Family Ties

It’s been too long since I sat down to write, even though I sit at my desk at home every day for at least an hour or two.  I busy myself with studying for my latest Master’s class (Business Ethics) or with my  latest Bible study (Beth  Moore’s Entrusted) and, of course, with other important pursuits (Facebook and Twitter).  And I always make time for a rousing game of Spider Solitaire.  Lately thoughts have been swirling and marinating and since I’m not really a talker (though some people close to me might disagree!), those thoughts need to be expressed somehow…thus, I know it is time to write. On Twitter the other day this is what Anne Lamott had to say, in response to someone’s question about how to get started as a writer:

“Decide to.  Sit down @ desk.  Keep butt in chair.  Share a memory or description.  Write an unbelievable shitty first draft.”

Thank you, Anne.  I shall follow your advice.

This guy hangs from my desk lamp as a reminder to write.  He’s been giving me the stink eye lately.  Am I right?

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So today, I write.

March was very busy.  We bought a new car and then promptly racked up some miles by heading to Twentynine Palms to attend our oldest granddaughter’s 7th birthday party. We got to see, firsthand, the life our son is building for himself following a divorce he did not want.  He’s established a comfortable home where his kids spend time with him daily, and he’s established a very good co-parenting relationship with their mom.  There is no better feeling for a parent, than knowing that your kids are doing okay.  Here is a picture of the lovely birthday girl with Chuck E. Cheese and her proud daddy looking on:

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Here I am, with Amelia and Tom, in the backseat of said new car.  We were on our way to the birthday party.  Never mind that my ass was wedged snugly between two booster seats…spending time with these two makes my heart very happy:

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We returned home on a Sunday, worked two days and then boarded a plane to Eugene, OR the following Wednesday.  I last visited Jessica and family in December when the crazy ice storm hit Eugene.  I’d never seen anything like it, but I digress…I no sooner returned home from that trip before Jess and I started planning the next trip.  I traveled alone in December as Tom had too many work demands.  Thanks to a bounty of United air miles, we were able to book round trip air tickets for two, only paying tax, so the March trip was a go.  Seeing Tom with our grandsons kind of made me fall in love with him again.

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While there, Braydon and I planted a little flower garden for their patio.  Jess sent a picture the other day to show me that the flowers were still alive and thriving.  Even though they’ve been in Oregon for over a year now, I know my girl misses me.  We have our next trip planned for September–it will be a week long road trip.

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We returned from Oregon late on a Sunday; we’d both taken Monday off to recuperate but decided to do a bit of yard work, as recent rains and subsequent sun had brought weeds out of hiding.  The weather was nice so I put on a tank top and jeans and went to it.  At one point Tom pointed out what he thought to be poison oak growing by our backyard gate.  Nah, I thought.

I am very allergic to poison oak.  VERY.

You can guess what happened.  It’s been four weeks…one steroid shot…a course of Prednisone…lots of Caladryl…several tubes of Hydrocortisone…and I’m STILL dealing with a few remnant patches of poison oak breakout.  I’ll spare you the pictures but yes I took some…just in case I forget how bad it actually got!

Yard work will be done by someone other than me from now on.

I’d promised our local daughter Amy and her family that we’d have them for Sunday dinner so I could make homemade pizza (completely homemade crust and sauce and with all our favorite gourmet toppings) but with my poison oak-covered hands, that just didn’t seem like a good idea.  We had some nice weather and Tom took the opportunity to barbecue baby back ribs which in my opinion was a very good alternative.  Seeing little miss Aislee put a big smile on my face:

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This girl is something else.  She is happy, loving, and as sweet as can be.  We think she might be almost ready for a sleepover with Nana and Papa.  I can’t wait.

I’m hoping that tomorrow we can finally get around to that pizza dinner.  Amy and I have plans today to go to the movies to see Beauty and the Beast, just the two of us. Time with my own baby daughter is another thing that makes me smile.

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I think that catches us up on family life around here.  But something interesting happened recently that has me thinking more deeply about family ties.  I received a Facebook friend request from someone I didn’t know; we didn’t share any mutual friends either, so I was hesitant to accept the request.  As I looked at her name, an unusual name, I wondered if she was a cousin on my dad’s side of the family.  Sure enough, that was the case–she’s the daughter of my dad’s sister.  In accepting her friend request, I’ve now connected with both of her sisters, and with other cousins (daughters of my dad’s other sister).  Many memories, long buried, are surfacing as we share pictures and a bit of our family history.  I am excited to see where these relationships lead.  But I’m also a bit nervous.  I’m learning things that are troubling, such as the fact that all three of my dad’s sisters have Alzheimer’s or other dementia diagnoses.  My grandma, their mother, died of Alzheimer’s.  My dad died at age 60 of lung cancer.  I can’t help but wonder if he would have developed dementia if he’d lived long enough.  One of his brothers is in a nursing home here in California, and I’m not sure if he’s dealing with dementia (but plan to find out).  My dad’s youngest brother lives here locally and I occasionally run into him in town.  He seems fine…when I last saw him he was astonished by how much I favor my mom.  I think it was very odd for him to see me as a middle-aged woman!

These new family ties are stirring up memories for sure.  I’ve long had the bare bones of a memoir in progress but I seem to get blocked when it comes to writing about my childhood; it feels like I don’t want to go there.  Perhaps these new relationships will fill in gaps and serve to override some fear I have about revisiting some of the really tough memories that shaped who I am today.

Cousins, if you are reading this, I am SO GLAD to get to know you again!

So I’m off now to shower and get ready for this beautiful Saturday.  Have a blessed day!

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Mail Order Addiction

I do not enjoy shopping and maybe that’s because I’m not very good at it.  I find the sights, sounds and crowds of department stores and malls to be overwhelming. When shopping is necessary I decide what’s needed and deliberately go get what I need; better yet, when I can, I order it and it comes right to me (thank you Amazon Prime).

When we were kids (there were four of us wild hooligans and I was oldest) my mom did not take us out clothes shopping if she could help it.  Oh hellll no. Our school clothes came from the Sears catalog–mail order, baby. Birthdays and Christmas were the times to ask for special fashion items such as earth shoes, chukka boots, or Billabong flip flops. A couple of memorable items from my teenage closest included a beige pea coat that was exactly like one a very popular girl wore (purely accidental but very validating for me), bleach-spotted Levi jeans, a black bikini, and lace up knee-high boots I wore to my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding.  She had similar boots and I admired her style, so this also was validating for me–maybe I had a little bit of stylish good taste.

So I said that I do not enjoy shopping, but what I do love is getting things in the mail. Remember Columbia House?  Buy 12 albums for $0.99?  Yep, I did that, several times.  Then came book clubs which was the same concept as Columbia House; I ordered self-help, fiction, memoirs and cookbooks. I loved magazine subscriptions too.  Beauty kits? Yes please. There was the Betty Crocker recipe box club, yep, I still have it somewhere. I did my share of catalog shopping as well, from kids clothes to home items.  All of these mail order shopping opportunities existed pre-internet. At some point, with the financial demands of raising our three kids, and perhaps after taking out a second mortgage to pay off credit cards, I cooled it with the mail order addiction. When I needed something I bit the bullet and went to K-Mart.

Fast forward to now, the technology age. I don’t need to belong to a recipe club, I just search the internet for recipes.  When a recipe has a strange ingredient such as palm sugar or candied jalapenos or black garlic, I simply order from Amazon and within two days I’ve got it. This is my kind of shopping. I’ve ordered clothes, shoes, gifts, household items and books from Amazon. It makes me very happy to see an Amazon smiley-box in my mail.

I don’t remember where I heard about Birchbox but probably from my daughter; this is the new millennium version of the old beauty box club!  Of course I had to try it and I even signed Tom up for the men’s box. We enjoyed that for a little while until I realized my makeup drawer really doesn’t need a million little sample size containers floating around.

Then came Blue Apron.  Oh, how I love Blue Apron!  This service is worth every penny and it keeps me out of the grocery store!  Tom and I are on the three meals per week for two plan; our box arrives on Wednesday with everything we need for gourmet dinners on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.  I always enjoy cooking on the weekend so I’ll grocery shop on Saturday for a few days only and then BAM on Wednesday we’ve got our next Blue Apron box.  The meals are amazing, we are trying all kinds of new things and eating healthy. This service is a winner.  I also can give free meals to five people; if you wish to try Blue Apron, contact me!

And finally, my newest addiction: Stitch Fix. I may or may not have mentioned that I lost about 70 pounds in the last two years. A new wardrobe is a necessity for me, yet I hate to shop, especially clothes shopping. I’ve done a bit of online shopping but I really have no skill in picking out stylish yet age appropriate clothes for myself. Left to my own devices I make choices that are too safe and boring, but I don’t want to be safe and boring; I am definitely interested in learning to dress better. I want the way I dress to express the way I feel–happy and content and comfortable and even confident. So then I received a mailer about Stitch Fix and immediately did some online investigating. It didn’t take me long to decide that this was definitely something I wanted to try. I wondered what a Stitch Fix Stylist would pick for me!

My first fix arrived in November. After completing a pretty comprehensive style questionnaire and being honest about weight and sizes, I also included a note stating that my husband and I were going to California Adventure to celebrate our birthdays. My first fix included Kate Boyfriend Jeans which fit perfectly, a Skies Are Blue print blouse, and the cutest pair of SeaVees print sneakers. I also received two tops that were a bit big and boxy, so those were sent back (which is completely easy to do). I was thrilled to receive a cute and casual outfit that definitely worked for our theme park day.

My second fix was scheduled for the beginning of December, right after my birthday. For this one I included a note stating that I’d be traveling to Oregon by plane to see my daughter and wanted something stylish that could travel from mild California temperatures to very cold Oregon weather.  I also mentioned having a couple of holiday luncheons on my schedule and wanted something casual but a little dressy to go with black or grey slacks. My fix arrived ahead of schedule and perfectly met my needs; I received a very cool black puffer vest, chocolate brown pants, a beautiful beige and grey sweater for layering, and two casual/dressy blouses–one in a gorgeous fuchsia color and one in a black and beige print with a subtle gold thread sewn into the pattern.  Perfect. I kept all five pieces.

My third fix arrived on Christmas Eve! I’d given my stylist a wish list that included leopard print flats, a dress to wear with black tights and riding boots, a denim jacket, and black leggings. Everything I asked for was delivered, plus another very cute blouse.  Each item fit perfectly so again, I kept it all.  My stylist had shown me that she’s paying attention and very interested in meeting my needs. but what is most surprising to me is that I am  beginning to figure out what I like and broadening my horizons thanks to her unexpected choices for me.

Today I wore my black corduroy leggings (they fit like a dream) with my leopard flats and my black puffer vest. I felt confident and stylish and sort of cool.

Stitch Fix provides styling cards with ideas for how to wear your new items.  These are helping me see how to style things I already have in my wardrobe with my new items.

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I really can’t believe this service exists and cannot wait for my next Fix to arrive. I am excited to build a nice wardrobe with quality pieces AND to  learn how to put it all together. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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My Friend Iceland

I’m the daughter of a native Icelander.  My mom was born in Iceland, adopted by an Icelandic sea captain and his wife as a baby and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland. She met my American-born dad when he was stationed at NAS Keflavik, Iceland; he had a band and hired my 18-year-old mom as a singer. She thought he looked like Elvis. That’s the family legend in a nutshell. This picture was obviously taken when they returned to America, I assume, as my dad’s two brothers are part of the band and they were not in Iceland with my parents. Music is part of the family legacy as well.

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My mom wasn’t your typical Nordic beauty with blonde hair and blue eyes, rather, she was an exotically beautiful brown-eyed brunette.  I was born just nine months after they married, here in northern California where my dad was stationed following his tour in Iceland.

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My mom died the day after Mother’s Day in 2003 at the young age of 62 after a brief but brutal battle with lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones and brain.

This is one of my favorite images of my mom, in our swimming pool probably just about two years before she died. In Iceland, she’d told me when I was little girl, children had to learn to swim by the time they were six years old–they couldn’t move up a grade if they didn’t (not sure this is really true). My childhood brain understood this to be  necessary since Iceland was an island and who knew when you might just fall off the edge into the frigid, icy waters. She also convinced me that because I had her viking blood I never had to worry about seasickness because I was made for the water. More family legacy.

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People say I look like her; I knew this was true when I was a little girl, there was enough photographic evidence of it. Now, when I look at this picture of my mom at just about 60 years old and look at my 57-year-old self in the mirror, I see that it’s still true. I don’t have her vibrant, extroverted personality however. I think I got my introversion from my dad.

As a kid, no one I knew ever heard of far-away, mysterious Iceland. Now, a visit to Iceland is on many a bucket list, and lots of movies have shot on location there. In the early 80’s Iceland elected the world’s first female president who served for 16 years. I am even Iceland’s “friend” on Facebook, and you can be too.

So, all things Iceland are now cool. Iceland to me always makes me think of my  mom, and she would love Iceland’s popularity. Yesterday in the grocery store I found Icelandic-style yogurt (called “skyr”) so of course, I bought some. This stuff is SO GOOD.  Have you tried it? This was my breakfast today.

Now, if I could just find a local source for Hangikjöt I’d be all set.

Have a healthy day, and make it a point to  learn something new. Iceland is interesting!

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The Road Trip

In August of this year I spent a very long day driving from my home on the central coast of California to Eugene,Oregon…800 miles in just 12 hours if you didn’t need to stop for the necessities of life such as Starbucks iced tea or rest stop bathrooms.

My daughter was soon to deliver her second child and I’d secured four weeks off from work in order to be there to help.  My daughter moved with her family to Eugene right around the time she learned she was expecting child number two; needless to say, this complicated the move somewhat by elevating priorities such as securing a good doctor and hospital for delivery, health insurance coverage in a new state, and what to do about their not-yet-two-year-old son when she went into labor.  Hence, my trip.

I do like to travel, and traveling alone is peaceful in a strange and lonely way.  For a time my job required monthly road trips to Sacramento to attend meetings–a six-hour drive one way.  I used to fly until nonstop flights from Santa Barbara to Sacramento were eliminated and flying meant connecting in San Francisco; airport and security logistics made for a very long day even though the actual flight time was about an hour and a half. At that point it was simply faster to drive, so that’s what I did.  I’d check out a book on CD from the library and head up I-5.

We helped our daughter and son-in-law move in February, so driving to Oregon wasn’t a new thing.  The husbands drove the moving truck and I drove their SUV loaded up with clothes, baby things, my daughter and grandson.  We took two days to travel, staying overnight in Redding, CA.  As we wound through the mountains at Shasta we saw lots of snow, and as we crossed the border into Oregon we marveled at the lush greenness of everything, coming as we were from drought-devastated California. We moved them in and flew home.

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In May my husband and I hit the road for Oregon once again, this time loaded down with baby things for the new one coming in August.  We had diapers and presents and a hand-me-down swing from our younger daughter.  We were surprised to see that Mt. Shasta still was covered with snow even though the temperature outside was low 90’s.  The trip took us about 13 hours.  We spent a wonderful week with the little family and then took the scenic way home via the Oregon and California coasts.  That will be another story for another time.

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Back to my solo road trip in August.  I felt familiar enough with the route so there wasn’t any stress about that.  Making it to Oregon in time to be of help, specifically, before my daughter went into labor, was the biggest stress.  She didn’t know anyone yet that she felt comfortable leaving her child with and definitely no one she felt comfortable calling in the middle of the night if need be.  But made it, I did.  I arrived safe and sound after about 13 hours on the road, just after dinner time on August 13th, and the baby didn’t come until around noon on August 23rd.  Perfect timing.  My Oregon adventures during those four weeks will also be another story for another time.

My solo road trip was enjoyable thanks, in part, to Sirius/XM radio.  I listened to 70’s on 7, The Groove, Hits 1, Classic Rewind, The Bridge, NPR, The Message, and Watercolors.  I heard songs I hadn’t heard in a long time and that I’d forgotten all about.  One of those songs was Hummingbird by Seals & Crofts.  What a mesmerizing song!  I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I mentioned it to my husband during one of our FaceTime calls and he (classic rock aficionado) remembered it immediately.  I sang this song to my grandson.  I googled its meaning  and learned that it was on the same album as another of my all-time favorite songs, Summer Breeze.  

Hummingbird has become sort of like a theme song for me.  The hummingbird is a miraculous creature of God, accomplishing what should be impossible. And that’s what I want to do in this new place in my life, in my marriage, even in my career.  I trust my instincts, I trust my common sense, and I’m going for it (whatever IT is) because life IS too short. Taking a four-week trip, away from my husband and job and home–I didn’t ask permission, I just decided to do it.  Deciding, in my mid-fifties, to pursue a master’s degree even though it may not make a difference in the course of what’s left of  my career. Encouraging my husband to retire because I know he’s tired, even though I’m newly energized in my own career; him taking care of the house and me seems like a positive change.  Looking for the perfect little house to downscale; and considering a move far away from the town I grew up in.  And even deciding to invest in my wardrobe, experimenting with my fashionista side, because I lost about 70 pounds in the past two years.  Stitch Fix is my new favorite obsession.

My solo road trip gave me time to consider the changes I want to see in my life and a quiet space to recognize revelation through a haunting, beautiful song.  Maybe this explains the purpose of this blog or maybe it doesn’t but to me, it all makes perfect sense.

Alas, here comes the gardener
He’s come to till the flowers
The drought of understanding
Wisdom, peace and love is ours now