Monday, July 27, 2009

A Poem For You

..from Rumi and Natalia.

(I have been rereading it this week because it was one of her favorites, and it gives me great comfort)

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome them and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

If Money Were No Object...

I would be a girl with a guitar on my back. I would write stories and tell them, and I would make people care about the world. But most of all, wherever I went, I would carry a small, perfect guitar on my back, ready to sing anywhere, about anything, sad, happy, joyful, silly.

Last Wednesday we went to see the NEW Summer Sounds at the Hollywood Bowl. I loved the old one so much that when I heard the handsome professor, the corny Captain, and the sexy, wonderful drum-tapping Harpoona were gone for good, and the Global Harmony had set sail for good I could barely bring myself to go. I was in mourning.

But I went. And the new model is GREAT. A hip-hopper and a break dancer ride (imaginary) public buses all over Los Angeles to different ethnic neighborhoods to learn about the cultures right here in our amazing--and sprawling, nearly unknowable-- city. Indian (Azusa?) Mexican (East L.A.) Brazilian (down by Venice) and more.

Last week was a troupe, Fandango Sin Fronteras, from East L.A.. They all carried guitars on their backs--about the size of a ukelele, but with a guitar sound. You could take them shopping or fit them in a luxury handbag. The leader of the troupe made them by hand from a single block of wood. The leader -- a dancer AND a singer--was a girl with a guitar on her back. I wanted to be her.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tomorrow, Career Day

Tomorrow we head to Santa Barbara, and on the dappled path of the Cold Springs Trail I try to coax my skittish soul out of the shadows. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Argentine Feast

Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of my friend, and I knew I would be sad.

In anticipation of God knows what kind of outburst from me, my dear husband said he would cook dinner.

Between the heat and my internal emotional tides I was a mess: irritable, angry and short-tempered--while also ready to burst into tears at anything. My poor boys.

We went and swam with a friend, and after two hours saoking in the pool with Benji doggie-paddling to me (without air) I felt my anger mellowing. Water always heals me.

I came home, opened the gate, and smelled something fantastic emanating from MY kitchen. I practically ran up all 43 stairs. In the hot kitchen was my beloved husband cooking his Milanesa--the feast of the poor in Argentina. He had set up the kitchen in stations--eggs to dip, flour to dip, and pancho bread crumbs before a quick buttery fry for the thin steaks in the pan. The Argentinean wine (delightfully cheap, deliciously bad) was already in his glass, and waiting for me in mine. I put on some Carlos Gardel (Jonathan lived in Buenos Aires for a year so is sophisticated in the ways of the Argentines and speaks Spanish with that musical Italian/Spanish accent).

I know almost nothing about Argentina except what Jonathan has told me, and that it seems to be a country full of wistfulness, sadness and poignant aching beauty. The tango, the sadness, the slow deterioration of a once glorious country, the endurance of horrible dictators and the desaparacedos, and the endless hope for success that never seems to materialize for them as a nation -- something about all of it resonates with something deep inside me.

We sat in our dining room at dusk, the hot wind blowing over us, the lemony buttery milanesa melting in our mouths, and a sharp, simple, vinegary green salad to accompany it all. Gardel sang his sad songs.

My mother cooked for me for 21 years. She was tired, and sick of it, and now I understand how wearying cooking day in and day out can be, even if you love food and spices and herbs and experimentation and ethnic adventures. I probably never said Thank You, though I always licked her pans clean. But now, to have a perfect meal cooked for me, for me alone, is one of the most sublime pleasures there is. To sit in the kitchen sipping wine while Jonathan scurried and sweated and cooked--divine! To just wander tipsy into the dining room to be served -- marvelous! And to be able to just float on my emotions and think of my friend, unencumbered by household tasks for one evening, truly the greatest gift of all!

No one cares much about it anymore, but to have one perfect meal cooked for you by someone who really loves you para me is one of life's sweetest, most sensual pleasures.

Gracias, mi amor, mi ciel, mi vida!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Race in the 21st Century

Last year a friend of mine said, I think the next generation is blind to race. They just don't care. Not us. But our kids. It makes no difference to them. I thought about it. I didn't know.

Theo lives in a multi-cultural society and doesn't think much about race or skin color. Half his friends are half something. He himself is a faux Latino. But still, with the start of school he has started making observations. He says things like, "Koreans can't go to birthday parties on Sunday, because they all go to church." It is not racist, per se, and, in fact, in his experience, many of his dearest friends, who happen to be Korean, do all go to church on Sunday. He knows because he cares.

He never talks about race. But he talks about skin color. When he is trying to explain to me who a new friend is so I can understand he will say, "She is light-skinned," or "He is dark-skinned."

But here is the funny part. For him there is no association with race or culture. It is simply a characteristic, like eye color. And he does not even see it as a family thing. I was trying to figure out what he defined as light-skinned, and what as dark-skinned, especially in this huge, crazy mixed up melting pot of a city where we have every shade of everything.

So I started asking about our family. He is light skinned, and so is Benji. Ditto for me, Jonathan, his cousins. But my brother, he said, is "a dark-skinned" person. Not my mother, who looks just like my brother (though now her hair is gray) and not my sister, who looks just like my brother. He has dark hair and dark eyes, and he does tan better than the rest of us, but still, I was left confused.

But I like that for him your skin color is just something you are born with. It can come from anywhere and every family has everything. It is a beautiful vision of color, of race, of family, and of the world.

So maybe my friend is right. I hope so.

My Urban Child

When we drive by any green space that doesn't have a playground Benji shouts out, "Hold your breath! It's a graveyard."

The boy has never seen grass! O dear!

Friday, July 17, 2009


This is an important day. This is the day I set out for Larkspur last year to see Natalie. I was supposed to go up to San Francisco for the Blogher conference, and to see Natalie, but I didn't sign up for the conference in time, but had already gotten Jonathan to agree to some childcare, so I went to see Natalie anyway. It ended up being Natalie's last weekend on earth--and I was there out of a quirk of fate--and it also propelled me to start a blog, since I wasn't going to actually go to the Blogher conference.

So this is, really, the anniversary of my blog, and of Natalie's death.

Very important.

So I wonder, is my subconscious going to rear its head? Am I going to be tossed and turned by emotions deep inside me at the cellular level?

I don't know.

But I am seeking ways to commemorate Monday, the day of her death. And Jonathan suggested Yahrzeit, the Jewish tradition. So I will do that. I will light that candle for 24 hours, and think of her and all she was.

I have decided I will also do a few other things.

Today I bought some Tibetan prayer flags on impulse. They are more Marin County than Whitley Heights, but who cares? I will string them up in the garden. I will plant some nasturtiums and marigolds--because she loved them both. And I will try to get her memorial mix from her sister to play on Monday all day.

Finally, I will do a little yoga, dance a little, and do a little meditation. Perhaps I will make a vow to compost in her honor. I don't know. She would like it. But am I up to it?

If any of you have any ideas, let me know. I am grasping for rituals...

An L.A. Secret...

After I dropped Benji off today I headed off for a treat: a hike alone in Griffith Park. I opted for the other side--over by the zoo. So I drove up past Shane's Inspiration and parked under the trees in an area I had hiked long ago with my dear friend William, and his mountain dog Ruth. I was looking for the old Griffith Park Camp, now abandoned--but I remembered a swimming pool high on the hillside (now empty) near a water tank, perched in a canyon overlooking all of Burbank and Glendale.

The great thing about Griffith Park is wherever you are you can spot your landmarks and see a fire road, so you can wander off, but never get lost. Today I stumbled upon the old L.A. Zoo--a small, cozy canyon where the animals were kept from 1912 to 1965. I had seen the old carved lions at the entrance to the current L.A. Zoo and loved them, but this was even better. I wandered around past cages and stone outcroppings that had once held lions, tigers, macaws and other exotic animals.

It was like falling into an old storybook. I wondered if the ghosts of the old monkeys and animals from afar were still there. They felt like it. I could imagine the old movie types strolling under their parasols in linen and ruffles, gawking at these amazing animals, dreaming of which scene they could use them in for their next movie.

It was the artifacts of 1920s L.A..

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trips We Never Forget

Isn't it strange those trips you take when you are a child, that are important, but you don't realize until 30 years later that they have changed the course of your life?

I think about it a lot now, because I feel like I am planting the seeds of the future in my boys with every little thing we do. And as I do it, planting seeds intentional and unintentional, I wonder what will stick, what will take root, what will last? Will it be the things I try so hard to set up? Or the spontaneous things I never even meant to teach, that stick in their minds forever?

My father is from California--Coronado to be exact. At least as much as he is from anywhere. He denies it, and has culturally renounced California and all it stands for, but despite that, Coronado is the place that seems to make him the happiest in the world. Except for perhaps Naples, Italy. But this part of him was hidden from us, because we lived on the East Coast and Europe. Coronado, California and Hawaii were only places in bedtime stories, where his most exciting childhood exploits took place.

When I was 11 we finally flew west to California to see my Aunt Judy and her family. We stayed in Coronado. It was June, so the island was fogged in. But I remember every detail. My father leapt into the water and body surfed huge waves, his head sticking out like a lion in the middle of a frothy mane. I had never seen anything like it, nor did I know that my father possessed such magical skills. He would leap out of the water whooping for joy. The waves were huge. I tried it myself and got so tumbled in the waves (they flipped me and pinned me to the bottom) I got a little freaked, but i LOVED it. We ate at Taco Bell. We watched my cousin Kristin swim (she later went onto the Olympic trials and I spent years trying to be like her, begging and begging my mother to let me be on a swim team like Kristin, and with intervention from my aunt, it happened--I joined the Sub Base Barracudas, where they told me, at 11, I was too old to ever be very good, or learn butterfly like my cousin--my dream--but I could do it if I wanted. I did. ) We ate honeycomb for breakfast (no sugar cereals in our house) rode bikes everywhere, and wandered around the castle-like Hotel Del, where my father had once roamed the underground tunnels and stolen dinner plates, which still graced our table at home-- a childhood prize.

...and, my aunt made this unforgettable dessert. It was made of fried tortillas, sprinkled with cinammon sugar, served still hot, with vanilla ice-cream and honey drizzled over the top. I have travelled the world and never had it again. Finally, on the Fourth, I cornered my aunt and quizzed her. What were they? How did you make them?

They are called Bunuelos (imagine an accent waving over the "n"). She couldn't remember exactly, but she told me the basics. I came home and tried it. I fried up my tortillas, sprinkled them with cinnamon sugar, scooped on the ice cream and drizzled. My family was silent. But I was orgasmic. I had waited 30 years and they were as good as I remembered.

And I thought of how that trip changed my life. I live in California, I love the Pacific beaches. I body surf, surf and boogie board with my boys. I eat tacos and burritos several times a week and swimming became a huge part of my life. All from that trip when I was 11 years old.

I guess I spent the next 20 years trying to get back to California. Two out of three of us are here now. And if Ian ever did come back to the United States and renounce his British citizenship, I bet he would end up in California, too.

Is there anywhere better?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Old Friends

Is there anything better than seeing an old friend? I mean an old, old friend, who knows all your stories, your dreams, where you came from and where you wanted to go. Someone who knows what makes you crazy, and knows what makes you happy, and could pick out a dress for you from two thousand miles away and it would be perfect? I mean someone who believes in you and knows you better than you know yourself sometimes and really really loves you and would do anything for you--who you have fought with and cried with and laughed with and written almost love letters to?

Is there anything better than that?

Because how many really great, really wonderful, old friends who have really known you forever do you really get in this life?

First Day of Camp

Today was Benji's first day of zoo camp.

Theo went when he was four, and I thought it was time for Benji to have an adventure, too. He is bored by Canyon School--much as he loves his teachers. He has been there since he was in utero. He knows every song, every project, every toy and every book. When I go to pick him up he is always in the corner, alone, reading a book. He doesn't play with friends, and he doesn't really talk to anyone after he says good-morning to the teachers.

He is so smart. So in need of stimulation. And so shy.

So I signed him up for a week of "Cats and Dogs." I drove him over today at 9. He wore his safari hat like Diego's, snapped up on the sides, some too-big shorts inherited from Theo, his favorite river shoes, and his Cars backpack, filled with lots of sunblock, food and water. He is proud, because now he is doing all that Theo does. (camp, backpack, water bottle, hat, sunblock)

I walked him up to the table and signed him in. I put on the zoo camp T-shirt--purple, with a mama monkey and a baby monkey. Then, I introduced him to his counselor, she took his hand, and he walked away.

He looked so little. So lonely. I wondered if he will say a word all day, if he will ask for help if he needs it, or just start to cry. I wondered if he will like it, and if he will be OK.

He is my little one, my shy one, and I worry so much more about him than I ever did about Theo. Is it because he is my baby? I know that physically he is far tougher than Theo. But still. As he wandered away in his safari hat, his hand in his new teacher's, so full of trust, it took all my strength to not run after him and say, "Forget it. Forget it! I will take him today."

I got in the car and asked Theo if he thought Benji would be OK.

"I think so, Mommy," he said.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Perfect Summer's Evening

Last night I took my boys to see a friend, and perhaps my favorite band in the world, Ricardo Lemvo. He plays Afro-Cuban music (he is African) and his is the happiest music I have ever heard. He himself is like a grenade of happiness and joy. He played at the Culver City City Hall courtyard. My facebook invitation said 25 people would be there.

I packed up the boys and we headed over. We could hear the music from blocks away. We parked and walked forever, Benji in his superman cape, Theo skipping, me, salsa-ing down the sidewalk. We got there and there he was, my man, dressed in linen from head to toe, all style. The place was packed. There were old people, young people, yuppies, children, mamas, dudes, people dancing in wheelchairs (I am not exaggerating!)

We went right up to the front and started dancing. I told my boys, "You are Cuban Fernandezes. You must learn to dance. You must be good. This is your music!"

Benji danced. Theo watched. I thought he was sullen, but it turned out he was enthralled--by the trombones, the trumpets, the singing, the clave. The boys finaigled two seats reserved for the state senator and his date (they didn't show) and I squatted beside them, then squirmed in myself.

I remembered dancing in Cuba, in an church old courtyard in Havana. The people were penniless and gaunt, their instruments old, but the music was unforgettable, pure. We drank dark rum from plastic cups--50 cents apiece for the tourists--then danced with old men who moved like sexy young hombres when the music started to play.

I sat there, with my boys in my lap, watching the sun set, the palm trees sway, in a front row seat reserved for a state senator, and thought, I am the luckiest person in the world.

Theo's Dream

(revealed over dinner of tortilla espanola, manchego, spinach and lemon, by candlelight)

"I had a dream, Mommy. I dreamed that Jennifer (his kindergarten teacher) took us all up in a hot air balloon. We went two at a time. First Zazi and Omeed. Then Forrest and Ondine. I was next. But then I woke up."

This following the (mostly) true story of the first hot air balloon flight in 1783 from Versailles, with a sheep, a duck, and a rooster. (that part is true!)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dangerous Freckle: Gone!

This morning I had a small, scary misshapen freckle on my toe removed. Probably not a melanoma, probably not even a pre-melanoma, and not very big at all (sorry, no photos will be provided). Still, I had put off removal for a year. The time had come to get the thing taken off. EVen if it is the middle of the summer and all I want to do is play in the ocean every day. I am banned from swimming for at least 10 days.

Surgery was painless. The doc shaved it off and then put my floating freckle into a vial. I have to do oral And topical antibiotics for 10 days and the antibiotic may make me itch and will definitely make me burn more easily in the sun.

Toes are the slowest thing to heal because they are furthest from the heart.

10 days til I can re-enter my element.

Monday, July 6, 2009

July 4: I DID IT!



July 4, 9:20 a.m., Coronado California, water temperature 55 degrees!!!!!

We awoke at 7:15 a.m. in our tent in my aunt and uncle's backyard, so I could run down to the beach and sign up for the Coronado Rough Water Swim. I had gone in the day before with Theo for a few boogie board rides and the water was frigid!!! My aunt instructed (via a party invitation): "Pray for Warm Water." The race the year before had been cancelled due to fog. On some level I think we were praying it would be foggy again. But it wasn't.

Instead, the water was unbelievably cold!!! The day before (when I had gone in, and thought it was cold) the water had been a balmy 61. It had dropped six degrees overnight. My aunt, the triathlete and all around tough and amazing woman, told me she was not going to do it. She told me to talk to the man who told her not to do it. He was a former Navy seal. He said his daughter had pulled him aside and told him it was dangerous, and plead with him not to swim.

I am clueless when it comes to cold water. When does hypothermia set in? How long can a person like me swim in extremely cold water? And why was I doing this? Because I was too much of a chicken to back out?

I went into the water up to my ankles and I could barely walk out of the water. It was hard to imagine willingly throwing my entire body into that for at least half an hour.

My aunt told me that the scary thing about hypothermia is that you don't realize you are getting cold. Your body just stops and your stroke slows down, and you go under.

There were lots of lifeguards (in wetsuits) around on jet skis and paddle boards. Still.

Jonathan just stood by listening, offering no opinion for or against. He knew better than to weigh in. I wondered if I was about to say good-bye to my children. But I just couldn't bail!

Then my aunt made an offer: borrow my wetsuit. She called my uncle, who picked up her swimming wetsuit, which had been specially made to fit her and flown in from New Zealand. It had Ironman printed across the chest. Cool! It was so tight that my uncle said that at the big races they have a hot blonde going around and helping men and women into the suits. It is exhausting. Not like a surfing wetsuit at all. You have to pull and tug and grab and wiggle and writhe on the ground and your hands begin to cramp from pulling it up. I only had minutes before the race was to start. But I felt like I had an armor of good luck. I was in a totemic suit, worn by my lucky Aunt Judy, and flown from afar. I would finish. She gave me an insulated cap, too.

The race guy told us to jump in before we started to acclimate or we could go into shock. So I did. And it was a shock. Even with a wet suit on.

I ran out, kissed my husband and boys good-bye in case this was the end. I was the wimp here. Many many swimmers swam au naturel. By donning a wetsuit I was taking myself out of the competition. The horn honked and we waded into the water. Not fast. Gingerly. Slowly. With dread. Pushed from behind by other swimmers filled with dread. We all walked as far as we could. The water was so cold I could not breathe. Even in a wetsuit. (Jonathan said some swimmers waded in, then turned right around and got out of the race) My feet were going numb and so was my face, my only exposed skin. I couldn't breathe normally for a quarter of a mile.

And then I was just lost in the murky, frozen water. On my own.

The swim itself wasn't hard. It was only the cold. And after a half mile I knew I would make it.

I rounded the final buoy, halfheartedly surfed a wave to shore, and ran on wobbly legs up the beach. Benji ran out and grabbed my hand and ran with me to the finish.

I did it!! My lips moved like they were still filled with novacaine, the arches of my feet were numb, but I did it I did it I did it!

The race organizers said the swim was the second coldest on record (though another swimmer said the coldest year was 2000, when "the guy died of a heart attack."

After the race other swimmers told me that Alcatraz had been 61 degrees last year! No problem!!! That's practically lukewarm!

Now all I have to do is overcome my fear of sharks through special visualization techniques!!!!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coronado Open Water Swim

Saturday morning (the fourth of July) I will dive into the waves with hundreds of other swimmers, a number scrawled on my arm, a red bathing cap on my head, and swim around three buoys and back to shore. The swim is one mile long and I will do it with my super cool Aunt Judy, co-creator of the Iron Man Triathlon.

I am out of shape and feeling fat. But I must swim, and prepare for Alcatraz. Next week I will have a dangerous freckle removed from my toe, and be forced to stay out of the water for 10 days. So this swim is key in building my confidence, fitness and sense of challenge.

And so today, I run down to the Y to make sure I really, truly, can swim a mile in the warm, indoor,1920s pool (I did Tuesday). If I can, I figure I can get through kicking competitors, big waves, cold water and maybe some fog.

Here goes...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

It's Summer

You are a girl of summer, Jonathan says.
And I think, maybe I am.

At last, tis the season of sailboats, sandcastles and sunsets.
Tis the season of turquoise waves, bubbly sea foam and searching for sand dollars.
It's the season of salty beach fires, fried oysters and fresh squeezed lemonade.

We will stay up late and read too many chapters of too many stories.
We will sit outside in the warm, scented darkness and whisper under the stars.
We will eat feasts of fried zucchini, fallanghina, and fresh tomatoes and basil, accompanied by prosecco with the finest, most delicate bubbles on earth.

Jonathan and I will hike in the mornings when the light is still soft for a displaced Celt like me, and dream of what will be.

I will paint my toes orange and pink, and the boys and I will wear our bathing suits under our clothes all day long until we find water, and eat watermelon until our stomachs bloat and we are sticky with juice and seeds. Then we will jump in the ocean to wash it off.

We will paint and draw and laze and dream.

We will ride the waves on boogie boards, on surf boards and just by ourselves, carried like sea gods to the shore.

We will be beautiful, golden, freckled, laughing, happy.

I am a girl of summer.

In Search of Motherhood. And Myself.

This blog entry is dedicated to Jessica--who always encourages me to keep writing and blogging!

I miss my blog. And i miss myself. I feel like i am disappearing. I am just going to doctors, dentists, swimming lessons, errands, and supporting various amazing friends in their creative endeavors (where have MY creative endeavors gone?)

My hubbie tells me: Let's do a career day.

This is a tradition for us. We used to go every six months, to talk about our dreams, our goals, where we were going. We would talk in the car to good music on the way to Santa Barbara. Then we would hike for two hours on the Cold Springs Trail (it survived the Tea Fire!!!!!) following every tangent and mental detour and dead end with no interruption from children, phones or life. Then we would go and eat WAAAAAY too much at Superrica, the best Mexican food in California, accompanied by a cold bottle of Negro Modelo or Bohemia. Then, fat, happy and tired, we would drive down to the beach, walk in the waves, and decide on the goals. Both of us would focus 100% on the person of the day. The day would end with some scribbling in a journal, dated and down.

We didn't share days. We each had our own.

But in the last year I have dropped out. We talk about Jonathan's career, but not mine. It is not his fault. He always asks. Tells me he is available. He is even the one who drove to find out if my favorite trail with the cold, clear pools and natural water slides had survived the fire.

It is me. The longer I go without talking about my dreams, without writing on my blog, without writing in my journal, the further underground my dreams go. They don't die. They just go under my skin, my blood vessells, deep into the marrow of my bones. They become shy things, scared of the light, where I can't talk about them anymore.

So now, when Jonathan asks, I am not ready. I feel like I have to birth those ideas all over again.

I remember growing up how my mother used to say: "I have lost myself. I don't know who I am."

I was strong, willful and alive. I thought her words were ridiculous. I vowed to never be like her.

She didn't say them with self-pity, entitlement, or anger. It was simply a truth. I think perhaps she was startled by the fact.

But now I understand. It is not that you are less, or less important. Probably I am more vitally important to more people. It is that everything about yourself becomes submerged in caring for others. In the constant crush of daily life--
I fought to be here. To be on hand for my boys. To be here to pick them up, feed them, watch them. And for my husband, too. And I know I will regenerate. But I feel like myself, my real essential self, is just going into a cave. I am calling, but she is not answering. And I miss her.

I feel like I need a vision quest. Like I need to go into the woods alone. Like I need to walk and walk and walk, carrying only my journal, a pen, my oil pastels and a plastic jug of water. I would not prepare meals or get anyone ready for bed. I would not do errands, or put small people in and out of cars or protect them from giant SUVS bearing down on me driven by angry blond women on cell phones driving too fast.

I would just be still, and stare up at the stars. I would listen, and hear the earth. I would stop, and smell the flowers, the pine-needles in the sun, the air heating up the world for summer. I would feel my soul come back to life.

Hello, soul. Are you there?