A Change of Light in the Gloom of June

Around here I can usually tell it is June because of the gray skies,  known as June Gloom, the blossoming Jacaranda trees, and the inordinate amount of end of school year activities, family birthdays and anniversaries. This week I noticed the trees were filled with purple flowers, the cool,  grey mornings required a jacket, and there was nearly a daily occurrence of birthdays, school assemblies and a very special kind of anniversary

Ten years ago this week, Juan and I made plans to spend a Saturday afternoon at the beach with our kids. It seemed like it should have been summer already, but instead,  the overcast skies signaled the beginning of June Gloom. Still, we had young kids and wanted to keep them busy,  so Juan invited me to join him and the girls at  the beach.

Nico and I at a beach play date with Juan and the girls.

Juan and I had become friends through work . We supported each other through our sometimes messy and often painful divorces, and since our kids were close in age we would sometimes get together for weekend play dates. Juan had already asked me out for a date,  and even though I thought he was kind, funny and found his obsession with the rock band KISS to be a bit quirky,  I didn’t feel the romance, so I declined.  We agreed we should just remain friends.  But, something changed that cool, overcast June afternoon. I saw Juan in a different light. The way he played with his daughters; the way he flew kites with my son; and the spontaneity and lightness of the day made me see him in a new way, outside of being a serious lawyer. Perhaps if I had known that several months later he would show at my door looking like this, I would have changed my mind earlier.

He showed up looking like this one night, after attending a KISS record release event after work.

But I digress.  That evening, after we ended our afternoon beach play date with the kids, Juan and I spontaneously decided to go to a party given by one of our co-workers, at a Karaoke bar, in Koreatown. I think we both must have felt the desire to prolong our day, and not part each other’s company. Juan insisted on driving me to the karaoke bar.  When we got to the party, we drank something we now refer to as “Korean Lemonade.” Whatever it was, it was tasty, and strong. And it helped Juan lose some of his inhibition and get on the Karaoke stage with friends and sing. When I saw him up there singing, something clicked. (And, it was definitely not because he was a good singer.) I started to think, maybe, despite my injured heart, and his poor rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I should go out with this guy.

Really? Should I go out with him?

That Korean lemonade made Juan feel more than just brave–it also made him feel like couldn’t drive home.  I drove his car back to my house.  Juan must still have been feeling emboldened by that lemonade because he asked me for a kiss. I said yes. Was it the beach day, the Karaoke, the lemonade, or was it just a shift in my heart that allowed me to take a chance on this lawyer-dad-KISS-fan? Whatever it was, I am glad the sun came out in the midst of the June gloom, and the light changed enough for me to see Juan in a new way.

Freshly Pressed In My New Year

This morning I was all set to write a post about how I had a wonderful birthday. About how much I enjoyed breakfast in bed, prepared by my husband,

Breakfast in bed

and presented by Diego, with a smile.

Breakfast smile

I was going to post about how I spent the day with my boys at the beach…

Nico and I on my birthday.

…and the sky was clear, and blue, and the temperature, a perfect 70 degrees.

And,  I was going to write about how I was actually getting  started on my  bucket list of 50 Before  50 because  of the birthday gift Juan gave me, Number 47.

Number 47 on my list

I was going to post about how turning another year older wasn’t so bad, and celebrating my birthday as my own personal New Year was a positive spin on the “age” thing.  The post was in my head and I wanted to get it out.  I wanted to sit down with my laptop and write about it. But wouldn’t you know it?  I came home from a day at the beach and my refrigerator was dead. Everything in the freezer was thawed. We spent the evening dumping food, moving everything that hadn’t spoiled  to our back-up garage fridge. I had to help the boys with their homework, and I still needed groceries for the week. No time to write. My post just stayed in my head. I thought I might be able to get out a draft during my lunch hour, but first I had to check my email for responses to the T-Ball team party I was planning.

What? No email from the other T-ball families? But, I did see an email from WordPress. And then another, and another. And this…

My blog had been Freshly Pressed!  This post was featured, and I was receiving dozens of comments, and “likes.” What a great belated birthday surprise! Thank you everyone for reading and commenting. Thank you for subscribing. Thank you for, well, “liking” me.  I think this is going to be a good year.

My Own Memorial Day…Also Known as My Birthday


Image via Wikipedia

Memorial Day 1963. A day when our nation was honoring the fallen who had given their lives in service to their country. A day when many were probably out enjoying picnics, barbeques, and parades. It was also the day when my mom went into labor, my dad drove her to the hospital and, thinking he had time for a quick errand, left her in the doctor’s capable hands. Boy, was he surprised when he returned to the hospital a short while later, and was told my mom had a baby girl, me! As my brother will tell you, that was probably the last time I arrived early for anything!

Like my brother, who was born on New Year’s Eve, this year my birthday falls on a holiday. But unlike my brother, who grew up feeling like he was getting short-changed on gifts or parties because he had to share his birthday with a major holiday, I don’t mind sharing my birthday with Memorial Day. Because my birthday falls on Memorial Day I sometimes get a day off from work, friends or family are ready for a party, there’s always a new movie release, and there are some really great sales. This year, I am not going to any parties or barbeques. I will go out to lunch with my family and if the weather clears, maybe I’ll go the beach, and if not, then I may see one of new summer movie releases. Sounds like a perfectly good way to spend the day, especially when I am still reeling from our whirlwind New York trip last weekend.

In honor of this birthday, the birthday that brings me another year closer to a landmark birthday, I have been putting together a list, a Bucket List, of sorts. I shared the list with my husband, and he said it looks more like a big ass TO DO list. True. Many of the things on my list involve home projects, and probably cause him some concern because that means the Honey-Do List isn’t too far behind. Some of the things on my list probably are contradictory, like #37, “Try a new wine, #20 “Try a new recipe once a week” and #18, “Lose 15 pounds.” But still, it’s my list, and I hope by putting out here in the Blogosphere, I will be more inclined to check it off as “Done.” Besides, the list may generate some interesting blogging material. I hope that some of the activities on my list will keep me from getting too caught up in the busyness of life and force me carve out some time for some fun. So, here’s my list of 50 Things to Do Before 50:

1. Take a sunrise hike.

2. Clean out my attic.

3. Clean out and re-organize my pantry.

4. Organize the kid’s school files/records/memorbilia.

5. Re-paint my family room.

6. Take a cooking class.

7. Make curtains for my bedroom.

8. Read a classic American novel.

9. Read a classic English novel.

10. Whiten my teeth. :)

11. Learn to take better pictures.

12. Print photos for my hallway.

13. Frame photos for my hallway.

14. Hang photos in my hallway

15. Go on an overnight spiritual retreat.

16. Teach Diego to ride a bike.

17. Ride bikes along the beach.

18. Lose and keep off 15 pounds.

19. Try cooking with a new food once a month.

20. Try a new wine once a month. :)

21. Visit a local landmark/attraction once a month.

22. Travel to Italy.

23. Get a new blog design.

24. Review my financial retirement plan.

25. Begin working on my book.

26. Drop a dress size.

27. Take on a cause.

28. Replace my morning coffee with green tea.

29. Take a hot air balloon ride.

30. Keep a Gratitude Journal.

31. Thank some of my former school teachers: Mrs. Smith, Mr. Gilliland, Mr. Brooks.

32. Take a sunset horseback ride.

33. Participate in a 1/2 marathon.

34. Go to the Hollywood Bowl with a picnic.

35. Camp on the beach.

36. Get a dog.

37. Try a new recipe once a week.

38. See the desert in bloom.

39. Watch a movie marathon.

40. Go on a baseball trip.

41. Plan my 50th birthday bash.

42. Take a family portrait.

43. Pay off my student loans.

44. Get a new car. (Not a minivan)

45. Try out for The Amazing Race.

46. Complete Covenant II.

47. See Les Miserables (again!).

48. Learn to knit a hat.

49. Scan and organize old photos.

50. Practice spanish weekly.

So, there you have it. This list will stay up under the “My Story” menu tab on my blog. So you and I can both go back there and check it out to see how I am progressing. Good thing I have some time to finish it off because I will definitely need it. Now, I am going to get celebrating my own Memorial/Birthday….

Blogging from the Big Apple

I have been on vacation in New York. That is, if you call flying across the country with three kids, and two septuagenarians to attend a college graduation and family wedding, a vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I love to travel, but vacationing with a large family, to attend assorted family events makes it more family than vacation.

In the interest of economizing I booked our flight on a red-eye from LA to JFK.  I tried to prepare us all for red-eye flight by packing neck pillows and blankets.

Waiting to board the red-eye to NYC

We were scheduled to arrive in the city that never sleeps at the sleepy hour of 5:30 a.m. I thought  this was a good idea since it could  save us a few hundred dollars by not having to pay for the extra night in a hotel.  I figured that if we could check into our hotel early we could  rest and freshen up later.   I am also the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, including an airplane, and who needs sleep anyway?  Well, maybe my 70+ year-old parents and my kids could have used some.

Asleep at breakfast.

So much for my planning.  But,  eventually we did manage to get into our room shortly before noon, and everyone promptly went down for a long nap. Finally, about mid afternoon,  we headed out to explore the city. We stopped at Rockefeller Center.

In front of 30 Rock

And Diego and Nico stopped at the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center.

We strolled down 5th Avenue where my parents visited the Waldorf Astoria…

My parents, being the good Catholics that they are, wanted to visit the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Juan, being the Apple Fanboy that he is, wanted to visit his cathedral…

We ended up at Central Park for a carriage ride.

The family in a carriage at Central Park

Diego in Central Park

Then took the subway to Times Square, where we took more pictures  and saw ourselves on the Jumbo-tron.

There was much more on our list that we wanted to do, but time,  money, and energy prevented it. So, we ended our first day in the city with a meal at Juniors and their famous cheesecake.

On Day Two in NYC we had planned on heading out to Ground Zero, and having an early lunch in Little Italy and then take the 1:00pm tour of the Statute of Liberty. I had the foresight to book the Statue of Liberty tour online months ago, but wasn’t able to book the tour to the inside of the torch since it was sold out until August!  What I didn’t’ have the foresight to do was account for the inevitable delay that occurs when you are traveling with such a large and diverse age group like mine. Let’s just say that traveling with my family is  a lot like herding cats. I also did not plan on it taking nearly an hour to get from the upper East side to financial district in our rental van. By the time we arrived at our $45 (!) parking lot we had to sprint to make it to the ferry that would take us to Liberty Island.  We finally managed to board the ferry, and had a great memorable  time touring this landmark in the rain, wearing our trash bags rain gear.

The kids made all kinds of inappropriate jokes as their brother posed under Lady Liberty's nostril.

It was a foggy, rainy day at Liberty Island.

Running low on energy and time, we had to skip the Ellis Island tour and headed back to Ground Zero where we took in the very moving exhibit at the World Center Tribute Center.  By the end of the tour we were all feeling pretty drained so we thought some authentic NY style pizza was in order. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything that looked like an authentic NY pizzeria so we ended up at a little hole in the wall that had only two bar stools and a standing eating counter. After two days of walking the NY sidewalks, our feet were tired, and even though next door there was a Papa Johns Pizza  with plenty of seating, we were unwilling to compromise comfort for “authentic” NY pizza by the slice. This “experience” finished us off and we limped back to our van so we could make the 2 hour drive north to the Hudson River Valley to attend the graduation of my cousin from West Point the next morning.

The graduation ceremony was very inspiring, and was a nice educational tie-in to the previous days sites we had visited.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the graduating cadets throw their hats in the air and the kids attending are allowed to enter the field  retrieve one. Erica, Nico and Diego each got a hat. Inside the hat, the cadet had written their name and included a message of inspiration and/or money. Erica and Diego both got nice notes in their hat and Erica got $50!  I promptly told her she could use the money to buy her own NY souvenirs, since NYC has to be the most expensive place for a family vacation!

The rest of the weekend was spent with family, attending the ceremonial pinning of lieutenant bars on my cousin overlooking the Hudson River at Trophy Point, and a celebratory brunch at the historic Thayer Hotel.

Sunny skies at West Point’s Trophy Point.

My cousin gets her Lieutenant bars overlooking the Hudson River.

On one of our last days we were supposed to attend my cousin’s wedding at 2:00pm at the West Point Catholic Chapel.  However, someone forgot to inform the bride and groom that NY state law requires the marrying couple wait 24 hours after getting the marriage license before getting married. Since my cousin got her marriage license on her wedding morning, the priest refused to marry her. Oops! With some last-minute scrambling and frantic phone calling, an unofficial wedding was rescheduled for the guests at 2:45 at a protestant chapel.  The official Catholic wedding would take place the following day,  after the requisite waiting period, and after we left for our trip home.

Once the happy couple’s ceremony was concluded, we proceeded to the official reception with an official open bar.  My kids cleaned up real nice and everyone had a great time.

The other wedding guests seated at our table remarked how well-behaved our kids were, and asked how we did it?  I revealed our secret. I told them that we pinch them under the table any time they start to misbehave. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that after over four days of traveling and sight-seeing my kids were still getting along pretty well and they remembered their table manners. And I was even more surprised,  shocked actually, at how grown up they suddenly seemed…hanging out at the bar ordering Rob Roys and Shirley Temples and dancing all night.

Whose son is this?

Diego worked it all night long!

All in all it turned out to be a good trip. But, after all the coordinating of travel plans, schedule snafus and family obligations, I am ready for a REAL vacation. One that involves me, and a beach,  and a drink that isn’t named after a 1940’s child movie star.

Happy Birthday to My Blog

Today my blog celebrates its one-year birthday. This has to be some kind of record for me, because while I have started countless journals in my life, I have never written enough to keep them going for more than a couple of months before I abandon them to other pursuits.

But blogging has been different. I have posted something just about every month. Some months more than others, but baby steps, right? I  didn’t know it then, but when I started  this blog shortly before my birthday last year I thought I was checking something off my bucket list, and fulfilling this little writing fantasy of mine. It turns out this blog has been more than that to me. Besides finally being able to say that I “write,” blogging has taught me a few more things about myself:

1) I am creative.

When I was younger I would make doll clothes, do needlework, knit, and craft. I would write short stories, and poetry. Over the years I stopped being creative. Except for the occasional scrap booking party, or kid’s school project I stopped making things, I stopped creating. I also stopped writing. Maybe it was when I realized there was a lot of technical craft to it. As much perspiration as inspiration, perhaps? Maybe it was later when my writing was critiqued for poor grammar, and misplaced commas. Whatever. I stopped enjoying it, so I stopped doing it. Blogging has helped me remember of how much I enjoy being creative. And how a little perspiration isn’t such a bad thing after all.

2) I have something to say.

It may not be profound, or funny or amusing, or even interesting, but in my blog I get to say it. Enough said.

3) If you write it they will come.

Even though I had something to say, would anyone listen? I mean, besides my husband who has to listen to me. Based on some of your comments and my growing number of subscribers, someone out there is listening. Thank you.

3) I am (more) present.

My day flies by with work, kids, family, and chores. I am in a state of constant motion and I rarely stop to appreciate a moment, to capture a thought or preserve a memory.  Blogging has allowed me pause and take it all in. Sometimes my thoughts and ideas are fleeting and they leave my mind before I capture it in a post, but more often now I find myself jotting it down and taking time to preserve these thoughts and construct words and phrases about an experience or event in my life and the life of my family.

4) There is community in the blogosphere.

Sure, virtual contact is not the same as human contact but I have built some relationships with other bloggers just by reading and commenting on their blogs. Blogging also has given me a reason to attend blogger events and meet some of the bloggers whose blogs I’ve read, which leads me to my next point…

6) Its a small world after all.

The world is a lot smaller than we think. A few of the bloggers I’ve met ended up living only a few miles from me!

6) You can teach an old dog, new tricks.

Before I started blogging I was pretty good at navigating my way around MS Word and surfing the net, but launching my own blog? I did not know the first thing about it.  Well, it turns out am not as technologically challenged as I thought I was. I have actually had to learn two blogging platforms. I started out on Posterous and then moved to WordPress. Even though WordPress blogging platform is user friendly, it took me over a month from the time I decided to launch my blog and actually posting something. My husband teased that you would have thought I was launching a major website. In reality, I was working up my confidence and familiarizing myself with WordPress. Now that I have been doing this for a year I have learned just enough to be dangerous and throw out words like, URL, domain name, posts, tags, RSS feed.

So, that’s my year in review. I hope you’ve enjoyed something here at my blog. I know I have enjoyed doing it. I look forward to writing more posts and hearing from you with your comments and subscriptions. Thanks for stopping by and sharing this anniversary with me.

Here are a few of my top posts from the past year:

What’s Good About Good Friday?

Mischief Remembered

Tres Generaciones

Date Night Without my Husband

Tres Generaciones

This is a picture of my grandmother, my mother and I. My grandmother is 97 years-old and as you can tell from the spark in her eye, she is a firecracker. Lately, she is causing us some worry because she insists on living on her own.  She is independent, stubborn, resourceful and very loving. She has created many happy memories for me and her other 9 grandchildren. I think a lot of what my mother learned about being a mother, she learned from my grandmother.

This is my mother before she married my dad. My mom is the one who looks like she is 12 years-old and too young to be in Vegas with her girlfriends. She has always looked younger than her years.  When I was growing up I don’t think my mom ever weighed more than 110 pounds soaking wet.

In her late 20’s my mom met and married my dad. They started their family right away, with 3 kids  born 17 months apart. I don’t know how she did it. She says there was a time when my older brother, my younger sister and I were in diapers at the same time!  Eight years after my sister was born my dad said he wanted another boy. My mother agreed and 9 months later my younger brother was born. I don’t know how she did that! (Well, I do know how they did that, I just don’t like to think about it.)

When I was growing up my mother was in constant motion. Like many women of her day, she was a stay-at-home mom.  She made it look effortless. On our birthdays she organized parties for us and would invite the entire neighborhood.

We didn’t have bounce houses, clowns or magicians. We had my mom who would organize the games.

She was a soccer mom before there were soccer moms.

My mother didn’t just support my brother’s in their sports, she also supported me and my acting ambitions.  Here she is at one of my play productions, standing by while I sign autographs.

My mom wore many hats, including a barber hat.

Here she is in her laundress hat.

She rarely complained about her many household tasks, except when it came to do laundry. I didn’t understand why she disliked doing laundry for a family of 6. Now that I have my own family and my own endless pile of laundry, I understand.  But, at least I have a clothes dryer. Our family didn’t buy a clothes dryer until I was almost 13 years-old!

Something else happened when I was around 13 years-old, I suddenly knew everything there was to know about life.  Even though I still didn’t know how to do my own laundry, cook my own meals, or even pack my own school lunch, I knew more than anyone in my family, including my mother. Especially my mother. I would never stay home and raise children. I would work in show business, I would become a writer, or maybe even a lawyer. Thanks in part to my mom’s love and support,  I have had a turn doing all those things.  But wouldn’t you know it? I have also become a mom. Like my mom, I have two boys and two girls. Life has played a joke on me.  But my mom isn’t laughing. She is still here, supporting me, loving me and taking care of our family.  It’s something she learned from my grandmother, and something I hope I have learned from both of them. So, to my grandmother, and my mother…thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

Easter Re-Cap

Another Easter all wrapped up. Olivia, Erica and Nico ages, 15, 13 and 12 are getting older now, so to quote Nico, “Easter isn’t what is used to be.”  Sigh. I tried, but I kind of agree with him. Even though my efforts were last minute and I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon running around to Target, ULTA, Old Navy and Rite Aid, buying make-up, iTunes gift cards and candy to stuff in their baskets, the morning’s egg hunt was a bit anti-climatic.  Something about only one kid, six year-old Diego, who is still a believer, hunting for eggs in our front yard in his pajamas…well it is a bit of a let down for me from previous years.

In earlier days,  when my other kids were little, we would get together with all their cousins and tons of family to hunt for eggs in the park, knocking each other down and dragging themselves through the mud in the process.

But the real message of Easter isn’t about the white bunny laying eggs, which by the way generated a very interesting conversation from Diego at the breakfast table. The real message is about re-birth, renewal and hope that comes in the form of an empty tomb on Easter morning.  So we all went to church to hear that message and take part in the Easter celebration. Literally. I assisted with communion and got to wear the really fancy robe, called a dalmatic. Olivia, Eric and Nico all served as acolytes. And because of our participation in the service we all got preferred seating on the chancel. Yeah! Only Juan had to arrive an hour early and stand in line with Diego waiting to get in.  But, as anyone who was there will tell you, it was worth the wait.  Our rector’s sermon was inspiring, the choir and brass ensemble magnificent, and the flowers were beautiful!

Speaking of beautiful, our Easter brunch was a thing of beauty.  The food turned out delicious and plentiful. And our Easter Hollandaise tradition was a success. You can read about that here. The entire family preparing the meal gave new meaning to, “Many hands make light work.” And the group effort led to precision timing.

Thanks to Erica for the hollandaise sauce, Juan for the hash browns, Olivia for the cinnamon rolls, Nico and Diego for the table setting and me for the perfectly (yeah!) poached eggs.

All agreed it was a wonderful meal.

After hunting eggs, brunch and church you’d think we were ready to call it a day.  But, wait, there’s more. We had more Easter ahead of us as we loaded the van with baskets, more plastic eggs and drove to South Orange County for a gathering at Juan’s sister’s house. They had already eaten, but that didn’t stop us from bringing more food and grazing all afternoon. The littlest ones, Diego and his cousin Juliana, hunted for eggs. Of course, Diego got the most eggs, but they were sweet together.

When it was all wrapped up we put all the kids together for a family picture.

Then someone had the great idea that we needed another picture with all the parents and grandparents. The even better idea was to position everyone at the far end of the yard, near the edge of the pool.

You knew it would happen…

And it did….

Sorry, Lolo.

But it makes a fun Easter memory. Happy Easter!