Sunday, December 2, 2012

I'm still standing ...

I haven't posted for almost a year.  Trust me when I tell you that the thoughts and musings are still there, but I just have not had the creative urge to put those thoughts and musings into words.  We had a lot of changes this year ... we moved, the kids changed schools, I hired a part-time nanny, I am on a Board of Directors and am now on a State Bar Committee.  2012 offered me the ugly side of life ... depression, malcontent, death, financial distress, familial distress.  I have felt likes. I have been knocked down every time I get back on my feet.  But a new year is fixin' to start and I'm ready to shake off 2012 and embrace all of the promise that 2013 has to offer.  So hopefully I will have more to share this necxt year.  To the extent you've hung in there, thank you.

I have some writing goals for next year, and hope to complete a full book.  I haven't decided whether I will focus on one of my novels (character outlines are done but story outlines need help) or a collection of short stories.  Given my recent inability to focus on anything for more than a nanosecond, I suspect it will be short stories.  Early drafts of them may show up here as I try them on for size.

Happy Holidays.  Happy New Year.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A New Year, A Year New

I am a big fan of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  I find those to be very optimistic and hopeful days, a time to reflect on what you've accomplished and what you've learned, and a chance to set new goals for your life.  For the past few years I have been working on setting specific goals and taking intentional action to make my goals become my reality.  It's a struggle because I'm changing a lifetime of habits, but I can tell you, it's real and it works.

This year, 2012, I declare to "take care of me."  It sounds so silly, but seriously, it's not silly at all.  I'm a single working-outside-the-home mom who has put her children first, most of the time, for the past nine years.  As a result, I am tired, overweight, uninspired and unmotivated.  Prior to my "divorced" status, those adjectives would not have been used to describe me; I was motivated, productive, creative, and alive.  These days, those "negative" judge-y words are the first words that come to my mind.  Don't get me wrong: I have always been one of those people who believes, sincerely, that when you choose to have children, you choose to set aside your own personal desires in favor of the wants and needs of your children ... for a very long time.  I still feel that way, and I have no regrets and no resentment that I chose to try to live by that belief.  But here's the thing ... at some point, there is room in one's day to practice some self care.  My children are in first and fourth grade.  They are not babies and they do not need me to do everything for them.  In fact, I would be doing them a disservice if I continued to do everything for them.  They need to learn to care for themselves in a basic way ... make some simple meals, take care of personal hygiene, get their school work done, etc.  Believe me, they will continue to allow me to do everything if I take the bait ... but I'm trying to raise good citizens.

Here's my problem: I took the put-the-kids-first idea too far.  I didn't just put them first, I completely ignored my self.  I stopped considering how I look or feel or what I want for myself.  Before I knew it, nine years went by.  So this year, with the help of my coach, I have declared that I will "take care of me."  So what does that mean and how am I going to do this?  Let me 'splain.

I am tired, so one of the first things I have done is to make sleep, rest and relaxation a priority.  I have pledged to get 7 hours of sleep each night.  It sounds simple, but since I have not had "regular" 7 hour stretches of sleep in about ten years, it's significant.  I turn off the TV at 11:00 and sleep until 6:00.  During the week.  On school/work nights.  It's a start.

I am overweight.  Seriously overweight.  I have re-pledged my commitment to Weight Watchers - a fabulous program if you follow it - and I am walking on my lunch hour.  I'm fortunate that so far my weight has not created other health issues, but that is only temporary, I'm sure.  So, this is the year where I will lose the weight I have slowly and gradually gained over the past 15 years.  I may not lose it all, but I will lose at least half of it. I pledge.

I have stopped caring about my appearance.  I use "I'm too tired" or 'I don't have time" as my excuses, but the truth is, I got lazy.  So in 2012 I am going to rediscover a great haircut, makeup, good skin care habits, and clothes that accentuate the positive and eliminate (to the extent possible) the negative.  By the summer I will be back in the habit of "getting ready" before I leave the house, as opposed to my I'm-clean-and-my-clothes-are-clean-so-what-more-do-you-want attitude.  I pledge.

My home environment is disheveled and disorganized.  I've never been a neat freak, but I usually kept a pretty clean house.  Not so for the past few years.  I have developed a very strong aversion to cleaning.  My house is not rat- or bug-infested by any stretch of the imagination, and we are not candidates for Hoarders: Buried Alive, BUT my house is regularly a mess and regularly in a state of disarray.  I've had enough, so it's time to clear out and clean out.

It's a year of "new" for me ... new attitude, new appearance, new environment.  What about you??  What does this year hold in store for you?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Picture (Ornament) Says A Thousand Words

When Sweetie was an infant at his first Christmas, I did what many parents do and had professional holiday pictures taken of him.  He couldn't even sit up yet, so I had the laying-down-on-the-fuzzy [blanket/rug/bean bag] photo done with him in his white turtleneck and red Christmas tartan overalls snuggling with a teddy bear in a big red bow.  It was challenging to get a decent picture; he was really sleepy and I really wanted one of him awake.  It took a few tries ... I would give him his pacifier to settle him down, and the sucking would make him drowsy, then I would reach over to take the pacifier out and get out of the frame quickly, while the photographer snapped furiously before the squawking began.  Ultimately we got a cute picture ... but he definitely looks sleepy.  Every time I look at that picture I remember that day and smile.

Also like many parents, especially with my first child, I bought a gazillion prints in all sizes.  Seriously, my child is the most beautiful child in the world and everyone else loves him as much as I do, right?  Of COURSE they want their very own 8 x 10 for the wall, 5 x 7 for the desk, and a wallet to show off to friends.  The Ex and I combined have a small family, so I always had way too many pictures left over.  While trying to come up with ideas of what to do with some of the extras, I decided to put one in an empty picture frame ornament someone had given me.  I didn't know it at the time, but a new tradition started that very day.

When I unpacked my ornaments the next year, I looked at that picture ornament of my 3-month old son and smiled.  "Awwww, look how cute and little he was.  I remember that day."  And then I looked at my then-15 month old son who was "helping" me decorate by shoving tissue paper in his mouth, emptying boxes of decorations, and tugging on strands of lights.  I was amazed at how different he looked.  I thought it would be fun to make a picture ornament of him at 15 months, and then compare those first two years with what he would look like at 27 months the following year.  So I did, and I've done it every year.

When Stinker was born, things changed a little.  I was much busier when the second one came along ... I was chasing a 2 year old, working full-time, and when Christmas rolled around, I was going through a divorce.  I didn't have as many professional pictures taken of Stinker when he was a baby because of the craziness that was my life, and I certainly didn't buy as many, but I was determined to keep the tradition going.  As I scoured the few pictures that I had (in comparison to Sweetie's pictures at his first Christmas), I was challenged to find one that was appropriate for an ornament.  I simply didn't have as many to choose from; I didn't take as many, and by then everything had gone digital so I didn't have paper photos laying around.  Most shots were in close up.  When I was looking through my cache of "leftover" professional photos for a cute picture of Stinker, I stumbled across a wallet-sized picture of both boys at Sweetie's third birthday.  They were both wearing Hawaiin shirts and denim shorts and they looked so cute, so I decided to put that one in a frame ornament, too.  A new tradition was born.

Now, every year, I add 3 new ornaments to my collection: one of Sweetie, one of Stinker, and one of the two of them together.  I have pictures of them at a character breakfast at Disneyland, in Halloween costumes, and in professional portrait poses.  I have school pictures, soccer pictures, and candid photos.  As I type this, I have 21 ornament frames (not counting the ones they have made for me over the years) hanging on my tree.  And the candidates for this year's new ornaments have been selected ...

On this eve of Christmas, it warms my heart to sit in the quiet, look at my tree, and enjoy all of those smiling pictures of my children looking back at me.  Peace on Earth.  God bless us every one.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pretend Polygamy Can Lead To Pretend Divorce

Some time ago I posted about the benefits of pretend polygamy.  Basically, it's the idea that you could have multiple spouses that serve multiple purposes and you don't have any of the real-life moral, legal or emotional problems.  It would be ideal.  You can read my original post on pretend polygamy here

Unfortunately, even fantasies can be flawed and can disappoint.  One of my pretend husbands was Ashton Kutcher. I pretend married him for a variety of reasons, one of which was that he was my "fun" spouse.  As it turns out, Ashton committed the one cardinal sin of pretend husbands: he demonstrated he is human and destroyed my the fantasy.  It's time for a pretend divorce.

Having a hole in my pretend repertoire of relationships got me thinking.  Who should take his place?  I wanted someone about the same age (because all of my other pretend husbands are around my age - I need some younger blood!), and a hot body is kind of a prerequisite if we're talking about fantasy.  Duh - Ryan Reynolds.  So I have decided to replace the disappointing Ashton with the smokin' hot Ryan:

Ryan, sweet Ryan, will you please, with cherries on top, marry me?

I, Wendy, take you Ryan Reynolds, to be my pretend husband,
To have and to hold from this day forward, in my fantasies,
Only for better, never for worse, for richer and poorer,
In sickness and in health, to love and support by seeing all of your movies,
Until my disinterest do we part.

Ryan will play the role of my boy toy to do with as I please.  He will love and honor me, for as long as I want.  'Nuff said.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year?

Do you remember that Andy Williams song?  I can't remember what it's called, but it's on one of the Christmas albums, probably from the 70s.  My mother used to play the Andy Williams albums while she was decorating the house for Christmas, and we used to watch all of the Christmas specials.  I think he's got a regular show in Branson.  I should try to go see him before he dies.  Anyway, this phrase is on my mind for a number of reasons, mostly because Christmas carols are playing all around me, and that inevitably triggers my Andy Williams Christmas memories.  And this song always pops into my head.  But truthfully, this ISN'T the most wonderful time of the year for me.  At least  not any more. 

My kids are still little, so I still get to you enjoy the marvel and magic of the season through my children's eyes, and for that I am grateful.  It definitely makes me warm and fuzzy, and I can physically feel my heart warm up.  But this is a hard time of year for me when I am away from my children and alone with my thoughts.  The Ex and I split six years ago now, and I've recovered from just about everything ... except the holidays.  I don't decorate the house like I used to because I am just too tired to do it all myself, especially working full-time and having the children at least 80% of the time.  It's a lot of work!  I went from real trees to an artificial tree because it is too hard for me to go get a real tree, get it home and put it up ... by myself.  We haven't had lights on the outside of our house in six years. I don't bake like I used to because there is no one around to eat it.  I still decorate, just not as much.  I still put up a tree. I still bake and decorate cookies.  I've done my best ... I even go so far as to invite him and his son from his first marriage to my home on Christmas morning to watch the children open their presents from Santa.  He accepts my invitation each year... except the one year he had a live-in girlfriend and I told him she was not invited.

It's during this time of year that my residual anger about my divorce resurfaces.  I blame the Ex that our children do not have the kinds of Christmases I had as a kid.  I blame the Ex that we don't have a bunch of "family" celebrations and parties.  I blame the Ex that I don't look forward to Christmas morning anymore.  I blame the Ex that I am left alone on Christmas Day.  Though I have my children on Christmas morning - something most divorced parents do not have on alternating years - I don't get to relax and enjoy it.  Instead, I have to be ready to receive as a guest the one person who makes me the most uncomfortable and the two people who hold my kids' interest more than I do. I have to sit and watch as my children forget that I am there because they are so thrilled to see their daddy and their big brother.  I barely have time to help get their toys out of the twist ties and screws before they are getting dressed and heading off with daddy to his family's celebration, and they don't even say goodbye.  And then I am left all alone with a mess and my thoughts. 

This year I've decided to take back my Christmas morning.  I expressly told him he is not invited to come over for Santa presents.  He didn't question it because he thinks he knows why I've done it.  He doesn't.  I want to lounge around in my pajamas, drinking coffee and watching my kids open their presents.  I want to have a pleasant breakfast.  I want to have them show me how everything works.  In short, I want to feel INCLUDED in Christmas morning.  Is it selfish?  Probably.  But I've been a Christmas martyr for six years now.  He stooped to having the kids ask me if he could come over so I was truthful with them.  I told them I feel left out when daddy is there because they forget about me and it makes me sad.  Sweetie asked me if am "jealous" of daddy.  I don't think "jealous" is the right word, but maybe it is.  But I told him I AM jealous because I love them so much and I want to have fun with them on Christmas morning.  The Ex will come and take them at 11:00 as he does every year.  They will spend the day with their daddy, their brother, their grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins as they do every year. He will keep them for however many days he wants to keep them after Christmas, as he does every year.  They will be with him when the new year starts, as they are every year. 

I'm determined to get my "most wonderful time of the year" back!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Camping - and Caving? - or Bust!

I am a big believer that every kid should go camping, and they should go as often as a family can manage.  I have two little boys, and I think it doubly important that they learn how to pitch a tent, start a campfire, make do with minimal tools, and prepare their own food.  The bonus is the lessons learned about the environment and leaving no footprint when you leave.

The Ex wasn't, and isn't, a big camper.  So that leaves it up to me.  I like to camp, but I don't love it, and as I age, I like it less and less.  However, we camped a lot as a kid so I've acquired pretty good skills that I can pass on to my boys.  As a single woman, I have to be careful where I go, and I have to do most of the work because the kids are so young still, but I do it ... at least once a year.

This year we were supposed to go camping over Labor Day weekend.  I picked a place not too far from home, near my in-laws, so that I would feel secure if anything went wrong.  That trip got cancelled because of Sweetie's unexpected ER/hospital adventure, so we rescheduled for this past weekend.  I picked a different place, further south, for fear that the nights would be too cold.  I had never heard of it before, but it was near a small town I've heard of and near some caverns and state parks.  What could go wrong, right?  Read on.

First, on the way down on Friday night, after about an hour, I realized that the only shoes I packed were the flip flops on my feet.  Not good.  Then, as we were out in the middle of nowhere working our way toward the isolated small town near the campground, Sweetie had a bathroom emergency.  We're talking one of those "I have to go right NOW!" emergencies.  And we were literally in the middle of nowhere ... no gas stations, no small markets, no nothing.  And it was number 2, so it wasn't like I could just pull over and let him pee on the side of the road.  So we finally reached an intersection where two highways met, and I saw a veterinary clinic.  It was a long shot, given it was 6:00 on a Friday night, but I had to try.  No one there.  But there was a house in the back, so I ran back and knocked.  A frail old woman opened the door, and I'm sure she thought I was some kind of crazy as I stood there saying, "I'm so sorry to bother you.  I know this is a strange request, but I have a 9-year-old boy who REALLY needs a toilet. Can he use yours?"  She stood there a minute, feeling (understandably) nervous about all of this, so I said, "Look, you don't know me, and I'm sure it's very odd to have some strange woman knock on your door, so if you're not comfortable, we'll just be on our way."  She said, "What do you have in your hand?"  I looked down and I was holding my keys, covered in a closed fist.  Strike one against me.  I dangled them and just smiled awkwardly and said, "Old habit.  I never leave my keys in the car if my kids are in there."  She stood there looking at me for a few more seconds, and I could tell she was weighing her options in her head.  She wanted to be nice, but damn, you just can't trust people these days.  Finally she said, "where is he?" and I explained he was in the car down the driveway just out of her sight, and I would run and drive the car up so she could see him.  She said, "that's okay, just let him come in."  So I waved to Sweetie, who jumped out of the car and ran as fast as his legs would take him, yelling "thank you so much" as she pointed him down the hall to the bathroom.  I stayed outside with Stinker, just chit-chatting, and I could see her visibly relax when she realized we really were just there to use the toilet.  Finally Sweetie emerged, put his hands in the prayer position, bowed to her and said, "I can't thank you enough."  After a few more profuse thank yous and sorry-to-bother-yous, we were on our way.

We finally got to the campsite and it was really eerie, especially since it was now dark.  There was hardly anyone there, at least as far as we could tell.  I forgot my reserved site number, and there was no ranger at the gate and no list posted.  I sort of remembered the campground map in my head so we decided to drive around and see if I could figure it out, hoping maybe a number would jump out at me once I saw it in relation to other landmarks on the map.  We saw a deer, and a dead rattlesnake in the road, and two young guys walking along the road, but that was it.  As I drove around, I did not see a single tent, but saw motorhomes, pop-up trailers and boats.  And a camp host, who frankly looked like a meth addict (at least from a distance).  I was not comfortable, so I told the boys we would stay in a motel, and come back the next day to get everything sorted out.

We drove to the little town (Angels Camp, CA) and stopped at the first little motel we could see.  She had a room available ... yay for us!  The phone was an old-fashioned push button phone ... not even a Slimline from the 1980s! The ceilings had popcorn on them and a "country kitchen" themed wallpaper border around the whole room.  The carpet was so stained I told the boys to keep their socks on and to walk as little as possible.  They were happy to comply so long as they could jump on the beds (an indulgence I only allow when we are on vacation and on the ground floor).  Unfortunately, the guy in the room next door looked like an unsub character on Criminal Minds.  So we brought in our suitcase and an ice chest, had some food, watched a little TV, and went to bed.   

The next morning we went first to the local Rite Aid to find me some closed-toe shoes.  $4 faux keds.  Not the most impressive shoe, but better than a flip flop for protection. Then we went to the campground and spoke with the ranger.  He had my reservation and sent me to my site, warning me about "all of the rattlesnakes and tarantulas" around because the water level of the reservoir had been so high they had sought refuge at higher ground.  WHAT??  Then I saw another deer ... and a hawk floating over the reservoir ...

In the daylight the campground looked a lot less ominous.  It was clean, and there were more people there than we thought.  Our site was definitely not suited for us ... it was too close to the water, had steep hills, and really didn't have a spot for a tent.  We drove around and found some other sites, and then went back to the ranger to change our reservation.  Then we went back to the motel to get the rest of our things and check out.  We were finally settled with camp set up at about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon.  There wasn't a ton for the kids to do (we aren't really water people, and there didn't appear to be a swimming/wading location anyway) so before I know it they were complaining about being hot. Seriously?  So we hopped back in the truck, drove the 12 miles to a different small town (Murphys, CA), and played at a park - in the creek - for a couple of hours.  Back at the campsite, they played, they rode their scooters, we had dinner, we roasted marshamallows, and then went to bed. It was early, so we played an animal game I created, and finally we all nodded off.

And then the wind began to blow. And blow. And blow.  It woke me at 2:30 because the tent was flapping and the trees were rustling.  Then Sweetie awoke with a start, and was scared.  I finally got him settled, and then Stinker woke up, too.  Two hours later, the boys were back to sleep, the wind had settled, and I was finally able to go back to sleep.

We woke to clouds and a breeze.  The campsite was in pretty good shape, considering the fierce winds the night before.  It was early, and we appeared to be the only ones up.  Have you ever tried to keep little boys quiet when they are out in the wilderness with sticks to joust with, bugs to kill, trucks to push, scooters to ride, and imaginary wars to wage? Impossible.  I built a fire, but it was so windy that I burned through my firewood really quickly without any real benefit from the heat.  A waste of energy and wood, basically.

So by about 10:30 we were packed up and ready to go.  We were near Moaning Cavern Park, which is someplace I have always wanted to go. It's a natural cave that you can descend on a guided tour, though at the time I had no idea how deep.  Once we were there I found out it is 234 stairs to a depth of 165 feet.  The cavern goes down to 410 feet but they don't take tours down there ... seeing as how there is no oxygen and stuff!  Sweetie and Stinker are chickens, afraid of their own shadows half the time, so I bribed them: Do this tour with me, and make it all the way through without major drama, and I will buy you these ridiculously overpriced toy miner's helmets with halogen lights.  Deal! Or so I thought.

The first 100 feet is down a very steep set of stairs.  It's lit, and there are handrails throughout, but the stairs are narrow and they are definitely steep.  We got to the bottom - to the platform - and they lost their marbles.  We were supposed to descend another 65 feet down a spiral staircase but they wanted nothing to do with it.  They were crying - literally - and Sweetie was adamant that he was NOT going any further and if we did, he was NOT going to wait for us.  He was going back up and that was all there was to it.  No amount of coaxing could convince them, and they happily gave up their potential miner's helmets if I would just take them back up.  So up we went ... and I never got to hear the cavern moan.  I also never got to see it in all its glory ... the chamber that we were descending is the largest natural cave on the west coast, and it is so large the Statue of Liberty could fit inside it.  And I didn't get to see it from the bottom up.  I. Was. So. Mad. And the boys did NOT get their stupid miner's helmets (despite their begging and pleading "but we tried."  Stupid everyone-gets-a-trophy-just-for-participating world!)  I did buy little miner's helmet keychains as incentive to get them to try again. (I know, I'm such a softie!)

After I sat and sulked for a little while (and they played in a water sluice for pretend gold panning), and had a cold drink, I decided that we were going to go in a cave that day if it killed me.  I don't know why I got so obsessed, but I did.  After speaking with some other folks who seemed to be "in the know," I decided we would go to Mercer Cavern, which is in Murphys.  After we drove the narrow, beaten road to the cavern, I discovered we were given bad information ... Mercer is WORSE than Moaning.  The descent is 420 stairs, nearly straight down.  Um, no. We had a picnic lunch on the grounds and got back in the car.  Much to the boys' chagrin, more caverns awaited us if we just took the long road home, and I was bound and determined to do just that!

We drove about an hour to California Cavern.  Everyone swore this one was great ... basically flat, well lit, not scary at all.  We walked into the gift store and gosh darn it if those miner's hats weren't there, tempting my children again.  I spoke with the guide, who assured me that the boys would love it.  They just had a third grade class through there last week, after all. With the same bribe in place, and the kind words of an old miner-looking guy, we decided we would try again.

I'm happy to report that California Cavern is a really GREAT thing to do with kids.  It's a guided tour, and the trail follows the natural contours of the cave.  It averages about 61 degrees inside, so we had on long pants and long sleeves, along with the mandatory hard hat.  We did some ducking, and some squeezing through narrow passageways, but we never ascended or descended more than about ten steps.  We learned about the discovery of the cavern (and later a secret chamber hidden for twenty years!), how the miners used it (dancing! church services! council meetings!), how they lit their way (an ingenious early version of a flashlight), how the stalgmites and stalagtites form (and I can now tell you the difference between the two), and the boys did not even realize that the tour took an hour and twenty minutes!  They loved it.  Sweetie has decided that he wants to go in more caverns, so long as he doesn't have to go DOWN until he's a lot older.

They now have their miner's hats.  There's another "flat" cavern we intend to visit.  And I am going to find some adult companion to go spelunking with me at Moaning and Mercer one of these days.  And when I go back to Moaning and Mercer, I will NOT go camping first.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Is It With Me and Pumpkins?

I like pumpkins.  I know I mentioned that I like foods made with pumpkin, no surprise there, and frankly, a love of pumpkin flavored-goodies is fairly common.  I mean the orange gourds themselves.  I find them fascinating.  There are hundreds of different types of pumpkins, and every one is as fascinating as the rest.  Where I live, we have an annual Giant Pumpkin Festival, where growers from all over the state come and have their big boys weighed.  This year's winner broke a State record ... 1,675 pounds (or something like that).  That's HUGE!  The same guy entered another pumpkin in a different contest a couple of weeks later ... and broke his own record with a 1,704 behemoth.  Read an article about the big winner here.  I find it interesting how he grows them, and all of the love and care he has to give them to get them to grow so big. And read to the end to see how much prize money he's won this year.  Not too shabby for a hobby.

As for me, I cannot explain why I like pumpkins.  I just do.  Maybe it stems from Cinderella and her pumpkin carriage ...