Stirring the pot, raising hell and rearing children in the Bay Area

Posts Tagged "life"

We’re Leaving… on a Jet Plane (and train, and bus and boat)

Posted on Mar 30, 2011 in Europe, Featured |

We’re Leaving… on a Jet Plane (and train, and bus and boat)

Two years in the making, dozens of conversations, one giant wall map, four plane tickets bought and zero plans.

We leave with our backpacks and children in just over six weeks for a six-week stint in Europe. We have no business doing this. None. La Gringa’s got a new job she loves, I’ve got full-time work on the horizon and the kids are missing a lot of school for this little nutso plan that started as a year abroad concept that somehow, between life and work became a trip of a lifetime instead of an escape from life. Somehow a year abroad seems a lot more manageable to me than six weeks on-the-move.

The plan is to be plan-free. I’ve done enough homework and traveled enough to know the gist of what we want to do and where we want to go. This isn’t a sightseeing-type vacation. Instead, we will plan on heading from the UK through a few countries in western Europe and a quick stop in Slovakia before La Gringa leaves. I’ll hunker down in Spain or Italy for a couple weeks with the kids until heading to Ireland with Aunty T. to see her home town. By then, I’ll need a good night in an Irish pub, no doubt.

I haven’t been afraid of this adventure at any point until now. I’m worried a bit about the stability in the Middle East, despite the fact I was in some pretty hairy jams when I traveled in the mid-east in 2000. I’m a bit concerned about money — gas prices, cash flow and inter-country travel is starting to make me nervous. And the kids told me that they are worried about where we’ll be sleeping. I want them to feel free, not afraid.

This week I’ll work on some modifications to the trip — a few hotel reservations, some goal dates to hit and maybe some pre-purchases of train and air travel within Europe so that I can get the best deals possible.

The purpose of our trip is to feel life without any restraints. As we approach departure, I’m noticing that the concerns are creeping into all of our minds. It’ll be my job this week to try and alleviate some of those concerns.

I’m not planning on going into the Louvre, but maybe playing tag on the lawn outside of it. I’m planning on showing the kids the Coliseum in Rome, but know they will care more about throwing Lire in the Trevi Fountain. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s perfect. We’ll go to Monza race track near Milan because Thing 1 read a book that describes the grand prix racing there. It’s also in the great book The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Long before I had children, I had the notion that I’d raise my children as people of the world, not just of a small community, a city, a state or one single nation. I wanted my children to be multi-lingual, have an open mind about people in the world around them. I wanted children that would have empathy for the needs and beauty of places beyond themselves. It is my hope that we, as a family, will grow from our journey together.

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To Mom

Posted on Feb 24, 2011 in Family and Friends, Featured |

To Mom

Dear Mom,

You became a mother 40 years ago today on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. Your world at 20-something had moved into a new chapter, forever shifting your life’s focus to being a parent. I wonder how you felt that day. I wonder if you felt, as I did at the moment I became a parent, that you had just participated in a miracle, leaving you breathless and full of joy you’d never known — you had become a mother.

I gain my daily and my abstract inspiration from you, mom. Unlike me, you are Pollyanna, always finding the good in every situation. And as time passes, I have tried to learn a bit of that from you — call it a Pollyanna Placebo, if you will. Being a true woman comes naturally to you. I am reminded every day I see you, that being a woman means being as brilliant as your mind can take you, as kind as your heart can muster, and, as strong as your body will push you. Being a woman, I’ve learned from you, is never compromised by being a lady. Being a lady comes first. Mom, you are quite a lady.

Today, I am 40. Today, no different than yesterday or tomorrow, I will rely on you for guidance, and take only half of it. I will look for your nod of approval and then question it from every angle. Today like all days, I’ll not quite be complete without seeing you or speaking with you. Unless I don’t, and that’s okay by you too. Today you’ll make me beef stroganoff even though I doubt anyone in the free world eats beef stroganoff anymore, you’ll do it for me like you do every year on my birthday. And today, you’ll make me a lemon cake because I love lemon cake, even if you don’t. Because you’re a mom and I’m your kid and it’s my birthday.

I have a million birthday memories with you, mom. Most are happy, some hard, some just getting through the day. My first memory of my life is my birthday party in our backyard on Bundy. I was wearing yellow and you were wearing a white lacy shirt. You made my cake, of course, and brought it outside. It was a cold afternoon and my feet were tingling and wet from the cold bricks. There was a rectangular table and my friends and I wore party hats. I remember you bringing out my cake with candles on it. It had white frosting. I’ll never forget that first memory as long as I live: my beautiful mother and my beautiful life and my beautiful birthday cake in the backyard.

There are others too — I can remember a very rainy birthday party where you were sick, much like you are right now, and Aunt Maria was there. I remember feeling claustrophobic, playing Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey on the wall in grandma’s livingroom on Teakwood. On my Sweet 16, you took a chunky, friendless girl and made a magical day for me, despite my pathetic teenhood. I remember my 21st birthday in college with a massive box filled with 21 gifts from you, each with a clue written on it and hand-wrapped. The 21st gift was a string of pearls. I love my pearls, I’m wearing them today. On my 30th birthday you quietly told me to pick boys over girls, not for judgement sake, but because it would just be less messy. Pregnant on my 32nd birthday, you bought me a soft black dress for a small fortune in a maternity size extra large. You made me feel pretty — and surprised! — at that secret fete.

Today, Mom, I’m excited to be 40. I can’t wait to celebrate with you. It is February 24. It’s the day you became a mother.

I love you.

Samantha

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F-Off Cancer

Posted on Jan 24, 2011 in Friends |

F-Off Cancer

I always knew cancer as the big scary C-word. My dad’s best friend was a hard-living smoker, drinking wild cowboy type and died of lung cancer at 40-something. But moms with cancer? F-off. That’s not fair. Over the years, various cancer devils have sunken lives of friends and family, but none has broken me until this year.

My family and friends with cancer are ass-kickers. They are true take-no-prisoners type women. I don’t feel sorry for them. It seems irrational, incomprehensible that in my 30s (still for another few weeks), I can have friends who are in remission from very serious cancers, two that are still fighting like hell, one that moved onto his next life, one that is cured and several that are not. What the F? Stupid f-ing cancer.

Susan’s latest post about feeling lucky as she plows her way into the first days of a new, experimental treatment, was one of the most inspired I’ve ever read. I sent it to the women I know — not for sympathy for Susan, but in hopes that they too, surrounded by cancer as we all are, would see what living means.

If you want to know what true living is like, read WhyMommy’s written work or participate in her brainchild, working to give  Lymphedema Sleeves to cancer patients. You can leave a comment on several blogs where friends of Susan are donating $1 toward Cricket’s Answer, the organization working with Susan to provide needs to women with breast cancer.

Hey Susan, all the way from California: No Princess Fights Alone.

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The Truant Mom

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 in Featured, School |

The Truant Mom

I remember rambling along in a long yellow bus filled with 60 second and third graders heading to the La Brea Tar Pits. Another month, another trip to see and touch the history, social science and life we’d been learning about in school. I saw tide pools, art exhibits at LACMA, Olvera Street and more. Learning used to include a vital tactile element. Today, my kids learn to test, not learn to learn. And certainly with the sad, sorry state of California schools, we are not teaching or learning for the benefit of building a whole child.

I refuse to allow my children’s education to be reduced to filling in bubble exams. Call me truant. I’m not going to stand for a lesser education for my kids because the California economy has held our schools hostage, reducing their  education to test taking frenzies.

So. I’m a truant mom, taking my kids’ education into my own hands and taking advantage monthly to support their public school education with what used to be best practices:  Shark “hunting” at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Fleet Week tour of military ships in San Francisco, a hands-on experience of planets and space at the Academy of Sciences, building claymation videos at Zeum to demonstrate art and computer science, and, the Impressionists exhibit at the DeYoung museum yesterday.

I’m not a home schooling type. It’s not my thing; it’s not the kids’ thing. But yesterday… yesterday was magic. We named our day: GO-GONE (in nod to Gauguin). Here’s how we spent the day:

8 a.m. — Spell out Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin for kids and have them research the artists they will see today. We used Yahoo! Kids to do the research.

9 a.m. — Draw and paint. Kids used Impressionist book to gain inspiration on drawing. We made paper airplanes and banners using colors of the artists. We talked about cubism — how a cone can be a tree and a circle its fruit. We drew what we thought was cubist in style.

10 a.m. — Meeting! We ate French crepes at a patisserie nearby in honor of the Muse d’Orsay (where the Impressionist collection is on loan from), and discussed one thing about each artist we knew. We cut out pictures of our favorite things we wanted to see. Van Gogh was the most popular: Sunflowers, Starry Night, the Artist’s Room. The kids knew that Cezanne had two sisters: Maria and Rose (my aunt and mother’s names, respectively). These tiny tidbits of information excited them.

11 a.m. — We head to the bookstore to find kid-friendly books on impressionist artists. Two books of Van Gogh led the kids to be bounding around the store talking about the Sunflowers and can’t wait to get to see them later today.

2 p.m. — The De Young exhibit is packed. The kids get their own maps, their own audio tour head sets (Thing 1 called it the “Mini DJ”). They hit the exhibit with excitement. One piece by another Impressionist featured a straw hat. My kid told me, “This is by Van Gogh.” When I told him it wasn’t, he told me, “Then why is Van Gogh’s hat in the bottom right corner of the painting?” A man standing nearby tapped me on the shoulder, “You have got to be kidding!,” he told me. I beamed — beamed! — with pride.

4 p.m. — We write stories on our Un Dia del Museo — an essay in Spanish on our day at the museum. Words come flowing from the kids — writing pouring from their minds to the page.

My babies fell into bed last night, exhausted and filled-up with colors and images and textures drifting them to sleep quickly. I am reminded again that parenthood cannot afford to be a complacent role. I literally saw my children learning by observance, growing from experience and applying their in-school learnings to real world beauty. I’m a truant mom. And I’m okay with that.

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Polar Opposites

Posted on Jan 12, 2011 in Featured, Politics and Rants |

Polar Opposites

I didn’t go to the rally to Restore Sanity, nor any Tea Party Express shindig. I don’t do politics outside my little world where I know I won’t get shot, yelled at or eyes rolled. I’m just not that much of a glutton for conflict.

I have more friends who are not Democrats than I do ones who are; and I like it that way. I have hard-core Republican friends (as in lawn signs and cocktail party fundraisers) for the likes of the most serious right-wing conservatives in our political circle today. I have several very close friends who are die-hard Libertarians. They are the gun-wielding, don’t tread on me type folks. I like my people. I like my world of scale and scope and perspective.

I like my world because we live in a mutually respectful environment of variety, opinion, banter and belief. I have a dear friend who met me on a street corner with a cup of coffee while I was holding a sign to protest Prop 8. He kept me company, chatted about our weekend with our respective twins and then left. He voted in favor of Prop 8. We had dinner the next weekend.

Another family — serious Palin fans — went to rally after rally in support of the first female vice-president. We had one thing in common: the advancement of women in politics. What we didn’t have in common was just whom should fill that tall order. When it didn’t pan out for them, I understood their disappointment. I was thrilled (dear goodness, don’t get me wrong), but respected their passion.

I have a Republican friend who voted for Obama in the past election (and contributed to his campaign). I watched him on election night as he cried in my livingroom watching history happen. Some things, I thought, are bigger than politics.

Polarizing politics are just that: polarizing. It takes a strong will, a stronger belief in the Good of people to really try our hand at civilized debate. Without polar opposites there is no middle ground — a sacred place where we can meet peacefully.

Take a clue, Washington. Most of us are out here living civilly, living together within the boundaries of passion, belief and over-riding respect.

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House of Blues

Posted on Jan 10, 2011 in Featured, Rants |

House of Blues

I went on Twitter and DMed @la_gringa with capitalized swear words describing the latest in a fitful rage from our house upon us, it’s lowly unsuspecting dwellers.

This time, it’s the dishwasher that went from silent rinse cycle to Jabba-the-Hutt moans within minutes. And then it wouldn’t turn off. At all. I went to go outside to the power box, but I couldn’t. Why, you might ask? Because the side door is broken. Not the lock, the door. An expensive door, no less. An expensive door whose company (obviously for building shitty doors) went out of businesses. So now we need a new side door and a dishwasher/Jabba-the-Hutt killer.

Of course this is barely on the heels of the window this morning where my daughter exclaimed, “Oh look mommy, it rained in the kitchen.” Frigging million-year-old uninsulated windows just were no match for a winter’s night and a heating duct right next to it. No worries, the window (and most of them now in our home) are non-functional. The quaint 100-year-old house look isn’t so quaint when it all falls apart. Today I counted: only five of the 22 windows in our downstairs can actually open. The others are all broken, sealed shut or have busted pulleys (yes, that old). Oh, and the five that work? Four of them are poorly replaced windows with missing screens on most, the other one I jammed unlocked for safety.

I’d escape it all to my upstairs abode for a good marathon of Dog, the Bounty Hunter, but the TV there suddenly no longer has sound. I guess the LG is sick of the political rhetoric too and finally cut off the volume to save me from myself. Ah, maybe I’ll take a warm shower to relieve the stress of a falling apart house — oh wait, that won’t work, the (relatively new) grout is all dissolved away and new mold creeps in daily. I think I’ll pass on the cozy shower and go for a bath — nope. The drain stopper is broken and the towel rack fell down because the old lathen plaster can’t hold a screw. I’d use the downstairs shower, but it was constructed improperly and will flood the floor. I am convinced that a blind Bob-the-Builder and his estranged lover, Handy Manny built this house.

I feel like running away before I’m reminded that this house is more than most will ever have, with neighbors and friends surrounding me that I couldn’t dream of having. I hate my house until I remember that my children live one block from their grandparents and can walk to school. I loathe being here until I realize that if it weren’t for this home, we’d have never had all the fun that caused all this ruckus to start with.

Today though, I wish I had a little shack on the beach reading novels and watching the sunset while Mr. Roper fixed the leaky faucets.

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