The Hijacking of a Holiday Classic

‘Twas some weeks before Christmas and all through the town

Halloween decorations came tumbling down.

The very next day signature cups were here

As Starbucks abound brought red holiday cheer.

 

But I’m not ready; I protest you will see,

Thanksgiving was rushed— was passed by easily.

Christmas scenes at malls were quickly erected

Before the plump turkey was even selected.

 

Hold onto your bells and red Santa Claus suits;

With commercialists and marketers in cahoots!

Slow down premature spending for goodness sakes;

We hadn’t had time for giving our thanks.

 

Not to mention out here, all the way out west,

We needn’t a coat—only sweater or vest.

New Yorkers we know that it’s no big charade:

The real Santa shows by ending the parade.

 

Now that the cooking and the feasting’s been done

And our dear guests and family have all gone,

I relish this now, oh so sweet Monday morn

When I sit silent, not any bit forlorn.

 

I need just a day—fine maybe even two

To recover from this before something new.

It’s not just Christmas but New Year’s, too,

And thanks to my mom, I’m a little bit Jew.

 

To gather the gifts and an additional eight,

Which one on what day, when shall we celebrate?

Palm trees do twinkle with festive bright light

Faux evergreens are seen in windows at night.

 

It’s weirdly warm, supposedly normal—

Strapless can be worn to the Christmas formal.

Ready now, I embrace holiday season;

To delay any longer I have no good reason.

 

On browsing! On buying! On wrapping! On giving!

At toy stores and books stores, clothes stores and e-stores:

Shop away! Shop away! Shop away, all!

 

Sam, too, has arrived—our own elf on our shelf,

Each night he reports to the big man himself.

He keeps us in line, or he tries to at least.

But how does a tiny guy tame our two giant beasts?

 

Four weeks more until school is out once again.

That brings a fortnight of true solid mayhem!

The day that I rest, the day of pure glee,

Is way off on 1-7, 2-0-1-3.

 

My effort’s complete; here ends my festive rhyme.

Happy prepping to all, and to all a good time!

 

 

Tattoos and Piercing

This past weekend was bliss for my family: thirty-one uninterrupted nag-free hours. That’s right, while mom’s away the dad and kids play.  Though they sent adorable and quirky photos of their antics and adventures, while claiming to miss me, I think secretly they cast not one thought in my direction. They love the rare occasions when I take myself out of the equation probably even more than I do.

Those hours, meanwhile, are precious few for me. I hopped the train to LA, a beautiful journey along the coast. However, I didn’t take in much of the scenery as I was engrossed in my latest book The Shoemaker’s Wife— a recommended read for anyone lucky enough to take a long plane trip, sit quietly on a beach or have a few spare moments in the evening. So, probably not applicable to many of you in this busy and hectic life!

I was retrieved at the station by one of my dearest friends from summer camp days (yes, a witness to the haircut). I’ll never forget the day we met– she already a veteran of this eight-week sleep-away camp and I a complete newbie to this east coast tradition.  Confident, sprightly  and engaging, she captivated me immediately and took me under her wing. Fortunately she was able to look beyond the haircut to establish a  friendship that even today slides right back into that comfort of our 8-year-old selves.

The wonderful afternoon rolled into a pleasant evening in Santa Monica with my mother, brother and some special dinner guests. Even more special was the guy at the bar, who apparently forgot to put on jeans that would actually cover his extremely unattractive and completely exposed rear. I did try to capture a photo, but alas, my phone-photo skills failed me at this critical juncture. I invite you to conjure up your own visual.

Early Sunday morning my electric blue shoes took me along the beach to the canals of Venice.  I did contemplate stopping here to revamp my image, but I neither had the money nor the time to wait until it opened:

I sauntered slogged back along the “colorful” Venice Beach as a birthday brunch awaited in downtown LA. There my brother took us to a swanky eatery, and then introduced us to his surrounding neighborhoods. I definitely don’t miss city life, but it’s always nice to be able to picture your friends and families in their habitats once you see how and where they live.

My respite from reality was not complete without a Chinese foot reflexology session. These poorly paid, highly competent people are geniuses at their craft! It’s a good thing I don’t have access to such venues as I would escape much more often, justifying that I’m helping their personal economy.

Back to the Amtrak I went, this time accompanied by my mother. A short two hours later I returned myself to my family, trained to welcome me with enormous enthusiasm. It was brief of course, but lovely while the love lasted.

How quickly we settle back into the routine tasks as chores themselves never go on vacation. As I thought about that phenomenon, I was grateful for having had one night when no one peed in the bed– or if someone did, I wasn’t there to find it.

Oh, and that tattoo? Perhaps next time.

Confessions of a Fraudulent Halloweener

Guilt is powerful, paralyzing even. It holds some of us more captive than others, and strikes in unpredictable places. I am prone to guilt, and I worry too much. My husband claims that I worry about worrying, even when I have nothing to worry about. This I can’t deny. On Monday I was wracked by guilt as I swam laps outside, enjoying the mid-70’s sunshine in a pool heated comfortably. I kept company with the retiree water aerobics class, and feasted my eyes on the very tan and equally toned lifeguard leading the crew.  I did so as my friends and family were being pummeled by Sandy, and as the house we still unfortunately own was left to weather the fury powered only by a back-up marine battery. This battery, plugged into the sump pump, is like the little dutch boy’s finger jammed into the hole. Should it give, the system fails and the floods conquer. Only when power is restored are we out of the woods. Still we’ll own the damn house.

At least this time around I’m not stuck inside that house with famished, stinky, cooped-up children. The guilt of my feeling relieved magnifies as I know that others are in dire condition– financially, physically and emotionally. Thousands of miles away from them we carried on with living: school, work and Halloween.

My guilt surged on Halloween night, and not because in the chaos of the day I mistakenly switched my kids’ lunch items which they quickly brought to my attention after each went slightly hungry. Rather,  I was involved with perpetuating a fallacy that was revealed in the thick of trick-or-treating.  We discovered the truth: the California condor is not, in fact, the state bird. The quail won that honor back in 1931 when it beat out the condor for the title.

Not only is the condor frightfully unattractive, it’s also nearly extinct, so two valid reasons for missing out on top honor.  The condor, however, is on the state quarter as consolation prize. Hence the confusion, and one explanation for how we let our creative, crafty and proud seven-year-old don a condor costume and inadvertently dupe the neighborhood. As well as friends, teachers, administrators, parents and passers-by. In the months leading up to the festivities our daughter had announced to anyone and everyone that she would be representing the state bird, the condor, on Halloween. She’d be devastated to know that her costume– her inspired efforts– were inaccurate. I couldn’t tell her right then and there. Plus I needed to be sure.

In the haze of my Halloween hangover the next morning I scoured the internet for all things condor. Remember– the purpose of a sabbatical is for research. I’m now an expert in condor traits and facts, including full knowledge of why they purposefully defecate down their legs. Most importantly I concluded that they are, indeed, not the state bird. When I shared my findings with my condor-loving child later that afternoon, there were tears. I recognized those tears– they were guilt-ridden puddles of shame.

My condor kid truly believed that everyone at school, in the neighborhood and at the party where she had won first prize for best costume would deem her a liar. She even suggested that she should return her grand prize, the highly anticipated and already beloved MG (gaming system) that is en route from China as I type. Worst of all, she implored through her sniffles, Why didn’t you check more carefully?
How right she is, and how guilty I feel.

A stickler for accuracy, I try to triple-check everything. I don’t like to be wrong, and moreover, I refuse to make errors without taking ownership. I figured that she, too, would want to know the truth and to hear it from me instead of being called out by someone else. I’d rather be the bad guy. I’ll wipe away her tears, absolving her of guilt and absorbing it into my own.

There is little I can offer from afar to aid those affected by the hurricane, other than to open our home up for a hot shower (even without electricity we have gas-powered hot water). And we can’t redo Halloween unless we head to New Jersey to partake in the postponed affair on November 5th. The best I can do is to make a subtle modification to an essential part of that costume, and tuck it away in a keepsake box as a reminder that, when having erred, we move forward not with guilt but in good humor.

The F***-ing Fours

I like my children a lot better when I am not with them. It has nothing to do with the time then that I have to myself, such as for exploring the best lunch options in the area (Zinc Cafe on the fabulous Cedros Avenue in Solana Beach won out this week). I was also able to partake in a timely discussion at my children’s school on Raising Kids in a Device Driven World. Note, the handful of very young siblings who were brought along by mothers were all plugged into iPads or iPhones. (I decided it best not to make a snarky comment on the irony, as that is no way to begin friendships in a new community). I attempted to donate blood but was thwarted by my travels to Mexico last spring. Apparently the area around Cancun is now considered a Malaria risk– though my lack of any extreme fever leads me to believe that my blood is actually desirable. And I also participated in a friendly tennis tournament for Breast Cancer Awareness (more later on my reversal of retirement from the sport). How easily I can combine selfish time with selfless acts when unencumbered by children!

No, I like my kids better because I have to believe that they are at their best when I am not in their presence. Just yesterday I asked my son’s teacher if he is always as pleasant as he is at pick-up, or is it just when I walk into the room. She confirmed the latter– fortunately for everyone else.

I’m simultaneously envious of and repulsed by the starlets who incessantly tweet about how in love they are with their babies. Clearly Kristin Cavallari is years away from being called Didiot by her son. Oh yes, at least mine is clever enough to add a consonant at the beginning of “idiot” so that he is not technically saying a naughty word, or so he reasons.

There has to be a bright spot in this madness. I know there is because my daughter was no picnic at four, five and even into six. Now she has terrific moments where she really reminds us that her exceptional qualities can prevail. But my son, well, right now he has a personality that only a mother could  has to love. And for some reason being around me brings out the worst in him, very sadly. The Terrible Twos didn’t happen for us, and at three he was still quite charming. Now we are paying for those years with the F***-ing Fours! Just under six more months to go…

Come March 31st I don’t unrealistically expect a miraculous emergence from this trying phase. But with each passing day there is the promise of raising a self-sufficient, socially-conscious, critically-thinking, compassionate citizen. I look toward positive role models of talent, intellect and humanity to keep me going in these child rearing efforts. How incredibly moving is the plight of Malala Yousufzai, the bright, young Pakistani blogger who fights for her life after a brutal assassination attempt? She is just fourteen. She is a mere seven and ten years older than my kids. Is it possible that my oft whiny, moody, snotty children can evolve in just a handful of years into mature, admirable, inspiring leaders? That may be a stretch, but dreams are meant to be lofty. We’ll keep working on taming the Didiot-shouting beast.

And above all we’ll keep sending our best wishes for Malala Yousufzai’s recovery.

The Pies That Bind

Apples have been causing man and woman strife since the days of Eden. This weekend proved no different. My husband and I were out for a rare child-free dinner, marveling at the sunset on a warm summer autumn evening. We agreed that it’s hard to believe fall is upon us when the first of October may hit 90 degrees. I’m not at all complaining; it’s just odd. I don’t love cold weather, but I appreciate the festivities that come with it, not the least of which is the delicious Pink Ribbon Bagel at Panera, offered only one month a year. Enjoyed with hazelnut coffee on a brisk fall day, that treat is worth the wait. Not to mention it’s a great way to support National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Other fall favorites are evident, such as scarecrows, pumpkins and Halloween costumes. But apples, a signature of the season, are few and far between at best. When I expressed this disappointment to my husband, he immediately offered up that we should head to Julian to pick apples.

Where?!

Apparently this Julian is the apple orchard mecca of Southern California. It also happens to be 40 miles away. My relief that apples do exist was overshadowed by my disbelief that he dared to suggest we go. You see, in the 17 years that my husband spent on the East Coast he never took to traditions that were seasonal and symbolic, like apple picking. He did join us fairly frequently on family outings to Terhune Orchards, a beloved farm just down the road from us in New Jersey—but that was mostly for their famed cider donuts. Now that I‘ve moved over 3,000 miles away from the ubiquitous apples, he wants me to drive 40 more to experience something he didn’t particularly enjoy when it was actually easy to do so?

I have a better solution: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade; when life doesn’t provide apples to pick, buy a delicious pie. Therefore, October is dedicated to finding the best local apple pie. After all, we are hosting Thanksgiving this year so I’ll need some fabulous desserts. That means my pie tasting month is essentially a selfless act. And because I am so giving, I suppose I will share my test samples with my dear husband. We both love a good pie, regardless of where the apples are grown.

Home: Coming or Going?


We are officially home, if home is defined by which license plate adorns your car. Other than not being able to find my car as easily in a parking lot, I’m not sure how I feel about yesterday’s very symbolic action of relinquishing my last outwardly visible tie to the East Coast. The New Jersey plates were a distinguishing factor, announcing to all that we are transplants and our roots lay elsewhere. Each of us has now, in turn, left our birth states– California, New York, North Carolina and New Jersey– and only one of us truly returns home.

That would be my husband, who rolls off the plane and into In and Out Burger…and he is home. Ironically, he’s not even here full-time yet, but I digress. He is without doubt meant to be here, a Californian by birth and in spirit.

For me, home is more a compilation of places, people, experiences and memories. To be honest, I’m not sure where I am now along that journey. Is home an end goal, regardless of how long the travel? I can’t help but to recall Odysseus, who was off at battle for ten years and then spent another ten trekking home.

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns,
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
Many cites of men he saw and learned their minds,
many pains he suffered, heartsick on the open sea,
fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.
(Translation by Robert Fagles)

Perhaps a more contemporary anthem speaks to you. Even if you don’t watch American Idol (oh, you know you do),  and couldn’t pick Phillip Phillips out of a line up, this is familiar if you saw any coverage of the “Fierce Five” during the Summer Olympic Games:

Hold on to me as we go,
as we roll down this unfamiliar road.
And although this wave is stringing us along
just know you’re not alone
cause I’m going to make this place your home.

Whether artist, athlete, warrior or commoner, I suppose we are ever pressing forward if only to return home. And that home could be from where we began, to where we return or some place we have stopped temporarily along the way.

Sunrise Contemplations: Genetics

Have you ever been stopped dead in your tracks by the rising sun? A couple of days ago it happened to me. I was on autopilot, going through the (stiff) motions of a typical morning jog. Then as I turned one corner that reveals the canyons and hills beyond the neighborhood, I was jolted out of my haze by the most stunning splendor of pinkish-orange sky that I have yet to witness. And I have seen a lot of sunrises in my lifetime.

I’ve always preferred early mornings to late nights. My bunk-mates at sleep away camp loathed the fact that as soon as reveille sounded, I flew out of bed to start the day. Sometimes I even preempted the bugle. Not much has changed; I am often up before my alarm buzzes. This I surely inherited from my father, who used to walk to work so that he could enjoy the city that never sleeps when it was, in fact, sleeping. He visited his patients and caught up on administrative tasks before colleagues arrived. And he even enjoyed a quiet bagel with jam. All within the wee hours of the morning.

Morning hours inspire some of my most productive thinking as well. As such, this week I have been considering the power of genetics– particularly how a child is like a parent in certain habits. From morning activity to homework trends, the patterns are striking! And a little frightening as well.  Let’s discuss that nagging issue of homework.

My second grader was slammed with a shocking homework expectation. OK, perhaps that’s some projection. She tackled it like a champ, but I am still reeling. Perhaps it’s a difference in school curricula or maybe it’s just growing a year older, but times they are a changing! This week one assignment addressed concepts such as several significant amendments in US voting history, the discrepancy between the millions of people who could or did vote from one election year to the next, and the right to choose to vote or not. It was more than a little sophisticated. The final question asked whether she would vote this year if she were 18 years old. Her simple answer: No. It was actually more of a hummpppfff. But I told her that her answer was fine, just that she had to give an explanation as to why not. This is what she wrote in haste:  It would take to (sic) long.

There you have it. My child says it like it is, without flowering BS and with some very questionable penmanship. But she unabashedly makes her opinions known.  I tried to make sense of this– the genetics behind her resistance to homework and, moreover, conformity. Then it struck me– on a run this week– that I know the exact origins of this particular characteristic. Without naming names, I’ll just say that one parent in this household doesn’t register to vote. It’s not a particularly political statement or even a strong dislike of presidential choices. Rather, this parent abstains from voter registration in order to avoid jury duty! Right now you’re either horrified or envious…

Back to a less polarizing subject matter than homework, politics and civic duty. Who knows what combination of timing and temperature and marine layer contributes to the phenomenal scene of the other morning, but I won’t be the one who calculates it.  I will, however, chase that sunrise so that when I see it again I will have my camera/phone ready to document it for you. In the meantime, the photo above and below will have to suffice– just another dawn from beginning to end of my run. And one last contemplation:  My dad would have loved that sunrise.