AH-HA MOMENTS

Last week I bought this sign for my kitchen.

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Today, that sign played out in my life as an all-too-rare “Ah-Ha Moment” and for that I am grateful.

It all started with a beautiful sunrise this morning which morphed into a cool afternoon devoid of rain. I decided to take a hike on one of the numerous trails that surround my home. It was a beautiful fall-like day with crisp-clean air, sweet dew laden grassy smells and wildlife galore.

 

After visiting “The Point” my son, Paul, and I started back up the trail. As we turned the corner near the visitors center where a few houses sit back of the path; I heard a Swoosh- followed by a rather loud SPLAT. Looking up I saw two 10-year-old boys lobbing lemons in my direction.

My first reaction was, “those little assholes. Why haven’t their parents taught them better.” That was obviously not the thoughts of the 70+ yo ladies who were heading up the path while I was going down.

“What was that?” the woman asked.

“Lemons,” I answered.

The woman looked over at the young lads and exclaimed loudly, “LEMONS!!!! I JUST LOVE LEMONS!!! CAN YOU THROW SOME MORE MY WAY?”

The boys looked at one another with a total look of surprise on their faces. Then they smiled and gently tossed more of the yellow fruit to the two old ladies who picked them up from the ground with the delight of 10 yo girls playing baseball on a summer’s afternoon.

AH-HA MOMENT…the sign…when life gives you lemons make something sweet…or funny… lighthearted and enjoyable. Why, I wondered, do I use the lemons life throws my way to leave a sour taste in my mouth instead of finding the sweet that is embedded in the moment? Why go to negative first instead of finding and embracing the positive? Why not ask, “Can you throw some more my way?” and be pleased to have them land at your feet?  Yes, I could definitely infuse many parts of my life with more sweet and less sour.

I thought about this as I walked home…tired but enlightened. And later, as I was munching on some of the best lemon bars I have ever made, I was grateful to realize that making something sweet was much more satisfying than being an old sourpuss.

 

Gone Forever…Happy Birthday Mom

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Today would have been my mother’s 84th birthday. She only lived to celebrate her 50th.

For years I was sure that I would not live to see my 50th birthday (we had the same freckles, you know). I spent my 50th year in mild fear, fairly certain I would not live to celebrate my 51st or see my children reach adulthood. After I reached my 51st birthday plus one day, I calmed down. It was if making that milestone lifted most of my fears about dying young. I was relieved and it showed.

My mother died of lung cancer. She never smoked a day in her life. I just had genetic testing down which showed I was at a greater risk of lung cancer. Same with my oldest daughter. And while it is a little disconcerting I am glad to know about this increased risk so I can do the things that are necessary to watch for any early signs that may come along. Lung cancer is cruel and I will do what I need to in order to try and beat the odds of ever having it.

My mom died young. Besides all the wisdom I missed out on it still saddens me that she never knew my husband nor seven out of her eight grandchildren. She never had the opportunity to be the mother of the bride at both of her daughter’s weddings. We never shared adult stories nor did we get to explore what an adult relationship between the two of us would look like. I wonder what she would have said about how I have lived my life and what advice she would have given me concerning my marriage. I wish I knew. I would give just about everything I own to find out. Funny how her opinion is still so important.

When I see mothers and daughters at odds with each other it saddens me. I wish they could understand that there is a hole that opens up in your heart when you no longer have a mother to shop with, eat with, or share stories with. Thirty four years later the missing still hurts. Thirty four years gone and I still wish i could call her and have a few heart-to-hearts. I wish I could smell her perfume and see her in that green dress again. I would love to hear her sing and play the piano for my family. Just once.

Those of you with moms still on earth… try to be kind. Treat them well. It is hard being a mom and trying to live up to all the expectations society puts on mothers…having: perfect kids, pies, hair, gorgeous body, happy husband, no wrinkles, Able to: cook, change her own oil, keep a household running and looking magazine cover ready at all times, be a sex pot and a taxicab driver… all at the same time.

Most of all call your mom…today. You never know for sure if you will ever see her again. Treat her as if you won’t.

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Coming Home

Make no mistake about it. We are the lucky ones. With so many families displaced by the Camp Fire (over 45,000 people, and over 13,000 homes burned to the ground) I am lucky that the only thing we have to worry about is a slight stench of smoke which has permeated our home.

We have lived out of boxes for two weeks and I feel incredibly lucky to have had those boxes with us at so many points during this crisis. So many people did not even have time to grab their valuables much less simple things like toothbrushes and a change of clothes. They literally ran with the clothes on their back into the thick black smoke to get away from the flames that were whipping from tree to tree above them.

Today, I started unpacking the car. What I realized was that everything I had packed had deep meaning for me and most were old family things belonging to relatives I had and had not met during my lifetime.

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I saved that 1893 stamp, worthless to anyone but me. It is the one that was taped together by my grandfather and I down in his basement after an epic failure at removing it from an envelope destroyed its purity. Along with it,  came my fifth GGrandmother’s lace sleeping cap and the christening dress that was my 4th GGrandmother’s wedding dress repurposed.

I took my kids adoption records and their citizenship papers, my third great grandmothers carnival glass salt and pepper shakers, and the pot we bought at the souk in Morocco; the one where we almost lost our daughter, probably never to be seen again.

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I took as much artwork as I could fit into the car. Pieces that we have collected during our travels like the deity from Argentina, part of the collection of Japanese woodblock prints and the breastplate we bought from the potter in my husband’s town of origin in Ireland on our 25th Anniversary holiday.

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I took old photographs, the Civil War Sugar bowl belonging to my 3rd maternal grandmother and my GG grandmothers white calling card bowl. The Buddha rode shotgun guarding the collection of celadon pottery that I bought while in my children’s country of origin.

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Everything I took had deep personal meanings and connections to the past. Everything had historical/familiar significance to me and to those who came before my time. And while these items are only “things” and I can’t take them with me when I die; they bring meaning to my life now and I am grateful to have them.

I am glad to be back home. In a home lucky enough to remain untouched by a fire that killed so many. I can’t imagine having nothing left of my life but ashes and soot. I can’t even wrap my head around how that must feel. But this I know…it isn’t the collection of things that we have that are the most meaningful, it is the collection of people, our tribe, that we call our own that bring us our greatest joy.

Now go and give someone you love a hug. Then look around you and think about what you would take if you had to flee. It only takes a minute to determine what is of value to you and unfortunately sometimes a minute is all you have. So be prepared.

Veterans of War

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Last night I eyed the little old man sitting across from me in the Taco Bell. He was wearing a WWII veteran cap full of medals and although almost ancient he sat ramrod straight as if an officer might call him out for sloppy posture. In his hand was a Sudoku book and he was busy placing the numbers when he wasn’t looking around the place. Suddenly, he looked directly at me, his shiny blue eyes piercing my soul and gave me a smile that warmed my breaking heart. Then he went back to his game.

I had come to Taco Bell after sitting alone at a table in a restaurant waiting for my fellow book lovers to show up for our annual party and book exchange. As I waited tears would well up as I thought about the previous evening when B and I decided to divorce after I realized there was no hope that his feelings for me would ever change. I was devastated and contemplating life alone or, God forbid, someday dating.

Sitting there in a room full of strangers I felt more alone than I have in my entire life. Crazy thoughts of “my family would be better off without me than putting them through this ” circulated around in my brain, and although I knew I would never act upon them, tears leaked silently as I contemplated how my 30+ year marriage had reached such a gut-wrenching low. As I scanned the email to ensure I was at the right place I realized I was a week early and decided I needed to escape all the holiday merriment going on around me. That is how I ended up at the Taco Bell across the street.

I watched the old veteran for several minutes. He looked happy yet I felt a sense of loneliness cradling his well-worn soul. I decided to take a chance and invite myself to dinner. When I asked if I could join him he looked delighted. He introduced himself.

“Ken?” I asked, wishing that my soon-to-be hearing aids had arrived.

“No Kent,” came the reply. “Like Clark Kent, superhero, although I am afraid the red suit would look a little wrinkly at my age.”

We both chuckled.

Kent was 92. He had been married to Doris for 65 years and she had died four years ago. They used to come to Taco Bell and sit across from one another enjoying each other’s company while playing Sudoku. He missed her and the life they had built together.

“What is my purpose here?” he asked me soon after introductions were made. “I just want to know why I am still here and what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life. I have no clue.”

“Well, that is obvious,” I replied. “You are suppose to be sitting here eating dinner with a sad middle-aged woman and telling me the story of your life.”

And so he did. He spoke of being too young to join the war when the United States was attacked on December 7, 1941, and how two years later, on December 7, 1943, the principal of the school told all the young men that he would grant them their diplomas, a semester shy of graduation, if they would only go and serve their country. Being the good All-American boy that he was; Kent went and signed up that day.

When he went home to tell his father, a WWI veteran that he enlisted; his father told him that he would regret it, but he didn’t believe him until his first Christmas far away from home, with guns firing in the distance, with regrets that flew fast and furious like bullets around his head. On that wintry night narrowly escaping death he realized his old man was right after all. He just wanted to be home.

“When staring death in the eye, men act in three different ways. There are those who want to flee, those who cry, and those who pray. I was one of the later but if I am honest there were times I experienced all three as I fought in the Pacific,” he explained.

Kent still marveled at his first airplane ride and laughed as he re-counted his complete and utter embarrassment at getting air sick and throwing up in a hat in front of the pilot. He talked about endless days at sea and wondering if their big boat would be someone’s prize target. And he narrated the story of a fellow veteran who was in the Merchant Marine, whose ship was stopped by the Japanese, after delivering supplies to the troops. For an entire hour the enemy shined a light on the American boat until turning off the light and slipping into the night.

“Why didn’t they kill us?” his friend asked the commander.

“We were high in the water so they knew we didn’t have any supplies and they didn’t want to waste their ammo on us. They just wanted to give us a bit of a scare,” came the reply.

Eventually, Kent ended up in Saipan surrounded by water and the Japanese. He recalled how the enemy would slip into camp and night with a wire garrote and strangle an unsuspecting solider and how they learned to walk with their back to the huts so no one could attack them from behind. But by far the saddest day of the war for Kent was the day a plane load of soldiers were flying home soon after the war had ended. As the plane took off over the base personnel could hear the sputtering of the plane and watched as soldiers tried to parachute to safety only to hit the roofs of the buildings because there was not enough time for their chutes to open.  The ones who didn’t jump drown as the plane went down.

“A whole plane load of boys who had survived the war and were jubilant to be going home only to die as they were taking off. It never made sense to me,” Kent said with a far-away look in his eyes.

We spent two hours talking about the mundane: weather, walnuts (he was a farmer) and dogs and important topics like war and marriage.

When asked how he stayed married for 65  years he offered this advice:

“You wake up every morning, look in the mirror and tell yourself that come hell or high water, and am going to love this person no matter what. When you get to be my age you realize you just don’t remember those bad days but you do remember the good and the good far outnumber the bad anyway. Why hang onto bad feelings when you don’t have to?”

I told him my story. Married 30+ years, six kids, travel, building houses together and multiple moves to a man I had adored until he no longer adored me and did everything in his power to try to get me to leave. The night before, I had read him what he had written a year ago about how he loved to feel my touch and how much it meant to him. When I asked if he still felt that way he said, “No I don’t…. I’m just being honest”  which is his newest mantra. It was then I knew that it was time to end, what had been for the most part, the happiest years of my life with the person I adored most in the world. This veteran of marriage was being discharged.

“That husband of yours must be crazy,” Kent said quietly as he leaned forward and looked into my eyes. “Too bad he doesn’t realize that he’s got a good woman if she comes up and invites an old man to dinner. My wife used to do that too. Believe me when you are my age you are lonely and you appreciate someone taking the time to show you a little love and concern. But don’t worry, a nice good-looking gal like you will find love again. Just don’t waste your love on someone who doesn’t appreciate it.”

Sometimes it is amazing how God puts someone who we need right in our path when we need them which implants a beautiful facet of multi-colored lights within our soul.Yet, I have found that most of the time it is up to us to seek out for ourselves what it is that we need whether it be companionship, a safe haven or the quite assurance of a hug. For it is in the seeking that we find out what we truly need, that we become confident and brave, and it’s how we realize that we are never alone in this world even though it often feels that way.

Thank you Kent for being my guiding star last night. Your light helped to lead me out of the darkness into a world that is open to possibilities for this old broad. Your purpose in life seems fairly obvious to me…you are a beacon of hope offering your light to those that will take the time to listen.  I can hardly wait to see you next week when we meet for dinner again.  You truly are a great first “date” and you have given hope for the future.

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13 And Counting

I remember the first time I saw Gracie. She was sitting on her foster mother’s lap, so tiny and delicate, that she looked like a doll. She was a preemie so everything about her seemed fragile and small. I fell in love with her right then and there as I stared at the tiny 3×4 inch photo in my computer screen; engraving her sweet face on my heart forever. Truly, it was love at first sight and I was bound and determined that she would become our daughter. I thank my lucky stars that my dream came true because everyday with Gracie has been a delightful dream with a mixture of happiness, joy, and a pinch of awe thrown in for good measure. She truly is amazing!

Today Gracie turns thirteen. It is hard to believe that I will never again be raising a mere child. Instead, I am guiding young adults towards the time when they leave the nest…hopefully for good.

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Since Gracie is a now an official teenager, it means I have four teens living in my house. Maybe I should say co-existing, as war could erupt any minute when you are stepping through emotional teenage land mines which are scattered, undetected, here and there. Gracie assures me that she will not act like a teen but she is already rolling her eyes and using THAT tone of voice which indicates that somehow I have become the absolute dumbest person ever to live on this planet. Forget the 55+ years of experience, the college degrees and my affable personality…I am soon to be regulated to the status of something below pond scum.

While I am excited about someday becoming an empty nester (finger crossed) I do have to admit I miss those times when my children thought I could do no wrong, when they believed I was smarter than G*D, and when the little things I did brought them such pleasure. Those were simpler times though I didn’t recognize them as such. I often viewed them as chaotic with all the meltdowns that two children with autism could bring. But now… well, even the meltdowns don’t seem quite as bad as when I was in the midst of them and I can look back and be proud of how I handled some situations that would tax the patience of a saint. Not to say I handled them all well but I did GOOD ENOUGH and that is just fine with me at this point in the game.

Today is one of those momentous days. Time and perceptions will shift for both Gracie and I as the label of TEEN is applied like a gooey sticker to her soul. May we each grant the other grace and dignity in the coming years as she grows wiser and my brain cells shrink in number. May we create memories that sustain us and may we see the best in each other instead of the worst. For the teenage years are upon us…may we both survive them with patience and our sense of humor intact! And may Gracie happily survive the impact that autism has on a family and a sibling..she has done a remarkable job thus far.

Happy Birthday My Sweet, Talented, Gracious, Fun-Loving And Hard-Working Baby Girl! You are my Superhero!

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Pioneer Woman

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It is hot here. I mean so F***ing hot that you could cook an egg on the side walk. Like 110 degrees hot and I am complaining like there is no hell for me in sight. Why? My air conditioner went out. Yes, while it is 110 outside, it is a balmy 101 inside and there is no relief in site. Meanwhile I am sweating like a dog trying to install a ceiling fan. That is not going so well either. It has been three hours and it still isn’t up but my blood pressure certainly is! I’ll probably die of my head exploding rather than heat stroke any minute. All of this begs the question….how did those women do it 120 years ago in the Southwest? I mean seriously…how?

Now I consider myself to be somewhat of a tough old broad. I can do a little plumbing, drive a nail or two and can give an evil eye to someone to raise the hair on the back of their neck. I can survive an “almost divorce” and come out of it almost sane. But when I think of doing laundry on a washboard in the sun, tending to a huge garden big enough to feed a family for a year, canning all that food, beating the rugs, sweeping the floors and making dinner in an oven that raised the raised the temperature of the house 30 degrees, well, sometimes I think I truly don’t know the meaning of tough.

Once upon a time women really were tough. They came overland by covered wagon with all their worldly possessions on board; unsure of just exactly where in the world  they would end up. My GGG grandmother’s dresser sits as a testament to her wagon travels in my daughter’s room.  Clarissa was a smart one, I’ve been told. When she married she received a cow for a present which she promptly exchanged for a handsome wood dresser. It was probably a good exchange for any woman during that time. For Clarissa knew if she kept that cow, she would be the one put out of the wagon, walking along beside the beast while prodding it along to lands unknown.

We now live in a world where we no longer know how to grow our own food, grind our own grains, make our own furniture, or have the stomach to butcher our own meat. Which makes me wonder what would happen if the world as we know it ceased to exist. Would it be dog eat dog or would people band together to act as a community in a land that really hasn’t known what one is for a very long time? I would like to think that community would prevail but with all the violence in a world where people tend to look out for #1 to the detriment of neighbors and friends; I cannot be too sure.

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And so this not-so-tough old broad worries sometimes. I worry for my children and my grandchildren making it an a world that gets more confusing everyday. I fear the madmen of the world who would just as soon blow us up as take the time to do what is ethical and just. I an concerned that companies are willing to destroy our environment in the quest for the almighty dollar. I am uneasy that antibiotics are fast becoming resistant and that coral reefs are bleaching out and dying. But most of all I worry that I haven’t done a good enough job making my kids tough enough to survive with less material things and more experienced in the arts of carpentry, making their own soap and butchering a cow should hard times fall upon us.

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Yes, I am a tough old broad…but is my family tough enough to live off the land should they have to?  Could they survive on the six months of dehydrated food that I keep for just this occasion? Could they do the back-breaking work that so many women are forced to do to eek out a living in these times? Dirty, hard work that I have watched women do while I sit in the back of an air conditioned car during my travels. Work the likes of which I most likely will never experience.  And would the few books I have on making your own chicken coop and creating a below ground garden help? I hope I will never have to find out the answer to that question.

 

 

Too Much

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When you really think bout it, it is amazing how we put so much trust in our love when we married when really, we had no idea what we were getting into or how it would all work out. It seems strange that we cannot do that now. We have just as many unknowns waiting for us now as we did then and yet this time we doubt our choice to love and give as freely as we once did.

Do we know too much or do we know too little?

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Seek And You Shall Find

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In a couple of weeks we will be leaving for South Korea. This is a trip which will take our three children back to their homeland. Back to a place where they will “look” like they belong but will not understand the language nor the customs that an individual would who had lived there for their entire life. This will be a trip, unlike the last time, where they will be able to understand the ping-pong looks and stares that people will inevitably give us as they size us up as a family; most smiling but some frowning; as they label our children different from “them.” It’s a trip where they will be in the majority, while we, their caucasian parents, will be in the minority; a role reversal that they can see occur right in front of them with their own two eyes…one which may have epic implications.

I hope that my kids will see the beauty of their first country and begin to feel pride in themselves as Korean-Americans. I hope that the anxiety of autism will not overtake my sons as we walk through crowded markets and experience new ways of doing things. I hope that these amazing children will become stronger in their belief that we humans are essentially all the same and that we share many of the same hopes and dreams as everyone else on the planet so we must treat others as we ourselves want to be treated. And I hope that they find the things that they are looking for, both big and small, that will fill the holes in their hearts that adoption itself creates.

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My wish for them is that they realize that the circumstances of their birth are just that…circumstances… that have nothing to do with them and that these circumstances do not determine whether they are “good” or “bad”  people. That they are who they are… not just due to their early experiences but mostly because of what they have put into themselves to create the work of art that they hang on the wall to show the world.

Korean…American…Californian…Autistic…Thoughtful…Creative… Intelligent…Giving…Athletic…Charming…Inquisitive…Happy…Caring…Interesting… all despite being raised by lovingly flawed parents.

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I hope Korea gives them the chance they deserve and I hope they give the same back to their Motherland. I hope the rich culture, the old stories, the ancient temples, the colorful folk songs and the flavorful food etch themselves into our children’s psyche so that they can reach for them in the future when they need a bit of understanding about who they are and who they can become. Because finding a bit more of yourself and what you are made of is a gift no matter where and when it happens.

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So my hope is that they find those gifts that will be abundant and ever-present as we tour their homeland. May they recognize what it is they need to witness and take it away for themselves and their souls. And may they find these gifts as freely as one finds shells laying on a sandy beach, so that they may they gather them up in their pockets and examine them on another day as they are needed throughout their lives.

Find what you need my sweet children, be happy, and be free!

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Gone For Good

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep I had a wonderful idea for a blog piece. I knew I should kick the covers off of my feet, trot downstairs, and write the idea down. But I didn’t and, of course, this morning I can no longer remember what that most excellent idea was. Believe me when I say it was fabulous because it was…the fringes of my mind tell me so.

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This isn’t the first time this “mysterious” loss of memory has happened. I have had “million dollar” ideas that would change the world in profound ways that were lost somewhere in my dreams. I have had ideas for novels fly down the rabbit hole and other important thoughts vanish into thin air upon awakening. But the worst thing about all this is that my memory loss no longer occurs only when I lay my head on my pillow but throughout the day as well. It’s getting scary.

Just yesterday, I walked into a different room three times during the coarse of the day and could no longer remember what I had come into the room for in the first place. I also call my children the wrong names to the point that they now answer to “Hey, you!”  And I have five pairs of glasses from five different periods in my eyewear life floating around my house because I can never find the current prescription pair.  One minute I have 20/20 vision the next 30/70….no wonder my brain seems so scrambled…it’s constantly getting mixed signals!

I have tried various things in an effect to improve my memory. For a while kale became my “go to” snack. I ingested so much fish oil that I started to grow gills. I increased my sleep time but than only seemed to increase the fog. I even bought one of those free improve your memory apps but it expired before I remembered to use it. Yes, I think I have tried it all.

You would think with all the pharmaceutical “cures” for this disease or that affliction that they could come up with something that would help those of us who are “memory challenged.” I have even gotten so desperate that I have considered pilfering my neighbors viagra because:

a. I know his wife doesn’t want to have sex with him anymore and I owe her big time because she has kept her mouth shut after what could be considered a blackmailable event.

b. I figure if that if little blue pill can make a dick go up then it certainly can make my memory quotient and IQ increase as well.  I am fairly certain that if it mimics what happens “down there” way “up there,” it should make my mind stronger, straighter and last much longer. And we all know that men’s brains reside in the head of their penis.

Unfortunately, “Tom” keeps this “family jewel” of a prescription locked up tighter than Fort Knox so testing my hypothesis is proving to be more difficult than I had originally anticipated. And while I would like to think viagra would increase my ability to remember things, with all my luck it would just give me “iceberg” nipples for the rest of my life.

When my friends and neighbors begin to realize the extent of my problem they tried to be tolerant and  kind but after you have stood them up for coffee five times it grows old. Yet, they still continue to assure me (I think) that this is only menopause fog and that it will get better especially once all of my kids are out of the house. These same friends have also begun to share their deepest darkest secrets with me knowing that within two hours I will no longer remember what they have said and they swear my advice is good as gold.Yes, I’m now the confessional priest of my neighborhood to such an extent that I am sure church attendance is way down and that the “Vatican mob” will be coming after me soon.

Yet, even with all my memory loss issues I still believe I am way ahead of the game and that a possible presidential run is in my future. After all, Hillary is unable to remember where 30,000 emails disappeared to and The Donald has uttered the words “I don’t remember” probably close to a million times during the hundreds of depositions he has given in court proceedings against him.

In the meantime, in an attempt to keep myself safe, I am contemplating a reverse tattoo which when viewed in a mirror will list my address and phone number so that I can make it home. And I think it might work …. if I can just remember that it is there.

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