Fall, Middle School and Vivaldi

Summer passed (yey) and my favorite time of the year is here: fall.  Fall equals cozy, beautiful colors in the trees, pumpkin everything (Oreo cookies? really?); fall is butternut squash recipes, creams and soups, fall is dressing up the house with Halloween theme first, then Thanksgiving followed by Christmas. My second favorite time of year.

Updates on previous topics: after giving up on decent technology to have Internet at home, we decided to go for Satellite Internet, the worse one can have (only because Dial up doesn’t exist anymore). I can finally work from home, no need to bother my cousin at her home, or buy dozens of unnecessary Starbucks drinks and treats to use their Wifi, or 2 hour trips to the library with my kids objecting every time.

Our speed is good enough for me to work, or pay bills on line, or my husband to research a topic, but definitely not good enough to stream Netflix or You Tube. Our kids were extremely upset at first, asking me…”If we can’t watch Netflix or You Tube Videos, or Play on the Xbox Live , why would we want Internet at all?” Unbelievable what the concept of Internet has  become for the kids.   That afternoon I explained to the kids how I used to do my research for Middle and High School: Encyclopedia Britannica.

My daughter said, “Oh yes, I have seen those thick books at your Mom’s house”. I bet she thought they were ornaments for people that want to seem smart. I made them appreciate what it is to have data at the click of a finger for any imaginable subject.

I honestly find this situation an opportunity. Our kids are still reading more than they did all last year, and we spend good quality time with them after dinner, on a slow morning on weekends, before bedtime.

About my mom:  She had tests done a month ago and no clots were found: none.  I was so blown away by the results, I had to hear it directly from the Cardiologist, so I reached out to him kindly asking for a brief summary of his findings, and he replied confirming that he and his team were as pleasantly surprised as us. We all prayed a lot…a lot. I believe the power of prayer, plus the determination (and stubbornness) that my mom possesses, and of course, the medication –medication that “could only do so much”, in the words of the doctor- all contributed to a very successful result.  My mom if now off the oxygen machine and as of today, October 30th 2016, has taken 2 trips already.

On October 12 she landed in Tijuana, Mexico. I had the joy of having her visit, and stay at our house for 10 days. I got all the equipment she needed: power wheelchair, Oxygen for night time only, and my (adorable, amazing) husband made her a ramp in an hour, to make her access to the house smoother.

Our kids knew what happened to her in July, everything, they saw me cry many times, and be sad for her, and some of that sadness got to them; they were a bit worried, and my daughter specially, prayed for her many nights. Our son is a bit less expressive, less comfortable with showing feelings, yet they were both as affectionate as I know they can be with her, each one in their own way.

Like many kids, they don’t have any of their grandparents in town, so when one of them visits, it is very special to them. My mom truly enjoyed the house, the ease with which she could move in a one story home, the wheelchair friendly bathroom we designed for her, every inch of it.

But more than the house, she could not get enough of the mountain views, the hillsides with perfect rows of fruit trees, bright healthy green,that go for miles to the west of our house.

The sunsets that look like the sun is exploding with unique orange and pink colors as it sets and disappears, leaving us holding up our cameras that fail every time, to capture the beauty of it.

Every morning she sat at the end of the dining room table, sitting facing west, looking at it all morning as she applied her make-up, read in her kindle, or had breakfast.

Once I told her, “Mom, let’s go out to the patio to eat”, she said, “I am already outside”.  We have no blinds or curtains, it was all as enjoyable to her  from her spot in the dining room.

I observed every day all that it meant for her to travel, with her aide, her wheelchair, her seat cushions, her medications, her foot brace she uses at night. Her dozen creams and make up (it’s no wonder she has the complexion of a 40 year old), and she never fails to amaze me: there is no limit for her. She will bring whatever it takes with her, to visit her children, to be there, to see her grand kids, to be part of our lives, not just from a distance, but in person.

She told me one afternoon, “I really like spending time with the 3 of you” (meaning my siblings and I).After that, I didn’t care much about taking her out, to the mall, to go grocery shopping, because I understood very clearly she was there for me, to be with me, so see our lives from within, our family and be a part of it for a few days.

I felt like a plant that was being watered: fed, nurtured. I had not realized how much I needed her, just as she needs us. My husband told me more than twice that week “It is really nice to see you so happy.”

Our kids and my husband really enjoyed her company. The day she left my son’s first words that afternoon when I got home where “The house feels very empty Mom”.

We are looking forward to her next visit.

Our kids are doing very well at school. Our son is still getting used to Middle School. The change is big and I am not sure he embraces every aspect of it. The first week of school he came home to tell me his school was “rated R”. Because all he heard were bad words. He quoted several kids very disapprovingly and said they were completely inappropriate. (By the way, he is 11)

We have been giving him advice on how to deal with bullies, or just aggressive verbal kids. How to be likable to…..yes: girls!  We are already there. I can’t believe my baby boy has a crush on a girl. He is almost as tall as me, which I am still getting used to.  Eleven years old and 5’5”.   I find it a bit harder to lecture him or give him the “Homework and chores first” speech when he is almost eye-to eye level with me.

I know my daughter will catch up fast too, so either I start wearing heels more often, or use a step ladder to give my speeches, or just get us all used to the shorty mom still be the boss of them (I am 5’8” and yet I will be shorty soon).

The signs of growth and maturity have also been very “loud and clear” with our daughter too: no crushes or boy talk,  but perfume, colored lip gloss and pimple cream (even when she doesn’t have a single one yet),  fancy shampoos and flowery scents all over her room, and a taste in music that keeps surprising me.  She will sing to Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me, Erasure, Neil Diamond, the Fratellis and then Taylor Swift, Justin Beiber, Arianna Grande. The girl is carrying the very mixed tastes of her parents, the radio top 40 and then some. She will happily dance to it all.

And speaking of music…Our son is taking Viola lessons at school. For the first 2 months he absolutely hated the class. Month 3: he is reading music, playing basic simple songs that he knows (like Jingle Bells) and loving the sound of his Viola along with 20 other kids that take the Strings Class. His first concert will be in 2 weeks.

I love listening to him practice at home. Even if this doesn’t last for the rest of Middle School , just this year has brought him the basic knowledge of what music is, how difficult and challenging it can be to read music, to play with others, to combine sounds, and to build and maintain  the harmony needed to be part of a Strings group and on a bigger scale, an Orchestra.

For the last months, as we drive to or from school, he asks if he can select the music to play during the drive, I always say yes. He will choose Bach, Debussy, Edvard Grieg (one of his favorites), Tchaikovsky and lately Vivaldi.

He plays it loud and asks us to please be quiet. I love every minute of it.

Every now and then both kids will say a piece sounds familiar, so I remind them about the Baby Einstein and Little Einsteins videos we played for them a zillion times as babies and toddlers.

I have friends with kids that just left for college and often talk about how they miss them and how the house feels empty. These are constant reminders for me to enjoy our own, at this age. They can be so much fun as they can drive us crazy sometimes. They keep teaching me lessons, to calm down, to chill. To take it easy, to watch my back (literally) and not bend over or carry heavy things, since I have had several episodes of severe pain and days of being bed bound.

They have become much more helpful around the house. More opinionated, more curious just about anything. More involved in our conversations, in politics (Can’t wait ‘til elections pass!). But all of it makes them more aware about the world, and not just the small bubble they live in.

I have learned lately that I have to be extremely careful with what I say in front of them, because…THEY WILL REPEAT IT!!!  This has already caused embarrassing moments.

Our house keeps getting little things (that I buy) here and there, more color, more personality, more “homey”. I am loving it and feel blessed and fortunate for being where we are today.

I went to a PET SHOP BOYS concert last night. I enjoyed it a lot since I almost never go to concerts: my husband is happy to listen to our son play the viola for 30 minutes and that’s about as “concert” as it will get for him. So I go with girlfriends every now and then. Listening to the songs I danced to in my 20s brought back very good memories at the same time as I watched the lead singer (completely bald) singing his nasal, high pitched  voice to Go West , It’s a Sin, Domino Dancing and New York City Boy –among others- made me realize….we are the old crowd for many! But, who cares. We had fun, enjoyed the music AND had midnight tacos (at 2 am) like on the old days.

I must head back home now to start testing my Blondie recipe in our oven that I have yet to master.

Must get ready for Christmas time,  when I have many batches to bake.

Happy Autumn Season.

This was really…September 4th.

Back -posted, after 2 months of craziness…here is entry from 2 months ago:

As a quick reference to my previous post…we are still off the grid, just like I suspected it would happen.  We have found additional spots in the house where our cell phones get reception, so it is “partially” off the grid I guess.

In the past 3 months (it has been almost 4 since we moved) I have tried to make the house feel and look more like a home. With the constant and unconditional help of my (very patient) husband, we have hung several paintings here and there. And added some décor items around. Some of them reminders of our previous home, some brand new.

Almost a year ago, my husband noticed a Latin Art Festival was going to take place in San Diego. We attended and walked through several dozen stands that offered a variety of artwork, from photography, pottery, weaving, painting, sculpture and food. A couple of artists caught our attention, so we took their cards and added our names/emails addresses to their newsletter lists. Ever since, we have attended 2 more art walks in the area. We always take the kids with us. With technology brutally taking over kids’ spare time today, I strongly believe that we -as parents- have to take charge in the roll of instilling other interests. From sports, to arts, to cooking, or just plain relaxing and reading a book for a while. “Down time” seems to be a rare thing in high risk of extinction among children and preteens today…and adults too!

I was very pleased when, at our second fair – an annual event that takes place in Palm Desert, CA- both kids walked out with something beautiful that they chose and loved.  My daughter chose a photography of a very calm and relaxing beach, printed in a sheet of aluminum that sits on a stand.  My son, a print (of an original painting) of 3 wolves. He met the artist at the stand, she told our son the story of the wolves. They were rescued and cared for as cubs. The 3 of them had different conditions that made it impossible to release them. And sadly, they all died young. The artist did and amazing job capturing the look in their eyes and the softness of their fur.

My husband and I had grown a strong interest in the work of a Mexican artist that paints abstract, very colorful pieces. Alejandro Martinez-Pena. We had been following him since the first fair. And just a month ago, we were able to purchase one of his paintings. It is so bright and colorful we decided to place it at the entryway of the house. It is the first thing you see when the front door opens.

On another note, exactly 2 months ago, my mother fell ill and gave us all quite a scare. I don’t think I will ever forget that 4th of July when I received a call that announced that my mom had been rushed into the hospital. That night, the fireworks at full blast as I stood there in the small area that has cell phone coverage, desperate to receive more calls or texts with an update. I knew close to nothing. It was a horrible feeling; I felt out of the loop, in the dark. Fortunately, my sister was in the area, and she was able to get us both tickets to fly out the next day. I barely slept that night. My brain turned into a type of movie player, and all the trips we took with her instantly came streaming one after the other. Only my player had scents included, so I could smell my mom’s perfume, and her natural motherly sweet smell that I love.

Her laugh, her smile, her many life lessons, her optimism despite the challenges she has faced since her twenties, when the stoke happened.

I tried to remember when and how many times I told her I loved her. Have I said “thank you” for all the many things she has taught me? For shaping me up to be the woman I am now? Have I hugged and kissed her as much as I can on every visit or trip with her?

The flight down to Monterrey seemed to take forever. I felt numb most of the way; I had episodes of non-stop crying, when I was very grateful that my companion was my sister. I felt terrified that something would happen. I felt angry for being so far. I felt sad for her loneliness. My sister held my hand and squeezed it hard to show her support, and me hers, as my crying became contagious.

The next week was one of the worst I have ever lived. My mom was in the ICU, so visits where somewhat controlled and limited. I say “somewhat” because we found ways to bend the rules and flex the hours every single day, so that my mom had one of us with her most of the time. Using the excuse that my mom had a hard time speaking clearly,  we convinced the nurses what it was better for everyone of she had one person there as a translator. Whether they bought it or not, it worked. It was bad enough seeing her with needles on her neck (IV) and oxygen and monitors on her chest and forehead. The last thing we could stand was have her being alone.

That week, my sister – who is tiny but as the eldest, the big boss nonetheless- took the overnight shift and sent me home every night. She knows I have a very light sleep, while she can sleep with a Mexican wedding party next to her. So she decided I was to rest at night and be bright and happy during the day, to keep our Mom company, cheer her up, and of course, see to all the visitors at the hospital, who were really visiting us, as my Mom could only see family members. It worked perfect. Towards the end of the week though, I did see the lack of restful sleep take a toll on my sister.

My mom was diagnosed with a condition (forgot the name) where her own blood creates clots. We were all quite surprised that this diagnose had not come up years earlier, as her Cardiologist expressed his suspicions that this condition might be the culprit of the stroke she had 42 years ago.

Not only did I pray hard that week for my mother’s pain to be over, the needles out, the tubes, all the invasion; but also, I prayed for recovery, for a solution. I was so very grateful that she had access to a medical facility as the one where she was, the means to pay for it, the amazing doctors that had her case, and most of all, for an anti-clotting medication that would solve the problem of future clot formation.

My mom’s mental strength (and stubbornness to recover) was so, that after almost 2 weeks in the hospital, in a state where we had to spoon feed her due to the weakness in the right arm, today she is feeding herself again. She can have phone conversations again, she goes out to the movies and to have coffee with her friends taking along her small mobile oxygen tank. She is counting the days so that her doctor authorizes her to fly, and she can finally come out to see our home.

Life is most definitely a mystery, in terms of how long do we get to be around our loved ones. Yes, healthy lifestyles help -quite a bit- but there are so many things moving and happening around us that are out of our control, so many diseases still invincible, that we really never know.

One thing I took away after those weeks of emotional pain : enjoy today….at the fullest. Express love and gratitude whenever you can. Make someone’s day better with something as simple as a sincere smile.

 

 

 

First Month In:  scraped knees, off the grid and coyotes howling.

I cannot say time flies right now; this first month after we moved in really has felt like a full month.

We knew that getting Internet and a land line would present a challenge in this hilly area. After a painful and thorough research, we concluded that Satellite Internet (slow as a donkey, reliable as the weather man and expensive as limes in California) was not what we wanted, which meant settling for DSL technology.

Considering I work from home, this issue was not something to take lightly. The one and only company that services this area is so slammed with orders and all sorts of problems after buying  a big part of Verizon’s telecommunications, that I’ve had to call them around 10 times to schedule, reschedule, confirm and reconfirm our service. Tomorrow is the big day of hooking us up. I am not getting my hopes up until I can actually see my laptop reaching out into the big WWW.

During this first month, I have made my place of work all of these: primarily my (very generous) cousin’s house, but also Mc Donald’s, Starbucks, the City Library, my son’s swim school, my daughter’s Dance studio. Wifi has never been as valuable as this last month. But I am tired of chasing the signals and can’t wait to actually sit at MY desk which has been empty – and very organized- since May 14th.

Being “off the grid” has also meant no Internet for the kids, no You Tube, no Animal Jam, no Xbox Live. As dramatic as it sounded at the beginning, the kids have gotten used to it.  We had the luck of having neighbors close; a family with a boy, my son’s age, who likes biking. So he has been biking up and down our road, more than he has biked during the last 3 years. He has scrapped his knees more than once but has kept at it. He and his newfound friend have discovered a way to make their bikes sound like motorcycles by jamming a flattened water bottle between the frame and the tire. It is hilarious. Even my daughter has joined them in their biking adventures on several occasions. Needless to say, now she wants a bike that looks like a boys’ bike: all black.

I love watching them do things that they had stashed somewhere in the back of their minds: crafts, drawing and even reading.  Of course, every now and then we get the “I am bored”, so they are obligated to get creative or just go watch TV…that, we do have.

Me?  Not having messages constantly coming in from the half a dozen groups I am in, or email from 4 different accounts is actually de-stressing. I don’t find myself checking my phone or checking facts on google when I am in doubt about…anything, you name it. Every time the kids question me about something I am not 100% sure about, I just say:  “ I don’t know”, end of story. And if I do know, there is no chance of my son second guessing me and checking Google to check my facts: sweet.

Another effect of being off the grid: a little bit more conversation. More deep conversation: the last chat I had with my 11 year old son, he asked me…”Mom, you know how there are couples with 2 men, or 2 women? So, how do they make babies?”

After a very clear, age appropriate answer about Sperm banks and surrogate moms, he said, “oh, ok. I wonder how high my cholesterol is…”

Just like that he ended the subject and as easy as eating pie he started with the subject of his own health. So, yes, different conversations for sure. It probably has to do with his age. This business with the tweens and Middle school, I don’t know. It scares me!

The noises in and around the house have also changed quite a bit. We no longer get speeding cars right on our street or street racing at night like before. Or neighbors partying hard just yards away.

The mornings are exceptionally quiet and serene, the air around us feels crisp and chill. I have heard birds that I have never heard before, making sounds I wouldn’t imagine a bird can do. I heard the sound of squirrels too. The sounds I am not crazy about at night: packs of coyotes all over, near and far, always moving. Very distinct, is the howling of the leader, who clearly has a dominant sound. I know we will all get used to it.

On another note, I am actually getting comfortable in the kitchen. After many frustrating moments and several pages on a variety of manuals, I now know how to use the temperature probe in the oven, and I have almost accomplished the level of not burning the scrambled eggs on our cook top. Apparently the BTU’s do matter. Sometimes I feel like my heat resistant spoons are going to melt! Everything with measure, they say.

Even though we are going through the worst heat wave ever since we moved here (117 F today), the rest of the time has been extremely pleasant during the day and chilly at night. Consistently around 5 degrees cooler than down in the valley, where the City is.  So, I still have not been able to put away all my sweaters and light coats; they are hanging right next to my summer clothes. But I have resigned to the fact that it is the way it is in most of California: flip flops during the day, and sometimes boots at night.

One month in and less than 5 boxes left unpacked: not bad at all. We are missing several sets of furniture, which makes the house fells pretty spacious. As we start getting couches and tables, the house will feel fuller and cozier I hope.  Hanging art and photos should help too.

The first week here I was reminded of when we moved into our last home. My dad flew in to help us clean up, unpack and arrange what we had then. I remembered perfectly how we arranged plates, cups, cleaning supplies. He helped scrub floors and toilets, and the countertops too. I was (and still am) very grateful for his help and his company as well.

The day I arranged my plates, cups and containers here, I found myself a bit teary eyed remembering those days. I felt pretty lonely that morning. The kids were in school, my husband at work, and there I was, one of the most exciting weeks of my life, having reached a milestone to remember for many years to come, but all by myself this one time. I missed my Dad very much that day.

Our guest bathroom was designed in every sense to accommodate my wheelchair bound mom. Spacious with a roll in shower and safety grab bars; looking at it made me miss her too. I can’t wait to have her here.

Two weeks after we moved in, my husband mustered up the energy and resolve to install a sound system in the house, which he had previously wired the house for. This was my Christmas present that I had only enjoyed by looking at the half a dozen boxes in the garage.

Ten speakers or so where installed in the ceilings of different rooms, a controller for each room and the central brains of the system were all put in place in 2 days. The evening he tested it out, he used my Ipod (since we don’t have Internet to stream music online), so the songs were all mine.

My husband knows that music is one of my passions, my mood changes dramatically when I have music in the house or in my car. Music takes me places, it makes my brain work in a different way; it’s hard to explain. But I feel empty and lacking when I don’t have music with me. I have noticed that our days start better when I play the right music for the kids while cooking and eating breakfast.

Because my kids are not old enough to buy their own music yet, they have had to listen to mine (and my husbands’). So it is not surprising that my daughter has come to love Erasure, Pet Shop Boys, A-ha, Abba, and Dance/Electronic Music too. She loves dancing, so Music is a big part of her too. At the same time, both the kids have gotten used to Neil Diamond, which our parents used to listen to, so we both like as well. It is like a generational musical transcendence. And I love it.

In our old home, I used to have a Blue Tooth Bose Speaker he gave me as a present, and I would carry it around or play it loud so I could hear it everywhere.  So when he told me about this Christmas present, in times where things where already tight with the construction going on, I was tremendously grateful.

So back to the day he tested the new system, I was getting dressed in my closet, where there is a speaker. Suddenly I heard a piece from the Classical Ballet Coppelia, by Leo Delibes.  I heard the whole piece as I got dressed, then I just had to sit down on the edge of the tub and take it all in.

My first time at a Professional Ballet performance was at age 7. My Dad, lover of Classical and Opera took me one night, and this is the Ballet we saw: Coppelia. I was mesmerized by the graceful movements of the tiny ballerinas, the intensity of the live orchestra, the costumes, the beauty of it all.

So sitting there at the edge of my tub, I started crying uncontrollably. I was happy, extremely happy and overwhelmed.

I realized my husband had gone through back breaking work (climbing into the attic more than twice to find lost cable ends), covered in fiberglass, all itchy and sweaty, just to give me the joy of music.

To top it off, he tested the system with music that takes me back to 1978, that night at the theatre with my Dad.

I came out of the bathroom sobbing of joy. He found me in the hallway walking towards him and gave me a worried and puzzled look.

I hugged him tight and thanked him for all his work. Like the ABBA song says “Thank you for the music…”

Life has been good to me so far, extremely good. Some things we worked for, some we deserve, somethings are pure luck. All together I am grateful and very appreciative of the many joys I have today: my health, my precious family (immediate and extended!) and –always- the music.

More to come…hopefully form my home’s Internet!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mom, Dad, it’s just a house…

 

I wonder how many times this phrase has been said, yelled, or at least insinuated, to all those elderly couples that suddenly find themselves living in a home too big for them, a home too expensive and empty for them, and yet, too painful to leave, to sell.

I bet millions, all over the world, in many languages and in many tones- angry, sad, or even in attempted cheerfulness.

Personally, I have said it several times to my Dad, not many, as I have tried to be sensitive about the delicate subject which has several implications and consequences if it is acted upon (the dreaded sell).

My parents, as many others, live in a 4 bedroom, 4.5 bathroom home, with a square footage that screams emptiness, especially in the social/living areas.  A house that –like I have mentioned in earlier blog entries- shows many signs of its age and demands expensive attention if one would want to restore it to its 1980’s glory days.

My siblings and myself all live out of town- which is truly unfortunate. That means all grand kids are away too. So the spacious home is a constant reminder of the sad fact that the loved ones live far and away-or at least that is what it feels to me when I have the pleasure of going back to visit.

Are other grandparents’ homes going through the same abandonment or possibly even neglect? They probably are.

Financial worries become a reality for most middle class seniors, even when there’s enough to live on; that lingering worry about medical expenses, unfulfilled traveling dreams, helping out the “kids” who are all grown up and doing well anyway, but they are still referred to as “the children”.

And yet, the thought of selling their home is unbearable; it is the building that witnessed a lifetime of childhood memories, good and bad, growth, conflict during the teenage years, the first boyfriends and girlfriends; the parties. The lazy afternoons. Houses that saw a crazy parade of a technology blend and become part of the household: the brand new Beta Video player, or cordless TV control, the strange box that heats up food fast, called Microwave.

Homes that for decades waited for us after a long trip, with that very own and particular scent of Home Sweet Home. Warm and dry in a cruel winter, or cool and comfy in a hot sticky summer day.

Homes were countless meals where prepared, enjoyed and remembered. Vivid conversations after many meals (in Mexico referred to as “sobre mesa”), the nice long chats over coffee and dessert about anything- there were no banned subjects, at least not in our home.

In my parents’ home, many upgrades and improvements were made throughout the decades. Improvements that cost money, sacrifices, time and great care. Improvements that made my Mom and Dad very proud of their home.

A home in a way, defines a part of you. This doesn’t hold true for everyone, but for my Dad, I always believed it did. His little backyard overcrowded with fruit trees still does today.

This touchy subject of selling the house has surfaced several times in our family in the last couple of years, and until recently, I had never given it the thought I am now. Selling the house that has been your home for most of your life must be difficult; an experience exploding with mixed feelings.

My husband and I bought our 1st home exactly 12 years ago, just 8 months after our wedding.

Our first big project was to remodel the Master bathroom. Out went the big nasty tub, old sinks and sagging vanities. In came gorgeous Mexican Talavera vessel sinks, contemporary cabinets and a very roomy shower with a glass door. Worth every penny. It took all our savings and some convenient Home Depot financing. We felt so proud, especially since it was all done (most of it) by my super handyman husband and his Dad: Grandpa Ross.

Less than a year later we had our son. As soon as he started crawling we removed the carpets, because the allergic reaction to dust was very dramatic. He had a bad case of Eczema and the doctor said removing the carpets would improve his health. So we saved some money and did the 1st floor only in a beautiful Cherry wood. The second floor was another project to start saving on, back then.

A year later, when our daughter was born, our AC broke. I will never forget those afternoons (only a week but it felt like the whole summer), she was only a few days old in early July 2006, temperatures registered triple digits, while I was attempting the motherly duty to breastfeed. All I remember is excruciating pain, non-stop sweating and sleepless nights, sweating in bed or trying to calm down our colicky baby. It was not fun.

So a few thousand dollars later, we got ourselves a brand new AC. Ouch, that hurt, but summers where we live always reach triple digits, so not having an AC was a sad option, and definitely not an option for a home with a newborn.

And so the years passed, and like all houses, they are a bottomless money pit, but all those “investments” made out house more beautiful, more our own, and of course, we always thought of the resell value.

Now, in 2016, after 2 years of planning and spending many nights drawing, redrawing, and putting together our “must haves” wish list, and with the invaluable help of my friend who is an Architect, this drawings and lists were transformed into a reality. And with it came, the time came to move.

We de-cluttered the house, sold some furniture, packed and stored away what was not frequently used, painted and scrubbed, and once the house looked spotless and spacious, we listed it for sale.  Three days later we had 5 offers, and a week later we accepted one. After arranging a back-rent deal with the new owner, we started packing and getting ready to move.

Little by little, box by box, our house became more and more empty. More echoes could be heard as we talked. Less homey scents filled the house, no matter how many candles I lit those last weeks. Not a single family picture was left, barely any toys or Legos on the floor.

The last week we were still living in our house, just as I expected, many memories surfaced of our first years there. When it was just two of us, how spacious it felt after living in a 2 bedroom condo! How we loved having a backyard. I remembered all the years when our kids were still babies, still crawling and how they would sneak through a child-proof fence and start climbing up the stairs while we were distracted. The many parties we threw, from the House Warming party, when I drank quite a bit not knowing I was already expecting my first born! …to the dozen or so birthday parties for our kids.

That last week I took a walk one evening, all by myself, around the neighborhood, I watched, observed the homes around us, the proximity between one house and the next one. The sense of “tight community” this gives, even though we never really knew any of the neighbors. The different smells, someone drying clothes, I could smell the Laundry Detergent all the way out by a driveway; someone else was cooking a hearty meal. Another was grilling. Some other were having a smoke outside.

The “trick or treat” routes we took with our kids every October 31st came to mind as well. The very first one with my son in a stroller, the last one just months ago wearing a Scary Wolf Costume.

When we first bought the house, I used to enjoy watching all the little kids walking to and from school from our living room window, and I wondered what it would feel like to take my own to the school just 3 blocks away.

I wondered if I would miss this feeling of being in the middle of a busy and tightly packed neighborhood. The background noises ever present, the barking dogs….scratch that- I would never miss that.

It was a sad walk, a farewell in a sense.  I knew I would miss having the school so close. We were going from a 15 minute walk to a 25 minute drive. A sacrifice I decided to make so that our kids could stay in the same School District.

I came back home a bit droopy. I looked at our small kitchen and remembered the dozens of Blondies I had baked every Christmas for the last 12 years in that oven. The “excuse me”  kitchen, we called it. Because if more than 1 person was in it that is all you would hear: to open the fridge, to open the dishwasher, to reach for a drawer, you name it, it was always “excuse me!”

I realized that it no longer felt like home. I already felt like a spectator. I was standing there, but my heart wasn’t in it.  We were actually renting the house.

That last night, when I went to tuck my daughter into bed, we both laid down, looking up at her Glow-in-the-dark plastic starts we had gotten her many years ago, and we both confessed we were sad, and feeling already homesick. We would miss our house -we both agreed- and shed some tears.

On Saturday May 14th, with the help of half a dozen good friends, we emptied out the house. For reasons I still don’t know, we were all running, rushing, packing up, loading trailers, taping the last boxes. Three hours later, the house was completely empty.

Someone asked me “Are you sad that you are leaving this house? It is a beautiful house and you lived here so many years”.  I realized then, that the morning had been so rushed and crazy, that my brain didn’t have a split second to think about that.  The last picture of the 4 of us standing in front of the house never happened, there was no time, no matter how many days in advance I had thought about having it taken by a friend. That day I was so stressed trying to move at the same speed as everyone else, and getting my daughter ready for a Dance Competition (yes, that very same day!), that I didn’t allow myself to cry or even be sad.

He truth is, I had a full month of slowly letting the feelings flow, a month of remembering, of thinking, and a month of getting prepared for what was to come: living in a house that was designed by us, every inch of it, and even though the very dramatic change was a bit nerve wrecking, I was super excited too.

Today, after 10 days in our new house, I now am starting to get attached to it, to like it’s scent when I open the door (except when my son or daughter leave their dirty socks right there at the mud room floor).

I will always remember the many afternoons I spent there with friends, with the amazing ladies I have met through school, the many play dates my kids had with the neighbors/friends.  The nice walks I took in the evenings.

Thank you all for your help when I struggled as a working mom with the schedules, the classes and the errands, thank you for your friendship and your support. Even though we are now some miles away, our home will always be open for you…and we would love to see you all there.

 

 

 

Hearts of Palms

Ever since we started with the construction of our new house back in September 2015, I knew there were busy and hectic months to come, but I never anticipated time flying like this and so many things happening too fast.

Our kids, along with us have witnessed ever step from the beginning: grading a lot that was wild with the biggest weeds I have ever seen, piles of rocks and several dozen fruit trees.

They have learned what it is to pick fruit, juice it and drink it (despite their many objections to Ruby Star Grapefruit Juice), along with the benefits it brings.

They have seen -painfully slow at times- what it takes to build what will soon be their home. The bones of the house in the framing stage, the trusses that would hold the roof; the “veins” in the form of plumbing and electrical wiring.

The insulation and dry walling, and even the tiling.

For months they both suffered many visits to the tile stores, until they begged me to just choose one. We used to have a Sample Table at our house with everything I liked and wanted to compare and they never really understood why it was so important to me to put it all together: wall color, wood stains, tiles, glass mosaics, trim, and flooring.  They stubbed their little toes more than once on the tiles I insisted on lying flat on the floor, and everyone, even my husband was annoyed because it took a third of our dining area. But that sample table made me feel good, made me feel like the interior decorator that we cannot afford, made me feel smart about the decisions I made for everything I have chosen so far. My sample table held many Wish List Items that slowly had to be discarded as I learned how much it cost to put it all together.

I learned to prioritize, to accept my financial reality and stay in budget as best as I could. I am not complaining. I am aware that our current situation is better than the average citizen of this country and also about the fact that we are very fortunate to have good paying jobs and healthy bodies that allow us to work hard for this lifetime milestone project.

But this entry is not about the house that is about to be finished. It is about time, about daily experiences that mark my days, and my kid’s maturity as well.

A week ago I went to Costco and while I was looking for Avocado Oil, I found Hearts of Palms from Costa Rica. A true treat, heavenly to me, that is only available once a year. I stocked up on 3 or 4 pairs of jars and then I thought: this is just like a birthday, like an anniversary, because I remember like it was yesterday, when I bought my Hearts of Palms in 2015.

That day I thought of all the things that have happened between Hearts of Palms Seasons, and realized A LOT had taken place.  My son is almost my height now and he is only 11 years old. He has learned about the human body…all of it. He actually asked me days ago if Teenagers can make babies or…was it an adult thing only?  He checks out his hair every morning before walking out the door to school. He does sit-ups and push-ups daily, because “he needs more muscles”. He wants hair chest too. He said to me recently “I can’t wait to hit puberty! How long does it last? Like 2 weeks?”  I choked in laughter.

Ever since he was a toddler, he has used wide shoe sizes, so finding cool shoes for him has always been a challenge. And just a week ago, looking at a conversion chart (kids / adults) I learned that my son, my little boy wears the equivalent to Men’s Size 8!!!!! Thrilled to discover that I could now shop in the Men’s Section of Zappos.com (where we would find more variety in Wide sizes), I was also sad that now his shoes were as big as mine, not cute small shoes anymore, and yes, more expensive than mine too.

Also, between Hearts of Palms Seasons, one of my best friends went through a very tough Cancer treatment and I am thrilled to say, she is finally done. She is a tough cookie, a true survivor and to top it off, an amazing friend.

Another one lost her husband, which for me was an extremely sad experience that definitely taught me several life lessons and made me realize and value everything I have even more.

Another endearing memory that emerged was my latest trip with my mother; our all-girls trip that we try to do every other year or so. New York City, per her request.  Despite the fact that she moves in a wheelchair, she still chose this hectic, fast paced city as our destination.

“I want to see Central Park” she said. So we followed. It turned out to be an amazingly fun and exhausting trip. I walked all the miles I never walk in California (except on the treadmill). I ate many delicious things I found in all restaurants we visited – no restrictions whatsoever- took as long as I could to look at paintings in the museums and Galleries we visited. Sat down at least once to enjoy a meal all by myself, watching New Yorkers come and go. Skipped the shopping as much as I could. A dear friend, who is an Architect (he helped us design our new house) told me before I left for NYC…”When you are tempted to shop, stop and think: every dollar I spend here, is one less for my new house”. Well, it worked!  I felt no pain abandoning stores or completely ignoring the beautiful merchandise that the shops displayed.

The last thing that came to mind as I tried to recollect the last 12 months experiences was Christmas. We normally spend every other Christmas in Mexico with my family. But this last one it was out of the question. Not affordable, period. So we decided to stay here, just the four of us. I have no regrets. It was the smart thing to do. But a little bit of a heartache came to me and it suddenly felt like ages since the last time I saw my parents and siblings.

Every day is an anniversary to the year before. So I am not going to wait for next Hearts of Palm Season to reflect, value, cherish my life, one day at a time. I shouldn’t wait for my birthday to celebrate another year of life, or my husbands’ or my kids’.

Even though some days it’s just work, cooking (or pretending to cook), cleaning, supervising homework, acting as referee with my kids, commuting to/from work, grocery shopping, doing laundry, that sometimes ends with Non Stop Presidential Campaign that is sickening to listen to now, every day still has something special, something that made me laugh, or made me really mad, something I learned for sure. Something that maybe I will remember in months or year to come. Every day. 🙂

Pain, loss, death

I find myself with a blank mind when it comes to choosing a title for this post. The feeling is there, the words aren’t.

Just over a month ago,  we had a tremendous loss in the family. My mother’s (first) cousin died after several years of battling different health problems.

She was -really- like a sister to my mom, and one of my favorite aunts. She was passionate about everything she spoke of, specially politics. She was a truly concerned human over the poverty and corruption in Mexico, even though she lived most of her live in the US. She was generous with anyone in need of help, generous with many that probably never even met her, with those in need, with her own immediate and extended family. And when I say generous I am not only referring to financial aid or charity but generous with her own time.  An extremely smart woman, efficient, loving. She was one of those people that when you called her, she was sincerely interested in your life, you family and your well being. I had the joy of having at least a dozen phone conversations with her during my 90 minute commute to work. I laughed a lot with her, and cried too, over my worries, over hers.

I attended her funeral and was able to spend 3 days with her husband and 2 daughters who I adore.  Ever since my grandfather died 9 years ago,  I had not been in the midst of so much pain and sadness. The absence of my aunt became a presence, all over the house. In every room, in every sound or lack of it.  In the faces of the 2 sisters she left behind.

But what moved me the most, was the pain in my uncle’s face, in his slow movements, in his breaking voice.

They were married 44 years. And all I could think of was… them as a two, never as individuals. They were one of those couples whose names almost blend into one.

I thought also of  the first night alone for my uncle, on a half empty bed. The silence in the house once the crowds go back to their normal routines, when everyone sets the pain aside and it turns into dear memories that bring a smile, while for him, the pain would get sharper and would make streams of tears, anger and frustration; the thought of unspoken words, unlived years, untraveled roads and towns. More birthdays and anniversaries  that were yet to come.

I sat with him for as long as he would allow me, to hear his stories, his advice, to hold his hand and put my arm around his shoulder.  He told us of the times when they had met, how they fell in love, and I could hear the melancholy in every sentence. The refusal to accept, to resign.

The last time I had  attended a funeral was at least 25 years ago. I had forgotten how brutal the experience is. How devastating is the feeling of burying, of letting go, of saying good bye, physically.

At least 100 people stood there, around the placement of her tomb. Listening to the priest talking about her, about the “mystery of death”, about celebrating her life, and praying for the family, more than for her, who already had her peace.

Halfway through the ceremony, I noticed all of us were standing on other graves, where small, medium and large stones were marked with names and dates. I realized, on every inch of this garden, someone has cried; it suddenly felt so wrong to be stepping on these graves where others have mourned.

As it ended, I almost felt like a little girl playing hop-scotch trying to avoid stepping on any stones. I saw soil freshly turned in the shape of a rectangle  here and there, and concluded those graves were recently covered. I saw others where the grass was fresher and shorter, other recent deaths. A garden that at a distance looks so simple, told so much if you looked closely. The big bold stones with ornate finishing touches probably belonged to the more affluent families, while smaller simpler ones you could barely read likely were paid by more modest people.

My eyes burned that Sunday and my head was really hurting, it had not cried that much in a long time. So I could not imagine what the immediate family was going through; my pains were nothing compared to theirs.

I flew back home with a heavy heart and I wished that I could have stayed longer, to hold my cousins, to keep them company, to sleep in the guest room to make the loneliness  a little bit lesser. But most of us have lives to go back to, children to tend to, husbands that need us, a house to make feel like a home, a job that waits for us.

I have reached out to them, to say hello, to listen to them. Every other day I think of them and wonder if the pain is a bit less, or even worse as realization sinks in and other problems arise.

It hasn’t been 3 months and just a couple of weeks ago  I got the most horrendous news: my best friend Mariela’s husband died, killed in a car accident on his way home.

He was 45 years old with 2 children, just barely touching upon teenage years.

The death of someone who is ill or has been for years, makes us -even against our best wishes-to visualize ourselves without that person. We initiate a very slow process of accepting a very possible death, the “what if” thoughts, of family matters unresolved that need attention, even  legal instances that represent a potential problem. We try to put it aside because it hurts, but in the back of our minds, we see it coming. And we slowly take steps to see ourselves in that position of loss. Start thickening our skin to get ready for the blow.

With a death as sudden as my friend’s husband, there is absolutely no thought that prepares you even slightly, for a loss. There are no goodbyes, no apologies, no love words, or thank yous. If you are lucky, maybe a “see you later” and a decent kiss good bye.

The way I see a death like this is similar to the loss of a limb with no notice. One day you have it and it is part of your body, your functionality, your life, the next it is not there.

And you find yourself not knowing how you can get up in the morning and go about your day without it, you just can’t!

In my own marriage, I have worked hard to have a healthy sense of individuality, of self fulfillment, of enjoying my solitude, my thoughts, my writing and my reading. However, my husband (as cliche as it sounds) completes the puzzle, he has that piece in him that makes me feel  just good, as simple as that. He gives me peace, he helps me feel balanced, he is my teammate in many projects. He is my best friend without a doubt. He knows me better than I do sometimes- it’s scary! And most importantly, he gives me motivation for many of the things I do every single day.

The thought of not having him with me terrifies me, yes.

Many have said that the loss of a child is the worse in life, much more than the loss of a spouse or a parent. I don’t know, I have never experienced either. But I have seen, many people overcome the death of a loved one, and not many that fully overcome the loss of a child. So there might be some truth in it.

That still doesn’t comfort the ones in the place of my friend right now.

Unfortunately, she and I live hundreds of miles away, and my current circumstances keep me from being by her side, with pains me just as bad as her loss saddens me.

She has been without a doubt the one you call “my best childhood friend”.

We met when we were in 4th grade. I was the new girl in the classroom and it wasn’t even a month before we discovered how alike we were, and to top it off, we lived 4 blocks away from each other.

Growing up we were both most definitely  nerds, straight A’s all the way to high school. We were both extremely organized, excellent planners , very social and respectful of each other. She kept all her shoes (all of them) in their original boxes, labeled with a full description, stacked in the top shelf of her closet, and still does (I went into her closet months ago). We loved the same bands in the 80’s, recorded many cassettes tapes together and shared our first concert experiences together as well.

She knew my late maternal grandparents more than any other friend.  We have travelled so many times together I lost track years ago. She knew of all the problems in my house, ALL OF THEM. She was never scared or intimidated by any of it, and there was a lot to be nervous about, she never was, never judged or broke our trust bond.

She came to our house for dinner and helped my Dad make tortas like another daughter to him. Sometimes I wasn’t even home and she still stayed. She is the type of friend that knew every nook and cranny in the house; she never had to ask where the forks were. The type of friend that sometimes came and asked for advice to my parents about her problems with her own parents.

We got into trouble many, many times together for getting home at dawn after partying hard. We lived endless hangovers together, some heartaches too.

The day of my wedding, since my mom uses a wheelchair to move around and couldn’t do was most do, Mariela helped me get dressed, buttoned the 20 something little tiny buttons on the back of my wedding dress and was with me the whole morning until I left for the church. She is there in all my photos. She is that kind of friend.

Knowing her so well, I know she will slowly but very surely overcome her loss.

These are the times in which such life events prove that our family, our loved ones, our true friends make a difference in coming out of such desperation and hurting.

I, as many others, are a bit afraid of death, of the unknown, of what comes after. I have faith, yes, I believe one day I will reunite with all those who have already left us, and that I will see and feel God’s presence.

Today my thoughts are will all the women that have lost their loved ones. May the rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

My Year’s End post.

It is that time of the year again, when our home smells of Maple for weeks -due to the dozen or so batches of Blondies I bake-, when red, silver and gold ornaments fill the house, when the kids are (mostly) in a great mood because of Winter School break, when I start thinking of gifts, gifts and then some more gifts even though the previous Christmas I promised myself to spend less this time of year.

LAST BOX OF BLONDIES
LAST BOX OF BLONDIES

A time when I reflect on these last 12 months, when I slow down a little bit at a time, as if the countdown to the Years’ End is supposed to mark a final moment of meditation. A moment to STOP and think. To freeze time and peek into the highs and lows of the year.

Did I accomplish my goals, or even remembered my resolutions?  Did I surprise myself by exceeding them? Will I remember this year when I am 70? Or 80 if God allows me so many years?

It is not December 31st yet, but today, December 30th, I have mixed feelings: pride, disappointment, happiness, and absolute sadness and sorrow too. Melancholy and regret, and a feeling of total bliss too.

This year, my children grew more than a year’s worth intellectually and in terms of maturity too. They figured out more about themselves than they think. They learned how babies are made, they understood more about home economics than most kids their age. My son completed a difficult school year in June after having one of the hardest, toughest teachers I have met.  Some weeks after school was over, while chatting about this Military-style teacher and his “suffering”, he said to me:  ”Mom, he was very strict, but our group is better than the rest of the 4th graders because he was so hard on us, so let’s not criticize him”.  So my son learned, to see the good in the bad…and I with him. I just hope he extends this sentiment to other day to day life experiences. He learned about Dinosaurs more than I can describe in this blog, because of I don’t have the right words and concepts; Actually, I can’t even pronounce most the names. He learned empathy and patience, and the most important one for me: he learned to be affectionate, to not be afraid of showing his feelings. To hug and let himself be hugged and kissed.

My daughter experienced the loss of a best friend that moved to Texas. The loneliness, the challenge of “fitting in” again and finding a new group of friends. It is easier said than done at 9, so she made me real proud as she tried hard these first months of the school year –today has good new friends. She overcame her fear of the stove! She now makes her quesadillas all by herself, and has been a wonderful helper when I bake. She transferred her Math concepts of Fractions, into the kitchen by using measuring cups and it all makes more sense to her now.

JULY 2015 MAKING BANANA BREAD
JULY 2015 MAKING BANANA BREAD

She learned more gymnastics skills by watching You Tube videos than in 3 years taking lessons. She earned a spot in a competitive dance team, and even though the competitions will not take place for another 3 months, she has learned to work hard, to dance her heart out when it is not all fun and games, to live up to the expectations of her teacher. She might learn what it feels to loose next year, or to win. Both will teach her a life lesson in 2016.

She has watched her body change, just enough so to make her proud and a bit embarrassed at the same time.

My husband went through one of the toughest years at work, for several reasons. And with it, I learned some of what many wives go through, emotionally supporting super stressed out husbands that work many long, long hours, bringing the work to the home, and often sleep deprivation due to the work load too. Fortunately this did not last more than some months (or so it seemed to me). I learned to be content in his absence, even if all I wanted was to be with him, watching one of those Science Fiction movies he likes and I find funny.

I learned that I am capable of learning brand new concepts and skills at work that I thought were too complex for me. That I can still create and keep an organized mind with more processes to supervise. That I can make new friends and make them feel welcome in my home soon after.

I learned that my children have more to teach me than I thought. The first weekend of December, I found myself overwhelmed one Saturday afternoon, with a mental list of a dozen things to do, while I yearned for a nap and a quiet afternoon with my kids.  My son noticed my absent mindedness and asked what was in my head, when I explained my inner thoughts to him, he said to me in total seriousness “Mom, don’t worry about doing it all. Choose one or two things that really need to be done today, and leave the rest for tomorrow. Don’t stress out.”  Such a simple concept, yet invisible (or forgettable) sometimes to any busy mom/housekeeper/wife.

My daughter taught me some cool Hip Hop moves because she realized that she has surpassed my Hip Hop knowledge and experience (by far), so I taught her some Tap steps as a good trade off. So we both learned new moves, and we danced together many afternoons in our kitchen, while pancakes cooked, while blondies baked, while eggs boiled…or after dinner just for fun.

I started the year attending a whole weekend workshop about Co-Dependency. I learned much about addiction; about an addict’s challenges and difficulties. About how our childhood carries so much weight in our adult life. About forgiving and letting go. About taking ownership over our actions, and also about self-awareness and good will to take corrective measures.

Even though the year did not go as planned for several of my loved ones in the matters of addiction and co-dependency , I want to believe that the workshop we all took part on, taught us how to live as emotionally healthy as possible- NO MATTER WHAT.

I can say it did help me, more than I ever thought it would. I learned many things about why I behave like I do with my husband and children (mostly bad habits of course), and why it is important to take action and improve my quality of life and hence, theirs.

Sometimes it is very hard, sometimes it hurts, but in the end, I have seen positive outcome which makes it worth the effort, the time and the painful self-analysis.

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to read more Non-Fiction books. And I did.  My favorite one so far is called Super Brain.

I could fill many pages with my favorite quotes by the highly acclaimed Physician Deepak Choprah, a prominent alternative-medicine advocate.

https://www.deepakchopra.com/

This is one of those books that you read and along the chapters you think of many friends and relatives that could get so much out of it.  My sister was sold on it as soon as I told her about it, she now owns a paper copy and is loving it too.

In a nutshell, is describes all that our brain encompasses, all that it is responsible for, and yet, it states repeatedly throughout the book that we should never let our brain be “the boss”. It is a part of our body that we control. It explains the difference between mind and brain, and how the latter should always be subordinate to the first.

It gives much useful and relevant information about the research done that proves how there is energy and bodily reactions to this energy between one human and another, without physical contact.  It touches upon religion, forgiveness, emotional well-being, about the importance of exercising our brain just like we exercise the body.

Nutrition as a key in mental health also plays an important part of this book. And throughout its chapters, it mentions the importance of Meditation, which is mostly forgotten or ignored in this fast paced lifestyle of the Western Culture. By the way, is one of my 2016 resolutions: learn to meditate and practice it… frequently.

This year, I also learned that despite my doctor’s efforts to encourage a healthier lifestyle by lowering my sugar intake and exercising more, I lack will power to make a change and have found myself very slow to react to a sugar level that leaves a lot to desire. Every time I find myself eating chocolate, (or a cookie, brownie, blondie, cake, etc.) I think of addiction; I think of a body that screams for more, a bottomless pit, and mostly, I think about one of the people I love most in this world and his struggle to stay sober.

Having said this, I have to include in my resolutions a healthier lifestyle. I can’t give up on a resolution that was not resolved.

During 2015, together as a family, we did our annual Camping Trip with friends, and we did several hiking trips that reminded us of the beauty that nature  has to offer. This time with no wires or electricity seems priceless.

Hiking @ Mount Palomar Park
Hiking @ Mount Palomar Park
Meadow at Mt. Palomar Park
Meadow at Palomar Mountains State Park

 

San JuanTrails Ortega Hwy, east of Lake Elsinore
San JuanTrails
Ortega Hwy, east of Lake Elsinore

This year, was worse than 2014 (I think) in terms of World Peace. The situation in North East Africa as well as in Libya and its surrounding countries was horrendous. It was painful to watch the news (nothing new there). The number of refugees fleeing their countries to northern Europe was in the millions. Germany (due to their decrease in population of young people) has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from many countries, hoping to strengthen their workforce, improve their skills and hence, their economy.

Many other European countries took refugees as well, that came on flimsy life boats, crossing dangerous waters from North Africa to Italy, Greece and Turkey. Thousand have died in the attempt, and will keep dying as the migration continues.

Terrorist attacks jumped from suicide bombers killing a dozen or two, to skillfully planned attacks in largely populated areas and venues in Paris, killing over 100 innocent people that were enjoying a meal at a restaurant or music at a concert hall.  In this regard, the year culminated with a terrorist attack in US soil, just 100 miles from where we live. A random shooting by two Isis Supporters killing just over a dozen people (San Bernardino shooting).

I lost count of the number of massive shootings in the U.S. , most of them at schools. Equally, the number of victims (most of them black) who died due to abuse (excessive use of force) from law enforcement employees, was alarming.

Added to my resolutions: stay away from the news shows and try to keep my kids away to. All they have done this year is cause (more) anxiety.

A piece of news I heard on the radio that made me smile: on August 2015, Saudi Arabia allowed women to vote, for the first time in history. The news, which truly made me feel happy for all the women that fight for their rights (actively or in secret), was overshadowed by the next pieces of information on the news show:  thousands of women who had registered to vote, did not make it to the voting posts. Why? Because women are not allowed to drive. Also, they can only participate in Municipal elections.

The header of my blog states that my views here are expressed “as a Mom, woman, daughter and sometimes an extraterrestrial”.

Here I put on my E.T. hat and look down from space at these human beings, living Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and many other African countries and wonder. How can it be that women are not worthy to talk, to attend school, to show their faces (where burkas and other head scarfs are mandatory), to travel and see the world. To have a say in the political arena!

I makes me real mad, even as an ET…  It almost seems like the efforts of a country like Saudi Arabia are just for show, to be relieved of some pressure from the fighters and their advocates.

One step at a time, I guess. I hope my children live to see real change for all those oppressed women.

My son and I read the children’s version of the life of Malala Yousafzai. I believe it is important for our kids to know what other children face when it comes to education.

http://www.amazon.com/Who-Is-Malala-Yousafzai-Was/dp/0448489376

To end my entry on a happy note, I can say that 2015 is a year that I will remember very dearly, not only because of what I already wrote here, but because my husband and I set the wheels in motion to start our dream come true: building our home.

After months of dealing with the bank, filling out and signing our lives away on endless forms and carefully choosing a contractor, the ground was finally broken this summer.

We personally chopped down trees, chipped them into mulch and cleared as much as we could to give way to the tractor. With the help of some good friends and our kids, it was all done.

I have a separate link on this blog to report on the progress via photos, but I can say I have enjoyed very much every store and website  I visited to see dozens and dozens of tiles, appliances, hardware, paint, fixtures and many more things. Link to House Progress Images here.

I know 2016 will bring some stress and challenges to complete our house, but I will gladly take on anything that comes. I have the BEST teammate. He has entrusted me with many choices and has given all the freedom to pick and choose what I like to make our home beautiful. Can’t ask for more (actually I could: the lottery to pay off the loan!)

OUR HOUSE AS OF DEC. 31 2015
OUR HOUSE AS OF DEC. 31 2015

I will end my entry thanking all of those who listened to me vent when I went through a rough patch, who helped me with my kids so I could keep my work commitments or just to have a night out with my husband, thank you to all those who still call instead of text, -just to say hello-who like me, enjoy a face to face conversation, much more than any email or whatssap string of words.

I wish all my readers a wonderful and memorable 2016.  Thank you for taking the time to read, for commenting and for passing it on to your friends.

2016, here I come!

The Irony of the Hello Kitty Belt.

Often times I agonize and dwell over the fact that my kids are growing up so fast, too fast. I look deep into their eyes, and for a brief moment I see them as babies holding up their milk bottle while looking back into my eyes; as toddlers inquisitive and curious , their eyes asking questions about the fast paced and loud world  around them.  Then, seconds later, I zoom out of my precious memories and see them today, freckles around their noses, smelling of dirt, sweaty foreheads, big teeth, too big for their little faces.

I am proud to say I have enjoyed each and every moment with them,  growing up, growing smarter, defining those very clear personalities they each have.  Despite the fact that I have never stopped working out of the home, I can say I have been there- so far- every step of the way. That even though I have a ridiculous number of photos in my laptop , with triple online backup, I also have them imprinted in my mind.

But is it also true, I DO want to slow down time, or freeze a moment every now and then, because I know tougher times are coming: Middle School, and before we know it, High School and all that follows-all in a breeze.

My daughter – age 9 now- has been developing all too fast, a sense of sensuality, along with the dreaded Hollywood prototypes with its empty and vain concepts of beauty and female perfection. Who do I blame,? None other than media: music videos, commercials, unnecessarily explicit ads, and sadly, movies. Even animated ones, yes.  This past summer, she came down the stairs one morning ready to go to school – or so she thought- wearing  a T-Shirt that was tied on one side with a hair band, making it look like it was knotted, resulting in an exposed mid-reef. I stared at the whole outfit for a few seconds, debating, struggling on how to approach this situation, which was  not the first one, and most definitely wouldn’t be the last.

How to you tell a 9 year old that exposing her body like that is not acceptable, when she is not yet fully aware of what dirty looks are, about the image she portrays as a girl, about respecting her body. It’s a tough one, at least for me, to make her lose a bit of her innocence and naivety because of how our world is these days, because there are registered predators within blocks of our house, because of the sick and disturbed human nature of some.

Looking at her tiny waist, her half exposed belly (she has a 6-pack already due to her gymnastics!), I observed that she was wearing a Hello Kitty belt, hot pink, metallic, with a Hello Kitty Head as a buckle. Of course!  She is only 9.

I half smiled to myself, and had a little chat with her about appropriate dress code, not only for school, but for her age. Confused a bit, she agreed to take the fake knot off and told me some girls wore T-Shirts like that. She never really understood what age had to do with it.

After this one event, both my husband and I have sent her back to her room  at least half a dozen times to change. One has to stick to it and be consistent, so that is what we are trying to do. However, the “control” somewhat ends there.  Once they are out of the house, other issues come into play that are more of a challenge to have a grip on.

Last week, we all went for an easy hike, together, as a family. These outdoor activities  have turned out to be some the best to spend quality time moments with our kids. There are no phones, no videogames, no dancing and jumping and tumbling. No Noise. Just us, walking, climbing, having a small picnic or snack, talking. Every now and then, we split in pairs for a while. Walking only with 10 yr old son, he asked me how he could get his “crush” to like him. Again, I paused, thought and many, many things came to mind. The very first one:  HOW AWESOME that he is asking me this, not a friend, not even his Dad ( he has always had the girls talks with me).  Next I wondered, isn’t it too soon? But I immediately recalled my first crush, I was probably younger than him. So, to soon? No. Then, a question to myself was: how do I give him advice on being likable to a girl, while at the same time discourage him from thinking too much about girls?

Concluding that I could not control his thoughts anymore that I can control my need for Dark Chocolate, I took his question with an open heart and a smile and so started the chat about girls.

Because I have tried to participate in as many school activities as my job allows me to, I happen to know not only his “crush”, but this adorable girl’s Mom too. Just briefly, during a field trip to one of California’s Missions, I met them both. So I can understand why my son has been secretly admiring this girl for over a year. A year? Yes. My son told me he looked up on the internet how to make a girl like you, and the advice he found was “Let time do its work”. But he said “Mom, I have given time a whole year and nothing happened, so it is time I do something . This is how I found out his crush is that old. I was glad the advice he found was all good and clean. God knows he could have found the worst and nastiest advice at the tap of his fingers.

Later, than same day, my daughter , still 9, made a confession too. She was so uncomfortable and embarrassed, she waited until bedtime to talk. The precious time when I tuck her in, lay with her, in her tiny twin size bed (with my butt and one leg hanging off the edge at times),  with lights off to start winding down we chat about the day, about life, about my childhood, about her grandparents, then pray, then I leave. So she chose this moment to tell me that some boys she has been hanging out with at recess, were having inappropriate conversations with her: it had been going on for days and she felt so dirty and guilty so couldn’t hold it in any longer. She provided me with details which made my head numb, she talked and I listed but my mind was going in slow motion, I couldn’t fathom  the whole scene, the conversations that 9 or 10 year old boys were having. What is going on with people? Should I have seen this coming this soon?

Thankfully, over the last weeks of summer, my husband and I already talked to both kids about sex: from  the reproductive system, how it all happens, how babies come to this world, briefly touching upon sexual relations. The focus was more on body changes and how babies are made. It was all very science-focused, a lot of drawings on our kitchen whiteboard (yes, next to the shopping list was a drawing of the female uterus and the menstruation  sequence).

Despite my efforts to use mating and animals and keep it all serious, my kids and I ended up laughing hard because my drawing skills are TERRIBLE to put it lightly, so the penis and scrotum outlines fell into the humorous category. Oh well, some humor actually helped break the nervousness and embarrassment.

Because of this talk (and common sense), my daughter knew that the conversations these boys were trying to have with her, were out of line. I was -again- grateful she came to me and got it off her chest. Her heart was racing the whole time we chatted. After telling her several times she was not  in trouble, she calmed down and went to sleep.

Me ? I was in bed, wide awake, thinking about the day’s events. My son had a 1 year old crush and wanted to be likeable. My daughter was told she is sexy and a boy wants to “do it” with her. Age came to mind. I felt 60 years old that night.  A scary vision of High School came to mind, driving, alcohol, partying, drugs and all the chaos that usually comes with those years.

To top it off, that same afternoon my husband made a ship for the kids to play with, using leftover cardboard from a huge box we had in the garage. The illusion of them playing with it quickly dissipated. Apparently (I wasn’t there) they both went back to their games after briefly acknowledging it.

These are the subtle signs that come bite you (‘cuz it hurts) of how they are growing up fast, and they are no longer our “babies”.

Tired of looking at the soft blue glowing light from my night stand clock, I left my room at 1:30 am directly to where I now sit. I furiously typed an email to the school principal, detailing as much as possible. I (kindly) demanded she talked not only to the boys but to their parents as well.  Only after that, I slept.

I am currently reading a book about a Helicopter mom, (mom’s that hover over their kids and take away their breathing space). I don’t believe I have ever been intrusive or overprotective, otherwise I wouldn’t have the honor of being my kids listening ear and soundboard when they are angry at the world.

However it doesn’t hurt to read about other moms’ mistakes (according to the author, that is why she wrote this novel about helicopter moms). While I promise myself to give them space, freedom of choice, and support when they need us parents there, I also intend to keep being involved -as much as they allow me- in their lives. Being there, is the difference sometimes between  a happy child and a depressed child; between self confidence and feelings of inferiority; between feeling ignored and feeling loved and needed. 

Like the cliche says: Time flies.  So, let’s fly with it instead of watching it pass us by.

The pain of silent tears

I type as I sit on my plane ride back home. With my sunglasses on, and eyes closed as tight as I can, my face is still covered in hot tears. I am so tired and sleep deprived from the wedding I attended last night,  I can’t care less about what my face will look like upon my arrival.  No one will be there to greet me, not today. So, who cares. I am just another homesick passenger,  right?
I just said goodbye -again- to my beloved mother.  No matter how many weeks or months it will be til our next get together, it ALWAYS hurts as hell to let go off that last hug, the smell of her skin, the feel of her soft velvety skin. I absolutely hate it. As much as the sound of suitcases rolling down the halls.
As I have mentioned before in this blog, I have been more closely related to situations of sickness,  of loss, and now more recently of family feuds that have not ended well. All of it, making me more conscious about the frailty of life, about the importance of showing our feelings,  our love, our admiration and respect towards others- today. About really living fully,  with no regrets.

I guess that is why every trip I take to see my loved ones lately, I truly give my self, my time and my attention to the “now”. But then, the withdrawal hurts even more. A price worth paying though.  A pain worth feeling, hot tears worth crying.
I have seen more than a few people broken up because their loved ones left this world and things between them were not resolved, feelings not shown, kinds words not spoken, apologies never offered. That must be a heavy burden to carry. For a while now I have made it my personal goal to never end a day without ironing out an emotional wrinkle that is bothering me, or could be bothering another.
I want to believe I am doing ok in this regard. I just have a bit of an obstacle that makes this goal a bumpy road at times.
A very difficult case of codependency,  very close to my heart, haunts me every single day. An emotional roller coaster: hold grudges? No, forgive and let go; criticize and judge? No! Understand and have compassion. Not care and look away? Or have empathy and offer a listening  ear and a crying shoulder?

The only thing stronger and harder  than the urge to eat chocolate and resist, is to stay in control of my feelings and impulses when it comes to this  codependency. I pray that I never regret something I said, or didn’t dare to.

It could sound humorous,  comparing my chocolate addiction, to my codependency with an alcoholic,  but I believe in the end, all our weaknesses and addictive behavior reflect a part of us that we struggle with.
Some people shop, some overeat, some pick on their skin, I eat chocolate.
Yet, I want to believe that building an awareness within myself on how to be an honest person, to not be shy to complement, to hug, to offer a helping hand, to say I am sorry, will help me feel less need devouring my 70% cacao bars. Balance…that is the key. I can do it, I  know I can, ’cause it feels so good to be healthy in the heart,  the spirit and the body, and if added to that, it puts a smile in someone’s face, it just makes it all better.
I feel this attitude has made me more patient and affectionate with my 2 beautiful kids…and, little by little, I  have seen this love and affection make its way back to me, and I just love it. It is a full circle happening in front of my eyes.
Sometimes I do wonder how many years I have left, how many trips with my family, how many meals together, no one knows, we just don’t.
Some days it is hard to live like it is your last, some days it is easier. It is a bit depressing to think about it, but it does make a difference to “seize the day”.
-From the movie Dead Poets Society , so so true…

Building a Dream…Building a Home

During my childhood years, and all the way into my high 20’s  I lived in the same house. I never once experienced a change of address. That dance didn’t start until I moved to the  States: I am now in my 5th address since I moved to California in 2001.

Building a house wasn’t something I ever envisioned, for several reasons: there are thousands of nice houses already built, big, small, old, new,  one story, 2 story homes, white, yellow, beige, gray (in terms of color that is about it- most people are afraid of color in this Country). Additionally,  there was always another reason in the back of my mind: absolutely unaffordable.

I remember some 6 years ago, when my sister and her family bought an older house and remodeled it. It all sounded so grand: choosing tiles, kitchen appliances, bathroom and light fixtures. A lot of work but in the end, an enormous project that changed their lives and that resulted in a beautiful house that they now enjoy so much.

About 2 or 3 years ago, my husband and I were determined to move to a newer and slightly larger house. Our current neighbors aren’t exactly friendly, our street is too busy and noisy, and we needed extra room for guests that come visit. During the 11 years we have lived in this house, we have never felt a sense of belonging to a neighborhood, a closer tighter group of families, a  community.  Added to that,  my mom moves around in a  wheelchair: it is hard to accommodate her comfortably in this house. And that is something that I have always wanted, to have her stay with me instead of a hotel :(.

The fact that the kids don’t have a play area,- but take over our living room instead- doesn’t help either. So the search started for a larger house: we wanted  something not so old (our current home is almost 20 years old) in a decent neighborhood and a good school district, on a cul de sac and close to town, and one story of course, because we are tired of the stairs, and with a spare room for guests and room for my home office, with a nice big kitchen…Now, since my husband was raised in the Midwest, he wanted  a nice big lot, with room for fruit trees and maybe a chef’s garden! …a piece of land big enough  to not have the neighbors 10 feet away on either side, but a nice buffer instead, surrounding our house.

Slowly but surely, after months of house hunting we realized our list had too many requisites; it seemed like what we were looking for did not really exist…within our budget anyway. I personally gave up on it, and resigned to live in our current house for at least the Elementary School years.

Some 4 or 5 months into the search, my husband and I  found exactly what we were looking for. A 5 Acre lot (a bit over the size we intended) in an agricultural zone where only groves and homes are permitted. No large buildings, no commercial zone, no traffic. It overlooks rolling hills covered with rows of citrus and avocado trees. It sits atop a hill, which allows for an ocean breeze, a beautiful sunset view and, yes, it is on a small street that dead-ends.  The drive to town, is only 12 minutes. The nearest hospital, 20- yes, I always think of the hospitals because of my son’s Peanut allergy :(.

While I have never imagined myself living in what will feel the “country”, I have to admit I am excited about the privacy, the silence, the views, the fresh unpolluted air that will surround us. The space, which for me, means relaxation and even meditation.

I am not entirely sure how our children will take this change, if they will embrace it or hate us for the next 10 years.

We purchased the lot in April 2014; it had 200+ avocado trees, most of them neglected and sick, yet bearing fruit. Also, along the front fence, some 50 very healthy grapefruit trees. The type of grapefruit (Ruby Star) that is so sweet, they have asked me if I inject it with sugar.

My husband had to read up on avocados, citrus trees, water management, disease, and who knows what else. It has been a year of dealing with the business of selling the fruit, managing the irrigation system, with some help from a neighbor. Me? from the moment our neighbor-to-be warned us about rattlesnakes in the area, I have tried to keep a distance and watch my step when I go pick grapefruit for myself and friends, who love the fruit as well.

I decided to read to the kids (and myself) about rattlesnakes, what they look like, so not to confuse them with the type of snake that is GOOD for the land (gopher eaters and such), how to react and how NOT TO react, etc

That same week we all read about it, my son and I encountered a good sized snake at the park, we were walking on the sidewalk, and it just stuck out it’s head a bit and stared, and we both did exactly was the magazine said not to: panicked, screamed, and took off running with our backs to the garden snake.

So, I guess we are still not ready to respond appropriately.

The plan after we purchased the lot, was to build a home a year later. The financial responsibility was huge, so taking it in 2 steps would help us plan better and save up.

So now, a year and a half later, this adventure is about to begin.

With the help of some friends, the help of our own 2 kids and the amazing speed of a chipper we rented, we cleared out the area where the house will sit.

After many hours of extenuating and back breaking work, in cruel summer weather, about 60 avocado trees were cut down and shredded to make way for the tractor to come in and start grading.

A week later the area was graded and I got the real feel for what we are about to begin: a life changing event, a project of our own, a dream come true -as cheesy as it sounds.

My eyes got a bit teary as I took pictures of the views and of the kids standing next to the tractor.  A couple of will-be-neighbors have stopped to look, to say hi and to welcome us to the area.

It has been a bit stressful: applying for a substantial loan, making changes in our current budget in order to accommodate what is coming, making important decisions about the floor plan, size, layout, etc

Some of the decisions we are making now will have an impact for years to come,  some huge some minor, still- they make you hesitate and wonder- did I choose right? Was that a good idea?

The fact that our economy – as a country- has been a bit unstable, not to mention the Real Estate Market, adds to the pressure. But the fact that both my husband’s and my job have been stable, provides peace of mind and confidence. Everything will be ok, we can make this happen, we will do it, and in the end we will love it.

The estimated time of completion – according to our carefully selected contractor- is 6 months.  Therefore, we will be moving before the school year ends.

I am thrilled, I am nervous, I am stressed, and I am super super happy and grateful about it.  Grateful that while I have close friends that have lost their homes or don’t have the certainty of keeping the one they live in, or extreme cases like the millions that live in tents in the other side of the world- displaced from their homelands, I am stressed about which tiles to choose for my new bathroom.

My intention is to document every step with pictures and writing on my blog about it.

Happy building to us

🙂