Sunday Offerrings – A Day at the Races

Today we went to at a Cub Scout event, the Soap Box Derby. The Derby is an annual event where the boys race homemade cars. The boys steer the cars with their feet as it goes along the slightly downhill, winding course. In case things get a little scary on those hairpin turns, the boys use a hand brake to slow themselves down. The runs are timed and the boys compete against each other.

Diego’s Cub Scout pack is a really nice group of families and boys. I like the cub scouting program because I think it helps to remind boys about what it means to be a kid. The kind of kid who plays outdoors in the water on hot summer days, goes camping, and takes hikes though the woods. Sometimes my boys become so hooked into the video games and television they forget about going outside and playing around. Today, they were reminded of that.

And I was too.

My "pit crew" readies me for a race.

But Diego did much better than I did.

Here’s my attempt:

Obviously, Diego did a lot better than I did!

3rd Place Finish!!

50/50 Friday – Week 6

Is it Friday already? Well, then I guess it’s time for another update on my list of 50 Things to do Before by 50th Birthday. I have some catching up to do with Number 37 on my list, trying out new recipes, since I did not cook much in Weeks 4 and 5. So, here’s what I did this week: Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers.

I made this recipe for several reasons:

1) It was easy.

2) I had nearly all the ingredients. (And those that I didn’t have, I improvised or omitted.)

3) Who doesn’t like a meal that tastes like breakfast?

4) It was easy.

My boys asked me what was for dinner, and I told them we were having “Rosemary with Prosciutto Corn Cakes and Chicken Sausages with Hot and Sweet Peppers. They said “Huh?” And then they saw the corn cakes on the griddle and they said, Yeah! We’re having pancakes for dinner! Well, not exactly. So, I explained they were not pancakes but they were corn cakes. And they said “Yeah!” We’re having corn bread for dinner. Hmm. I started to think they would be disappointed when they ate them and realized that they were neither pancakes, nor corn bread. And to make it worse, the sausages were being served with (gasp) green peppers. So, when I put it all together with the sausages and peppers, I was fully prepared to have to use a back up plan for dinner, i.e. cereal. But, I was surprised. They liked it. Hey, Mikey! In fact, we all liked it. A new meal to add to my repertoire.

The second thing I made is not really a recipe, but it is something new to put into my bag of tricks. That is, the tricks I use to make my kids eat something green that is not artificially flavored or the color of phosphorescence. Kale Chips. Actually, I have my babysitter, Marian Poppins, to thank for this. She’s a whole blog post in herself, but for now let me tell you a bit about her. She is fantastic and has been a lifesaver to me and my family.  She also happens to be a vegetarian who volunteers once a week at an organic produce co-op so she sometimes brings us, ahem, interesting produce to eat. She introduced my kids to Kale Chips one day when she had a surplus of kale and wanted to keep the kids busy with a cooking project. Here’s what she does, and what she told me to do:

Take the Kale.

Wash it and pat it dry and tear it into smaller pieces.

Toss into a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on it, but not too much or it will get soggy. Sprinkle some salt and parmesan cheese on it. Toss it together.

Lay it out on a baking sheet.

Bake at 250 degrees until it crisps and browns but doesn’t burn. About 20 minutes. It shrinks up quite a bit, and it ends up looking like it’s a lot less than when you started, especially when you eat it as it comes out of the oven and before you can take a picture of it.

I am still one recipe short for my project but I will work that out over the weekend and post it next time.

The next thing I did for the month of July, was visit another local attraction/landmark, number 21 on my list.  I went to the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Actually, I have been here before, with my cousins and sister, when I about 7 years old.

At the LA County Arboretum, 1970.

It’s really silly because I drive past it all the time and it’s only 10 minutes from my house, but I have not been back in over 40 years. I needed some time to put my thoughts together to write my grandmother’s eulogy and I thought a walk would do me good. The trouble was, it was hot outside and I also wanted to sit down somewhere. I remembered my grandmother bringing me here. She loved botanical gardens, so I thought it would be the perfect place for a walk, and be inspired by the memory of my grandmother. I was right. The grounds were beautiful.

It was hot, but I found a nice shady porch to rest and write.

Recognize it? It was used in the 1980's TV series, Fantasy Island.

And then I saw this.

It’s a wickiup, or a kiy. It’s set up in an area of the arboretum where there are other early California structures. Even though it had been over 40 years since I was last here, the wickiup was familiar to me because I had recently seen a picture of it among my grandmother’s photos.

Me and my sister in a Wickiup, circa 1970.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Wickiup via Instagram

All Creatures Great and Small, Except Slugs

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

-Cecil F. Alexander, 1848.

I am generally okay with most creatures great and small, except for three small things, roaches, rodents and slugs. But, Diego loves all creatures great and small, especially slugs.  Diego once picked up a slug and excitedly let it crawl on his forearm. He held it out to me and told me, “Here, Mommy, if you let it crawl on you it tickles and leaves a shiny mark!” No thanks.  I first wrote about Diego’s love of slugs here, my first blog post ever.

Diego loves to explore the wilds of our backyard and capture animals and insects. He has a fascination with these creatures, as I suspect most boys do.  In fact, I am sure as most boys do. My other son, 12 year-old Nico’s pet…

Spike the Bearded Dragon.

Spike, perched on my shoulder.

See? I really am okay with most creatures great and small.

So, it does not  surprise me or creep me out when Diego occasionally asks for a jar or a box of some kind to house his roly-poly pets, insects, or whatever. It does, however, creep me out when he asks for a jar to house his pet slug.  He did this the other day, while I was in the middle of making dinner,  otherwise known as throwing food on the table for the kids to inhale.  I absent-mindedly gave him a clean glass jar without a lid. I told him we could punch holes in foil and use it as a cover. I did not see what he did next,  but I have since learned that he promptly placed “Sluggy” in the jar, without foil, and put it in our TV cabinet in the family room.

The next day I got a phone call while I was at work. It was our babysitter, Marian Poppins.

MP: Hi Diana. Have you seen Diego’s pet slug?

Me: What? What pet slug?

MP:  The one he said he put in the jar you gave him. He said he  put the jar and the slug inside the TV cabinet.

Me: Oh. My. God. I didn’t know he was going to put a slug in that jar, and I certainly did not know he would bring it in the house. Please find it!

MP: Okay, we’ll look for it.

Later, I checked in with her and asked if she found the slug. She replied that they looked all over and could not find him, or her. (Do slugs have a gender?)

I have not walked barefoot in my house since.

Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

Two weeks ago today my grandmother died.  I haven’t really been able to write about it, because it’s taken me awhile to process it all.  Even though she was 97 years-old and had lived a long, full, life, and I knew she was declining physically, I wasn’t ready for her to die so suddenly.

I have written about my grandmother before,  here, here and here, and I have finally added her own story to this blog, here. Last March my grandmother fainted while my mom was with her. My mom called the paramedics and my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They conducted all kinds of tests, including an ear-splitting MRI.  While she was getting the MRI,  I was allowed to stand next to her and pat her feet as she was slid into a tunnel of bright light and screeching sound.  The test was intended to determine if something happened inside her brain. In the end, the doctor’s had one diagnosis– she was old. She may also have been dehydrated. The remedy was for someone to be with her, making sure she was eating and drinking fluids.  But, the doctors didn’t know my grandmother. She was independent, feisty and above all stubborn. My mom tried to get her to move in with her and my dad. She refused.  We hired some people to come to my grandmother’s and take care of her. No way. She kicked them out. We hired Meals on Wheels to provide the food and a daily visit. She didn’t eat their food and barely acknowledged the visit. In the end, we all realized it was futile. She was not going to accept our help, and the only thing that would make her happy and keep her alive was to let her live her life on her terms. Independently. She said she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, yet sometimes it did feel like a burden, the worry and care-taking that was involved in letting her live alone.

About a month after her hospital stay we had a family meeting to discuss how we could take care of grandma. My uncles, my mom, my brother and I each agreed to visit her once a week and bring food and sit down and have a meal with her.  My day was Friday. On Fridays I went to her house for lunch, or I would go over after work. We would sit together and I would eat with her.  I would bring her food I knew she liked. Fresh pineapple, a pastry, coffee and donuts. The salt-free, healthfully prepared Meals on Wheels would go untouched. We would visit. I recorded her stories, and I would sometimes sneak a photo of her, because she did not like having her photo taken. She probably hated getting her picture taken as much as she hated doctors.

Even though I spent nearly every weekend with here when I was a child, it had been years since I spent so much time with her on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to drive to see her and race back to my office, or visit her on my way home from work on a Friday evening, when I was anxious to start my weekend. But, I did it and with each visit, I felt happy about the time we spent together, and glad that I had taken the time to see her.  It’s funny, I thought I was there to take care of her, but really, I think she was still taking care of me. She would protest when I would get up to wash the dishes, throw out her trash or do any household chore. She would make me feel cared for, and I would leave feeling loved, and grateful for the time we spent together.

On the last Friday I spent with her I could tell something was wrong. She seemed tired and weak. Usually she was anxious to go outdoors and sit on her patio so we could visit. On our last visit I asked if she wanted to sit outdoors in the warm sun. She said she would rather stay inside. When I asked if she felt okay, if she was tired, she replied, “No honey, I am not tired, I am old.” I tried to take her picture but she wouldn’t let me. When she wasn’t looking, I did it anyway.

The last picture taken of my grandmother, two days before she died.

The day she died,  I was at work when my dad called to tell me that my mother had arrived at my grandmother’s for her Monday visit.  She found my grandmother. She had probably died at night, alone in her house, the way she wanted. I left work immediately and went to her house where my parents and my uncles had gathered.  I was sad that she was gone, but I also felt at peace. These past several months when I visited her, took her for drives, brought her donuts, those visits allowed me to have peace in this sorrowful moment. I knew that her insistence that she live alone, as challenging as it was for all of us, created an opportunity for us, to spend time with her, to care for her, and for her to care for us. As sad as it is to imagine her spending her last few moments alone, I know that dying in her own home was what  she wanted. It was the reason she had so fiercely resisted all our interventions.

She did things on her own terms. And so,  it seemed fitting that during the funeral mass, my cousin surprised the priest when he read a poem by Emily Dickenson, instead of the New Testament scripture that was pre-selected and indicated on the program. The organist missed her cue and the deacon kept looking through the program to see if he’d missed something. Even I didn’t know what was happening since I had never heard the Gospel According to Emily Dickenson before. But, when it dawned on me what my cousin was doing, I laughed and thought how much my grandmother would have loved that.  The priest seemed equally exasperated when, as the mass was ending, and it became apparent the priest wasn’t going to allow time for my prepared eulogy, my father yelled from the first row, “Wait! There’s a eulogy!” The priest just threw up his hands at that point, and I sprang from my seat to get to the altar before I lost my window of opportunity. The priest didn’t seem to know what to do with us, these grandchildren who wanted to do things in their own way. I know that’s probably the way my grandmother would have wanted it too.

My grandmother in earlier days.

If You Give a Girl a Groupon*

Groupon by WOVOX Team

If you give a girl a Groupon to buy plants at a nursery, she’s going to want to plant them.

She’ll start to till the soil and realize she needs to weed the flower bed.

She’ll weed the flower bed and realize her plants need plant food.

She’ll go to get the plant food and see that the recycling hasn’t been done.

She’ll get her sons to sort out all the cans and glass in separate trash cans and put them in the car to take to the recycling center.

When they come back from the recycling center, she’ll realize the car smells like old beer bottles. So, she’ll bribe ask her daughter to wash the car.

When the trash cans are emptied, she’ll smell that they are filled with stinky liquid and debris. So, she’ll get her son to wash them off.

When the trash cans are moved from their spots, she’ll see that the side yard needs to be swept and washed.

So, she’ll use the broom to clean it, and when it’s almost done, she’ll step back to admire her work. That’s when she’ll realize the rain gutters too, are full of debris.

So, she’ll ask her husband for some help and he’ll bring a ladder there. When he begins to clear the clutter, he’ll realize the tree needs to be trimmed.

Her husband will trim the trees and clear the gutters,  and uncover an ant colony. So, he’ll have the spray with ant spray. After her husband fumigates the gutters, she’ll have to hose off the windows and walls.

When the hose is unwound, she’ll take it to the flower beds.  That’s when she will discover she didn’t finish planting her new plants. Which she bought with a Groupon. Which started this crazy chain of events in the first place.


* Inspired by the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. by Laura Numeroff

50/50 Friday Weeks 4 and 5

It’s been a very busy and emotional two weeks, so I haven’t done much blogging or made much progress on my list of 50 Things to Do Before my 5oth Birthday. I did manage to knock off a couple of little things, and one big thing, though. Here are some of the little things:

Number 21 on my list–Visit to a local landmark/attraction once a month. This month I went to Dodger Stadium, for a game between the crosstown rivals, the LA Dodgers and Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. I still don’t understand how a team could be have LA and Anaheim in one title, since they are entirely separate counties, but from what I understand, that’s what the Angels are calling themselves these days. Anyway, the cross-town rivalry doesn’t just exist in Southern California, it also exists is our house. Juan grew up in the OC and I grew up in LA and environs. So we went to the game looking like this.

And of course, like father like son.


Even though I have been to Dodger Stadium several times, this was a special trip for me because I have never been on the actual ball field. After the game, the Dodgers had a fireworks display that would rival all the fireworks going on between the McCourts in thier divorce litigation. Fans got to watch the fireworks from the field, something I was very happy to do.

#21 for the month of June? Check.

The next thing I am making progress on my list, is number 24, review my financial retirement plan. Juan and I have had three meetings with a financial planner in the last two months. Now, before you jump to any false conclusions that I actually have any finances to plan, I should tell you that our lack of financial planning, has caused me a great deal of anxiety. Juan and I have 4 kids between us. Kids are expensive. We have (I hope) four college educations to plan for, not to mention our own retirement. Getting re-married later in life, also caused us to get a late start on the planning. Prior to meeting with this financial planner, Juan and I have been saving whatever we could, hoping and praying that it would be enough to fund some kind of higher education for our kids, with enough leftover for us to be able to eat something besides cat food in our retirement years. And while our meetings did not dispel all of our financial anxiety, they did give us some direction to how to achieve some our goals. I am breathing a little easier now, and I am sure our kids will be happy  relieved okay knowing that they will be able to go to a college. Even though it may not that fancy, schmanzy, private East coast university, we should not have to go knocking at their doors, ready to move in with them when we retire. Now, whether or not the kids will come knocking on our door when they finish college, that’s another issue.

Number 24? Check.

The third thing I did these past two weeks was number 35, Camp on the Beach.  Well,  I call it “beach camping,” even if it was more car camping and the beach was across the Pacific Coast Highway from our tent site, but I think it qualifies. Actually, I really do like camping, but I have never camped near or on the beach, so it is something I have always wanted to do.  When my sister-in-law invited us to tag along with her and her family over 4th of July weekend I was thrilled. It was a last minute decision, but when you go camping with other people who already have the site, and most of the camp gear, a last minute camping decision is easy. We just had to pack a tent and some sleeping bags. It also helped that we were “camping” only an hour away in Orange County at a very beautiful beach, which happened to be down the street from a shopping center, and a take-out pizza place.  Oh, and the fact that the camp site was brand new with showers and flush toilets didn’t hurt either.  Now that is what I call “roughing it.”

Camping with experienced campers makes "roughing it" that much easier.

View of beach from our tent site.

Beautiful Crystal Cove.

Number 35? Check.

The last big thing on my list….

Molly. We got a new dog. I wrote about it here. I thought she was great until I discovered that she completely scratched the back of my leather loveseat. I threatened to send her back , but the kids love her. When we first brought her home, she was a bit timid, but now, she has warmed up to us and has made herself at home.

We had a little bit of trouble trying to reach a consensus on her name. Some contenders were: Jackie, Churro (Diego’s idea), Baby Monkey, Cow (Both Olivia’s ideas). We finally agreed on Molly. Or as I sometimes call her, Miss Molly. But,  Diego likes to call her “Cute-Cute,” because she is.

That’s it for now. 5 down, 45 to go.

My son, the ….?

This is what Diego recently said he wants to be when he grows up:

1)  Scientist – I am so proud!

2) Spy –  No doubt, influenced by his recent multiple viewings of The Spy Next Door, Spy Kids and Spy Kids II. Thank you Netflix.

3) Assassin – Okay,  I think it’s time to cut him off from Halo and the X-box.

4) Judge –  Perhaps it has something to do with his dad and I being lawyers, because I am not even sure he knows what a judge does.

5)  Cop –  Doesn’t every boy  say this sometime in their life?

6) Vice President – Really? I don’t even know what to think about this.