Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wishes Granted Daily

My friend Kendra and I saw necklaces like this one at the Rose Bowl Flea Market a few months ago and had to have them.  Ours are cooler, I think, with the golden wishbones hanging from a thin string, much like the ones that hold wish bracelets together.  That's probably why I wanted it so badly; I thought that if I made a wish on it, then when the string finally gave way, I'd get my wish.  Like honking your horn or holding your breath in a tunnel or blowing out birthday candles.  Superstitious, but still: I made a wish when I put it on in June. 

My wish?  To travel.

Now, I knew that I'd be traveling to Europe in the summertime, a trip that was marvelous beyond words.  But I suppose I was hoping for another Italy trip, or even a weekend jaunt to San Diego. I get greedy like that.  I love to travel, sometimes just for the sense of "home" that it provides when you return.

The other day, I remembered this wish and had to smile at all my fortune: I have several trips ahead of me this year, starting with this weekend's quick getaway in Orange County for a family wedding.  There's a Christmas gathering at my parents' place in Texas and an unexpected journey to Italy.  We made plans to go to Mexico for my cousin's wedding in May and will return to Maui for my 40th next summer.  On top of all of that, I received a phone call from my favorite radio station, KCRW, telling me that my name was chosen in their sweepstakes.  My prize?  A trip to Hong Kong!

I talked to a friend the other day who is pregnant with her first baby and she said, "Rub some of that good luck on me."  I told her that I would, but that she's already got it.  A baby is a journey in itself.  And, in that respect, I've been on three parallel journeys with my girls for the past decade - and those are far more exciting and exotic than taking a plane ride anywhere else. 

But the wishing... Is that as important as the granted wish?  I'm thinking that it just might be.  The wishing feels like stirring up stardust, and the granted wishes feel like gold sprinkles on top of life's buttercream frosting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ending an Era

Sometimes I think you just can't anticipate how you'll feel about something until it's over, kaput, never gonna come back again.

"I'm sorry, I didn't want to upset you," Raf said on the other end of our conversation.  It had been a 2-way dialogue until I'd choked on my words.  I had, ironically, also been saying the words "I'm sorry."

The beach house is in escrow and, if all goes well, it will close next week and soon it will become another family's getaway and the site of new, happy times.  But for someone else.  Our family's time there is over. 

The beach house was my father-in-law Isaac's playground, the natural extension of his wealth and desire to live a semi-retired lifestyle once he'd "made it."  He had created the other house in Sherman Oaks as his dream home, a place to raise a young family, but Malibu called him back to a fisherman/poet part of his personality.  And so he lived on precarious stilts at the edge of the glittering Pacific, savoring the sun's journey across the sky from Santa Monica to Point Dume through his floor-to-ceiling windows, living out the last of his days with his scruffy dog Alaska, losing the names of his famous neighbors in the translation between his native Hebrew and adopted American English language ("Chuck DuChamp," for instance, turned out to be John Cusack). 

When we got married, he moved back to Malibu from Sherman Oaks and his beach house became the site of every-other-Sunday BBQs, Jewish holidays and family occasions.  After he died and we renovated the house, it became a renewed, modern version of Isaac's legacy and we were all happy to continue to have it in the family as a getaway when it wasn't being rented.  After Max passed away, though, it lost a lot of its sparkle.  It's hard to want to go there now, despite the gorgeous location and the way that Malibu glows when it's sunny. 

I'd wondered how Raf could be so anxious to sell the house immediately after his brother's passing, but his gut reaction was just that.  He couldn't stand to be there, remembering how he'd found his brother, thinking of all the good times we'd had there and how they were now inexplicably, irreversibly gone.  However, now that the end could be merely a few days away and everything is being boxed up and moved out, it's suddenly real and visceral.  I knew I'd be sad, but when Raf admitted his own sadness, I was overcome and unable to speak.

We've said it over and over, but we're now ourselves, Version 2.0.  Without the moorings of the Sherman Oaks house or the Malibu beach house, I don't know that we can still be the "same" as before.  Not that it's bad, it's just different.  I'm just trying to remind myself, over and over, about the Anais Nin quote: And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

I just hope that blossoming will, eventually, be less painful.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Farming, Erin's version

My girls and I picked these tomatoes a few weeks ago, at a nearby farm where I get much of my produce. That's my intention, anyway, to eat as much locally grown fruits and veggies (and honey, etc.) as possible; in essence, to become more of a locavore. And so Emme and Nina and I descended upon Underwood Family Farms in late August to pick our own produce... with my sneaky under-the-radar motive to get my kids to understand what's involved in farming and bringing food to the table.

This is not a new concept, I know, but it's still fairly new to me. There was point, a few years back, when I finally realized that, by purchasing a blandly off-red, not-so-tasty Roma tomato in the middle of winter, I am essentially paying for the fossil fuel to transport it here before it ripens on the vine AND tipping the demand side of the supply/demand equation in such a way that tomatoes are created using hybrid seeds that can, yes, resist frost with tougher skins, but lose the very soul of their species. When I first heard about GMOs -- genetically modified organisms -- I shrugged my shoulders and said, "So what? Capitalism isn't so bad. This way, everyone can eat tomatoes year-round and they are less susceptible to freezing temperatures and bugs. What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that, when I finally ate an heirloom tomato from a local farmer's market, I nearly cried. The taste was juicy and unlike anything I could remember tasting in the US... though I'd eaten fresh produce daily when we lived in Italy in my teen years. (One of my mom's biggest complaints about Europe was about the small size of their refrigerators; however, there should be no need to keep leftovers since everything is so fresh and delicious that there is usually nothing left over!) And I'm not even scratching the surface about how GMOs adversely affect the environment and our bodies.

Like Marie Antoinette, who had her own little farmlet in Versailles (run by servants), I have wanted to indulge in the fantasy of farming and living off the land. I have enough space in my yard to do it, but... the truth is that I'm lazy and unmotivated and not sure that I have the stick-to-it-ness to actually get a crop or two to live through a season. And so it is that I am grateful for Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark for offering pick-your-own produce. I can wheel my barrow down the rows and pick what's in season, get my hands into the soil and become acquainted with the growing seasons and the cycle of a farm, then take everything home and make amazing dinners that taste farm-fresh... Without all the hard work.

Because, as much as I want to be good for the environment and my family and myself, I know that I'll do it if it's convenient. This way, we all win.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


I have this friend, the woman in the picture, who is simply, purely luminous. Look at her. I had to use a black-and-white filter just to make the picture a little less sparkly, so that you could look at it without sunglasses or squinting. Anyway, it was her birthday and she turned... well, I don't really know how old she is. I can't tell. One moment, she's giving really great advice about motherhood or bending a compassionate ear about life's struggles or writing an amazing essay about a homeless guy she's seen down the street. And then the next moment, she'll tell you a joke her 9-year-old son's friend told her that day and then she'll laugh until you laugh and then you're both laughing so hard you're crying, then you're nearly peeing your pants and later neither of you can even remember the punch line. She's that woman. And she's such a bright star. Wouldn't you be clapping, too?

Friday, September 17, 2010


I can't believe that my "baby" is six, but I hope that all of her crazy, mercurial, opinionated, perfectionist, detail-oriented, culinary-talented, silly, Virgo, funny-face-making, mega-watt smiling, stuffed animal-loving energy will remain constant as she grows up. When we decided to add a third little birdie to our nest, we had no idea what we were in store for... And she continues to keep us guessing.

In fact, her birthday was such a big deal to her this year that we celebrated for a few days straight, taking two friends out for a fun playdate over the weekend, then giving goody bags to new classmates and soccer teammates, then capping the whole shebang off with a birthday sushi dinner at Iroha in Studio City (her choice; that kid has great taste). She may be high-maintenance, but I can't help it... I like her. Waiting for her to smile again is a favorite pasttime of mine. Five was really fun -- even if it was somewhat trying -- and I am excited about six. What new things will she try? What will she learn? Will she always kiss her mama goodnight?

(Sidenote about photo: She's blowing out candles on a spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough. See what I mean about mercurial?)

Friday, September 3, 2010


I have broken up with my CrackBerry and have fallen in deep lust with my iPhone 4.

Like a deck of cards that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, my iPhone is full of possibilities that shuffle around like a magician's sleight-of-hand trick in Vegas. Pretty pictures made prettier with hipster filters, FaceTime with my friends' 15-year-old (one of my few friends with an iPhone 4). Apps for music, apps for games, apps that inspire, apps that keep track of the balance on my Starbucks card, apps that practically wipe my butt and wash my hands afterward.

There's a lot of newness in my house lately and I always find myself a little resistant when it comes to truly embracing change, and this was no exception. Though I'd secretly desired an iPhone since its inception and had watched helplessly as my husband abandoned his dinosaur Nokia flip phone and became an iPhone cultist over the past two years, I'd resisted the tug toward "easy" rather than "practical."

All I do is call and text, I'd said to myself. It would be wasted on me.

And the first few days that I had my new phone, I left it in the box, afraid to touch it. Afraid of its power. Intimidated, for sure. What if it doesn't like me? What if I can't figure it out? And when I did finally plug it in, it was a little too easy for me. I was used to my BlackBerry's menu-driven interface which, like a regular PC, demanded that I always return to the main menu, closing out files and folders as I went along so that everything would be in its neat, proper place when I needed it again.

But my iPhone is like a designer's desk, messy and full of seemingly disorganized chaos, a baker's case of goodies that you want to dive right into. There are apps and docs and messages flying all around all the time. There's music playing in the background when my mom calls me to ask for a picture of the new dog, which I take while we're chatting and manipulate to look like an old Polaroid photo, then email it to her before we're off the phone. If I get lost on a hike in my new 'hood, I can pull up Google Earth to find myself... if I want to. It's all good, my iPhone says to me. I know where you are. Play some Biggy Smalls and we'll get you back on track soon enough.

My iPhone is still new, so maybe one day this lust will simmer down into a warm, comfortable companionship and I'll be able to keep my hands off of it for at least a few minutes at a time.

Don't take this the wrong way, BlackBerry, but I don't miss you... Trust me, you did what you could and were the best you can be, but I've changed. I feel bad saying this, but I've moved on. It's not you... it's me.

Seeing Red (but in a good way)

I have written about my struggle to pursue a "better" school for my kids in our move to Agoura Hills and, in doing so, hoping to "pay it forward" so that they can get a kick-ass education, meet really nice friends, get good grades and go to a good (or great) college, find a career that they love and excel in it... Basically, my anxiety stems from a desire to do the right things now so that they will have happy, fruitful adult lives.

A little bit of pressure on myself, don't you think?

But finally, I am relaxing. Our kids have started at the school I chose for them and I believe, with all my heart, that it was the right choice. It just feels... right. The kids that my children have already gravitated to are nice kids, who politely introduced themselves to me and dragged their moms over, too. Not that it isn't an adjustment from the school they loved in the Valley.

The classrooms are small, my kids pointed out to me. Serena said, I'll bet my classroom is half the size of my old one.

Yeah, that's true, I said, but there are fewer students in each class. (Which is ironic for me to say because Las Virgenes has increased their class sizes to a ratio that is still smaller than the one in LAUSD; so while some parents are grumbling, I am singing praises. This increase may also be the reason our kids got into this school, which was trying to avoid split-grade classes.)

They shrugged and then told me how they could take their lunch and sit anywhere on campus that they wanted, a welcome change from their old school, where each class had an assigned table and lunch ladies who kept everyone in line. On my tour of the school, I had asked the principal about this and she'd said, They're good kids, why shouldn't they be allowed to choose their favorite lunch spot?

So this week has been about noticing the differences between what we know and what is our new normal. This morning, we remembered that Fridays are School Spirit Days at the girls' school, so they wore red shirts and prayed that other kids did the same. At 8:26 am, I got this text from Raf:

Whole school sings the Willow Pride song in the yard each Friday. It's got a lil dance to it, too. It was pretty cute. (Our girls) don't know the words so it was kind of a shock to us, but about 80% of the kids were sining and chanting P-R-I-D-E. Kinda cool.

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I loved our old school and was proud to be an involved parent there. But trying to convince other parents to feel the same way was like pushing a rock uphill, over and over. School spirit was not entirely absent, just not fervent. For high school, I lived overseas and went to schools in the Department of Defense "district" and the smaller student populations sometimes made for less-than-passionate school spirit; even my college was more of a commuter school, so great big football games and pep rallies were never an option.

Okay, accuse me of living vicariously through my kids, but something about this school spirit, with kids singing in unison and even proudly spelling out their P-R-I-D-E makes me gleeful. I saw a few SUVs driving around town this morning with Willow magnets on the back so I proudly slapped one on mine, too. If my kids are gonna be proud of their new school, Mama's gonna represent, too.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Today is the first day of September and it's also the first day of school for my kids. Marlowe's first day of first grade. Their first day in a new school. First day meeting kids in our new neighborhood. First day of the rest of our lives.

It really feels that way to me, and I'm a little choked up. It was the first time I walked my kids onto campus and didn't get stopped every few feet by friends and other parents asking questions or kibbutzing about teachers and programs. This is cliche, but I went from being a big fish in a small pond to being just one of the many guppies in a new pond. And it felt really good.

September has always felt like the beginning of a new year to me, a chance to start fresh and begin again. This year, it is more palpable than in previous years because of the new house, the new school, a new world vision after our travels this summer, learning to live in a world without Max. But I'm happy about it, all of it. I may be like Marlowe and wear a "Hello, My Name Is___" sticker today.

I'm still finding out who I am, what my name is here. It may take me a while to fill in that blank, but I will. For now, I'm content to wander unencumbered through the school yard, a guppy among guppies, learning to swim through the school of life.

My Dog Days of Summer

I have never said I was a dog person. In fact, I have ardently lived my life as a cat person, with stints of dog ownership (Joshua was a brown lab that bolted into the street and was hit by a car when I was in 1st grade; Mikey was our family's chubby cocker spaniel when I was a teen). I've had the same persnickety feline, Bootsie, since I was out of college. At nearly 18 years old, she is a spry old lady with no plans to leave this earth until she has made her mark everywhere. Starting with Raf's side of the bed and anything that smells like Marlowe.

But look at this dog. He's just happy-go-lucky, wants a little love and a good long walk. Somehow, he ended up at a high-kill shelter in Carson and was rescued by a fabulous organization called Indi Lab Rescue. We'd already filled out an application and had had a home visit... it was not unlike actually adopting a baby, with questions about our work habits, the way our family interacts, etc. I felt "scared straight" afterwards, wondering if we'd be a good enough home for a dog, even though I'm home all day and we have a large backyard...

I'm digressing. What happened is simply this: we found the perfect dog for our family. He's not a puppy, so I don't have another baby to deal with. He's about 5 years old and sort of mellow, likes to sleep by Raf's feet while he works. He doesn't nip at the kids or jump on people, but man does he love to chase squirrels and bunnies. He is not prissy like a cat. He just wants to love and be loved back. That's all. He's just kind of fun and happy, so we named him Gibby, after the kid on iCarly that likes to dance with his shirt off. (On walks, though, I introduce him as Gibson, which sounds a bit more classy.) He is exactly like Doug in the movie "Up!": "Hi, my name is Doug. I just met you and I already love you." That is my dog.

Raf is an excellent dog owner; so good, in fact, that a friend quipped, "You didn't adopt a dog, you adopted Raf's son!" Raf is joyful and easy in his interactions with Gibby and Gibby responds happily to the masculine attention. They eat the same way, slurping and chomping until they're full, then sitting back contentedly, enjoying the moment. Honestly, I'm discovering that I'm a better dog owner than I expected. Like Gibby, I love to take a 30-minute to hourlong walk in the mornings and I like to be in bed as close to 9 pm as possible. I like being in the moment. I'm learning to just deal with life and then, when the moment passes, move on.

Welcome to this crazy household, Gibby. We needed you!