Archive for the ‘life’s little treasures’ Category

The past decade was one of much change for me.

~I moved four times between May 2001 and August 2008!

~It was a time of inner growth as my kids grew and my focus naturally shifted a bit from my kids’ needs to my own needs.

~I decided to make the huge physical move from living in southern California to the North Bay in order to improve my health as I was very stressed out which was making my diabetes worse.  I felt that if I didn’t leave the area soon, I wouldn’t make it to my 50th birthday so after my 48th birthday, I made the big move, with my youngest daughter in tow.

~I focused on my writing during this past decade.  I began my first blog in 1998 but didn’t maintain it or any other blog until 2003 when I blogged regularly.  I also discovered the world of NaNoWriMo and now have four wins under my belt!  I took writing workshops and started a writing group in 2004.

~Then came the BIG move last year when I moved, alone, from Santa Rosa, California to Portland, Oregon.  That was a tough one.  I was born and raised in California.  It had always been home.  Leaving there was not an easy thing but the economics of paying rent in California was just unfathomable to me so I had to move out of my home state.

~I’ve begun to learn to live alone.  The family is spread all over but I guess that is something that happens as families grow anyway.  One daughter lives not far from me and my son may be moving to Seattle which is a 4 hour drive from me!  The youngest is 0n the east coast and will be at least until she finishes college in 2012.  We’ll have to wait to see where her future takes her.  I have a grandchild on the way and for now, he will be in the same area as I am so that’s something to look forward to.

Lots of changes in the past decade and lots more in the coming decade.  Lots to look forward to, still!

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A Kind Of Hush

Right now, I’m at the point of not having anything specific to do before Christmas.  That’s a good feeling.  Later we’ll go have lunch with my son (there’s a Mexican restaurant he has been raving about near work thathe wants to take us to).  I do have to go out and get a small turkey so it will thaw for the 25th.  As far as more groceries, I told Tina and Chris it was their job to make a list and go do the shopping when they arrive tonight.  And that’s the other thing, I have to get Chris and Tina at the airport at 8 tonight.  I may even delegate that, if I can.

Other than that, there are a few unwrapped gifts to wrap and some “nice if I can get them” kind of stocking stuffers but not a big deal if I don’t get them.  I just want to curl up with my book and a cup of coffee and relax a bit.  I might actually get to do that.

And on your end?  How are things?

Okay, I’m heading for the kitchen to make some coffee.

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I haven’t seen a movie in a while.  There were several I wanted to see this year but I didn’t get to.  I don’t go to the movie theater alone so if there is no one to go with me, I don’t go.  Some years I don’t go at all.  This year I was lucky to go twice; once when my sister was in town (we saw My Sister’s Keeper) and once when my niece and nephew were here (we saw The Proposal).  I wanted to see Julie & Julia and The Time Traveler’s Wife and more recently, Where the Wild Things Are (because I remember reading the book to my kids over and over and over again).  No luck.  No one to go with.

The one and only time I have gone by myself was many years ago when the movie, Ransom (1996) was showing.  I had seen previews and it had been recommended by friends but I didn’t have anyone to go with and I had three kids at home so it would have been difficult to go without them.  One night, when they were at their father’s for their Wednesday night sleep over, I decided to go to see the movie.  My thinking was that if I went on a Wednesday, there would be fewer people there and I could easily find a seat without having to sit next to strangers.  So I found the theater that was showing it for a late night show and prepared to go.

Preparing to go involved taking my own snacks in a huge purse.  I knew the theater did not allow outside food or drink but I wasn’t going to pay the exorbitant price of the ticket and snack and beverage so I packed some M&M (my downfall), Sour Patch Kids, and a can of Diet Coke.  I should have gotten a plastic bottle but those were more expensive so I grabbed a can out of my fridge before I left.  I was careful not to put it in my purse too soon so it wouldn’t get jostled so it would not squirt all over when I opened it inside the theater.  So once in the door, I headed for the theater where it was screening and found a seat in the last row.  I sat there all alone.  There were probably only 20 people in the theater that night and they all chose to sit in the front half of the room.  I sat in the back and waited for the lights to go out before I took out my snacks and my soda can.

Previews went on and on and were finally over.  I reached in my purse and got ready to pull the tab off the can of soda but I waited with my hand on the pull tab until the music was really loud, figuring no one would hear me.  It worked.  No one was aware of me opening my Diet Coke.  I set the can in the drink holder and enjoyed the movie and my smuggled candy.  Then, when there was a particularly quiet and tense scene, I reached for my can of Diet Coke and somehow I knocked it out of the drink holder and it fell on the floor.  Not only did it make a huge noise as it fell on the floor, it also made loud noises as it rolled all the way down to the front (and bottom) of the theater from the very last (and top) row where I was sitting.  Everyone heard it.   Everyone turned to look and I was the only person sitting back there!

I usually wait until all the credits run before I leave the theater but that night, as soon as I was sure it was over, and even before the credits began to roll, I popped out of my seat and headed for the exit!

That was the first and only time I ever went to the theater alone.

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When I was growing up, my parents used to tell us that whatever we were doing when the year began, we would be doing that when it ended.  It was kind of like saying that the way you begin the year is how you will live the year.

Last year, I was alone on New Year’s Eve, which I have gotten used to.  I decided that I would curl up in bed with a good book and then turn on the TV just before midnight for the countdown to the new year and I had a glass of champagne waiting to be consumed at midnight.  So last year, I began the year by reading.  That’s what I did on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day.  In fact, by the middle of March, I had read over twenty novels!  I was quite pleased because I’ve always enjoyed reading but I hadn’t been able to do much of it in 2008 as I spent much of the year traveling from the SF Bay Area to Portland, Oregon in search of a new home then when I found it, I spent a lot of time packing and bringing stuff up here to Portland.  In fact, in 2008, I made twelve driving trips between the two areas.  Each drive takes an average of 11 hours, one way.  So with all of that moving and packing and driving, I didn’t have much time to read.

I was very pleased with all the reading I had done and had a stack of books from the local used book store that I was eager to pick up.  Then at the end of March, tragedy struck and I spent the next four months with family and again driving back and forth between Portland and the SF Bay Area.  Psychologically, I was not in a good place for much of this time.  Finally, in late August, I picked up a novel, once again.  I was able to read three novels between late August and the end of September then I was off to Australia for a two week vacation with my son (which he had included me on as a mother’s day gift).

Whew!  No time for reading since we got back at the end of October!  Then I lost one of my contacts and have been operating with only one.  When I have to read or write (or type) I close one eye and read with the one that has the contact in it.  Not fun.  Not fast.  Not efficient. (So those typos you may find here are not the norm for my blog writing, it’s the lack of contact!)

Then Bibliomom wrote about this weekend’s Read. Read. READ-A-THON!  I went to the blog site and decided I would do it!  I didn’t go out and get any books although I was tempted to when my daughter and I were at Costco on Friday.  I decided I had a ton of books to read here and I pulled out a box that has been behind the couch in the living room since last May.  A friend of mine sent me a box full of novels that she knew would cheer me when I was really down during those months and although I had picked one of them up, the rest of them remained untouched.  So on Saturday morning, I slept in because I hadn’t been able to sleep on Friday night.  Then I dilly dallied for a couple of hours, finally settling in to read around 1:30 in the afternoon, expecting to read for five or six hours.  I ended up reading until 4:30 Sunday morning!  That’s fifteen hours of reading (well probably twelve hours if you take out all the breaks and a forty-five minute nap).

Now I am psyched!  I am starting a new novel today and I hope to be able to read at least three more before I have to leave to the bay area for Christmas.  Then I hope to end the year reading and begin 2010 reading once again.  Surely it will be a much better year than this one!

Here’s to reading!  To new blog friends, and to discovering new titles and authors, too!

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In the previous post I wrote about a high school teacher who taught his class a wonderful lesson by accident.

When I wrote about this for a class in the summer of 2000,  I thought how wonderful it would be to contact Mr. K and let him know what an impact his accidental lesson had made on me and on other students who were in that classroom all those years ago.  I contacted my high school academic counselor, Bill Flanagan, with whom I am still in touch even though I graduated in 1974.  Mr. Flanagan gave me Mr. Keneally’s email address.  I wrote him an email, reminding him of who I was and then relayed the story of that morning’s lesson.  I told him how I have run into other students who were in that class that early Monday morning and let him know that we all remember that day.  Then I followed up by letting him know what I was up to and a little bit about my kids.

Within a couple of days, I received a reply from Mr. K.  His email made me cry.  In it he said, “Wow, thank you so much for writing!  Twenty nine years go by quickly.  Your email brought back fond memories and a little tear to my eye.  I do remember you and that freshman class of Emerging Nations.  I was so proud of what you wrote and the fact that you did write, that I shared it with my family and friends.”  He went on to fill me in on his career changes and on his family.  I was struck by his occupational choices.  It appears that after leaving teaching, he owned a restaurant then a chain of restaurants.  Later, he started a chocolate company then he went to work for a Fortune 500 company that supplied food products to restaurants and grocery outlets.  Then he did something you might not expect.  He left that company to head up a non profit organization that manufactures cakes and tarts while training and developing skills in people with mental and/or physical disabilities.  The company also trains and employs homeless and welfare recipients.  He said it was challenging but very rewarding.

I found myself, once again, in awe of that rebellious philosopher.  I am so glad that I reached out to him to let him know what he did for many of us ninth graders back in 1971.  With his email reply, I found myself again considering myself very fortunate to have had this man as a teacher.  His lessons keep on teaching.

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I’m sitting at my desk, trying to think of what to write today.  I’m trying to post every day this month to get back into the habit of blogging.  I’m distracted though.  Rain.  Soft, steady, clean, wet, fresh rain.  What a welcome sight, smell, sound, and feeling!

I’m sure at some point later this year I will be complaining because it won’t stop raining but for now, I’m taking joy in the rain.  Last year I never did get tired of the rain.  Before I moved here everyone said I’d get tired of it but I didn’t.  Snow, yes.  I got tired of that but not of the rain.

All day long it was supposed to rain and the later in the day it got, the more I became disappointed because it hadn’t rained.  Finally, on my way out of Sears around 4 this afternoon, there it was!  The rest of the evening has been wonderful as I have watched it and listened to it.  I’m thinking of sitting out on the porch so I can enjoy it a little later tonight.

Rain!  Rain!  Rain!

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Over the next three years, my father was sent to specialist after specialist.  We lived in San Jose, less than an hour from San Francisco.  He had to go to UC San Francisco Medical Center for a series of treatments.  The visits to the clinic took all day.  He couldn’t go alone so we took turns going with him and mostly, waiting in the car all day.  There were hearings and visits to psychologists, physical therapists, surgeons, and lawyers.  My dad was never able to return to work and it was finally agreed, by the experts, that he was permanently disabled.  The State Rehabilitation Department decided that they could not retrain him to do any kind of work so at the age of 37, he was declared disabled.

Battling the Social Security Department was another long trip which took many years.  If memory serves, by the time his Social Security benefits kicked in, I was in college and it was around 1975.

Our family life changed drastically.  There were still six of us kids living at home, four of us completely dependent on my father.  My mother had never worked outside the home and having dropped out of school in seventh grade, had no marketable skills. My older brothers contributed everything they could from their part time, minimum wage jobs.  My oldest brother dropped out of college after the first semester so he could work full time.

My parents have both always been very proud; too proud to go on Welfare or any kind of state aid.  He did finally give in to accepting food stamps and medi-cal benefits to keep us fed and to get medicine for my sister who had developed medical problems.  There was no cash income as his Social Security benefits had not yet kicked in and the small amount he got for state disability was not much help.  My sisters and I did what we could, babysitting in the neighborhood, so we could buy our own clothes and shoes and what we might need at school.  Even so, we couldn’t afford a lot.  We went without.

It was very difficult to see what the whole situation did to my father.  He started drinking even more heavily than he had before the accident and he began to mix his liquor with his prescription pain killers.  He felt ashamed of not being able to provide for his family.

These were also very interesting times and in a way, very inspirational.  Because we had no income, my Dad had to resort to his hidden talents.  The most productive of these being his ability to talk people into almost anything he wanted to talk them into or out of.  This manifest itself primarily in my dad making a living by buying something very cheaply then turning around and selling it at a substantial profit.  We never knew what my father would find to make us money by browsing the “magic mini ads” which were free two line ads in the local newspaper.

Once, my dad bought a portable bar which held and tapped a keg of beer.  He kept it for one week before he sold it at 100% profit.  With the profit, he bought himself another portable bar which he kept for himself and a portable sauna.  The sauna was traded the following day.  The trade yielded a talking parrot and a 25 gallon aquarium, complete with exotic fish.  He sold the parrot and traded the aquarium.  The deals yielded him in excess of 150% profit plus a yellow headed parrot.

This parrot was very young and did not yet talk.  My three sisters and I took care of that very soon.  We placed the cage on the counter next to the telephone and within a couple of weeks, he was talking.  We had taught him to say “hello,”  “how are you,” and his name, “Loco.”  He used to go crazy saying “poco loco coco” over and over and over again.  Although he was the family pet, I grew very close to him and all these years later, I wish I still had my Loco.  I cried when we had to sell him a year later.  We needed the money.

Another time, my dad surprised us by coming home with a huge metal cage which held a very large and heavily sedated monkey.  The monkey’s name was Jimmy and he was a Macaque (pronounced MaKayk).  Jimmy was so close to being human that it was frightening.  He acted like a baby when he wanted to get his way.  If it didn’t work, he’d throw a tantrum, like a two year old.  He would grab a hold of his cage and shake it from side to side, almost knocking it over.  Those times were pretty scary.  What would happen if he escaped from the cage during one of his tantrums?

Jimmy was capable of escaping from the cage.  He proved this to us on a number of occasions.  Once, my oldest brother, Carlos, was in the living room washing windows.  He looked up in time to see Jimmy on the outside of the window, mocking him, then Jimmy waved at him and ran off.  Carlos was speechless but managed to compose himself quick enough to run down the street after Jimmy!

Jimmy began to have more and more violent tantrums, especially when my sister’s boyfriend came to visit.  He was very jealous.  My parents had to sedate him.  They would crush one of my father’s valium pills and put it in Jimmy’s food.  This only worked the first time.  After that, Jimmy would carefully dissect all food given to him and wipe off anything that looked like pulverized medicine!

Eventually, my parents felt it was time to get rid of Jimmy because of his violent fits.  They sold him to a man who lived on a large ranch and promised to build a 9′ x 12′ cage for Jimmy so he’d have a place to move and be free. When Jimmy left, it was clear that he was crying right along with the rest of us.

Once Jimmy was out of the house, it was time for more deals.

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When I was growing up I was exposed to a wide variety of music at home.  As far back as I can remember, my parents played records of  music in Spanish and listened to Spanish language radio.  I learned to dance by putting my feet on top of my dad’s feet and having him move us to Mexican mariachi music and rancheras and later, to Tex-Mex.

As my brothers, who were all older than me, grew into their teen years in the 60’s, I grew to love their music.  I can still sing every word of every Sonny and Cher song and I still blast the Beach Boys from the radio in the car and at home.  Then came the music question of the 60’sRollingStones or Beatles?

Our house was split.  Richard, the middle brother was strictly a RollingStones kind of guy.  Carlos, the oldest, was a straight Beatles guy.  David, the youngest of the three boys was kind of in between.  He listened to it all and picked what he liked best.  We, the younger sisters, took it all in and would sometimes use either the Stones or the Beatles to get what we wanted from one of the brothers!

In the summer of 1970, I was 14 and Carlos was 20 and still lived at home.  Carlos worked at the cannery where my dad worked and paid for his own car insurance and other car related expenses and the rest of his money went to my parents to help support us all.  One day, he came home smiling and happy and went into his room and started to play Let It Be on the record player.  He had bought the song on the 45 rpm version.

From then on, when Carlos was home, all we heard of him was Let It Be coming from his room.    It got to the point where, a couple of weeks later, my dad got tired of listening to that one song and threatened to go into the room and break the record in half and throw it out!  Carlos started playing it at a much lower level until he was able to save the money to get a whole Beatles album that he then listened to non-stop.  That was not really great with my dad but at least he didn’t have to listen to the same words of wisdom, Let It Be.

When I scattered Carlos’ ashes on April 18, I couldn’t help muttering those words as the ashes escaped the fingers of my hand…let it be.


When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

And in my hour of darkness

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

And when the broken hearted people

Living in the world agree,

There will be an answer, let it be.

For though they may be parted there is

Still a chance that they will see

There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be. Yeah

There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy,

There is still a light that shines on me,

Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.

I wake up to the sound of music

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be.

There will be an answer, let it be.

Let it be, let it be,

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

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My older daughter works as a nanny for a family that has a 3 year old girl and a 5 year old boy.   She has been working for them since September and has grown quite attached to the kids.

When she first started working with them, she would call me and ask me for recipes for things I used to make for/with my kids when they were little; things like homemade paste and homemade play-doh type clay.  She would remember things we did when she was a child and ask me how I had done it so she could do it with her kids (well I call them her children but it’s really her charges).

It made me feel good that those little things I did for them as kids stuck in their minds with such positive impressions that she wanted to replicate the experience for the children with whom she works.   It also made me more and more involved with the kids, even though I have only met them once.

The little boy wants to learn to read before he starts kindergarten in the fall.  He’s quite bright and has tested as gifted but he also has some special needs.  As a former teacher, I have been able to look online and guide my daughter to some sites where she can get some help  for working with the little boy.  I’ve also started noticing kids’ reading and phonics workbooks when I go to thrift shops where they are cheap enough for me to buy and send to the little boy.

The other day my daughter told me that the little boy is on the cusp of reading and loves to work in the workbooks I sent to him.  His parents are thrilled with the workbooks too and they sit with him in the evenings and help him with the work and they give him “homework” for him to do in the workbooks while they are at work.

It made me very happy that I was able to help my daughter help the little boy.  It also makes me glad that my daughter’s childhood was positive enough so that she thinks of it with fondness and wants to share that kind of experience with “her children”!

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While watching ABC World News on March 18th, my attention was captured by a story reported by John Mackenzie.  The story, which they called Saving Memories From Alzheimer’s Reach, tells about a project that records interviews with Alzheimer’s patients, in an effort to preserve each person’s unique story before it is forever lost to the memory stealing disease.

I have long been a supporter and promoter of recording our aging family members’ voices and stories so this story really spoke to me.  The initiative has a touring or mobile unit that travels to many cities throughout the ocuntry.  Individuals can make appointments for their family member to be interviewed.  Then the family decides which questions will be asked at the interview and one family member does the actual interview, with initiative personnel running the recording equipment.  After the interview, a CD of the interview is provided to the family and a copy of the interview is sent to the Library of Congress where anyone can listen to the stories.  In addition, as the mobile unit is sponsored by local radio stations, portions of some interviews may be broadcast on the radio.

It’s a great project that we can all benefit from, whether we have a relative with Alzheimer’s or not.  The umbrella organization, StoryCorps, has a website where you can download a Do-It-Yourself Kit for free, along with a Teacher Tool Kit which is also free and includes three pages of suggested interview questions.  Unfortunately, the Do-It-Yourself interviews cannot be included in the Library of Congress but there is a place to upload the interviews onto the website.

I encourage you to check out the links and whether you do this or not, I also urge you to consider recording the stories of the elders around you before it is too late!

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