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 ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

So THAT'S What Harvest Means?

Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love the browns and greens and yellows and oranges that scream from the trees.  I love that the days are still gorgeous and sunny but the nights and mornings are cool.  I love all things pumpkin ... pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies.  I troll social and recreation websites looking for harvest festivals and pumpkin farms.  I love that farms all over the place are bursting with fresh produce, and I can get some wonderful ears of corn.  When I stop to take a breath on a fall day, I find myself putting my face up towards the sun, closing my eyes, putting my head back and sighing a big, fat, happy sigh.  We've been to two harvest festivals and have purchased pumpkins from a farm already.  Fall makes me want to clean out my garage and my closets.  I want to organize my house and cook hearty meals for my children.  I want my house to smell like grapes and cinnamon and pumpkin.  [[I won't even mention my Halloween glee ... that's for another time.]]

I've been thinking about fall and the harvest.  Why is it that I feel at my best in the fall, when most of the rest of the world feels their best in the spring?  Feeling great in spring makes sense to me ... everything is coming alive after sleeping all winter, baby animals are born, flowers bloom.  Fall is the opposite ... plants are dying and trees are going dormant, animals are getting ready for hibernation, people are gathering supplies for the long cold winter.  I looked up "harvest" in my Synonym Finder.  As a noun, harvest means the crop, the product, the yield, the output.  Clearly, I love "harvest" if I get all excited about pumpkins and corn.  As a verb, "harvest" means to reap, to gather, to collect, to acquire, to secure.  I like to do those things, too ... but it seems like I do the exact opposite in the fall; I clean things out and throw things away.  And then I thought, maybe I like to clean and organize because I'm getting ready for the reaping, gathering, collecting, acquiring, and securing.  So then I wondered ... what is it that I, a suburban working single mother, expect to reap, gather, collect, acquire or secure in the coming months? Duh.  ALL THE STUFF I LOVE!  Time with my kids, as it gets dark early, too cold to play outside, and sports and activities take a break.  Candy at Halloween.  Food at Thanksgiving.  Gifts at Christmas. A fresh start at New Year's Day.

Harvest has a new meaning for me, Synonym Finder be damned.  For me, harvest is the beginning of a time of gluttony for me!!  It's the hap-, happiest time of the year ...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Don't Try It Topless

Today's post is just a short little ditty from my crazy life ...

The boys were at their dad's house and I was home alone.  It was a Saturday night, and I had a wild hair to clean, sort, organize, etc.  As I cleared the debris that accumulates by living a busy life, I found myself going in and out of the garage.  What to do with this stack of magazines? Oh, I'll put them in the recycling bin in the garage. You get the picture ... out, in, out, in.  Until that one time ... when the door locked behind me.  Yep, I locked myself out of my house.  What's the big deal, you say? People lock themselves out all the time. That's right, but because my life is my crazy life, that "normal" thing couldn't happen to me.  Let me 'splain ...

While I was in this cleaning/sorting/organizing frenzy, I got hot. Really hot.  So I took off my shirt and was working in my jogging bra and a pair of shorts.  I was home alone, my garage was closed, what's the big deal, right? Well, when I went into the garage and the door locked behind me, I didn't have a shirt on.  Yep, I locked myself out of my house ... without a shirt on.

I couldn't figure out what to do.  No phone, no keys ... no shirt! I pondered and pondered and pondered ... what to do? Just as I was about to suck it up, open the garage, and knock on doors with no shirt on (gasp!), I saw a basket where I keep clothes that need to go to the drycleaner, the tailor, etc.  I had just gone to the drycleaner so it was mostly empty, but there at the bottom, all by itself, was a brown velvet "fancy" shirt that had a big hole in the side. I put it on, opened the garage, and headed out onto the street to go borrow someone's phone.

Huh. That's weird.  Did you know that people don't answer their doors at night? I knocked on three neighbors' doors before I got one to come to the door and ask "who is it?"  This was a neighbor I didn't really know, so I had to introduce myself, explain my dilemma, and ask to use his phone.  Thank God I had given my mother a spare house key, and thank God she lives so close.  I woke her, rousted her out of bed, and begged her to come and bring me her spare key, which she did.  That night my neighbor and my mother were heroes.

Moral of the story: No matter the situation, do not step outside your house without your top on.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later ...

It's hard to believe it's been ten years since That Horrible Day.  It was one of those defining moments ... for individuals, for families, for communities, for companies, and for our nation. Every one who was old enough to remember it, remembers exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing, and exactly what they felt. I feel so blessed that I did not know anyone who perished on That Horrible Day, but I cannot hear the stories of the survivors and the surviving families without feeling all of that emotion.

My "where were you" story is not very exciting. I woke up around 6:30 a.m. PST like I did every day. I turned on the morning news like I did every day. I got up to go to the bathroom like I did every day. I got in the shower like I did every day.  When I dried off and then walked into my bedroom to select my clothes for the day, I heard the commentator say one of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire. I looked up at the television, and I could see the smoke pouring out of the building. I remember thinking that it must have been a bomb because it looked like an entire corner had been blown up.  And then I heard them say that a plane had crashed into the building. I wondered what happened ... did the pilot have a heart attack? did the plane have mechanical problems? what on earth was a plane doing so close to the skyscrapers in New York? I had no idea, as I stood there watching the billowing smoke, of the horror the news reporters were about to explain.

I started to go about my business, when I heard one of the commentators say officials were reporting that someone had intentionally crashed into the building.  What? Why would someone do that?  I stopped to listen more. As I heard them giving minute by minute updates, it happened. The second plane appeared from behind the buildings, banked a turn, and then crashed into the other tower. I could not believe my eyes. I cried out "Oh my God." I stood there with my mouth hanging open, riveted to the TV. I can't remember if I called anyone. I can't remember if my husband was there. It was like everything around me turned fuzzy and my entire focus was on that TV. I could not pull myself away. Eventually I did, and I went to work.

By the time I got to the office, more information had been revealed. A plane crashed into the Pentagon. A plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Terrorists.  I remember everyone talking about how many other planes there might be.  I live in Sacramento ... was San Francisco a target? What about Los Angeles? Were we in danger? Were we going to be hearing about plane crashes all day? Who would do this?  I was standing in my supervisor's office when a coworker came in and said the towers had collapsed. "Imploded" was the word she used.  She was late to work because her brother was an airline pilot who flew the same route as Flight 93 and she had waited until she heard whether he was the pilot or not. We left my supervisor's office and wandered over to her desk. We sat, and we cried small, subtle tears, and she shared how relieved she was that her brother was not the pilot. I went back to my office, shut my door, put the "do not disturb" on my phone, and turned on a radio. I sobbed. I don't remember anything else about the day.  Literally, I do not remember anything else.

That Christmas it seemed like everyone talked about That Horrible Day in their holiday greetings. People were still missing. People were still mourning.  Everyone was afraid. I remember reading a poignant letter from a childhood friend who described how she and her then 4-year old son spent much of That Horrible Day re-gluing broken pieces onto a cherished treasure box, and she felt like that was what we were going to have to do as a nation ... and though we could pick up the pieces of what was once cherished, and glue it back together, what we rebuilt would never be the same as the original.  I think everyone knew that we as a nation would never be the same and that the canvas of the world was forever altered.

That New Year's Eve I learned I was pregnant with Sweetie. His original due date was September 11, 2002. I agonized over whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, I liked the idea of a new life, a new beginning, and a happy occasion occurring to soften the pain we would all feel when we reached the first anniversary of That Horrible Day.  On the other hand, I did not like the idea of my child's birthday always being overshadowed by what we all knew would be yearly memorials, tributes, and relived memories of That Horrible Day.  (BTW - Sweetie wasn't born on September 11.)

I have been so disheartened by the delay in getting the people who did this. It seemed like all of our intelligence information led to dead ends, while Osama bin Laden smugly released videos, continued to make threats, continued to recruit and train, and was allowed to go on with his life when almost 3,000 innocent Americans had their lives taken away without justification, and thousands of families were forever changes. And in the meantime, we have had our rights limited in the name of national security; the government can invade our privacy, confiscate our property, monitor our spending, seach our bodies ... one of the things that makes this country so great - freedom - was hurt because of That Horrible Day. And because of That Horrible Day, my children were born in a time of war, and have not taken a single breath during peace time.   I pray every day that they will know a time of peace. 

Much like That Horrible Day, the day we learned that Osama bin Laden had finally been captured and killed started like any other day. That evening I had the news on as I was making dinner for my children, just as I do almost every day.  I heard the alert of a special news report and looked up from the stove.  The anchor announced Special Forces had successfully completed a covert mission and Osama bin Laden was dead.  I confess that, even though I know it was not the appropriate spiritual reaction to have, I cried tears of joy. I stood in my living room, and much like That Horrible Day, I sobbed.  Sweetie asked me why I was crying, and I took that opportunity to tell my children - for the first time - about That Horrible Day. They had a lot of questions I could not answer: why don't other countries like us? why would someone want to hurt us? how could someone be so evil?

I have been dreading today since last weekend. I knew that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to contain the horrible feelings. I knew I would have to try to explain things to my children, even though I don't understand them myself. I awoke before dawn and turned on the TV.  I watched the ceremonies live on the east coast. I wept when the Navy Sea Chanters sang Amazing Grace. I wept again when the boys' choir sang America the Beautiful. I wept as family members shared their stories. I wept and wept and wept.

As I write this and send it off to the cyber universe, I am emotionally spent.  But I am so grateful for the blessings in my life. I reaffirmed my decision to live my life to the fullest every day, to love my children with all of my heart every day, and to be certain I tell the people in my life that I love them.

We will never forget.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Musings from the Emergency Room

I have had the misfortune of visiting three different emergency rooms in the past five years, two with my mother and one with my son.  (See my post from yesterday for my son's story.) Because I have not been the patient, I have had the time to people watch and observe. Below are some of my observations and thoughts about emergency rooms. Here is a long list for the suggestion box of emergency rooms everywhere.

1. When your hospital is surrounded by one-way streets, and there is so much construction going on that one can't FIND the emergency room, it isn't really designed for "emergency" treatment, is it?

2. If you do not want me to park in a 15 minute spot for more than 15 minutes, make sure there is plenty of parking near the entrance to the emergency room. When my kid is sick and the only parking within 100 yards of the door is 15 minutes, I'm parking there. Your choices are to provide more parking, or get my kid processed in 15 minutes. You make the call.

3. There is nothing like instilling confidence in the care about to be received like uniformed police officers, with weapons, at the entrance to the emergency room, in the lobby, and in the waiting room.

4. I realize y'all are open 24/7, but would it kill you to sweep and mop the floors and maybe wipe the chairs down? Sick people have been here, and more sick people are coming in ... you're supposed to help people get better, not expose them to additional germs and disease.

5. When the sign says no cell phone use because it interferes with medical equipment, I'm pretty sure that means you should have said something to the woman having a screaming match with her boyfriend on her cell phone.

6. If you are going to call an area in the waiting room the "kids" area, it would be nice to have some kid-appropriate things. Is it just me, or did Guns & Ammo change its demographic? Really, I could do an entire post on how wrong it is to have Guns & Ammo ... in a hospital ... in the emergency room ... in the kids area. It's not rocket science, people.

7. Why don't emergency rooms have gowns that are appropriate for children? Putting my 8 year old in a one-size-fits-all adult gown was comical. And wouldn't it just be easier to have all of the "small" stuff - the pediatric blood pressure cuff, the smaller gauge needles, etc. - in a central location so the nurses do not have to run around like cockroaches when they are treating a child?

8. Shouldn't it be part of a technician's training to already know how to re-program a CAT scan for a child? In our case, the tech was on the phone, with someone who had a manual, trying to figure out how to set it for a pediatric scan, while my son was on the table. For Pete's sake, at least make that call BEFORE we get in the room!

9. Bleeding profusely definitely gets the receptionist's attention, as do vomiting and stroke symptoms. I get that. But that doesn't mean the receptionist should be able to dismiss me because my family member isn't bleeding profusely, or vomiting, or presenting with stroke symptoms.

10. I realize the staff and nurses deal with sick/hurt people all the time, but would it kill you to be sensitive to the fact that you are treating a child? My 8 year old son doesn't know what triage means, or IV, or CAT scan. He doesn't understand what you mean when you ask him when he last moved his bowels or what you are going to do when you palpate him. Not knowing what is going to happen is very scary for a kid.

11. Please don't mention "surgeon" or "surgery" unless that is what you are going to do ... for sure.

12. When critical patients come in, such as car accident or gun shot victims, please don't bring them through the waiting room. There must be a back door or a side door somewhere.

13. It is very frustrating to be in a treatment room, waiting for a nurse or doctor, and then see or hear the doctors and nurses yucking it up out in the common area.

14. Please don't send us home before we are ready. Conversely, please do not make us stay when we are ready to go home.

15. If I fill out two forms and give you a medical card, would it kill you to spell my patient's name correctly? Isn't that kind of important?

I think these are small things that would make a big difference. Just sayin.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Cautionary Tale About Kids and Their Belly Aches

First, a little history. Sweetie has been having "periodic" belly aches for more than a year now. It started out as a what appeared to be a school-related problem; he seemed to have a tummy ache whenever he had to do something at school he didn't want to do, like a book report or a math test. I basically dismissed it as some ploy to stay home from school and refused to fall for it. But then he started having belly aches on weekends, when it was all about fun. He never really complained; he would just mention in passing that his tummy hurt.  I asked questions like "are you hungry?" "do you need to go to the bathroom?" "did you eat too much?"  More times than not, he would eat or poop and I never heard another word. And then he started having stomach aches during the summer, and at The Ex's house, and at grandma's ... all of the places where he has fun. He doesn't have a great diet but it's not horrible. He poops regularly. I just couldn't figure out what was going on, but it didn't seem too bad so I made a mental note to ask the pediatrician about it the next time we saw her.

He had a checkup last fall, and I mentioned the stomachaches to his doctor. I told her the history, the progression, etc. She asked me some questions about his diet; she asked him some questions about when they happen, where it hurts, how it feels, etc. She palpated his stomach. She concluded he probably isn't eating enough, and directed us to pack more snacks for school, ensure he eats every 2 or 3 hours, and basically make sure he doesn't allow himself to get hungry. Oh, and drink more water. Perfect. Easy. I got this.

Despite doing everything the pediatrician said, the belly aches continued. He would have a tummy ache, and then he would eat. And eat. And eat. Sometimes it would go away, sometimes it wouldn't. I asked questions, I felt his tummy, I asked about bowel movements ... we were doing everything right. Occasionally I would give him some children's Pepto Bismol. In every single case, the stomach ache eventually went away so I wasn't too worried (though I did think it was a little odd). Truth be told, I feared my Sweetie was developing a nervous stomach because he's very sensitive and he's a worrier. 

Now, the cautionary tale. Two nights ago, Sweetie complained of a tummy ache when we got home from his after-school program.  He had a couple of snacks, but apparently that didn't make him feel any better. Then we had dinner, and he ate like a champ. He watched some TV, went to the bathroom, and went to bed. About an hour later, I heard him get up to go the bathroom again, then I heard a strange noise. Wait, is he crying? Why is he crying? He finished his business and ran back into his room, and then I heard the noise again. Yep, he was definitely crying. I went in to see what was wrong and he said his stomach was hurting really badly. I got him some Pepto Bismol, and then sat with him to try to figure out what happened at school, what did he eat, did he go to the bathroom, etc. I found out - for the first time - that his tummy had actually been hurting him for three days. THREE days! He was curled in the fetal position and crying, wincing in pain, and it was clear to me that something more was going on. He was gassy as a baby and loved it when I rubbed his tummy, so I thought I would try that; I touched his belly and he just about hit the roof. I felt for a fever; nothing. I asked him if he felt like he was going to vomit; no. He had eaten, he had gone to the bathroom, he had tried to go to the bathroom again, he had taken Pepto ... nothing worked. I looked at him and said, "Sweetie, is it bad enough that we need to go to the hospital and see a doctor?" and without hesitation, my 8-year-old all-around scaredy cat nodded yes. Uh oh. This is NOT good. I called the advice nurse, who very quickly surmised that we needed to go to the emergency room. 

I am a single mother and I have another child. What the heck was I going to do about Stinker? It was late, everyone I know was already in bed, and most have to get up and go to work in the morning. I thought about taking him with me, but I knew that once Sweetie got to triage, there wouldn't be any place for Stinker to sit or lay down or anything. Nope, taking him with me was simply not an option. So I got the kids in the car and without calling first I drove to my mom's house. I took Stinker inside and put him to bed. As I started to lock the door behind me, my mother appeared and asked what I was doing. Of course she had questions but hello, right then was not the time for me to answer them.

Sweetie and I made the 20 minute drive to the nearest "plan" emergency room at a general hospital. Let me just say up front that now I know why "county" and "general" hospitals get a bad rap ... if our general hospital is any indicator, they deserve it! Just getting there was the most frustrating experience; I couldn't even get to the emergency driveway because the hospital is surrounded by one-way streets, many of which are closed and/or blocked because of the construction of a new hospital across the street. I parked in a 15-minute zone (knowing full well there was no way we would be done in 15 minutes). As we walked up to the door, I saw two uniformed police officers outside, another one at the interior door, and yet a fourth policeman greeted me inside the waiting room.  I was thinking this could not be a very safe ER if this large of a police presence is required. Yikes.

After I got him checked in, we had to sit and wait. While we were waiting, one of the policeman outside came in and announced that my car was about to be towed. Seriously? It was 10:30 at night. I was a single adult with a sick child in the ER was I supposed to move my car?? I wasn't going to take Sweetie back outside, and I certainly wasn't going to leave him there alone. Luckily, after I explained my situation to the officer inside the waiting room, he said he would make sure it didn't get towed. Not surprisingly, after about fifteen minutes of waiting, a wide-eyed Sweetie said, "Mom, I think I'm feeling better. We can just go home." Uh, no, I don't think so.

We finally got into triage and as the nurse was doing her paperwork and asking questions, I casually mentioned that they had spelled Sweetie's name wrong (despite the fact that I had filled out two forms and gave them a copy of his medical card). Apparently that was a mistake because the triage nurse suddenly became obsessed with correcting it. Mid-triage she left the room to track down a supervisor, and then hovered while the supervisor corrected the computer records at a computer in the reception area. Really? It couldn't wait until she got him into a treatment room?

In the treatment room, the first thing to do was the IV. Having had a few IVs in my life, I knew Sweetie was NOT going to like this one bit. Trust me, he didn't. He was scared, of course, so he moved right when the nurse poked him, and the vein disappeared, so she had to try again. Sweetie blew a gasket, yelling and crying and freaking out. At one point I thought he went into shock; his whole body was trembling, his teeth were chattering, he was crying, and he had a vacant stare on his face. Confession? That was the worst moment of my life. As soon as they were done, he started begging them to take it out of his arm. It took at least 10 minutes for him to understand that the IV was not coming out until we were ready to go home. A few minutes later - after the morphine hit - his stomach stopped hurting, and he started to feel better. Aha! There's my Sweetie, acting like his normal wonderful self. He was intrigued by the treatment room, the gadgets and equipment, his IV pump machine, the rails on the bed, etc. Leave it to a kid to find an ER treatment room interesting. He told me he wanted to learn all about everything because he probably wouldn't ever be in an emergency room again so that was the time to look at everything. God bless him for that.

After the doctor examined him, she decided he needed a CAT scan, "which is a 4 to 5 hour process."  Ugh.  It was clear we were going to be there all night!  A couple of hours later, after Sweetie's participation was no longer needed, and after another hit of morphine, he finally crashed.  It took him until 3:00 a.m., but my Sweetie finally fell asleep. I sat there in the room all by myself, waiting for the doctor to return with results. It was surreal. At last the doctor returned to tell me the scan results were "inconclusive" but she was concerned because of the severity of his pain, especially in the lower right quadrant. She talked with the pediatric surgeon on call at the children's hospital a couple of miles away, and they decided to admit him for observation and possible further treatment.  I heard "surgeon" and the rest of what she said turned into that obnoxious droning noise that signifies adults are speaking in the Charlie Brown cartoons.  Wa-wa, wat-wa-wa-wah. What? Did you say surgeon? My kid needs surgery? Now it was my turn to freak, and I did. I cried for the first time since the whole thing started.

An ambulance arrived to transport him. I thought he would be scared, and spent a ton of energy figuring out how I was going to return for my car if I rode in the ambulance with him. They woke him up to move him, and the EMTs were so cool ... they chatted him up and made the ride sound like an adventure. Sweetie told me he could ride by himself and I could just meet him there. What a brave boy he was! By the time I got to the second hospital, he had changed gowns (now a kid-sized one, not the giant one-size-fits-all adult gown he had previously worn), his IV was hooked up to fluids, he had told the nurse he didn't understand why he needed to change hospitals because the other one was just fine, and he was snuggling down for more sleep. Once he slept again I wanted to go home to turn everything off, shower, grab some comfort things for Sweetie, and get a change of clothes for Stinker at my mom's, but the nurse said I needed to stick around in case the surgeon decided to "immediately take him into surgery."

Here's the thing. I try not to be an alarmist. I try not to worry about things that might happen and focus on what is actually happening. At this point no one has told me what was wrong with my son. A nurse mentioned an appendectomy, but no doctor has said anything to me about it. I have no diagnosis, I don't know what's wrong, I don't know if it's serious, and damn, there is that surgeon/surgery thing again. I convinced her to see if she could find out when the surgeon planned to do his rounds and we found out I had time to go home if I hurried. So that's what I did.

The nurse was wrong, and I rushed for nothing. A resident came into the room at about 8:30, examined Sweetie, and said the surgeon would be in within the hour. Wrong. Another resident came in about 10:00, examined Sweetie (and asked the exact same questions I had answered FIVE times by then), and said the surgeon would be in before lunch time. Wrong again. When The Ex showed up at 1:00, I decided to pop our for some food and give them some time together. Wouldn't you know it? The dang surgeon showed up at about 1:30 and I was gone! I caught him just as he was about to leave so I got a Reader's Digest version: There was nothing wrong with Sweetie's appendix, and he never thought it was the appendix. "Basically, the kid is full of poop. Lots of poop. So much poop that it has hardened and his body can't get rid of it. Those stomach aches? The body's efforts to move the poop." Oh my gosh! And he'd been struggling with it for more than a year! And we told him to eat more, which made it worse! My poor baby. I asked how this could happen when he poops regularly and the doc said he isn't pooping completely and everything is dry and constipating, which just makes things worse. I was so relieved it wasn't anything more serious, I began making poop jokes, like he is literally full of crap, too bad this whole experience didn't scare the crap out of him, and we were about to launch Operation Poopstorm. He smiled, but he did not laugh. Party pooper. (Pun intended!)

So he spent yesterday afternoon having unpleasant procedures like enemas and suppositories. The good news? He immediately felt better. The bad news? He didn't "produce" as much as they had hoped, which suggests the blockage is very large and very old. We've been referred to a gastroenterologist for follow up; she immediately prescribed two "super" laxatives for today and tomorrow, and a daily (mild) laxative every day ... indefinitely. We are supposed to see the specialist next week to begin the long journey to total and complete poop evacuation. We're going to help him be a super duper pooper.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shiny Happy People

I was sitting in Baskin Robbins this afternoon, enjoying some gold medal ribbon (my fave!), when Shiny Happy People by R.E.M. came on. I found myself mindlessly singing along to some of the lyrics I remember from when that song was popular about twenty years ago. And it occurred to me ... I've never really listened to the lyrics and I have no idea what the song is about.  Is it being sarcastic? Critical? Judgmental? Observant? Seriously, I have no idea.  I started to look around as I tapped my foot and hummed along and I noticed ... shiny AND happy people all around me. 

Now let me be clear: I may be (mostly) happy, but I am NOT shiny. Ever. Better words to describe me are frazzled, disheveled, discombobulated, sometimes even unkempt. The image I emanate is probably "lazy."  I simply don't have time for all that fussing; I don't shop, and I will choose sleep over time-for-primping 100% of the time.   

There was a woman with a little girl about 5 years old.  I couldn't tell if she was the girl's (young) grandmother or (older) mother. Anyway, the woman was very "shiny."  She was bleached blonde, faux-tanned, in good shape, adorned in "bohemian" clothes and jewelry, and impeccably groomed and made up.  (I'm sure those tendrils coming out of her tousled ponytail were intentional!)  She almost glowed (in a good way, not in a give-the-self-tanner-a-rest way.)  I caught myself staring at her because, seriously, how much time must she spend on herself?  It's a Friday afternoon, and I'm assuming this is probably what she looks like all the time.  So she had to shop for her clothes and jewelry - and unless she has superpowers, you know that took more than one trip! - go to the hair salon and sit for an hour or two, sit at the nail salon for an hour or two, plus travel, and then the showering-shampooing-moisturizing-blowdrying-makeupping-dressing-accessorizing routine every morning, and the removal time in the evening.  That's HOURS every day, and HOURS every week, and even more HOURS every month.  I'm not judging at all, it's just that I am the complete opposite of her.  Anyway, she was shiny and - at least in the fantasy world I have created for her in my head - she's happy.

The little girl was shiny and happy too, but in an age-appropriate way.  She had blue eyes and blonde hair pulled back off of her face and falling out of her barrettes just a little, a beautiful green dress, sunkissed skin, painted (short) nails, cute sandals, and a radiant smile.  She was getting some sherbet but was also picking out her ice cream cake for her birthday party.  What's not to be happy about, right?

There was an older gentleman in line behind me and guess what?  Shiny and happy!  He looked like he's retired and plays a lot of tennis or golf ... tan, fit, looking relaxed.  He smiled at me and struck up a conversation while we waited in line.  I learned he was givng ice cream gift certificates to his grandchildren as a back-to-school treat.  He noticed the little girl and smiled at her.  So many times older folks ... and in my experience, older men in particular ... are crabby.  Not this guy. He was shiny. He was happy.

A different woman ahead of me in line was shiny, too, but in a more subtle way than the other shiny, happy woman.  This one emanated clean and fresh and cool. In a relaxed state her face was calm.  She was waiting for the employee to write a message on a cake she picked from the freezer.  When the gal came out with the freshly written-on cake, guess what? HAPPY!

There were two mid-twenties guys eating sandwiches who looked shiny in a literal way; they clearly had been exercising or something and had that fresh-sweat sheen. And they were laughing and joking and bustin' each others' chops.  Happy.

This seems like an awful lot of shiny happy people in one place if you ask me.  I mean seriously, where are the Maxines and the Walters?  Then it hit me ... the employees were neither shiny nor happy.  That's too bad but at least it gave the place some balance.

I left with a little spring in my step. I want to be a shiny happy person.  And so it shall be.  Further updates on Project Shiny Happy Person as events warrant.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bad Decisions Make Good Stories

We all do it. We have those moments when we make bad decisions. If we follow the usual path of growth, and we are not affected by alcohol, substance or other abuse, the bad decisions we make become fewer and farther between as we age and mature. Sure, some of us do it more often than others, but the point is we all do it. Even the most mature and responsible person makes bad decisions now and again.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that bad decisions make good results. That almost never happens. Bad decisions usually lead to bad results. But when it is over, there is usually a good story there. Sometimes the story is funny, sometimes it is poignant, sometimes it is sad, but when you come out the other end and have recovered, there is almost something good to share. Maybe I feel this way because I am forever searching for the silver lining in every dark cloud.

Yesterday marked six years since The Ex and I split. Marrying him was a bad decision. Of course, I have no regrets because I got Sweetie and Stinker out of it, but if I am honest, choosing this person was a bad choice. There were signs that he was a bad choice for me, but either I was unaware of them at the time or I chose to ignore them. It was bad for me financially, it was bad for my self esteem, it was bad for my health, it was bad for some of my friendships and familial relationships, it was just a bad decision.  No matter, what's done is done and it does no good to look back. I've chosen to forgive him, and to forgive myself, and move on.  Even though the marriage was a mistake, our story is a good story full of friendship, laughter, love, family, joy, frustration, disappointment, heartbreak ... the gamut of the human condition ... and at least for me it has a happy ending (so far).

I started a new job six weeks ago and it is my goal to avoid making some of the bad decisions I made at my former job. As I've been thinking about some of the mistakes I made before so that I don't make them again, I find myself smiling at the story about the bad decision to go work for my former employer in the first place.  I have no regrets because it afforded me the opportunity to spend time with my children that I might not have had otherwise, and it forced me to become aware of my strengths and weaknesses as an employee, but it stalled my career.  I turned the job down initially, and I should have stuck with my instincts. It's a good story though ... female lawyer forges a non-traditional path in a tough profession, shines at times and stumbles at other times, gets terminated for putting family first, and comes out the other end stronger, wiser, more focused on her career ... and happy.

At a work retreat last weekend, we spent a lot of time around dinner tables telling stories. Why is it that so many of the best stories begin with "so I was out drinking one night ..."? Some of my colleagues made the bad decision to order bottle service at 1:30 a.m., knowing we had a 9:00 a.m. meeting. It was a bad decision for them - they were miserable at the meeting and for most of the day - but it's a great story that I'm sure we will recount at every retreat.

I've made plenty of bad decisions in my life, like that time I stepped in between two huge drunk guys to try to break up a fight, or that time I thought it would be fun to snoop around in my husband's email, or that time I ate the worm in Mexico .... Bet you'd like to hear the stories about those bad decisions!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Get Out and Push!

My new employer takes all of the attorneys (and their spouses) on a weekend retreat every other year, and this year we went to Sausalito, California.  They spare no expense, being sure to set up nice accommodations, meals, and transportation (so no one is tempted to drink and drive).  I had a two-room suite with a giant sunken tub at Cavallo Point.  A gift basket was waiting for me when I checked in.  We had a group dinner Friday night (with booze of our choice if we wanted) at a nice restaurant in the City and then we went out to some bars afterward.  (There are a lot of stories in there but I will save them for another post.)  I seriously did not spend a dime, not even for my cab back over the bridge.  We had a breakfast meeting on Saturday and then we had about six hours of free time on Saturday.  We had to be at a group dinner in Sausalito at 7:00.

When I learned of the location of our retreat, I researched what I could do to keep myself occupied during said free time on Saturday, knowing that almost all of my colleagues would have their spouses with them and I am the lone singleton.  I could get a massage, go ziplining, take a segway tour, shop (in Sausalito or in the City), hike, ride my bike ... the possibilities are almost endless.  I decided to do things I can't do when I have my kids with me.  After some poking around, I settled on GoCars in the City.

What the heck is a GoCar?  It's not a go-kart.  It is a little yellow, three-wheeled vehicle licensed as a motorcyle.  It seats two, it is convertible, and you must wear a helmet to be safe.  It's cute.  But the BEST part is ... the car talks to you.  It is a GPS-directed car, so it tells you where to turn and where to drive and narrates along the way.   There are different tours available; I wanted to take the Mister SF tour because it was the shortest (1.5 hours) and it takes you to the "cool" places that tourists never see.  You learn about movie locations and notorious crime locations, that sort of thing.  I was excited and I coaxed four other attorneys (two pairs) to go with me, and then I got my Julie McCoy on ... I made reservations, figured out how we were going to get there, decided which tour to take, etc.

So Saturday "free time" rolls around and we are ready to start our adventure.  We planned to take the 12:45 ferry over from Sausalito (a 30-minute ride), which we thought would give us plenty of time to grab a quick snack before embarking on our tour.  We thought wrong.  The ferry was late, so I called the company while we were on the ferry and pushed our reservation back 30 minutes.  When we got to the restaurant, we had terrible service; I pushed the reservation again.  Now we were an hour behind schedule, which should be fine for purposes of our group dinner but would cut into our post-GoCar drinks (including my must-have Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista).  Finally, a little more than an hour after we had originally planned, we watched our safety video, donned our helmets, got our operational lesson, and we were off.  All was going smoothly until ....The Mister SF tour was not available due to road construction.  I had to think fast and choose a different tour.  I remembered the Urban Parks tour sounded cool so we picked that one and off we went.

The little cars are easy to drive, though they are a little unnerving because they are low to the ground and hard for cars to see, and they don't go very fast.  Because they are licensed as motorcycles, they are not allowed in the bike lanes or on sidewalks so I'm sure it's very frustrating for the drivers who get stuck behind them.  We were a trio of GoCars, with mine being the last in the line. We got a lot of attention; people waved and honked and lots of tourists took our picture.

So off we went.  Not only does the car tell you which direction to go, it tells you what you are looking at, its history, and suggests where and when you should stop and get out.  It gives you detour options.  As long as you stay on your route, the car chats merrily, even cracking wise ... when we drove by a golf course it yelled "fore" really loud and then laughed!  We went by Robin Williams' house, though the wise-cracking car wouldn't tell us which one it was. 

After about two hours, my car merrily told me I was now "half way" through my tour.  WHAT?  Two hours is only half way?  Not surprisingly, my colleagues immediately pulled over after they heard this in their cars, and we collectively decided to go off the path and return the cars; it was getting late and we needed to get back to Sausalito for dinner.  As we were pulling over, the car told me to turn right at the next stop sign because the hill ahead was too steep for it.  According to the safety video, as long as you follow the car's directions you will be able to navigate the steep hills but if you venture off on your own - which is certainly allowed - you may find yourself on a hill that is too steep for the car to handle.  If that happens, you must get out and push. Oh, and the car has no reverse.

So after we decided to return the cars, I watched as my colleagues drove straight up that hill!  I turned right and then ignored it when it told me to turn again.  Here's the thing ... when you go off of the path, the car stops talking and you are left to your own devices.  We three got separated so I decided to just drive toward the water (since I know how to get around once I get near the water).  At one point I caught up with one of the other cars, but they went up another big hill and I went a different way.  At another point I must have veered close to one of the tour routes because suddenly my car made a loud pinging noise and it yelled at me: "STOP!  You're going the wrong way.  You were supposed to turn left at the last street.  Turn around."  It scared the crap out of me, but I soldiered on.  As I was nearing the return, I flipped around to go talk to my colleagues on the other side of the street and didn't quite make it ... I had to get out and push.  I learned later they had had to get out and push, too!

All in all, it's a fun little adventure and a great way to see parts of the City you might otherwise miss. It's not cheap, and we were cold by the time we were done, but I really enjoyed it. And I laugh really hard when I tell people about our little adventure ...

** Photos taken from the GoCars website at

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I'm baaaaaaaacccck! And the Universe has spoken.

Wow, I can't believe I haven't posted since February.  Apparently I've been busy.  I have a list of blog subjects but I just haven't felt inspired, and since I write so much for a living, I have to feel inspired to sit down and write for fun.

Project Pound Loss Week 25: I suck it!  Two steps forward then one step back.  Down, then up.  I've clearly lost focus but I haven't given up!  My Weight Watchers buddy is doing amazingly well, but I am not.  I had an epiphany: Weight Watchers doesn't work if you don't work the program.  Duh.

It's T minus 20 days until another big career move.  After 2 years practicing on my own, after 6 months of not really working, I'm going back to employee status starting July 1.  The Universe kept tossing life preservers to me and they all brought me back to the same place: I want and need the security (however fleeting) that full-time employment brings.  My clients that were coming out of the woodwork don't pay. I hardly made any money last year, but I made enough to get drilled by self-employment taxes.  Another law firm in my town closed, once again flooding the legal community with smart, qualified lawyers.  So I took the risk and asked for what I wanted: a full-time position with the firm where I've been contracting part-time for the past two years.  And they said yes.  As a result, my calendar has exploded and I am a very busy woman.

I hope to get back to regular blogging ... it's a sweet release for me.  Plus, I have some great stories to share.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Project Pound Loss: Week 5 and Old Habits Die Hard

This past week was NOT a good week.  I was busy, so I didn't track my food and I ate out a lot.  Didn't I just say last week that those are two things I MUST do to succeed on my weight loss journey?  Yeah, well, apparently I was just moving my lips.  And this week I'm paying the price.  I gained this week, and I gained enough that I basically set myself back 2 (or maybe 3) weeks.  Curses.

Part of the process is to analyze choices and figure out what would have been the better choice.  Without tracking it's hard to be thorough, but here's what I know.  I had fast food three times in one week.  Not good, and not okay when trying to lose weight.  Even the "good" choices at fast food restaurants are weight loss saboteurs.  During bunco last Friday, I drank too much wine.  That probably wouldn't have been too bad, but considering I had a full meal after munching on the most delightful potato chips, the wine put me over the edge.  But friends, those were the BEST potato chips (and I don't even usually eat salty snacks!)  .  So of course I had too many.  And then, during the Superbowl, I didn't eat for a really long time and then gorged because I was so hungry.  And I drank vodka lemonade.  (Gasp!)  Must. Keep. Eating. To. Avoid. Feeling. Starved.  At a board meeting last night, I mindlessly snacked on cheese and crackers.  I have no idea how much I ate, but it wasn't pretty.

I haven't ruined my first WW milestone - losing 5 pounds - but I should be reaching my second milestone and I'm nowhere close.

It's a "habit" to go hours without eating and then overeat because I am so hungry.  It is a "habit" to snack on hors d'ouerves before eating a meal.  It's a habit to drink socially and not keep track of how much I've had.  It's a habit to leave the house without eating and then stop somewhere for something "quick."  It's a habit to eat on the go.  Old habits will be the death of me.   They must die!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Project Pound Loss: Week 4 is slow and steady

The good news is, I lost this week.  The bad news is, last week's gain slowed me down.

The following observations have become abundantly clear: 

1.  I must track my food.  "Guessing" or "estimating" does not work, partly because I don't know the program well enough yet but also because I forget about little snacks and things that I shove in my mouth along the way.

2.  I must prepare my own food.  Seriously, it does not matter where you eat - eating "out" is not weight loss friendly.  Portions are too big (even of the "healthy" stuff).  Even "grilled" things are not dry grilled like you would do at home; the grill is regularly lubed in restaurants so food doesn't stick.  Restaurant food is heavily salted (most of the time), which ultimately results in too much sodium for the day. 

3.  I need to cook several meals - but not the whole week - in one sitting.  I need to divide it into proper portions so I can just grab it and throw it in my lunch during the mad morning dash, or pop it in the micro after a long day.  If I expect myself to cook dinner every night, I am setting myself up for failure.  If I cook for the whole week, however, I get tired of the food and want something else, usually something bad.

4.  It is not okay to binge on "bad" food after my weigh-in.  This appears to be a pattern developing so I need to nip it.

5.  I simply will not lose this weight if I do not find time for exercise. 

6.  I need to drink more water.

Total pounds lost so far: 7.6 in 4 weeks

Roller Queen, That's Me!

I grew up in a small town (at least by Southern California standards).  When I was growing up, there wasn't a whole lot to do.  We had two movie theaters - a "walk-in" with two screens and a "drive-in" with one screen.  Back then they didn't have indoor play structures, or warehouses full of bouncehouses ... we just made do with good old-fashioned imagination.  We had a single bowling alley that was always occupied with league play.  The nearest mall was 30 minutes away "over the hill" or "in the valley."  We did, however, have a skating rink.  From about seventh through tenth grade - until friends started driving and dating - we young teenagers spent just about every Friday night and Saturday night at the "roller rink."  Either my mom or the mom of a friend would drop us off at the rink, we'd pay our couple of dollars to get in, and a parent would return for us in a couple of hours.

Talking about a roller rink elicits certain memories for me.  Why was the carpet always so ugly?  And really, how many rows of lockers do you need for a couple of hours of skating.  All the cool kids had their own skates, and the not-cool kids had to rent those babypoop brown skates.  I remember BEGGING for my own skates and finally getting some beautiful pristine white "girls" skates for Christmas one year.  (And then, of course, I had to beg for the accessories - the colored laces, the pom poms, the neon wheels, etc.)  The snack bar had delicious junk food - or so I heard - but I never had any money to buy any.  If you ever spent any time in a skating rink as a kid, you'll remember this: standing along the barrier wall, near the entrance to the rink, waiting and wishing and hoping that cool cute guy would ask you to skate during the "couples" skate.  It seemed like every roller rink, no matter where it was, had the same "theme" skates - all boys fast skate, all girls fast skate, hokey pokey, couples, reverse direction, etc.  They all had disco balls in the center, and a DJ who shouted into the microphone so loud and fast that you couldn't even understand him.  I was a decent roller skater, though certainly not one of the cool kids.  I could skate backwards, though I never really mastered it.  I could do spins and a few ice-skating-type tricks.  And I could skate FAST.  It was so much fun.

When I was in college and after, the rollerblade craze started.  I jumped on that band wagon, hung up my roller skates, and bought a sleek pair of inline skates.  I bought wrist guards and knee pads, but I would not be caught DEAD with a helmet on.  And, looking back, I wonder why no one ever espoused about the benefits of padded pants, maybe like the ones bikers wear.  At any rate, my enamor with rollerblades was over really quickly.  It was really hard.  And I kept falling.  Hard.  I put them away for a couple of years, and then tried them again when I was 30.  While blading with a friend (who was much better than me), I fell so hard that I thought for sure I broke my coccyx.  That was the end of all form of skating for me.
So guess what I did a couple of days ago?  I went roller skating!!  And let me tell you, not much has changed.  The carpet is still ugly.  The wall still has rows and rows of lockers.  The snack bar sold junk.  The kid behind the rental counter was on skates, moving around smoothly and confidently, and doubled as the DJ.  They did an all boys fast skate, an all girls fast skate, and the hokey pokey.  We couldn't understand a word the kid said over the intercom.  There was a disco ball above the floor (or a disco-ball effect somewhere else in the rink).  "Old school" was in the house:  the kid with the rubber legs, gliding quietly across the floor, passing everyone; the boys who raced each other - even though racing is not allowed - weaving in and out of the slower, less skilled skaters; the girls who don't know how to skate, holding on to each other as they scoot in the inner circle of the floor, practically falling and laughing hysterically; the 14-year-olds holding hands as they skate around and around; the boy skating backwards with his hands on the hips of his girlfriend.  I was flooded with deja vu!

There was one significant difference.  Roller derby girls.  There were several of them.  You can't miss them, what with the 70s style shorts over leggings, all of the padding, the specific-purpose skates.  One had what I suspect is her derby name written across her backside.  Another was teaching her young daughter a fast start.  These women seemed fairly unskilled compared to the derby girls I've seen during derby exhibitions ... until it was time for the fast skate.  Those women got out there and hauled A--.  And I think one woman was a derby ref (or is it an ump?) because she was skating faster backwards than everyone else was skating forward.  And then it dawned on me that those markings on the floor were probably roller derby markings.  It turns out, my area has at least three roller derby teams.  That's something I must explore (and blog about later).
I had some revelations:  Skating is good exercise!  My legs were tired, I know I worked my back muscles and I was sweating.  It turns out I'm still a pretty good skater ... for a middle-aged overweight woman who hasn't been on skates in 30 years.  I only fell once - and I was SPINNING when I did it.  So there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Used to Be A Complainer

I don't mean to make myself sound older than I am, but do you remember when customer service actually meant something?  I'm not talking about the idyllic 50s that has been portrayed on television and in movies (though we know it was not nearly as idyllic as the entertainment industry would like us to believe it was); I'm not THAT old.  I'm talking about the 70s and even into the 80s. 

Remember when diners were not expected to leave a 20% tip unless the service was great, and a simple comment to a staffer about something amiss - a dirty bathroom, a mistake on a bill, cold food, etc. - warranted a visit from the manager?  The idea that a customer might complain to someone higher up the food chain (pun intended) was enough to make managers do whatever was necessary to make it right.  It was not unusual to get a comped meal or dessert or a discount coupon for the next visit.  In my experience, in today's restaurants, the manager isn't even there half the time and customers NEVER get anything comped.  The wait staff is usually hustling but everyone else seems to stand around a lot.

But the restaurant industry isn't the only one that has allowed customer service to become extinct.  Remember when gas stations were "service" stations?  Full service was the same price as self service, and it included a fill up, a window cleaning, an oil check, tire check, etc.  And - gasp! - you could ask for directions and you might even get a free map.  Now you can't ask for directions because some young kid is behind the counter in the mini-mart.  Maps are $5 - if they have them.  You have to pump your own gas; in fact, very few gas stations have "full service" as an option even if you were inclined to pay the higher per gallon price.  And the clincher??  We now have to PAY for air and water!!

When I was a kid and even into college, when I went to the grocery store, the butcher knew everything I could possibly ask about meat and poultry.  The produce man would cut open a melon and let me taste it.  The liquor department had its own manager, who bought everything the store sold, and could recommend a great gift or pairing.  There were stock clerks everywhere and plenty of checkers.  In today's "super" markets, we have banks and coffee shops and pharmacies but God help you if you need to ask a question about something; you will have to schlep all the way up to the front of the store just to ask for help, and then you have to wait while someone who knows next-to-nothing comes to "help" you.  If you're lucky enough to have one of the nicer markets in your area, you pay about 4-10% more for your groceries.  And let me tell you ... I worked in the grocery industry in the 80s and today's grocery employees do not make much more than I made way back then, and their benefits and retirement are not as good as they were, so we can't blame the inferior service on high-paid union members.

Back in those days, if you experienced poor customer service, you could get satisfaction.  I used to write letters; anytime my customer service was lower than an acceptable level, I wrote a letter of complaint.  And guess what?  I ALWAYS got some sort of response.  Some responses were better than others, but the point is, I always got a return letter or phone call.  Managers made me feel like my business was appreciated and they wanted to keep it.  Sometimes I got free stuff, much to the laughter and giggling of friends and family.  (My cousin's husband used to urge me to write letters because he loved it when I got free stuff!).  Sometimes I just got an apology.  And you know what, the apology was fine.  No matter the response, I felt like my opinion mattered.  Now THAT is customer service.

Now let's look at customer service today.  Oh, wait.  There isn't any.  We don't interact with people; instead we are sent to a website.  Sometimes we are told to fill out a comment card.  But you know what?  I never hear from anyone anymore.    

I miss the good ole days.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Project Pound Loss: Week 3 Boo Hiss!

I didn't lose this week.  In fact, I gained.  Not much, but I gained.  So the question is, what went wrong?  Here's what I know I didn't do this past week that I did on the weeks I lost:  cook most of my own meals and track my food.  Seriously, for me, eating out is going to be the death of me.  It doesn't matter where you eat or what you eat, it is ALWAYS better to eat at home if weight loss is the goal.  Even "grilled" things in restaurants are full of oils and fats because they keep the "grill" lubed so food doesn't stick.  And they don't lube with cooking spray, let me tell you!!  And we don't even need to talk about portions in restaurants ... a typical restaurant meal is 3 or 4 times the portion size we should be eating. 

I remember a quote from Dolly Parton many years ago that I thought was weird at the time but now I think it's genius.  Someone asked her how she kept her tiny waist and she said she eats a lot of fruits and vegetables and she really controls her portions.  She said that whenever a plate of food is placed in front of her, she divides everything into threes: one for her to eat now, one for her to eat later, and one for her guardian angel that she leaves behind.  And this was back when portion sizes were much more reasonable than they are now.  Brilliant, I say.

I have made up stories in my head about why I gained this week.  They make me feel less discouraged, but I realize they are just stories.  The truth is, I gained 1.2.  I just added another week until I reach my ultimate goal.  That's a bummer, but it's not the end of the world.  I remain committed and I'm working on discipline.  Next week I'll be back to being "friends" with this project.

What is The Universe Trying to Tell Me?

I'm a big believer in creating the life I want by conscious thought and specific action.  It's a relatively new attitude for me, so I'm still learning, I'm still asking for the wrong things, and I'm still trying to interpret.  I believe the Universe delivers what you ask for, whether you realize you ask for it or not.  You know what I mean: negativity begets negativity, positivity begets positivity.  It's important to stay focused on the positive, on the present, and on what I want.

In December I declared out loud to God and everybody that I think solo practice is not for me and that I want to "try" - there's the first problem - and see if I can make a full-time schedule work with a particular firm.  One of the reasons solo practice doesn't work for me is because I don't like marketing myself when my very livelihood depends on it.  I also don't like dealing with the administrative stuff - filing, etc.  And if you read my previous post, you already know I don't like that people think I work for free and that they don't have to pay me for my efforts.  I also want security, health insurance, etc.  But I love the easy schedule I currently have and I love the flexibility so I can spend time with my kids (though that did not work out how I thought it would when I went into business for myself.  Another blog post on another day, perhaps).  The questions I'm currently mulling are: what is most important to me? what working situation will give me the best balance? how long can I stay on this fence I'm currently sitting on? 

So riddle me this: Why is it that (literally) right after I declared that solo practice is not for me and that I want to try a full-time schedule with this particular firm, clients started coming out of the woodwork?  Seriously, I have had more client referrals in the past month than I have had the entire time I've been practicing on my own.  What does it mean?  What should I do?  How did I create this?  One friend thinks the Universe is telling me that I should not go work for someone else and I should stay self-employed, and the Universe is providing me with clients to enable me to do that.  That's a fair interpretation, I suppose.  But what if it is the Universe providing me with an opportunity to earn some money to make up for the "pay me, you owe me" clients I already have?  Or, maybe the Universe is setting me up so that when I make the move to employment with someone else, I am more appealing because I have my own (albeit small) client base.  It's interesting to say the least.

I need to take some quiet time and really figure out what I want.  The Universe is not sending clear messages because I'm not sending clear requests.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pay Me, You Owe Me, Pay Me My Money Down

Have you ever heard that song "Pay Me My Money Down"?  Apparently it's been around for a long time - I've seen it described as a "traditional west indian sea shanty," whatever that means - but I first heard it a few years ago at a concert with my kids.  We went to see Dan Zanes, a kooky-looking guy who writes and performs kids music because, as he tells it, when he had a child and was trying to find some decent music, there wasn't any.  So he decided to make his own.  His concerts are fun; he rides a bicycle on stage, and it's really just musicians and their instruments without all of the gimmicks and characters that are so prevalent in children's music.  And he encourages the kids to get up and dance at any time during the show, which I absolutely loved.  If you're interested, check him out at

So why the discussion of a west indian sea shanty?  Well, friends, I have a struggle in my life that is weighing on my mind and the alternating line of this song keeps popping into my head:  "Pay me, you owe me, pay me my money down."  People don't want to pay their legal bills!  Now before you get your panties in a bunch, let me say this:  I have been a client of a lawyer and I know how awful it is to get a monthly bill and be shocked at the amount.  I know what it's like to realize that you've been charged for every communication you have had, no matter how short or seemingly inconsequential.  I know what it's like to get charged for every copy made, every fax sent, every stamp affixed.  I get it.  But here's the thing.  If you sign a contract for a lawyer's service, you are agreeing to pay that lawyer for the services provided.

I have a couple of clients who hired me on a contingency basis, which means that if they don't get money, I don't get money.  I'm not paid hourly, I'm paid a percentage of whatever money is recovered.  Sometimes that set up works to the lawyer's advantage - very little work with a big payout.  I've had one of those.  Other times it's a big financial loser for the lawyer - lots of work with a small payout.  I've had some of those, too.  It's a gamble, and it's part of the agreement.  It's an expensive gamble for the lawyer to take because litigation is not cheap, and the lawyer usually pays costs along the way.  If the lawyer is lucky, he or she will recoup those costs whether the case is a winner or not.  I haven't had that kind of luck.

I also have a couple of clients who hired me on an hourly basis.  This is the arrangement that is a problem for the clients because the bills add up more quickly than they expect.  If the client is lucky, they have a lawyer who will work with them to make payments.  I am one of those lawyers; I work with my clients because I realize many of us don't have hundreds or thousands of dollars laying around that we can comfortably part with.

Why on earth would you choose to pay hourly if you can get a lawyer's services on a contingency, you ask?  It usually depends on what kind of work the lawyer is doing.  If you are the person suing people, your lawyer will probably take the case on a contingency if he thinks you have a decent case.  If you are the one being sued, however, I don't know a single attorney who will defend you on a contingency.  "Defense" equals "hourly" almost all of the time. 

But here's the thing that is getting to me and is provoking the "pay me, you owe me" song.  Though I am willing to work with clients to ease their financial burden, I am not willing to work for free.  That means that I expect SOME payment every month, as a show of good faith that the client intends to keep her end of the deal and pay the balance in full eventually.  But that is not what's happening.  I have one client who has repeatedly requested that I "work with her" about the bill, and I have.  I reduced my hourly rate; I don't charge her for every communication; I reduce my travel expenses and only charge her one way; I let her perform tasks that I should have a professional do.  From my perspective, I have bent over backwards to make this as painless as possible for her.  My reward?  ONE payment in 6 months.  The bill is in 5 digits now.  And to make matters worse, she keeps asking me to do additional work!  Really? 

I like this client a lot, and I want to help her, so I am struggling.  The human side of me wants to see this through.  The business person/lawyer/single mother in me wants to terminate the relationship.  Ethically I'm somewhere in the middle; I can't really cut bait, but I don't have to continue to work for free.  I took her case because someone who matters to me professionally referred her to me.  What to do, what to do?  Oh, and did I mention that I did some work for her brother and he hasn't paid me one red cent?  Um, yeah.

I can't help but wonder: what makes them think that I don't need to be paid?  What makes them think that I can "carry" that kind of debt in my books?  I'm a solo practitioner starting a brand new business, for pete's sake.  It's a big fat mess.  So I continue, with that song playing in my head ...

Pay me, you owe me,
Pay me my money down,
Pay me or go to jail,
Pay me my money down.

Project Pound Loss: Week 2 and we're still friends

The second week of Weight Watchers was a bit more challenging for me because that silly thing called life got in the way.  I was really busy.  But I noticed a few things along the way ...

The longer I stay away from sugar, the less I want it.  My mid-afternoon chocolate craving is almost gone.  GOOD.  I fall into old habits very easily.  I need to be on my game or I will eat too much, of the wrong stuff, and then eat too much again.  BAD.  I take advantage of every possible excuse to get off track.  Oh, I'm busy so I need to grab something quick (read: carbohydrate-y, probably deep-fried-y, greasy, goodness!)  BAD.  If I really want to change my  body and change my life, I cannot drink beer.  Seriously, not at all.  There is nothing redeeming about beer in terms of value to the body.  So it's apparently just another habit I need to break.  BAD.  If I am not focused, I do not stay on the program.  BAD.  If I really put my mind to it, I can find a little time in my busy schedule to exercise, at least a couple of times.  GOOD.

I lost 2.6 pounds in week 2.  I'm only a few pounds from my first goal (and my first reward).