Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

I've just been texting good wishes to all of my friends. So, here also, I want to pause and reflect on 2012, wishing it a good bye. It was a good year, 2012, and I'm deeply grateful for its blessings

More on that later, and more on planning for the new year as well.

But, for now, Happy holidays and Happy 2013! May it bring nothing but blessings.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Basking in the After Christmas Lull

I haven't abandonned this blog. I really haven't.

I've just had an unusually busy stretch of days, and since I haven't had any work or writing deadlines, my computer has been uncharacteristically shunted aside. For days on end.

It seems all of the energy pouring out of me of late has been directed towards other people. I've spent tons of time with friends and family alike, and even got all the busy errands of Christmas done a few days ahead of time. The holiday itself is a grueling marathon of fun for our family, starting early Christmas Eve morning and continuing until late that night with our traditions at my parents' house. Then it starts again early on Christmas with nonstop Santa loot, gifts, meals, gifts, snacks, gifts, a BIG formal dinner, gifts and then, finally, stupor on the couches at the very last hours of the day.

It's one way to do Christmas. Maybe not the only way, that's for sure, since it does take a lot of time and resources. I consider it an investment into our family memories, and don't plan to keep it at this pace forever.

We took a disastrous vacation last week to San Diego. It was supposed to be a break and a treat, but I was really sick and low in energy. We wound up staying in a Bed and Breakfast room so bad and terrifying in its comfort and decor horror that I could hardly sleep. There were like four plastic flower arrangements in each room, and I started making up stories about how we were visiting "crazy second cousin Darlene" and her love for plastic flowers and random artworks spaced every 18 inches on the walls. We made a plan to ditch her and head home early, so since then I've been reveling in the neatness and coziness of our own home.

Anyway, that's all. Really just more of the same that happens every December. It's a frantic merry-go-round, but the lights and music are pretty so I keep riding it. Hope your December has been what you'd like, and the gifts of the season bless you for 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mid-December, or One Week Til Christmas

December is just a really, really, really busy month.

So busy in fact, that I actually FORGOT to finish my writing course. I had a final project due last Friday. I was going to write something. I even had ideas. I kept thinking that I would find time.

And one night I was going to bed, quite late, when I suddenly realized with horror that I had been so very rushed from one thing to the next that I had completely forgotten to even start writing anything. Since I only had one hour til submission, it didn't seem worth it to get back up and even try. Besides I was tired.

So that's pretty much how it's been. Just lots and lots of errands, and full time Mom work. Our family had seven seperate social events to attend, and one to host, over the last four days. Shopping's done now. Tree's finally up. I'm catching up with the bills and such. I even hope to get back into some daily writing before the week's end. Sort of build up my habit before the New Year even arrives. A pre-resolution practice.

As for the 29 days of giving, I have been giving. Really, I have. I'm sure I've done something every day, even multiple things. I mean, it's the season. I've just completely lost track as far as writing them up. Sorry. It's been a lot of gifts. One thing I've realized anew this year is that our whole family has a lot of friends. Each of us gave to more than 10 people. Plus teachers and co-workers. And families. We've easily purchased more than 200 gifts this month. Well, not easily. That's why I had to pay the bills tonight. Yikes.

Alright, enough of that. I've got to get us off to bed so that we can get to auditions and dentist appointments tomorrow. Oooh, fun.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December is a Whirlwind Month

Boy, do I hear ya about being busy!

These last few weeks have been a blur for me, literally stretching from early morning to late nights. It really started when my daughter went on vacation the second week of November, carried on through travel and Thanksgiving, and has never really slowed down since.

In that time, we have Christmas shopped, wrapped a lot (but not all) of gifts, traveled north, hosted Thanksgiving, completely painted and remodeled my daughter's room, hosted a bridal shower, and attended multiple Christmas school performances. Additionally, I've been wrapping up a writing class (that has gone very well) and doing tons and tons of errands to prep for Christmas.

And my daughters' semesters and grades both end this week, so that has been a ton of time making sure the older one is caught up with everything. That's a whole set of stories right there!!

I think that after Friday all of this will ebb a bit. By then the shopping will be done and the decorating, school will end -yay!- and I think we can ease off and just enjoy the social parts of the holiday without so much running here and there. I am certainly looking forward to that!

I was just telling my husband that it hasn't felt at all like Christmas to me yet because I haven't managed to create any of those calm and peaceful moments to bask in the holiday warmth. I plan to address that now, mostly by trying to slow down and just BE.

I know I'm very behind on my blogging of Giving. I've kept giving but just haven't touched computer unless it's for homework help. I haven't done ANY grant work either for the longest time, so I am looking forward to actually working again this week as well.

Until later, good wishes for December.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Eleven

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remember how much I wanted to be a bridesmaid? A lifelong dream come true and all that jazz? Yeah, well, turns out there's a lot more to this bridesmaid gig then I had considered. First of all, the dress is cute, but not really me. It's strapless and a style I would never wear, so I think I'm going to feel very uncomfortable at the wedding.

Second, I never considered the expense of it. I mean, I knew had to buy the dress but I think I saw that as a hundred bucks or so. However, I insisted that my friend needed to have a bridal shower. She didn't want one at first because she was married briefly before, so she felt like she shouldn't have a fuss made. But I said nonsense, and so did her other two friends.

That means that for the last two months I've been planning this shower with two women I have never met in my life. Fortunately, they've both been very level-headed and organized, much like our mutual friend, the bride.

Still though, a simple shower for 20 guests is closing in on $900 of expense, split between the three of us -- and that's keeping things low-key!! When you add in the dress, shoes, jewelry, my hair, make-up and these costs, this wedding is going to cost between $600-$700. Yikes!! Not a good time of year for that!

So, my gift today is that I have spent another WHOLE day running errands, buying pink and purple fluffy things to decorate the room tomorrow, getting color-themed candies, flowers and all that yada-yada. I hope it's a good party, at least!

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Ten

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I bought my dad a very nice Hawaiian shirt for his birthday last month. Sadly, it was too small for him. So this week I went back to the store and picked out the larger size. I gave it to him today, and he seemed pleased.

One Way to Relax

You probably might be a busy mom if you find yourself deciding that, yes, indeed, 9:43 in the morning IS a good time to drink a small glass of red wine.

After all, I had already been up and working hard for hours. And red wine is just fortifying, isn't it? Doesn't it build up your red blood cells or something? I'm sure it does.

The extra-Mom proof is that you chose to drink your wine out of a plastic disposable cup, so that you wouldn't have to wash any more dishes, since you just finished the kitchen.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Eight

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today I gave the gift of writing. Instead of being drawn into a big, disruptive fight with my older daughter, I turned to my computer and expressed myself through words until both she and I had had the time to calm down.

Ultimately, when I didn't fight with her, she spent the rest of the evening working hard on her missing homework. We ended the day with her father, her and myself going over all her grades and assignments in a friendly, collaborative manner and with the good feelings of our family preserved.

Because I gave her the benefit of the doubt of being a good person, she and I were able to remember how very much we like each other, and stay in that place. She really is a joy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Nine

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I took my time in JCP, wandering around and browsing, just enjoying the colorful displays and the jazzy Christmas tunes. The store was calm and fairly empty in the morning and I was enjoying trying to find presents for some of the last people on my shopping list.

My arms were full of shirts and when I approached a clerk to ask the price of a scarf, I could hear the elderly shopper complaining. "Well, I think it's just terrible," she said. "How am I supposed to shop if I can't have a cart?"

The salesgirl murmured her assent.

I had noticed the lack of carts. I figured they'd probably eliminated them in their continued make over. JCP has been determinedly changing their image all year long. I, for one, love the new look and style of their stores. I love everything about their changes, from their glossy, simple ads to their lack of troublesome coupons to their clean, open stores. I love the way they're bringing in a higher fashion look and new brands. I even hear a rumor that there will be a CBTL placed in the middle of some stores. Then I really will be shopping and working at the same time!

But not having a cart was kind of a pain.

Sensing an audience, the older woman went into full complaint mode. "Why did you get rid of the carts? Just look at this poor lady!" She pointed at me. "She's loaded down like a pack mule!"

Hey, I thought, hold on now. The salesgirl was squirming uncomfortably.

I smiled sweetly. "Oh, I don't mind at all," I interrupted. "Carrying stuff around is good for me. Builds muscles, you know. That way I'll live longer. Plus I just love the look of the store now. Look at these clean wide aisles. Don't you think it's great?"

I smiled at the complainer, and she melted away, still muttering to herself. The salesgirl shot me a look of relief. "It's not like you were the one who made the choice," I whispered, and she laughed.
Later my armful of gifts and I were waiting in line. Behind me, a grandmother was talking to her four year old granddaughter. "Only one more stop after this. I just need to get some tape and then we'll be done." The girl squirmed a bit. "How about we get a milkshake?"

"Yay," she cheered. "I want a chocolate milkshake!!"

I turned around and smiled at them. "Milkshakes are good aren't they?"

When it was my turn to pay, I let them go first. "You probably don't want to wait any longer than you have to!" I said.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Aww, Shucks...

Ironically, after my heartfelt piece examining lessons of parenting last night, this afternoon found me bringing my daughter home from school and having her absolutely, categorically refuse to follow the rules for homework that I was reiterating. She feels that she should have her iPod for homework time. I want her to put it in my room until all her homework for each day is done.

And she completely refused.

Deep breath.

With the lessons for last night fresh in my mind, I didn't get drawn any further into the power struggle. I stayed calm but firm and said, "I think we both need to take a break for now, and come back to this later when we can be calm. However, it is important to me that you understand that you will absolutely follow any rules I create, and that you simply do not have the right to refuse."

Then I came into the house and purposely came into a separate room. I know, I thought, I'll check for comments on my latest exercise. That should distract me.

And here is what I found. I'm in a better mood now.
I’ve said this before—your work is a pleasure to read. I’m generally not happy when someone has to drop out of a class, but in this case a dropout made room for you. That has made this class a real joy for me.

This piece has a lot to say about parenting, a lot to say about you, and a lot to say about life and how to handle things. Most readers will strongly identify with this piece, although those who are or have been parents are likely to respond the most. I recall moments in the past when my kids were still at home and I “lost it” when dealing with them. And you’re right—it’s always much better to handle things calmly but firmly. That’s a much better impression.

The incidents you share are presented clearly here, with a great deal of insight and honesty. Readers will absolutely like you for that. The connection between incidents is clear in the way you handled things, and it’s really a no-brainer to determine which approach worked best. These incidents were a lesson for you, and now also a lesson for anyone who reads this. You’ve given readers something to consider here, and that makes for very good memoir work.

The word choice is excellent, giving the narrative a nice, easy flow. This is good memoir, and you’re a strong, likable narrator. And you’ve used dialogue well to give the piece a nice balance. The short dialogue with the nurse is wonderful, and it shows the attitudes you were dealing with at the time. You hung in there without the meds, and I think that’s remarkable.

This is another exercise where I don’t have much to suggest. However, I did have a thought.

Once again, I’m happy you were a part of the class. I looked forward to reading your work each week, and I wasn’t disappointed. You’re a good writer, Marie.

Tueday Writing Quote

The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. –- William Saroyan

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Seven

Monday, December 4, 2012

I had been promising my older daughter that we could go ice skating. But after we got done at the mall, the skating session had sold out. The next one didn't start until 8 pm, too late on a Sunday school night. She was so unhappy and disappointed -- it even started a big family conflict.

So I promised that I would take her and her friend today since Monday is their standing "playdate" (or whatever I'm supposed to call it for teenagers).

That's how Monday afternoon found me, with a car full of girls singing One Direction's You're Beautiful at the top of their lungs, hurtling down the freeway in search of ice. Not only did I take J and her friend, but also B and a friend of hers as well. And then one of the moms wanted to join us. So my plan for a quiet cafe table while the girls glided and I could write turned into a big evening event.

In the name of host, I paid for all of their admissions and also treated them to cocoa and funnel cake. It was lots of fun for them. That's where you make the memories.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Six

Sunday, December 2, 2012

We were the last ones to walk into the cafe before it closed, just barely beating the 5:00 pm deadline. Still our server was friendly and helpful and we enjoyed our late lunch together at the mall. As she bustled about cleaning and putting away chairs, preparing for the end of what she had called a long day, we chatted with our waitress.

She was telling us about her studies at UCR where she has almost completed her sociology degree and then her plans to go on to Law School. "I was really drifting for a while, and I even stopped college for a few years just to work here," she said. "Then I got pregnant with my son, and that changed everything."

When we finished, we left behind a $20 tip. She can buy a Christmas gift for her child.

Mid Day

Hooray, it's Tuesday. Always an easier day than Monday simply because I am warmed up a bit to weekly routine and because I do not have to go teach yoga so if I need to - like today - I can keep the whole morning unstructured and open to task after task.

I really was in a terrible mood yesterday and didn't feel up to teaching. But, as usual, the class went very well. I love yoga while I'm doing it, and it's a great privilege to bring its healing effects to others. Even I was soothed by the class, though I'm not able to participate as fully as my students since I also have to monitor and assist them.

Anyway, a good day here and hopefully everywhere. May all beings be happy.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday Deadline Even Closer Now

Well, it's 8:15 pm, and I still have no piece completed for my class.

I also still don't have a solid idea, which is kind of hampering the progress.

I spent most of the afternoon and evening supervising my daughters and their friends as they ice skated. Originally, I planned that I could be writing while I kept an eye on them. But one of the other moms came along, so that obligated me to chat with her and be friendly.


My daughters are telling me to just lie and make something up. I'm like, No Way! It's Memoir; I'm not going to lie about my life.

It just wouldn't feel right for this assignment. Okay, my first idea of writing about a hotel I love completely flopped. I could tell from the first paragraph that it wasn't going to sing. I'm going to try writing about patience learned from parenting.

We'll see.

Here's all I had written earlier:

It is so beautiful here, with the lights beginning to turn on and twinkle, little bits of gold sparkled about in the trees and on the buildings.


I come awake in the early morning light, with that sense of confused in-between that often accompanies waking. Trying to figure out where I am, I slowly open my eyes and take in the room. Shell pink walls end in wood molding. White curtains flutter in the breeze of the open window, ushering in the gentle hum and bustle of traffic noise from the street below.

(Boring right? I mean, it's okay for a description of a very generic room, but hardly a hook-y opening.)

Monday Meltdown

Whoo-Whee... this motherhood/adulthood thing is kind of a slog, isn't it?

Goodness. Let's just say that it wasn't the best Monday morning in the world. After tears and conflict last night, there were more tears this morning, as the daughter who had shunned my every question about her performance outfit for dress rehearsal today realized five minutes after we should have been in the car headed to school that she did not actually know where her black shirt and shoes were.

Thus the crying and red face. Breaks my heart to have to let her go like that, but I also know that she needs to learn her own lessons from life and that if I shield her too much, she won't.

My friend and I were commiserating last week: in many ways, teens are much harder than toddlers. With toddlers, they cry and fall apart, but you have final say over what they do. With teens, it's a constant negotiation of limits and power as they try to find their own independence in life. I had no idea that it would still be so demanding, just in a different way.

Or as my friend said, "I thought I was just going to have to change poopy diapers in the middle of the night. I had no idea about all of the work for decades."

Still though, first thing this morning found me at Target, waving my credit card around like a magic emblem. I bought four different black shirts, socks and shoes just in case. I'll return whatever isn't needed, after I see the whole outfit -- at one time -- tonight. Yes, apparently, I do think that I can solve all of life's problems if I simply shop thoroughly enough.

Oh well. Hope all of you out there can at least find some patience within you to be kind to your offspring as needed, and those without parenting demands can find some peace and joy in life as well.

Monday Deadline

Hmm. It's already afternoon, and I barely have an idea for my assignment. All I have is the vaguest of thoughts about a place that I've been to several times. I'll have to write it out and see if it fits together and leads to some sort of life lesson.

Sometimes I don't like doing that because I don't always want to go where my writing takes me. Depends on my mood. I just want to get a block of time and work on it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Writing Joke

Horoscope says -- Enough of people who are serious. Stick to someone who can make you laugh. (It also says that if being around someone makes you feel bad about yourself, maybe that person isn't a true friend.)
So here's a joke:

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Five

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Every table in the B&N Cafe was taken. Some older guy behind me threw his drink away. But the mostly filled up trashcan knocked the lid off as he pushed the cup through. Ice scattered across the floor. Then he just wandered away.

So I got up and cleaned up all the ice, mopping up little puddles with napkins, so that nobody else would slip on it.

Think it Through

Here's another moment in my recent life where I used logic before emotion:

I exited Target to find a light rain falling on the grey parking lot mostly filled with cars. I made my way to my favorite parking section. I have a set of spaces where I almost always park, since repeated experience has taught me that those places are never filled, that it's a quick walk across the crosswalk to the door, and it's just generally hassle-free.

I pushed my cart along to where I had left my car. There was a stretch of empty stalls... and no car. Huh?? I know I parked here! Oh my gosh, where is my car? My car has been stolen!!

Then I looked around at the scene. Hold on there, Marie, a different part of my brain chimed in. It's raining. Look at all these other nice cars here. Do you really think someone picked your car to steal? Let's just think this through.

So, I looked one aisle over. Sure enough, there was my car, right where I had parked it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Great Gift from the Universe!

I got the best December First present this morning!

My husband and I were milling around the kitchen in our pajamas when we heard a knock on the door. Glanced outside and saw a sheriff's cruiser in front of the house. Hmm, that's usually not the best.

Also when law enforcement knocks, they generally don't want you to go change, fix your hair and tidy up real quick. So I opened the door as I was.

Turned out he was doing routine checks of our area. "Ah, yes," I said, "you won't need to check our street anymore. Come on. I've got paperwork in the car."

He was already being very nice to me, and told me that his partner had filled him in about talking to me before. When I handed over the form, his face broke into a big smile.

"Well, this is just great," he said. "Congratulations."

He took me over to his car to run the info. Because it hasn't had time to clear through the system yet, he gave me his card. "Give it another month and then call me, " he said. "I'll come back out and run everything again, and if it's not clear, I'll help you make phone calls to speed it up."

Yay. Another happy encounter with law enforcement. See, they used to show up randomly but often enough that I was always a little wary and on edge. I hated it whenever someone knocked on the door. Now that whole area of fear has just evaporated out of my life. It feels great!!

And I think the extra security of just being a "normal" person is what let me feel okay getting involved with finding that girl yesterday. It feels good to feel safe just to be my real self.

Countdown to Christmas - Giving Day Four

Friday, November 30, 2012

I thought today's mindful giving would be a breeze. I figured I had it in the bag and wouldn't need to give it a second thought. Boy, was I wrong.

See, in my family, for no clear reason, December First is an extra-holiday that we celebrate. It started long ago in our childhoods and has since snowballed into an annual family tradition. We gather together, dine, and have a bout of giving gifts that prepare for the holiday season. So our typical December First presents are things like little decorations or candles. I give the girls games or holiday DVDs and CDs or craft activities. That kind of thing.

It's a day I really enjoy so it has grown year after year. I love to shop for December First gifts in the after-Christmas 70% and 80% discounts. I'll even buy the gifts, wrap and label them and then box them up to wait for the whole year to pass. It was fun last night to watch people open gifts that I had completely forgotten buying!

Now we often have 30 or more gifts to exchange among us, so it's very much like doing a whole Christmas on the first day of the month. Last night I roasted two chickens, made potatoes and butternut squash -- a whole festive meal.

Anyway, I figured that more than covered my day's giving. So imagine my surprise when I was called upon to be heroic. My most important gift yesterday was finding a lost little girl and returning her to her hysterical mother.

I picked my daughter up after school as usual. I stood around talking for a while with a friend, then went to ask one of the teachers about an audition packet for the spring musical. She took me into the office to find a copy, and as B and I were waiting, we noticed that a mom was standing in front of the school crying and talking on a cellphone.

"I can't find her anywhere," she was yelling. "She's gone!"

The office staff started buzzing around their desks in a very worried manner, calling up the substitute teacher and the afterschool duty aides and trying to figure out who saw this mom's daughter last. The principal strode out the door looking very worried as B and I grabbed our paperwork and decided to get out of everyone's way.

As we walked to the car, we could hear the mom sobbing and screaming, in a full hysterical panic. My daughter rubbed my arm, "That's really sad," she said.

"I know."

"Hey, Mom? I really love you."

"I know sweetie. I love you too. I'm glad you're here."

It bothered both of us as we drove away. You know, I thought, if that was my child I wouldn't be getting hysterical just yet. I would be looking for her.

"Hey, B? How about if we drive by the back of the school and just see if we notice a girl or anything going on? It doesn't seem like anyone's really checked that."

My daughter was in total agreement. So we turned away from our house and cruised slowly past the school. Nothing.

I didn't think it was very likely that the girl had been abducted. But I thought she might have tried to go home with a friend and not told her mom yet. So I turned into the nearest neighborhood, looking for kids.

And there she was. In a yard on the corner, playing with two boys.

After a short conversation, it turned out that she thought she was waiting for her grandmother to pick her up. She came right up to my car, even though she should know better. So I called the school and told them she was safe. Then my daughter and I walked her back to the back gate.

The principal was there by then, striding across the soccer field with a look of immense relief on his face. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," he called five times.

My daughter and I headed home feeling both relieved and rather proud of ourselves. Before you panic, take some time to think it through and work through the logical options. There will always be plenty of time to cry and scream later if it's still necessary.