Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 Things I want my children to know (and I hope I already told them)

"If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough." 

Meister Eckhart

My children, did you know that sometimes when I lie down in my bed after a long evening of sport practices, meal preparation and chores, I fervently thank God for my bed? I do. A bed is such an ordinary thing, but I know how lucky I am to have a warm, firm, comfortable place of my own to rest my body.

I also regularly thank God for all the fruits and vegetables we can afford, for your Papa's job, for our little dog Taz and the joy he brings, and for our small, comfy, air-conditioned home here in Arizona.

Don't forget to be grateful for the little, ordinary things that we think are our right to have. Not everyone has them. That lesson is crucial, and I believe these ones are, too:

Respect the Working Man

Your Paca told his children this when we were little, and you need to practice it, too. To every man and woman who works hard for a living, especially those who do hard, menial tasks or serve others' needs for long hours, show your respect and appreciation. Never take advantage by giving them more work out of carelessness or your own laziness. Return that shopping cart! Put things back on the shelf after you're done examining them. The steady Joes and Janes of this world keep it pumping, God bless them.

Another Reason Not to Do Drugs

Whether it is their intention or not, every person who does illicit drugs supports a chain of absolute evil, including murder and violence against women, children and the poor/desperate. Remember that if some happy pill or powder is ever proffered by a "cool" friend. It's not just that these terrible chemical substances are toxic for you and highly addictive, robbing you of control in your own life; they are cancerous in society at all levels of their supply chain. 

Entertainment Often Is Not Mere Entertainment

Be careful what you expose yourself to in the name of a good time. This includes movies, video games, TV, social media, and of course, real world performances.

Not Every Day Should Be a Feast

This, if you keep it in mind, will serve you well your whole life. You will be healthier physically, financially, emotionally and, most importantly, spiritually. You will be more likely to remember that some in this world don't have a bed, clean water, or regular food, and thus, being grateful for what you have, you will share. 

I suppose you could say all things in moderation, but people have begun to ignore that phrase; the word moderation has sort of lost its meaning in today's first-world society, just like the words honor and valor.

Here's what I mean, specifically:

Learn to recognize a real need. Treats are called treats for a reason. They're not necessary; they're an extravagance. If you have them every day or a few times a day, they are no longer treats. This likely means you're spoiled, dependent and have lost some perspective on what really matters. (That is a boat I am trying constantly to get out of!) Don't eat out every day. Save that expensive cup of coffee for rare occasions; it'll taste better. Don't live your life searching for the best brands to display on your person, only stay in luxury hotels or always carry the "next" smartphone. Use things until they have lost their usefulness before throwing them out.

Let Thanksgiving and Christmas in their abundance and oodles of candy on Halloween be something really special still.

And always read about what is going on in the world - real, well-written articles, I mean. You will constantly bear in mind how lucky you are and this will help you know exactly where your resources are greatly needed to lift up your fellow (wo)man.


Your mama believes in the power of a simple smile to spread joy and love in this world.

As it turns out, so did Mother Teresa. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Here, Hair

Honestly, all I can see in this picture is my big nose.

(I once had a little girl on the school bus tell me I had a witch's nose. I must have been a teenager at the time, and I took it as a compliment. Halloween costumes would be easy.)

Do you think it qualifies as a selfie if you take the picture with an inexpensive camera and don't have the ability or desire to post it immediately on social media?

I'm not fond of selfies, but there is a reason why I'm sharing this picture. Something is different about me. I can't quite put my finger on it...

Just kidding. I see it now.

Twice last week I woke up in the middle of the night worrying about my hair. The first time I felt anxiety about committing to something expensive and drastic and wondered if there was any way I could back out. The second time I woke up because I had accidentally set an alarm clock for midnight and suddenly felt pangs of sadness.

After 36 years of being natural, I had dyed my hair.

Last Thursday I spent four hours in a salon getting pampered, having my hands and scalp massaged and getting strips of foil plastered to my head and then being plopped down under a dryer that felt like it was possibly frying my brain.

And the end result after my hair was washed, rinsed and conditioned without the lifting of even one of my little fingers?

I couldn't tell a difference, and as I gazed at my damp, limp hair in the mirror I thought, Great! Just my luck! She chose a color almost exactly my own. I spent all that money and damaged my hair for no change!

But then things brightened up, and I recognized the lovely change, subtle as it was. It made me happy til I experienced middle of the night remorse.

It's not all-over color. It's not highlights technically. It's that ombre coloring women are going for nowadays, though without the stark demarcation you see on some ladies' heads. It should last a few months as it grows out, the stylist assured me, because I assured her that although I have been craving a change on and off for years, I balk against maintenance. Understanding this, she told me that a complete dye job would be a bad idea, especially since I don't have greys.

I don't? Ha!

Gosh, I don't know why I'm telling you about my hair. It's a slow writing week, sorry. But, after all, every little act of daring is worth celebrating, and mine just happened to turn out all right.

This time.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Birthday Boy

Berto and Papa
My oldest son Berto didn't want to go to school today; it's his 14th birthday. I didn't blame him. Really, he hates school just as I did growing up. Still, I made him go.

His birthday will be full of school, sports and work obligations just as his dad's was. Honestly, I wish we could take a breather some days - just pause for a less hectic celebration without other concerns pressing us down.

This weekend as we worked to prepare for another rowdy birthday sleepover, I was recalling when our boy was a baby. I thought of the blissful and sad moments of his infancy. It puzzled me that the sad memories rose too; I didn't invite them.

One of my happiest memories of time spent with my first baby (who looked a bit like a ruddy-faced, middle-aged balding man when he first entered this world), is those first several days or few weeks when I held him nearly non-stop in my arms, supported by his blue bumble bee boppy. Even while he slept, I cradled him instead of putting him in the crib. When he awoke I nursed and changed him and let him drift off again in my steady, loving arms. I didn't even try to pretend that I had better things to do, because I was as content as I have ever been in my life sitting there with my tiny little boy and reading Agatha Christie novels.

Of course, I thought next of how ecstatic Berto was every day when his papa arrived home. New to Arizona, we were the only two special people in his life, and he liked to see Papa for a change at the end of the day. There's a great picture of Berto as a toddler hugging his Papa's knees and looking up at him with absolute love. Matthew is looking toward the camera with a big grin on his face; it's great to be adored. They have a little more trouble understanding each other now, but they still share a million-dollar smile.

Then my thoughts betrayed me, and I thought of sadder, lonelier moments. I remembered when another mother made me feel like a bad mama, because Berto had eczema on his cheeks, and I didn't know how to clear it up or guess that it was likely related to food allergies. I was trying to wipe his face regularly which probably was making it worse. She thought I wasn't taking care of my son, that perhaps I didn't care. Her judgement astonished me.

I also recalled when relatives came to visit and assist when we first moved to this house. It was a busy, crazy time, and they helped watch the baby. Berto was not always a happy-go-lucky baby, and when I heard him giggling as I was cleaning the apartment bathroom for the last time, I rushed out because I thought he was crying, and our relatives stared at me when I asked if everything was alright. How could you not recognize your baby's giggle? they seemed to be thinking. How could I not?

Later, at the house, I tried to make my little Berto giggle that exuberantly again, and my six-month-old son stared back at my antics with a tired, serious face. I wanted to cry. It broke my heart.

But there are more good memories. For instance, there were all those afternoons in this house when we played a game I made up called Oogula-Boogula. Berto would crawl under our new dining table, and I would walk around it with all his soft, plastic toy links hooked together, chanting slowly at first and then faster, "Oogula boogula, oogula boogula...oogula boogula - Booo!", and I would try to catch him under the table, tap his arms or legs with the end of the Oogula-boogula link monster. Berto giggled and shouted and scooted away. We thought it was great fun.

Berto and Mama

And how I cherish all the evenings I held my baby's hand through the crib at night, singing him bedtime songs!

And how many days did we drive around his big, squishy fire truck and dumpster truck that he got for his first birthday? They were great, because you could lean down on their pliable tops and push them around on your knees and hit the buttons to make engine/emergency noises.

There was the move to a big boy bed (one from his dad's childhood) in order to give the crib to the baby girl Mama was expecting. There was the awesome look on Berto's face when he met his first sibling, Analisa, a few months before his second birthday. They were good friends as little tykes. They used to take naps together, giggling and squirming as I tried to wind them down with books; they got into plenty of mischief together; and Ana used to crawl into the hall when her buddy Berto was in timeout to keep him company and offer comfort.

There are many other memories I've written about here: Berto's love of Star Wars: how he is a great big brother; and what a talented writer he has become. I am so proud of my son, and many an evening he has pulled me into long conversations past bedtime, because I am very interested in his views, ideas and inquiries.

Really, I shouldn't still be writing - I have to go make the frosting for his birthday cake! But I simply wanted to take some time to walk down memory lane and greet the myriad specters there, some friendly and some a bit morose, and in taking that walk I wanted to remember that all in all, despite my mistakes as a Mama, the one thing I have always given abundantly to these precious children throughout the years is love: wrapped up in innumerable hugs and kisses, sleepy nurses, silly games, baked treats and words, sung or spoken.

And today especially I want to thank God for all the love we have given to and received from our Berto, and for all the gifts our Father has given to our eldest son. May God bless him this year, for what joy he brings to our lives!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coffee and Cacao

Is there a detox program for Ghiradelli 60% cacao chocolate chips? I'm not saying I need one - I can quit anytime I like! But just in case I get to eating...oh, let's say a hundred or so a day, I'd like to know there's someone out there willing to lift up my chin, wipe the chocolate from my face and tell me everything's going to be alright.

This is the bad news; I now eat somewhere between thirty and forty chocolate chips on any given day. And not just plain. I like to add them to little things. Oooh, banana bread, I can melt chocolate on it, I'll think, or Yum, pumpkin muffins! Now let me stick a few chocolate chips in that. I've had that thought about a bowl of oatmeal, too, but trust me, friend - you don't want to try it. It is nothing at all like chocolate chip oatmeal cookies.

I used to make stuff with my chocolate chips: muffins, brownies, cakes and such. But, hey, if you're going to sin with chocolate, why not make it pure, as in pure chocolate, dark preferred?

I've got to stop, though. You know you have a bad habit when five minutes after you get up, you're looking for your fix. I do have a reason why I started down this dark (chocolate) path. I'm exhausted - utterly, completely wigged-out tired from getting up with a baby night after night, month after month. Hey, it's my job, but it's also a hard row to hoe, so I go stumbling into my kitchen every morning, find my special case of chocolate and shove some in my mouth while my vision's still fuzzy.

Recently, though, I had had too many bad nights in a row; my handful of chocolate was not going to suffice. I needed something...what about a fully caffeinated Pumpkin Spice Latte, maybe? Yes, indeedy!

"I'm thinking about going to Starbucks," I said to my son Berto, my only talking companion in the grey light of that early, early morning.

"Cool, I'll go with you," he said. "I feel like going someplace at this time of day."

By that I suppose he meant before the crack of dawn. He was already fully dressed, however. Me? I like to wallow in my sleep-deprived misery awhile before I cave in and try to dress the mummy. Besides, I knew of a drive-thru. No need to wait to look decent. I could get my coffee right away.

Normally I wouldn't attempt such a thing - going out in public with not even lipstick or one small scrap of jewelry, but I was just desperate enough to do it that morning. I didn't even brush my teeth; I just dragged a comb through my hair, woke up Matthew to tell him I was gone and that his girls were still asleep, and headed out in my pajamas with my two boys.

So we drove, listening to the classic rock station. Daniel was placid; Bertie was calm and happy to be out with Mom; and I was looking forward to that fall-flavored Latte. I pulled into the middle lane to enter the shopping center with the drive-thru Starbucks. Hmmm...looked like something was roped off. I really hoped it wasn't what I thought it was.

It was. Some construction workers were working on the drive-thru lane. I would have turned around and gone home if my normal self-respect was present, but I'd lost it somewhere in the thick fog of lost sleep. I didn't even hesitate.

"Guess we're going to have to go in," I said. I jumped out in my baggy flannel men's pajama pants and my faded blue cami shirt. Flip-flops adorned my feet, but they weren't the cute kind. Matthew had brought them home as a gag gift for me from some work convention, and they were white, had some company's business logo on them and were pretty well hideous.

"Look," he'd said after he had presented them to me with a laugh. "I didn't even get the large side, and they still fit you."

They fit alright, and they were about to make their first public appearance in a Starbucks. Out of the car next to ours, a metrosexual male exited and glanced over with pure disdain at the pajama lady removing her infant from the dusty and cluttered white minivan. I slung my plain canvas diaper bag over my shoulder, and my entourage made an entrance.

We awkwardly approached the counter, passing high-heeled business women and slacks-wearing gents. The young man behind the counter eyed me warily, but just then I caught the eye of the lady preparing the coffees. After surveying me and my early morning company, she gave me a broad smile. I smiled back, and in that communicated my appreciation for the fact that I knew that she knew how it was for me that morning.

The young man took our order and warmed up once Berto shyly paid him for my latte, his papa's plain coffee, and his own carbonated clementine juice. He didn't even roll his eyes when I had to dig through the abyss of my diaper bag for the money while another woman was dragging cash from a sleek purse. For not acting like a snob and actually being gracious, I gave cash to Berto and nudged him toward the tip jar.

Because he could have been a total jerk about it. I remember one time when a relative saw me for the first time in my normal pajama attire. He opened his eyes wide at the spectacle before exclaiming, "Hillary, for a person who cares so much about her appearance, you sure do dress like a slob for bed!"

Okay, yes, I know. Whatever.

Anyway, that coffee did me a lot of good. I normally would have gotten a conservative tall, skim, decaffeinated beverage. (But always with the whip - never leave off the whip; it's bad form!) This time I was happily guzzling a fully caffeinated, grande, whipped cream slathered coffee. It did me a lot of good, too. I talked really fast for the rest of the day, did tons of yard work and speed-walked through stores looking for Halloween costumes for the kids.

With as much caffeine as it had, and with me being a nursing mama and all, I'm lucky my baby Daniel didn't start walking, talking and training for his first marathon that day. But he didn't. He forgave me for the extra jolt and didn't even wig out later when I had pumpkin bread with melted chocolate for breakfast.

This post was originally published October 20th, 2010.

Friday, September 2, 2016


During the past two days I have not behaved nicely. I may have yelled at my husband and cussed mildly but loudly a few times during an afternoon phone conversation. I may have slammed down the phone receiver after speaking to my husband in the late morning the next day - and that after pronouncing that I loved him. I may have been a polite witch - but still somewhat of a witch - to the checker at the grocery store, because I was in a hurry, had to bag my own groceries and didn't get my coupons applied.

I call it Vincent Van Gogh syndrome. (I'm sorry, Vincent.) 

I threw a creativity tantrum.

Oh, my tantrum really wasn't creative. I didn't yell, complain and gesture wildly while standing on my head and juggling balls with my feet. I didn't write elegant couplets about my disappointments. And there was zero oil paint in this house with which to make a permanent statement - all in bold strokes and colors - about my raging discouragement to hang on the wall, reminding me of my artistic pain.

The tantrum was directly related to my creative endeavors, though. Here was the setup:

Last week I wrote a little post for this blog, just a little theme that had been percolating in my head and one I had been planning to expound here for some time. I didn't really think people would like it all that much, but it was from my heart.

When I saw the next day that it had gotten many hits quickly (very relative, I assure you), I was taken aback. The thought came to me again: I really have no clue what will engage people and entice them to like and share my work.

It was a pleasant and welcome surprise, mind you. I had not worked all that hard on the piece AND I had considered not finishing the post or ever publishing it, uncertain about its potential to say anything illuminating.

Then, this week, I had a post published at a wonderful site created in honor of the great humorist Erma Bombeck.

I had worked really hard on this second post periodically for two weeks: editing and revising, printing out in hard copy and reading silently and out loud, marking up, recycling old drafts and printing again in improved form. The idea was something I had written out a few years ago, but I thought it needed much polishing and there were new threads of experience to weave into the old idea, so I worked and worked and worked on this thing until I felt it was as good as I could make it.

Granted, I did wonder a few times whether it should take me that long to complete a work of such few words.

When the site published it, the lovely lady who founded and runs that site praised the post, telling me that it was very well written and right on the mark.

My hopes were high when I shared it on Facebook (Are there other forms of social media? I wish I cared.)

But this post over which I had labored so faithfully was not well-received at all. It got very few likes and only one share. (Thank you, Vinca. You support me a lot, and I appreciate it.)

Thus began the torture. Why didn't people like it? Was it too harsh? I'm just telling the truth with slight exaggeration, and I wouldn't really hit my kids with a rubber mallet, you know. Was it too similar to some of my other pieces? Is it that I selfishly utilize social media too rarely, usually only when dealing with aspects of my writing or posting pictures? Were people just sick of my writing, period, because that earlier post involving less effort had been shared and viewed just a few days previously?

But, then, if they liked that one, why wouldn't they want to read another from me? Why?

Well, that brought me back, you see, to the only answer: most people who read it just didn't like my newest humor post. I wish I knew why.

And so I came down from my creative high into the suffocating mud of self-doubt, discouragement and childish resentment.

Honestly, I am a writer. I'm not fooling here. (Never back down from proclaiming who you are, I say - even if you have no proof.) I know how to write. I just don't know how to be successful at it.

And the truth is, I may not be good enough to be successful.

And when I think of that, when I get into these foul moods, all I want to do - as I told my husband and kids yesterday evening - is crawl into a hole and carve wooden figures just so I can throw them at the wall.

I'm not going to lie here. I cried. I called out to God for direction in a silly manner. I drank wine and trembled. I made heartless jokes and comments at my own expense. Last night I threw a tantrum.

And I asked my husband some important stuff that's been bothering me. What if I never contribute financially to this family? What if I try and try and try for years, and I get nowhere; I never succeed in a worldly sense? What if he gets to retirement age, and I have not earned a single dime through my own efforts - won't he be disappointed in his wife, view her as a perpetual ball and chain around his ankles?

What if he continues to succeed and I'm just a big failure?


He replied that he knew I would do anything to help our family monetarily if needed. I would work at McDonald's if necessary.

"Yes, I would," I acknowledged. "I would convince someone to give me a job. I'd probably just clean other people's houses. A job for which I am the most qualified," I moaned, burying my face in a paper towel.

My husband Matthew pointed around at our children sitting nearby and watching Mama's come apart. It's not about jobs, about my career or yours, my husband chided me yesterday.

"This is good," he stated firmly. And his finger pointed around again to our beautiful children's serious faces. "This is all good. So I don't ever want to hear the word failure come from your lips. Because this is all that matters. This is a success. As long as this is good, we're all good."

Yes, thank God. I know true, lasting meaning is all about giving and receiving love. I do understand this.

Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, related in a CNN blog post just what people talk about before they die:

"...people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives."

If I found out I was going to die in a few weeks, I know my first thought would not be about what I did or did not accomplish with my writing. It would be about my incredible children and my loving, steady husband, about my mom and dad and siblings, about all the relatives and friends I didn't get to spend enough time with. That is who, not what, I would think about.

But I will continue writing. Matthew told me he wants me to do whatever will make me happy. Though sometimes I thank God for the desire and the gift and other times it makes me miserable to work for nothing, I can't stop doing it without some loss of identity.

So I'll keep writing, and maybe...just maybe...I'll start working on that mystery series I want so badly to create instead of waiting and longing for the perfect idea to come and perch on my brain in a supernatural way.

More importantly, I'll try. I will. I'll try very hard to keep my perspective.

Because my brilliant, kind husband, our four incredible children and all the love we have to give in this world is all that really, truly matters.

Thursday, August 25, 2016



Is it too late to become a street performer at 36 years of age?

I have a soft spot for every human being I meet plucking an instrument, singing, dancing, or doing all three on some street corner or in some public square. In short, I have a soft spot for anyone trying to make a living - a supplemental one - in an impractical, creative way.

Many years ago when leaving my senior prom, there was a gentleman playing the violin outside the party venue in downtown Boise. My date was a talented guitarist. Though I viewed him as a friend, there was something romantic in the fact that he paused and dropped cash into a fellow artist's case.

When my family strolled the fashionable section of Honolulu a few summers ago, there were many street performers, painted to look like and standing as still as silver statues with whom you could pose (not forgetting to tip, of course). We have pictures of our children on the busy streets of Hawaii's capital, standing by a shiny, smiling stranger.

Some of my favorite memories of meeting street performers happened during my trip to England in April 2015. There was a casually but well-dressed man in his fifties with close-cropped hair playing one of my favorite songs, "Mr. Bojangles", in Convent Garden. That was the day my friend Holly and I chose to souvenir shop for family and ate Coronation Chicken at a little cafe nearby called Charles Dickens Coffee House. Though this middle-aged entertainer had an ordinary appearance, he played and sang extraordinarily well, and I was surprised more people weren't gathered around to listen. Holly loaned me money to contribute because I was fresh out of change. (Change meaning good money - for quite some time we didn't realize some of the coins were actually worth one to two pounds; we just threw them around like they were humble pennies!)

Later, when we went to beautiful Bath, we heard "The Music of the Night" from The Phantom of the Opera soaring as we entered the courtyard of Bath Abbey. A young man was playing the arresting melody on his violin beneath a bright blue sky elegantly adorned in small, wispy clouds, creating a haunting contrast. I regretted that I had no easy cash to show my appreciation, but I would not importune my friend again.


Even my dusty corner of the world is adorned with street performers. I have a friend at church who sings in the company of her faithful dog around sports and entertainment arenas. She confided in me that an old friend of hers thinks she really shouldn't be singing for cash. People either like or hate my voice, she said, but she still performs in front of strangers.

And every so often I see a young black man sitting on the sidewalk outside my local grocery store, a violin case open by his feet, the violin cradled beneath his chin. He seems wholly engaged in illuminating a melody with his bow, indifferent to passersby. I've only ever had cash on me once, retrieved from my car, but I am always pleased to see this talented young man, privileged to hear his gift, and I would contribute to his dream every time if I had the wherewithal.

Lately, I have thought very illogically to myself, Why, I can sing the guitar a little....maybe I could take flamenco dancing lessons!

Wouldn't it be lovely to make your dough doing something so perfectly free-spirited and defiant?

But whether I ever joined this strange band of lively, brave people or no, I am so glad they have their small, intimate stages all over the world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

As time goes by

I cried this morning at my younger children's school, and it took me by surprise. I walked around, trying to avoid eye contact and keep my hat pulled low. It always stinks to not have a tissue when you need it.

It wasn't Gabriella and Daniel's first day back. They're in third and first grade, but they started last week.

The tears started because as I surveyed their school campus this morning, I missed my oldest daughter's presence there. Analisa started at a large public middle school today, the one her big brother Berto attends.  

It's a school where I can't walk in and stroll around with her as we talk, laugh or sing with our arms linked.

All last year when she was still a sixth grader we did just that in the mornings until the bell rang. My younger kids ran off to play as long as possible with peers, but Analisa eagerly returned to me after putting her backpack away. Sometimes I worried that I should push her to go make more friends or hang out with a close friend instead of remaining close by mom, but I confess, too, that I loved that time together and cherished it, because I knew we wouldn't always have it.

And now we don't.

And it just hit me all of a sudden this morning on her first day at her new school, a school where I drop her off at the gate after giving her a long hug in the car. Standing alone, I looked across the tot lot and basketball courts of the school she attended for seven years, and I saw that time had passed by and taken something precious with it. I tried to control my emotion, blindsided, but I soon realized there was no hope for it, and when an acquaintance asked me how I was, I babbled about Ana's first day of middle school, trying to explain.

I was grateful that Gabriella and Daniel, who normally only want a hug and kiss st the last moment as they prepare to walk into class, found me. Daniel embraced and squeezed me. Gabriella, sensing something, held my hand and walked with me for a bit.

Observation became my companion this morning, too, and I saw the profound gift of familial bonds everywhere. I saw older siblings holding the hands of their younger brothers and sisters, showing them the way and speaking encouragement. I watched parents of kindergartners gently extricate themselves from their little ones after a last kiss goodbye. I understood the tears of the little girl who didn't want to be separated from her older sister for the day after the bell had rung.

My husband Matthew said I would be glad when our kids went back to school, and I assured him my emotions would be mixed. Obviously, there have been some rough days this summer. Those wore me down, definitely, but there were really good days, too, built around fun games, visits with friends and nature excursions.

So...just like a mother who prays for her toddler to go down for a nap, not knowing how desperate she may become if she doesn't, feels while watching her sleeping child's lovely face that the house is suddenly too quiet, so I knew it would be for me when summer break ended.

All good things come to an end. I just didn't realize how much I would miss them.