Friday, December 31, 2010


All day, I've been thinking about resolutions.  Whether I want to make some, whether I've kept the ones I made last year, what they really mean.

Actually, I rarely make any New Year's resolutions.  They seem a set-up for failure, and I'm no longer into reaching for a goal as a destination.  I'm so much more interested in the journey as an end to itself, and I've found that the pursuit of an experience -- how will I feel if I experiment with working out every day throughout the holidays? what if I try to write three times a week for an hour? what would it be like to eat only veggies and fruit for a few days? can I soften my thoughts about something that's troubled me in the past? -- is often just as satisfying as reaching the "end" of a pre-determined goal.  

However, I went snooping through my dictionary to find something about the word "resolution" or its derivatives to grasp onto.  Here's what I found:

resolve - turn into a different form when seen more clearly (as in the orange glow resolved itself into four lanterns)

I had been thinking that "resolve" must mean "to solve again," and I wondered how I could "solve" my life again, or whether the New Year's renewal process was about providing new solutions to old challenges.  But I like the new definition so much better and it gets to the heart of what I want for myself in 2011.  When seen more clearly, I want to be transformed into the person/soul/being that I truly am, not just the woman/mom/wife/etc. that I seem to be from a distance.  

This has been a year of change, and if I truly allow myself the pleasure of seeing where I was last December as the calendar wound down 2009, it's very clear that Rafael and I were already in the throes of moving toward newness and growth before January 2010 arrived.  The challenges we faced - a new life in a new house in a new neighborhood with a new school - seem tiny compared to the loss of Max.

But, again working with the above definition of "resolve," we changed form when we were able to see ourselves more clearly.  Instead of feeling like we were outsiders in our new life, we immediately felt like we belonged here.  We didn't feel like we had left anything behind -- as I had feared that we would -- but instead moved toward the lives we had been chosen to lead.  And we continue to do that.

So that's my "resolution": to continue to move consciously forward in this life, the only one that I have.  Maybe it's presumptuous of me, but it makes me happy to wish the same for you, too.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sister Love

In my "real life," I have created a network of girlfriends that I adore, women who I call when I need the estrogen-laced advice that only another girl can provide. These women have helped me raise my kids, keep me sane when I'm going nuts, encourage me to say "no" to projects and obligations that will wreak havoc on my home or family, and talk me through important purchases at the mall ("Do I need a green coat or a pink one? What do you think?").  These "sisters" are such a part of my life that I sometimes forget about the REAL sisters that I have, the ones who live a little too far away to be a regular part of my daily life.

My little sister is 9 years younger and lives on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. I have always made the mistake of thinking that she's "too young" to understand my life.  But I've been wrong. She's such a good, strong woman and even though her life is different from my own, she has constructed a good place for herself and it's been my good fortune that she's carved a special niche just for me.

My sister-in-law, who lives near DC, has been married to my brother for just a bit longer than I've been married to Raf.  She and I are so different in so many ways.  She's a redhead and a crazy-smart career woman with a strong sense of herself and her self-pride, which she's instilling in her kids (with remarkable results).  She's worked at the CIA and is a sharp shooter (like my own sister), and I didn't know whether to expect Sarah Palin at the dinner table or not.  But really, who cares? The person who greeted me (and bought me a pretzel at the mall) was warm and loving and welcoming and treated me like her own flesh and blood.  Moreover, she treated my brother with adoration and respect, which he mirrored back.  What else could I ask for in a sister-in-law?  

I will never give up my girlfriends - they are with me for the long haul - but I am going to find a way to make these REAL sisters a bigger part of my daily life from now on.  I know they're busy and that they may not always be able to tell me what to make for dinner or hang out on the cell phone while I shop for underwear at the mall, but I feel fuller knowing they're out there in the world and that they're MINE.  MY sisters.

We Are Family... I Got All My Sistas With Me...

My parents got a pug puppy soon after they moved to Texas because my dad had a fantasy of driving a pick-up with a little pug (like Frank in "Men in Black") on his lap.  Hence, their pug is named Frankie. It's kind of cute that they now have a furry "daughter" since we are all grown up and moved away, but... when my mom tells my kids to "say goodbye to your Aunt Frankie" or says things like "Frankie's glad to see her sister" (meaning moi!), well, I think maybe it's gone a little too far...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Big Fat Texan Christmas

My kids are half-Jewish, which means that we usually don't go overboard at Christmas because they've already had "8 crazy nights" of Hanukkah.  Not this year.  This year is the "go big or go home" Christmas at my folks' house in Texas.  A few snaps:

Christmas eve PJs

Sorting presents

Before the mayhem

Emme's "longhorn" Xmas presents (the bag reads "It's okay, I'm a Texan")

My niece Bethany ("Bobbi Nicole Stinkypants" to us) and her new J. Beebs doll

A real Texan Xmas gift for my dad: a new Dremel tool

My mom's book, titled "Momma Loves Her Some Eggnog"

Serena, complaining of a stomach ache.  Some kids can't handle Christmas...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

This is 15 minutes from my house, walking slowly up a muddy hill, then down the other side, past a sign that says "No Trespassing" and shimmying through a narrow break in the fence.  My dog and I rarely see anyone else here, though a few days ago we did stop and wait for two coyotes to pass the trail 20 yards ahead of us.  There are a few houses clinging to the hill east of this trail, but we can't see them past the oaks and brush.  

It's quiet here, just a few noises. The soft suss-suss of a light drizzle on treetops, raindrops falling from leaf to leaf. Birds winging from one tree to the next. My boots on gravel.  Gibby's breath as it steams into a cloud in front of his snout.

It feels so remote that I occasionally plunge my fingers into the pocket of my rain jacket, just reassuring myself that my phone is still there, that I can still reach the real world if I need to.  My imagination swirls around my brain like marbles in a pinball maze.  Questions arise, ranging from those that my kids would wonder ("Did Indian live in these canyons? How long ago? Are there a lot of coyote dens here?") to the paranoid crazy warnings that my mother-bear instinct screams at me ("Are you sure there aren't wild bands of crazed heroin addicts or a Manson cult living behind that big oak tree, waiting to attack errant hikers? What will you do if a coyote attacks your dog? Are those holes where snakes live?").

Deep breaths.  One foot in front of the other.  I can't say that it will all be okay, but here I am, better just to keep walking, hoping we make it out alive.

When we do, I am always stunned by how quickly we are enveloped by the real world again.  Trucks roar past us.  Donkeys blare up from their stables. Over the hill, the freeway rushes by our neighborhood.  Same as always.

Or not.  I'm reminded of that poem -- Robert Frost? -- about taking the road less traveled.  And that, the poem goes, has made all the difference.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Mightier Have Fallen, Too

This is me a few weeks ago.  I was showing my kids how to sand surf at Zuma.  And I was pretty good at it, too.  This was on a small, not-so-steep, rather smooth slope.  I'm goofy-footed (right foot forward) on a surfboard and this is how I tend to look on ocean waves (hopefully with a better expression on my face).

Yesterday, I attempted the same thing, only I was on the other side of the sand berm, facing a steeper, choppier (i.e., not smooth) slope.  I positioned myself regular-footed (left foot forward) and held onto the lead of the boogey board and pointed myself downward.

Only I didn't bend my knees and get low.  And I didn't prevent the board from getting wedged in the sand.  And I let my back leg (the right one, which I should have had in front anyway) pop off the board and get stuck at an impossible angle uphill... while I was still going downhill.  

I heard a weird pop/click in my right knee and stayed there in the sand for a few moments.  Raf laughed, then didn't.  I laughed, then didn't.  "Oh shit," I thought.  "Really?  After a lifetime of no broken bones..."

But then I stood up and it felt okay.  Not great.  A little swollen.  A slight limp.  But okay.  Nothing a little ibuprofen and rest and ice can't solve.  This morning, it's more painful, but I'm hopeful that I'll be back in yoga and at Bar Method later this week, trying to stave off holiday poundage.

Here's the lesson, though: I've been battling with my age lately.  I've talked shit about my body and my "ailing" health for comedic effect.  But I realize that I've taken pretty gosh darn good care of myself, ingesting fish oil and flax seed daily, eating cleaner, walking every morning (except this one) with the dog for a half-hour or more, staying flexible.  And so this little "injury" is no big deal.  It could have been really bad, but it's not.  

So, again, I'm grateful. It could have happened on a not-so-busy week -- I'm trying to figure out how to get big boxes to UPS and how to manage the 5th grade gingerbread party without putting weight on my right leg -- but I'm lucky. 

Another lesson: leave the sand surfing to the kids!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Teenage Obsession

I am more than a little obsessed with Arcade Fire lately. I got the CD "The Suburbs" as one of my KCRW membership premiums, mostly because I liked the title and the idea of suburbs and urban sprawl. I felt weird about it, though; I had declared my distaste for Arcade Fire when their first album was being touted as the 2nd coming of Christ by the mainstream (and blog-underground) media critics. They quickly were known as "critical darlings," and that sort of freaked me out. I mean, I like K$sha and Justin Timberlake plenty, thank you very much, but when it comes to my LOVES in music, I didn't want to commit myself to a band that everybody loved, just because everybody loved it.

That, and I didn't quite "get" it.

The music was dour, the lead singer's voice was gravelly and slow, the lyrics contained a little too much angst for my post-adolescent lifestyle. And so I waited a long, long time to even give Arcade Fire their due.

And so...

During one of my morning walks with the dog, I put my iPod on shuffle and began to roam the hills behind our house, gliding past horses and trees and whispering leaves and the smell of early-morning fireplaces. I was trekking up the small hill that's guarded by the white lab who barks at Gibby, who stops to pee on the bushes across the street while the barking ensues, when a nice strong beat rang into my earphones. A girl's high voice, angelic, sad, matter-of-fact, sang dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains and there's no end in sight... And right there, I was hooked. It was like someone finally put words to the feeling I'd had about my previous life in the Valley. (Okay, I need to clarify that I don't seriously believe I live in the sticks now, but it is a very different lifestyle than what we had in Sherman Oaks, a little more natural and rustic, not to mention the horses and snakes.)

Anyway, so I heard this girl sing and realized it was Arcade Fire, which I had previously thought was strictly a guy with a weird haircut backed by a band of art school dorks. Then I saw them play "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" on Saturday Night Live and the singer, a sparkly Gilda Radner type who sounded and moved like Bjork, was mesmerizing.  I even made my kids watch it with me, to see if I was just imagining the majesty.  When they began to make me play the song repeatedly in the car, I knew it wasn't just me. 

And the rest of the album is just as freakin' good, with tales of modern-day isolation and the frustration of trying to make real, tangible connections in the email/texting age.  Plus, there's a sort of early Depeche Mode synthesizer thing on a few of the songs that knocks me out, and a nod to the Rolling Stones on another song, and and and... 

See? I'm geeking out and sure, I'm a little late to the party.  I did this with The White Stripes and Smashing Pumpkins, too, so Arcade Fire is in good company.  The great upside to this newfound obsession with an established band is that I can dive into the earlier CDs while I wait for the next album to come out...

Not that you're a geek like me, but if you watch this video of "We Used to Wait," which is full of angst and artistic rage, just imagine me at 15 or even 22...  I would have given up everything to just follow Arcade Fire around so that I could be lucky enough for the lead guy to tightrope walk on the back of my stadium chair... 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Grateful Prayer (In Spite of My Own Idiocy)

Dear God (and may I say that it's interesting now to call you that after a decade or so of trying out "Divine Being," "The Universe," and merely looking up to the heavens and shrugging? Who knows what/who you are, really.  May as well make it simpler on myself and just call you by your monosyllabic moniker, right?):

Thank you for keeping me safe, helping me to help others and for not taking it all too seriously.  I'm grateful that Raf was home to answer my call when my car stalled close to home and I had an SUV-load of groceries and perishables in the back, hoping to restock our abysmally empty fridge after a holiday weekend in Vegas (and I'm grateful also for his lucky streak at the craps tables, by the way; it makes a man feel good to win once in a while, even at a crazy game of chance).  

I'm grateful that I renewed my AAA membership again 18 months ago, for the peace of mind that it gives me when something like this happens.  I'm grateful that the tow truck driver was kind and didn't laugh when I said, "Oh, it might either be that I'm out of gas or my alternator exploded."  I'm grateful that Raf had come back after unloading the groceries and was able to take the tow truck man's gas can to the station - literally a half-block away - and get some gas for me.  

I'm grateful that the tow truck driver was so nice that when I said, "What should I be doing?" he said, "The best thing for you is to just sit in your car and relax.  We'll take care of this." In talking with him while we waited for Raf - he was recently laid off from a great job and now earns $8 an hour - I felt grateful for the security that we feel in our life.  As he spoke about a previous job as an EMT in Watts and Compton, I again felt enormously grateful for the quiet, safe neighborhood where my kids are growing up among the horses and trees.

I'm grateful that when Raf was returning and made an illegal U-turn in front of the lady police officer, I was only a quarter-block away from him as he waited for her to give him a ticket, and that she let him move his truck up so that I could fill my tank.  I'm grateful that she relented and didn't give him a full-on moving violation ticket, just an "unsafe maneuver" sort of a ticket so that it wasn't as expensive (as she explained, she wants the streets to be safer for all of us... and I'm grateful that she actually seemed to mean it).  

I'm grateful that, yes, it was only an empty gas tank and not an explosive alternator.  And even though the tow truck driver said, "Hey, and you're not even blonde," I'm grateful that I had the means (thank you, Vegas) to give him a healthy tip at the beginning of the holidays.

I'm grateful that I got to get back on the road in time to volunteer in Serena's class and then pick up my kids and their mom for another precious day because of all of this safety and security.  And I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to acknowledge it, once again.