. With a dog like Goldie, it would make good sense and be much safer than having her under our feet. It’s a compliment to be this loved; however, it drives me nuts as I anticipate a true injury because of her obnoxious loyalty. When I look into her begging brown eyes it makes me ache inside to think how desperate this little rodent is to please her humans, lapping up any morsel of affection, no matter how small.

In contrast, her sister Sara mistakenly believes we are living in her house. It feels like we cramp her dog style with the cat-titude she struts. When she hops into bed, she burrows under the covers, turns around, heads back to the top of the bed and puts her head on the pillow. As in my pillow. We lay there, eye to eye as her snout is telling me to “move over”, Or “rub my belly now”. At night when we are all watching the tube, Goldie sandwiched next to us, Sara is no where to be found. She has a personal pooch agenda that no family cuddling can interfere with. At times like this, she is sleeping on any one of our beds or outside hunting. She has these keen predator instincts that keep her always on the prowl for a squirrel or gopher. Goldie seldom does this, but Sara makes it her full time job to patrol our yard for any sort of invader. She is a very barky dog and seldom licks us, but submits while Goldie preens her daily, like a pampered princess. When we are relaxing in our backyard, Sara might jump on our lap, but does not settle in. She looks away, sort of perched up patrolling the yard from my lap, making me feel guilty I am in her way. There is no chance I take this dog out side with me unless on leash. She is not trustworthy to heel, but darts down the street to the palm tree that squirrels hang out in. She refuses to listen, even when I am screaming her name, while smoke pours from my nostrils. I know she is not deaf. Stubborn German wiener dog. I avoid including her on car rides because she tends to get car sick. She doesn’t seem to care to be left behind; I think she likes to have the place to herself. It is part of her cat-like attitude of superiority and dominance. Everything is on Sara’s terms. There is one tender thing Sara will submit too that Goldie despises. I can pick up Sara and lay her on her long back in my arms, like a fourteen pound infant. She will calmly lie there. Embarrassed to say, but this dog fulfills the mommy need to coddle a little one. Her ears are floppier and she has a tail, but if I close my eyes it brings me back to when I cradled my sons. Unfortunately, neither dog carries the fresh scent of a newborn. Stinky wiener dog breath abounds.

I marvel at these four legged family members. Never have I owned two dogs at once, and I anticipated they would both be the same, plain old dogs. Instead, they are more like little people with likes, dislikes, preferences and tempers. I would not want to change a thing about these two Weiner Sisters. It keeps our home life interesting and just like differences in humans; it shines appreciation on their individuality.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keep your eye on the Target

A hobby is a pastime activity that a person finds enjoyment or fulfillment in. Playing a musical instrument, building models, collecting various treasures from stamps to seashells and painting are the hobbies that jump in my head first. Baking is a hobby and for some fortunate folks, exercise is a hobby. But for most, exercise falls under “requirement’, instead of playtime.

My spare time activity is an unlikely one. Listen carefully, my audience of three loyal followers, I will tell you my little secret. Target is my hobby. Yes, the store. This store chain lured me in with the attraction of being able to buy eye drops, bleach, shoes, toys, electronics, pajamas and house wares all in one visit. Target is one stop shopping. I hesitate to write this as it is not advertised in Target’s Sunday flyer. Cruising the end caps of Target on just the right day, at just the right time, I can scoop up deals that would make any garage sale blush. This exhilarating hobby has provided me an opportunity to acquire many items that I could not otherwise afford.

Excuse me now, if I sound cheap, or, um, say thrifty, shall we? Months ago, I purchased the top of the line hair dryer that sold for just over one hundred dollars, at 75% off. Of course, I’d love to own this Ferrari of hair dryers, but would never be able to afford it, if not for my hobby. Great Finds sit at many end caps and I have learned the secret formula of leaving with my shopping cart full. Different departments mark down their clearance items on different days of the week. Seasonal items move a bit differently. One who leans toward this hobby comes to know the cycle and will be at house wares on Thursday mid-morning for first pickings.

But timing is everything; I had my eye on a $300 BBQ. We needed a new BBQ; ours is 9 years old, has a broken lighter and is a horrible sight. Weekly, I cruised the right days waiting for the last two boxed grills to drop to 75%, thus affordable. I went on the right day, after waiting 5 weeks, checking them diligently, and they were gone! I summoned the red-shirt teenager to ask where my BBQ was. He knew exactly what I was referring to and said the minute the markdown took place; two employees snatched them right up, not even giving me a chance. Apparently Target employees have the edge on my hobby. I called my husband from the store; it was disappointing and frustrating.

Our patio furniture, dining table, outdoor couch, chairs and end tables were bought at 50 -75% off retail, placing them within budget limits. It is a purchase I am proud of that required some extra leg work. Different pieces were at different stores throughout the county, so to get it all to coordinate and look pretty; my husband and I pulled out the trailer and visited each store while I anxiously prayed on the drive that the needed piece would still be sitting there. It was successful and gave me a high. For my sons 8th birthday I picked up cool boy-toys over a period of four months. I set up a ‘prize table’ for each winner to chose from. Among the twelve prizes was a Hulk Football, Pokemon toys, Pirate ship and even a Star Wars light saber. It was a big 75% off success for the kiddos. They loved it! Another high. Thank you, Target.

This leads me to the dangers that come with this hobby. It can become addicting and I think some of my friends were becoming concerned. The obsession to feel that wonderful high from the bargain became a bit too important to me. I had to remember that this is a hobby; it is supposed to be a fun pastime, a pleasurable spare time pursuit. However, at times I felt like a junkie, just having to have that lamp or those exquisite sheets at the lowest possible price. For example, I just had to get to Target on Wednesdays when wine was marked down. I admit it; I love to drink wine. Does that count as a hobby? Anyway, I can’t afford twenty dollar bottles of wine and I am convinced expensive wine tends to taste better. It’s a reality that I am financially forced to buy the cheap stuff. When Target wines hit 50 -75% off, I stock up. And this hobby incorporates friendship because my wino girlfriend and I call and tip each other off when we find that end cap full of wine deals. I think hobbies and friendship are important. I also think my town is chuck full of winos because Target’s discounted wine has an extremely short shelf life.

Due to this hobby’s time requirement, I have had to back off. I still cruise the end caps when I am there to pick up something I really, truly need. I see what is currently marked down and know it will go lower. Lately, I just can’t put the enthusiasm or energy into the pursuit. It has become exhausting and less thrilling. Writing has become an active hobby and being that it is free, I think I should stick with it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What's a Bachew?

Sometimes it seems my husband and I were raised on different planets, instead of simply different parts of the United States.

My husband was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and spent parts of his childhood living in Connecticut and Mississippi. Hunting rifles were a right of passage at what looks like age four in old photos. My in-laws both grew up in the south. Carol was raised in the Appalachian Mountains in a small town named Cumberland, Kentucky. She was one of eight children. Ralph, Sr. grew up in Tennessee and spent long days working the family farm. My husband grew up a true Southern Boy. Think Huckleberry Finn.

In contrast my family pretty much sailed in from Italy through Ellis Island and eventually cooked their way to Southern California. It was there that my Italian Clan grew and multiplied, never allowing a member to relocate more than 60 miles from the Godfather, Frank. It looked that way from the outside. Growing up, my aunts were like mothers, as in, they yelled at me, styled my hair and made me lunch regularly. My cousins were just like siblings; we bickered often and wore matching clothes. We were a close, tight knit group. If holidays were not spent with my Dad’s Clan, then we were with my mother’s Clan. Both clans lived in Southern California for my entire childhood. Part of my father’s clan moved an hour north, and when one family did, the entire clan followed a couple years later. No kidding.

When Ralph and I met, I had never heard of black eyed peas as a food. Through the Fisher family, I discovered kids can shoot rifles, how gravy is really made, Southern Living Magazine, and how to decipher the southern drawl. When I first met my husband in 1992, he really said words like Shucks! and Ya’ll!

When my boys were younger, my mother-in-law would come out to California a couple times a year to visit. She was here one fall when my son Lucas was three. When I visit Kentucky, where my In-laws live now, I feel fortunate to see what Fall was intended to look like with brightly painted leaves hanging from every tree and a slight nip in the air. Once I flew into Memphis to visit Ralph’s grandma. I could have sworn I saw a cow off to the side of the pasture-like landing strips. Really, a cow. When landing in LA, one can never assume that they might have seen any sort of grazing farm animal. Smog or gang member, maybe, but never livestock. The Southern United States is so different than Southern California.

On this particular dry, fall day at Faulkner Farms Pumpkin Patch, Carol, Lucas and I were slowly walking around, admiring the tractors, and listening to the bluegrass band play in the background. We came upon a few goats that were fenced in. We stopped to admire them as they probably just finished eating a hubcap. Their mouths were moving their little goat beard up and down. Lucas reached out to this old goat and Carol went after his hand, saying, “Be careful, it miite bachew.” Little Lucas looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a bachew?” Excellent question Lucas. I deciphered to Lucas that grandma was worried that the goat might “bite you” and not to put his fingers near any animal’s mouth.

Over the last fifteen years of marriage, My Big Fat Italian Clan has taught my husband new traditions, like always plant some sort of garden and food is love. In turn, he has exposed me to this new world in the South. I have many other stories that answer the question, what do you get when you cross Huck Finn with the Sopranos? I will share them another day and end with the truth that this is one melting pot I am happy to be in.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lucas' Test

Esophogastroduodenoscopy with biopsy. That’s the name of the procedure Lucas underwent yesterday. Don’t try this at home, and by that I mean, trying to pronounce the procedure. It is a mouthful.

I am not feeling terribly creative this morning, so I am gonna give it to ya straight. Lucas was nervous and apprehensive about the whole thing, asking me and everyone else lots of questions...“How big is the camera? Will I dream when I am out? Will it hurt? What would happen if I ran away right now?” To that last question, I answered that it was not a good idea to try and escape because I think they would run after him. “But what if I got away?” he pushed. “Then you would be standing in the parking lot in that hospital gown.” He decided to stay put.

He said the last thing he remembers before going under was saying,”I wish my parents were here” (that warms a mother’s heart). Then he woke up in recovery and we sat around for an hour while he recuperated. He was feeling groggy and sort of crummy, as you could imagine.

The test was quick, about 30 minutes, and everything went smoothly. Dr. Ooops came out and talked to Ralph and me immediately after he took the tour of Lucas’ esophogus and stomach. The biopsy report will be back on Friday and I anticipate his stomach samples to be normal. There was no sign of ulcers or reflux and his stomach surgery is still intact. It was all good news. The only odd thing is that Lucas’ stomach is not a normal J shape. When his stomach empties food it has to travel straight up, like a rollercoaster clicking its way to the top of the wooden mountain, and then back down to the small bowel. This is no average stomach and could explain why after eating he gags, because food is backing up. Is it something we would want to surgically correct? Probably not.

By the evening Lucas felt well enough to go to the Ventura County Fair to see David Cook in concert. It was the fun part of an extremely long, tiring and stressful day, but I am not complaining, “It’s not like it was open-heart surgery”.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brace Yourself

My twelve year old is getting a full set of braces today. Just the thought of braces sends me back to the ten years I spent at the orthodontist. I was on the super-duper-decade-long-extended plan saved only for those kids who required a dozen phases to straighten things out. Orthodontists dream of a mouth like mine. Having had teeth pulled, head gear, neck gear, braces and numerous retainers; I feel I am an expert on the subject of oral reconstruction. I was only seven the first time I went to the orthodontist. Nowadays, it is not unlikely to start that early, but back in the seventies it was a true indicator of how messed up my mouth really was. I can describe my smile in two words: bucked teeth.

In second grade I was handed the packet of school pictures I had taken weeks before with Mrs. Brown’s class. I thought they were cute. A red bow sat on the right side of my long brown hair that my mom styled the morning of class pictures. I wore a favorite blue and red dress that had a busy print and white islet around the collar. On my face was my biggest and best smile. I carried those pictures carefully when walking home from school. I showed them to my mother. She grinned at them and immediately decided we would not buy them. She gently tried to tell me it was not a great photo and that we would buy them next time. What? I started crying. Upon closer inspection of the school pictures, my front teeth were hanging over my bottom lip like a mountain climber dangling over the side of a cliff. There was a horse like quality to my smile, but I did not care. I cried until she agreed to buy photos.

When I was nine I had to go to an oral surgeon to have seven teeth pulled. I remember sitting back in the big chair and the gas mask being put over my mouth. I had never gone thru anything like this before. When I woke up my mother sat there with this little tooth fairy pillow that had a pocket with seven one dollar bills rolled up inside. I liked that. The doctor gave me the seven teeth he pulled. They were abnormally long, like the eye teeth of a tiger. I had stitches to sew up the canyon sized holes that the teeth had plugged up. They were big black stitches. My mouth was sore.

I wore neck gear and head gear at various times. When I did, sores on the sides of my lips formed from the metal rubbing against them. It felt like paper cuts . They cracked and bled, but would never heal because every night I would reinsert the metal contraption. Vaseline was my best friend. I used to lather up my mouth so my lips would not dry out over night. I could not breathe through my nose so my metal mouth hung open all night. I was a mess. The only part I liked about neck gear was the carrying case that I decorated with stickers. It had a zipper on the top and it I felt like a business woman carrying a miniature briefcase. Other than that, head and neck gear sucked.

There was a period of time I had to strap rubber bands from the top of my mouth down to a metal clasp on the outside bottom part of my mouth. “Be an Eager Beaver, wear your elastic bands” was written on the white envelope that held the bands. There was a picture of a lame blue beaver on every pack. Every month I had a date with the orthodontist who had zero chair-side manners. When it came to time tighten those iron giants wrapped around each tooth, it hurt. Now, wax had become my best friend. I could feel my heart beating in my gums for a couple days and then it faded, until the next month when the braces were cranked up agan.

My two sisters never stepped foot or mouth in an orthodontist’s office. Just little old buck toothed me. They both had big, beautiful, free smiles. My only consolation is that one sister wore glasses and both needed to visit the dermatologist. Truthfully, I would have traded my horrendous mouth for some zits, if I could. When my son returns from getting his braces today, I will hand him two advil and ask that he reads this. Maybe it will cheer him up knowing I have bought his school pictures every year.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dopey Distress

Do you ever feel like an uneducated idiot? Staying at home for ten years raising kids, I noticed that my once large data base of knowledge has dwindled each year like newspaper subscriptions. There is less adult content between my ears and I find myself embarrassed sometimes.

Let me give you an example.

My little sister and I were sitting outside Sunday morning over coffee and the paper. My sis mentioned that there was a big earthquake in Tokyo and that our friends, The Shewfelts, were over there now. I reminded her that it was okay because they were going to Japan. After she stopped laughing at me, I faintly recalled that Tokyo is IN Japan. I went into Dopey Distress; feeling like my brains had been sucked out with all the breast milk years ago. Really! How could I forget that Tokyo is part of Japan?

I don’t know if I should take steps toward refueling my intellect with everyday knowledge that gives me the credibility of a college graduate. For the past two years, I have been working part-time in Fourth Grade. I can dive into a discussion of the California Missions and Early Rancheros of our state. I can hold a conference on how the rock cycle works; I understand the time zones and can explain how the Transcontinental Railroad started. However, at forty-one, I can’t recall that Tokyo is located in Japan.

I have heard that our brain is like a muscle, either we use it or loose it. My brain muscle reflects a lack of challenging stimulation and therefore this results in some loss. In my job in Fourth Grade, I am surrounded by ten year olds. I am only pushing my "mental muscle workout" a few notches higher than when I stayed at home with little ones. What I learned in physics and base ten mathematics in my twenties has fled and been replaced with Popsicle stick ornaments, multiplication tricks and understanding how to use a preposition.

I shouldn’t complain. There is more curiosity and simple joy inside a young, ten year old head, than most adults I come across. Many adults are stodgy and stuck in their ways, while the ten year old still naturally possesses “the beginner’s mind”. I crave the beginner’s mind, but it takes effort to stay in that place where we are open to anything and believe that everything is possible. Maybe it is okay to let geography slip out my head in exchange for a slower, child-like pace. I think I will lean toward my atrophied brain that keeps me young and simple, even if it means that Tokyo is in China.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Birthday Thoughts

Growing up in an Italian home, birthdays were never overlooked. Actually, any excuse for a celebration was fully embraced. I am noting this because tonight we are having a small gathering to ring in a new year for my husband, Ralph. He will be forty-two on Monday. Ralph did not grow up in anything close to an Italian family, although he joined an Italian Clan the day he said ‘I do’.

Adjusting to the Italian culture was slow at first. He did not know what a misslette was, how many relatives I really had, or that birthdays required some effort. He did not see the value in making merry each year for our children, nor spending money on birthdays. In contrast, ingrained deep inside me is the truth that birthdays are to be celebrated. Period.

A lot of money does not have to be spent to recognize and honor the birthday person. Simple, creative efforts are required to announce they are alive, and they are blessed to rejoice in another year of life. It is their day to feel special, maybe spoiled, and definitely appreciated and loved.

In my clan this was shown with gifts, the gathering of favorite people, a large painted birthday sign, silly games and our favorite cake, if not a wedding-reception-like-party. The birthday person owned the day. Dysfunctions aside, my family knew that each of us holds the innate desire to feel loved and special. It is in every one of us, not just Italians. Some have mastered the recipe for cooking up joy to honor the birthday person. It is my mother who taught me how to create an impressionable birthday ritual.

Tonight we will observe forty-two years of Wonderful Ralph; an adored husband, loving father, true friend, tolerant and kind son-in-law and sometimes quirky engineer. The festivities will include ‘Ralph Bingo’ and food from a favorite restaurant. He will be forced to drink margaritas, blow out candles and make a wish to carry into the next 365 days. I know it will be worth every ounce of time, money and effort to proclaim that he is loved and special…..because he is, and it is his turn to be reminded. Cheers!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Magic Mountain 2

Aside from watching teens hang on each other and an array of colorful tattoos on diverse skin, the trip to Magic Mountain was thrilling for everyone. I was able to adjust my attitude and adopt a cheerier disposition (Note: there is no Beer Garden at Magic Mountain). It was easier than I thought. When Daniel woke up, he announced that his stomach felt better, saying, “It is just hurting like a regular-day stomach ache”. I assumed that was good news. Since he was feeling better, I was feeling better and my anxiety quelled.

Having not been to Magic Mountain in twenty years, I noticed many changes. A Sheriff Station was erected next to the entrance of the park. Police on foot and bike scurried around the park like ants. The gang problems I had heard so much about seemed to have been handled. I found myself starting to relax, knowing that gang violence would not intimidate the day.

The scorching 97 degree heat that settled on this park the day before lifted with a glorious “cooling trend”. Our timing could not have been better. It was still hot, but not a sticky, miserable heat that begged for a cool shower. The park was not as crowded as I anticipated for an August day. I imagined wilting in hour long lines. This did not happen.

Twelve year old Lucas hesitated on the roller coasters, staying behind while the other boys, including four 8 year olds, raced to the back of the line of the Terminator Salvation and Revolution rides. The few coasters that he avoided gave us a chance to walk around, visit the Wii store and share some licorice. Lucas did go on the Gold Rush twice. This is the very first rollercoaster at Magic Mountain, built in 1971; it was a perfect starter coaster for him. He surprised everyone when he joined the group on Colossus. He looked a tad white coming off, but he rode it, and I could tell he felt adventurous. Later in the day, I commended Lucas for being “true to himself”. He did not cave in to the peer pressure of doing something that did not feel right for him. Who knew a moral lesson would tie into this day?

Cotton Candy was not the only positive part of my day. We left the park around two for our picnic lunch. We sat under big beautiful trees, a slight breeze in the dry air, eating Subway sandwiches, while a chihuahua with its leg in a cast hobbled around our troops. It was perfect lunch entertainment. Then we went back to the park and watched a show called “Mat Hoffman’s Danger Defying Daredevils” that mesmerized my boys. It was BMX Freestyle, inline skating and skateboarding stunts.

You might be wondering, “Did anything go wrong?” Yes. Two of our ten dollar drink cups that allowed you to fill up for free all day long, were stolen early in the day. Bummer. The second ride the group went on was a water ride called Roaring Rapids. Many in our group, including me, sat in the absolutely worst seats possible on this white water adventure. We looked the equivalent of jumping in a pool with our clothes on. Daniel and I were so drenched that after 3 hours of walking around with wet socks, we had to take them off and go the rest of the day without them. Our bare feet in wet shoes were bearable, but not ideal. Note to self: pack extra socks, watch for thieves.

I was spot-on with calling them stinky boys. Lucas had brought a friend, and the three adrenalin-spent boys in the back seat of our car smelled like a gym locker room. It was the scent of a fun day. We were all exhausted, getting home at 8:30 PM. Lucas and Daniel have already asked when we are returning to Magic Mountain. It makes me happy knowing they enjoyed our trip. Despite me starting off with a stinker attitude, it ended up an amazing day.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Magic Mountain

Twelve stinky, sweaty boys will lead us through the 100 degree heat of Valencia today. Three moms, my husband and I are going to Magic Mountain. I wish I had a better attitude about it, but I just can’t locate one.

My son, Daniel was sick yesterday and that turns up my anxiety about going. At dinner, I asked Lucas if he was excited, and he answered, “It’s not like I am Sir Rollercoaster”. He gets motion sickness easily. Upon further discussion, I realized he is going for the souvenir, already planning on buying a particular goofy hat. That’s so Lucas.

When we planned this trip last June, it sounded like a summer-fun adventure with our friends and family. It was my stupid idea, having a free ticket; it motivated me to round up the amusement park troops. Magic Mountain day is here and it looks like I am heading into the scorching fun zone with a stinker attitude. Cotton Candy will be the main carrot dangling from my moist brow with each sweaty step.

Daniel’s feeling crummy. Lucas doesn’t like coasters. I don’t like long lines, the extreme heat, roller coasters or L.A. Gang members and…..why am I gong? My husband is one reason. He loves the thrill of a speeding coaster, zooming upside down, and dropping from extreme elevations. My girlfriends are the other. They would not let me wiggle out of going, believe me, I tried.

I realize I can do one of two things to turn this day into a good memory.

I could instantly change my inner “mojo” on the day. Poof! Presto! Abracadabra! Shazam….a cheery, positive attitude will now follow me throughout the park, as I attempt freakishly crazy rides, and gleefully carry my children’s gear around in the heat.

Or, ditch the group and locate the Beer Garden.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Puppy Love

“I want a puppy,” my four year old Lucas whined. I was prepared to respond to his request. Wise moms attempt to stay one step ahead of their little ones. I knew that adopting a dog meant I would be washing, feeding, and picking up poop for the next ten years. I was already doing those fun-filled, laborious jobs with Lucas’ baby brother.

“When you turn ten, you can get a dog. That way YOU will be big enough to take care of it.” From there I started describing the many needs of a dog. Blabbing on, I noticed I was talking to myself. Lucas’ short attention span worked in my favor. My three year old's interest shifted quickly.

When he was a potty trained, preschooler, “ten” felt eons away. I couldn’t focus on what might happen in 7 years. In time when Lucas made the same puppy request, I repeated that when he reached the ten year milestone he could have a dog. Every birthday the countdown was noted, “Only four more years until you get a dog”. A year later, “only three more years until you get a dog.” You get the idea. Suspense mounted with each passing birthday.

When Lucas was 9 ½ years old, my past pledge was close enough to nip at my ankles. I would have to produce a dog. There would be no wiggling out it. Months before his tenth birthday, the dog dialogue started.. Lucas wanted a big dog, think German Shepherd. My husband felt okay with getting a “horse dog”, as I called them. He would be at work all day when this horse dog needed a long walk to tire him out. I would be the one to carry ginormous sized food bags, filled with heavy rocks of kibble, to the car. It would be me dragging horse dog to the vet. I resisted, lamenting that big dogs have big needs. My executive powers were flexed, and I endorsed a small to medium sized pooch. Lucas was in charge of picking out anything but a horse dog.

National Geographic “Kids” magazine ran a fabulous article on different breeds of dogs. We looked at mug shots of many canines and Lucas pointed to the picture of a daschund, with its round black eyes and floppy ears. Yes, a small dog! I ran with his suggestion because I knew this small, odd-shaped, dog might be a perfect fit. Our search for a young daschund began. Due to lack of funds, we had all agreed to rescue a pooch from the pound, which we visited weekly. There was a dapple colored, short-hair daschund that would not be available for adoption for another week.

Did you know that Daschunds are one of the more popular types of dogs? I did, the hard way. The day of the “lottery” for adoption rights on this adorable daschund, no less than twenty five eager owners crammed in the Animal Shelter hoping to claim the prize. Thinking ahead, I had brought along 4 other eligible adults to enter the lottery, to increase our chance of taking home what had to be Lucas’ weiner dog. My husband took Lucas to the cardiologist, as his appointment was the exact same day and time as the Pound Lottery. It was the first time in 10 years that I had missed a heart appointment, but we all agreed I needed to run the Dog Campaign.

Suspense mounted as all eligible contestants dropped their name in the bucket of luck. The Lottery Officials, or animal regulation workers, would call three names. This was probably their favorite day of work, sucking up all the power they held for 20 minutes before going back to cleaning animal pens. If the first person called decided not to adopt the daschund, then priority fell to the second, then third runner-up. I prayed to God to let us win this dog. We just had to win. Please hear my prayer, God.

The first name was called and it was no one in my group, nor was the second, but the third name called was my Aunt Linda. There was hope, well not really, because the first winner absolutely wanted our wiener dog for her 8 year old son’s Valentines Day gift. I wanted to gag.
I pushed closer to the winner, shouting, “That is MY son’s dog, he waited 7 years for this daschund”, and I grabbed the ticket from the blonde mother’s hands. Okay, I didn’t really do that, but my motherly instinct made the suggestion. I felt defeated having to tell Lucas the results. We all felt let down. Prayer: Unanswered.

Next, we contacted The Sunny Oasis Doxie Rescue, located in Southern California. I learned a lot from the kind woman that ran the shelter. Unfortunately, young doxie’s are not the type that end up in a “Home for Unwanted Wieners”. The many that were available we part blind, not good with children, gray, old or deaf. This whole dog scenario was not playing out how I had anticipated.

Talking to my In-laws in Kentucky, I told them about our Doxie Hunt. . I mentioned that our search had been fruitless and Lucas’ birthday was 3 weeks away. My father-in-law offered to buy Lucas a daschund puppy for his tenth birthday. Wow, what an offer! Of course we accepted his generous gift and again our house was abuzz with exciting puppy business. This time it felt like my prayer had been heard and answered in an unlikely way.

A breeder was located in beautiful Lancaster and we took the boys out of school early to make the trip out to the desert. There had been a litter of 3 female miniature daschunds, and 2 pups were left. We anxiously pulled up to a dusty dude ranch. There were many horses, and at least ten barking dogs, that yapped at us behind the gate as we walked to the porch.

We were greeted and took a seat in the living room. I noticed that attached to the wall there was a spray deodorizer that automatically squirted fresh smells every few minutes. I was thankful for that. The breeder went to the back of the house and released the ten week old, red, shorthair pups. They raced out, their ears as long as their bodies. First they ran in circles, happy to be crate free, then straight to a basket of stuffed toys. They each grabbed a toy and darted around, teasing each other, running under the chair, then around the couch. Repeat. These puppies were both absolutely adorable; falling instantly in love was effortless.

How could Lucas pick one? They looked identical at first, but closer up, I could see one had black coloring mixed in her red puppy coat. The four of us watched the puppy show with laughter, giggles, and smiles. If only one could bottle up the joy that flows out when playing with puppies! These two girls reeked of energy, and plain dog glee, as they naturally did their Sister Puppy Act. They chased one another, tripping, falling and rolling, the whole way. Wiping the smiles off our faces was not an option. Love filled this room.

Lucas decided on the lighter colored dog, and called her Sara. Not Bella, Spot, Beauty or Lyla. Just Sara, like a girl in his fourth grade class. I felt like I was the proud mother of my first daughter. We tucked Sara into the Cat Crate, did our paperwork and started back home with Lucas’ little darling. Driving just a mile from the Dude Ranch Breeder, I called my parents to announce the arrival of their Grand-dog-ter, Sara. I described in full detail the harmony of the two puppies and the live show they naturally played out in front of us. I explained how Lucas pondered on which pup to pick, and how tough it was to leave the last of the pack behind. Having two sisters of my own, I imagined how sad it would be if someone simply took one of them away.
My father paused on the other end of the line and said, “Can you go back, and get the other Dog for Daniel?” What? My insides flipped. That offer sounded wonderfully generous and totally exciting, but a bit overwhelming at the same time. “I will buy the other dog for Daniel.” I motioned for my husband to pull off the side of the road while this curious phone conversation played out. “Let me discuss this with Ralph, and we will call you right back.”

Talk about being under pressure to make a big commitment, fast! There would be twice the vet bills and food needs, not to mention twice the poop to pick up. Then there was the issue of handing a dog over to Daniel at age seven, when we made Lucas wait until he was ten. Will we ever have another chance to have two pure bred pups in our family? How will we afford them? Is this all a dream? All these thoughts crammed our brains as we sat on the side of the desert rode, staring at cactus. It took us a solid sixty seconds to decide that we would turn around and buy Sara’s sister, despite not being mentally or financially prepared.

The car busted with more adrenalin than any speeding race car driver could ever radiate. All four of us were amped and unsure at the same time. The suspense was gripping. Would the Dude Ranch Breeder let us buy the dog with a personal check? The terms were cash only. Could we cram both pups into the little cat carrier? Were we making a huge mistake? Was this really happening? There were so many thrilling questions.

The Breeder was surprised to see the four of us back on her doorstep fifteen minutes after leaving. She agreed to our request, and 20 minutes later we were back on the desert highway leaving Lancaster with two doxie pups. Daniel did not hesitate to name his dog, Goldie. Yes, Goldie, like a fish. Sara and Goldie. Both of those names reminded me of little old Jewish ladies , but they came straight from the hearts and minds of my children, so they were just perfect.
The entire dog experience felt like an answered prayer that I never formally put into words because it seemed entirely too crazily impossible. Yes, I said, crazily impossible. I never allowed myself to clutch such a large hope for our family. God treated not only Lucas, but the entire family, to two of the best gifts in our life, and used my father-in-law and father as delivery men. It felt like the most wonderful, amazing high.

Weeks later, I reflected on life’s highs and lows. There have been times when I have been down, wanting to die because I felt so broken hearted. I had sunk to the lowest breaking point possible, without actually tearing. This was when my first baby walked next to death. I was down so deep; I forgot how to look up. When life drags you to a low, I realized that it gives the “high” a whole new vantage point. There is greater thankfulness and intense appreciation for rare situations that play out like, sweet, effortless music. It is amazing how perfectly unplanned Sara and Goldie were. This dog journey grew and mounted as each step took us a leap higher. It shows me how big my God is. Anything can happen. Sara and Goldie are my reminders that with life’s dreaded, low points comes the ability to feel, much grander, supercharged highs.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Forever in Blue Genes

This is a true story I wrote years ago.

My son, Daniel, has recently decided not to wear his jeans, always picking out sweats. I had an adorable pair of jeans that I wanted my 4 year old to wear. Drying him off from his bath, I pulled the jeans and a pair of sweats from his drawer. I held both pants up for him to decide.

“Do you want to wear your jeans or your sweats?” I encouraged, holding the jeans suggestively higher.

“What do you think I want to wear?” We both knew the answer.

I was not surprised by his choice, and tossed him the usual sweats. It was a mystery why he avoided jeans lately.

He paused, than asked, “Do you know why I don’t want to wear jeans?

Puzzled, I answered “no.”

He said with confidence, “Because, I don’t want to get diabetes.”

What? Diabetes? I had to stop and chew on his reasoning, which made no sense at all. Minutes later, it became clear. Daniel had overheard me talking to my husband about my diabetic father. It left a lasting impression on him when I cautioned my husband, “We need to be careful; we have diabetes in our genes.”

Mystery solved.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

God Blogs

Since I was twenty, I wanted to be a writer. However, physically composing and putting thoughts together? Well, that is a different story. Since our house fire, I have been praying for the motivation, inspiration, or a gun to my head, to get me to start the work of my heart.

I was not lacking material. I had an eating disorder in the 80’s. My son had oodles of heath issues, including heart surgeries and coming home from the hospital on a ventilator, in the 90’s. In 2007, our house caught fire while we were on vacation. Every ten years God has sent me a personal catastrophe. Clearly, He wants me to do something positive with all these storms that have poured down each decade. He created me, gave me the desire to write, and he handed me the material. I would not budge.

Everything in my life took precedence over pushing the keyboard. The kid’s needs were more important. The part-time job was taking my extra time. My husband and sons needed clean underwear. Life got in the way and it was the perfect buffer to keep me from doing what I thought God designed me to do in the first place: write. Simply write.

Kari Schmitt inspired me. My friend of 30 years started a blog called "Aspirations" (check it out). She plugged away at it every day. Every dam day! How did she do that and have three kids, a life, and wear makeup? Okay then, I too, will start a blog. I did last February on Wordpress.com. It was a random, free blog site plucked from the 2 gajillion hits I got on Google. It took time to set up, but I did it. So I thought. There that empty, little blog sat for months. The times I attempted to write, I couldn’t figure how the toolbar worked, and what did all those other little buttons with pictures on them do? I felt like a technical dinosaur. I felt defeated. I gave up. My gas tank had a hole, and I could go no more. There was not much gas to begin with.

July came and I patched the hole in my gas tank and attempted another drive. This time I tried Blogger.com. It looked easier to navigate, so it couldn’t hurt to try. I still did not have enough gas to get moving. I went back to Wordpress to look at my little site that was collecting cobwebs. But wait, I had a message in my mailbox. Me? A message, from who? What button do I push to read this message? Finally, I located this personal message from the mystery being and it said the following:

“I think you are a very interest young lady. You contain a deep, honest, and curious spirit. Don’t be afraid to open up and smile at the camera, or in your case, let the camera inside of your soul. Share your soul. A lot of valuable knowledge is stored in there. Give the little wisdom gleaned form SDSU, Lucas Fisher and the House Fire to others free…..”

What inspiring words those were to me! Who would write this? I don’t know many people who would use a word like “glean”? And apparently they know me quite intimately. My college, my kid, my fire. Few people could compose this. I asked my husband, my sisters, my counselor, my father-in-law, and Kari. Only they might know me well enough and could use the word , “glean” correctly. They all said,, ”You had a blog? It wasn’t me.” I told my sister Cara that those motivating words must be from God. She assured me, “God doesn’t blog”.

I disagreed. My mystery blog had to come straight from God. Those encouraging, simple words shot straight to my heart. They filled my tank, patched the hole, and then I emotionally sold that old clunker. Those words meant so very much to me. Because of them, I am now driving an eighteen wheeler gas tanker truck. It took 21 years, but finally, I am really writing. My sister is wrong, God blogs.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Extreme Race for the Mail

Hot summer days bring back a memory from 1978. I was nine and my sister Cara, was 12. We spent our beautiful summer mornings parked in front of the television watching I Love Lucy reruns. This was followed by more I Love Lucy reruns. It was our summer routine, and nothing could get in the way of it.

Except, maybe the mailman…let me explain. (“Splain Lucy!” as an angry, Ricky Ricardo would say). Being the kid to carry the mail in was a coveted position during the summer months. This one particular summer day, we must have been particularly bored as the “Extreme Race for the Mail” ensued. Cara and I both saw the little, white mail truck making its way to our house. As it approached, we both darted out the door, shoving the other down the driveway, running toward the mailbox in front of our house. We both met one confused mailman, who handed over the mail. Cara grabbed one end and I firmly gripped the other. It was a tug-of-war that included, kicking, laughing, pushing and hair pulling. This fight was played out in front of an audience of one startled mailman. Neither of us cared that he was watching. So it went, as we shoved, yelled and hit each other, both holding one hand on the prized mail, all the way up the driveway.

I don’t remember which one of us actually won the right to carry in the mail. I do remember seeing our mother turn into Evil Witch Mother as she met us in the foyer of our home. She had been watching this intense, physical battle from the front window. Mom was disgusted, and embarrassed that we would behave this way for the entire neighborhood to watch, not to mention, the poor, unsuspecting mailman. I recall the words “angry, disappointed, and horrified,” fly from her mouth as she was yelling at us.

Our punishment for the Extreme Race for the Mail was one we had never received. When we were younger, mom spanked us with a wooden spoon. That is a traditional, Italian form of discipline. As we grew up, the penalties changed. I don’t think either of us was ready for the penance mom demanded that summer day. Mom sufficiently shamed us for our despicable, embarrassing behavior, and then we were sent to our rooms. We were instructed to write out this sentence, one hundred times, “I will not act like a jackass in front of the mailman”. Really, that was our punishment. One hundred times! For the record my mother was not a cusser, at all, so I knew we tipped her over the edge.

Disappointing and angering my mom was something I avoided. I felt horrible, crying and whimpering, as I wrote out sentence after sentence, “I will not act like a jackass in front of the mailman. I will not act like a jackass in front….” I was only on sentence number ten, when Cara quietly peered into my room. She saw me crying on the paper while I wrote. She couldn’t believe that I would actually carry out this ridiculous punishment. She refused!

Cara was a stubborn, tough cookie who had the guts to stand up to mom. She was chuckling, saying the punishment was stupid. I thought about it, and she was right. With her on my side, I stopped at sentence ten. Together, we hung out in my room, rehashing what we both thought was an extremely funny story. Mom never enforced to us carry out our punishment and we never acted like jackasses in front of the mailman again.