Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Part-Time Fourth Grader

Twenty hours of my week are spent with over two dozen of the neatest nine and ten year olds. The best characteristic of this young mind is that they are no longer whiny first graders and not yet difficult tweens. Holding on to a little innocence, they still interact in sweet ways; a clear indication that the ugly world has not seeped into their behavior…yet. They will eventually land in middle school, and a simple puzzle or math numbers game will be a bore. Believe me, I have a seventh grader. I value my class of fourth grade kids even more when I hear all the drama, rough housing and emotional pain the middle schoolers scoop out every day. I’d rather have a raging case of acne than return to Awkward Central. Fourth Grade is a safe place where personalities and differences have formed but peers are not ready to condemn them for diversity.

For example, some kids speed through their math page and the answers are all correct. Telling them that they have a “Great Math-head”, I put a big red happy face on their paper and they shuffle over to Free Math Time. This is just another name for playing constructive games with the other speedy math wizards. A few kids struggle one problem at a time and still have an incorrect answer. Their pages display eraser burn and it hurts the mommy in me to tell “Susie” that the math problem is STILL incorrect (for the third time). At that point, I watch her step by step, stopping her when she reports that 9X6=45. Ooopps, try again.

I am building inner patience every day with these children. My job forces me to slow down in addition to brushing up on California history and math conversion. (Did you know there are four pecks in a bushel?) If you knew me, you would know that this is a much needed improvement to my rush-rush, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-impatient-ways…In a few years, I should be able to channel Mother Teresa. Or, at the rate I am going, maybe Einstein.

Math is such an exact science; an unforgiving subject. Either the answer is all right or all wrong. It doesn’t seem fair that partial credit is not awarded for an almost, really close numerical right answer. Especially after all that sweaty mental work! I remember my Math days. Understanding double digit multiplication, I could do the work, but would be one smidgen of a digit off. Wrong. Redo. Wrong again. Now a different number is incorrect. Can I AT LEAST have a teeny-tiny, red star for effort? I don’t need a huge star, just a little sumthin’ to make the last 15 minutes of doing the same problem over and over feel productive. Sort of like a math booby-prize? I would LOVE to start awarding a math booby prize, but am sure my teacher would not agree with my positive reinforcement of wrong answers. It’s a shame.

The good news is that each child has some sort of strength whether it be hand-ball, science or spelling. Hmmm, spelling… now that is a whole other subject that deserves delicate observation. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Home of the Big Mouths

Being raised in a gregarious Italian family it came natural to talk with hands flapping through the air while sharing words or ironing out family kinks verbally. My parents and sisters yelled at one another when casually speaking. Firm. Loud. Totally normal to me.

No one was REALLY mad from what I could tell. At least most of the time.

Voluminous voices were part of everyday conversation. Hot topics like “Who ate the last Oreo?”, and “Do you know where my dolphin shorts are?” were shouted in what sounded like anger, but they were only an inquiring question. I assumed all families related this way.

I was shocked when I ate dinner at a grade school friend’s, whose house sat library quiet. It was an awkward sort of foreign peace that made me wonder if I had done something wrong. Even as we ate, this family was quiet, reserved and tame. I felt like I was dining and in a time-out simultaneously. Very , very different than dinners at my house.

My family still hangs out regularly. I would like to think we have piped down over the years , unless playing Balderdash or some other interactive board game. Then the only clatter is each of us barking at one another for the stage floor. Or trying to talk over one another. Louder. Swinging hands dramatically for emphasis and knocking over a wine glass. This is how it goes.

For example, when playing Balderdash a word like CLINCHPOOP comes along and all you can hear is the howling laughter over possible word definitions. If you have never played Balderdash ,enjoy words and love to laugh, this is a game you must buy…… In case you did not know, a clinchpoop is another name for a slob. When visiting with my family, the room comes alive like a three ring circus; it is laughter loud, entertaining and spiked with energy without all the elephant droppings.

After fifteen years of marriage, my husband’s still surprised how my family verbally relates to one another. Ralph told me that when we talk, adding on the words “What the Hell?” or “Dammit”, after most sentences would sound appropriate. This is based on our gruff tone and direct choce of words……Example:

“I did not call you a clinchpoop! (Dammit!)”
” I was trying to help, Mr. Grumpy pants. (What the hell!)”

I think Ralph might be right. We sound more intense than we intend, but we are hardwired this way. Oddly enough we understand one another ninety percent of the time, with no offensive taken. Concerning my sons, I want to lower my voice and deliver words in a gentle non-Italian-like manner but this does not come natural.
“(But what the hell) I will keep on trying (Dammit).”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

More Mometer

Earlier I mentioned my Mometer, pronounced like thermometer minus the THER. This amazing mechanism houses sensitive inner feelers that regulate maternal instinct. I think it is located in every cell of my body, but I am positive that Mission Control is in my heart. I assume all mothers possess this in-house sensor that can alert us for many reasons.... Let’s say your child is near danger, a kid is emotionally struggling, exaggerating or lying….those are just a few of its many functions that pop into my head. Over the weekend I experienced my Mometer signals flashing in the red zone when my son sliced his finger with his father’s pocket knife. Being four hours away from them, I perked up and started to worry, wanting to be with my son. In his voice, I heard fear and nervousness and a quick Mometer check (a slow deep breath) said I was right. He was frightened. Any medical situation will activate my maternal gadget immediately.

This same twelve year lying in the Emergency Room registered on my Mometer a couple months earlier for a totally different kind of lying. He was packing up to spend the night at his friend’s house. I walked into our dark garage and there he stood with his stuffed overnight bag, his hand dipped in one of the side pockets and a sly, guilty look on his face. My Mometer started to register; I had to pursue this situation.

“What are you doing in the garage?”

“Um, nothing.”
My signal felt stronger as I looked at his stance.

“Why is your hand in your bag? What is in there?”

“Nothing.”

He slowly removed his hand from the duffle pocket and rested it on his side. Hmmmm. I was picking up something stronger now, and my Mometer told me to dig deeper. Walking over to where he stood, I put my hand in his red bag pocket and pulled out a lighter. Busted.

“You lied to me. Why are sneaking this? Are you smoking?”

“Mom,” his voice cracked, “I know where Dad keeps the lighters and my friends told me to bring one. We were going to play with the fire pit outside. “

“How do you play with fire when there is a fire pit already lit with fire? Are you smoking?”

“No, mom. It was just for fun”.

“Is it fun to burn down your friend’s house? Is it fun to lie to me?”

My Mometer registered that he was(now)telling the truth. It sensed that he really wanted to mess with the flame. Wondering if he is a future pyromaniac, I lectured him on fire danger and how disappointed I was that he lied. He had never lied to my face before, or at least had never been caught. Feeling sad inside, I took the lighter away and glared at him showing deep disappointment with my eyes.

When I told my husband, he shrugged his shoulders and said that it was no big deal; he understood. I called my father and he chuckled saying he did the same thing when he was twelve, then he went on to tell me about his juvenile pyromania days. Both men were casual about what I thought was worth concern and punishment; but then I have never been a little boy. As a girl playing with fire was not tempting. Unbeknown to me, boys have this curious desire to control fire in all of them. Mothering two boys, I am certain that young males are accidents waiting to happen. My Mometer just confirmed it, so it must be true.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Mometer

There is so much evidence that men differ than women that I don’t know if the subject actually needs more illustration. That topical Horse status: beaten.

However, this weekend my Hubby and two boys went on a camp-out to Sequoia Lake about 4 hours from our home. It was sponsored by the YMCA Adventure Guides and a total of 65 dads and sons road-tripped to spend quality time with that other beautiful woman, Mother Nature. There was an incident that reminded me that dads are wired differently than moms.

Lucas, our twelve year old, was playing with four other boys on Friday. At dusk, Lucas and another boy were taking turns stabbing my husband’s pocket knife into a tree.

Let’s stop right there. Why is my son playing with a knife? Pocket knives are for survival or for filing a finger nail; not juvenile entertainment.

Where is the parental supervision? Absent. The dads circled 20 feet away laughing and carrying on about only God knows what.

On the fourth time Lucas shoved the knife into the tree the pocket knife collapsed and sliced the tip of his index finger. I don’t mean a paper cut, but a down-to-the-bone laceration. Long story short, he ran to my husband holding his hand up and applying pressure. I am pleased he knew how to respond…he really does listen! When he approached his Dad, it was obvious he needed to visit the Emergency Room an hour away. Ralph grabbed our other son Daniel, who was catching frogs and dripping with wet mud from the knees down, and the three of them, drove the hour into Fresno.

About 9:30PM, Friday night, I received “the call”.
Side note: In the past “the call” disclosed pertinent negative information that needed to be known. One call I received was in 2005, when Lucas chipped his permanent front tooth on the playground with the metal limbo pole. In December 2007, it was that our house had caught on fire while on vacation. In spring of 2009, “the call” informed me that Ralph was in the E.R. after a skiing accident. I hate “the call.” The main ingredient is always bad news.

The call informed me that they were in the Emergency Room and Lucas needed stitches. I was shaken up; anxious. Whenever I hear the word “hospital”, I have 1997 flashbacks of Lucas coming out of open heart surgery and staying for six months in the ICU due to complications. I have tried to recalibrate my Mometer (a complex internal device that houses maternal intuition), but I continue to have these Post Traumatic Stress Episodes when the smallest glitch occurs. Like when your son slices off his index finger….it tends to push my maternal freak-out button.
I talked to all three of my guys many times throughout the next few hours. Daniel could only talk about the frogs he had caught, particularly the frog missing an eye. I would not believe it had they not photographed the disabled little toad. Lucas was understandably frightened. At different stages of the emergency room visit I was hearing the details real time. It was like I was there.

The last time I spoke with my husband, it was almost midnight and they were leaving the hospital and going to find a hotel in Fresno (the Northern California Methamphetamine Capital). I agreed it was an excellent idea to recharge, shower and suck up a decent night’s sleep before returning to their camp adventure.
At 9:30 AM the next morning, I received “the call” from Darryl, Ralph’s buddy at camp. The guys at camp were concerned that he had not returned and he was not answering his cell phone. Hmmmm. I shared with Darryll what I knew and called Ralph the minute we hung up. Ring. Ring. Voicemail. I called again an hour later, leaving another message.

“Hey Hon, I am really concerned that I have not heard from you. It is ten AM and I am starting to worry. Darryll called from Lake Sequoia and is looking for you. Where are you? I just want to hear that you found a hotel and are all right. Pease call me! I am worrying and just need confirmation alls good. If I don’t hear from you in a couple hours, I will officially worry. Call me, love you.”

Hour one. Hour two. Three long hours later, I officially started planning my life as a widow. Ralph had not called and I just knew he was in an accident, hit head on by a drunk Fresno driver while searching for a place to stay.

Pray. Pray. Beg. Pray. I volleyed back and forth over the possibilities, and then was mad at myself for thinking such horrible thoughts. Bad things happen to good people, I know that first hand. Anything is possible. I prayed more. My girlfriend Ayndrea came over to help keep perspective. I was letting my pretty little head go in all different dark, gloomy directions.

Wanting to hear they were all alive, I called several different camp phone numbers. No luck. I left messages on other dad’s cell phones. No reception. Frustrated, I finally tracked down a lady got in touch with the walkie-talkie guy at Lake Sequoia. I explained I needed to confirm my husband and sons had returned to camp and gave them the back story on the E.R.

“Which injury did your son have?”

There was more than one? I later discovered another boy needed stitches when a tree branch ripped inside his mouth and lip.

“He cut his finger with a pocket knife,” I explained to the lady on the phone, who explained to Bob on the walkie talkie. Bob confirmed that my family had returned to camp earlier that day.

I was upset that Ralph had not thought to check in with me. When my husband and sons returned late Sunday night I saw the damaged finger all sewn back together like a rag doll. Ralph explained that they stayed in the Comfort Inn and hit the hay at one AM. The boys awoke early, begging to get back to all that fun at camp. So they jumped in the car and climbed back into the mountains away from cell phone reception. Just like that. No worries. Wife who?

I was not a widow after all. What did the new grey hairs teach me? I MUST remember that my husband does not possess a Mometer and therefore, will not make “the call” unless something is REALLY wrong. In the future, I will try to chillax and let the problems find me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oh Baby!

My two sisters (ages 35 and 43), who don’t have kids, entertain me with their married, yet childless perspectives. I wish to unveil a phenomenon discovered and probably only recognized by couples without children. I would have never zeroed in on it before, seeing as I'm personally wrapped up in my own life with kids. Both of their marriages have bumped into this friendship zapper many times as their couple friends ditched birth control and started popping out the pups. It boils down to a lifestyle change for the new parents that temporarily dissolves the couple's friendship for a long period time, hopefully not to exceed eighteen years. My sisters and their husbands have learned not to take it personally. They admit it is annoying, yet understand that it is life’s progression. They named it The Baby Blow Off.

My brother-in-law went out every Thursday night for six years with his good friend and co-worker for dinner and drinks. Whooping it up on Thursday nights was anticipated. It was a shoe-in of a fine time. This night solidified the man-love and simple joys of happy hour until the baby came along for his buddy and then PRESTO! SHAZAAM! Instantly, this new father dropped out of their date night and nobly poured himself into the world of colic and soiled diapers. Thursday night merriment came to a crashing halt after approximately three hundred gregarious memorable weeknights out.

“Couldn’t do that anymore. Damn kids.” My brother-in-law smirks with a smile.

The Baby Blow Off results in these couple-friends gravitating toward their other couple-friends with babies. When the chidless couple spends time with the new parents and baby, it understandably, is not as fun. Naturally, the new parents socialize with other people that have kids close in age. The kids entertain one another, the haggled parents commiserate together and the childless couple now feels left out -- The Baby Blow Off. My sister’s dear friend, husband and toddler have been invited to two family parties over the last year and both times the child was sick. Twice, her friend flaked on her at the last minute. Fallout from The Baby Blow Off.

The brunt of the Baby Blow Off is stronged the first two years of the child’s life and then slows, unless another baby is born and then the Blow Off timer clicks back to start. My sisters and brothers-in-law, over the years, have had to regroup with other people that don’t have children. My sister stated, after many years and instances of dealing with this reality, “If you hang in there they come around and they can do things with you again once their kids are in high school.”

My take on this life trend? Make a baby and avoid ever having to experience The Baby Blow Off. It worked for me!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Everyone's a Winner!

Attending my first class last night titled “How to Write that Book”, I realized that I know more than I thought I did.The teacher, who was a comedic writer for 30 years, writing for Bob Hope, Carol Burnette, Harvey Corman and many other big names, seems to know what he is talking about. I expected an old guy in lime polyester pants crooning about the good old days. However, he seems to be more than up to speed in the literary world. He wore a hip Hawaiian shirt, plus this old fella is still quite funny, and has published 40 books! Forty! Again, he knows what he is talking about. The only dating factor on him was that he knew nothing of blogging. I don’t know many seventy year folks who do.

This is not a creative writing class that is going to provide the magical formula to create irresistible sentences, but a course in getting organized, committing to a writing schedule and a few other writing disciplines that I need to be kicked from behind to keep moving forward on. I have a homework assignment too and it is not writing out my spelling words five times each. It’s truly productive work and will create puzzle pieces that will fit into my final literary picture. Documents like query letters and book proposals that I have wanted to create, but never made the time will be exercises in this class. Perfect.

The other benefit of leaving for three hours are the domestic perks. Last night I was not the captain on the S.S. MOTHERNAG.

“Please shut off the T.V.”
Two minutes later: “Shut off the T.V. now.”
Three minutes later yelling: “Shut off the T.V.”
(I walk over and shut if off mid-show, kids moan)
“Put your shoes and socks in your bedroom.”
“Stop playing with the dog and pick up your shoes and socks!”
“No, you can’t have more video game time.”
“Did you finish your homework?”
“Time to hop in the shower”
Screaming through the locked door, “ Lucas, lower the radio when you shower!”
“Yes, you have to wash your hair.”
“Wash your face with soap.”
“Brush your teeth”
“Did you remember your night meds?”
“Time for your nightly reading Daniel.”
“Stop crying and read, it’s a 3rd grade requirement.”
“Don’t kick your brother because he doesn’t have to keep a reading log”
“If you have to cry, go to your room. And read.”
“Is your retainer in?”

Do you understand why I have taken up writing? It is my pacifier, it keeps me borderline sane in a house of stinky deaf boys. My escape.

I returned after three hours in class and the kids were showered, homework completed, kitchen cleaned , teeth brushed and my two boys and hubby were scrunched together on the couch watching Wipe Out. Last night the only thing I had to raise was my pen to take notes, or my hand to ask a question.Everyone’s a winner!

Monday, September 14, 2009

I should...

Overwhelmed by the Super charged Mothers around me, I feel like I should be volunteering more, donating or helping mankind in some greater capacity. Guilt pools in my head, and I wish I had more energy, or a more compassionate heart, or a calling to reach out to those less fortunate. Something. At every turn I belittle myself for not giving more of my time to outside service-oriented endeavors. I guess you might say I have a bad case of The Shoulds. Most women do. You know, that nagging feeling like there is something else I SHOULD be doing as in, I should vacuum, I should volunteer at the Food Pantry, I should scratch my husband’s back, I should walk the dogs, I should be a foster parent, I should exercise more,I should be more patient or should not be so indulgent. The list goes on and on. At this rate, I should never feel contentment!

Nothing feels worse than doing something because I feel obliged or that I ought to. Yes, there are many things I WANT to do, and eventually may get to all of them, but the weight of SHOULD easily zaps the joy out of many tasks.

My mother cheered me up when I mentioned this irksome feeling years ago. She shared a valuable truth with me that every mom SHOULD tattoo on their guilty tired hearts: Christian Service begins at home. Repeat: Christian Service begins at home. With that being said, I immediately get credit for laundry, cooking, vacuuming, toilet scrubbing, carting kids around, packing lunches and helping with homework. I am no longer in the red zone of contributing to a productive society. Simply caring for my family holds merit. Suddenly all the lugging, helping, cleaning and instruction I donate to my family every day scores philanthropic points. Maybe I am not such a big lazy loser after all! I try to keep this notion in my back pocket; that serving my family is serving God. Hmmmmm….the ultimate volunteer opportunity lives under my roof. That is all I really SHOULD be doing at this point in my life. That is all I WANT to do for now.

I will stop using the “S” word, replacing it with the phrase, “I want”. As in, I WANT to clean out the refrigerator and then mow the lawn. That “S” word will not posses the power to push me down any longer. I will live my days in a state of WANTING...yes, wanting to serve my family. Annoying supermoms everywhere can lug the guilt of “should” around their waists, while they orchestrate jog-a-thons, home school four children, coach every sport team, organize world peace, bake from scratch and propose solutions to balancing the Federal budget while I simply fold socks and underwear. I revel in this simple truth; Christian service begins at home, as it SHOULD!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Boo-Boo

It was May 1995 and we were only married six months, settling slowly into our first home, when I announced that I RREEEEALLY wanted a kitty. Ralph did not raise a ruckus and the next thing I knew I was perusing the hundreds of adoptable kitties at the local animal shelter. In one of the smelly metal pens, with the jail-like door, I spotted a litter of 6 kittens. The kitten runt, if there is such a thing, was a tortoise shell cat with sweet golden eyes. She fit in the palm of my hand, only weighing in at a whopping one pound. So Tiny. So helpless. Such a squeaky little mew. I have no explanation why I named her Boo-Boo. I must have been having a Laverne and Shirley flashback. Let's just be thankful I did not name her Squiggy.

Some call it cruel to declaw a cat and I understand that. However, I grew up in a home where cats were disposable pets. My little sis loved cats and it seemed she had a new one every six months to replace the one that had never come back, or was eaten by a coyote. One innocent kitten cuddled into the warm tire well of my mother’s car and then she backed up. Time to dash back to the animal shelter for a replacement. It was heartbreaking to watch my sister mourn her loved pet over and over and over again. My parents saw little value in providing anything more than food and water then leaving the little furry darling on their own outside. I wanted a pet cat that would be around for all of her nine lives and my solution was to have my kitten spayed and declawed. As unnatural as it is to have a cat’s sharpest weapons removed, it made more financial sense than replacing the furniture every year. So off the scratchers went, along with her female bits and pieces.

Adopting a kitten from the pound is a total crapshoot. I had no idea what kind of cat I invited to be our newest family member. Boo-Boo proved to be a habitual hairball machine, barfing up cat hair clumps all year round, unlike most cats that only do it when the season turns hot. No, this cat only ramped up the heaving in Spring no matter how much I brushed her black and tan fur. I did not like cleaning up after her, but I loved this cat so kept on scraping the gunk off the rug. After a couple years my husband became disgusted by what was now only MY cat and refused to help. My quiet heroism was rewarded because Boo-Boo preferred my lap and we had a pleasant relationship, on her terms of course.

As time zipped on, I birthed our first son. Boo-Boo was indifferent to him, but I really did not trust her. I kept close watch on her as she circled the baby bouncer with her tail up, eyeballing her latest competition. Three and a half years later, another son came along and Boo-boo was starting to turn a little grey under her chin. She kept her distance from the kids. We started to drift apart because of the demands placed on me by our growing family. I still loved and cared for Boo-Boo, my husband still kicked her. But she was a resilient cat whose only concern was lounging under a sunny window or batting at a cat toy with her useless claws. Many times my husband wanted to make her an outside cat, but it did not seem right. She would be sure to lose her first fight, even though she definitely had a mean streak in her. The vet informed me later that tortoise shell cats are known for being temperamental, unsocial and nasty. That was my Boo-Boo.

The kids grew and grew and as their toddler friends visited, every little hand wanted to touch the cat, kiss the cat, hug the cat, pull the cat tail and chase the cat. Boo-boo ended up hissing at them every time with her hair standing on end and eye teeth sparkling in the light. Mean. Evil. Bad Boo-Boo. By the time my youngest son was three, she had not only swatted at kids, but starting biting in defense although the children just wanted to get close to the “kitty”. My husband still had zero tolerance for this unpleasant chuck-happy cat. I was bewildered by her as there was not a whole lot of love being exchanged between us; only the threat of her eating a child’s finger for lunch and then throwing it up in a hair ball later. The benefits of this now nine year old cat had dwindled for me too. Our contact diminished to cleaning her littler box, feeding her and praying she would not throw up or maim a child. After little cajoling Ralph convinced me to find Boo-Boo a new home. Fat Cat Chance! No one wanted this wicked child hating feline. Grieved, I agreed to send her back to where she started.

Boo-Boo was the only pet my kids had ever known and both boys were sad to say good bye as my husband loaded her cat carrier into the red Honda. I agreed it felt a bit gloomy, but explained to my sons that there was a “family in San Diego that wanted a cat and they did not have chldren and they would take good care of Boo-Boo." Lie. I explained how she had come close to hurting some kids and had a terrible hairball problem, so it was best to say good-bye. Crying as Ralph backed out of the driveway, through his tears my son shouted, “I don’t want a fish! I don’t want a fish!” That was the trade off for losing the cat; he could pick out a fish. I knew their little hearts were droopy and I invited the two of them to cuddle close to me as we reminisced about what a wonderful (tongue in cheek) cat Boo-Boo was and how much we loved her. Yes, we would truly miss her I confirmed, it was okay to cry. A few tears left my eyes in memory of what was once my one pound precious kitten with the tiny, sweet mew.

Twenty minutes later my husband pulled back into the driveway. He came to our front door and asked me to step outside to speak with him. I did, only to be told the pound was full to the brim with unwanted pets and they would not accept Boo-Boo. WHAT? How can the pound not have room? It the Animal Shelter! They rejected our reject! I know at least three cats could fit in one cat jail cubby, just shove her in one!! I was upset, now having to go back into the house and explain that Daddy got there too late and missed the Cat Train to San Diego. Another creative white lie. Boo-Boo would have to stay with us another week until the next train could deliver her to her next home. And so it was, Boo-boo continued to live with us for what would be just a short stopover before her final train ride.

The following weekend our boys were sleeping at their Auntie’s house in Pasadena. Saturday morning, Ralph jumped out of bed and called the pound, first thing. YES! They had room to accept Boo-Boo. My husband packed her up and off he sped explaining honestly to the Animal Officer why we had to return her nine years later. I knew she would never be adopted now. I felt blue for a bit, but knew it was the right decision. When the kids returned from their weekend, we shared the wonderful news that Boo-Boo boarded the cat train heading to her new life in San Diego. Then we drove to the pet store to check out the fish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy Birthday Lil' Sister

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a little sister named Candice Ann, also known as Dee Dee. She will be thirty-five on September 11th, not the best birth date to have since 2001, thanks to the Taliban. Regardless of this damper, I wish to take a moment to reflect on this lovely,unique and amazing woman.

When Candice was little she was the cutest and most animated toddler. She used to sing opera at age three to a song she made up named “La Bonya”. That loosely means “The Bathroom” in Italian. She would have the family in stitches as she belted out self-created Italian words, opera-style, as she slowly waved her chubby arms around like one of the three tenors. She continually stole the show with that gig. I admit she was an adorable character, with her grayish-blue eyes and dark brown hair. You could say she has always been a girl who knew what she likes, picking out one solitary food and only eating it. As a kid she would overdose on beans. Beans, and lots of them. Or rice. Actually one night she ate so much that she barfed up rice three separate times in three different beds all in one exhausting night. Just like a silly little kid, Candice went to bed with a wad of gum in her mouth and woke up with it stuck in her hair. Mom had to cut it out. You might say that the live entertainment she provided us lived long past her “La Bonya” opera singing stage.

Having always been an animal lover, Candice has owned many Cats. Currently she adores her cat Lucy whom she has raises with her husband Dave. Lucy is one of the many felines that Candice has nurtured during her lifetime. She devotedly cared for Harry, Gilly, Menu(pronounced Mee-new) and once had akitten that fell asleep in the tire well of the car. Candice was understandably crushed when Mom backed up. So was the cat.

I share these memories as they are what I treasure about my baby sister who is approaching thirty-five. Fortunate people call her friend, as she is a fantastic one to have. Her quick wit and dry humor are timed perfectly and being around her always makes me leave wanting more. She is an avid reader and gifted at learning languages. This is displayed in the fact she has a degree in linguistics as well as mastering her latest language; Court Reporting. Her fingers smoke on her little machine at 250 words per minute! While learning this trade, I observed Candice’s perseverance and determination.

Candice has the stamina of a race horse; once she starts running you can’t catch her. At least I can’t. She is committed to a healthy lifestyle and it is mind boggling that our family had to switch to nonfat milk because she was such a round baby. She is and always has been a big-city dweller with exquisite modern style. She loves to shop at Old Navy and Banana Republic and her generosity is displayed in her donations of old clothing to me. Affectionately they are called my “Can-Me-Downs.” I look at Candice’s gorgeous skin tone, twinkling grey-blue eyes, her classy cut and beautiful white smile that did not require a single trip to the orthodontist, and realize she could be a model. Natural beauty lives inside as well of outside her. She is warm-hearted, goofy, loves to dance, enjoys traveling and her nephews are her favorites kids on the planet. She generously treated them to a Universal Studios trip this summer and plays cards or board games with them at every opportunity. My younger son adores her and it can get embarrassing at times how he gushes over her. Maybe it is because she is so easy to love.

Her special qualities transcend the average thirty-five year old and I could not imagine my life without Candice Ann sprinkled throughout it. It is effortless to observe the many wonders of Candice Ann, the best Little Sister on Planet Earth. Happy Birthday and Cheers to you Dee Dee!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Do You Believe in Angels?

I just finished reading “A Glimpse of Heaven” by Trudy Harris. Trudy was a hospice nurse for twenty-five years and the president of the Hospice Foundation for Caring. She gave me a closer look at the final thoughts, words and visions of the terminally ill and dying. She is s strong Irish Catholic woman with amazing faith and confidence in her calling to assist people in their final days on Earth. Many of the vignette style stories left me in tears. A few of them were religiously drippy, but most kept me fascinated by the common thread of people’s emotions as they near death. Seeing deceased loved ones reaching out for the dying, or angels in the room were frequent occurrences.

I believe in angels. Not only the billowy white, winged kind that blow trumpets in the clouds, but angels on Earth, that appear to comfort the ill or dying. I say this because of what I witnessed when my son, Lucas, was a five month old baby in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UCLA. Of his five admissions, this one particular visit lasted the longest at five months and sixteen days. His babyhood included a lot of surgery, suffering, recovery and pain. Nothing close to normal, but he was resilient and we all adjusted to the chaos of living in an Intensive Care Unit for so long.

He was so tiny and not close to rolling around at 5 months, so he was kept in a regular big hospital bed that I was able to crawl into and nap with him. His bed was located in the back corner of the Intensive Care unit and this is the only location and time that I saw him respond to something that I could not see. He had been on mechanical ventilation for six weeks, with a tube down his throat, with white hospital tape across his tender baby face to keep it in place. I missed seeing his cheeks and face without the dissection of a white line across it. Many times he would be looking up and his eyes lit up as if to be watching something pleasant above his bed. Whatever he observed pulled his attention off of me. It did not add up until the tube was removed and he was given a tracheostomy allowing the breathing tube to be attached through his neck. His face was finally free and I could see the expression that was hiding under the tape all those weeks.

A handful of times, Lucas stared up and responded as if I had “cootchy-coochty-cooed “in his face, but I did not. He was smiling, gazing up at the air around him, eyes wide open with life and following something. He appeared content and enjoying whatever it was. When I looked, nothing was there, but his attention stayed on what I think was an angel of comfort sent to my little one during this stressful time. You can call me crazy, dramatic, or delirious, but I promise something was present that only his innocent eyes were open too. It soothed my heart and eased my pain to think that our loving Father was consoling Lucas in such a special way. Because I was personally touched by this heavenly dimension, I am able to stand firm on my belief that angels really do exist.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

For the Love of Honda!

Do you remember your first car?

My premier buggy was an ancient Ford Fiesta that was cherry red and I had to prop myself on a phone book to see over the windshield. Not my proudest moment. It was a stick shift, as my dad refused to buy me a car with an automatic transmission should I ever be stranded in the desert with only a stick shift to escape in. It was his version of Daughter Survival of the Fittest. Dad also made me change the tire on my Fiesta, because it is something EVERYONE should know how to do. My red Fiesta was the perfect tin-can of a starter car and I liked it, not loved it. Heck, I was just happy to have a car and a cassette player to listen to 80’s bands like Heaven 17, Howard Jones, and ABC, while cruising my know-it-all seventeen year old self to school or my posse of girlfriends to the beach where we would glaze ourselves in baby oil, hoping for some color. Any shade would do, like RED. Oh, and don’t forget the Sun-In bottle, nothing looks better than a sunburn with orange brassy hair to match. I was so young and stupid.

The first car I LOVED was the best gift ever on my eighteenth birthday. My dad and I drove a couple cities over to the Honda dealer and he cajoled with an older car salesman. A 1986, brand new silver, two door (stick shift, of course) Honda Accord was what I drove off the lot. Only 9 miles on the speedometer! It was an unforgettable day. This car would house some of the zaniest memories of my teens and early twenties. If this car could talk I would force it to be quiet, not wanting to recall how foolish I was back in the day.

Attending one of the largest California State Universities in the 1980’s, parking was next to impossible to find, despite paying 80 bucks a semester for the privilege of driving through lot after lot, never finding a spot until I was late to class. My sophomore year, I had to squeeze, and I mean, really sucked it in, to fit my silver Honda into the only spot I could locate after circling the parking structure 14 times. It was not an ideal spot, leaving only inches for error on both sides. The jerk next to me had not parked within the white lines, so of course I was out of the boundaries as well. That jerk came and went and the next frustrated student to squish into the smidgen of parking space was assuming it was me who started this horrible parking arrangement. This irate driver had angry words to share that he NEVER wanted me to forget. Down the metal frame of the passenger side door he “keyed” the words, “you park like an A** HOLE”. It was like an unwanted tattoo.

I am not sure I was ready for the responsibility of a brand new car at a mere eighteen. I had a pin collection that I poked in the ceiling above the rear view mirror. Inspirational messages like “Of all the things I’ve lost, it’s my mind I miss the most.” I would be at a loss for words if my kid hung that up in their car. Honestly, I just found that little saying creative and funny, that’s all. My pierced ceiling was my temporary tattoo that I chose to display.

This customized Honda made the road trip to the Del Mar Racetrack, where my three other friends and I won over $700. In college, that seemed like thousands of dollars, so there was only one thing to do. Go to Las Vegas! We ran back to San Diego, packed our bags and drove through the night arriving at 4:30AM. We shared a room at the El Rancho that we renamed the El Rauncho. Our winnings did not go very far, but we had a blast. Driving home in our bathing suits through the scorching hot desert with the windows down, I relished the lack of restrictions that came with being twenty-two. The Silver Honda did not have air conditioning, but I can’t complain, as I was the only person with a reliable enough car to carry us on these thrilling adventures.

I was not concerned about aesthetics with my Honda, only fixing something when I absolutely had too. A pristine show car, she was not. As long as she was running reliably, I was content. Somewhere along the way, I lost a hubcap. I drove without the hubcap for a semester or two before a friend gave me one as a Christmas Present. Something had happened with the passenger side window and it would not roll down evenly. It stayed that way until the day she died. Looking back I coulda- shoulda taken much better care of the first car I felt attached to and loved so much.

Sad to say that my Honda was parked innocently on the corner of a somewhat busy street, while I was in the nearby restaurant ordering burritos to go. I watched out the window as a large truck turned right and crunched the back left corner of my faithful car and shoved it about 10 feet. It was ten years old at this point and had more mileage and precious life memories inside than a senior citizen's bus. I won’t lie; this little accident was a blessing. Because of its age and the damage done, the insurance company paid me the blue book value on it, considering it to be “totaled”. Jackpot! Despite having profanity scratched into it, a broken window, and a customized pin collection in the ceiling, I STILL recovered more money for what was now a heap than I could have ever sold it for.

It is no surprise that the next car I purchased was a red Honda Accord. This time I was twenty-six, engaged to my wonderful husband and decided on a four door, but still a stick shift, because it was what we could afford. I was ready to grow up and behave as an adult, treating my car with the love and respect it deserved. That Honda lasted 15 years, but did not come close to the neglect and carefree times that my first Honda and I shared. There is nothing like your first beloved set of wheels.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Something's Fishy

I want to share with my faithful following of three: Cara, Mirella and Kathy, something about my blog that I just discovered. See my blog fish tank in the upper right hand corner? Of course you do. Now feed my fish….go ahead, put your mouse over the tank and left click. Orange tiny fish food appears and the fish see it and all hustle to the meal you prepared them in just one click. Put a lot of food pieces in there, click, click,click,click,click...watch those hungry swimmers go wild, racing to the food. If you click repeatedly all over the tank, the fish create water rings as they rise to the surface for dinner. It is such simple entertainment, that doesn’t get old for a least a solid sixty seconds.

Why can’t cooking dinner be that easy? I dream that in one click the food is ready and my family eagerly arrives at the dinner table, so darn enthusiastic about eating the same exact meal I clicked for them the night before and the night before that. There are no complaints about green beans, whining about finishing their milk, or grumbling why they don’t like what I prepared. Like computer fish, they adore eating the same thing every day and actually become conditioned, getting energized when they see me approaching the fish tank, um, I mean dining room. I would never run low on meals. Stealing away to the kitchen, I would grab my mouse and click up another bowl of magic people-fish food they all faithfully crave. Precisely like my virtual fish, my family would not find fault in my cooking, just a thankfulness that I was there providing another meal for their daily feeding. After I was done clicking dinner, I'd sit back and watch while they devour those magic morsels they can’t to get enough of.

I don’t know about your family eating environment, but mine is nothing like my blog fish tank. But I can imagine this wacky dream, even if it sounds a little fishy.