Friday, December 23, 2011

Dawn Patrol


This morning, I woke up at 5:15 and gathered myself together, took a tall gulp of coffee, and headed to a morning yoga class. It was a level 1-2, so it blended vinyasa flow with stronger poses like crescent and (my favorite) half moon, culminating in inversions and (another fave) handstand.  


As I lay in savasana just after 7 a.m., two things came to mind.  The first was a poem by Rumi:


The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don't go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want. 
Don't go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.

The door is round and open.
Don't go back to sleep.

The second thought I had, laying there in the Tiffany blue of the room, bathed in the soft tapestry of skylight and candlelight, was I'm not an early morning yoga person.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Well, I Never... (But Yeah, I Probably Have)

photo by Teena Vallerine via Flickr via Pinterest
I went to a bridal shower recently and they played an icebreaker game that I'd played before called "I've Never..."  You're supposed to say something that you've never done and then all the people who have done said thing will put money or buttons in a jar for the honored guest.  It's a "getting to know you" sort of game.  I'm sure I've made people play it at showers I've hosted.


Anyway, this shower was for a very good friend of mine and I was with two other good friends and it was all very lovely and pink.  The room was filled with pale pink balloons, champagne and finger sandwiches for our tea.  Cookies.  Lip gloss.


The games hostess passed around a jar of buttons and asked each of us to take 10 buttons - any that we liked.  Since many of the ladies are crafters, I may have been expecting some sort of crafty fun and so I excitedly scooped up a handful of bright buttons.  And then the game began.


At first, it was benign.  "I've never had a child." Plunk. "I've never been to Paris." Plunk.  "I've never been drunk." 


"Excuse me," I asked, smirking, "do I need to put in a button per time I've been drunk?" Gales of laughter.  Plunk.


Here's the thing: I was shoving buttons into the jar at every turn, like I didn't even have an "I've never..."  I think the only thing that spared a button for me was "I've never been skydiving."


Then, as we ran out of things to "I never," someone said, "I've never smoked pot."  We all looked around the room sheepishly and I stood up and plunked my second to last button into the jar.  


I won't even tell you the one that I lost my last button to - but suffice it to say that I had a very well-rounded collegiate experience.  And I was the very first to lose all my buttons, by a bit of a long-shot.


"Yikes," I said to my bride-to-be friend, "you didn't know I was so skeezy, did you?"


"Aw, it's okay," she said.  "I'm sure I woulda been all skeezy with you."  Which made me feel a little better. 


When I got home, I told Raf about the game and how embarrassed I was that I hadn't lied to keep my buttons.  Secretly, I thought he'd regret having married me, a skeezy girl with a checkered past whose oats were obviously well-sown.


Instead, he shrugged in that way that he does and said, "Geez, I feel bad for all those people.  Who'd want to get to the end of their life and still have all their buttons?"

Happiness is a Freshly Made Bed

photo from decorpad.com via Pinterest
I once read a list of things that all "happy" people have in common - it might have been one of those annoying "Top 10 Things Happy People Do" or "How to Be Happy" articles in Cosmo or Better Homes and Gardens - and one of the items has stayed with me every day since.  It was so easy, it was comical. I think I even snorted in derision as I read it:


Make your bed.


"Make your bed," I imagine myself saying at the time.  I probably even put the magazine down and took a good gander at my bedroom, strewn with with children's toys and dirty clothes and likely a few spit-up stains on the comforter and pillow cases.  I might have even kicked the magazine aside and thought, "Right.  Like that will change my life."


But you know what?  I took a leap of faith - maybe not that day or the next or even the next week - and when I thought of that idea again, I simply pulled the top comforter up the the headboard and fluffed the pillows a little.  "Done," I said to myself.  Satisfied, I walked out of the room. 


And then I did it again, the next day.  Then the next. And so on.  Only, it made me start clearing a path from the bed to the closet, from the closet to the bathroom, to the staircase, down the stairs, through the living room, and into my life. 


I cleared shit out.  We moved.  I didn't take that old baggage with us.


And every day, I begin again, with a freshly made bed.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Kids Say the Darndest Things



One of the best parts of being a parent is overhearing your child recite or sing something they've heard but they get the words all wrong.  Like this one, which Marlowe was shouting out the car window yesterday...


U-G-L-Y
You ain't got my ice cream pie
You're ugly
Ooh - ooh
You're ugly

Friday, November 18, 2011

Make a Wish

www.casadycreations.net
The group of people that I see on my yoga retreats is very dear to me. It's a lot like summer camp - I actually do refer to it as "yoga camp" to my other friends, because it makes it sound more accessible - except that each of us comes with the gift of an open heart and mind, as well as a willingness to let the other people on retreat see us as we really are... and a promise that we will also try to reserve judgment and see each of them as they really are. 


www.casadycreations.net
As you can imagine, this is a tricky thing.  On the first night, I tend to size up the group, seeing who I want to spend my time with, who seems worried or anxious about the weekend ahead, who feels more closed-off than the others. By the end of the weekend, when we are sitting in a closing circle and talking about the experiences we each had, we are old friends, having gone through a lifetime of memories and old wounds and loves and losses together in the yoga studio, letting go, opening up.  


In this vein, one of the men who has become a part of this "love tribe" by marrying one of my favorite retreaters, shared that -- although he works in the computer industry for a career -- he has always loved working with wood.  "In fact," he said (at the springtime retreat last April), "I make boxes."  As he described his process for selecting the woods - such exotic species as fiddleback maple, bocote, black walnut, cuban mahogany, beech, rosewood - and for crafting them into these perfect little vessels, it was difficult not to swoon over his vision.  I craved a glimpse of his woodworking and was thrilled when his wife announced that he'd put up a website


What Brian makes are wish boxes.  Ever hear of them?  You make a wish - not unlike a secret prayer or the soft longing that you release as you blow out a birthday candle - and write it on a small piece of paper, roll it up nice and tight, and put it in the box.  There is no "exit" hole, just a single tiny hole on the top where you can stick your wishes, capped by a cork so that they stay in.  As Brian says, "Once it's in the box, it takes root."


I fell over myself when Brian brought the wish boxes to our retreat.  He had been shy about showing them to us, somehow worried that we - of all people! - might judge them harshly or reject them, thereby confirming his tough inner critic's voice (you shouldn't bring them, no one's gonna love them like you do, it's a silly hobby). And, like other artists, Brian's affection for his creations borders on fatherly, because they are, in essence, his babies.  But the response was magical.  Each wish box was unique in shape, wood, size, feeling.  They are each smooth and soft and have the feeling of an heirloom.  I bought two - one for myself, and another for a dear friend who is getting married.  


"Just imagine," I told my husband, "what if your father or your brother had had one of these?  Would you have opened it up?"


"In a heartbeat," he said, and in the quiet space of that moment, we each envisioned him sawing open a wish box overstuffed with dreams for the future, smiling at the wishes that had come true, laughing at the petty wishes of small boys, heart breaking at the wishes that couldn't come true.  A whole lifetime of memories captured in a lovingly crafted home.


My wish box is still empty, but it will hold a place on my Thanksgiving table.  And I will bring it to retreat in springtime again, so that Brian can hold it up and shake it and smile and I hope he'll say, "Yeah, there are some good wishes in this one."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Real Texas Ranger



This morning, I got the following email from my dad.  I haven't changed a word (and you'll find it hard to believe that my dad was born in New Jersey; he seems to have Texas in his soul).  Although the Texas Rangers lost the World Series, the spirit of the real Rangers will live on. And here's why...

Yesterday Mr. Matt Dillon Bingham the Smith County District Attorney called and said that this Old Texas Ranger was going to be in his office and that he was going to have him sign this poster for me.  Glen Elliot is an Old Ranger, about 89 now and has written two books about the Rangers.  He’s an old school guy and one of the stories about him was that he chased a guy that crossed into Mexico, he parked his vehicle on the US side walked across into Mexico went into the bar where the culprit was, stuck a gun at his head and drug him back across the border.  The good old days when they didn’t worry about the paperwork, when the rule was you have the right to remain silent if you can tolerate the pain.  

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Empowering Women and Girls to See Themselves as Empowered



My friend Deirdre posted this on her blog and I thought it was amazing. I plan to show it to my girls. As much as we all like to be cute and attract adoring looks from cute boys, we need to be the smart women that we are, and continue to model that behavior for young women. 

It's a huge opportunity for us to break away from the shell of the ego. We may like being women, or men, or white, or black, or Latina, or European, or from Texas, or from Canada, or that we have curves, or that we're tall, or that we can roll our tongues, or that we're double-jointed, or whatever... but deep inside we are something entirely different, just a mass of energy that found a nice package to inhabit for a lifetime.  We are more than just what's on the outside.

Check out their site http://missrepresentation.org/ and pass it on.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Falling in Love Again

I have been tossing around the idea of self-love lately, spurred on by my latest birthday and the recurrence of a single spoke on the cycle of my life.  I noticed recently that I’ve been hearing that voice in my head again, the one that likes to try to compare me with other people.  This voice, which doesn't even sound like me (and really, I wouldn't take ownership were it not inside my own head), likes to say things like, “Look at your thighs.  Probably time to start running again,” and “Why did you buy/keep that dress? It makes you look fat.”  I’m serious!  This is not someone I would entertain in my circle of friends and the fact that she is as close to me as my own thoughts is deeply troubling.

The thing with this voice is that it tends to crop up in a seasonal cycle.  Bathing suit season is a given – but I love summer too much to really give into it, preferring to throw media ideals to the wind in favor of beach days and back dives.  Then there’s the cusp of late summer to autumn, when I feel overwhelmed by obligations to the girls’ schools and teams, my own expectations for my writing and creativity, and the pressures of upcoming holiday plans.  So it wasn't too surprising when the voice came back a few weeks ago, out of the blue, like an old boyfriend breezing through town, not caring about how much wreckage is left behind by the visit. I found myself hearing those old stories again, about how I really ought to cut out all sugar, need to join a gym, have to add at least another hour of cardio to each day (Where would I find the time? Well, the voice said, I should just wake up an hour or two earlier…).

As the ugly voice continued, my stronger self wondered why it had come back to visit in the first place.  This is where age comes in handy – the longer I’ve been around on this planet, in this body, the more experience I’ve had with these cycles.  And one thing I remember is that when my writing and creativity is being stifled in some way, pushed to the back burner or placed “on hold” (as it tends to be during those first few crazy months when school starts up again), then the part of my brain that is usually too occupied with my creative thoughts to worry about petty things that are beyond my control opens up, allowing enough space for the voice to creep in and make itself at home. 

This time, however, fortune was on my side.  My girlfriend Christine (of Belle Femme Gazette and Dollybelle’s Peepshow) had called to ask a favor: would I be interested in opening up my closet and wardrobe to her camera for a quick style video for her blog and webzine?  I had to swallow the voice and just allow myself to get excited instead.  What could be more fun than spending a day in my closet, going through clothes and talking about style?  Christine has a gentle approach and looked at my clothes without judgment, focusing on pieces I might like to add to my wardrobe.  More importantly, she worked with what is: my figure, my style inspirations, my lifestyle.  She didn't talk about the latest trends and celebrity bodies.  She spoke to me.  When she sent me the video links (one for a cute side bun and one for my closet), she was ecstatic with the results, calling me a “glamour mom.”  

As you can imagine, this isn't how the voice sees me.  I found myself questioning which voice I wanted to hear... and the answer was clear as day.

I watched the videos and was surprised at how much I loved seeing myself through Christine’s lens.  Sure, I’m lumpy in a few spots (the voice made sure to point that out); I’m 40 and I have three gorgeous kids and a full life and I like to drink wine occasionally and I can rarely pass up a piece of homemade pie.  But I was shocked that I could finally see myself as a “glamour girl” – that the beauty I’ve tried to cultivate on the inside has found a way to live on the outside as well, despite the voice.

I’m re-reading Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” as a refresher and something I read last night resonated so loudly, the voice finally relaxed and subsided.  Under a passage titled “The Real Problem,” Louise outlines her work as a life coach and how she asks her clients to explain why they've come to see her.  After they’ve listed all their problems, pains, issues, etc., they all come down to a single bottom line, over and over again: “I am not good enough.”  To this, Louise says:

Hurrah, hurrah!...Now we do not have to bother with any of the side effects such as body problems, relationship problems, money problems, or lack of creative expressions.  We can put all our energy into dissolving the cause of the whole thing: “NOT LOVING THE SELF!”

Well, voice, it’s been a good run for you, but I’m afraid that I’ve outgrown your negative, petty thinking. I’m starting a new love affair with my self and there’s no more room for you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quiet Courage


Today marks a decade of our country living in a state of persistent war and global terrorism, but it also commemorates acts of incredible courage.  Not just from the passengers of the hijacked planes, the firefighters and rescue workers, but also the survivors whose loved ones perished in the 9/11 attacks and the rest of us who watched helplessly as our fellow Americans suffered.  That day marked a line in the sand for us: we can be sad about these tragic events and we will never forget, but we must go on and we must live, with gratitude and with intention.


I spent this morning with a dear friend of mine, whom I met while working on the college paper.  We sat next to each other at graduation, swigging champagne from a bottle under her seat.  She got me my very first job after school, at a PR firm (which I sucked at, and I had to quit or risk being fired; seriously, I wasn't cut out for the pressure), then found me my first apartment (right next to hers in Hollywood). Because of that magical apartment, I met my neighbor's brother Rafael... and the rest is history.  In addition, she showed me how to smoke pot gracefully, taught me how to make trifle, and took me to my first yoga class.  I can hardly express how much I have gained simply by saying hello to a very pretty blonde girl in the newsroom more than 20 years ago.


Anyway, we met at a yoga studio and did an intense 90 minutes of flow yoga and breathing, then had breakfast nearby to catch up.  After I jumped off the PR train, she continued on, advancing to bigger and better jobs in the entertainment industry.  The last time we spoke - I'm ashamed to admit that, apart from Facebook chit-chat, it's been about a year - she was at a big network with all sorts of glossy reality shows.  It was stressful and fast-paced and she was expected to keep her BlackBerry on her hip at all times.  


As we ate breakfast, a former colleague of hers came to the table to say hello and it became clear to me that she no longer worked at that network; instead, she works for a much smaller, lower-profile network.  "What happened?" I asked.  In PR, generally, you climb the ranks higher and higher, dealing with more and more stress, and your main reward is the cache of where you work and the money that rolls in.  But you pay for it, working so hard that you can barely recognize your priorities.  It's like, "Oh man, I want to see my kid's preschool Christmas play, but I'm supposed to go to the Botox party of a 'reality star' that's going to be in People Magazine..."  Her life was a juggling act and I was constantly in awe of how even-keeled she remained, in spite of the chaos that's inherent in Hollywood.


Anyway, she mentioned that the BlackBerry thing ended up being her undoing.  By a twist of fate, she didn't have it with her on a Sunday afternoon as she and her family took her parents to a garden show. A PR "emergency" (meaning: no one died, nothing happened, someone just didn't show up for an interview) sprung up and my friend was caught without her BB.  Her boss in NYC wanted proof of something from an email that my friend couldn't access while she was out with her family.  On a Sunday.  It was a thing, and it came up in her review (don't even get me started on this -- my friend helped launch so many of the media phenomenons that are in our TV culture now that it baffles me how her boss could single out the BB incident and berate her for it).


My friend was disappointed but, with years of mindful thinking and yoga under her belt, went back to her office and let it all go.  Let it wash over her and out of her system.  And went back to work with a quiet resolve to just do her job, do it well, but keep things in perspective.


A week later, she got called by a woman who wanted her to work with the smaller network. It was a lot less stress, an easier commute, shorter hours, a reasonable boss... and MORE money.  The main catch was that she would no longer have the high profile shows she was used to... and that really made her think. But the kicker was quality of life - she could have a great job AND have a great life, too.  Naturally, she took it, and she hasn't looked back. Her health, family, psyche and soul have benefited greatly from this leap of faith and courageous first step toward a new life.


On this day of remembering courage, I wanted to point out that courage comes not only in tidal waves, but also small ripples.  Each wave, each ripple, makes a difference.  It seems the only fitting tribute to those who lost their lives: to live well for them, to do right by their memories, and to continue making our best choices despite the inherent fears around us. We may live in a world filled with terror, but we do not need to be terror-filled.


Take a deep breath with me here.  Inhale courage.  Exhale fear.  It only takes one step.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Barbie Sunday


I was walking past my daughter's room and saw that Emme was arranging the hand-me-down Barbies that her friend Mallory gave to Marlowe.  The older girls had "grown out of" playing with Barbies, they agreed, but they consented to helping Marlowe set them up in the playroom, which led to hours of hanging out with the Barbies (hot tip: when you have middle schoolers, you don't say "playing" anymore, apparently). 

Anyway, when I caught Emme in the playroom, I had to stop and capture the scene.  "You'll love these when you're older," I said.  I pictured her as a teen, grimacing at this ludicrous statement.  "Much older," I added.  






Friday, September 2, 2011

In Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb


This morning, I read a friend's blog post about turning 40, and then I met a girl at my Bar Method studio who is about to turn 30.  Each of them had the same fear, anxiety, worry, discomfort about the unknown number ahead of them.  I won't lie: my 39th birthday filled me with a white-hot fear that life as I knew it would be over in 12 months.  And then all I heard was this: tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock...


What do you want to do with your life? my inner voice asked me.


The answer, in response to Max's death and the fears around me and the seemingly careless cycle of life, was simple: Live.  


And when I blew out my birthday candles, the only wish I had was to travel.  Italy, I wished, with all my might, and then I blew those crazy candles right out.


The smoke from that wish curled high up into the air, past my kitchen ceiling and into the ether.  And my wish came true, not only with a trip to Italy, but to more faraway places than I could have imagined.  Deep soul-searching and relaxing sight-seeing, party-all-night sorts of places and quiet, reflective ones, too. With family, with friends, alone... It was a year of finding myself, over and over, in the present moment.


By the time August rolled around once more, I was happy to welcome a new decade.  As they say, the 20s are fraught with frenzy and craziness, and then the 30s are rife with self-reflection and searching for yourself and getting all of your messiness dealt with (if you're lucky).  Rounding the last few weeks, I realized that, with a few very significant exceptions, most of my very closest, dearest friends were not only past 40, but closer to 50.  And they are luminous, shining women, self-aware and smiling, wise but silly, happy to suck the marrow out of life.


And I wanna be just like them when I grow up.  


Hello, 40.  Where've you been all my life?

The Reason I Haven't Been Blogging


When you get a horoscope like this one, you have to sit back and breathe.  Then you get to work on the extraordinary.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bikini Beach



Nothing says summer like girls in bikinis on a beach, even though I had to get over my own thoughts to consent to buying this very special souvenir for them.  I wrote about it for my friend Christine's online mag, because writing helps me to organize my thoughts (as you know).  


Welcome to bikini beach, girlies.

The Summer of Marlowe



Raf and Marlowe haven’t always been the best of buddies.  She has the propensity to be stubborn and immovable, demanding and irrational.  Raf is easygoing and flexible, willing to listen and more rational than most people in the world.  Many times, their interactions have ended in raised voices and impasses.  More often than not, Raf (and the rest of our family) will leave the room saying, “Geez!  Marlowe!” while she simmers on the couch.

Before school let out, someone suggested to Raf that he try to spend more time with her, alone, and see what happens.  Almost as though she sensed this, Marlowe simultaneously began to beg for him to teach her to surf.  She started to spend more and more time in the water with him, in the pool and at the beach.  To watch the two of them wrestle and tumble in the water together, you’d never guess that the first half of her life was spent as my pet, my little partner in crime.  She is becoming a total daddy’s girl, like the other two, and I’m all for it.

In Maui, she was joined at her dad's hip in the water, leaping on his back in the pool and grabbing his hand to go snorkeling by the shore.  And he was extremely receptive to it, understanding that her passion for the water might be fueled by his passion for the water. 

“She’s such a natural,” he's said, referring to the way she grabs a wave when bodysurfing or boogie boarding.  “And she’s not even 7 yet.  Imagine when she’s older…” and then his eyes get glassy, imagining her as one of those awesome bikini-clad pro surfer girls who lives to surf and gets paid to do it.  A year ago, I don’t know if I would have seen the same thing, but a week in Maui has changed my mind and allowed me to set aside my dreams of having a famous chef in our family. 

More than anything, I like seeing them together, enjoying each other.  There’s a bond between a girl and her dad that is unlike anything else and now, finally, they both get it.  And I’m grateful to be on the sidelines of this one, to witness and document it, revel in its sweetness, reap the benefits of the big reward. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Renaissance Girl


Today is Serena’s 10th birthday.  In the womb, her name had been Roxy Magnolia, which is still a good name, but I woke up one night in a sweat and said, “We can’t name her that!  She’ll be destined to jump out of cakes!”  Her true name, Serena, came from a place we stayed in Palm Springs, La Sirena Villas, when I was pregnant and Emme was not yet walking, just toddling around the room carefully and making us laugh.

Serena sleeps with her hands balled into tiny fists, like me, like her Grandma Nancy, with whom she shares her birthday. Her glossy, spiraling brown hair and round face inspire references to the Renaissance masterpieces of Raphael and Botticelli and when I go to Florence, I see her image in every other painting or sculpture.  She is both prone to moments of fear about things that will likely not bring her harm, like elevators, and to giant leaps of courage, like when she auditioned for a district-wide arts program and got it.

Today, I’m taking her ziplining in Ka’anapali to celebrate a decade together.  She is no longer the Elvis lookalike baby with glossy black hair and big blue eyes, but she is something better, grander, more than I could ever have expected when she chose me to be her mama.  Happy Birthday, Neen!

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Won't Stop Believin'



Birthday parties are tricky.  As a mom, I sometimes worry excessively about providing the right touches and getting everything "perfect."  More than anything, I know myself... and I know the strange feeling of disappointment when you've expected something more from that particular, special day that marks your birth.  Usually, it strikes me mid-day on my birthday, coming from the very center of my unconscious, a desire for this day to be filled with fireworks and magic and that intangible something special that I may not even have words to express.


As I've learned to be "in the moment" and express gratitude for the specialness of every day, this feeling has subsided somewhat for me because I realize that I'm in control of my own happiness.  But for my kids, I still worry that I'm helping them to have the best birthday possible, whatever that might mean for them.  I want to help them celebrate their special day, the day that I was able to bring them into their own existence, the day that changed my life for the better.  A little bit of pressure?  You think?


The thing is, when they were little it was more about taking something they love and just theming the hell out of their parties.  If they loved Toy Story, then I hired Cowgirl Jessie to come and round up the lil' pardners.  If they loved superheroes, I made supergirl bathing suits and capes for them to wear in the pool.  But now, I have to really listen to them, understand what they really need to feel good in the world, and try to figure it out.


Which brings me to last night.  For Serena's 10th birthday - double digits! - I had suggested that we take just two friends and her sisters to see a Journey cover band at the local park. Some swimming before and after.  Pizza.  Cupcakes.  Glow sticks.  She said okay, and we planned it, just a little.  And then I worried.  Would she be happy?  Would she feel satisfied?  Would it be enough?  


And then a few more of my friends came.  A picnic happened.  I talked Serena's grandma into joining us for at least a few songs.  The girls ate kettle corn and sno-cones.  By the last song -- "Don't Stop Believin'," of course -- everyone was on their feet, like a real concert, and there was Serena, hanging on the stage, starstruck, glowing from head to toe.


As we walked back to the car, emblazoned with our glow stick necklaces and headbands, I overheard Serena talking.  I didn't catch all of it, but I did hear this:  "best birthday ever."


And that made me glow brighter than all 10 candles on a single cupcake.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My (So-Called) Organic Life

I recently read a book that changed my life.  Okay, so the change was about 10 years in the making, but when I read Crazy Sexy Diet by Kris Carr, it was like a lightbulb clicked on.  I bought the book on my Kindle, I was so excited to read it, and I finished it in two days, then ordered the hardcover version to keep in my kitchen.  I'm not saying it was the book itself that changed my life and I'm not even recommending that you read it, unless you are searching for a way to a more organic, veggie-based life.  

More than anything, I think I responded to the way Kris spoke to me in that book.  Like a good girlfriend calling me on my shit.  Saying, "Hey, you know that you are what you eat, but yet you still ignore labels on your food.  You still buy your produce in the grocery store without asking where it's grown or what pesticides and fertilizers are used.  You support big-box retailers blindly.  You eat meat and dairy without wondering about the care of the animals.  You put anti-aging creams on your face and use suncreens and shampoos that contain ingredients that are known to cause cancer.  And now that you know it, what are you gonna do?"

As I mentioned, this choice has been a long time coming.  When Marlowe was a toddler, she had a terrible skin rash, red bumps all over her body.  Her pediatrician said it was probably the laundry detergent, so immediately I changed to a fragrance-free option.  But that didn't seem like enough, so I sought out greener alternatives and my kids loved how much cleaner their laundry was.  I got rid of the bulk of our chemical cleaners and bought a big ol' bottle of vinegar. But when it came to the way we eat, I didn't want to rock the boat.  I chose to ignore a lot of information, thinking that the radical "green" activists were just lunatics.

Case in point: I had read the vegan manifesto "Skinny Bitch," and hated it.  The Che Guevara rebel pose of that book was off-putting, to say the least, although it lured readership with the words "skinny" and "bitch" (emphasis on the "bitch").  I think I actually threw the book away and drove to In-n-Out for a Double-Double.  But "Crazy Sexy Diet" approached me in a "you can do this, you can change your attitude about eating and living" sort of a way.  It made me feel like I could experiment with juicing and eating greener foods and just see how it made me feel.  I could tip-toe my way in.

And you know what? It feels great. I have not given up on a lot of things because I am only a month and a half into my "new" life; therefore, I still drink coffee (mostly fair trade and organic) with cream (organic), still eat fish occasionally, won't kill myself if I eat sugar (though it's tasting sweeter to me as my tastebuds change) or alcohol, still eat dairy (though I like buying organic, range-free eggs from local farms) and if it comes down to buying non-organic produce, I will (with a list of the "dirty dozen" in my purse).

The only thing is, now that the more I know about where our food and "health" products come from, the more challenging it is to live moderately.  What I mean is, I can't just pull the wool back over my eyes.  When I drink a frosty Diet Coke from a can - formerly my favorite beverage in all the land - I can't ignore the fact that it's been made from chemical sweeteners that cause both carb cravings (bad for a "diet" drink, no?) and cancer, and I also wonder about the aluminum can... where did it come from? How will it be recycled? 

Diet Coke is an easy one because I rarely drink it anymore, but when I checked out my cosmetics on Skin Deep, I was horrified.  I pride myself on my skin and am religious about my sunscreen and eye cream, but both of those (as well as my beloved anti-aging serum) are high in toxic ingredients... And what's a girl to do?  Give up on her youthful appearance to save the planet?  I'm being dramatic here, but my point is that my eyes are opened and I can't shut them. Acknowledging that I am still taking baby steps into this new lifestyle, I am going to do my best to find organic, vegan, cruelty-free alternatives to my favorite products.  

I won't go crazy with trying to get other people on my bandwagon, nor will I slap a Diet Coke out of a friend's hand - that's not at all who I am. In fact, from time to time, I may ask for a sip or a can of my own.  And I still drive an 8-year-old SUV, which I will keep until it dies and then I'll buy a more fuel-efficient car.  But being conscious makes me wary of lame articles like the one in Self Magazine's latest issue, "Detoxify Your Life," which suggests "easy" fixes for becoming more chemical-free.  I think we are far too accustomed to living the "easy" way.  It's okay to challenge ourselves to be more active participants in our health, from the way we eat to the way we clean.

I'm still experimenting, so I won't go all out and say I'm green or organic or vegan. But I feel radiant.  And that's where I wanna be.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Passing the Torch

Raf, Lola & Nina at Zuma

Raf & Lola check the waves
It can't be easy for my husband to accept that he's the father of three girls and married to a rather frilly woman.  Raised by a macho Israeli dad in a sports-obsessed family with a strong older sister and two younger brothers, he must have imagined that he'd raise a basketball team of boys rather than a parade of pink princesses.  There's only so much apologizing I can do; after all, it takes two sets of genes to create a child.  And we've long since determined that we're done having babies - there comes a time when you need to be grateful for the children you've been blessed to welcome into the world, and to set your intentions on raising them rather than having more kids.  Contrary to what our extended relatives may like to say when we see them once a year, we're not holding out for a son.


Still, I'm sure he feels a pang to teach a son how to be a man.  How to pee on the side of a road.  How to kick ass in a worthy fight. How to play basketball. He's never said as much, but I see how he studies my relationship with the girls, the way we bond over clothes or make-up or teen heartthrobs. It's different.  I'm sure he sometimes feels like a lone wolf in a sea of pink frippery.


But an interesting thing has happened.  Our youngest daughter, now 6 and three-quarters, asked him to teach her how to surf.  Over the past few months, he's taught her how to balance on a board in the swimming pool, bought her a wetsuit and a boogie board, hoping that she'll learn the basics before she's actually on a wave.  Today, he took us all to the beach so that the girls could jump on their boogie boards.  She took a few tumbles in the whitewash, coming up with sand in her hair and her nose, but she refused to get out.  Instead, she went back out in the waves, again and again.  She inspired her older sister, too, and we had a hard time getting them to leave the beach after a few hours.


"She's a natural," he told me, but his smile and the way he can't form the words to tell me how proud he is, is louder than words. 

Happiness is a Sunny Summer Day at Zuma

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Magic of My Dining Room Table



Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting a workshop called "From Blog to Book," featuring my writing coach, Erin Reel (aka "The Lit Coach").  I don't know that I had any idea what to expect, but I definitely wanted to share Erin's point of view and inspiration with my writer friends.  In fact, I made a point of inviting friends who were either not bloggers or didn't consider themselves writers... because I felt as though the workshop might offer them the little push they needed to jump-start their creative juices.


And boy was I right.  Not only did we learn a lot from Erin (who did a little creative "off-roading" in the interest of serving our very chatty, funny, and engaging group) but we learned a heck of a lot from each other.  A few of the attendees had met before, but many hadn't.  It gave me the opportunity to be a "connector," one my best talents, and put like-minded souls next to one another to collaborate and innovate.  


I sat back and enjoyed the magic of this group sitting around my dining room table.  Women sharing stories, sharing ideas, recognizing their own talents and seeing the value in their individual perspectives.  It was dazzling to participate in such a stew of creative process and appreciation.  From that table, inspiration grew like Jack's magic beans, circling the room and bursting through the roof.  In the week since, I've had the pleasure of reading many new blog posts from the women around that table.


And yeah, I've been a little smug, a little "I told ya so." 


Check out the blogs:

  • Erin Reel - The Lit Coach's Guide to the Writing Life - essential info for writers of all genres
  • Deirdre Lewis - A Walking Carnival - personal, thought-provoking, laugh-out-loud essays
  • Kim Tracy Prince - House of Prince - observations on the world and parenting, plus so much more
  • Kendra Pahukoa - Craig Olsen - home design tips and inspiration from one of LA's most glamorous designer showrooms
  • Christine Rose Elle - Dollybelle's Peepshow - a delicious cupcake of fashion, frills and inspiration
  • Mia Villarins - And I s'Wear - frugal fashion finds (and how to put it all together) by a fun mama

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Baby, You're a Firework

The other day, our family was at the beach and I commented to Emme that I wanted to get a tan on my stomach (which hasn't seen the light of day since I birthed three kids... and multiple stretch marks).  


I said, "Maybe I should get a bikini..." and then I spied a woman in a black bikini who was larger than me and not your typical Baywatch babe in a bikini.  "Or not."


Emme didn't even blink.  "She looks like she's happy," she said.  Then she shrugged and we talked about something else.


And that's the lesson, isn't it?  It won't matter what you wear, as long as you're happy.  That's what counts.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

...And the Livin's Easy...


One of my husband's legacies for our kids is his love of the band Sublime, the 90s reggae/ska/punk/rock band from Long Beach.  My girls know most of the words to most of their songs and last summer, as a family, we deciphered a lyric from "Garden Grove" that had eluded us ("I got the deuce-deuce in the trunk of my car"... which I had been singing as "Blue's Clues" and Marlowe thought was "doo-doo"... both of which are G-rated compared to Bradley Nowell's .22).  There is a sound in their music that is so uniquely Southern Californian, simultaneously laid-back and in-your-face, like a tatted-up Chicano offering you a coolie from the chest while telling you about his uncle who's doing time.  You're a little scared, but you feel lulled into staying a while.  


Although each of their songs sounds like summer to me, the big daddy of them all is "Doin' Time," which riffs off the old Gershwin son "Summertime" from "Porgy and Bess." When I hear the first strains of it, I can see ice cream trucks rolling through hazy San Gabriel Valley neighborhoods, kids running barefoot through crabgrass, heat rising like a mirage from the asphalt streets. 


Summertime... and the livin's easy...


I've thought of this song over and over since my kids got out of school on the 16th.  As they've shed their school schedules and the weather has warmed up, a lovely hum has taken over our lives.  The clock has slowed down and the mileage on my car has only increased by 8 miles over the past four days.  The lingering hours of daylight have given way to spontaneous pool parties and endless trays of cut-up fruit or popsicles in lieu of real meals. Their friend from down the street has become a 4th sister, and the pack of girls zigzags up and down the hill, from her plum-treed lawn to our pool and back again.  My writing time, which I had thought I'd have to give up by virtue of my kids' very presence in the house, has actually increased.  While they're in the pool, I sit at my table by the window and type, half-listening to their mermaid games and splashes, soaking up the summer sun by osmosis.  Today was their first lemonade stand and I'm sure it will become a neighborhood staple, with its icy sweet ade and dog biscuits. 


Last night, as Raf and I sat in the dusky evening light, I said, "It's been such a good summer."


"It's only been a week," he said, cautioning me that the kids could get bored any minute and the lull of having no real plans could become a living hell with three stir-crazy kids.


And I know that, but let's just take it slow for now.  We've got time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

Last week, when I went to Sherman Oaks to get my hair done, I remembered why I drive so far every few weeks to get my hair (ahem) "back to natural."  My hairstylist, a very pleasant older woman, reminds me very much of Rafael's aunt: caring, nurturing, feeding.  She is impeccably on time and there is never any drama.  When I arrive, she is ready for me and we share a few pleasantries, then it is quiet enough for me to read my book or magazine, and my hair is perfectly colored, trimmed and blown out in an hour.  Plus, she's next door to Starbucks.  All told, it's a delightful experience each and every time.


And so last week, as I waited for my roots to return to a color better than gray, Parvan quietly handed me a cup full of mulberries.  "Just like last year," she said.  "They're back in season."


I took the first bite and I remembered them, all too well.  Last year, I had called her in a panic to please do my hair before Max's funeral.  I didn't know her, but she was conveniently located and highly recommended by a friend.  Grieving, I just went with it, called her, set up an appointment.


While my hair processed, I answered sympathy texts and listened to sad voicemails, but I could hardly talk.  Mostly, I just cried.  Quietly, Parvan came over, humbly offering me a plate of juicy red and purple mulberries from a tree in her yard. I remember that I had to wear sunglasses because my face was so flushed and tear-stained.  "I've never had them," I said, sniffling.  "Are they good?"


She shrugged sweetly.  "Try them," she said, nudging the plate at me.  


Mulberries have small berries along a 3- or 4-inch stem, and they are sweet without being too tart.  Almost like a cross between a sweet red grape and a blueberry, but not as juicy.  I devoured them, even as tears pooled over the plate. I'd sob, and eat another, then sob some more, then eat another.  Even I knew there was nothing more to do.  Just go with it.  Be with this moment.  It will pass.


And somehow a year has passed.  I only know because Parvan's mulberries are back in season and now Max's grave has a headstone.  I find it interesting that my grief has a taste, but it does.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Passages


It's always interesting to me that I think about upcoming life passages so far in advance that I can forget about them and they will still surprise me when they happen.  For instance, when all of the kids were babies, I had thought, "When Marlowe's about 5, Serena will be 8 and Emme will be 9, so that would be a good time to go to Europe."  And now it's been nearly a year since we went... POOF!  Like a dream, the year has passed.

Similarly, when Marlowe was born, I had dreamed of the days when she would be in school with her sisters.  As a mom of three, I was excited that there would be 2 solid years when all three kids were at the same school.  Somehow, life kept me distracted and I was brushing my teeth the other night and realized that those 2 years are now coming to a close. In just over 2 weeks, Emme will be done with elementary school and she and Marlowe will never be at the same school again.  Sure, Mar will have Nina nearby, but it's not the same as Marlowe having her oldest sister with her.  For a 1st grader, it's been a big deal for her friends to see her hugging and hanging out with 5th grade girls.  For Emme, it's a chance to have someone look up to her in a real way; Serena is so close in age to Emme that she scoffs at Emme's authority, but Marlowe doesn't.  I had been so focused on Emme's passage into a new chapter that I nearly missed out on Marlowe's.  And my own, as a mom with "older" kids (meaning: not babies).

Life happens when you least expect it, doesn't it?  I suppose it's one of the things I like most about it.  The surprise, even after all these years.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Growing Up



Two very significant things that I have been waiting for – for a long time, each of them – happened this week, within days of each other.  The first is, my birth father found me.  The more important one is, my cat died.

I hadn’t seen or heard from my birth father since I was a baby.  So for all intents and purposes, I really never knew him.  He and my mom were married when she was 20, then she had my brother – BOOM! – and then me a year later – BOOM! BOOM! And by age 23, they were no longer together.  A lot of shit happened in-between and I have surreal memories of him being abusive to my mom.  My mother, who was very young and beautiful even with two very small babies, got remarried when she was 25 and my brother and I were raised by a loving father who gave us everything we ever needed or wanted.  He and my mom are still very happily married. 

It has taken me nearly 40 years (and a lot of therapy and yoga and deep breathing) to excuse my birth father for his absence, although I feel as though I can attribute a great deal of my inner self-loathing and former perfectionist tendencies to his abandonment.  When my dad read me the letter that my birth father had sent to my mom via Facebook, I felt ready to hear it.  I was not destroyed or confused or… anything.  I was very surprised by my reaction, which was kind of a shoulder shrug and head leaning, my eyebrows pinched together as my brain processed it.  Huh.  That’s all I felt at first.  Huh.  It was precisely the same reaction I’d have if someone told me that they’d run into my old boyfriend.  Is that so?  Huh.  Another shoulder shrug, then onto the next thing.

I won’t lie: I also went through a very quick series of feelings that ranged from anger to disbelief to disappointment.  But I didn’t feel like my core was shaken.  If anything, I felt like I was more “me” than I ever had been.  All this time, I’d thought knowing that my birth father was out there or looking for me would do something… I don’t know if I expected unicorns to blow rainbows or bubbles out of their horns or lollipops to rain from the sky, but all I know is that it didn’t.  Instead, I felt like this person I’d become in 39 short years was just a small part nature (the DNA that he and my mom had contributed), a bigger part nurture (the family and environment that I’d grown up in) and the majority was self-evolved and created through hard work and dedication to learning about my own human spirit through the very act of living.  And so this letter, which upset my mother because she thought it would mean he was going to “take us away” (never gonna happen), really had very little impact. 

And so the day ended.  

The next day, however, it became clear that my cat Bootsie may not live through the weekend.  There are medical details and there were sad choices to make – I won’t elaborate on them here because it’s still too fresh and I’m too sad to make sense of it – but I decided it would be best to let my beloved cat go.  She was nearly 19 for god’s sake, much older than many animals ever get to live (too bad I didn’t fall in love with a Galapagos turtle, I suppose).  It was time. 

I sat in the vet’s office this morning before 8 am, knowing that I had to be the one to choose her fate: live uncomfortably or die compassionately.  Be a grown-up, I told myself.  This is what your life is about.  You cannot let this moment be chosen by someone else besides you and Bootsie.  And so I said goodbye to her, hoping she could understand me as I said, Come back to me.  Hoping, of course, that my fairytale of reincarnation is true.

After they took her back to put her to sleep – I couldn't make myself go with her, it was hard enough to know I’d been the one to end her life – it was only about two minutes before they brought her back to me in a box (so that I could take her home to bury her in my yard). They said she hadn't struggled a bit.  They said she seemed like she knew it was time.  

As I took the box, which was still warm on the bottom from the life slowly escaping her body, and slowly walked to my car, I was flooded with memories. I used to, for instance, serve her water in a crystal goblet.  She ate dinner on the table next to me. She came to me the weekend I moved into my first apartment in Hollywood and survived my crazy single girl years, then my marriage, then my kids, then our move (in which she traveled with us from temporary house to temporary house magnificently, even as we grieved over Max, until we arrived home).  She is a part of me and I am (I’m sure of it) a part of her.  She tolerated Raf and the kids and the dog, but she loved me.  Only me.

The point of this missive is merely that we choose the ones that we love.  We don’t have to be obligated to give emotion or power to the people or things that have not nurtured or loved us back.  This week, I learned to call a duck a duck – my birth father will never be my dad, although I am grateful for the part his DNA played in my creation – and I allowed myself the space to impart the ultimate act of kindness and love for my beloved cat. I don’t know if either one is the “right” choice, but they are my choices and I feel like I must be growing up because I feel like I can stand tall next to them.