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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Stroll Down Memory Lane

January 1, 1981       8 years old

Dear Diary,
today is new year's. 
I spent the night at my friend's house. 
We had fun.
we ate at grandparents.

that's all I have to say!
good-by

June 9, '82

Dear Diary,
For the last couple of days we've been studying the Gold Rush, it's hard.
I have to go to bed now
good-bye!

Aug. 20, '83

Dear Diary,
Today we went to "Knotts Berry Farm". 
It was fun but my Mom is leaving for San-Francisco
Tommorrow. I miss her a lot.  She bought me a lot of stuff today it was fun

Well
       gotta
                jam
Bye

And so it began, my passion for writing, a passion that has continued to be ignited by the fire that blazes within my soul.  The entries above are completely accurate, down to the type-o's and misspellings.  Not too bad for a beginner. Of all the writing I have done in my life, my journals provide more entertainment and insight than anything I else I have written so far.

I have kept a journal, better known as "Dear Diary" for 31 years now.  I have not always been faithful to daily entries, and more often than not, I have written in spurts, usually when I am struggling with something or someone.  Isn't that always the case, seems I have always written like a real media person since I was 8 years-old, going for the most shocking, scintillating and sensational tale.  I mean, c'mon-the story about new year's, the friend's house, the fun?  Doesn't get much more provocative than that...

I would offer up some more of my entries from my tween and early teen years, however to protect the innocent (including myself) I choose to omit those bits.  Suffice it to say, most of the pages are filled with triumph (meeting a new boy, falling in love AGAIN) and tragedy (breaking up with said boy and having my heart broken, AGAIN).  There are also juicy tidbits of gossip and name-calling about friends and enemies alike. 

The funny thing is that when I look back on that time in my life, I can see that often, I wasn't being completely honest for fear that someone might discover my journals, read them and know what I was really up to...which was relatively benign and harmless.

It wasn't until I reached high school that the pages began to fill with more deeply emotional thoughts and pleas for advice from the floral fabric covered book that I hoped would surely hold all the answers.  I began to confide my true feelings, perhaps secretly hoping they might be discovered.

There are seven of them, these chapters from my life, each one telling a different story, all deeply personal and reflective and in my own words, covering the span of the past 30 years.

Initially I started looking for my journals to use as a tool for research and ideas for short stories or perhaps for that book I am (still) working on.  I thought maybe I could shape a character by using anecdotes from my past, but what I remembered as I read through the pages, is that I suffered from deep sadness and depression in my latter teen years, that frankly, I am amazed I was able to escape.  I suppose I could channel that energy again, but reliving that stuff...it just puts a bad taste in my mouth.  Could make for a good novel though, we'll see.

When I finished the fourth book, it really stirred up a great deal of emotion.  That was such a difficult time in my life, there were major transitions like moving in with my dad, changing schools for the fifth time, questions about love and comments on sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, quite literally.  A lot of crazy stuff started happening when I got into high school during the late '80's.

I realized that I compartmentalized that part of my life because those memories were so cumbersome and painful.  They held me back from moving on with my life.  Instead, I talked myself into thinking that my teenage years weren't all that bad and that I lived a pretty cushy life. 

These handwritten pages suggest otherwise.

But I am resilient, this I know for sure.  Now I can read those entries without being dragged down because I recognize how much I have changed.  All those experiences have served me in some way, they have allowed me to grow and accept myself, shortcomings and all.  Through my darkest hours, I could still see light.  I still had hope that I could overcome obstacles and face the challenges that held me back. Something inside gave me strength to alter the patterns that had become deeply ingrained in my psyche and I persevered. 

One of the things I am grateful for now, is that when I interact with kids today, my own included, I feel like I have a better understanding of what they might be going through.  Things haven't changed all that much in the past 25 years in terms of how teens relate to each other. 

The means of communication and the terminology may have changed (texts, emails, etc.) but the emotions are still the same. I feel like I might have a better grip on what they are thinking about because I have physical evidence of what I was thinking and feeling at that age.  That, and a WHOLE lot of psychology and sociology classes under my belt!

Don't get me wrong, there were many good times, but I can still remember the times I felt so lost and empty inside, and I know that even the most well-adjusted kids can struggle with issues of self-esteem and loneliness.  It's an exceptionally trying time, those teenage years, and no one is immune.

Carpe diem, is the motto I live by.  I have learned through vivid and emotionally traumatic experiences in my own life that right now, this very moment, is really all that we can know for certain.  But, looking back has allowed me to see how far I have come.  I have grown, changed and overcome my past like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a very dark and scary place.

Reflecting on our own history is the only way we can change our future. If you kept a diary, I urge you to find it and look back on the days when you struggled to fit in, find yourself and get through the day.  I promise, it will give you both laughter, tears and an opportunity to understand yourself and your own kids a little bit better than before.

If you never kept a journal, it's never too late to start. I am thankful every day, that I have kept a record of my life.  I am grateful that I can look back and harness those memories, and take with them the lessons that each one can offer.   

Although I still keep a handwritten journal, the entries have become few and far between.  Instead, I've chosen to share my thoughts and ideas in a very public manner, via this blog...which (in cast you didn't know) stands for "Web Log" otherwise known as an "online diary." 

Although I am fairly certain that my writing has improved since I was eight, why fix something that was never really broken?

So in keeping with the standard theme...I leave you with this.

Dec. 1,'11              39 years old

Dear Diary,
Today is December 1 and the holidays are here.
I think they will be really neat.
I hope I get some really cool stuff.
I really like my readers, they are cool too.
Today was fun.
That's all I have to say.
Good-bye.

Monday, November 21, 2011

And the stockings were hung...Well at least the lights were.

It's November 21 and my Christmas lights are hung.

Thank goodness for the efficient team known as "The Lite Guys" who called me two weeks ago to set up the date.  Turns out this is the first time the twinklers have been up before Thanksgiving! 

I am so excited because this is, for me, the single best way to kick off the holiday season.  I LOVE the lights and all the accoutrements that go with decorating for Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa, whatever you celebrate.   This is the time of year when we seem to let our hearts soften a bit and we remember to give thanks and appreciate the ones we love.

It is also the beginning of what can surely be defined as blissful chaos.  Try as we might, planning ahead for things like Christmas shopping and filling out cards, often is just a thoughtful idea.  Most of us scramble around in a frantic state of panic trying to complete all of the tasks on our lists.  That's if we are lucky enough to remember to make one!  We should look to dear old St. Nick...he works on his list all year long!

Making lists are essential for me, but I sometimes forget what is most important...making my list of priorities.  All this being said, one of the things at the top of my personal agenda is trying to remain focused and get back on track with writing.  It seems that everyday distractions like my kid getting a lollipop stuck in her hair or the boy needing a ride to some friend's house can completely derail any attempt at actually putting words to thoughts and thoughts to paper...well alright, a computer screen really. 

So I wonder, is now the time of year to think about resolutions instead of January first?  Well that's such a confusing word, it sets us up for disappointment almost immediately because the connotation associated with a "resolution," is that it's almost always something that we dread doing. 

Instead, why not focus on the positive aspects and potential changes that a resolution can make in our lives.  We can start by redefining what the word resolution means to us.  Changing the terms, conditions and meaning is one way. For example we can make small daily resolutions that are much easier to stick to rather than overwhelming plans for massive changes over the course of a year.

For me, perhaps it means that I resolve to be easier on myself when I don't write.  Maybe I give myself a little more slack if when I do write, it's not absolutely perfect.  Maybe I let myself enjoy the mere fact that I have taken the time out of my busy life to nurture my soul and spirit by doing something I love to do.  Maybe it means that I set some attainable goals and forgive myself if I don't reach them, and then keep trying anyway.

What kind of resolution are you setting for yourself?  Maybe you want to smile more, get up 15 minutes earlier, stop caffeine, start making lists or maybe it's just to cut yourself a little slack in life.  Whatever it is, try to make it something you will feel both satisfaction and joy when trying to accomplish your intention.  And forgive yourself if you don't meet the desired goal, and just keep on truckin' along. 

So today, make a tiny resolution, one that you're sure you can keep.  Today, resolve to give yourself a hug and remember all the wonderful qualities that you have.  Remember that this is the season of caring which also means caring for yourself.  Remember that the holidays are about so much more than gifts and crowded shopping malls.  Channel your inner Clark Griswold, hang those lights (or call The Lite Guys)  and remember to enjoy the all the vivid illuminated splendor of the garish over-the-top holiday decor that only comes around this time of year! 

And now I bid you adieu and it is with great anticipation that I await thet sun setting so that I can see my own Christmas lights twinkling and sparkling in the cool winter night... 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reunions: Part Deux

Well, it came and went, my Jr. High Reunion.

And, I am happy to report that given the intense build-up and a little bit of drama pre-event (courtesy of nearly three months of threads on a Web page filled with witty, racy, and sometimes misinterpreted banter), it seems as though all of those in attendance had zero regrets about coming, in fact it was such a success that like an ending to a prolific sitcom like "Cheers,"  there are already spin-off reunions happening that I suspect will have the same kind of success...a la "Frasier."

The power of the Internet, and Facebook in particular, allowed us to reach about 350 people and the night brought together well over 100 of us, our tight little community from Santa Ana. 

Friends came from as far away as the East Coast and as near as the same city in which they reside.  We all gathered together to reminisce about our youth and catch up on the happenings of today.

I can honestly say that I was more than pleasantly surprised at how smooth the transition into comfortable conversations was after not seeing one another for the better part of 25 years.  Of course, some small groups of friends had kept in close contact but for the most part people had lost touch.  And once we were all in the same room together again, it felt like old times...literally.

Which begs the question; How much do we really change?  I mean of course we change, but do the people who knew us in our most awkward and challenging years, get over the stereotyping and labels we used to put on one another?  We are all guilty of it but I would hope that after over two decades, those pre-conceived ideas and notions about our fellow classmates would no longer exist, and I felt that for the most part, that was the case. 

I think that has a lot to do with the age we are now, most of us in our late 30's and early 40's are FINALLY comfortable in our own skin and I know that I strive to be the kind of person who stays away from both judgement and gossip...Mainly because when I act that way, I feel like complete shit.  I am not always successful and will find myself caught up in stories and rumors just like we all do but I can honestly say that this is one area that I am REALLY trying to be consistent, and I am REALLY trying to always look for the best in people.  I find that maintaining a positive and optimistic attitude helps me get through my days, especially in the world we live in.

I think navigating the halls of middle school while trying to navigate the horror of puberty and adolescence is a hairy (no pun intended) and complicated path to follow.  We are all walking around, completely insecure and worried about every minute detail of our appearance and status, and we are so consumed by these thoughts that we forget to have fun and laugh.  Friendships we had as children were fractured and broken once we entered the halls of Jr. High. 

Now, as adults we can finally see all of the wonderful qualities our fellow classmates have, without the same kind of baggage that we carried around during those painfully emotional teenage years. 

Now we can relate to each other on so many levels, as parents of kids and teenagers, and we can see ourselves as friends and allies. 

Now we can appreciate our differences and respect them.

I can say this, I was a very different girl back then.  I was struggling with my own demons and even though I might have appeared to have had it all together, I learned how to be a pretty good actress.  Now, that 25 years has passed, I am not afraid to be myself, take it or leave it.  I am not afraid to smile, laugh and act like a complete goofball.  I am not afraid to be friends with the underdog or to speak my mind.  I am finally in a place where I can be my true self and for that I am eternally grateful.

Coming away from this reunion, I felt a renewed sense about my childhood and teenage years.  It gave me reassurance that as I watch my own children begin to navigate the world of youth and adolescence, I am hoping that they too, will walk away relatively unscathed...or at least with minor emotional scars. Those wounds come with experiences and friendships that will help shape and define their lives in more ways than they know and although I would not want to go back to that time in my life, I feel confident that I can help them realize that "this too, shall pass" in times of sorrow and struggle.  I can also remind them to cherish the moments laughter and joy in childhood, because we all know they are fleeting.

And once again, this blog is dedicated to my dear old friends and classmates from Willard Jr. High in Santa Ana...

Until we meet again,

Cheers!




 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Is Your Next Trip to the Library Long Overdue?

My affection and affinity for the library and my love of reading began when I was around four or five.  I used to wait anxiously for the "Book Mobile" to set up shop along side the playground at the park across the street from my house.  In fact, I am pretty sure I thought that all libraries were rolling school buses with card catalogs, the Dewey Decimal System and shelves stacked with books.  It really was the coolest.

I remember I would ride my bike over and check out as many books as I could carry and load into my white plastic basket.  Then I would pedal home feverishly, spread them out on the carpet in the living room and marvel at the treasures I would have in my possession, well for two weeks at least.  Each one represented a new adventure and I couldn't wait to delve into the pages of every single one.

Some weekend mornings I would wake up at dawn and throw on some warm clothes, usually a robe and socks right over my pajamas and gather up a few of my favorites from that week's selection. Once again I would hop on the old purple Schwinn with the flowered banana seat and sissy handlebars, load up the basket and return to the scene of the crime...well the park that is.  And really, is checking out 15 books at once really a sin?  I hardly think so.

Anyway, I would ride around the park a few times to warm up and then settle in on a bench near the old faded tennis courts, another of my favorite places but we'll save tennis stories for another day.

I would spend about an hour combing through the pages of each book, carefully memorizing the pictures and words and imagine myself flying on a magic carpet, fighting swash-buckling pirates or pretending to be a friends with a talking cat in a giant red and white hat!  Gotta love Dr. Suess. 

Eventually I would start to get cold and a bit hungry so I would make my way back home, usually to find my mom sipping coffee and scanning the newspaper.  I guess she figured that since I was making good use of my time by reading and such, why worry that I had been in a park, alone, at six in the morning...Seriously folks, it was a different time and I can't fault her for that!  And by gosh, I was a rather industrious seven-year-old, if not a tad bit on the odd side.

So as years passed on, my relationship with the library ebbed and flowed like the ocean tides, sometimes quite close and powerful, other times, weak and rather lackluster. 

I checked out a book once, in 1991.  I forgot to return it and got some fairly threatening letters from the Anaheim public library and if I remember correctly, they reported me to a collection agency.  The amount of guilt and embarrassment I felt was a bit ridiculous but I thought I had betrayed the one social institution I could always count on...hey, If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.

So, when I found that book about ten or so years ago, wouldn't you know, I returned it.  Still ashamed of my indiscretion, I dropped it in the box outside.  I can only imagine the librarian's reaction to discovering this hardback, long since forgotten, had been returned to its rightful owner...Ah, the relief I felt, guilt purged and once again, I could rekindle my relationship with my long lost love.  I signed up for my library card in Huntington Beach and haven't looked back.

The HB Central Library proved to be an invaluable asset when I was going to college.  The resources were unlimited and I could find whatever I needed to compile the perfect paper, and I found peace when I needed to study statistics and algebra (not my strongest subjects).  And now as my son navigates through middle school, we find ourselves once again, checking out books on topics ranging from old U.S. presidents to science to fiction.  And once again, we can find whatever we need, right at our fingertips.

Now when I have the time, I love nothing more than to stroll down the aisles looking through subjects ranging from self-help, history, and cooking to the latest works of fiction.  I even put myself on the waiting list for a book today.  It's a trashy novel I can't wait to start!  C'mon, I never said I was some sort of intellectual reader but I am proud to admit that I did read a little bit about Henry the VIII today and toyed with the idea of checking out a book on poems by Robert Frost...but hey, I'm not that highbrow.

One can only aspire...

I love sharing this place with my children and teaching them that the library is consistent and secure.  You can always find answers to your questions, entertain your mind and enlighten your soul. 

Don't get me wrong, I still love to buy books but there is something uniquely special about the library.  Maybe it's the sense of community, maybe it's the ambiance, or maybe it's just a place that induces and provokes fond memories from my childhood and a love of reading and writing, now more than ever. 

So if your relationship with the library has been on hiatus, I think it might be a good time to revisit and old friend.  Start slowly and build it back up, remember you only have to stay committed for three weeks! But beware, don't be late because if you cross her...you will have to pay, in overdue fees that is. 

Good news friends, she doesn't hold a grudge!

Friday, September 16, 2011

How Does She Do It?

There is a new movie out this weekend called "I Don't Know How She Does It," starring Sarah Jessica Parker.  Well, in real life SJP does it with a full-time staff, but that's another story.  We are talking about real women, not the ones who play them on TV or in the movies.

No, we real women are struggling every day, trying to meet the needs of all the people in our lives, often sacrificing the hopes and dreams of the three that are most important: Me, Myself and I.

For those of you men out there reading this...Fear not, I will not be bashing you.  I am speaking from my perspective-that of a woman's, therefore my perception is from that stand point.  I do not discriminate against our male counterparts, nor do I suffer from Freud's theory of penis envy.  But I have to admit, I wouldn't mind trading places for a day, I mean just to see what it's like to pee standing up. 

I am just stating the opinion of one woman sprinkled with colorful ideas shared among other women who have experienced many of the same feelings and circumstances that I have.

So this begs the question, really "how does she do it?" I'm afraid that the answer is not so simple.  In the real world, most women juggle careers and family, while trying to find some space for themselves which is often the last and most challenging part. 

See, somewhere along the way, we (women) decided that we must be able to "have and do it all," at once, that is.

I do believe it's possible to "have and do it all," but I am not so sure that it can be accomplished all at the same time.  I think that there are different stages where the various pieces of the puzzle fit together nicely and things run quite smoothly.  I think there are other stages in our lives where you've only got three corners of a 1000 piece brainteaser and the picture on the box is torn off.

Let me share...So as we've discussed before, I went to college for the better part my adult life, from age 20 to 35.  During that time, I was married, bought a house, worked, had a kid, worked and tried to create harmony and balance in my life. 

It's all sort of blurry because the time tends to creep along while you are in it and then -poof- it's suddenly over.  Well, I can remember this much, it wasn't easy.  There was an awful lot of stress, self-imposed I might add.  Learning to depend on others was quite challenging for me.  Surrendering expectations and allowing things to flow is still something that I constantly struggle with.

So when I graduated, I did it with honors and an award of Professional Promise from my academic department at Cal State Fullerton.  I try not to boast about these accolades but damn it, I worked my ass off for them and once in a while it's nice to mention.  Miss Piper came along nine months later and suddenly my career path and ideas about my future changed completely.  My diploma is hanging on the wall above this very computer, but the award is collecting dust in a cabinet somewhere in this house. 

I had the opportunity to become a stay-at-home mother which was something I had only dreamed of when Gavin was young.  The first six months were truly filled with bliss.  Even with the lack of sleep, Piper was an easy baby and Gavin was a great kid, already quite self sufficient and easy to please. 

But...after 20 years in the work force and 15 of those spent in the academic world, I definitely got itchy and frustrated with trying to figure out what to do with myself.  The transition to being at home was not an easy one and the part of me that wants "it all" still struggles daily with not having an office or a specific place to be. 

See, I am one of those who thrives on structure, in fact I NEED it.  Now that my kids are getting older, I toy with the idea of going back to work but then I realize that, probably now more than ever, I need to be available to my kids, especially my nearly 13 year-old. In order to remain focused,  I must create my own structure which is very difficult at times.  I find that making lists and goals is one way of staying on task.  I have heard that following a routine is key.  It takes self-discipline, not my strongest quality.  I am better at "managing people" (okay, so I am a little bossy) so in the times I am home alone, I have to remind myself what my "job" requirements are.  This can be tricky but I do my best.  Hey, already did three loads of laundry this morning, check!

I chose to become a mother and therefore, making certain sacrifices is part of the deal.  We all make sacrifices as parents and it is a humbling experience at the very least.  Our ideas of who and what we thought we would be change the instant a child enters our world.  Another reason why having kids after age 30 is a good idea, that way you can fulfill your dreams of becoming a trapeze artist, professional roller skater or fashion designer before the kidlets come along (wait, was that just me)?

On the flip side of things, being able to stay at home has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my writing and inspired me to take chances that I may not have taken if I had still been working in the corporate world...Okay, I know the surf industry is not that "corporate" but I did pay my dues with the 9-5 work days, travel and meeting professional surfers.  Wait, that suddenly doesn't sound so bad!

My job definitely didn't suck but I saw it as more of a transition to what would become my "dream career," but little did I know, as of now~that was a career of sorts. 

Now that I am home, I feel like I can't win.  Some are quick to criticize, saying that I lead a life of leisure, others argue that I am doing the hardest job in the world.  There is an ongoing fight between stay-at-home and working parents and I am equally sad and angry that there is even a debate.  Every parent knows how hard it is to make the decision to work or not, and for most, it's not an option.   I have been on both sides of the fence and I can say without a doubt,  each situation is difficult and challenging, but also rewarding and satisfying.

Blowhards like Dr. Laura would tell you that you are doing an absolute disservice to your children by working but what that nut job doesn't take into consideration (as she sits in her huge home spewing off advice with a cold heart and self-righteous attitude), is that people have bills to pay and mouths to feed.  And, they actually might like, dare I say, LOVE what they do.  And guess what, they can still be amazing parents.

So for me, at this stage in my life, I do have it all, all that I need, that is.  Life is unpredictable and it leads us back full circle in knowing that there is only one thing you can count on for sure...Change.  So being in the present is key to recognizing we are perfect right where we are.   And even if things are not perfect right now, we can take comfort in knowing that we can depend on the one constant we have. 

And even though we think we must be on every committee, bake cookies for the class, submit an extraordinary proposal, dress to the nines, have perfect hair, a spotless house and the perfect relationship, know in your heart that what really matters is what you already have.  You might have to dig around a little to uncover it, but I promise you that it's there.

And don't be afraid to depend on the people around you. Relinquish your hold on every little detail and you might be surprised and delighted in knowing that you don't have to "do it all," alone that is, and you can still "have it all."

And that my friends, is how she does it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to school...

Summer is certainly a time for relaxing and enjoying warm sunny weather and lazy mornings. 

Unless you have kids.

We all think that summer is going to be a welcome respite from our usual hectic schedules but for all of us who are parents or caretakers of kids, we know there is no such thing.  In fact, summer tends to be the time we are the busiest. 

Whether you are a stay-at-home or working parent, your days are filled with shuttling your kids or arranging rides to and from various theme parks, friend's houses, camps, summer school, the mall~the list is endless. 

You see, kids-at least the smaller ones-don't know the meaning of "slowing down and taking it easy."  They are rip-roaring and ready to go as soon as they wake up, at least the ones under age 10.  The older ones are content to sleep until noon and then, just when you are ready for a nap they are asking for a ride or to have friends over (I might be speaking from personal experience here...)

This is where I am caught in the cross hairs of a very loaded shotgun.  You see, my children are nine years apart...yes, nine years.  We did this on purpose, to a certain extent.  We started out with the intention of having our kids about three years apart but then three became five and five became seven and then the ole' biological clock started not just ticking but rather POUNDING and well...I wanted another baby.

This took some convincing on Chris's part because our life had gotten so very easy.  We were traveling again, our nights were filled with peaceful sleep and diapers, wipes and high chairs were looooonnnnnng gone.  Or so we thought.

There was a bit of a baby boom among my friends and I wanted to hop on board the mystery ship.  What, with turning 35, the illusion of running out of time was on the forefront of my mind.  I was also graduating from college after the better part of 15 years and really, school was one of the reasons we had waited to have a another crumb cruncher. 

Turns out, I happen to be pretty lucky in the fertility department (which, incidentally I am very grateful for) and got pregnant almost immediately~a graduation present if you will.

So when my daughter was born nine months later, we became a family of four.  Well actually seven if you include the dogs and hamster...wait I think the hamster was dead.   Well six I guess.  Anyway, we were blessed to complete our family with 2.0 children (who gets a .5 kid anyway).

Now here I am, staying home with my kids, probably busier than I have ever been in my life.  My heart and respect goes out to those women that work and have kids because it's tough any way you slice it.  If you aren't the one driving them around, you are arranging for them to be driven.  Schedules and classes and friends!   Ugh~it's enough to make you want to scream sometimes. 

With one kid in 7th grade and one in preschool, I am starting to see the light again and this train is chugging along just like the "Little Engine That Could."  I have at least 15 more summers ahead of me but hey, this is what I signed up for, right?  Didn't we all?

This is really what it's all about and the time is surely fleeting.  I mean, look how fast this summer went?

When our kids head back to their classrooms, that's the time that we actually get a break, until Christmas vacation at least! 

And, like the sound of enchanted melodies from our favorite musicians, to most of us parents hearing the phrase "back to school," never sounded so sweet.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gratitude and glasses

Lately I have been feeling a little down in the dumps.  Everyone goes through a funk every now and then, some more than others.  I tend to be an eternal optimist but even I can suffer from a bout of the blues once in a while, sometimes the glass is only half full. 

When I was younger, I went through some turbulent times as I am sure most of you have too.  It builds character, gives us gumption, right?  I hope so.  The experiences we have shape our lives and the people we are now.  I wouldn't trade 'em because I really believe that all things, good and bad, give us an opportunity to learn, to grow. 

So today, I thought that instead of focusing on the ugly, I would make a list of things I am grateful for. 

I am grateful for the sound of my Pug's snoring downstairs, because I know that means she's content and full.

I am grateful for my ears because I can hear the soulful sweet music playing downstairs, "Into the Mystic," now that's good stuff.

I am grateful for my eyes because I can see the green leaves on the trees outside my kitchen window, because I know that Autumn is coming, the colors will change and the leaves will fall reminding me that I am also going through the seasons of my life and that each one is precious and a gift.

I am grateful for my fingers because they are my most creative appendages, they allow me to put the words in my head down in print to share with others.

I am grateful for my cat who is sitting nearby, grooming her soft fur, and that reminds me of comfort and love from my childhood.

I am grateful for the unmade beds in my house because I have a warm place to sleep at night.

I am grateful for my mother who gave me life and who is always there for me, who gets me and all my crazy and loves me even more.

I am grateful for my father who I know is watching over me now and who I will miss forever until we meet again, and also because he taught me how to work a vice and a screwdriver.

I am grateful for my children because they are truly the funniest people I know and without laughter, what's it all about anyway?

I am grateful for patience because my husband has a lot of it and without him, I would not be the woman I am today.

I am grateful for my friends and family and their love and ongoing support.  Making dreams come true all by yourself is no fun.

I am grateful for so many things, this list could go on and on and on. 

What a lucky girl I am.

So today, think about what you are grateful for and maybe make a little list. 

My dear friend Amber always reminds me to count your blessings because someone always has it worse than you, and you know she's right.   

We tend to pick and point out the worst parts of ourselves, our days, our friends...maybe just today you see the glass is half full.

My cup runneth over...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Focus, or at least I am trying to.

Good morning and happy Saturday!

If you are like me, you might suffer from a little ADD or OCD, which can be bothersome at times but I prefer to remove the negative connotation and re-frame it in a more positive light....how about "Effective Multi-tasker?"

Let me explain. 

Take cleaning the house for example.  One would assume that it might be best to start in one room, finish that task and then move on to the next.  My logical brain tells me that's the ideal plan, however my scatterbrain suggests otherwise. Perhaps I start out with this plan in mind and although the execution is off to a great start, the phone rings and I have to answer it. 

If the phone is next to the computer, I might check my email.  Then the email might mean that I need to answer a pressing question from a friend or colleague.  Then I remember that I need to pay the bills so the drawer opens up and out they come.  Then I realize that the drawer needs to be cleaned out and as all the paperwork is spread out on the carpet, I spot a picture of an old friend.  Ahhhh memories.

Then I open the cupboards and begin to search for those photos that I need to gather for my upcoming reunion.  Piles of albums build up on the counter and then I remember...Ah, those photos are downstairs.  I run down to the closet like the Tasmanian Devil and take out the vacuum and wrapping paper.  They must be in here somewhere.  Nope, they must be in the garage in the file cabinet.  I take out all the files and no, not there either.  Oh yeah, just remembered.  In the box under the bed.  Back upstairs I go, only I've left a trail of crap like Hansel and Gretal left breadcrumbs, at least I found my way back to my room where it all started.

I gather up all the laundry and put it in the hamper.  I then straighten the books,  make the bed and remember what I need to focus on:  Cleaning the house. Instead, what I have done is created an even bigger mess.  So it's back to the computer room to organize the bills, put the albums away, run downstairs to close the drawers, shove the wrapping paper and vacuum back in the closet, and finally back to the garage to jam the file folders into the cabinet.

What was I doing again?

Now it's probably been about two hours of this nonsense and what have I accomplished?  Hmmmm.

I suddenly have a great idea for a blog. 

Now that my friends is "Effective Multi-tasking."

I sure hope the phone doesn't ring.







Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The Help," A film review...

I went to see "The Help" yesterday. 

I was prepared for a movie that would make me laugh...that's pretty much all I had heard about it other than that the book was amazing.  I was NOT prepared for the lump that would remain steadfast in my throat nearly the entire film.

I can't speak for the book because I haven't read it, but I intend to.  I can say that this movie was one of the best I have seen in a long time.  The last two pieces of cinema magic I saw before it were "Horrible Bosses" and "The Change-up."  What can I say, I'm an easy audience and I do like to laugh.

But, this kind of movie is the kind that sticks with you.  After we left the theater and sat down at a table outside, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law and I talked about it over a late lunch.  We all agreed that was the kind of story that needs to be told and that the acting was superb.

There were so many messages conveyed through the film, from the deep bonds of sisterhood, to the ongoing and tumultuous segregation and racist issues during that time, to the notion of hope and love crossing over the boundaries of skin color and cultural oppression. 

The truth is, watching how these some of these characters portrayed by white women and they way that they treated their black maids with utter disgust and disdain, as though they were not human, made me feel absolutely sick to my stomach.  Knowing that was really only 60 years ago, well that's even more frightening.

The book may have been a work of fiction, but the stories were certainly founded on reality and the lives that African American people led in the South back in the 1950's.

But there was also the message of both hope and redemption and that the gap between black and white would slowly begin to close.  

I can never imagine what it would have been like to live like that, to not have every opportunity to become whoever I wanted and to not have basic rights that every person, every woman, deserves just because my skin was dark.  To have my hopes and dreams shattered by the ignorant minds of those that controlled the government and the people, well as I said, it's unimaginable. 

I am hoping that this movie will lend itself as a vehicle to the masses, some of which may still harbor hate and prejudice in their hearts, and expose the raw emotions and condition of the human spirit. 

Perhaps it will help remind us and create some awareness of our history, history that is in the not so distant past. 

Perhaps it will show that beneath the color of our skin, lie the same feelings of joy and sorrow, and that compassion is an emotion that is equal to us all. 

Perhaps is will allow us to take a minute to practice gratitude for how far we have come and give us the strength to support one another, to continue to live our lives with light and love and remember that every single one of us has a story to be told.

 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Power Yoga and the POWER of Yoga....

You may or may not know that yoga is one of my passions.  I started practicing, and I use that term loosely here, about 19 years ago when I was first introduced to the Hatha style in a holistic health class at Orange Coast College.

Over the years, I'd taken a few classes here and there but the intensity I needed in my workouts just seemed to be lacking in the relaxed paced atmosphere of the classes I'd attended. 

Every now and again I would drop in on a class or do some poses at home but it wasn't until about five years ago that I really started to incorporate yoga practice and its teachings into my life.

Fast forward to now and I can't go a few days without at least one class but I am at my best when I practice three or for times in a week, a healthy addiction I suppose.

Yoga, by definition, means the union of the mind, soul and body.  Teachers of Ayurveda, the ancient Indian art of medicine and life, suggest that one should be immersed in the daily rituals of Ayurveda before even beginning a yoga practice.  But let's face it, we are Westerners with limited knowledge about yoga, let alone the intricate nature of Ayurveda. 

Ideally, incorporating the two into our lives will help to sustain a long and healthy journey into old age, at least we hope. 

There is an abundance of texts and information available on the topics of Ayurveda and yoga and two of my favorites are "Perfect Health," by Deepak Chopra and "Light on Yoga," by B.K.S. Iyengar.  These books offer a wealth of information but "Perfect Health" is a great introduction to both that is easy to read, follow and understand.

I could go on and on about these subjects but my own knowledge amounts to about the same as a grain of sand on the beach...I have so much more to learn and study but that is the beauty of it.  I am in no hurry and I am content to be exactly where I am at, present in this moment.

Let me tell you, it wasn't always this way.  Yoga has taught me to be mindful, patient and more compassionate for others.  It has allowed me to free myself of the inner demons that have haunted me.  Yoga, coupled with cognitive therapy, helped to guide me to the place I am today.  I am more centered and focused about my future and at the same time, I am able to recognize that this very moment is truly the only thing we have for sure.

During one of the most difficult times in my life about two years ago when my father and best friend passed away nearly simultaneously, yoga helped me channel my feelings through my body and allowed me to connect with my core.  I was able to purge the stress and anxiety I was experiencing through the mindful meditation of my yoga practice and I was able to let go of the anger and sadness that would, at times, consume my soul.

Today, while in class and deeply emerged into "sleeping pigeon" pose, I was once again reminded of the power yoga had over me.  Sara Mclachlan's song "I Will Remember You" began to play through the speakers, echoing through the room.  I started to think of my Dad and as I lay there, tears streaming down my cheeks silently, I thought about how much I love and miss him. 

My body and breath allowed me the awareness to release the physical tension I felt in my muscles and although at that moment I experienced profound sadness, I gained a sense of relief and comfort as I lingered in the pose (asana) a few minutes longer. I connected to the memories I have of him and our life as father and daughter and felt gratitude for the time we did have together. 

These experiences are deeply personal but I feel compelled to share them because it is through sharing our feelings that we can begin or continue to heal.  The energy I feel at the studio or gym is both exhilarating and positive at once.  When people can join together in close quarters, moving in unison and using our pranayama (breath=life), we begin to co-exist peacefully with love in our open hearts.  That is the power of yoga.

So I can say this much to you, your yoga practice is your own and it can start with something as simple as the breath.  Connecting your mind to your body and becoming aware of the consciousness that lies in your heart can be the beginning of peace within your soul.

There are so many different styles of yoga from Kundalini (creating a deeper awareness within your practice) to Vinyasa (flow) to Restorative, yoga is available to all who seek it.  And for those who challenge the notion that yoga is not an intense workout, check out Jennifer Aniston or Madonna and tell me those ladies are not two of our more fit celebrities.  They both credit yoga as one of the reasons for their ultra-toned bodies.

Yoga gives us permission to accept ourselves exactly as we are.  It allows us the opportunity for growth and change while remaining a constant source of inspiration in our daily lives.  There is no pressure to push, the focus is on acceptance and love of who you are right this very minute.

For those of you who are already practicing, may you continue to deepen your awareness through the love and light in your soul.

And for those of you who aren't, you may not be ready to start your practice just yet but know that when you are, yoga will be there waiting and ready for you.

Until then,


Namaste
(The teacher within me honors the teacher in you.)








Friday, August 5, 2011

Goooooaaaaalllll! And I'm not talking soccer...

So they say in order to reach your goals, you should take baby steps...

Who are "they" anyway?  Well I suspect "they" are experts.  How do "they" become experts, one might ask...

Through research, study, polls, surveys, statistical analysis and sometimes self proclamation. 

So in my non-expert opinion, I think goals are essential.  They give us something to work toward and taking baby steps might be the best way to get there.

But, if your goal is a rather simple one, maybe like taking a swim in an unheated pool, perhaps it's best to suck it up and, quite literally jump in, forgetting about baby steps entirely...Yet as we attempt to ease ourselves into the cold water we often move at a snail's pace submerging ourselves inch by inch as the tepid fluid surrounds our shivering flesh.  C'mon, we all know that once the water hits the stomach, we scrunch our shoulders up and cringe until we finally say screw it and dunk ourselves!

Some might argue that easing into the water is the only way to go, while others would insist that jumping in with a running start is the better option.

With all goals, it takes a little time to determine the best method to achieve them.  We have to think about our approach, and whether we take baby steps or giant leaps, we still must have a plan in order to reach our target.

That's where the experts weigh in...

When I googled "goal setting," something around 22 million sites came up so it seems that there are plenty of expert opinions, options and offerings on the ways in which we can set and accomplish our intentions.  Frankly I don't have the time to sift through millions of Web sites to take their free quizzes or read their detailed instructions, therefore I will throw out my very own strategy for accomplishing your objective...Take it or leave it, no pressure here.

1) Define your goal
i.e. Write a book.

2) Come up with a plan to accomplish said goal
i.e. Develop an idea

3) Outline your strategy
i.e. Make a list of steps of what you need to do

4) Begin with step one...(remember, baby steps)
i.e. Write 5 pages today (or maybe a sentence)

5) Give yourself a manageable deadline
i.e. Finish by age 40

6) Cut yourself some slack
i.e. There's still 9 months left...hey, you grew a life in 9 months, you can certainly create a book.

7) Reward yourself when you have reached your goal!
i.e. Throw a kick-ass birthday/book launch party!

Ok, so maybe I have outlined my personal goal for the next year but I thought it would be a good idea to give a real life example, plus now that I have put it out there, I have to hold myself to it, right? 

I am the kind of person who needs to collect a lot of information and then sort through it and figure out my approach.  What I have learned is that often I spend too much time researching and worrying about the outcome that I find myself procrastinating instead of just digging in. 

My dear friend Dale (also a blogger and talented all around gal) has written many inspiring pieces about seizing the day and creating from within.  I am taking all of that to heart and as I've said it before, we don't have a whole lot of time on this planet.  It's not worth it to sit around second-guessing and questioning every little aspect, thought and idea we have because it might not be perfect, who has time for that junk? 

So kids, set your goals for today, be them large or small, and make a genuine effort to accomplish them.  In the end, you will be happy and satisfied that you tried and that is a reward in and of itself.  

Carpe Diem as they say!  Here's my Friday to do list:

Blog-
Yoga-
Practice (at least) one random act of kindness-

That's it, not too heavy and I don't need baby steps in order to accomplish them.

The water might be chilly but today I am diving right in!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just a warning folks, this one is a tad bit political...

I was at the gym this morning and Fox News was the featured station in front of my elliptical.  As I powered through my workout listening to the myriad of music on my play list, I couldn't help but notice and watch a few of the news stories on the air, which got me thinking...

We are in such heavy times of trouble and heartache that society seems to be crumbling around us.  From the recent tragic events of the mass murders and bombing in Norway, to our own soldiers turning on themselves, to the rising levels of beatings, robbery, rape and murder/suicides happening on our own soil, I am saddened and heartbroken for all who have become so disenfranchised with the instability in our world that they would commit the most heinous crimes with seemingly no conscience. 

How can that be?  Who can we turn to when our media continues to perpetuate the cycle of fear and chaos?  When we turn on our televisions or radios, most of the images we see and stories we hear are those of war, hatred, and economic failure.  Our "political leaders" are spending more time arguing over issues than trying to find real ways to solve them. No one in our government seems to offer solutions to these very serious problems, yet they continue to collect their very hefty salaries without offering to take a pay cut.  In everyday business, don't we fire those who fail to get the job done? 

How can they expect us, the American public to dip into our already shallow pockets and give up even more when our own politicians are unwilling to give up even a small portion?  How can they expect businesses to carry the burdens of extra taxes, insurance fees, unemployment benefit hikes and the like while they continue to get "cost of living" raises and added perks with no consequences? 

I am no pundit but I will say this...In my opinion, I would say that most Americans are feeling the need to come to some level of compromise.  I would say that most of us walk down the middle with views on both the right and left but that our media and politicians continue to divide this country using scare tactics and the blame game while trying to cover their own asses. 

As members of society it seems to me that gone are the days when we used to know our neighbors and call them friends.  Gone are the days we would smile and wave to strangers on the street.  Our media has manipulated us into thinking that everyone is out to get us and that you better be looking over your shoulder constantly.

Now, with that said I can offer this very simple solution to one small issue and that issue deals with individual happiness and having mutual respect for people that surround us, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.  The answer: smiling. 

According to an article on Livestrong.com (and I am paraphrasing) smiling can offer health benefits ranging from increased happiness, decreased blood pressure and lowered stress levels.  Choosing to smile is a very easy way to spread joy and show respect for another person.   The reality is, if you take a minute to smile at someone, they will almost always smile back.  YOU have the ability to change a person's day simply by taking a minute to flash your pearly whites.

I'm not saying that this is the answer to the HUGE issues we are facing, what I am saying is that you have the ability to control your own happiness and to take it back from the powers that try to manipulate and control your thoughts and ideas.  You have the choice to live your life as an optimist and influence others to do the same through your own actions. 

It might seem like a very idealistic thing but it's a good place to start.  Making small changes in your life and attitude allow you the freedom to know that you are the one with power, free to make your own decisions, free to stand up for what you believe in and free to spread happiness in this world of anger and chaos through peace, love and tolerance. 

When we think of our greatest leaders, people like Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. we know they shared one common idea  and that was to treat one another with love and respect.   Where are those leaders today?  Where are those people who are willing to risk their lives for what they believe in to spread the message of hope and equality?  Instead, our leaders (and I use that term loosely) are busy shouting about who's allowed to be married and trying to take away basic human rights instead of focusing on the real issues at hand. 

I think that small changes can make a big difference, I really believe that.  Starting from the grass roots level, that's the spot.  You may not have the power to control the world but you do have the power to control your own life and that starts from within.

"A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave,"
Mohandas Gandhi

Whatever it is that you believe in, cherish and value, in the spirit of Gandhi, one of our most influential leaders of peace, allow yourself the courage and strength to be brave enough to share it with the world around you through the love in your heart.  

You might be surprised at what you get in return...

Oh, and don't forget to smile.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Reunions. The Good, The Bad and the UGLY...

Well here it is, July 2011. 

Summer time and it's reunion season.  Last September, I celebrated my 20th year out of high school and managed to get together with friends from both elementary and Jr. High too.  We had all spread out in and around Santa Ana and Orange so many of us hadn't seen each other since our 8th grade year.

Now some of my younger high school friends are gearing up for their 20th.  The anticipation of who will come, who has changed the most and where we are in our lives is both exciting and daunting.

The rest of us (from the Willard/Santiago crew) are gearing up for another reunion and with the addition of Facebook, the event has taken on a life of its own.  Perhaps after the photos surfaced from last year's gathering, those that missed out realized that it was just too much fun to pass up! 

It's so strange how reconnecting with the people we grew up with can render us defenseless against age old insecurities and self-doubt.  At the same time, it can reassure us that we are still rooted in the people we have become and we can recognize how much we've changed and grown since those days...

The memories come flooding back like relentless tides, teasing our minds with both laughter and tears from the angst of our teenage lives.  I am happy to say that most of us can look back on those days fondly and chalk up our outlandish behavior to the raging hormones that were rushing through our awkward prepubescent bodies and that eventually we would become "normal." 

Now, most of us are parents and I, for one, can use this knowledge to remain one step ahead of my own "tween" on the verge of his official teen years.  Yikes!

As we see ourselves in our adult lives, it's important to remember where we came from.  Reunions have a way of giving us a fresh start.  Perhaps you were not the "nicest" person or maybe you were a bit wacky or weird.  Meeting up with old friends and acquaintances gives us the opportunity to own our behavior, apologize (if necessary) and show that we did, in fact, grow up.  

I may only be speaking for myself, but I am thinking that I am not the only one who feels this way.  I mean there are about five significant movies from one amazing director that would support my theory.   Who can argue with John Hughes and his brilliant connection to the voices of our generation, right?

To quote one of the best:  The Breakfast Club (1984)

"Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062.
Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did *was* wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed."

Indeed, weren't we all brainwashed?  Until we meet again...

This blog is dedicated to all my old pals.

Looking forward to seeing all of you in October 2011!

Cheers~

Monday, July 11, 2011

Montana or bust...

Family vacations. 

Let's see, they are completely memorable but really shouldn't be called vacations by any means as most of us think vacations=relaxing.  As most of you know, carting children through busy crowded airports, changing planes, locating missing toys and sippy cups, hearing other children whine and cry about their missing toys and sippy cups, well let's just say that it's anything but relaxing.  Family vacations however, are for the most part FUN.

We've just returned from a five day trip to Montana.  Montana is beautiful, God's country they say (well at least my mother-in-law says) and the billboards along the highway seem to support that claim.  I saw the "10 Commandments" and a huge shot of Jesus in about a 3 mile stretch yesterday so I figure I got my religious obligations done on the drive to the airport.

Seriously, it was truly beautiful.  This was my fourth trip to Montana but the first one really doesn't count because I was only 18 months-old.  The second was in 1982 for my great-grandmother's funeral and I don't remember much other than the temperature outside didn't support my California blood and the plaid walking shorts and penny loafers I was wearing in the crisp October air. 

The third time I was there nine years ago exactly, was much more memorable.  My mom and I took a road trip with my son who was three at the time.  We packed up my little Jeep Cherokee and headed up the Interstate 15.  This was before DVD players sat neatly in the back of the headrest so I bought a tiny TV/VCR combo and wedged it between the two front seats. We must have heard Thomas the Tank Engine 400 times before our journey ended but it kept him happy and occupied for the five hour stretches of driving!  The Jeep was filled to the brim with toys, suitcases, a cooler, you name it, we jammed it in there.

It was a 10 day trip that included several pit stops with visits in Sandy, UT, an overnight in Idaho Falls, two days in Great Falls, Montana followed by three days in Butte, Montana.  Butte is where my mom grew up and we have a lot of family still there.  On that trip, we celebrated my great-aunt's 75th birthday and the 4th of July.  I got to see cousins and relatives that I hadn't seen in years, some I hadn't met yet. 

Butte is a big town for Montana but for a Cali girl like me, seeing a place like this is eye-opening to say the least. 

Butte was a bustling mining town and a hot spot during prohibition, but now many of its once thriving tiny stores and mom and pop shops up on the hill are abandoned and run down.  "For lease" signs hang on many of the brick buildings but you could see potential if there was just a little bit of money invested.  These buildings have character and many are at least a hundred years old.  Our family owned a grocery and catering business and my Mom lived there until she was 16. I know her heart still belongs in Butte but I am keeping her here. 

I once again found myself there just two days ago.  Chris, Gavin, Piper and I spent the past week at my in-laws place in Deer Lodge about 30 minutes or so from Butte.  Chris had never been there and Gavin vaguely remembers the trip we took nine years ago.  Chris's mom kindly offered to take us in to town for the day so that I could show them where their other grandmother's roots took hold.  We drove into town and headed up the hill on Montana Street.  

I was happy to see that the Trafford's Fine Food's sign was still up on the original store location but the shop itself had been converted into a beauty supply/salon I think. Things looked to be shaping up a bit on the hill but most of the bigger commercial stores moved down in the area once known as "The Flats."

Then we drove around the little neighborhoods looking for my aunt and uncle's house and the cottage my mom grew up in.  We found them both with ease as we wiggled our way through the narrow streets.  The Folk Festival was going on so there was quite a bit of action happening in the sleepy mountain town. 

We headed down the hill for lunch and then we made our last stop at the Holy Cross cemetery near the airport on the outskirts of town.  This is a big deal for me because I do not go to cemeteries, it's just not my thing.  But I felt compelled to go this time.  You see, Butte is the town my mother was born in and it was the same town where her mother was born... and in 1957, where she was laid to rest. 

After a little confusion and a great deal of searching, we found her headstone, Jean Zetta Trafford.  I brought her some flowers; yellow, purple, white and pink.  I set them down and once again I wondered what it would have been like to know her.  The mystery of her life and what would have been had she lived past 32.  Would she have liked those flowers or preferred something different?  Something tells me that she liked all flowers no matter what color they were.

What I do know is that the gift she left behind was the life of my own mother and the relationship we have that is full of love, laughter, and joy (most of the time).  I think she would be proud of what she created and the women we've become. 

So while this family vacation included swimming, tennis, and horseback riding, it also included so much more for me.  The deep connection my mother feels toward her hometown has crept into my heart even though my roots grew here in Southern California, I do feel that same intensity when I am in Montana. 

My roots are planted firmly in the sands of Huntington Beach and Southern California but my soul and branches are growing farther and wider than I expected. 

As for my mother, I guess you can take the girl out of the mountains but you can't take the mountains out of a girl, right? 

But I do think you can sprinkle a bit of sand around her toes...

This blog is dedicated to my mom, my best friend, biggest supporter and ongoing inspiration.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

4th of July

Greetings and Salutations, to borrow a phrase from one of my fav movies of the late 80's...

It's the 2nd of July and it's looking to be a gorgeous weekend.

It's quiet as my daughter is napping which is something that I wish I could do right now but sleep evades me.  Bummer, because napping is one of my favorite things to do but I'm all a flutter with the excitement of the weekend ahead. 

It's already off to a great start with the sunshine and clear skies spoiling us in Huntington.  The past three or four years we've had an overflow of "June Gloom" here at the beach so it's really nice to see good ole' Mr. Sun out from dawn until dusk!  It just cheers you up, right?

So instead of napping, I thought I might write a bit.  I was thinking about years past...and how the 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays.

When I was little, we spent every 4th at my grandparents house in Westminster.  They had a pool with a waterfall (so cool in the 1970's) and a coy fish pond and were always the consummate entertainers.  They had a houseful every year and we would spend the day swimming and occasionally mixing it up by running in the sprinklers in the front yard.  The best times were when my cousins from Montana would come to visit.  We would BBQ and anxiously wait for the nightfall because that was when the real fun would begin!

My Uncle would always be in charge of the fireworks and he did not disappoint.  Boxes and boxes of glittery explosives, roses, snakes and REAL sparklers, not those crappy ones they sell today.  I mean c'mon, I know it's all about safety but those should hardly be called sparklers, maybe more like twinklers...for babies.

I remember my face would be lightly sunburned and my feet would ache from climbing the walls of the cement in the pool.  I would have to wrap my toes in band aids and slather lotion all over to cool my crispy tanned skin. My hair would be a combination of light brown and blonde with a hint of green from the chlorine.  I would sit in a chair on the front lawn as the festivities would get underway, usually eating ice cream.  It was a little bit of heaven for any 8 year-old kid!

After about a half an hour and 200.00 bucks worth of fireworks all lit up and now in piles of ash, we could catch the Disneyland show.  It was such a wonderful day and I am so grateful for those memories. 

For most of the past 18 years, save one or two I think, I've spent the 4th of July with my beloved here in HB.  Now as another year is upon us, we will cart our kids up the street to watch the parade...Dubbed the longest in the USA and if you've ever watched it, you know why!  It's a staple here and always a good time.  Who doesn't love tiny horses, tiny cars and gigantic floats?  And let's not forget the marching bands from all over the state making their best attempts at patriotic songs while attempting to walk in sync. 

And then there are the folks that just walk along with no particular association, just kind of marching to the beat of their own drum.  It's some of the very best people watching you can find!

Well I hope that this finds all of you happy, healthy and well.  Remember to be safe and yes, even those stupid weak little sparklers can offer smiles and joy in the faces of our wee ones sans potential injuries. 

But deep down we can remember and yearn for the days when we singed our fingers  holding our very own little fireballs.

So today take some time to reflect on those lazy days of summer when we were young, deliriously happy and carefree.  Try to take a minute to reclaim a bit of that happiness and savor those moments of joy as we create new memories with our own children, family and friends. 

And so simply I say this to you...Happy 4th of July!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Everyone's a star these days...

I watch the KTLA morning news almost every day, it's my favorite.  I love the local flavor and the silly, sometimes idiotic banter between the hosts.  Oh and this morning they had THE one and only Tom Hanks on the show, pretty impressive stuff.

Today Sam Rubin pointed out an interesting tidbit about how eventually it will be a rarity NOT to have been on television. 

With today's influx of reality TV and the virtual bombardment of non-celebrities and the lives they lead, it's no wonder that Sam's observation might in fact, be true. 

Long gone are the days where true stars were the only faces that grazed the covers of our flashy tabloids...Now the faces of our newest "Teen Mom" or "Housewife" are front and center on the racks of our local groceries and book stores. 

I am wondering when Hollywood will take back the reigns and start making quality shows again.  I know, reality TV is cheap and let's face it, we all get sucked in.  Who doesn't love a good episode of Celebrity Rehab?  With the unlimited show material out there, it's no wonder that any Tom, Dick or Snooki can land him or herself smack dab in the middle of the spotlight!

Kathy Griffin, self proclaimed D-lister (and my favorite comedienne) is one celebrity who earned her chops climbing the steps of the Hollywood stairs and she is STILL jockeying for her position among the A-listers, even with a reality show.  How is it that the "Situation" has endorsement deals for Vodka and Vitamin water and a gig on "Dancing with the Stars" yet Kathy is still peddling Snuggies and T-shirts at venues all over the USA?

For the record, I am not a fan of the Jersey Shore but I am a fan of the tabs and the amount of fodder reality TV personalities produce for us valued readers is priceless...I will give you that.  The antics are certainly entertaining but C'mon, real celebrity status?  For getting drunk, having sex and fighting...Oh wait, lest we forget our dear Charlie Sheen.  Winning~

I will continue to hope that quality television will once again dominate our small screens but until that day...Do you think they are taking applications for the new cast of "The Real Housewives of Orange County?"

My best to you and yours...

Ciao.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Silver and Gold

I loved camp, camp was so much fun.  When I was there 30 years ago...(Yes, you read it right), I learned so many songs and rhymes, many of which have remained useful tools in entertaining my children to this very day! 

Among the wacky tunes we learned, a few stood out that seemed to have held some true meaning and a little less goofy alligator chomping or bee stomping.

"Make new friends, but keep the oooooolllllldddd,
One is silver and the other gooooollllllldddd..."

Remember it, sung in a "round?"  Is is stuck in your head now?  Sorry about that but I do have a point.

This past week I was able to see a friend I had not spent time with in about 16 years.  Far too long but distance and life have a funny way of keeping us from spending as much time with old friends let alone family. 

So that begs the question, do we settle into our new lives making new friends with the people that surround us...neighbors, co-workers, parents of the kids on our kid's sports teams?  Will we forget those friends we grew up?

My answer is yes and no.  Of course we must forge ahead and make shiny new friends, that's what life is about and you can never have too many friends. 

On the flip side, we must take the time to nurture and reacquaint ourselves with our oldest friends.  Those relationships are the kind that shape the people we've become. 

Those friends allow us to be kind, patient and tolerant of others with differences from our own but will still call us on our crap.  They helped mold our beliefs and values and frankly, those friends are the ones that know us best.  Those friends are the ones that have seen us at our best and worst and like us anyway. 

With the power of the Internet and social networking sites, we are able to reconnect with so many.  We can keep up on one anothers' lives with the click of a mouse and still feel as though we are sharing in our day to day routines, even from 3000 miles away.

Cliche' but true, you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family.  I will say this, my friends are family.  In some of my darkest hours, my friends have been there for me, both new and old so I feel so fortunate to have met so many amazing people and I only hope that I can be the kind of friend that they have been to me.

Today my message is this: 

New friends are like silver tinsel: shimmery, fancy and fun. 

But old friends are just as shiny, and like a sturdy gold watch, completely reliable and strong, They just might take a bit more polishing in order to see the glow.

Hey, anyone feel like heading to camp?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Does Tweeting make you a Twit?

I got super excited just now.  Places-to-Yoga asked to follow me on Twitter~why am I so excited you might ask?  Because they are ONLY following 16 people and have some 1800+ followers so that's kinda cool! Makes me feel like they are really interested in what I have to say!

The last time I got this excited about Twitter was when Emilio Estevez requested to follow me.  It wasn't until I saw that he pretty much asked anyone who followed him if he could reciprocate...Ah the let down.  Anyway, he does follow me and after all, he IS related to the man with Adonis DNA and tiger blood so I guess that is a plus.

I'm still waiting to hear back from Deepak Chopra.

So that gets me thinking...Is this new wave of social networking going to completely take over?  Will we ultimately get stuck to our computers with no actual human contact, save for a trip to the market or a restaurant? Will social networking sites determine how many "friends" we have? 

In any case, I am hoping that this means of interaction doesn't replace good ole' fashioned conversation.  It's a staple in my life and while I can't knock media, I think of many times we could do better without it.  Having a degree in communications, I realize that my line of work depends on all sources of media, however I have sort of a grass roots notion that human interaction is a far better way of conveying thoughts and emotions than an email, text or tweet!

That being said, I do believe that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and the now somewhat defunct MySpace, have allowed so many people, businesses and organizations to promote their products and messages at  little or no cost.  Where else can someone have their own free Web page with access from just about anywhere?  Except for the occasional hacker hijacking your email, it's a small price to pay for significant rewards.  Facebook and Twitter have most certainly paved the way for the future of social networking sites.

As an aspiring writer, I am using both Twitter and Facebook to promote my blog.  How can I question the validity of the primary means in which I share my work?  Well, because some day I hope to actually write a whole entire real book.  One that will be published on paper and not only available at iTunes and Amazon.com but on the shelves at Barnes and Noble!  And I would like to go on a book tour.  Without actual books, what will I sign, headshots?  Well I guess that could work...(tee hee).

My son told me that books were becoming obsolete.  He says that all of the "scientists" are predicting that books are in fact, going the way of the dinosaur.  "Good" I said, "Then I guess I've got a jump start on collecting and they oughta be worth something one day!"  Of course most of his sources are from WikiPedia, YouTube and the Discovery Channel so I wouldn't completely rule out that his "sources" are a tad bit unreliable.

Well until the day comes that all books are electronic, I will cherish and love my hard covers and paperbacks and I will continue to post my blog and promote it through all available means, be it electronic or through face to face contact!  I will not give up hope that some day our worlds will be united and the Kindles and Nooks will walk freely with the humans...

Seriously folks, I just want you all to know that I do appreciate your following my writing and I will continue to shamelessly self-promote right here on this very Web page, Facebook and Twitter. 

You can find me on Facebook at Darcy Davies-Alsop or tweeting at @DarcyAlsop...

So, I guess you can consider me at Twit.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Critics, Awwww Who Needs 'Em! Me, I guess.

I love my Grandfather.

My relationship with my grandfather has always been interesting.  It's a generic term but that might be the best way to describe our dynamic.

He is ornery, snarky and full of piss and vinegar.  He's also loving, caring and an American hero.  He's seen the world and has very definite opinions about it.   His opinions also include ideas about my opinions and writing.

I've always respected and looked up to him.  We both have very strong personalities and sometimes we disagree. Much to his chagrin, I've always held my ground when it comes to taking a stand for what I believe in. 

I learned that from him.

Any aspiring writer always looks for the most intriguing subject matter so when I was in 7th grade, I wrote a biography paper about him. Not my best work and some parts might have been a bit shaky but I still earned an A.  Maybe that's why he's my toughest critic.

Fast forward 25 years...When I asked him to read and follow my blog, I got an email response.  It was not what I expected although maybe it should have been.  He told me that it was "not bad" but that he "lost interest" and "I could do much better..." You get the gist.

I've got to give him credit, at 87 he's quite computer savvy and has been since his early 70's. Except for the occasional political spam he might forward, he communicates very well via email.

I'm not going to lie, of course it stung a bit.  In fact, so much so, that night  I woke up at about 3:00 a.m. more than slightly hurt and annoyed.  But then again, I did send him the request to read and follow me, right?  I should be more than open to criticism, no matter how much it might sting.

That said, I know that his intentions were to inspire me and to get me to step up my game.  If it weren't for the nature of our relationship, I might have told him to take a long walk off a short pier.  Instead, I licked my wounds and for better or worse, am trying to consider the source and not take it too seriously. 

Perhaps I should take it seriously though.  Maybe senior citizens are not my target demographic but I need to remember that each idea I share or story I tell could use a little extra spice.  I should be able to engage every reader at every age so that proposes a dilemma... 

Do I conduct focus groups on specific topics from Dr. Suess to what's happening on 60 Minutes?  Do I treat my blog like it's a public relations campaign?  Do I need to create surveys using random samples and then apply statistical analysis?  Hmmmm, quite a quandary.

Nah. The bottom line is this, I write for me and I aim to please.  If I am lucky enough to make someone laugh or inspire someone else, well that's just gravy. 

So Grandpa, if you are reading this I hope it's kept your interest and know this: 

I will continue to do my best and I trust that you will continue to be my biggest critic, and perhaps one day, even my biggest fan.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chains

I went to another funeral yesterday. 

He was killed by a drunk driver.  Ivan was a son, father, friend and brother, gone too soon like so many others.

During the traditional Catholic mass, there was not a dry eye in the house.  And more so, what was really amazing was the priest's compassion.  He knew Ivan and was connected to the family, he watched him grow up.

This priest gave one of the most honest and heartfelt sermons during the service, I truly felt like he understood and had deep sympathy for all those in attendance.  Rather than sit on the pulpit, spewing off words out of the bible, he stood directly in front of the family, spoke from his heart and embraced each one with genuine love and compassion.

There were about 400 people at this funeral, maybe more.  The church was packed and Ivan was a friend to each and every one of them.  I saw people I had not seen since high school over 20 years ago. 

It's times like these that we fondly remember the days of our youth and how quickly they pass.  We make proclamations to see one another again, "not under these circumstances," but yet we never seem to find the time...Until we meet again at someone else's funeral.

I am no stranger to loss.  It is a time to reach out to those that are still here.  It is a time to mourn, remember and reflect.  It is a time to feel deep sadness.  It is also an opportunity to grow. 

Clearly we know that life is short and can be taken from us any minute. And still we let the world hold us back, hold us down, from opening our hearts and following our dreams. But is it the world that holds us back or is it ourselves? 

 Maybe the the Eagles summed it up the best...

"So often times it happens, that we live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key..."

When I think about the people I've lost, people like Ivan, I think about how they lived.  Did they live their lives in chains?  What they would have done differently if they had the chance? 

While it may seem cliche, life really is about taking the bull by the horns and living, really LIVING.  We've still got the chance so we ought to try our best to do it with what's in our hearts and follow our dreams.  Carpe diem, as the saying goes.

When will you open your lock and seize the day?  It's the simple things in life like laughter and joy that we take for granted.  It's much easier to forgive and let go of anger, hatred and resentment than it is to walk around carrying those heavy chains.

Today take a little time to to remember the people we have loved and lost. Take time to daydream, forgive and practice gratitude.  Take time to reconnect with someone you've lost contact with.  Take some time to connect with your true self and open your heart.

It may seem daunting but if you start with a little searching and a lot of patience, and I am certain that you will find your key.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grocery Shopping

Yesterday was just one of those days.  As I posted before, we started the morning off with a trip to Disneyland which was great.

As the afternoon progressed, my mood began to shift.  Blame it on hormones, at least I do anyway.

So I pick Gavin up from his buddies house and hit the grocery on our way home, needed to find some stuff for dinner.  Maybe a nice salad, some veggies and one of those roasted chickens (so I was cheating a little in terms of cooking, so sue me...)

As we approach the store, Piper decides she must sit in the new race car grocery cart.  After an intense disinfecting wipe down of the cart that would envy the likes of a Silkwood shower, I put her in the seat and we rolled on in to the deli counter.

On the way, Gav spotted fried chicken.  Well I am not a huge fan of the fried stuff and try to limit our intake, but I decided that he could get a few pieces of it from the deli and I would get a baked breast.  There was a big sign posted, something like "Buy 8 pieces of chicken for $5.99" or something of that nature. 

So I ask the man at the counter for "Four chicken legs and one breast, Please," to which he replies "Ok" in a voice so low and raspy that I'm not quite sure if he's agreed to it or told me to screw off.

As we wait for the chicken, Piper starts to get restless, wants out of the cart and throws a pretty sincere tantrum.  In what seems like hours later, we finally get the chicken.  The deli man hands me two bags, each with a separate label.  The contents of one: four tiny fried chicken legs for 5.99, the other one, a dehydrated breast for 1.99.

I accept the bags, wipe away Piper's tears with my sleeve and proceed with my shopping, all the while stewing about what now occurs to me is a total rip-off.

Gavin, Piper, the blue race car and I weaved through the aisles, collecting the rest of our staples.  By the time we reached the milk and OJ, I was about ready to throw my own tantrum.  I just could not accept that this chicken, this pathetic, overcooked, dry chicken was about to cost me nearly ten bucks!

I looked at Gavin and, no joke, said this: "Take your sister down to the fruits and vegetables. Get some bananas and I'll meet you down there. I don't want to embarrass you but I am NOT buying this chicken.  I have to take it back to the raspy voiced deli guy."

So he went one way and I the other.  In an act of defiance, I marched right up to the deli, put the two sad little bags on the counter and said "I'm not buying this!  I just can't pay eight dollars for five pieces of chicken, I'm sorry!"

The gal at the counter looked at me like I was a little bit of a psycho, and honestly I can't argue with her. 
At least I didn't hide it behind the Cheerios on the cereal aisle!

So while I may have embarrassed myself, I managed to spare my 12 year-old son's feelings and ultimately I was pleased that I stood up for myself against the deli bully.

I tell ya, I was this close to ripping open a bag of Carolina BBQ Lays right there on the chip aisle but thought nah, I wouldn't want to be one of those ladies...

Monday, May 23, 2011

Signs

Signs, they are everywhere. 

We just have to notice them.

I am not talking about the kinds of signs that surround us, you know like street signs and banners and that sort of thing.

I am talking about the signs we don't see.

The beauty in those signs is that they are everywhere in everything, a flickering light, a smell in the kitchen or even a T.V. commercial.

Today, I got just the sign I needed.  I was at the Magic Kingdom once again, along with thousands of other people.   We were headed toward the Winnie the Pooh ride and as my daughter Piper and I made our way through the crowds of tourists and locals, a country band of four set up shop in between the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain. 

A small crowd began to gather around.  As the music started and the guy on the banjo began to strum,  I thought I recognized the song.  Maybe it was the Eagles or Steve Miller, or something like that.  I started smiling and then the guitarist started singing...

"I've been walkin' these streets so long,
Singin' the same old song,
I know every crack on these dirty sidewalks of Broadway..."

As soon as the first words came out, I knew it was my Dad saying hi and then I burst into tears.

That was our song...not your typical father/daughter song but we were not your typical father and daughter.

I remember when I was little, maybe four or five, Dad would pick me up on Saturday mornings to spend the weekend together.  I would climb into his big white Chevy truck.  He'd get into the driver's seat and I would stand next to him with my arm propped up on his shoulder.  He would turn the radio on and Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" would start playing.  We would both sing together, horribly off-key,  tone deaf and happy. 

My Dad had quite a few other favorite songs but he was most known for changing lyrics to suit his moods...Some of his all-time favorites were "Stop in the neighborhood before you break my heart" and "On the comode again, just can't wait to get on the comode again..."

Now that he is gone, I know that I won't ever hear his rendition of these classics, but I know one thing for sure, as long as I am looking for them, the signs of his presence are everywhere.

And like the glimmering lights on the Rhinestone Cowboy, Dad's light will still stay shining on me...

So open your heart and your eyes.

And just when you need it most, there it will be...A sign.