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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 (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!


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!